Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The risk of puritanism

The men who've been lately alleged to have committed various acts sexual harassment and/or assault—think Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Mark Halperin—all directly or indirectly supported harsh judgments against young men on university campuses. The same is true those of the many people who knew what was going on and never said a word about it. Think about that for a while: the people who insisted that the ludicrous "statistic" that one of every five female university students is sexually assaulted chose to do nothing about actual sexual assault happening in their own social and work lives.

Don't even think of calling this hypocrisy. This had nothing to do with concealing their true character. This was pure, sanctimonious puritanism right out of the Joe McCarthy playbook. These people have cheerfully smeared men and raised fears of a non-existent "rape culture" for years solely for the power thrill it gave them. They pilloried all men as rapists while exploiting women not because they are one thing in public life and another in secret. No, they are the same power-abusing jerks all the time. And now it's come back to bite them on the ass.

Friday, October 27, 2017

What exactly is this ugly word supposed to mean?

[Jennifer] Lawrence is known for speaking her mind, yet she says that didn't make a difference on this specific occasion. "I asked to speak to a producer about the unrealistic diet regime and he responded by telling me he didn't know why everyone thought I was so fat, he thought I was perfectly 'fuckable.'
 The word is new but the concept goes back decades. It's an insane notion on the face of it. For starters, that's a ridiculously low standard. There are very few women men wouldn't be willing to have sex with.

It's just a fact of our evolutionary psychology. As discussed here before, both men and women would have sex with a frighteningly large number of people if it were simply a matter of desire. Everyday, the vast majority of men and women on this planet walk by several dozen people they'd have sex with. That they don't is a reflection of circumstances other than desire. We tend to want not just sex but sex under conditions we feel comfortable with.

So what exactly does this word mean? It might be more useful to think of the concept than just this particular word. There are two related senses we find used in. There was an example in the comments at the Althouse blog the other day. Althouse had put up a post about the ongoing trainwreck that is Megyn Kelly's career. The very first poster had this to say,
I know she has had a rough year, but I'd still do her.
She's still got that going for her. 
I've heard that sort of comment all my life. It's so stupid even if meant ironically that there isn't much to say about it. It's like saying, "I'd accept $1 million for my 15-year-old Subaru". No one's offering and they'd be the ones doing you a favour if they did.

And yet it continues to be said. Keep that in the back of your mind.

The other use of the term, the one directed at Jennifer Lawrence, I think is a relative one. Think about characters in teen dramas. Blake Lively was twenty the first year she played teen-aged Serena van der Woodsen. That's pretty standard practice as actual teens are rarely as good at acting. Teen characters played by actual teens only work if the kids are not expected to extend their acting range beyond goofy. But if teens are going to be played by people in their twenties, the actor playing the part has to be plausible as a teenager.

If we go back to movies and TV shows, the female lead has to have enough sex appeal that it's going to be plausible that the male lead would want her in the face of the competition. And that is a tough standard, a much tougher standard than real life. The female lead is going to surrounded by exceptionally good looking women. She has to be plausible as the one who draws your eye. The script and the camera are on her side, as they were when Blake Lively played a teen, but there are limits to what the highly paid creative staff can do.

Of course, this is only an issue because the entertainment industry is  one of the most sexist work environments on the face of the earth. Women are hired for their looks and for their willingness to do sexual things. Outside stripping and prostitution, I can't think of any other field where women are treated so unfairly. The woman at the car rental counter who gets only five seconds of screen time has to be smoking hot to get the part. Even women meant to look unattractive are typically played by super-hot young women made up to look less attractive and/or older.

Now, it must be said that Jennifer Lawrence deludes herself. She couldn't make it in a field that didn't operate like that. Her career depends absolutely on her looks. Yes, she can act but she wouldn't even have had a shot at a career if a) she didn't look like she did and b) she wasn't willing to sell herself as primarily a sexual being. She's like a prizefighter, she got her job in the first place because she could go in the ring and stomp the competition, she can't complain now that she only gets to keep her job so long as she can keep that up. If the job was purely a matter of acting skills, there are thousands of women who'd rank above her. She's profited from the very sexism she now decries. That said, this is an appalling industry we should all stop supporting.

What would a non-sexist entertainment industry look like? I don't think anyone even has a clue. There never has been such a thing.

In any case, the ugly word means, this woman is still plausible as the most exciting character on the set even though she's going to be surrounded by lots of other exceptionally beautiful women. And I can understand that even though I don't support the way the industry works. She has to shine in a way that she stands out over every other woman in the cast.

The only the other thing to say is that it didn't used to be quite this bad. It used to be a standard plot line that the male lead would find the "girl next door" more attractive as a partner than the bombshell. That's not to say that the female leads were anything less than beautiful but they didn't have to be the most beautiful woman on the set.

I don't know exactly when that stopped being the case. The change had definitely happened by 1994. In that year, The Mask made a joke of the old convention. The male lead has a the choice between seemingly nice girl in reporter Peggy Brandt or femme fatale, and gangster's girlfriend Tina Carlyle. He duly chooses Peggy who promptly betrays him to the police and then ends up with Tina, who turns out to be trustworthy and caring. I remember thinking at the time that this was a nice send up of a plot cliché. In retrospect, that's not so clear. Once upon a time, Hollywood that character trumped sexiness. That hasn't been the case for a couple of decades now. That The Mask could make a joke of it shows that Hollywood had decided that the standards the rest of us look for in a partner were just a quaint joke by 1994.

Monday, October 23, 2017

More polarity

Both are trans-identified, but belong somewhere in between genders, and they've amassed huge social media followings as gender nonbinary, femme, and fabulous human beings. They've become celebrities in their own right, with Jacob regularly walking down the red carpet at LGBTQ galas and Alok featuring in the Janet Mock–narrated HBO documentary The Trans List.

But if you think all that would land them a date, you'd be wrong. And nobody is more puzzled than me as to why such obvious catches are having dating problems when so many clamor for their attention.
The related article is here. Short version: two celebrities who identify as "non-binary" can't get a date. Think about that: they're famous and quite literally no one wants to have sex with them. The problem is not that no one they find attractive wants a date with them. No one wants them. No one! They are not unique in this. I seem to remember that Morrisey of the Smiths couldn't get a date either. That said, it's difficult.

I could argue this one at length but I'll cut straight to the point. In our culture you can be anything you want. You can identify with any of a whole bunch of genders. You can even make up a new one and identify with that. If that isn't good enough, you can do what the two lonelyhearts described in the article above did and be non-binary. If, however, you want to have a shot at happiness, you should do the following:
  1. Be a man or a woman, 
  2. Be very good at being a man or being a woman,
  3. Stick to it.
It really is that simple. You're free to do otherwise but any other choice is a one-way ticket to unhappiness.

Friday, October 20, 2017

What and when was the sexual revolution?

Harvey, the man who launched a thousand philosophical contemplations:
First, here is Harvey himself, who early on in this on-going debacle said this:
“I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”
Stop the presses. Harvey has in fact put his finger on one serious cultural truth.
That's from an interesting piece in the American Spectator. The claim there is that the "sexual revolution" , by throwing away all the old rules, left a generation lost and confused. The next step, not explicitly made in the piece, is that poor Harv was one of these.

There are (at least) two ways we might think about the sexual revolution. One way, the American Spectator way, is to speak of a system of sexual morality that was working and then along came chaos and now we all reap disaster. We can nuanced in this view. We don't have to pretend that the sexual morality of the early twentieth century was perfect. We can admit lots of problems but argue that throwing all the rules out was crazy. And it was crazy. All that said, I still think there is another way of looking at things. This other way says that the sexual morality of the first half of the twentieth century was doomed no matter what happened; that if a twelve-year-old Hugh Hefner had ridden his bicycle into traffic without looking and had been killed by a passing truck the history of the 1960s and 1970s would not have been substantially different.

What happened in the 1970s was crazy. That said, Harvey Weinstein is a monster and the only person to blame for that is Harvey Weinstein. Even without rules, some people managed pretty well. We can't keep going that way so we won't. That said, if feminists and/or social conservatives get their way, we'll be plunged into a new puritanism that will make the 19th century look like a glorious age of freedom.

Monday, October 16, 2017

This is about them

It seems to me that what ultimately makes Weinstein significant is nothing about the man himself but the society that welcomed him. He could have peddled porn like Hef, he might have become a rock music promoter or he might have made action films. He probably would have made much more money had he done any of those things than he did selling art films. In choosing that option, Weinstein was satisfying a need for something other than money.
What he wanted was no great mystery. He wanted power and influence and he wasn't going to get it selling himself. He needed to make connections with the sort of people that can get connections with those who have power and influence. So he went to the people who make art house films. 

They needed him because their relevance was on the decline. Their movies didn't make money and Harv knew how to fix that. He probably didn't seem like a complete monster at first. He was a bully in a business that desperately needed a bully to make things happen. Feelings were hurt but money was made. And Harv was off to the races.

And then it started to become clear just how bad he was. Now Hollywood was facing a serious moral test. And they failed and failed miserably and they kept on failing for decades. Meanwhile, they lectured the rest of us about morality and politics.

And the same applies to the Democratic party and the press.

Monday, October 9, 2017


Note: None of the photos used in this post belong to me. I think they constitute fair use and I'm not making any money out of them but if you do own them and disagree, I will cheerfully take them down.

There is a piece on the Powerline blog entitled "Peak Elitism at the NY Times". It makes one of those points that are hard to argue with: that the New York Times is deeply elitist while pretending to be egalitarian. Indeed, "deeply elitist while pretending to be egalitarian" is a pretty good definition for the word "liberal".

While agreeing with what Steven Hayward of Powerline had to say on the subject I found the conclusion of the piece odd. He goes through a whole lot of stuff from a wedding announcement that is unquestionably sign that we are dealing with an elite couple but then picks on a charming little story at the end of the piece as "peak elitism".

Here's the little story.
The couple dated at Princeton, but had met a few years earlier, in 2007, in North Haven, Me., when Ms. du Pont offered a ride to Mr. Sutherland and a friend, whom Ms. du Pont knew. The two men had just moored their sailboat and were preparing for a long row back to the dock, whereas she was piloting her family’s motorized tender. They took the ride.
There is nothing elite in that tale. I never went to Princeton and my wedding announcement never appeared in the New York Times but I can relate to that. I've owned several sailboats in my lifetime and I'm not rich.

Let me tell you what all the details in that story mean. A mooring is a sort of permanent anchor. It's a very heavy weight to which a chain and line are attached. The weight is dropped into the water and buoy is attached to the top of the line. A mooring is permanent but less solid or protected than tying up to the dock. When you arrive at the club or marina, you get in a small dinghy to row out to your boat. This dinghy is called a tender. Most tenders run between 7 and 10 feet in length.  Here's what a typical tender looks like:

As you can see, it's the sort of boat you wouldn't want to go far from shore in. If you look a little closer, you will see that it carries an impressive amount of people or cargo for it's size. They are mostly practical craft, ideal for ferrying people and stuff from the dock to a moored boat. (They are also a lot of fun to play in when you are a little boy—I learned how to sail and row in a small tender.) They are not terribly efficient rowboats, especially when you have more than just one person in them. Going a couple of hundred yards is a chore.

Okay, take a closer look at the transom of that tender and you can see a little piece of plywood. That is a motor mount that is there so a small outboard. Motorized tender usually means a tender with an outboard. Now, if you have an outboard, you don't care about the rowing qualities of the boat. Most motorized tenders are inflatable boats, which are a pig to row. Here's an example of what that looks like:

Okay, now you can imagine the scene. The two guys have been sailing, probably in some sort of small keelboat as dinghies usually get stored on shore. The story says this happened in North Haven, Maine, so there is a good chance they were sailing a small racing class called an Ensign. They look like this:

They've tied up and derigged their boat (that means taking the sails down and folding them, putting away stuff, cleaning up so your parents don't tear into you about the mess you left and locking the hatch). Maybe they're tired after a day's sailing. In any case, they have a long row back to the dock in their tender and along comes a girl one of them knows in a tender with an outboard and offers them a ride. They accept and get in. Everything is pretty cramped, everybody, knee-to-knee and one of them is probably holding the painter (that's the line coming off the bow) of their tender so it gets towed back to the dock.

Yes, you have to be a part of a certain culture to understand all of this. Just as you need to be part of a certain culture to understand about guns. It isn't about wealth or privilege. Yes, there are yacht clubs that cost a lot to join and, even if you have the money, you need to have connections to join. And, yes, the people in the NYT wedding announcement sound like they are part of that world but there is nothing about the experience described in the paragraph selected as "peak elitism" that belongs to that peak-elitist world. For there are thousands of other yacht clubs where ordinary, middle-class people belong where you could meet your future spouse in exactly the same way. (And there are gun clubs that only billionaires can afford to belong to.)

Yes, let's condemn elitism, or at least let's condemn people who lecture the rest of us about inequality while living very comfortably. But let's try to understand each other too. This is a charming story that puts a very human face on our couple so that we can relate to them instead of hating them.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Partial defence of Hef

Hugh Hefner lived to 91. Sinatra made it to 82. Dino was 78 when he died. To me, this  suggests that 1950s swinger lifestyle was healthier than the rock and roll generation that followed.

When my family moved back to Quebec in the 1970s, we moved into a much more tolerant and more permissive culture than what we left behind in New Brunswick and Ontario, the two places we had lived previously. The TV stations in Quebec already featured nudity, there were strip bars and porn theatres  on the strip right beside the DQ and McDonalds. Playboy and Penthouse magazine were everywhere. As a young teenager, I was suddenly plunged into a very different world where access to porn was, by the standards of everywhere else I'd live up to that point, was ridiculously easy. And that is not to count the "erotic art photography" books that were found on coffee tables in the nice, middle-class neighbourhood we lived in. If it had any adverse effects on me, I don't know what they are.

Others I've read this week have been much more eager to chalk up really negative effects to Hugh Hefner's influence. There's too many to quote but Hugh Hefner's Legacy oF Despair:
This is also one of those stories where cultural conservatives and feminists line up, which is something that ought to give both those groups pause.

It's all dreadful nonsense of course. I'm perfectly willing to believe there were some pretty weird scenes inside the gold mine and that women were exploited. I'm also willing to believe that some aspects of our culture started to go bad around the time Playboy was first published and have only gotten worse since but I hoped that the editors at National Review were still able to understand the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and wouldn't let their writers get away with that sort of sloppy reasoning. (They've published at least four variations on the story I cite above now although I am happy to report there was one sane voice at NR.)

But even beyond that it's just insane to think that one man and one magazine could have had the sort of culture influence to caused all the negative effects Hefner is supposedly guilty of. We were going that way anyway and would have done so if Hugh Hefner had been run over by a bus the morning he got the idea for Playboy. (And Marilyn Monroe's sad pathetic life would have been every bit as sad and pathetic.)

What Hugh Hefner did manage to do was to get very rich by catching a wave and riding it. This had the effect of disconnecting him from reality enough that he went some pretty weird places. That said, I doubt they are any weirder than what we will eventually learn of current media stars when their stories begin to leak out. Before all that happened, though, the man did something absolutely brilliant.

He came very close to being a failure. As is well known, the original name for the magazine was to be "Stag Party". If it had gone out under that banner, it would be just another forgotten men's magazine today. Choosing Playboy with the suggestions of connoisseurship was a masterstroke. An entire generation of men were seeing a level of wealth that had never been possible in history until that point. Playboy  offered them a how-to guide to this new world.

But why pictures of naked women? If you really have to ask that, you're operating on a very poor understanding of men. In addition to which, most of us assumed that access to such things was one of the perks that many of the elite we set out to emulate took as their right. And we were right!
The sexual revolution came and it's still steamrolling along some seven decades later. Last weekend we had the annual Panda Classic College football game here in Ottawa and you should have seen how the college girls here dressed for it. Life changed and it's not going back to what it was anytime soon. Don't blame Hugh Hefner; he just caught the wave.