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Faint Praise.

25 Nov

I’m posting this as I leave for a wedding.

As I depart, bogey perversity insists I ask you, Who is Don Draper? 

This was the question that inspired me to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s The Hearts of Men. Don Draper, enigmatic and alone, is the postmodern man from your worst fantasy. Still predatory, no longer derogatory.

This was the man I went to find in Ms Ehrenreich’s book.

And failed. Long Live Dream Draper.

The Hearts of Men, a story of mounting perfidy, describes the genesis and evolution of the “male revolt”. In it, she draws a line from  the ‘grey flannel’ playboys to the punks of the early ‘80s.

In all of them, aspects of the Draper abide. Like the grey-flannels, he has an ideal housewife; like the Beats he’s a prole. Like the Hef, his appetite is legendary.

E pluribus, unum.

Hearts of Men

Chloé-Poizat; "mes yeux distendus"

Our telly likes its women fertile and undemanding. Across genre and trope and theme,  girls are penalised for challenging chromosomes. Women are killed cos they’re pregnant, cos they’re not, cos they’re pregnant with the wrong sort of baby.  There is even a soap imploring us to stay away from this cruel country.  Consider, for a sampling:

SAAS BINA SASURAL 

Hic sunt the Toasty, arriving in a household of seven men. A solid bahu, Toasty proceeds to live up to her lovely name. She quits her job, ingratiates her way into everyone’s confidence, discovers a Devastating Secret: an earlier bahu stormed out. Wretched predecessor now divorcing Family.

PAVITRA RISHTA. 

I fled through Pavitra Rishta in forty two minutes. Here is the Saas. There is the other saas rescuing her daughter from abuse.

Moral Turmoil.  Mortal Toil.  More Turmoil. Boy and Girl elope…. I give up.

Pavitra Rishta frames the dominant fantasy of popular soaps. Women exist to ‘knit Families together’.  All their dreams and marginal rebellions are doomed to the devil’s treadmill. Keep your head down, it counsels, as you negotiate imposed boundaries.  Obey, don’t reason. Don’t think, smile!

Her family, pure-bahu concludes after each righteous day, is the sole reason for her sustenance. To separate any woman from her (wedded) Family is a theft of her soul, her identity, her reflection in the mirror. Without her husband, the fabric of her existence would melt away — she would be worse than worthless, she would be wasted.

Why I Sing My Blues. 

Faint Praise.

Size isn’t everything. It’s what you do

That matters, darling, and you do it quite well

In some respects. Credit where credit’s due –

You work, you’re literate, you rarely smell.

Small men can be aggressive, people say,

But you are often genial and kind,

As long as you can have things all your way

And I comply, and do not speak my mind.

You look all right. I’ve never been disgusted

By paunchiness. Who wants some skinny youth?

My friends have warned me that you can’t be trusted

But I protest I’ve heard you tell the truth.

Nobody’s perfect. Now and then, my pet,

You’re almost human. You could make it yet.

*

Semper Fidelis. 

tis black/out back.

8 Apr

The only reason this post isn’t called this fuckin’ ‘verse! is cos I was scared of the search-spam said title would generate.

I have been burned, and I repent, whatever Gibbon might think.

Well, then. Last month the mylaw books column was all about women. It was an exercise I undertook with a fair measure of derision — and it was one I didn’t want to be ‘seen’ taking. It wasn’t camaraderie, or redressal, or anything so simple; it was, if anything, acknowledgment. Women aren’t talked about enough in our world, in any field, and four weeks of me writing about female writers is hardly about to change this.  The women I wrote about – Barbara Ehrenreich, Diana Wynne Jones, Zadie Smith- are all in their own way spectacular, but in no way representative. They aren’t the women I look to for guidance, or direction; they are merely the women my eye turned to this month. I felt it was important to make a statement, thus I did, and shall we leave it at that? I equivocated with Zadie, I gad about with Diana, I damn Don Draper with faint praise. The death of Diana Wynne Jones a week after I wrote about her makes an unhappy tribute out of that essay, much as I ardently wish she was still around spinning capital yarns. If I had known, I’d have made a grander task of it. The grim reaper stalks us all, and seems determined to steal away the best of us.

Richard Teschner

You can read it all over at mylaw. One of these blessed days, I am assured by editors and doyennes over at that illustrious website, information shall scuttle free. That will be the day I provide links. Till then, er, sign up? It’s a crash insight into what the legal community is thinking at any given moment, and surely y’all know us lawyers have our tentacles in bloody everything. Last week, pimping apart, I tackled my first graphic novel. Twas my first attempt at a negative review, something I’m ambivalent about. Books speak differently to each of us, and I don’t see the point of denigrating them when I’ve personally found them unappealing. I suspect I’ve been phenomenally bitchy to compensate for the terseness of the review; it was a tightrope between clarity and charity, and insincerity is a terrible vice in a writer. It’s not the best thing I’ve written, but this is my job, and I do it the best I can. This week, in expiation, I wrote about Micheal Chabon’s Kavalier & Clay, and all is gawking and gushing about genius.  In other news, my Whedon essay is published, and I am inordinately proud of it, so perhaps one of you could trash it and restore the karma of the universe.

This is the unedited version. It holds the ‘temperance’ card in my arcana, inspired as it was by Macaulay: virtue is vice in just temper.

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The Mantle of the Vicious Bitch

8 Mar

I’ve been in television hibernation this past month, and it took the centenary of women’s day to draw me out. I’ve always been iffy on the subject of women’s day — why, precisely, are we celebrating half of humanity? I guess any publicity- look, we exist- is better than none.

Here I am. Watch me exult.

The excuse for my telly fest (which concluded last week) was my contribution to Popmatters’ Whedon retrospective, which will go up later this month on bogey. The inspiration for my little rant below was Darla, that first modern working girl.  For a feminist writer, Whedon is uniformly unkind in doling out her fate, though perhaps after 500 years of killing she was due some dying. Multiple times, even.  Darla, Angel’s sire,  is the vampire we meet in the first scene of Buffy. Dusted by Angel in season one, she is revived by Wolfram and Hart three years later, tormented in assorted ways (including one ill-fated pregnancy) until she finally kills herself. Amazing how often that happens in Angel: women sacrificing self for spawn. Though I guess Illyria is not, strictly speaking, spawn.

My title, for whedon-trivia, is borrowed off Cordy, from my favourite Angel episode. This would be Billy, in which Lilah kills her misogynist client. What can I say? Lilah’s got me on my knees. Remember when she gives Wesley The Divine Comedy before he goes all dark and they get all horny? In the original Tuscan, too, so classy and clever, which almost made me want to be a lawyer again.

Billy, though, is in close competition with Guise will be Guise, where Wesley impersonates Angel while the original and a fake swami have the following conversation:

Magev:  “You’re deeply ambivalent.”
Angel:  “Yeah, well, I am and I’m not.”
Magev:  “You need to get over her. – Okay, what does she [Darla] look like?”
Angel:  “She’s beautiful. – Small, blonde…”
Magev:  “Right.  So here’s what you do.  You go out and find yourself some small, blonde thing.  You bed her, you love her, you treat her like crap, you break her heart.  You and your inner demon will thank me, I promise.”

 

 

And, in spirit with these serendipitous times, a poem I found on Spaniard in the Works,

 

Chewing slowly,

Only after I’d eaten

My grandmother,

Mother,

Son-in-law,

Two brothers-in-law,

And father-in-law

(His big family included)

In that order,

And had for dessert

The town’s inhabitants,

 

Did I find, says Kabir,

The beloved that I’ve become

One with

 

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Via Media

4 Jul

I was once asked to comment on a paper called “How to Subvert Democracy: Montesinos in Peru” in law school.

Montesinos was the Head of Intelligence in Peru in the ‘90s, when Fujimori was in power. Via SIN (how’s that for evocative language?), he bribed his bosses’ way into power. He paid off parliament members, judges, newspapers, and news television channels – this last he paid the most money of all. The authors provide several  explanations:

  • Television channel owners are generally richer than the average politician. In an endemically corrupt system, they get box seats.
  • Channels  influence public perception more than individual judges and senators do.
  • He had to buy all the news channels in order for his control to be effective, while he just needed “enough” judges and politicians.

Finally, they argue the fourth estate — gagging the press amounts bypasses democratic institutions, and thus a democracy produced a dictator. All fine points that miss something basic. Fujimori wasn’t a dictator.  He was formally elected, and not by a banana republic margin, even if he did wrangle himself a third term in power.  Once Peruvians found out about the scandal, he obligingly ran away. Besides, tyrants don’t pussyfoot around buying off television channels. They kill offensive journalists.

The capture of the media isn’t something Montesinos dreamt up, and it isn’t a symptom of corruption. It is a symptom of governance in sufficiently “evolved” societies. It undermines democracy, but that’s only relevant if one separates the idea of democracy from the working of democracies. Fujimori wasn’t a dictator, he was Eco’s Man from Television, an early model Clegg or Obama.

This is a president intent on charming the pants off the gullible, and the tragedy is that so many of these people exist. Democracy was to free us of the personality cult and encourage debate on policy. So where did all the skeptics of the liberals’ fond imagination go? Where are all those American people who should be wondering right about now why their country has such mystifying foreign policy? Why aren’t there more? Cos they’re all watching Gossip Girl and Survivor: Tiny Island. What about all the Indians who should be wondering why our government puts people into ghettos? We, too, are watching Gossip Girl, but then we live within an empire, so ’tis to be expected.

For decades, people like Guy Debord have warned us of the difference between spectacle and symbol, of the inhumanity in being an audience to suffering. I won’t go into the whole capitalism-alienation-apathy argument here, but surely tis evident that the mass media isn’t geared for a thinking citizenry. If a thinking citizenry is what democracy demands, we doom ourselves to failure. This isn’t subversion of democracy, it is annihilation, and it happens everywhere.

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Their, Their Sex.

1 Jul

My closest school friend turned 24 yesterday (happy b’day, deevan!). I am not scheduled to do so for another five months, but her birthday has always seemed like the onset of mine, splitting the year into neat halves: until June 30 I am 23-and-a-bit; on July 1, I am almost-24. For most of my life this was eagerly anticipated: it put me closer to the adulthood I was so eager to acquire so I could live wildly and do all the exciting things I had in store for myself. Ever since I have been able to actually do those things (and chosen the indubitably wastrel life of living in front of a laptop) it has seemed far more menacing, cancer and wrinkles looming at the distant horizon. I envision losing my taut skin, my non-existent figure (I look like a tall potato) and my hair; my terrible eyesight weakening further, my voice assuming a wavering quiver, and my typing fingers swollen with arthritis (in more vainglorious moments, I picture the blind Milton composing extempore at his benighted daughters, replaced in my imagination by dictaphones ).

This is, you will understand, the best time to be watching television about women twice your age with hot bodies and hotter men, and it is why I have always loved Samantha on Sex and the City (hereinafter, Sex). I don’t identify with her- how do you identify with an alien superwoman? The closest I come to these New York women is Miranda in the early cynical years when she’s still something of a klutz. Samantha is my ultimate fantasy for myself (with a less.. tiring selection process and more alone-time) as alluring as she is impossible for the chronically shy. Charlotte I dismiss, while Carrie has always been the show’s central mystery. In some things we are similar: irrepressible diary-keeping; unfortunate dress-sense (well, at least she has some); a suspicion of Society (hers is far less pronounced than mine); good luck in friendship. In others- sociability, interests, cultural taste- we are impossibly dissimilar. In season one I was utterly taken with her: she was my adolescent idea of a zany thirty-something. Big I viewed as a pleasant aberration: I too hoped to have a tycoon in my stable one day. After that magical first airing on HBO India, sans all sex and watched sneakily late at night, Big has annoyed the crap out of me every time I try watching the first season (he gives her a glittery duck-purse!); the surest testament, in my experience, to the injury of hindsight.

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