Saturday, September 13, 2014

'Mad Men' Then, Sad Men Now

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in "Mad Men"
“Real wages have fallen since Don Draper’s heyday, especially for American men and double-especially for the middle-class and working-class white men who were once the bulwarks of the mid-century model of adulthood,” wrote Andrew O’Hehir. “We now live in a culture … of diminished expectations and permanent underemployment, where many or most young people will never be as affluent as their parents. Lifetime job security is an antediluvian delusion, and in many metropolitan areas home ownership is out of reach for all but the rich. It’s just as useless to object to those changes as it is to complain about grownups reading Harry Potter books, but certainly those things were the essential underpinnings of classic adulthood, and without them it’s no surprise to see the old order fading away.” 
“(T)o use Scott’s schema, the old-style masculine adult clearly thought of himself as productive first and foremost, even if (like Don Draper) he was actually a species of cultural parasite. The consumer, on the other hand, is a distinctly childlike figure, a dependent who demands pleasurable stimulus 24/7 from the comforting and/or imprisoning info-bubble around him. ‘The elevation of every individual’s inarguable likes and dislikes over formal critical discourse, the unassailable ascendancy of the fan, has made children of us all,’ Scott writes. ‘We have our favorite toys, books, movies, video games, songs, and we are as apt to turn to them for comfort as for challenge or enlightenment.’”
This same infantilization-by-market is a reason why adult American males now treat real guns as if they were toy guns. 

What's Wrong With Fox News, Vol. 3, Part 6,825

Lively 'Planet' Champions Compassion

Jake Cole and Blake Morris in a Daily Eastern News photo.

By Dan Hagen
Eastern Illinois University’s “Lonely Planet” is a showcase for the considerable and well-matched talents of two actors, Jake Cole and Blake Morris, who play urban gay men at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
Steven Dietz’s play, ably directly by Kevin Doolen, is about how a person should respond to a crisis that threatens all around him — by hiding in safety, or by reaching out in compassion. The point is made with clever byplay and symbolism — a map shop as a metaphor of an orderly microcosm, chairs as the ghostly remnants of the people who sat in them.
As Carl, Cole blows through Morris’s sedate map shop like a whirlwind, literally smashing the door open at one point. He feints, charms and cajoles, and even the breezy lies he tells about his occupation turn out to have a poignant point.
As Jody, Morris hides his fear beneath an engagingly winsome surface. His soliloquies are fascinating, whether he’s cheerfully explaining the nuances of cartography or revealing his anguish in dreams. And no matter how close you sit to the stage, you won’t catch a single emotionally false note in either actor.
The heavy topic is illuminated by plenty of lighter moments. An extended stage combat scene, for which the actors were professionally trained, is a fluid marvel of mock derring-do.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Wilde, Wilde Victorian Era

Benjamin Disraeli

The raised-eyebrow reticence of some older biographies can strike 21st century readers as amusing.
In his 819-page biography of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, published in 1966, Robert Blake noted that the wily Tory politician had few friends his own age. “To say that Disraeli only gave his confidence to young men and old women would perhaps be an overstatement, but not an outrageous one,” he wrote.
Take, for example, Lord Henry Lennox, an acid-tongued, gossipy bon vivant who, as the younger son of a duke, was too lofty to work but too poor to get by comfortably.
“Lennox is of interest as a type, but as a person he was never more than an intellectual flibbertigibbet,” Blake wrote. “He would long ago have been forgotten had it not been for the affection which he inspired in a man of genius. “I can only tell you that I love you,’ wrote Disraeli on Sept. 1, 1852, and a fortnight later, ‘Even a line is pleasant from those we love.’ The language must be discounted as the hyperbole of the time. But it remains something of a mystery that Disraeli should have been as he was of such an essentially trivial personality.”
Oh? And why must his declaration of love be “dismissed as hyperbole?” Today, applying Occam’s Razor, we wouldn’t regard the business as such a mystery.
“Disraeli’s previous biographers have noticed that there were some romantic irregularities in his past: he preferred old ladies to young women; he married late; he had a passion for male friendship,” wrote historian William Kuhn in Sexual Ambiguity in the Life of Disraeli.
“The standard explanation for this is that in those pre-Freudian days there was a Romantic cult of friendship and that love between men was sexually ‘innocent’ (the underlying assumption being that sexual contact is ‘guilty’).
“Some of his earliest biographers (such as W. F. Monypenny and G. E. Buckle) explained away Disraeli’s odd history of affectionate relationships by saying it was due to the ‘oriental’ part of his nature. By this they meant that he was Jewish and thus partly ‘foreign’ and un-English. They were also hinting at a Victorian prejudice that sexual license, including same-sex contact, was more common in ‘the East’ or what we would call the Middle East.
“Lord Blake, whose 1966 biography is still authoritative, hinted that Disraeli was a lot like Oscar Wilde, and left it there. Two more recent biographers (Sarah Bradford and Jane Ridley) have been more comfortable referring explicitly to the homoerotic element in Disraeli’s personality.”
“There’s a way in which the absence of a homosexual identity in Disraeli’s time — and the disinclination of the general public to talk about such things — made it possible for men to love each other under the radar screen,” Kuhn wrote. “Of course, the more severe penalties and consequences of being caught in that time cannot be forgotten. Disraeli, however, was able to flaunt his approval of Greco-Roman sexuality, demonstrate his knowledge of Turkish baths, celebrate effeminacy, and dwell upon romance between men in his fiction — even as he experienced huge success in the world of politics and literature. Thus we can no longer regard the Victorian era as a uniformly dark age for men who loved other men. Disraeli not only got away with all this; he gloried in it.”
That something that was thought to be monstrous in one era can be seen as being merely incidental in another may be regarded as one of the ironies of social progress.
Sources: Disraeli by Robert Blake; Sexual Ambiguity in the Life of Disraeli by William Kuhn.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Houdini Meets Fortune

Emma Stone and Colin Firth

Bart suggested we take in Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight this afternoon, so I treated myself to that greatest of all movie-going advantages — knowing absolutely nothing about what I was about to see. So I was pleasantly surprised to find Colin Firth and Emma Stone in the roles of rationalist vs. mystic, a kind of Harry Houdini meets Dion Fortune in the gauzy golden glow of the Cote d’Azur just before the 1929 crash.
Woody Allen’s old-fashioned recipe includes a generous portion of green-glowing romantic-dream cinematography, a touch of Higgins and Eliza and just a pinch of the supercilious Mr. Darcy. Not only can Firth convincingly play an imperious, infallible intellectual, but he can give his portrayal just the right, slight note of fatuousness to bring the whole thing off with a likeable charm.
An excellent suggestion, Bart.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mrs. Blandings and Mr. Icarus

"Icarus" by Jose Luis Munoz

“In the kitchen, while all the most modern appliances of modern housekeeping splashed and span, Mrs. Blandings reflected upon men, the male sex, the masculine characteristics. Above all the essential primitive levels she could find very little to commend. Males were dedicated to the impossible. They achieved it just often enough — the luckiest ones, that is — to keep all the rest of the sex in a perpetual dither; perpetually sailing off in rockets to be vaporized out of existence; perpetually seeking the Absolute; perpetually falling into vats of boiling acid or perishing by falling two miles out of the sky. The death march of the lemmings into the sea was no more strange than the male’s hurling himself endlessly against the rock in the path until he should batter himself into oblivion, and the rock remain serene.”
— “Blandings’ Way” Eric Hodgins