Hawk


Band: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
Album: Hawk
Best song: “You Won’t Let Me Down Again” is the best song on the record.
Worst song: I’m not in love with “No Place to Fall,” as Willy Mason doesn’t do it for me.

Let me preface this by saying that this entire piece is mostly my trying to rationalize my being super judgemental. So, take whatever follows with a giant grain of salt. Similarly, I am not humorless, I assure you. I just come off that way because I’m going through my usual existential crises.

One of my close friends got married in 2010 — long story short: my friend is awesome and she had her wedding at the zoo — and I’ll never forget talking to her a bit about dating and her saying one of the most prescient things I’ve ever heard about me and my dating preferences:

 

 

“You like feminine, but not girly. There’s a difference.”

I don’t know that I’m the only man who thinks this way. In fact, I kind of can’t get outside of my brain to think about the heterosexual dudes who are — or, at least, would admit to — into “girly.” I don’t imagine anyone is really into Marilyn Monroe’s speaking voice; forgetting the notion of the implications of its neoteny, it’s just not a pleasant voice.

The TV show Mad Men is wonderful in so many ways, but the gaps in the physical characteristics of its female leads speaks so well to the notion of their performances. Peggy is, of course, the least feminine or girly of the three and, as such, dresses as such. She is the least physically attractive — Sorry, Elisabeth Moss, if you’re reading this — and is presented as such. She is not an object of desire. She is seen, in many ways, as one of the guys because she’s fighting a fight in, essentially, a man’s world. Part of the reason protagonist Don Draper is able to see her skill in the advertising world is because he does not see her as a sexual object.

January Jones, playing Betty, is the most infantilized of the three and is presented as such via wardrobe and makeup. She is, pretty consistently, wearing princess-type dresses. She wears loads of pink — not red. Pink. — makeup. She’s a very pretty woman, but, is ultimately dressed and make to look like a princess, the aspirational goal of, it seems, a lot of little girls in the developed world (both of the period and now). And like a child — of any gender, by the way — Betty’s life is outside of her control.

Which, of course, brings us to my beloved Joan, as portrayed by Christina Hendricks. The Joan character, as opposed to Betty certainly, is a grown woman. She speaks with authority and controls her own little corner of the world (though not entirely — as evidenced by a particular very stark and troubling scene and many other small points illustrating being a woman in a sexist world. It’s worth noting that I find Joan to be one of the best-written characters on TV.). Joan is not a princess. She’s not infantilized.

The contrast, of course, is between the three. Peggy is neither girly nor feminine, not in the comparative sense. Betty is absolutely feminine and girly. Joan is solely feminine.

(I want to make it clear here and now that my views on Mad Men are, of course, evolving. While I do consider myself a feminist, I’d love to hear a woman’s reaction to this portion of this piece, as I imagine my feelings on this stuff come from a completely different place.)

Simon Pegg’s thesis at the University of Bristol dealt with the subject of “A Marxist overview of popular 1970s cinema and hegemonic discourses.” I’ve not read it, but I’ve heard him talk about it on podcasts and in interviews and he almost always references the Baudrillardian concept of cultural infantilization during times of stress.

The thesis spoke of Star Wars and late-70s blockbusters as reactions to the Vietnam war in the United States. The American public, in essence, reverted to a childlike state in the context of the world becoming all too real and all too scary.

Now, it’s far more complicated than that and without the actual text, I can’t speak to the actuality of the concepts within. But, I tend to agree that our culture is overly childlike.

The American cultural conceit is becoming more and more like this, I’d suggest. Mark Harris’ wonderful bit over the summer on the broke down the summer movie situation as thus:

With that in mind, let’s look ahead to what’s on the menu for this year: four adaptations of comic books. One prequel to an adaptation of a comic book. One sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a toy. One sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on an amusement-park ride. One prequel to a remake. Two sequels to cartoons. One sequel to a comedy. An adaptation of a children’s book. An adaptation of a Saturday-morning cartoon. One sequel with a 4 in the title. Two sequels with a 5 in the title. One sequel that, if it were inclined to use numbers, would have to have a 7 1/2 in the title.

This is pretty much what we do. We see movies that are based on comic books or toys or fucking amusement park rides.

It’s not to say that these comic books don’t say something about the world at large; the newest X-Men movie spoke to alienation and civil rights in interesting ways. Sadly, the fantastical aspects of these movies are there. More movies are like Battleship and its frivolity than are like The Dark Knight and its allegory to a surveillance state in the face of terrorism.

Let me be clear: I am not immune to this. I care about one of the most infantile things in the world in that I am a fan of sports. In my defense, I care less and less about sports every year, but I would be lying if I said I don’t enjoy sports. I went to a baseball game a scant two days ago, for example. I play softball every week from April until November.

Yes. Sport is “the story of America.” And that baseball moved the dial before the rest of the nation did. And that there is poetry in sport and those who write about it.

But, as I’ve said a million times, I spent far too much time caring about grown men in their pajamas chasing after a ball.

And, again, I say all of this with the notion that I enjoy the cultural writing and notion of popular culture as a reflection on our lives. I took a class in high school on popular culture and we read the wonderful essay on Clark Kent’s alter ego titled “What Makes Superman So Damned American?” and there’s beauty in it. Friend of the site Alyssa Rosenberg has made a career writing about popular culture and analyzing it as deadly serious — and smarter — as those who write about Puccini or Shakespeare. And that’s her territory and she’s far smarter than I.

But, ultimately, the comparative fantastical tendencies of these movies ultimately is the spoonful of sugar that tends to contain less and less medicine to go down.

What’s the point in frivolity? Comic books, sports, etc. While reflections, are ultimately fiction. They’re distractions. To use Pegg and Baudrillard to illustrate it, this has all been hypercharged because of the fear inherent in the 21st century. As a culture, our fears were realized in the early part of the century and continue with economic hardships. The world is a scary-ass place, so we’re reverting to trying to find the comfort of childhood.

I was never a little girl, so I don’t know that all little girls want to be princesses. But, I can tell you that a certain type of woman in popular culture plays this princess game. It’s a sorta constant annoyance that the Zooey Deschanels and Jenny Lewises of the world are considered an archetype.

(In a longer side note than it should be, I’ll say this: Men are worse at this. We have, as a culture, dressed down so much that wearing a sports jersey is an acceptable thing to do for men in public when not actually playing. It’s insane. It looks ridiculous. See what a hockey game looked like in the 50s, for example. As my friend Kelly says, “Back when adults dresses as adults.” I have, of course, referenced the great article on this before, but, I suggest you read it. American men are perpetual teenagers and I hate this fact.)

Similarly, there is a lovely minitrend happening on television involving smart, interesting women who play lead roles on network TV. I’ve not done it in this space, but nearly every person in my social circles knows, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig are, essentially, the perfect women in my eyes. They’re hilarious and smart and are able to write comedy in a way that is interesting and not gendered in a way that turns off anyone. There are plenty of poop jokes in Bridesmaids, yet the film hardly hinges on them. Parks and Recreation takes the absurdity of government and distills it well. And, of course 30 Rock is the best joke delivery system on the planet.

And it doesn’t even need to be gendered. I know people who are way into things like the Muppets or Disney. Let’s forget Disney, as it is an evil empire of sorts, but the Muppets are for children. It’s not to say that I didn’t love the Muppets when I was a kid. I did. I adored the Muppets and worshipped Sesame Street when I was a kid.

But, I’m 30 years old now. That shit’s not clever or wonderful. Puppetry is an art, no doubt, but, ultimately, it’s for children.

The world is a scary, scary place. I adore the natural world and believe in the balance of its chaos, but I don’t completely disagree with Werner Herzog’s famed theory (“I think the common denominator [of nature] is, rather, chaos, hostility and murder.”) of nature.

So, I understand retreating into the world of princesses and video games and the frivolity of our lives. And maybe that is the point. But, the frivolity may also miss the point, in many ways.

So what, indeed, is the point? I have no idea. But, I do know this: “Cute” doesn’t do it for me. The little girl voice creeps me out and I have no interest in dating a girl.

I want to date someone feminine. Not girly.

Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell have put out three albums, with the latest being Hawk. The album ranks somewhere between the first and Sunday at Devil Dirt. Hawk is a more solid album, with larger highs. Campbell’s songwriting is lovely, with lush arrangements and fewer blues riffs — the main downfall on Sunday at Devil Dirt — but not enough of Lanegan’s sultry voice that is all over The Ballad of the Broken Seas.

“You Won’t Let Me Down Again” is a classic, by the way.

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