Friday, May 31, 2013


So for instance, with respect to myself and my very serious injuries, I don't use the term 'hero,' and I don't like it when others do. Because I was a soldier doing a hard job, but for which I volunteered, knowing the consequences and knowing the potential consequences, and I went and did my job, and I got seriously injured. But being seriously injured doesn't make me a hero any more than it makes me a victim ...
Those are the words of  Dan Gade who lost a leg to an improvised explosive device in Iraq. He said that while riding thirty miles on a bicycle. With only one leg! Since getting back from Iraq, he has earned a masters and doctoral degree and he now teaches at West Point. He's stronger than you, braver than you and smarter than you. And he's quite sure he isn't a hero.

We live in a culture where heroism comes easy. We live in a culture where a man who gave a young woman a phone so she could call 911 is branded a hero. Dan Gade is a lot closer to heroism than any of us are and yet he knows better than to abuse the word. It's because he knows what heroism really is that he doesn't abuse the word.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Who is supposed to fix this problem? Part 2

More from that New York Times article that inspired yesterday's post.
Dietrich Klusmann, a psychologist at the University of Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, has provided a glimpse into the bedrooms of longtime couples. His surveys, involving a total of almost 2,500 subjects, comprise one of the few systematic comparisons of female and male desire at progressive stages of committed relationships. He shows women and men in new relationships reporting, on average, more or less equal lust for each other. But for women who’ve been with their partners between one and four years, a dive begins — and continues, leaving male desire far higher. (Within this plunge, there is a notable pattern: over time, women who don’t live with their partners retain their desire much more than women who do.) 
It's that last paragraph parenthesis that jumps out at me. Similarly, some couples also report that changing to separate bedrooms improves the wife's sex drive.

No, I'm not suggesting that you move out of the house to save your marriage but notice how the moral psychology works. If you normally sleep in different places, it takes a commitment for one of you to walk to the other one's place. Or it takes an effort to entice the other to come to your place.

Let's go back to Linneah and her avoidance tactics from yesterday's post again. She'd go to bed early, concentrate on a book and then not respond to her husband's overtures until he gave up. One reason she can do that is because they are living together and sleeping in the same bed. If, OTOH, they are not always in the same bed together, she has to earn his attention. If she wants to be together with him then she has to show commitment and interest every single time, even if that only amounts to actually getting up and going to his place or inviting him to hers.

Let's look at Sheila from the first of this series again. Here is what she values about her marriage:
He's a good husband, and father. I like cooking with him and gossiping about the neighbours. He's my pal and I'd never want to lose that.
Well, how did poor Peter get to be that way?  He got to be that way by giving Sheila the things she said she wanted. She wanted him to be the father of her children and to be her pal so he became that. And she paid him back by losing interest in him sexually. And she did this years before she started having sex with another man. the actual affair, when it came, was merely the consummation of a betrayal that had actually taken place years before.

There is also evidence, by the way, that suggests that men who do a lot of the housework get less sex than men who don't. I hope you are beginning to see the pattern.If not, here is some more.
One theory holds that it’s a challenge for both sexes to maintain passion over the long-term because it’s threatening to desire the same person from whom we seek security and true understanding. It leaves us feeling too vulnerable. As Stephen A. Mitchell, one of the leaders of relational psychoanalysis, described it: “Sustaining desire for something important from someone important is the central danger of emotional life. What is so dangerous about desiring someone you have is that you can lose him or her.”
Remember all those feminist rants about men being afraid of commitment? What distinguishes those men is that they understand women better than women understand themselves.
Esther Perel, a couples therapist and author of “Mating in Captivity,” emphasizes a separateness at the heart of longstanding passion. “Many couples confuse love with merging,” she writes. “This mix-up is a bad omen for sex. To sustain élan toward the other, there must be a synapse to cross. Eroticism requires distance.” 
Exactly. And which partner to marriage—the man or thge woman—do you think is most likely to make the mistake of confusing love with merging? More to come tomorrow ...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Who is supposed to fix this problem?

[F]or many women, the cause of their sexual malaise appears to be monogamy itself. It is women much more than men who have H.S.D.D., who don’t feel heat for their steady partners. Evolutionary psychologists argue that this comes down to innate biology, that men are just made with stronger sex drives — so men will settle for the woman who’s always near. But the evidence for an inborn disparity in sexual motivation is debatable. A meta-analysis done by the psychologists Janet Hyde and Jennifer L. Petersen at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, incorporates more than 800 studies conducted between 1993 and 2007. It suggests that the very statistics evolutionary psychologists use to prove innate difference — like number of sexual partners or rates of masturbation — are heavily influenced by culture. All scientists really know is that the disparity in desire exists, at least after a relationship has lasted a while. 
The standard cultural explanation for marital infidelity for centuries now has been that men won't control themselves. As I've discussed many times before here, there isn't actually much evidence for that and serious study of female sexual response is, as the quote from the New York Times above indicates, is demolishing that.

HSDD means "hypoactive sexual-desire disorder" by the way, "hypoactive" meaning the opposite of "hyperactive". It's odd to call it a disorder as it is quite normal. In any case, it's a classic female pattern behaviour, not a male one. And it becomes pretty obvious, once you acknowledge this, that men don't cheat for the reasons a show like Mad Men would have us believe. That is to say, men don't cheat because they have some deep "inward" flaw that causes them to seek more and more sexual partners or because they are less mature emotionally or less giving than women. Rather, they cheat because women get bored of them as partners in a steady relationship and men, after trying hard to "rekindle romance" finally give up in despair and seek love elsewhere.

The above is all from a New York Times article by the way. The article is about how drug companies are trying to produce a pill that will increase women's desire and thereby solve the problem. That's one way to solve the problem I suppose.

But read the sample interview of one test subject from the study and you'll begin to suspect that her sex drive might not be the real problem:
“When your partner initiated sexual activity over the past eight weeks, did you show avoidance behavior?” 


“Like earlier to bed?” 

“Yes.” Linneah’s voice lurched louder; she laughed; it was a relief to talk bluntly. 

“Do you have pleasant feelings when you’re touched?” 


Later, after her appointment, she told me that in fact she has orgasms pretty much every time she and her husband have sex — that wasn’t the problem. “There’s something that’s stopping me from wanting it,” she said. “I don’t know what it is. I can’t tell you what it is.” 
And any man who has been in a prolonged relationship with a woman will be familiar with this scenario:
Around once a week, her husband tried to reach through the invisible barriers she built — the going up to bed early, the intense concentration on a book, the hoping he was too tired to want anything but sleep. “He’ll move closer to me in bed, or put his arm around me, or rub my back.” She willed herself not to refuse him. And mostly, she didn’t. Usually they had sex about four times each month. But it upset her that she had to force herself and that she put up those barriers to deter him from reaching more often.
Notice how she doesn't have any problems enjoying sex. It's the fact that she has to force herself to start with this particular man that bothers her. She doesn't want to work at sex, not even marital sex; she just wants it to just happen magically. If  Linneah were to cheat on her husband with another man, all those problems would disappear. Then it would be magic again. For a while anyway.

A lot of people have been saying, aha, see monogamy doesn't work for women and that is why we need open marriages. But, before you go that route, notice how ordinary her problem is. It's the sort of problem that just about everybody has about something. I don't know about you but I have  hard time getting into the shower some days. I much prefer being clean to being dirty and yet there is always a moment of hesitation. Once I do it, I feel better for it. The same thing happens with exercise. I feel much better as soon as I'm going but the duty of it drags me down. But if I put some imaginative effort into making it work for me, I can do those things. Linneah could do that with sex.

The point being that any other era of history would have described Linneah's problem using words like "selfish" and "lazy". All she has to do is make the effort and she'll he happier, her husband will be happier and, I suspect, everyone who has to deal with her will be happier because women who have regular orgasms are much better people than women who don't. But she won't do that.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hanna Rosin comes through

It took a whole day for her to get it up but I have to admit that Hanna Rosin really delivers with her comment today. Read the whole thing: it's the best commentary you'll read anywhere other than right here.

I would only quibble with one thing: her take on Ted.
And Ted, the creepy little tease, tells Peggy he’s just another cliché, in love with his protégée, and the next day pretends that confession never happened, merely because he’s decided that being in love with her might get in the way of his productivity. The scene in his office is chilling. He doesn’t explain himself to Peggy, or brood, or show any signs of longing. He just bullies an alternate reality into being. “Ready to get to work? It’s Monday morning, Peggy, it’s a brand new work week,” he shouts, opening his office door as if he’s starring in an ad about a nifty new typewriter. “Round up the team.”
What Rosin misses is that Ted is married. Yes, he has behaved badly, yes he has teased Peggy, yes he shouldn't have kissed her and he should not have confessed to thinking about her that way. But, when it comes time to make things right, Ted's obligations to his spouse dwarf anything he owes Peggy.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say Ted gives a clinic on just how you should break up a budding romance with someone other than your spouse. You owe everything to the person you made vows to and next to nothing to this other person and that should be painfully obvious to them.

In a way, Ted is merely telling Peggy exactly what Don told her at the beginning of the episode: there is a right and wrong and sometimes you have to stand up for the right no matter who gets hurt. Don meant this in a purely aesthetic way but it applies to ethics as well.

The Better Half metacommentary

Looking around the comments this week, I think the most telling thing is the silence. Over at slate, the comments have been slower and slower getting up. The blame for this rests on one person alone and that is Hanna Rosin. The other two get their stuff up on time but she is slow and has been getting slower and slower.

She's married to the editor of Slate by the way. I'm sure that has nothing at all to do with why she gets away with such shoddy work.

I held back on one thing yesterday because I wanted to see what others did or didn't make of it. It was Don's comment:
Why is sex the definition of being close to someone?
 To which Betty replies,
“I don’t know, but it is for me. It is for most people.”
This is hugely problematic in terms of the internal consistency of the drama.  For starters, it's a lie coming from Betty. She is saying it to someone she is having sex with but has no intention of being close to. In fact, throughout this episode Betty's interest in sex is narcissistic—she cares only to the extent that it makes her feel good about herself.

The second problem is that it's hard to figure out what Don means by the comment. Is he complaining or genuinely wondering? It appears to be the first but that makes no sense at all not in terms of the episode but of the entire show from season one.

Having bashed Hanna a bit at the start, let me say that I do understand some of her attitude. The show has been so boring this year, it's hard to care enough to bash anything about. I put off watching yesterday because I actually dreaded starting for fear of how awful it might be.  I was relieved not because itw as any good but because it at least wasn't as bad as I anticipated.

 Tom and Lorenzo start their recap with three quotes:
“She’s blonde, classy. You need to make these women different.”

“You’re the same person at times.”

“They’re two halves of the same person and they want the same thing but they’re trying to get it in different ways.”
I assume T&L are gay and that is why they can cite these things and then miss the obvious import of them. They immediately go into cheapo psychoanalysis about every person being two people and thereby miss the really important thing which is right on the surface: The blonde, classy one is Betty. Talk to any woman who is in love with a guy who was formerly married to or in a long relationship with another woman and you'll get it by the barge load. For the second woman in a guy's life, the first is a constant presence in the relationship.

She needs to differentiate herself from the previous woman. The most common mistake, by the way, is to try and be something other than sexual for him. I don't know why but the second women in a man's life almost  always assume that the first woman was really hot sexually and that they cannot live up to that. In my experience, the exact reverse tends to be the case.

But the show doesn't get that either does it? The show has Megan s a mass of contradictions. She doesn't even begin to understand herself. How is it, for example, that the mature, sensible and calm woman she was at the beginning turns into the shallow, fairytale princess we see now?

And here is a little liberal silliness masquerading as something else.
Once again, Peggy shows how little she understands current events: “They were brought here by slave ships!” “Well I was brought here by you!” Not that we didn’t side with her in this argument. It’s the height of liberal white guilt silliness to not want to help the cops find the person who stabbed you just because you feel they got a bad deal from society. On the other hand, Peggy seems to always go to the “I have it hard too” well every time someone brings up civil rights or racial issues.
Actually, Abe is the one shows little or no understanding of current events. They were not brought here in slave ships. Their ancestors were brought here in slave ships just as my ancestors were starved to death in Ireland and then fled in the hold of an empty lumber ship. In both cases it has remarkably little to do with what is going on right now.

T&L can at least see that it is liberal silliness to not help the police find the vile bastards who just stabbed you. What they can't see is that this is not what would happen in real life. Liberals mugged by reality act exactly according to script and that is by temporarily rejecting their ideals in favour of the current self interest just as Peggy does. Abe's reactions aren't silly, they are insane. The only possible explanation is that he is such an immature child that he doesn't get it, which is certainly consistent with what we have seen from him so far. The problem, however, is that I'm not sure his own creators are any smarter.

Finally, something from the comments yesterday:
You're right when you say that Men's magazine's wouldn't write article's about Manson's style, and that's the point. They aren't writing articles about Draper the Man, they're writing about Draper's style. Similarly, people don't watch the show because they admire Draper, they admire Draper's style. Certainly very shallow, but that's our world. 
I don't mean to pick on this particular commenter. He is only saying what almost everybody else says about Don Draper. I suspect that, in the end, Matt Weiner intends to make a similar judgment against the man. But I would like you to notice the odd contradiction in that. This is a show about style. That's what it has been from the get-go. The whole attraction of the show and the man, which is to say the same thing twice, is style. For it to end with a message that style is shallow pursuit of empty trappings would be like watching a porn film that ends by trying to prove that it's real message all along has been that sex is empty and celibacy is where real joy lies.

It's not that you can't believe that style is the shallow pursuit of empty trappings. It's a respectable position and you're welcome to try and make it if you want. The problem is this: no one who really believed that would have spent the last six seasons watching Mad Men.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Nothing is every womens' fault, another in a long, long series

If there's one tangible thing that men can do to help end sexism—and create a healthier culture in which young people come of age—it's to stop chasing after women young enough to be their biological daughters. 
Notice that he doesn't suggest that young women stop encouraging older men to chase them. And they do. It's not like women in their late teens and twenties couldn't find partners closer to their own age. Why is it the man's fault that that he might take advantage of such an opportunity? And why is it sexism?


When the guy swung at Mark Donnelly, his only means of defense was a black umbrella—and a foppish one at that. But, ducking under a roundhouse punch, he jabbed the pointy end of the umbrella into the attacker's gut, stopping him cold.

Mr. Donnelly, who is 43 years old and several inches short of 6 feet tall, then straightened his waistcoat, and the two men shook hands.

The skirmish was a rare demonstration of Bartitsu, an obscure Victorian system of gentlemanly self-defense practiced by Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective. 
Read it all. You know you want to.

Mad Men: The Better half

I thought the key quote of the episode was something Megan said:
I keep trying to make things like they used to be but I don't know how.
Anyone who has ever been in a marriage (or other long-term sexual relationship) will understand that sentiment. There was an odd kind of magic when you didn't know one another quite so well as you do now. Part of this was the sexual mystique that a partial stranger has and the sense that every knew encounter could teach you something new about you and them. And part of it had to do with  the fact that you both used to try harder. Now both know how to shut down the other with little passive-aggressive tricks any time they start something that requires a reciprocal effort from you. And you use those passive aggressive tricks not because you no longer fear losing them but because you no longer want to try as hard as you used to.

What do I mean? Well, lets look at Don and Betty in this episode. It will be interesting to see how the other commentary runs because you could use some dime-store Freudian analysis to diminish either  either to a nothing. Don cannot connect sex with intimacy. Betty on the other hand, needs attention from men other than the one she is married to to get her batteries charged (and Henry has a latent cuckold fantasy in that he gets his charged by seeing her pursued by other men). My prediction is that most of the other armchair analysis of the show will consist of people picking the person they least like and crap on them from great height for their shallowness. But all three are equally shallow—or all three are equally deep if you prefer that option.

And so to are Megan, Pete, Joan, Roger and Peggy. They are all have mixed feelings for the man that used to be. The women are looking for it in their partners and the men are looking for it in themselves but neither knows how to make that happen any more the way they live now.

Here is a bit of grand theory of Mad Men. Don Draper is an heroic ideal of manhood. I know, but he's a "fraud who is living a lie"  and all the other bullshit that sensitive modern guys aren't supposed to be opposed to but, and this is the important thing, all men and all women find him more interesting that modern sensitive men. Fake or not, Don actually has an identity that is the sum total of what he does. He is what he does. And he is mysterious because his identity (his primary identity) is the sort of secret alter ego that all the wimpy little hipsters who watch the show dream of having. (Yes, I appreciate that that might be applied to me as well.)

But every man alive knows that Don Draper isn't just mythology no matter what they taught him at college. We know this because we all knew men like him. In my case, it was my godfather who rose from a family of dirt poor famine Irish to considerable success in business. Along the way he ditched his "authentic" poor Irish wore identity and killer suits with fedoras, drove luxury cars with leather seats, was a member of an exclusive salmon-fishing club with rights to some of the best salmon water in North America and ... well, it's hard to tell how much else because the man was a bit of an enigma.

That male past was real and it was compelling ane, let's be blunt, erotic in a way that current men are not.

And this episode seemed to me to be about that. Everyone seemed torn between examples of that old masculine ideal and some newer, less exotic but supposedly more dependable type.

Having trashed the show a lot this year, I thought they did one thing very well this episode. That is they started to use nostalgia within the show itself. When we all started watching this, Mad Men was about our nostalgia. Critics claimed it was a past that never existed but we know that's beside the point: any past, real or fictional will no longer exist precisely because it is past. But the show has been on the air long enough now that the characters' nostalgia for their own past is becoming a factor. Thus we have Megan wanting to make things like they used to be.

The point of any nostalgia worth the name is not the accuracy with which it portrays the past that it is nostalgic about. What matters is the sense of loss that we feel right now. That's what it has to get right.

A final brilliant touch was the visit to Bobby's camp. That knotty pine paneling, the dining hall, the picture windows with the lake in the distance, even the country gas station where Don and Betty run into one another on the way. All these things touch some chord with anyone who ever went to camp.

Perhaps more importantly, they also touch a chord with anyone who didn't go to camp but who once visited or even just saw pictures of some classic old camp and wished that had been part of their past.

I have one major problem though.  As I've said many times before, the show moves too quickly to actual sex. In real life, Betty and Don most likely would not end up in that cabin together. All the same sexual tensions would exist between them but it's rarely that easy to end up having sex with someone. It hardly ever happens in fact. Most people might have an experience where sex happens that easily maybe once in a lifetime.

In real life when two people who used to be lovers get together, they go through the same sort of exchange Don and Betty have here without any actual sex. It would have been better drama and more honest drama if they had talked and talked with all sorts of sexual tension and then one morning Don had woken up and gone to talk with Betty over breakfast again only to find Henry sitting with her.

And that would have opened other moral possibilities as well for we all have these sorts of sexually charged encounters that go nowhere in real life and they are useful things to us. In the show they can't be precisely because the show treats actual sex too lightly.

PS: I thought the episode did a nice bit of teasing it's critics. That portrayal of Abe this season was like saying "this is what you really look like to other people" to the people who write at Slate or The AV Club.

Friday, May 24, 2013

You've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

Cheating woman post of the day

I'm doing a lot of reading about women who cheat and the reasons they do it in order to create a sort of virtual affair in my imagination that I will use for some fiction I am creating so there will be a a lot of posts on the subject here.

I found this quote interesting:
'I love Peter dearly,' Sheila says. 'He's a good husband, and father. I like cooking with him and gossiping about the neighbours. He's my pal and I'd never want to lose that. Sex with Michael is a purely separate thing; it's about erotic abandonment, being seen as just a woman rather than as Peter's wife, or "the doctor" or a mum. Any working mother will know what I mean. Every woman needs something that is hers alone. Some of my friends ride, some sing in choirs, I have Michael.' 
Why is that interesting? It's the larger context that makes it interesting. All by itself it's just one of millions of examples of the sort of banal lies women and men tell themselves and others to excuse their desire for illicit sex. But now read the quote that opens the piece and think about it again.
The line that jumps right out at me is: "things I'd stopped wearing for my husband, Peter, even before we were married." Imagine Sheila and Peter very much in love with one another in the days before their marriage. She has sexy lingerie but has stopped wearing it for him. He asks why. She says she doesn't feel comfortable wearing it anymore (we know she said that that because that is what women always say when they don't want to wear lingerie for a man). Now flash forward and there she is standing in the lingerie store buying a sheer bra with matching G-string for her lover Micheal. Does anyone imagine that she looked at the G-string and thought, "That looks comfortable."

(I also love the line about how her husband Peter would have gotten suspicious if she'd worn her lingerie more regularly. The real problem, of course, is that he would have wanted to have sex when he saw her in lingerie and he would have wanted the kind of wild erotic abandonment that such lingerie suggests and she doesn't want to give that to him anymore, in fact she stopped wanting to give him that even before they got married. "Any working mother will know what I mean. Every woman needs something that is hers alone." The real crime is the thing she thinks of as something that "just happened by itself", that she stopped loving and started denying her husband; it's just collateral damage that another man ends up enjoying the thing she denies the man who should be getting her love.)

And do note her age! Sheila is in her mid forties at the time of the affair. Age is often given as a reason not to dress erotically anymore. A woman will say she could wear clothing when she was in her twenties  but now she feels ridiculous in it and she'll keep saying that right up to the day in her mid forties when she suddenly wants to feel sexy for her new lover and then it's bring on the G-string.

Myla only sells one G-string (famous because it was once featured on Sex and the City), by the way, so you can see for yourself what she bought and wore for her lover Michael. That's a key element in any affair. The sex has to feel really illicit and daring and what better way than to buy yourself something like that. It's a positive joy for Sheila to do this thing for herself, and Michael of course. It's understandable. Sin and betrayal is always understandable because we all sin and betray. One of the reasons to have an affair is to step out a bit and do things you wouldn't normally do. So you buy the sexy lingerie or get a lot more meticulous about your grooming, or wear nicer clothes, start reading poetry, follow more sophisticated culture like opera, ballet or poetry, or follow much less sophisticated culture like going to the track or the fights. All in all, you create a more interesting version of yourself. And you create this new you for yourself!

Think about Sheila washing her underwear by hand and drying it with the hair dryer and finally hiding it in an old track suit. That's an adventure! It's like being a spy. It's fun.The effort involved only increases the fun because she likes getting into it.

Yes, it was important for lover Michael to be thrilled when he saw her in the G-string but that is still a selfish desire because Sheila did it to support her secret vision of herself as a great and exotic lover. Most women are fantastic lovers when they put the effort into it, by the way. That's the easy part. The thing that needs explaining is why they think it's fair to stop doing so after the man has committed his life to them and sometimes then turn around and start doing for some other guy. And the answer is that the whole thing was purely selfish from the get-go. Sheila sought attachment and love when it suited her, and all of society sanctioned this desire of hers, but now that she no longer craves that she is having an affair.

But suppose she had not had the affair but everything else remained the same. That too would have been a betrayal. And if Peter were to complain about this, he would have been told to man up and deal with the fact that women change as they get older. But the only thing that has really changed is her feeling for him.

Which is why comfort isn't really the issue. If comfort really mattered to women, they would all wear their manky old track suits every day instead of hiding their lingerie in them. Note above that Sheila now favours her husband with Marks and Sparks utility knickers that she wears so long they are greying! Does anyone think that she does that for comfort? The real issue is effort. Women (and men) either do or do not make an effort to be attractive for others. That effort is the real problem and not discomfort.

The affair really gets unfair if we consider poor Peter who stopped getting the special treatment even before they got married! But she says she loves him:
'He's a good husband, and father. I like cooking with him and gossiping about the neighbours. He's my pal and I'd never want to lose that.'
Well, it's much easier to say things like that than face up to the fact that you're a selfish jerk.

On the other hand, why did she get away with it? I don't mean the affair that her husband, presumably, doesn't know about. No, the problem is that she started cheating him years before when she stopped making the effort she was willing to make early in their relationship. It was all bait and switch. She wore sexy lingerie when she was alone and wanted to attract a man. Once she had one, she said she didn't feel comfortable and confident in sexy clothes anymore so she stopped wearing them. But the point is that she let herself stop feeling comfortable and confident. Anyone want to bet that she didn't start exercising and being a bit more meticulous about her intimate grooming when she bought that G-string? Why is it okay for a woman to give a man that sort of extra effort when she is interested in having her self esteem propped up but deny it to him after she has vowed to love all the days of her life? For it's that kind of betrayal, which receives the full sanction of our culture, that makes the other kind possible.

I can easily imagine (because I've heard many women argue this) that it is unfair to expect a woman to feel the same spark that motivated her to make such efforts in the early days of a relationship later in marriage. I'm not sure why it's unfair. Is it because it would require effort and dedication?
 I stopped fancying Peter years ago. The girls were small and sex with him had long been just another chore, like loading the dishwasher. 
Think of how different that statement would be treated coming from a man talking about his wife. Do you think he'd get a sympathetic write up in the paper?

Final thought: the article suggests another motive for why more women are cheating on their husbands.
Thousands of women like Sheila are enjoying what they believe to be no-strings flings. Having witnessed the devastation divorce wreaked on their parents' generation, they have no desire to end their marriages. Instead they are searching for variety in an otherwise humdrum routine.
 How lovely, she's cheating in order to save her marriage.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Adrian Lyne's date rape movie (plus some more ranting on female infidelity)

I watched Adrian Lyne's Unfaithful last week and two things struck me about it. The first was that the first thirty-five  minutes features the most convincing portrayal of date rape I've ever seen on film. Of course, he didn't intend for it to be that. Lyne meant to paint a highly erotic portrait of a woman succumbing to an affair. (BTW: I say "succumbing" rather than initiating intentionally here. That's the mythology we all desperately want to believe about women.)

First of all, why is it date rape? Our heroine, Connie Summer, goes to the city during a windstorm and is quite literally blown into Paul Martel. He takes care of her (establishing a Daddy and little girl relationship between them) and, in the course of this, there is an unmistakeable erotic charge between them. She insists she has to leave and does. She goes back. Again the erotic charge is intense and again, she insists that she has to leave and does. Then she goes back again. This time she tries to leave but he grabs her. he takes her to bed where she is so upset by the experience that her whole body is shaking and she keeps pushing his hands away.

And then he keeps pushing until she gives in.

That's about as clear-cut an example of date rape as you will ever see. Which brings me to the second thing that really struck me about the movie: I can't find a single review in which this problem is noted. Not one. Harmless Christmas songs get the third degree but this very ugly movie scene gets let off free.)

Date rape is real. Yes, the notion has been oversold by some feminists but it is a real and horrifying thing that thousands of women go through every year. So why was it that a film which played up this sort of rape as if it were a great erotic thrill to watch got off without anyone calling Adrian Lyne on this?

Part of the answer is that it is erotically thrilling to watch. Yeah, I know, that's difficult but it's inescapable. Ninety percent of women eroticize their fears and the other ten percent lie about it. But there is more to it than that: our culture just can't face female infidelity. We supposedly live in an era with few taboos but this taboo is very much with us. The big reason there are so few successful neo noir films with female leads is because we just cannot accept a woman who cheats as a sympathetic character. A female Don Draper would get more hate male than any other character in TV history.

It's not that women don't cheat on their husbands. They do it with shocking regularity and the statistical gap between husbands who cheat and wives who cheat has all but vanished in recent years. (And, given that it is such a big taboo, you have to wonder how honest women are about this when responding to pollsters.)
But experts say that a large majority of the time, motivations differ by gender, with men searching for more sex or attention and women looking to fill an emotional void.
"Women tell me, 'I was lonely, not connected, I didn't feel close to my partner, and I was taken for granted,'" marriage and family therapist Winifred Reilly says. "They say they wanted to have someone who would look into their eyes and make them feel sexy again."
As the Lemon Girl would say in response to some woman's claim that she just wanted her "emotional void" filled, "Is that what that thing is called?".  These supposedly different-from-men reasons women have affairs are just lies women tell themselves and others in order to get laid. It's not unique to women; the classic male line is, "My wife doesn't understand me," as an excuse for an affair. It's not the quality of the tripe coming out of the mouths of women and men that is different but the extraordinary lengths people will go to not call women on stuff that they'd laugh at men for peddling.

And thus this  bizarre movie scene  in which the woman cheating is anything but willful about it. This is not the way people actually have affairs. They tend to do that with people they meet and get to know a bit first and not in feverish encounters with relative strangers with the sex following very quickly on the first meeting.

The movie does a good job of showing the sort of moral arguments that surround affairs. There is scene in which the heroine is out with two other women at a restaurant and they spot Paul Martel. Both these other women are unaware of the affair. One of them notes how handsome Martel is and suggests that she would cheerfully have sex with him. The other, an older woman, talks in foreboding terms about the damage infidelity does.

The problem is that all this discussion comes after the affair has already started in. In real life, a woman (or man) would feel a growing erotic charge to their friendship and be considering just these moral issues before initiating the affair. And it would be a very different movie if this discussion had been shown to take place before Connie initiated the affair. Then we'd see what she does in a very different light.

To have told the story that way would require us all to take the woman seriously as a moral adult. And we'd judge her far more harshly if we did that. When we see her swept up by passion and barely in control of herself it may feel edgy but movies like Unfaithful are just protecting our illusions about women.

"junk" mail

The catch in this morning's spam filter presents two seemingly opposed messages:

I say seemingly opposed because both are selling penis enlargement frauds. Which leads us to ask, "How can the exact same solution allow you to be more giving to another and also to fight for your own pleasure?" And I mention this because I think there is something non-stupid behind this even though only a moron would sell or buy these products. There is a deep insight into masculinity hiding here.

Speaking of morons, at some point in the history of this post, someone will create a Blogger account just so they can put a comment up that will lead to yet another link pushing the above snake oil. I guarantee it. (It's the words "penis", "enlargement" and "guarantee" that will pull them in.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Should we be Bible believing Christians?

The truth often hides in plain sight. There is a fascinating example in a piece by Bernard Starr now up at The Huffington Post. Starr is an earnest amateur scholar and he has that knack that earnest amateur scholars seem to have of beginning his piece by confidently asserting the very thing he has to prove.
The Council of Nicaea called by the Emperor Constantine met in 325 C.E. to establish a unified Catholic Church. At that point no universally sanctioned Scriptures or Christian Bible existed. Various churches and officials adopted different texts and gospels. That's why the Council of Hippo sanctioned 27 books for the New Testament in 393 C.E. Four years later the Council of Cartage confirmed the same 27 books as the authoritative Scriptures of the Church. 

Wouldn't you assume that the newly established Church would want its devotees to immerse themselves in the sanctioned New Testament, especially since the Church went to great lengths to eliminate competing Gospels? And wouldn't the best way of spreading the "good news" be to ensure that every Christian had direct access to the Bible?
Do you see what Starr is managing to miss? The really staggering revelation in this excerpt is not, as Starr seems to think it is, that Christians were denied their Bible. No the really staggering thing is that for roughly 300 years, its three hundred formative years, the church got along with no Bible at all!

None. When it came time to pass on the faith, early Christians did so without reference to any book. Something called "scripture" had always existed but scripture just means writings and not some officially sanctioned set of authoritative writings. (One of the ironies of reading the Bible is that some of its writers authoritatively quote scripture that doesn't appear in the Bible, sacred writings that are now lost.)

Again, the truth is in plain sight and Starr states it without appreciating it when he says that the early church went to "great lengths to eliminate competing Gospels." The church's first reaction to writings about Jesus and the apostles was not to find the one true Bible. It could not have been because no such thing existed. The church was moved by a concern that all sorts of people were collecting writings about Jesus and that some of these writings were misleading. The point of the exercise was not to find the authentic document but to eliminate the inauthentic ones.

And how did the church know they were misleading? Not by comparing the false scripture with the true scripture but by comparing it with the oral tradition had been passed on in the church. When early church leaders wanted to establish the truth of some writing, they went to people they knew who'd known people, who'd known people who had sat at the very foot of Peter, Paul, John and, ultimately, Jesus.

Far from a survey meant to find the one true version of the Bible, the work of the council was to determine which writings were not so tainted with error that they might be deemed acceptable.

When you can see this truth, then a whole lot of nonsense falls to the ground (including Protestantism!). The Church didn't deny the Bible but, rather, didn't spend a lot of time promoting it for  there was no reason to make sure that Christians had access to "their" Bible because the Bible wasn't a bible in that sense of the word. Today you can buy The Bible of Knitting, The Bible of Lacrosse, The Bible of Flyfishing and many other such titles and expect to find the basic knowledge for doing these practices in them. A lot of people, including Bernard Starr, incorrectly assume that was what the original Bible was meant to be. It wasn't.

Any authority the Bible has, it has because it was created by the church. There is no other grounds whatsoever to give it authority. It didn't drop down from heaven and it wasn't recited into the ears of scribes by angels. It has authority because the church determined that it has authority. You cannot recognize the authority of the Bible without recognizing the authority of the church as being greater than that of the Bible. You can't even acknowledge it's importance as a simple historic artefact worthy of study by atheist university professors without recognizing the authority of the church to create its Bible.

And once you acknowledge that authority, you have to recognize the lack of emphasis the church put on the Bible as proof that it simply wasn't that important to read the whole thing. It was not the foundation of faith. It was not the foundation of any faith until the time of Luther.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Crash metacommentary

Hanna Rosin shows the depth of her cultural understanding:
In one of the brainstorming sessions, Peggy throws out the Vietnam-era idea that “the child is the father of the man.”
Actually, it's classic Romantic era thinking; to be specific it's Wordsworth from 1802.
 My heart leaps up when I behold
       A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
 So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
      Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
       I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
That's only 166 years off. It was a line much quoted during the Vietnam era of course because it is one of those lines that feels terribly deep when you're on drugs.

A lot of the people defending this indefensible episode are arguing that it was like a drug experience. And that is true enough but, while it is true that some of the people in the episode took drugs, the audience did not. Drugs alter your brain and make it malfunction so that reality appears to change but they don't actually alter reality. It makes sense that the people in the scene should not be able to make sense of reality, but their drugs shouldn't change what we see.

The sharpest observation this week comes, not surprisingly, from Tom and Lorenzo:
If you’ve ever listened to the Matthew Weiner commentary tracks on the show’s DVDs, you’ll quickly find out that Don Draper is (unsurprisingly) a Matthew Weiner stand-in, and that the show often uses the advertising world to make points about marrying creativity to mass media and corporate concerns. In other words, advertising is being used as a stand-in for television production. Weiner & Co. are using their own experiences in their careers to make observations about the careers of the people in the show.
I've never listened to the commentary on the DVDs myself (I was surprised to learn that they still make DVDs) but I'm perfectly willing to believe that is how Matt Weiner thinks about the show.  As I've said before, like Hollywood doing period drama, Matt Weiner tends to get the costumes right and the people who wear them wrong because he makes the people into projections of the current culture and not products of their own.

When people study the late 1960s at university, which is where journalists like Hanna Rosin (who was -2 in 1968) and Matt Weiner (who was +3) get there notions about the era, a very narrow focus prevails. As Tom and Lorenzo note, we get to hear the smooth sounds of Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 doing "Going Out of my Head" during this episode. That song was a couple of years old at the time but there was a string of smooth, easy listening tunes that were hits in the summer of 1968: Mrs. Robinson, This Guy's in Love With You, Grazin' in the Grass, People Got to be Free. That tells you a lot about how most people were experiencing the world.

I wish I could find it now, but years ago there was a show called The Wonder Years in which the older brother of one of the main characters dies in Vietnam. At the time, somebody did a calculation to determine how likely that was. How likely it was that someone on any random street in suburbia would have a brother die in Vietnam. The answer was not very likely at all. Even the most basic math confirms this. Although 1968 was a very bad year for the war with 16,592 deaths, that translates into only .008% of the population at the time. For most people, the war was a TV war and not a happened in their lives war.

Final thought, Sally has breasts! Nice legs too! I know, older men like me aren't supposed to notice these things. And yet the episode was simply dripping with teen sex. And that too was an aspect of 1968. Juts a few months in the the future from this week's episode, the Rolling Stones would record a song that celebrated the joys of sex with a fifteen year old girl! Think about that for a while. Think about how different that mentality is from our time.

A lot of the moralizing commentary on this episode focuses on the fact that a woman who robs the Draper apartment is played by a black actress. Worse, a mugger in an earlier episode also was black. This might be racist! I wonder why? Does anyone think that black muggers and burglars in Manhattan in 1968 were unheard of? I distinctly remember there being other criminals portrayed in the who who were white. (The couple who roll Don in the motel room, for example.) Meanwhile, another of the things that happened last week was that a teenage girl just back from her father's funeral was sexually exploited by a man much older than her and another man, her father's colleague, watched the sex happen. I guess that's just fine right?

A reason to like Freud

From a link that comes courtesy of Ann Althouse:
Mr. Nabokov, would you tell us why it is that you detest Dr. Freud?
 I think he's crude, I think he's medieval, and I don't want an elderly gentleman from Vienna with an umbrella inflicting his dreams upon me. I don't have the dreams that he discusses in his books. I don't see umbrellas in my dreams. Or balloons.
I think that the creative artist is an exile in his study, in his bedroom, in the circle of his lamplight. He's quite alone there; he's the lone wolf. As soon as he's together with somebody else he shares his secret, he shares his mystery, he shares his God with somebody else. 
Notice how narcissistic that is. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who paid attention when reading Nabokov.

But what strikes me as interesting is the comment about Freud being medieval. That suggests a whole new way to read Freud and a way that would make him more interesting.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mad Men: The Crash

In the teaser, Matt Weiner says, "We've seen him with all these of mistresses; we're sort of maybe wondering why he is so attached to her." Well, yeah, we're wondering and do you know why we're wondering? We're wondering because you have given us absolutely nothing in the way of motive or cause for why he may be wondering this way. Nothing at all. This episode made zero sense from beginning to end. It was a complete waste of our time.

There have been bad episodes before but this is the first time I was just waiting for it to be over.

The central conceit this year is stolen straight from François Truffaut's L'Homme qui aimait les femmes. Don's obsession with women is explained in terms of his childhood. Only it isn't actually explained at all. All they do is gesture a bit as if we're all supposed to accept this as obvious. His entire life is explained in terms of his search for something to fill the emptiness. It didn't work in the film and doesn't work on television either. And it doesn't work because it's bad psychology. Our minds just don't work that way.

This used to be the best show on television, it has now sunk to something that even the worst daytime soaps wouldn't do.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The advice they give

Update: the comments below feature some harsh language that I regret. I regret it mostly because I detracted from my own point that we go to great lengths to avoid holding women morally accountable for affairs by using it (an argument that is mostly strengthened by the other comments). However, I did say it and then it was later commented upon so it would deeply dishonest to remove it now.

Here's the question:
A few months ago, my husband uncovered an affair I was having with an old flame. He moved out and initiated divorce proceedings, but in the time since, I was able to convince him that I am truly repentant and to give our marriage another chance for the sake of our children. The problem I have now is that he says that if we are to stay married, he wants it to be an open marriage. I've tried to tell him that I've gotten that out of my system and I don't want to be with anybody other than him, but he says there just isn't any way he can ever trust me again, he doesn't feel an obligation to be faithful to me anymore, and at least this way we're being honest about it. Prudie, it makes me ill to think about him being with another woman. I just want things to go back to how they used to be. How can I convince him that we need to be completely committed to each other in order for this to work?
Prudence, whose advice column it is, is rather hard on this woman and good for her. The level of selfishness displayed here is mind-boggling. That said, it's pretty typical for modern liberalism. This should remind you of the Clinton years: "Okay, I did it, now can we just move on!" Emily Yoffe (AKA "Prudence") quite rightfully castigates this woman for just wanting "things to go back to normal" but that's all Prudie herself has to offer. She is full of self righteousness but that is all you'll get from her.

What do I mean? Well, look at Prudie's advice. She gives some way at the bottom of the column when she finally finishes heaping moral abuse on the woman who wrote the question I cite above. If we isolate that advice, we can see how utterly useless it is:
It could be that you and your husband should simply be separated for a while—without the threat of divorce hanging over your heads—to see how each of you feel about this new status. While you do that, I will naturally recommend couples counseling. It sounds as if you both need a third party to help you communicate and to hold a mirror up to the consequences of each of your actions.
Tell me, how is there separating a little while "without the threat of divorce hanging over your heads" different from open marriage? "Just go away for a while and then come and start fresh," is all Yoffe has to recommend. And if that doesn't work, you can try a marriage counselor.

The thing that is missing from all this is actual stuff that the wife might do. And that is what is needed. The first point here is that she screwed up and it is up to her to beg forgiveness. He has no obligations towards her at all. He certainly isn't obliged to actually forgive. Forgiveness that isn't freely given is no forgiveness at all so he has to be perfectly free to dump her or else the whole exercise is pointless.

And if you notice one thing about this question and the advice given by Yoffe in response it is that neither woman is willing to give this man the dignity of granting him the moral freedom to forgive or not forgive. From the very start this woman acts as if he is under some sort of obligation to her, to their marriage and to their children. She is the one who betrayed his trust and destroyed everything their marriage was supposed to be and yet she hammers over and over again on his responsibilities.

Just read the narrative carefully and you can see this. Let's pull out all the "I" statements:
  1. I was having [an affair] with an old flame. 
  2. I was able to convince him that I am truly repentant and to give our marriage another chance for the sake of our children. 
  3. I've tried to tell him that I've gotten that out of my system.
  4. I don't want to be with anybody other than him ... it makes me ill to think about him being with another woman
  5. I just want things to go back to how they used to be. 
  6. I [want to] convince him that we need to be completely committed to each other.
That's the real story. It's the story of what she did, what she wants and the real reasons she wants these things. Everything she says about him is some responsibility she wants him to accept. Everything she says about herself is something that she wants or once wanted.

Look at #2 for example: he is under a moral obligation to work at the marriage for the sake of the children.

Look at #3: It was something she had to get out of her system! In #2 he was under a moral obligation to forgive her but she doesn't see her affair as a massive betrayal of trust but as something she had to "get out of my system".

#4 It makes her ill to think of him with another woman? Then why the hell isn't she groveling in front of him? She should be begging and pleading for a chance to win him back; begging not to get him back but just to be given the chance to try and win him back.

What should she do? Here's the alternative narrative she should be living.
  1. She should tell him that she doesn't want an open marriage but she understands perfectly that he is going to need some time and space if he is going to get over this. It's only been a few months since this affair! 
  2. She needs to make it clear to him that she understands that even if he leaves her she still owes him a long and grovelling apology because she betrayed him
  3. She should tell him that she will be perfectly faithful to him and she should make it clear that she will make her life perfectly transparent to him so that he will be able to rest easy knowing that he will never have any reason whatsoever to even so much as suspect that she is seeing anyone else.
  4. She should make it clear that she is going to cut this old flame completely out of her life and that she won't even acknowledge this other man's existence if their paths cross.
  5. She should say that while it would torture her to think of her husband with another woman, she understands that she has destroyed the trust between them and that she realizes she has no right to expect fidelity from him now.
  6. She should promise that she will begin, as of right this moment, proving that she loves him by giving him the best sex he could imagine without any expectations of a commitment from him.
  7. And she should say that she while she is pleading for forgiveness and will continue to do so so long as he doesn't completely shut the door that she understands that it is entirely up to him to forgive or not to forgive.
If he forgives, they can return to the sort of mutual obligations, especially sexual fidelity, appropriate to marriage but for now all the responsibility is in her court.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The permanent bureaucracies have political interests of their own ...

Kevin Williamson makes the point that needs to be made about the IRS scandal.
Whatever happens politically in the next few years, Barack Obama will leave office at the end of his term — and the IRS will still be there. The permanent bureaucracies have political interests of their own, which may or may not align with the interests of any given candidate or any given party at any given moment. 
Bureaucracies are like that.  They have political interests and they push for them and they won't hesitate to abuse their powers to do so. That's why we need to take as much power as we can away from bureaucrats.


Another image: What is it selling?

I think the apples are a nice touch.

In porn, this is called a POV shot. That tells you who this ad is for. In case you are the one person left in the world who is unfamiliar with the conventions of porn, imagine that her mouth is open and either full or about to be full (along with whose point of view that would imply) and you'll get the point.

If it was actually porn, she'd probably be blonde. In advertising she has to be a brunette because men think that brunettes are more sexual than blondes. We think of blondes as good mothers. So why are there so many blondes in porn? Because the sort of blondes you see in porn are trashy and cheap looking and that makes it easier to transfer your guilt at watching porn into hate for the woman acting in it. But when a man sits alone and fantasizes about sex, he is more likely to fantasize about a brunette because he wants to fantasize about a positive experience.

The other key elements in the shot are her left hand sans wedding ring and her panties which are "purple", which is to say one of the hundreds of possible shades between red and blue. A woman would have a more precise name for the colour, she'd probably say it was a deep shade of violet. Purple panties scream "very sexual woman" to a man but, and this is really important, this shade of violet does it in a non-trashy way.

Note to women: if there is a guy you know who thinks about you in a sexual way and you like it even though you both know that actual sex is out of the question, this is the colour to give him a glimpse of down the front of your shirt or just peeking above the waistband of your skirt or pants. And that too is essential for this ad to have the desired effect. It is inspiring the man to fantasize about sex with a very sexual but not trashy woman who isn't his wife.

The ad is selling mattresses by the way. And it's selling them to men which is unusual. The vast majority of ads selling mattresses are aimed at women. That's why the bowling ball is dropped on the bed in the famous mattress ad. You can tell that this ad is an exception to that rule because the woman is wearing panties. That's what men want women to wear to bed. Maybe with a T-shirt or nightie but always wearing panties. No woman would wear sexy panties to go to bed if she was planning to sleep.

By the way, why is the bowling ball so important? Because women don't sleep well. They never sleep well and a new mattress isn't going to change that but she'll convince herself that the problem is either the mattress or that in combination with the guy in her life shaking the bed. The pitch for women is anti sexual. She wants an image that is clean and antiseptic: the bed is definitely not rocking!. The still life of apples in a shallow bowl (emphasis on the "still") that you see below the band across the centre of the image, that's for her. (Notice, by the way, that the model's legs are not visible below that band. The wife sees the woman, thinks her husband will enjoy this too much and plans to tease/mock him about it later, but the still life below the band is what she thinks about when she pictures this new mattress and she doesn't want that sexual image above intruding on it.)

It's very important that this ad is in the window of a mattress store. It would be pointless to put this in a magazine or catalog. It's aimed at the guy who is reluctantly following his wife or the woman he lives with (same thing) into the store. He'd rather be almost anywhere else and that POV shot is going to remind him of one of the many things he would rather be doing than mattress shopping. It's in the window of the store because his wife wants a new mattress and he doesn't so this is a good time to remind him that people do things other than sleep on mattresses.

Like masturbate, for example. That's another reason why it would be a good thing if she doesn't get wakened up by the bed shaking.

I know, that's all pretty grim but that is the reality it's based on. Your a man, your wife isn't giving you what you want because she's more interested in a solid night's sleep and she thinks you're the problem. There is absolutely nothing in this new mattress for you but this shot will give you hope. It gives you a positive image to think about during this shopping trip and that will make it easier for you to get through and more likely that your wife will actually pick a mattress to buy during this trip to the store. Yes that is a grim thought but it's very good advertising.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Looking for a good role model?

From, of all places, NPR:
Bing Crosby's influence on modern singing is so huge, we barely notice it anymore. It spread out through deadpan crooners like Perry Como, folksy colloquialists like Johnny Mercer and warm, sexy baritones like Billy Eckstine. Later singers who effectively undersell a song are indebted, too, like Nick Drake  and Leonard Cohen. Jazz singing could use a fresh dose of Crosby's influence, after so many swaggering baby Sinatras. Bring on the baby Bings.
I have some doubt about the latter two references. Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen did indeed "undersell" songs but that was because neither of them had the slightest clue how to sing. Crosby was an amazingly talented singer who used his talent to create an easy-going spirit. It was easy to listen to but it took a lot of incredibly hard work to achieve the effect. If you want to be a Baby Bing or a swaggering Baby Sinatra, as the story discusses, the first thing you need to know is that it is going to take a lot of work. It's not just a matter of attitude.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mad Men: What actually happened?

Updated 2015/05/17: Some light editing for clarity.

The question above is one of my favourite critical techniques when approaching a story. You can spend so much time wrapped up in the subtext that you fail to notice the text. It's important to forget about interpreting events sometimes and just figure out what actually happened.

Ted goes to see his now ex partner in the hospital (soon to be simply "ex period") and talks about how he can't make Don out. His partner quotes Sun Tzu at him:
 If I wait patiently by the river, the body of my enemy will float by.
and then:
Give him the early rounds, he'll tire himself out. Go home, shower, walk back in there like you own half the place.
But that isn't what actually happens. Instead, Don gives Ted the next round by telling him that no one at Mohawk will listen to anyone but Ted now that he has flown his own plane up. Is he really as upset as he looks or is he acting? Ted has no way of knowing and neither do we. Which is the same point I made yesterday about what happens with Sylvia. (I was flattered to see that show up, uncredited of course, in the comments at other sites.)

The most important thing Ted says this episode is:
You don't want to take in the wonder of God's majesty?
Remember in episode one when Peggy is facing a crisis and Ted isn't returning any of her calls? It's because he is on a religious retreat. Ted is a religious man! That's unusual on Mad Men.

The other thing that is really jumping out at me this season (besides how awful it is) is how much this year is a mirror image of the first few seasons. The second last episode of season one was the defeat of Nixon. This year we're building up to his victory. The second-last episode of Season two ended with Don walking into the western ocean seeking redemption. This season began with him in Hawaii dreaming of redemption. The second-last episode of Season three featured the JFK assassination followed by a massive reorganization at the office spurred by an inspiration of Don's. This season featured two political assassinations and massive reorganization at the office spurred by an inspiration of Don's building up to the mid point. Finally, we get the odd replay of the conflict over Peggy between Don and another man that we saw in Season four, only Ted stands in for Duck this time.

It's almost as if we are building everything back to the starting point again. Only it's not the starting point anymore. There is a loss of innocence.

Not much commentary on the commentary this week. The writers at Slate were reliably shallow though. They were gleeful in their speculations that Ted would replace Don, that Don is yesterday's man. But do tell me, why do you think people watch this show with such earnest devotion today. It would seem that Don was actually tomorrow's man, or even the eternal man. On the other hand,
... and again my thoughts drifted to Don, a man falling swiftly out of step with the times. As you note, Hanna, Don still gets drunk at the office, still shaves off the sideburns every other man grows out, and still hearkens back to the earnest simplicity of the Depression when Ted speaks the language of dippy, high-concept sitcoms. 
Ted also says "groovy" and talks abut "rap sessions". Does Seth Stevenson  think that represents the future? The thing we're supposed to have looking at a show set in recent history is the advantage of hindsight. Too many of the people commenting on this show seem to have forgotten that history didn't work out the way earnest liberals thought it would. The summer of love is over and it's the winter of discontent. There is still Woodstock to look forward to in 1969 but there is also Altamount. And looking back from 2013, what seems like the more important cultural event: the depression or Gilligan's Island? Take your time.

The more important issue is that women hate sensitive guys with trendy facial hair. It was interesting that when Peggy asked Joan how her little boy was, Joan asked back, "How's yours?" With the possible exception of Ken Cosgrove, the new generation doesn't seem very promising and that is right because they weren't. The 1970s sensitive guy was a cultural and moral disaster.

PS: Burt Peterson was let go the first time in "Out of Town" the opening episode of Season three. Roger actually misses the meeting, walking in after the news has been broken. Burt handles it very badly. There is actually a valuable life lesson here: no matter how gracious or ungracious the people who let you go are, listen to what they have to say, say little in return and make sure that whatever you say or do is gracious. Firing him the second time has to have been the easiest thing Roger has ever had to do.

PPS: I note that while Peggy praised Dawn for being a good secretary who didn't divulge any of Don's secrets we didn't actually see Dawn. There were several scenes where Dawn plainly wasn't there and others had to do her job for her. What's up? (Perhaps they were too cheap to pay Teyonah Parris's salary?)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mad Men: Man with a plan

First thought

I kept thinking of the stupidest rock lyric in the history:
I shouted out, "Who Killed the Kennedys?"
When after all it was you and me.
Actually, JFK was killed by a communist and Bobby Kennedy's death was an act of terrorism commited by, who else, a pro-Palestinian sympathizer named Sirhan Sirhan.

But the liberal mythology is that the Kennedys somehow died for America's sins. I mention this so you can see how the show plays into that. You have people living their sinful lives and then, suddenly, Kennedy is dead. You didn't hear a word about Israel and the 1967 war, or the growing terrorism problem. You just see these people in America behaving in dark, dark ways and suddenly the guy's dead and you connect the two things even though they had nothing whatsoever to do with one another.

Second thought

What was Don's plan vis a vis Sylvia? Do you think it was to set her up in that hotel as his sex slave?

The show starts with him overhearing a big fight between Sylvia and Arnie. Dr. Arnie is going to Minnesota, presumably to make a pitch to the Mayo Clinic (which, if successful, will make him a colleague of my uncle who was a senior guy there at the time). Sylvia doesn't want Arnie to go. Why not? She doesn't have a job. Maybe she just loves New York. Not in 1968 she doesn't. On the other hand, she calls Don and tells him she needs him.

You can hate me for this if you want but I know what I'd feel in his place. Dread is what I'd feel. Here he has this perfectly good deal with a wife and a lover who is safely married to someone else and now she is going to be single and wanting who knows what. His first emotion is a need for containment. He he doesn't want her hoping for more from him. He can't dump her because who knows what she will do. She might run to Megan with the whole story. So he puts her in the role of sex slave.

As I say, you can hate me for this if you want, but he has nothing to lose. She'll either say "no" right away, in which case the problem is diffused. Or she'll say "yes" first, in which case he has a sex slave for a while. Special bonus: no matter whether she says "no" immediately or if she takes a while to come to her senses, it will feel like her decision to end the thing and that will sharply reduce the risk of bitter recriminations later.

It's pretty manipulative to be sure but it isn't stupid.

Third thought

The jousting between Don and Ted is different. Each is capable of standing up for himself. Ultimately, someone has to lose and someone else has to win.

From Don's perspective, the big problem is that Peggy is on Ted's side. (and we see this mirrored by Bob Benson who cleverly uses Joan to protect his job.) In that regard, I thought the most significant shot in the show was Don lying on his back in bed with all that chest hair visible. He's an old-fashioned man. Ted and Bob look like the sort of guys who sing effeminate tenor instead of manly baritone and who would consider having their hair waxed off. It's an increasingly feminized world and guys like Don are less at home in it.

In any case, notice how it is Don who tells Ted that he has won these second skirmish when he tells him that he has pulled a coup by being the guy who flew up to see Mohawk in his own plane. Again, he looks weak from the outside but it feels like he has managed to get exactly what he wants.

Final thought

I don't see much future for the Draper marriage. In this show assassinations serve to separate grown ups from children and Megan is definitely one of the children. Again, I know how I'd feel if I'd heard all those brave plans the night before only to walk in and see Megan weeping in front of the TV like that. I wouldn't be seeing a woman who can share my life but a child who needs taking care of.

Okay, I hear you say, can't she be upset at the shock of it? Sure, but the problem is that she already cast herself in the role of spoiled princess last season. Her reaction to Bobby Kennedy's death reinforces that.

I can see Don serving her the divorce papers on the set of her show the way Sinatra did to Mia Farrow.

Other than that, I didn't like the episode much. Doing these commentaries used to be a pleasure but it has felt more and more like a task I dread as this season has gone on. I don't know how much longer I'll keep it up.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A little light culture: What is normal?

Here is a sentence to ponder:
In women, narcissism manifests itself as a greater libido, and in men, a lesser one.
That sentence makes a claim about what abnormal looks like but, far more importantly, it also tells you how you should behave if you want others to regard you as "normal". It's one of those dogmatic assertions that feels like it must be true. Stated starkly like that, it feels counter-intuitive. The Last Psychiatrist, who made the claim, reinforces that sense by immediately going on to say, "You might think this is backwards, but it isn't." Well, now it feels brave to embrace the claim so you do.

But take a step back notice how utterly conventional and repressive the sexual morality behind the statement is.  It tells women who want a lot of sex that they are narcissists.  TLP has taken an old, old stereotype and dressed it up to make it feel like it's a challenging claim but it actually plays to your deepest prejudices on the matter.

Like most stereotypes, it is rooted in some truth. Does anyone think that the woman obsessed with duty and service has a great sex life? And look how it plays out in advertising. If you want to make a woman look like she is the sort who gets a lot of sex, you paint her as bathing in luxury with a look of pure self-indulgence on her face. And that's not crazy. That's what women on the way to orgasm look like and, much more importantly, if she doesn't get that look on her face, she isn't going to come.

But forget about women for a moment and think about men thinking about women. There is a long history of portraying men who pursue women with a strong interest in sex as selfish men who neglect their duties and responsibilities to the community. Think of Paris and Helen of Troy. That narrative isn't meant to discourage women from being beautiful and sexually desirable like Helen of Troy. Quite the opposite. The point of the narrative is keep your hands off the other man's wife. Think about Dido, the queen of Carthage. What is the behaviour that story was meant to reinforce? That a man's duty and destiny were more important than the attractions of young widows. For better or for worse, our society doesn't really worry about sex-starved women but instead worries about about men pursuing them. (Notice, by the way, how bizarre it is that men are encouraged to seek adventure in foreign lands but not women next door. Well, bizarre until you think how damaging the second option is to the local social order. That tells you that it isn't really a moral issue but a political one.)

Let's look at the flipside for a second. Why does TLP insist the narcissistic man has a low libido?
Well, the problem with his libido isn't how hot she is.   He's a narcissist: the problem is [sic, I think he means "with"] his libido is that it depends on how hot he is.

It's what women used to go through.  He looks in the mirror, sees a gut-- he doesn't feel sexy, he can't imagine she would find him sexy, so the libido falls.
The internal logic in that narrative is airtight. But step outside it for a second and you can see the problem. For that is a credible narrative for the paunchy narcissist but what about the narcissist who is slim, muscular, good looking and well-hung? He is hot so ... so no problem. Right?

And flip it around and imagine the guy who isn't limited by his own lack of hotness. He's short, fat and bald but it doesn't bother him because all that matters to him is his enjoyment of his partner. This guy also sounds untroubled. What he doesn't sound like is the opposite of narcissism.

And what's the point of telling men that narcissists have low libido? It's to shame them into not being narcissists because no man wants to admit he has a low libido.  Yeah, that will work.

Gentleman, put your hands together for the sex-starved wife

TLP's claim came up at the start of a discussion about the a book called The Sex Starved Wife. Someone wrote a book about it, Time did a cover story on it and TLP commented on it. The fascinating thing is that neither Time nor TLP questioned the book. They simply took it for granted that the phenomena was real.

And that is the first question to ask: is there a real issue hiding behind this? I'm sure there are sex-starved wives but that isn't the issue. The book is only interesting if this is a new phenomena. Then you can blame men, or porn, or feminism or our work-obsessed culture. If it has always been the case that some women have wanted more sex than their husbands were able or willing to give them, you can't do that. It isn't enough that this book be a useful guide to the small but steady percentage of women who, in every generation since the flood, have had stronger sex drives than the man they married. No, we need a new (and worrisome!) social trend.

That's why TLP needs to insist that narcissistic men have a lower libido. It's a rare slip on his part, he is usually very perceptive about these things.

Let's go back a few steps and we can see how this works out.
  1. There is no evidence that there is a growing number of sex-starved wives out there. The book is the excuse for thinking this without evidence.
  2. There is lots of evidence that there are sex-starved marriages, particularly couples where the woman works full time. 
  3. But it has to be the man's fault. That is a consistent theme with TLP. When sex goes bad, it's because the man is a narcissist. (Someone in the comments to a post a while ago argued that this is proof that TLP is a woman. I'd argue the opposite. TLP is driven by the sorts of sexual stereotypes typical of men not women.)
Here's another narrative for your consideration. Sex reduced sharply in Joe and Teresa's marriage. She even buys herself a copy of The Sex-starved Wife. She keeps the book hidden in her car because she doesn't want Joe to see it and be hurt. Joe, meanwhile, has a substantial collection of porn, most of which is based around lonely, horny wives whose husbands don't or can't satisfy them. He masturbates five times a day to this stuff. He's even heard of The Sex-starved Wife because it comes up a lot in Internet discussion groups where he and like-minded guys share fantasies about lonely, horny wives whose husbands don't or can't satisfy them.

I just made that up but can you see the problem? Joe and Teresa don't have marital problems because they have a lousy sex life. It would be closer to the truth to say they have a lousy sex life because they have lost any real marital connection but that isn't quite right either. Why isn't it quite right? Because sex is the most important way husbands and wives have to connect.

And here I quote my favourite bit of advice from the Iron Duke, "It seems to me that you've gotten yourself into a dashed difficult situation and now you must work dashed hard to get out of it." Joe needs to spend a whole lot more time and effort pursuing Teresa and Teresa needs to put a whole lot more time and effort into sexually enticing Joe*.

Okay, but what's the point? Well, the point is that normal has disappeared as a consideration. Did you notice that? TLP starts with the unspoken assumption that something abnormal is happening and that is what needs to be explained. But the more we think about the problem in terms of individual couples, the more "normal" disappears. It gets replaced with what they want and what they have to do to get it.

And that should have occurred to TLP because to invoke notions of "normal" is to  invoke shame. If you want to manipulate a narcissist, you use shame to get what you want because narcissists don't feel guilt, they only feel shame. If you think we live in a narcissistic culture (and we do) suggesting that something out of normal is happening with the sex lives of married couples is a great way to get Time to do a cover story on your shoddy self-help book. It isn't, however, a very good way to shake people out of narcissistic behaviour patterns. It will have the exact opposite effect.

* Notice, before you condemn me for sexism, that we don't exactly live in a society where women are under less pressure to be sexually enticing than has been the case in the past. If anything, the exact opposite is the case. What has changed is that it is no longer acceptable to suggest that a woman make this effort for a particular man. That is held to be oppressive. If a woman wants to be beautiful and sexually enticing, she is encouraged to do so "for herself"; she is encouraged to do so in order to feel more confident and better about herself. In fact, she actually does so because she is under tremendous competitive forces and peer pressure from other women. (All of which is narcissistic.)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Teaching women to be stupid

Why is it that "experts" who advise women assume that women are stupid, shallow and in denial?

Consider, for example, "The Real Reason Older Men Like to Date Younger Women". This isn't a challenging question; the answer is, because they are younger women. The thing that actually needs explaining is why is it that so many younger women like to date older men. But thinking about that is kind of threatening for other women.

The author of the piece, who signs herself, "Kim Oliver", probably knows this. She isn't stupid. But modern women expect to be flattered and sheltered from reality so, whatever the answer is, it has to be mens' fault! She gives us two options: 1) the conventional wisdom and then 2) the "real answer". The important thing is not what makes the two answers different but the astounding similarity that both answers assume men men are jerks.

Answer 1

Admit it, when you see an older man who's dating a much younger woman, you assume it's because he must be going through some sort of mid-life crisis. His more youthful female companion may be more sexually attractive to him (making him feel younger in the process) and she probably doesn't call him out on his issues like an older woman might. After all, young women are fun, free-spirited, energetic and have a zest for life. This youthful energy is attractive to an older man who may be feeling his mortality.
Strip away the gesturing, and that's just a long version of my answer from above. Men date younger women because they are younger women. The extra length is necessary to explain everything in terms of things supposedly lacking in the man so single women don't have to seriously ask themselves what they have to offer a man and why a man might choose a younger woman over them if given the choice. So, he has "a mid-life crisis", he needs to feel younger, he hates being called out on his "issues"and he is scared of dying.

And notice the fudging, "His more youthful female companion may be more sexually attractive to him." Yeah, she just might be. What is this crap? Of course she is more attractive sexually to him. Walk around and look at younger and older women. Which do you think are more sexually attractive? This isn't hard to figure out. (BTW: how hard is it to figure out that you should stop calling "him on his issues" or, to put it in plain language, that you should stop being a whining bitch?)

Answer 2

The second answer is actually brilliant, the problem is that it doesn't answer the question Oliver claims to be answering. The following is actually a brilliant explanation of why younger women are attracted to older men:
This [the need for connection] is a need that is different for men and women at different stages in their lives. Young adult women typically have more of a need for connection. While they will create careers, they also want to eventually create a family. On the other hand, young adult men are more focused on the need for significance. They have relationships and start families, but their primary focus is figuring out a way to make it in the world. In young adult relationships, these needs are often in conflict, as the woman wants more intimacy and the man is focused on building his career. Older men and younger women share that same need for connection.
Now, if we keep in mind the obvious fact that the appeal of younger women needs no explanation, we can see how things work out the way they do. The younger woman would, ideally, prefer a young man but younger men don't necessarily want to satisfy her need for connection. A lot of young men are only looking for sexual thrills only and the relatively few good ones who are looking for more than just that get snapped up pretty quickly. As a young woman, she has no trouble getting sex; her challenge is getting it on the terms she wants. And here is an older man who wants her and wants connection. And the only serious competition for his attention is a bunch of bitter women a decade older than her!

And it's not like couples in which the man is older are a rarity. The overwhelming number of successful couples tend to be those where the man is at least three years older than the woman. The thing that needs explaining is why so few couples go the other way. Again, the answer to this question is not going to be congenial reading for women who've grown up believing they can have it all.

Flattering and sheltering her female audience to the end, Oliver has to paint the older man dating a younger woman as a failure.
At some point, an older man will realize he's squandered his youth on the pursuit of power and may have neglected his family in the process. 
 Gee, what a loser. He's squandered his youth. It's almost enough to make you forget the hot young woman looking at him adoringly. If he's squandered his youth, how come he's in a relationship and you're single and bitterly asking yourself what older men can possibly see in younger women?

And if the woman reading this expert advice is so much better than him, why is she spending her middle age competing with younger, hotter women for the few good men still available? That sounds more like the wages of squandering your youth to me.