Dean v. Cameron

Yesterday I made a cheap joke about Avatar (still unseen--working up the courage) looking like the world's most expensive album cover by Yes--esteemed proggers of the 1970s.  Turns out I'm not the only one to notice that Cameron's vision for the film comes (unconsciously, I'm sure) straight from the post-hippie cosmic stoner imaginary.  Roger Dean was the artist behind most of the Yes covers, including what may well be the single most excessively indulgent record of that excessively indulgent era: Tales from Topographic Oceans (double elpee with 4 songs in total--each based on an ancient Sanskrit text).  At the height of the band's popularity in the late '70s, Dean's work also appeared on a series of posters sold in mall-based pseudo-headshops (like Spencers Gifts...if anyone remembers those dens of sandalwood iniquity).

For those who want to get out ahead of the outrage, below are some examples of Dean's work.  For all its groundbreaking motion-capture technology, Avatar appears to remain indebted to a school of boomer-era science-fiction that still thought other planets would be like Earth-- only freakier, man.

"The 5 Greatest (blanks) of the Decade," so Sayeth I

If you are involved in the critical analysis of film, television, literature or any other aesthete pursuit, you’ve probably had someone ask you what you consider to be the “greatest” film, TV series, or novel of all time (or its slight variant, your “favorite” film, series, or novel).  This question always completely stupefies me.  I’ve never understood the predilection for ranking secretions of the culture industry.  Fighting over individual products is always fun; indeed, it often provides the only amusement currently available within the pop arena (discussing Jersey Shore by attacking or defending it through hyperbole is diverting enough, but damned if I’m going to sit through EVERY episode.  Similarly, even if Avatar had lived up to the hype and been the single greatest game-changer in the movies since sound, it would still be required to suck on moral/political grounds, sight unseen.  Too many of us have too much invested against Cameron to acknowledge success at any level).   Like Pokeman, then, pitting individual films or TV shows against one another for the pleasure of critical battle is a time-honored pursuit.  But when it comes to arguing that “X” is the greatest TV show of the year, or “Y” is the greatest film of the decade, or “Z” is the greatest Bob Dylan album since Dylan Album “W,” I’ve never really understood the hubris of it all. 

Of course, even the most rudimentary brush with cultural theory should teach us to be suspicious of such lists, and it is no coincidence that the vast majority of these pronouncements come from the keyboards of middle-class white males with some amount of college behind them—critics who fancy themselves “informed” consumers when really they have mastered certain class/gender/hetero/race specific criteria that they feel empowers them to translate between the inherently squiggly categories of pleasure, quality, and worth.  Curb Your Enthusiasm made an inspired gesture toward this unexamined privilege during the past season.  Larry’s African-American housemate, Leon, visits the set for the much-anticipated Seinfeld reunion episode.  Jerry, Kramer, George, Elaine, the apartment?  Clueless.  Never seen them or it.  Not really even sure if he’s heard of Seinfeld before either.  Or as Chris Rock put it a decade or so ago (discussing O.J.), “Never seen white people this mad since they canceled M*A*S*H”).

Does this mean we are left with only godless relativism?  Yes, let’s hope so.  I certainly understand all the reasons Citizen Kane (1941) “should” be esteemed above Blood Feast (1963)—but I don’t want to foreclose the possibility of a world where Blood Feast IS the better film, or dismiss the psycho-aesthete who genuinely enjoys Blood Feast over Kane.  Come to think of it, beyond There Will Be Blood (2007), how many recent films have taken up the Kanian mantle of the thinly-veiled bio-pic as sweeping assessment of the American experience?  I can’t think of any.  But I can think of about a thousand films that spring from the demented head of Blood Feast. 

Shouldn’t we simply celebrate and/or condemn a world that has both Michael Haneke and Uwe Boll, 30-Rock and The Ghost Whisperer, Tom Waits and Dave Matthews, without necessarily worrying about how to assess their relative worth against one another?  Wouldn’t it be more interesting to live in a world where none of these issues can be resolved (which just so happens to be the world we DO live in), where no one’s aesthetic fences in the territory of other people's affect and imagination? 

Here’s an anecdote of how the whole critical evaluation racket typically works, drawn from the way-back times of print journalism.  When I was reviewing movies for the Austin Chronicle, our editor (and esteemed architect of the whole Austin mythos), Louis Black, was adamant that staff writers be very sparing in allotting the supreme 5-star rating to their film reviews.   The Chronicle’s scale went from bomb to 5 stars (with half stars in between for the truly anal).  The 5-star rating was to be awarded only to unqualified masterpieces—exemplars of the medium or at least of their genre.   After getting to the end of my rave review of David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly, I had to wrestle with the 4.5 or 5 star dilemma.  After much soul-searching, I turned in my copy with the full 5 stars emblazoned at the bottom.  Can you think of a more perfect horror/romance/AIDS allegory that represented such a major step forward for a previously spotty director?  No, you can’t.  For what it aims to be, The Fly is perfect—I really can’t imagine how anyone would improve on it.

Within a half-hour of dropping off my copy, Louis called me and we spent the next hour arguing over whether or not the film truly deserved the rare mobilization of the coveted 5 star endorsement.  As an editor for the entire paper, not just the film section, Louis was no doubt thinking about the overall reputation/profile of the Chronicle—sure, he agreed it was a truly great film, and probably even deserved 5 stars, but would the public stand for it?  (note to younger readers: in 1986, newspaper reviewers still had some modicum of influence/authority, or at the very least, could serve as lightning rods for angry letters).  We both made our cases, and in the end (to his immense credit), Louis allowed the 5 star banner to be unfurled (I think his exact words were, “yeah, you’re right…it’s a great f#@kin’ film, let’s go with it).

Now, why was it so important that The Fly receive 5 stars and not 4.5?  Why was it worth spending an hour on the phone arguing over HALF a star (beyond the intellectual challenge of it all)?  Because only a month or so before we had this debate, another reviewer at the Chronicle had given Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters a 5 star rating—and there was no way in hell I was going to allow that steaming pile of tripe to outrank what at that point stood as Cronenberg’s masterwork.  So, once again, as Bourdieu tells us—taste is more about a distaste for the cultural selections of others.  For the year of 1986, which film was to represent the possibility and hope of the mainstream cinema, and in so doing, crush the reactionary, pompous, tired aesthetic criteria of the past?  Seeing Duck Soup saves you from an existential crisis?  Not in my world, bub…
As it so happens, we’re right in the midst of this ritualistic compiling of the “best” lists, not just for 2009, but also for the decade (and I guess that would mean the century as well).  In that spirit, then, here is my own list, one that will allow me to showcase the awesomeness of my taste across all significant media.  Those who take issue with any of the selections below are happily invited to argue with me, but be assured, I will do everything within my power to defeat you. 

Best TV Series of the Decade (in no particular order)

1.    Strangers with Candy (Comedy Central): Did any other series have the courage to feature a 47 year-old bi-sexual ex-con junkie freshman begging a high school senior to “pee on me?”  Nope.  Tina Fey’s amusing and all that, but Amy Sedaris as “Jerri Blank” deserves every Emmy of the past decade to be melted down into one giant uber-emmy.

2.    Wundershowzen/Xavier: Renegade Angel (MTV/Adult Swim): Utterly nihilistic disengagement has never been so hilarious.  Xavier is probably the only program ever to appear on American television specifically designed to trigger a psychotic fugue in the viewer.  One episode featured an evangelical screwing a gorilla and causing the rapture, so there you go.  Almost universally hated by the Adult Swim demo, it appears to have remained on the air solely for the amusement of the Adult Swim brain-trust.

 3.    Pants Off/Dance Off (FUSE):  Contestants strip-dance on TV, but to see them completely naked, you have to switch over to the show’s website.  Transmediality meets P.T. Barnum meets polymorphously perverse strip-club.  Genius.

4.    Caveman (ABC):  Hilarious Geico commercial campaign creates an equally hilarious premise for a TV series.  Neanderthals enacting the day-to-day problems of yuppie 20-somethings....could have been the greatest “fish-out-of-water” tale since The Munsters.  Canceled way too soon by critics and corporate suits who never actually watched it.

5.    Tom Goes to the Mayor (Adult Swim): Bob and Ray remade as soul-crushing comedy about the futility of civic involvement and the utter despair of American architecture/themed environments.   Essential viewing for all cranks and misanthropes.  

There are no dramas on this list as drama is now a bankrupt form destined for the scrapheap of history—except for John From Cincinnati, which was awesome, and if you didn’t like it, that only means you probably weren’t smart enough to “get it.” 

Best Movies of the Decade (in no particular order, except for Idiocracy, which should be precisely at  #4))

1.    Grizzly Man (2005): A crazy guy loves bears so much that he lets one of them eat him.  Amazing.

2.    Freddie Got Fingered (2001):  Maybe the single greatest Oedipal narrative ever committed to film.  The hatred between Tom Green and Rip Torn builds slowly and convincingly, eventually blurring all diegetic and pro-filmic distinctions.   Plus it's like watching the C.E.O. of 20th Century Fox setting $10 million dollars on fire.  

3.   Mulholland Drive (2001):  Why isn’t every movie like this?

4.    Speed Racer (2008):  Everything The Matrix wanted to say about our future, but much more subtle and diabolical in its execution. The Wachowskis claimed The Matrix was inspired, in part, by Baudrillard--but this is the far better example of a hyperreal cinema.  A true masterwork of uncompromising superficiality.   

5.    2 Girls, 1 Cup (????): The entertainment of the future will be about finding and/or simulating highly charged episodes of stunning actuality.  This is a good start. 

6.    Idiocracy (2006):  Should have made $100 million, but I guess that would have undermined its own purpose.  Would thrive as a TV series. 

Best “Albums” of the Decade

1.    Blueberry Boat by The Fiery Furnaces (2004)

2.    Hypermagic Mountain by Lightning Bolt (2005)

These are the only two records I heard this decade that moved the ball forward in any way, at least in my opinion  (note to those under 30—you should seek out and attack anyone over 30 who deigns to weigh in on the world of popular music.  I await your jibes, and again, I vow to defeat you). 

See you in 2020!

Professor Moriarty's Deadly Nausea Ray

At some point during their long cinematic dormancy, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson developed a taste for 99¢ “Go-Go Taquitos” at 7-11.  If you’ve been by a 7-11 recently, maybe you’ve seen the signage for this campaign:  Holmes and Watson—A.C. Doyle’s legendary sleuths now transmigrated into the bodies of Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law—staring out from a soupy curtain of London-like fog, imploring us to “Get a Clue” by purchasing said Taquitos.

As an effortless and most likely unexamined exercise in corporate Dadaism, these ads are breathtakingly ridiculous.  The idea of Holmes sending Watson down to the corner to procure an evening’s repast of microwaved lard tubes is so ludicrous as to ultimately be rather inspired—an insult to Holmes, Doyle, literature, cuisine, and civilization so profound as to be sickly hilarious.  The very premise is funny, of course, but the slogan truly transports this campaign into the stratosphere of schlock.  “Get a Clue” comes straight from the Carl’s Jr. “Go fuck yourself I’m pleasuring a cheeseburger” school of advertising (so masterfully captured in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy).   But why not go even further?  I, for one, would heartily enjoy seeing a new version of A Portrait of a Lady with Isabel Archer lugging a 64 oz. Big Gulp with her across Europe—not just on 7-11 signs, but in the actual film.  “Wait one moment, Pansy, I am absolutely parched…. sluuuuuurrrrppp.”  If this is to be a part of the cinema’s future, I would prefer it happen sooner rather than later so I can at least get a few jaded kicks out of it. 

This isn’t to question the entertainment value of the new Holmes movie.  From all accounts (or at least from people I trust), it’s supposed to be pretty good—much better, in fact, than anyone could have expected.  There are probably worse ways to spend your Holiday movie bucks.   And in the end, I would certainly prefer seeing Holmes more than a patronizing lecture on American colonialism performed by mutant Smurfs at play in the world’s most expensive Yes album cover.    

Still, there is something to be said for a less ambitious cinema, movies that are happy to simply be movies, that make no effort to compel you to participate in a slate of play-dates with an entertainment conglomerate’s other snotty little children.  Wouldn’t it be great, if just for once, a major motion picture could arrive without 20 second snippets from the studio’s ancillary label mixed in wall to wall?  That didn’t implore me to go on-line and search for Iron Man’s missing underpants?  That didn’t insert its characters into another “run around and grab stuff without getting killed” video game?  That might resist whoring out Doyle to merchants of slurpees, jerky, and lotto tickets?

A relic of this less ambitious cinema was on TCM last week: Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson in Terror by Night (1946).  This title came toward the end of a series featuring Rathbone as Sherlock, movies that began as “A” product at 20th-Century Fox (The Hound of the Baskervilles—1939) but then migrated to the B-unit at Universal.  Not that the studio system wasn’t also happy to kick Doyle’s corpse in the crotch.  When Universal took over the series in 1942, a title card appeared at the opening of Voice of Terror to proclaim Holmes/Watson so utterly “timeless” that they would now be appearing in mysteries set in contemporary London--complete with Nazis!

Terror by Night features all the charms studio romantics typically associate with the B-film.  It also makes a solid case that the B-film was the ideal vehicle for Holmes and Watson.  Doyle’s original stories, after all, while hugely popular, were generally short pieces of light fiction that--like the B-film--were to be read and mentally disposed of immediately.  What better excuse to avoid spending huge amounts of money on elaborate sets, large casts, and complicated action sequences?

Terror by Night pastes together a couple of Doyle’s shorter Sherlock fictions to create a rather by-the-numbers whodunit on a train.  The son of a rich old dowager employs Holmes to guard them as they travel from London to Edinburgh with some mythical horse-choker of a diamond.  One attempt has already been made to steal the gem, and Sherlock (with Watson in tow, of course) is certain the thieves will strike again on the train.  And guess what?  The son is soon found dead in his compartment and the diamond has gone missing.  The bulk of the film involves Holmes deducing his way through the 5 suspects occupying the car’s 5 compartments.  

Train movies—especially mysteries-- have their own logic and rhythm of course.  In the real world, a murder and the theft of a multi-million dollar diamond would result in the train grinding to a halt and the immediate embarkation of a forensics team.  In Terror by Night, Holmes simply has the train car locked up and sets out to expose the killer before they reach Edinburgh (a trip, by the way, that we are told will take “all night” and at one point—in a brief cut away to stock footage—appears to detour through the Alps.  By 1946, thousands of American G.I.’s had been to the United Kingdom—but apparently a few 4-F’s left back in Hollywood took the idea of the Scottish “Highlands” a little too literally).  Far from distracting, however, this chronotope is wholly appropriate to the genre—the sealed car moving inexorably forward becomes an analogue of the narration itself, a hermetic diegesis intertwining enigma and journey through the moving time-space of deduction.  We know Holmes will succeed in solving the mystery by the time they reach the station, just as we know he will not solve it with an hour or so to spare—as expected, the killer’s revelation takes place just as we roll into Edinburgh in the film’s 59th of 60 minutes. 

Confining the story to a single train car presents a perfect example of the B-film’s narrative/material economies.  There are some short expository scenes in a coffin shop and on the London platform, plus a couple of detours into the baggage and dining cars while on the train—but a good 90% of Terror By Night unfolds either in the corridor or in one of the 5 passenger compartments (which of course is actually the same set re-dressed several times for minor variation).  The set-ups here are thus extremely limited and repetitive—more a matter of moving the various actors on and off the set than moving the actual cameras.

There is a brief and frankly gratuitous attempt to inject a little jeopardy into this world by having a mysterious figure push Holmes from the train—but for the most part the entire mystery unfolds as a series of discussions between rotating groups of characters either passing in the corridor or seated in their compartments.  And given the extraordinary luxury of British rail travel in 1946—at least as imagined by Hollywood—we might as well be back in Holmes’ study at 221B Baker Street.  Indeed, despite the fact that one man is dead, a priceless jewel is missing, and other incidental characters eventually turn up dead or wounded, no one seems particularly concerned about his own personal safety.  In the midst of what we would now call a spree killing, Watson still finds time to play cards with an old friend and Holmes has ample opportunity to smoke and speculate in his berth.  It is an interesting compromise with Doyle’s original conception of the Holmes character: even though murders are unfolding in their very midst, the characters engage the crimes, not as participants, but as if they were simply reading and thinking about them.

Of course, some might argue a movie that unfolds like an exercise in reading and/or polite conversation sounds pretty dull.  True, there are no asses kicked in Terror By Night.  Nothing explodes, nor are there any spectacular stunts to speak of (unless you count Rathbone dangling for a few moments in front of a rear projection of the Midlands speeding by).  But there is still a certain charm in a movie that, like the issues of Beeton's, Lippincott's, and The Strand  in which Holmes first appeared, invites you to kill an hour or so in its company without making any further demands on your time, money, or consciousness.   Of course at that point the Holmes “franchise” was only 50 years old, “timeless” enough to be transplanted to 1940s London and yet not so completely evacuated from history as to become a hyperreal prop for taquito sales.  

Which leads to a final set of questions.  What advantage, exactly, does Sherlock Holmes bring to the marketing of the “Go-Go Taquito?”  Does the “Go-Go Taquito” do anything to increase box-office for Holmes?  Or has this whole process become so reflexive that no one even dares question it anymore?  I’m sure marketers could produce figures proving a spike in Go-Go Taquito consumption over the next few weeks—and that’s even more disturbing (although there is still no way of knowing if a campaign featuring big signs reading, “Eat a Goddamn Go-Go Taquito Already.  They’re only 99¢,” would be any less effective).  Perhaps in the sequel, Holmes and Watson can combat the nascent forces of mass marketing taking shape at the turn of the last century, preserving their own historical legacy by thwarting future attempts to annex British literary history to the peculiarly American desire to attach meaning—any meaning, really—to even the most abject of consumables.

Suddenly It Rained Apes

For the most part, my University does a pretty good job protecting me from boner pills.  Every so often, however, ingenious spammers find a way through the network's intricate defenses to confront me with an offer to buy a shovelful of Viagra, Cialis, Xanax, Lipitor, and other psycho/penile-active agents.  Most of the time this is simply annoying--but today I received two Cialis spams that almost make me want to disable my filter and let every snakeoil salesman back into my computer, regardless of the consequences.

The spam starts innocently enough with the graphic on the right where, for the measly sum of $2.40 American, I am invited to show my girlfriend "what a real sex is!"  This would seem to be a simple translation error--although the ambiguities haunting this phrase are rather provocative.  Is this merely an odd euphemism for a vigorous shagging--or is there some challenge here to convince my "girlfriend" that heterosexual masculinity remains a viable, "real" category of sexual classification?  Actually, as a mode of performance, the line dividing these two positions is probably very thin--but as the guy in the ad does not appear to be doing much talking (at least with his mouth...ha!), one has to assume the 2 bucks 40 buys you a chubby and not the solution to an ongoing post-structural debate. 

The caption is hilarious, no doubt about that.  But even weirder is the text accompanying the ad.  For some strange reason, these merchants have appended their sexy Cialis ad to a paragraph of wildly experimental prose.  Again, one suspects translation is an issue here--and yet, the text is so inspired in its disjointed and seemingly random logic that brief consideration must also be given to William S. Burroughs texting from beyond the grave.


The first text, purportedly from "Doreen Sharpe," reads as follows (and I swear I have changed not a single word): 

 fruit

Good afternoon, Riley!

Zane let go of the soul. He comes in fifty minutes. Satan's minions were always watching. Still Zane found he was not afraid. And he had a chance!


Et je vous reponds qu'il avait reussi. The Doctor sprang from his chair. I'll be back every month or two. The sound of their tread became loud. How could you possibly know? He is very manly and reliable. The other thing was negative.


Suddenly an idea occurred to him. Zane re- mounted. There is my card. I'll keep space up to midnight. Robert Jordan had said nothing. These others have been done to death. Lyons had resumed her seat. This is Mr. Therefore it had come later. Fill up your pockets. Don't touch it!

Suddenly it rained apes. Not a thinker. THE MAN ON THE TOR. So make the best of him. In vain they strove to break loose. Was this not evidence? There are many in the hills. It is the principle of the fox.


The prospects were dazzling


The second text is from "Ida Erwin" and reads as follows: 

The thug touched Luna's breasts again. It is to save him. They come of their own free will. Had Death ever gone on strike before? And Clara is quite as bad. Who did you serve? Maybe Satan sent the phone man out!

Put a couple on the cow! He heard a chilling baying. He could hardly handle his own death. What creative thought could alleviate the squeeze? Smith or Mr. In the morning? But the marks? I'll take you there with pleasure You should not take violent exercise. Zane hardly glanced at him. He asked me how. Such a lovely plan!


Where was that friend or enemy now? You have seen Pablo? You always find me when you want. That manner of speaking never brings luck. He must have nerves of iron. He handed me a lens. But I learn fast. The gypsy showed him. DEATH ON THE MOOR.


What has he done? So was the Southwark fire. I've nothing more for you to-night. We can take Segovia. What a very shocking affair! We've got to fix our business. The order is not mine. Suddenly it rained apes. In vain they strove to break loose. We are through the crust. Can you hear them now?


Robert Jordan pushed them toward the others


For the hermenuetically inclined, many questions present themselves here.  Segovia is in Spain--that's straightforward enough.  But who are Luna, Clara, Pablo, Zane, and Robert Jordan?  The latter two gentlemen appear in both texts, but I can find no record of any literary property containing both a "Zane" and a "Robert Jordan."  Only one phrase appears in both--"Suddenly it rained apes"--which would  appear to be from Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912)--and yet there is no Zane or Robert Jordan in that story.  As to the Southwark fire, the Wiki-Gods inform me that much of that London borough did indeed burn to the ground in 1861--but how any of this is related to the pharmeceutical generation of erections remains a mystery.    
If you recognize these weird fragments, please let me know.  I am extremely curious to understand the  bonds linking Cialis, "a real sex," Victorian disasters, and random pterodactyl attacks.

We have a winner.  David Church has informed me that Robert Jordan is the protagonist from Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls.  I would be embarrassed about this lapse in my basic knowledge of 20th century American lit, but I hitched my wagon to Faulkner long ago and thus have  no time for "Papa."  Thinking about it, however, wouldn't The Sun Also Rises be a more appropriate pick in this context? 

Stranger yet, the other characters appear to be from Piers Anthony's
On a Pale Horse.  What any of these novels have to do with Cialis, however, remains unknown. 

Invisible Scarlet O'Neil (1943)

Ever wonder what it would be like to be invisible?  Me neither.  But apparently some people have found this premise intriguing enough to motivate a century or so of popular stories about what it’s like to slink around undetected and perplex saps in the still visible world.  Permanent invisibility drove Claude Raines batty in the 1933 adaptation of The Invisible Man (from the H.G. Wells’ novel of 1897), and Paul Verhoeven pushed this premise to its perhaps inevitable sex-crime conclusion in The Hollow Man (2000) by turning Kevin Bacon into a stealth rapist. 

Less known is Scarlet O’Neil, who "appeared" intermittently in a comic strip by Robert Stamm in the 1940s and 50s.  The claim has been made that Scarlet was the first female comic superhero, but as I am not a comic nerd, I have no way of verifying that.  The wiki-Gods do state that Scarlet began in June of 1940, about a year and a half before the debut of Wonder Woman. 

Scarlet gained the power of invisibility by accidentally sticking her finger into her father’s weird ray machine, and eventually learned to turn herself "on" and "off" by pressing a nerve in her left wrist.  It’s a strange explanation, not that there is any plausible motivation for invisibility. Like so much anatomical mumbo-jumbo, there’s a touch of Luigi Galvani in this logic, making Scarlett’s invisibility a putatively “natural” power of her nervous system.  America would have to wait until the 1960s for the more occult invisibility of Jeannie and Samantha.

Whitman Publishing (of Racine Wisconsin) brought out a novelization of Stamm’s strip in 1943, Invisible Scarlet O’Neil.  In my continuing effort to read and summarize odd books that would otherwise go unread and unsummarized, here are some basics of Scarlet’s world—at least in her prose incarnation.

Scarlett appears to be an attractive and unattached young lady in her early twenties.  What would such a person do with the power of invisibility?  Luckily for those of us trapped in the visible light spectrum--especially men--Scarlett uses her powers to correct minor injustices and not as a means of tormenting and/or humiliating idiotic males (although men are more often than not the ones perplexed by her uncanny manifestations).  Given the book’s relentlessly episodic structure (it’s less a “novel” than a collection of chapter-by-chapter adventures), she seems to spend most of her time wandering around an unnamed city stumbling onto various crises that require her invisible intervention.  In fact, for the first three chapters, she’s just trying to go home from a movie--but first she has to clear the name of a man wrongfully accused of hit-and-run driving, rescue a kidnapped puppy, and help a boxer win a fixed fight.  This part of the book made me very tired, because Scarlet keeps drawing attention to the fact that she wants nothing more than to go home and take a hot bath—but no sooner has she solved one problem, another one arises immediately.

Oddly, at least in a book about an “invisible person,” Scarlet occasionally hears the “breeze” talking to her—warning her to remain ever-vigilant for injustices that she might correct.  In one strange vignette, she walks down the street luxuriating in her brand new spring outfit—a cute skirt, blouse, and fashionable hat.  But none of the men passing by seem to notice, which irritates her to no small degree.  Suddenly she realizes the problem—she forgot to “turn off” her invisibility!  (and yes, when Scarlet goes invisible, so too do her clothes.  Yet on another occasion, when she is holding a gun, the weapon remains visible—suggesting Scarlet’s invisibility cloak only extends as far as her wardrobe).  From here, Scarlet goes back inside and changes into some clothes for going to the park, leading to the following weird dialogue:

“It’s really spring!” she said to herself, and the voice came in answer, “But not a happy time for some people!  There is a need—a need!”

This “voice” keeps recurring through the book, incessantly calling Scarlet to "the need, the need."  Later, when Scarlet says to herself one morning, “Right this minute, I haven’t a care in the world,” the voice responds, “Haven’t you--?”  And before you know it, she’s off on another adventure.

This voice is extremely troubling.  Occasionally she refers to it as the voice of her “invisible self,” but it is never clear if this means some form of invisible woman’s intuition or if she considers her “invisible self” to be a wholly other person.  Of course, this leads to the possible and much more interesting reading that Scarlet O’Neil isn’t invisible so much as insane—much in the way that we can never be sure in Mr. Ed if the horse actually does talk or if ranch-style married life in Encino has driven Wilbur bonkers.  Supporting this reading is the fact (in the book at least) that Scarlet appears to have no job or any friends—she literally wanders around talking to her “invisible self” all day long, longing for sleep (wiki claims she is a Chicago newspaper reporter—but there is no evidence for this in the book).    

This actually makes the story feel somewhat like the truly eerie moments in Carnival of Souls (1962) when “Mary” finds that surrounding people suddenly can not see her anymore—as if she has simply vanished into thin air. 

There is also a weirdly auto-erotic vibe to much of the book, inasmuch as Scarlet often chooses to go invisible—for no discernable “injustice-fighting” reason—just after she has purchased a particularly fetching new outfit.  For example:

But she liked the outfit—she liked it very much.  There was a two-piece look to it, though it was all in one, the bright red blouse with its full sleeves and the swirling black skirt.  What set them off were the belt and turban.  They were of the same material, richly striped in blue, green, and gold.  Scarlet added a chain of rolled gold around her neck and golden earrings.
       She thought to herself, as she walked down the street.  “Perhaps I should make myself invisible.  I feel like something out of Arabian Nights!”
    “Who knows?” the wind whispered gently.  “Who knows?”


Now this is odd for a number of reasons.  As we have already established that going invisible makes her wardrobe disappear as well, it seems a bit strange to buy new clothes and then promptly make them vanish from sight.  Unless, of course…Scarlet dresses up to fulfill desires operating entirely within her own secret fantasy world, and not to be just an object for our old familiar friend, “the male gaze” (although her earlier irritation at not being seen in a new outfit somewhat contradicts this).  In any case, the “wind” chimes in again, forcing us to consider once more that Scarlet is only invisible in her mind! 

Toward the end of the book, Scarlet somehow ends up in Hollywood (I missed how she got there, but life is too short to go back and find out).  For the final 50 pages or so there is a single storyline wherein Scarlet becomes the protector of an orphan, gets him cast in a movie, and then rescues him from still yet more kidnappers (named, in great ‘40s fashion, “The Professor” and “The Eel”).  The final passage brings all of Scarlet’s themes (fatigue, psychosis, anxiety, the "need") together.  Concluding her adventure, Scarlet vows to return a certain artifact to a nearby museum.

     She walked faster. “And then, I’ll go back home—and I’ll sleep and sleep and sleep!”
     The voice said teasingly, “Oh, will you?”
    “For a while,” Scarlet amended.  “Then I go back to work.”
    “It’s waiting now,” the voice said.  “Soon you’ll find out.  And there is danger.  The need is great!”
    Scarlet felt the breeze on her cheek.  She said softly, “I’m not afraid.”


That seals it, I think.  If I had an adolescent daughter in 1943, I would not let her read this book—what had been a subtext is, by the final page, completely manifest.  Scarlet O’Neil has lost all touch with reality.  She is batshit crazy.

A few more brief notes:

Stamm’s son is apparently publishing an “updated” Scarlet O’Neil “graphic novel.”  Updating Scarlet from the golden age of comics to the wankery of the graphic novel looks to involve having Scarlet show more cleavage and get into more cat-fights.   

Naming a character “Scarlet O’Neil” just a year after the release of Gone with the Wind (featuring “Scarlet O’Hara,” for you youngsters) seems like something more than a coincidence.  At first I thought this might be a veiled shot at Vivian Leigh--who rather famously went insane—but that seems to have happened after the comic’s debut.

It is extremely interesting that the "super-power" of the first female superhero would be invisibility! No web-throwing or planet-crushing for Scarlet, just the ability to demurely disappear!  It should be noted also that Wonder Woman had an invisible plane (before she learned how to fly "Superman" style later on).

How one draws an “invisible” person is an interesting challenge—one that probably raises many complex issues related to mimesis, representation, and Deleuzian notions of “the figural.”  But as it is late and I’m tired and I don’t want to turn invisible or insane myself, I will leave those ponderings to someone else.

I Want My Tiger TV

After SNL runs in my market, the local station here programs a deluxe weekend edition of one of those Inside Hollywood Entertainment Access Starf#@ker Tonight shows—your source for the latest on who was seen canoodling whom on the set of what, or how the cast of Chuck is doing its part to combat webbed-toe syndrome, or where the stars are currently going to treat their mutated tea-cup poodles to saffron colonics.   Predictably, this week featured a special “all-Tiger” edition of the program, complete with a “roundtable” of fame-parasites discussing the various implications of the unfolding “scandal.” 
And there at the middle of this Yalta for Yahoos was Dr. Drew Pinsky, vomiting up his expertise with the zeal of an ambulance-chasing lawyer writhing ecstatically in the viscera of a multi-car pile-up.  Yes, that “Dr. Drew”—former straight-man for Adam Corolla, host of Celebrity Rehab, and current “go-to” guy on the psychology of celebrities and celebrity culture.  “I am very concerned about the state of Tiger’s mind right now,” he offered.  “A suicide attempt is not out of the question.”  Later Pinsky was calling for an “intervention.”  He needs to be ambushed by his loved ones, confronted with his “addiction,” and whisked off to rehab.  Or so claimed the “gee-I-just-happen-to-run-a-celebrity-rehab-clinic-on-TV” Pinksy, all with great solemnity.

Like most of us, Dr. Drew probably wasn’t born evil.  He went into the healing arts, after all, and Loveline—while a little creepy—probably prevents at least a few kids from getting pregnant or catching a dose.  But apparently that wasn’t enough airtime for Pinsky—he needed more.  But how?  An average-looking guy with a decent enough gig and yet probably not the second-coming of Freud—how to stay afloat in a world where you are only as valid as your latest Q-score?

And then evil genius visited Pinsky:  Rather than get stuck in the dead-end job of telling teenagers they won’t go blind from masturbating, I will become the celebrity expert on celebrity dysfunction, the therapist-commentator to the stars, the conscience of the culture’s mass fascination with celebrity horseshit---and through this, I will become famous myself!  

And that’s when he crossed over to the dark side, willing to diagnosis almost any celebrity kerfuffle based on little more than a cheat sheet compiled by TMZ interns.  Once you are on the set of Inside Hollywood Entertainment Access Starf#@ker Tonight pretending to care about the emotional welfare of someone you have never met, some part of your soul must be dead.  At least the reactionary wing-nuts in Congress who “diagnosed” Terry Schaivo via videotape could fall back on a certain moral absolutism—any human biological system still engaged in some form of metabolic activity must be kept alive no matter what.  I don’t agree, but hey, I can at least have some respect for the purity of the position.  Pinsky’s involvement with Woods, on the other hand, like his “consultation” on so many high-profile meltdowns, has no real value beyond keeping the Pinksy brand-name out there in the public.

His latest book, The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Culture is Seducing America, argues that celebrities are predisposed to Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and that celebrity culture in turn is having a negative impact on what passes for “normal” behavior in the non-celebrity world.   This is a reasonable, maybe even obvious thesis, one crafted to confirm everyone’s vengeful suspicions about celebrity  (they are all narcissists, I knew it!).  But weirdly, given its subject matter, the book still assumes there is any shame attached to being a narcissist.  A more likely reading, at least among the fame-obsessed dolts Pinsky professes we should be helping, is to regard narcissism as a positive quality inasmuch as it is a reliable predictor of future fame! 

More to the point, how does Pinsky reconcile this sweeping cultural diagnosis with his own efforts to build a massively visible entertainment empire based on indulging the “unique” status and “special” problems of celebrities?  If pressed, no doubt Pinsky and the producers of Celebrity Rehab would argue they are using the fame-hook to educate normal-folk on how rehab actually works, perhaps as a way to demystify and thus encourage therapeutic intervention for the common Joe.  But in their heart of hearts they must know they are simply contributing to very same social pathology that finds the problems of (former) “stars” inherently more important and interesting than those of everyday idiots.  Laid-off, on S.S.I., and huffin’ glue in Detroit?  You are a social statistic no one cares about.   Former cast member of Wings addicted to poppers and cruising she-male hookers on Sunset—let’s see if we can’t keep him around for two seasons!  The only thing worse would be blaming the problems of celebrities on the public itself…

Oh wait, he’s done that too.  When Britney Spears was going through her head-shaving troubles, Pinsky told us that was “our” fault—that our willingness to consume Britney train-wreck media only created more of it, and so we should hang our heads in shame (just as long as we kept consuming his celebrity “train-wreck” product line).  It almost makes me feel bad for all those letters I wrote to Inside Hollywood Entertainment Access Starf#@ker Tonight demanding they send more correspondents out into the field to further humiliate Britney.  Damn me and my structural relationship to markets operating according to representational economies I have no control over—I need an intervention!

Let’s get this straight: we don’t need less Tiger coverage.  If anything, we need more of it.  I hope there are photos of him in flagrante delicto wearing that stupid green Master’s jacket.  I hope we find out he had a string of anal-beads made from golf-balls used in his grand-slam victories.  I hope the divorce papers reveal he keeps a real tiger in his basement to chase him around the house to psyche up for big matches, just for the Caligula-like insanity of it all.  It’s not like Tiger and his family are “real” people subject to any actual consequences.  He’s a billionaire for bringing basic athletic competence to a sport previously ruled by doughy white guys.  She’s about to be a divorced multi-millionaire who now owns her own island in Sweden and will thus be the most eligible single-mom in Stockholm.  But what about the children, the dear sweet “we-won-the-genetic-and-trust-fund-lottery children?  No worries there.  Those kids will have enough money to either indulge or cure whatever dysfunctions they acquire during the break-up.  They’ll be with Prince and Blanket doing blow in a Swiss ski lodge before you know it.  They will all be fine.

And besides, we all know the deal we have collectively made.  Celebrities are paid handsomely in money and attention for some ridiculous “skill” (acting, golfing, governing) so that, on the off chance they are caught in a more compelling psycho-drama of actual interest to people, they have the necessary resources to endure a few weeks of humiliation.   Quite frankly, I don’t think we’re getting our money’s worth with Tiger.  Look at Tom Cruise.  For the money we pay him, not only do we enjoy an occasional irrational outburst, we also get to imagine him locking his wife and child in a bio-cube every night and forcing them to memorize Dianetics line-by-line.  Those are entertainment dollars well spent.  But serial philandering with Vegas bar trash?  Pfffttt—for the investment we’ve made in Tiger, he really should be doing Gilles de Rais quality work by now.       
 No, Tiger doesn’t need an intervention—just a divorce, a new P.R. team, and a reminder that it isn’t the quantity of the scandal that counts, but the quality.

And as we reap these tawdry amusements that are so rightfully ours, we certainly do not need Dr. Drew hanging around the set as a bogus “superego,” feigning concern (his and ours) for the traumas and humiliations facing the ultra-privileged--somehow pretending to be part of the “solution” even as he so desperately aspires to be a bigger part of the “problem.”  


Crime Ladder/Criminal Television

The Christian Science Monitor used to publish a magazine for prisoners called The Atlantian.  It appears to have been written and edited completely by prisoners serving time in the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta.  Two items in the Spring 1960 issue are of interest.  To the left is a prisoner's rendering of the "ladder of crime."  It depicts the amount of status a prisoner has in the joint based on the crime he has committed (forged securities/bank robbery are at the top, sex crimes at the bottom).  It's an interesting portrait of just how much more whimsical criminals were in the early 1960s.  Note too that "white slavery" was still a recognizable term (at least in prison) as of 1960.

The piece below is a prisoner's musings on television.  Interesting here is just how completely internalized the "mass-elite" vast wasteland discourse was--even with guys in the slammer! 

(you should be able to download these for closer examination, if you so desire). 



That Dude in Your European Cinema Class with the Backwards Baseball Cap Reviews: "Winter Light" by Ingmar Bergman

Scandinavia is a country famous for many things but especially hot blonds, cold vodka, and the masterpiece movies of Ingmar Bergman.  Winter Light is one such masterpiece and like a lot of the other movies we saw this term it is really slow and super depressing.  Seeing it made me really thankful for how much more awesome films are today. Basically the movie is about a priest who is having a really bad day.  It starts out with him doing a sermon that goes on, like, forever, and then we have to watch him give communion to every single person in the church—both the wafer AND the wine!  This is what I mean about filmmakers in the olden times not really understanding how to make good movies.  Today you could do this scene by having the camera swoop down from the sky and into the church and down through the aisle to zoom in on him sticking a wafer in some dude’s mouth—it would show us where we are at and who the priest is and what’s up in like 10 seconds tops.  But maybe audiences back then weren’t as sophisticated as we are today so they needed to see everything acted out for them.  Or maybe the movie wasn’t long enough for Scandinavian cable or something and Bergman needed to pad it out a bit.  Who can know?

Anyway, after the priest is done with the sermon, a married couple comes to visit him because the husband is all freaked out about the Chinese being mean and having bombs and maybe blowing up the world.  The priest tries to tell the guy to chill but doesn’t have much luck and so they decide to meet in about an hour to try again.  Then the priest’s girlfriend comes in and starts ragging on him about getting married (priests in Scandinavia can get married).  But the priest doesn’t want to because he is all obsessed that God won’t talk to  him—like God has nothing better to do than talk to this guy who doesn’t really seem to be a very good priest anyway (at one point he looks at Jesus and calls him ridiculous.  As if!).  At any rate, the girlfriend leaves behind a letter and pretty soon the priest is reading that letter.  Here things get really weird.  Rather than hear the letter in the priest’s brain as he reads it like we normally would, we get the girlfriend staring right into the camera and reading it out loud even though she is no longer there in the church anymore.  So where is she?  And who is she looking at? And when did this happen?  We don’t know.  Again, I think a better filmmaker would have shown us all the crap she talks about in her letter rather than just have her talk about it right into the camera for all that time.  It could be that even though this is a masterpiece maybe Bergman ran out of money at one point and didn’t have time to shoot anything more interesting.

After she reads the letter (which like the sermon goes on and on and on, in this case about a really gnarly rash she once had), the guy who is all worked up about the Chinese bombs comes back.  They talk some more but then the priest makes a really bad decision, at least in my opinion.  He tells the depressed guy that God probably doesn’t exist and that he would be happier if he just forgot about all the shit he worries about all the time.  The strange thing is this seems to make the priest happier than the guy depressed about China and before you know it he’s back out in the church making out with his girlfriend (the priest, not the other guy—who leaves and goes home).  They’re still making out when this old lady comes in and tells them that the depressed guy just shot himself with a rifle down by the river!  He’s totally dead!  And it was like only a few minutes ago he had been right there talking to the priest!

Weirdly the priest doesn't seem too surprised by this.  So he drives over and looks at the body and waits around for a van to come pick it up.  Then his girlfriend shows up again and they decide to drive over to her house where she is a schoolteacher.  All of a sudden the priest really lets her have it and tells her how awful and pathetic she is and how he has no interest in hooking up with her.  This also seemed stupid to me because from what I could see of this town, his girlfriend is probably the best thing going lookswise, so beggars shouldn’t be choosing.  Anyway, for some reason she still sticks around even after taking all that shit from him and they drive over to the suicide-guy’s house to tell his wife he shot himself with a rifle.  You would think this would be a big deal but no one even cries or anything, which we know from other movies is a totally unrealistic way to react to your husband eating a shotgun.

Once they get that over with, the priest and his girlfriend drive over to another church to do another sermon.  But when they get there they find no one in the town even bothered to show up (except for a couple of guys who have to be there because it's their job anyway).  One of those guys who turns out to play the organ is a little drunk and tells the girlfriend she should get the hell out of the town before she gets to be as big a dick as her priest-boyfriend.  Then they all talk about whether or not they should still do the sermon seeing as no one is there.  But the priest decides to go for it anyway, which is like totally crazy and made no sense because they could have all gone home at that point and done some Jager shots or something to warm up.   And then just when he’s starting to do the sermon, the film just stops. That’s it.  It’s all over.  Again, I think this is bad filmmaking on Bergman’s part—he should have cut the sermon at the beginning of the film in half and then used the other half here to end it.  That would have made for a snappier opening and less of a “go F yourself” ending.

In many respects this movie made me think about Hamlet who we read about in my English class and who also lived in Scandinavia.  He also spent a lot of time walking around not doing much of anything but looking at skulls and wondering what the hell the point of everything is.  So maybe that’s just what people in Scandinavia enjoy doing. But in my opinion they would probably all be better off if they lived somewhere else that had more sunshine. For example, in Winter Light the priest has the flu and everyone else is coughing and hacking all the time and the wind is always blowing snow everywhere.  In one shot you do see the sun coming through a window for a moment but I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to see that or if it was just some bad lens flare.

Even if they couldn’t live somewhere else, these people all should probably at least take a vacation or something to catch some sweet rays and cheer up a bit.  Like last year when I was taking a philosophy class we spent a lot of time thinking about what the point of everything is and other even more ridiculous bullshit besides.  About that time my own girlfriend dumped me and then my demo reel for the Real World came back completely unopened—like they didn’t even bother to look at it, and I was starting to think, what IS the point?   But then me and my bros went to Cancun for Spring Break and got in some major boogie board action. When we got back I realized philosophy was for losers who don't have anything better to do and that the professor was kind of a dickwad for making us think about all this shit we can’t do anything about anyway.  Which I guess is what the priest tries to tell the guy depressed about China but, in the end, he didn’t listen.

A Brief History of Gen-X Food Humor

The trailer for the new Ben Stiller movie, Greenberg, features a glimpse of the title character firing off a caustic letter to Starbucks.  It reads, in part:

In your attempt to manufacture culture out of fast-food coffee, you have been surprisingly successful, for the most part.  The part that isn’t covered by “the most part” sucks. 

The movie itself appears to be another in a continuing series of attempts to address America’s fascination with “aging hipster” syndrome.  Stiller is a 40-something former slacker who is “rootless” (i.e. has yet to marry and add a couple of kids to the census rolls), and is thus poised for a life of alienation and misery should he continue to refuse “growing up.”  Curiously, the slightly older George Clooney appears to have come down with the exact same anti-social disease in Up in the Air (meanwhile, TNT’s Men of a Certain Age threatens to generate serial drama out of a group of 50-something men in crisis because they did get married and have children—so truly, you can’t win). 

I suspect this genre is more appealing to women than men, and has its roots in that familiar romantic convention of women “taming” men into suitable marriage material.  Whereas that once meant having them abandon a life on the high seas pillaging Spanish frigates, now it involves demonstrating the advantages in liquidating a collection of action heroes so as to secure a real job and a steady conjugal relationship (i.e. The 40-Year Old Virgin). 

What makes the Greenberg scene interesting, however, is the explicit reference to Starbucks, and in turn, the apparent function of this scene in defining the “arrested” quality of Stiller’s character.  While it’s true I haven’t seen the film yet, I imagine the logic at work here will be as follows:
*Greenberg = Gen-X slacker now hitting mid-life.
*Gen-X slackers were suffused with irony and hated all attempts to market pseudo-authentic experiences (like the diner scene in Ghost World).

*Starbucks’ translation of coffeehouse culture into a mass commodity-experience was particularly loathsome to slackers, who always fancied themselves true coffeehouse bohemians.
*To still be obsessed with the “fakeness” of Starbucks, at age 40, is a sign of pathetic (though comic) regression.

Inevitable conclusion: In addition to marrying and breeding, being an adult involves giving up one’s futile resistance to the embarrassing stupidity of consumer culture, whatever guise it takes. 
This trend toward “commodity/life-stage” jokes has been developing for quite a while now.  In the unexpectedly influential Old School (2003), “Frank the Tank” (Will Ferrell) finds himself challenged by a bunch of frat dudes to hit a beer bong.  At first he tries to beg off, telling the room of befuddled 19-year olds that he and his wife have a “big day” planned tomorrow at Home Depot and maybe, “if they have time,” Bed, Bath, and Beyond.   Ferrell revisited this gag in last year’s Step Brothers.  Once man-child Ferrell realizes, yet again, that he is little more than an arrested adolescent, he embarks on a strategic campaign to transition into sober adulthood.  One marker of his growing maturity is a newfound ability to appreciate the Outback Steak House. 

Stiller’s participation in this “real men simply accept the horrors of manufactured consumer environments” convention is ironic considering his own involvement in “The Legend of T.J. O’Pootertoot,” a sketch from his short-lived Fox television series in 1993 (the salad days of X irony).  The sketch explores the soul-destroying atmosphere that comes with working in a “themed” restaurant. 




Two co-stars in this sketch, Bob Odenkirk (the overly obedient waiter) and David Cross (the rescuing boyfriend) would go on to write and perform the highly acclaimed HBO series, Mr. Show, where the horrors of themed consumption popped up once again in “Marilyn Mozzaerlla’s Pizza Rella Pie Parlours.”



After Mr. Show, Odenkirk went on to produce and occasionally perform in Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s two series for Adult Swim, Tom Goes to the Mayor and Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!  Once again, the indignities of themed dining were often at the center of the humor (in fact, the premiere episode of Mayor centered on Tom’s dream to open a WWII themed restaurant).  Below is a compilation of three separate bits involving “Gravy Robbers,” a restaurant gag running through a first-season episode of TEASGJ.



As is often the case with Heidecker and Wareheim, this bit starts in conversation with a familiar gag (the horribly misguided theme restaurant) and then disintegrates it through formal play and a type of hyper-infantilized performance (courtesy, in this case, of Zach Galifianakis—who invites us to imagine that his character’s creation of the unlikely “gravy robbing” restaurant was a reaction formation stemming from some childhood trauma).   Given Heidecker and Warehiem’s post-X status, it is not surprising that their food humor is less “satirical” than abstractly negating—the fundamentals of the themed restaurant joke are still there, but the emphasis is less on the humiliation of eating and/or working at “Gravy Robbers” than in the duo’s characteristic interest in histrionics and outmoded video formats (like the training tape).

All of the above sketches, it should be noted, are also (if not more so) about the indignity of performing sincerity in the minimum-wage food service workplace, of really having to believe in O’Pootertoot product, of being a good team-player in Marilyn’s “breakin’ all the rules” pizza joint, of perfecting one’s gravy-robbin’ crouch technique.  That such sketches should become so ubiquitous within Gen-X humor is testament, not only to the so-called “ironic” mindset of that generation, but also to the historical demographics of the fast-food workplace.  Like mowing lawns and washing cars, flipping and serving burgers in period costume is increasingly work that Americans (i.e. middle-class white kids) will not do.  More than likely, many of the above performers once had to work in such a restaurant, an unavoidable conscription into the ‘70s/’80s teen labor army captured so deftly by Judge Reinhold’s fast-food humiliations in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1983).

In this respect, Stiller’s Starbucks gag invokes not just a familiar brand name, but also the vestiges of a previous affective order that truly believed (albeit ironically) that certain “eyesores” of American consumerism might actually be ridiculed out of existence.  Since this ironic disengagement rather predictably did little to actually change a world wherein Wendy’s employees are still forced to say “hot crispy fries” and “ice-cold soda” when interacting with customers, this scene suggests the time has come at last to move on, to simply accede to the crappy marketing campaigns that seek to ensnare you, to quit worrying about it and just get married already. 

If hippies had to deal with Jerry Rubin going to work for Wall Street, Gen-X apparently must deal with hauling the family down to The Cheesecake Factory without smirking. 

Bonus:  For those too young, too lazy, or too privileged to remember fast-food work, below is an actual McDonald’s training film from the 1970s presenting a lesson on “courtesy” in classic “Goofus and Gallant” style.  


Daytime Harlot (1965)

Men were so simple.  So utterly simple.  She had only to shake her tits at them and they would do handsprings. She could make them do anything she wanted.  Who said it was a man's world, anyway? 
 
So sayeth Marion, wife turned hooker in Daytime Harlot (1965), yet another in a seemingly inexhaustible supply of "suburban sin" novels from the 1960s.   For aficionados of this particular subgenre, here's the "plot" in pulpy shorthand:

"Frigid" Marion turns tricks in rented apartment -- her frustrated husband Tom is having affairs -- flashback to Marion's life story (abused girl >> hates father >>  teen prostitute >> man-hater >>  lesbian >> gold-digger >> daytime harlot!) -- back to present, Tom orders a hooker by phone to meet and "entertain" a visiting business client --Tom, his boss, and the client meet hooker at airport -- it's Marion! -- a final fight and confession ("You still don't the know the worst of it, husband," she said, her voice stronger now--full of bitterness.  "What I really am is a queer!  How do you like that, huh? A queer!  I'm a whore just for the hell of it, but a queer because that's the way I am!") -- Tom walks out on her to quit his job and leave town forever -- Having lost all respect, income, and cover, Marion goes up to roof and jumps "into the void."

All in all, a fairly typical excursion into the sleazy underside of sham '60s marriages.   Except Daytime Harlot features a rather strange epilogue.  No sooner has lesbian-wife-harlot Marion hit the pavement, the book tacks on a nice little romantic fantasy involving Tom:


It was sixteen months later when Tom Roberts and Nancy Bannon were married in a church in Chicago.  His mother came from Minneapolis, which was his boyhood home, and her parents were there. 
      Tom had never seen a woman look more beautiful in a wedding gown.  Or in anything else for that matter. As he looked at her, he called himself the luckiest man alive for having drifted finally to Chicago--after seven booze-drenched months in California, Arizona, and other places best left forgotten--and for stopping in one day at the struggling agency whose ad he had seen in The Tribune.
      It had been a small ad--for a small job.
      But Tom had landed it. 
      And that had set his feet back on the path again. 

What makes this epilogue peculiar is that "Tom," for the most part, is invisible in Daytime Harlot.  We meet him in the book's opening pages, but only to establish that Marion has "a problem."  The majority of the book recounts in salacious fashion the various sexual encounters that "turn" Marion into a man-hating lesbian.  Tom only returns in the final few pages for the ill-fated rendez-vous at the airport.  Marion's leap from the roof seems a definitive ending--especially since she is the focal point of the entire novel.

One has to suspect that the epilogue was added for the psychological benefit of the straight male readership targeted by such fiction.  Sure, it's great that Marion is appropriately punished for whoring and lesbianing and all that--still, there's something unsettling about having the heteronormative rug pulled out from under your feet so violently.  Imagine the triple humiliation that unfolds for Tom (and thus the reader) in the novel's climax:  My frigid bitchy wife is actually a prostitute...and a lesbian...and this is all happening in front of my boss. Man, am I ever screwed.  No wonder author Ben Ellis felt the need to tack on a "happier" ending for his audience of married men, many of whom--while titillated by their imagined glimpse into the world of trick-turning and lesbian seduction--were no doubt a bit spooked by such close contact with these more "perverse" worlds. 

The novel ends, of course, with Tom and new virgin-wife Nancy in bed:

She embraced him with her arms and her legs and whispered breathlessly, "Oh...you're wonderful, darling.  Oh...Tom...my lover...my darling..."
      She moved with him, her passion a perfect match for his own, as she gave herself and as he took her in the sweet pure beauty of love.
      Tom felt that in a sense it was for him, also, the first time.  Suddenly all that had gone before seemed to be nothing but a dark and soon to be forgotten dream.
                                                                      --THE END--

For this brief moment, a sleazy "do not sell to minors" paperback and the Harlequin romance share an identical ending-- slightly damaged but recovering man marries virgin girl in utopian fusion of love, sex, and gainful employment.  It's almost like the book takes the scared little boy reading the book and consoles him with a big hug--"there, there...the scary lesbians, prostitutes, and frigid wives who would humiliate you are all gone now, a dark and soon to be forgotten dream."  A porno Jane Eyre from Rochester's view, with the "mad wife" renting a sleazy attic near the airport to screw strange men and an occassional Grace Poole.