Masculinity and its Discontents

Image Credit: AMC
Image Credit: AMC

Mad Men has now firmly entered the America of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, a time when masculinity moved from grey-suited respectability to youthfulness, danger, and overt sexuality. Pete Campbell is pretty much the opposite of all these things. I suppose he’s still young, but his youth has always seemed less a marker of coolness and more symptomatic of his sniveling entitlement. Even though he is the only true WASP at Sterling Cooper Draper Price, this privilege only makes him squarer and less sexually appealing in the world of 1966. When Trudy—not Pete—is able to get Don to come to the country for a dinner party, Pete is embarrassingly excited as though the high school quarterback deigned to come to his thirteenth birthday party. He may believe this makes him cool by association. But it does not. He’s playing classical music at a party in Connecticut and bragging about it. We are a long, long way from Don’s white-carpeted loft and “Zou Bisou Bisou.”

The party further reinforces the distinctly physical allure of Don Draper—a raw sexuality characteristic of Mick Jagger, the Brit who was always more akin to the American Brando than the British Bond. Even though Don is older than Pete, he still appears more culturally relevant and thus more masculine simply because he looks so damn good with his shirt off. It’s not just that he is able to fix the faucet that Pete could only fiddle with (read: obvious sexual metaphor); it’s that all the women are clearly aroused just by his mere physicality. Pete will always be a blue blood, and Don’s identity will always be a lie. But in America, in 1966, this doesn’t matter. Masculinity has been severed from heredity, and sexuality is much less about class and more about primal sensuality and physical power. Continue reading “Masculinity and its Discontents”

Cruel to Be Kind

 

Image Credit: NBC
Image Credit: NBC

Sonia Tsuruoka’s excellent piece in Slate about the deadpan awesomeness of Parks and Recreation’s April Ludgate needs to be read by all because this character is something we almost never see on television: a scowling young, pretty woman who doesn’t give a shit but is also frequently, surprisingly quite sweet. I’m an embarrassingly recent convert to Parks and Recreation, so I could go on and on about the fantastic cast of female comediennes or the show’s brilliant troubling of masculine types (e.g., Ron Swanson vs. Tom Haverford vs. Chis Traeger); however, I’m sure the internet or at least Jezebel already covered this about three years ago.

What makes April so wonderful, so refreshing, and so worth discussing is not just her sullenness and bitchiness but her moments of genuine sweetness. This week’s episode with the “puuupies” was a particularly fine example. Her character could SO easily have simply been a throwaway bitchy, slacker Leslie foil. Although she is kind of the anti-Leslie, she shares Leslie and the rest of the casts’ genuine decency (except toward Jerry, poor Jerry). She is the best assistant Ron Swanson could have both because of their shared apathy and also because they are both able to at once despise humanity but also really care about their friends. Their father/daughter chemistry never stops making every forced nineties sitcom depiction of the caring dad seem so lame by comparison. Continue reading “Cruel to Be Kind”

Hurts so Good

Image Credit: AMC
Image Credit: AMC

Don Draper has always been an odd archetype of American masculinity. He is caught between the self-invention and desire for respectability of Jay Gatsby and the visceral, often frightening sexuality of Stanley Kowalski. Consequently, enlightened female viewers everywhere both despise what he represents and yet still want to fuck him. Not only does this episode explore this uncomfortable comingling of sex and violence but it also investigates the question of Don’s central decency and its relationship to the women in and out of his bed.

We begin with Peggy’s friend Joyce titillating the copywriting team with unpublished images of the Chicago nurses raped and murdered by Richard Speck in July 1966. When she describe details of the naked, bound victims as though she were telling a pornographic ghost story (echoed later in the super creepy narrative Grandma Pauline tells Sally), Joyce appears most interested in exciting Megan, who is clearly aroused. As the previous episode’s naked-cleaning-angry-floor-sex scene attests, a significant portion of Megan’s erotic attraction to Don is predicated on the same qualities that repulse her, which causes her constant pain outside the bedroom as evidenced by her clear annoyance at continually running into his former conquests. Continue reading “Hurts so Good”

Unsatisfied Girls, Nervous Dudes

 

Image Credit: HBO
Image Credit: HBO

Lena Dunham’s interview in Salon makes me have a little more faith in the direction of Girls if only because she focuses less on the “I’m-too-good-for-a-job” hipster dilemma and more on what it’s actually like to be a sexually active young woman in New York City. All we good sex-positive feminists often feel uncomfortable even mentioning some of the negative aspects of contemporary sexuality for fear it will make us seem man-hating or prudish. Also, ”social scientists” love to cling to these details to argue it would be better if we all went back to guarding our hymenical treasures until marriage. Therefore, I’m impressed that Dunham is willing to handle the complex, sticky (sometimes literally) problem of young women being sexual, wanting to have sex, but also finding themselves continually used sexually in ways that are not particularly satisfying and sometimes hurtful and borderline rapey. Unfortunately, even though women are now much more willing to talk about cum in their faces or whether or not to include said face in a sext, many still find it difficult to express their own needs for fear of losing a guy or even seeming like a killjoy.  We still have a long, long way to go until women are getting the enjoyable sex they deserve, and this show seems like it could be one small, awkward step in the right direction. Also, she won me over by referencing the eternal Jordan Catalano/Brian Krakow dilemma.

All Up Inside Katniss’s Head

Image Credit: Lionsgate
Image Credit: Lionsgate

When adapting an immensely popular book, a filmmaker must always be wary of evoking the wrath of fans if the film diverts—even slightly—from the page. Although the third Harry Potter film is by far the most successful, Alfonso Curón was still criticized for adding gothic elements and cutting superfluous Quidditch scenes. Gary Ross was clearly conscious of this fact when creating the entertaining but slavishly faithful Hunger Games.

Initially, I thought The Hunger Games could be easily adapted to the screen because it is a well-paced narrative. After watching the film, my initial reaction matched that of most other critics: the atmosphere of the reaping was pitch perfect, the cornucopia was horrifying without fetishizing the violence, the slow pacing of the film’s first half and the quick pacing of the second was jarring, and the shaky cam was annoying precisely 99.9% of the time. What was most striking, however, was how the film’s tone and characters differed from the book even though the film was basically a page-by-page adaptation.

I was immediately reminded that this first book takes place almost entirely in Katniss’s head. Entire relationships are formed and played out through her thoughts, and we see her character develop less through her actions—save in a few key scenes (e.g., the reaping, Rue’s death)—and more through her psychological battles and internal reactions to her circumstances. The classic response to this dilemma is, “Well, it’s impossible to film interior monologues unless you include intrusive voiceovers violating every show-don’t-tell law ever written.” I disagree. Yes, you cannot film exactly what is going on inside a character’s head through language, so you should instead use the tools unique to cinema to express the same meaning. Continue reading “All Up Inside Katniss’s Head”