plainly and simply parasitical on the obvious or univocal reading

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Taming of the Shmuck

Okay, so I'm going to start this with a bit of a blogosphere tour, so bear with me. Rereading David Allison's views on Punch Drunk Love that I linked to earlier I came across this quote from Rose of Peiratikos (is anyone getting a sense of who my favorite bloggers are here?) in response to a reaction to Sideways from David Welsh. Wheeeeee! Oh, the quote:

"I'm sort of sick of movies about emotionally stunted men and the smart, sensitive, hurt women who care for them..."

I had the somewhat embarassing realization that so many of my favorite movies fall into that category. And I don't mean that I'm embarassed to like the movies, but that I'm embarassed not to have realized how much the women characters are getting used and just generally put into the position of rescuers not by virtue of anything they do, but more just because of how they're designed/who they are. It's as if all of these shmendricks are running into their idea of the perfect woman, winning their hearts somehow (usually by pedestal-izing them, which never works, or at least shouldn't work) and being healed by them.

Now, I don't really care that that particular plot is completely implausible because we are talking about movies here (obviously this can be extended out to other narrative media as well *ahem* Summer Blonde *ahem*) and for reasons I'll get into someday, I prefer implausibility in my fiction. What I care about, or more accurately what I'm interested in, is why this particular fantasy is so pervasive and so gripping for so many. If I'm being charitable I could say that it's not about gender at all, because the love interests in these movies represent not actual women, but instead a more general "something" outside of the men themselves that is going to make their screwy lives all better. That, of course, is in its most basic form one of the most dominant fantasies of the entire culture. But what if I'm not being charitable? What if I suppose that the women actually do signify, in some way, something that these men (I guess I'm speaking of the writers and directors here) think about women? But this is a problem too, because most of the time these women characters are not written as people, but more as combinations of myths and desires i.e. perfect or flawed in accordance with cultural myths about the way that women are "flawed." Am I making any sense here? I'm not in a place right now where I can cite specific examples, which tends to weaken my ability to argue convincingly, I guess, but think of Virginia Madsen's character in Sideways for a moment... In my memory she's constructed as this kind of note-perfect match what with the wine-geekery and literacy (in the sense that she is a reader for his writer; a good reader, if that makes sense). She's constructed as this person of taste who is willing, to a point, to chase after a guy who won't chase after her. Now, as that kind of guy (reformed, I like to think, but ask my wife) I can say that she is the fantasy woman. She is, in a sense, no more real than the "femme fatale" type in any number of other kinds of narratives. Anyway, one of my major pet peeves is people who speculate on other people's motivations and thought processes, so naturally that's what I've caught myself doing. However, I'd be interested (though righteously indignant, I assure you) in reading what anyone else who doesn't share my neurosis has to say on that point.

One more thing, then I'm finished for now. I noticed, while thinking of this topic, that hotshot 20-something directors will make films about 20-something losers being rescued, hotshot 30-something directors will make films about 30-something losers being rescued, and so on through the decades. This leads me to believe that the rescuing, the need to be raised up from wherever one happens to be, never ends. The cumulative effect is more interesting than any one single film, though it's also depressing. "The need to be raised up?" Gah, I just did it again!

Thanks for reading, and goodnight.

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