Tag Archives: ehrenreich

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. 

Playing Cassandra.

28 Dec

A Year in Reverse, Part II.

(Part I was Deluded Democracy, about elections around the world.)

The first of these.. snippets is a dismembered essay I wrote for popmatters back in February. That essay makes less sense every time I read it, and I’m hoping the remnants of it will fare better. Another essay that would’ve made it into this series is Of Nativity, where my allegiance to Frantz Fanon was recorded for posterity to note. It has already found its way onto this blog, however, and that’s that as far as introduction goes.

Playing Cassandra.

Barbara Ehrenreich is a woman of demonstrably diverse talents. If she should want to find conventional employment, one would assume it would be a fairly easy process. Bait and Switch is a detailed exposition into why one would be wrong. In it, she goes undercover again, as she did in Nickel and Dimed, this time in the very white collar world of PR and marketing. Excluding the publishing world, she starts the book applying and searching for marketing/PR positions promiscuously, sans moral qualm and geography. Her single string is income level, yet she spends the rest of the book upgrading herself in vain. 

I read this book amazed at the ‘transition’ industry unemployment in America has spawned, converting desperation into dollars. By synthesizing selfishness with self-help, Corporate America seems to have learnt how to systemically shed people while simultaneously convincing them it’s their own fault they’re out of a job.

Ehrenreich describes her steady line of career coaches offering contradictory advice on the basis of loopy personality tests, one of whom hilariously advises her to work on her writing skills. She negotiates the catch-22 of “appropriate” attire for corporate women (simultaneously professional and feminine, without being either threatening or provocative), encounters the evangelical Right, and discovers the new workforce makes the people it retains as miserable as the ones it fires. Several of the people she networks with are employed, but desperate to find alternate employment: either because they are underemployed and dissatisfied, or because they are stretched far too thin compensating for fired colleagues. Apart from time and energy, she ultimately spends $6,000 on her job search: money spent on coaches, resume-checkers, job sites, networking “clubs” and “events”, bootcamp (essentially group therapy), a wardrobe consultant, a “professional development seminar” until, finally (and fittingly), she is offered the chance to pay someone to employ her.

Mervyn Peake, Mad Hatters.

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