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Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

WOMEN ARE MORE EQUAL — AND STILL COMPLAIN

In anthropology, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on May 16, 2013 at 7:13 am

Some of us are more equal than others, as various animal characters found out in George Orwell’s classic satire on Stalinism, Animal Farm. In coming musings I will discuss how this applies to different sectors of society. Tonight: women.

* Women are equal to men in numbers around the world — in fact outnumber them in virtually every country, PLUS retain the privilege of calling themselves a minority

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to form statutory groups exclusive to their own gender

* Women are equal to men in intelligence — PLUS have educational privileges and attainment to the point where there are now more female than male graduates in law, medicine and education to cite a few; but retain the claim to be downtrodden careerwise and economically and don’t hold more than 50% of political careers.

* Women are equal to men in talent — and command financial returns from talk shows, starring in movies and on music recordings often superior to that of males; PLUS demand equal pay for those activities in which they can never be as good as the best males or cope with the same physical demands, like police enforcement, special military services and sports.

* Women are equal to men in drive and motivation — but are notoriously fickle, even when favored, recruited, cosseted to commit to an occupation that doesn’t suit. The national intake of women police in New Zealand, a country that goes out of its way to please women, is 33% of the total of rookie recruits. Within a very short time, two to three years on the force, the female component of the police force reduces to 10%.

HateThatcher* Women are equal to men in political ruthlessness — PLUS bathe in the haloed glow of self-anointment as forces for world peace: after Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Catherine the Great, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Mrs Mao Zedong, Boudicca, Jeanne d’Arc, all of them sainted in one way or another and all fit to dwell in Madame Tussaud’s chamber of horrors. This is not counting the Mata Haris, Eva Perons, Imelda Marcoses and Winnie Mandelas made to seem helpless victims of men by hagiographic movies and other rewritings of history.

* Women are equal to men in personal violence — but aren’t acknowledged for it because don’t generally have the temperament or physical force to apply it without lethal weapons, and haven’t built up such a record as serial killers, PLUS have been among the most destructive provocateurs in inciting genocides and individual homicides.

* Women are equal to men in physical force (sometimes) — PLUS have the cunning to paint themselves as victims to the authorities.

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the prerogative of changing their minds for no given reason

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to demand they be wooed and won (or not won), before they change their mind again

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to ask a man to pick up the tab without opprobrium (i.e. being called a gigolo)

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to demand their life partner take on the same activities, even the same beliefs, as them; women rightly call the reverse case in male-dominated cultures “oppression”.

* Women are equal to men — PLUS claim superior intuition, morality, caring…

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have far greater susceptibility when flattered for irrational beliefs, believing male clerics and other civic leaders are just as superstitious as they are when preaching orthodoxies such as the existence of a higher being and acquiescing in the delusion that many of these men don’t have ulterior motives.

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EXACTLY HOW SPOILT ARE WESTERN WOMEN?

In anthropology, ideology, television on May 9, 2013 at 10:57 am

The theme of tonight’s ramble came to me as I flicked through a dating site of African women, then another of Asian women — representing most of the adult single women on earth who are searching for male partners. Time after time, in the slots for preferences regarding a prospective partner’s ethnicity, height, weight, occupation, earnings, was written “any, any, any, any…” At the bottom, invariably, was the conclusion that the main, often only qualification, that “he love me and look after our family”. Of course, this contrasts starkly with my other favorite haunts: dating sites featuring New Zealand, Hawaiian and Southern Californian women. Far from the men of the Western world demanding anything very specific from women — as is the subject of popular and politically correct myth — the women demand as their right men of a certain physical size and activity, personality, wallet, philosophy, religion. It’s testimony to how indoctrinated men are in the modern world that they take this in stride until it comes to abominably stupid women showing just how obnoxious they are in their demands; e.g. a woman of say, 5ft-11, insisting on her right to wear her in-fashion seven-inch heels and then specifying a man who stands taller than her, totally oblivious (and indifferent?) to the fact that she has just excluded 99.999 percent of mankind.

My mind went back a week or two to viewing an hour-long episode in the British tv series Tribal Wives. It typically features dissatisfied women from the British Isles who go to live for a month in an African tribal setting to discover… something. On seeing glimpses of it previously I got the impression of idle white women slumming, maybe living out the earth mother fantasy, or reliving a previous life, to great but much-deserved disillusionment. And back they went to having too much time on their hands and finding their true callings in crystal therapy or numerology.

But this time it struck me as one of the few reality shows worth the price of admission on free-to-air tv, usually a very hefty price of switching your mind off to receive some “aimless thrills” to quote Basil Fawlty. It involved an “African” English woman of 36 whose most recent ‘long-term’ relationship had broken up, giving her pause about whether she was suited to relationships at all or had she, even, been missing something in the mix. The Masai women who were her hosts were very concerned about her suitability for such a hard life and at first cosseted her through the hardest parts, including carrying heavy loads for miles every day. She finally adapted fairly well, with the exception of getting used to sleeping in a smoke-filled hut and defecating just outside the front entrance where everyone else did. After all, this, mixed with the mud underfoot, cattle dung and straw, had built the hut in the first place, she realised. I half laughed and half sneered, thinking of an aspiring San Diego dater who actually named the fragrance her man was supposed to wear.

She also had chances to meet and chat with local, eligible single men who were openly complimentary of her beauty and personality. Though their aspirations to have more than one wife jarred at first this was countered in her mind by their alarm expressed at the thought of deserting a female partner and children as she knew young men in the Western world were apt to do. From the point of view of local men, love for a wife was based on her worth as a person, to his and her children, to the tribe, and a much broader feeling of caring; not the narrow definition of so-called love in the Western world, an ego-centric mix of glorified mirror-gazing, enhanced status and passing lust that is dressed up as “romance” and more often than not ends up as two people callously manipulating each other to do the other’s will. Her attitude at the end for all their nurturing and all she had been taught, was one of gratitude and the feeling that she would genuinely miss the place and the people.

Hope there’s a follow-up episode some time.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN

In film, generational/fashion, ideology, sociology, television on May 5, 2013 at 10:22 pm

This is one of those articles you write when you’ve got nothing better to do on a stormy Auckland morning. The subject isn’t of much significance. Or is it? It has nothing to do with the Sc-Fi classic of the same name, c.1957, but maybe everything to do with the age we live in. I’m thinking that the sheer preponderance of shrunken men placed in the limelight these days has something to do with what women want today — females being the biggest force in spending power and determining who is box-office on screen, online, in social networking, in magazines: someone to tower over in image, in achievement, moral superiority as they do already, but finally too in actual physical dominance. Why else would tall women continue queuing up to marry Tom Cruise, perhaps the ‘biggest’ movie star of the past thirty years and by reputation at least, the shortest? Not to mention rather elfin-looking Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio who have been no shirkers in earning power by the lights of woman power.

Once upon a time in the movies — let’s limit it to talkies, so from c.1930 on — a man had to be six feet tall or faking it to be taken seriously as a ‘romantic’ star. It hadn’t been so in the 1920s, when silents were perfected as an art form. The art was in what the filmmaker chose to depict, for example a towering domineering character portrayed by a short actor like Douglas Fairbanks; or a backbiting comedic foil in 5ft-11 Flora Finch. A “tall” leading woman of early talkies, playing straight, was Katharine Hepburn, 5ft seven and a half. Then a decade later came Ingrid Bergman and a generation after, Sophia Loren, both a whole half inch taller. In late silents the dominant male was the Latin lover type, more stocky and lean-muscular, of whom Rudolf Valentino, 5ft-10 or -11, was probably tallest; John Gilbert, Ramon Novarro, Antonio Moreno, Ricardo Cortez, Gilbert Roland and lesser stars of the genre were average to short.

In 1931, soon to be the most popular romantic male star of all, was Clark Gable, 6ft-1, his publicity said. Those who knew him whispered that The King was “a short 6ft-1” meaning he slouched an inch or so. There were Gary Cooper, nearing 6ft-3, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott the same; Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller in rather specialised roles, namely one — the reigning Tarzan and nothing else for 15 years. In the mid Thirties arrived smoothies Ray Milland and Fred MacMurray, in the same range; with Henry Fonda, Errol Flynn, Cary Grant all 6ft-2, James Stewart 6ft-4. John “Duke” Wayne was 6ft-4 and a half but not a major star until the mid Forties. Sterling Hayden (6ft-5) was supposed to be a major star from the start but the war and left-wing stances derailed his career somewhat; and Rod Cameron at least that tall in westerns, but not much of a star, maybe C-grade, or an actor come to that. Fess Parker was that tall too, enough to play Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone without a stretch. Of course there were big stars supposed to be six foot by publicity but fell just short: Robert Taylor, Tyrone Power, William Holden.

Of shrimpish early cowboys I have noticed only G. M. “Bronco Billy” Anderson going back to The Great Train Robbery (1903), and Thirties B-star Bob Steele, not seen for just how challenged he was until up against Forrest Tucker in F Troop on Sixties tv. The big exception to the rule was the studio of the Warner Brothers, who persisted for the first few years of talkies with short (and black-faced) song-and-dance star Al Jolson, squat hero Richard Barthelmess, and overreaching thespian John Barrymore, all ridiculously popular but whose combined salaries — nearly two million simoleons a year — were enough to almost bankrupt the company. Their new stars of the Thirties and Forties specialised in contemporary urban crime movies and still ranged from short to average height — average for a normal man of the time that is, six inches shorter than your average screen hero: Edward G Robinson, John Garfield, James Cagney, Paul Muni, George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, in ascending order but all 5ft-5 to 5ft-8. It was a studio that boasted even shorter character actors to make the pint-sized heroes look heroic: Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, Edward Brophy; and perversely consigned all but Errol Flynn of its 6ft-2/3 squad to sub-star level: Basil Rathbone (a constant villain until he became the classic Sherlock Holmes), Patric Knowles (Will Scarlett), James Stephenson, John Ridgely (the commander in Air Force), Paul Henreid (suave continental — type 1), Conrad Veidt (continental villain — type 2), utilitarian heavies Ward Bond and Barton MacLane (The Maltese Falcon), Wayne Morris (promising all-American type cut off by the war), Alan Hale (Little John), Guinn Williams (Flynn’s sidekick in westerns), Bruce Bennett (Treasure of the Sierra Madre)– adding up to an awful lot of very tall men theoretically wasted for their potential physical presence on screen at one studio in one decade.

By the Fifties the crunch was on. Far fewer movies were being made by the big Hollywood studios, suffering competition from television, and new stars magnetic, talented and versatile enough to cover varied roles — and tall too — could be counted on one hand: Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston at 6ft-3 and Robert Mitchum and Burt Lancaster at 6ft-1. Victor Mature and Cornel Wilde were action men in this height range and popular for 15 years postwar, but gave the impression of filling in for the very top names; at the much lower level of the Saturday matinee, the Lex Barkers and Jock Mahoneys providing bulk product. A-list stars Kirk Douglas and Richard Widmark, in typically big-man roles, had to stretch considerably to fill the screen. At a time when even 5ft-10 and a half or so was considered tallish for “the man in the street” (so called to distinguish him from real men on screen), Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Tony Curtis and Steve McQueen played men in the street at an inch or so under this height. But the most popular Western heroes on tv in the late Fifties and early Sixties strove to be six and a half feet tall and look effortless doing it. James Arness of Gunsmoke was said to be 6ft-7. Gunsmoke< His real-life brother, Peter Graves in Fury, was the runt of the family at 6ft-3. Clint Walker as Cheyenne Bodie, was 6ft-6; Chuck Connors in The Rifleman, and Gardner McKay (Adventures in Paradise) 6ft-5; Eric Fleming as trail boss Gil Favor and Clint Eastwood as ramrod Rowdy Yates in Rawhide, both 6ft-4 at peak; ditto John Russell as Lawman and Tom Tryon (Texas John Slaughter). And James Garner, that little old man in the sitcoms, used to be 6ft-3 when he played Maverick. It was 55 years ago after all. And I too can testify to some shrinkage with age.

Strangely, of all tv stars, only Eastwood, Garner and Steve McQueen, arguably Tryon in a very brief stint, and later Burt Reynolds, went on to be movie stars — all coming from western series. Guy Williams (Zorro), 6ft-2, had to go to Italy to be fully appreciated in swashbucklers on the big screen, where the even taller Steve Reeves (Hercules) and Gordon Scott (Tarzan) were already superstar beefcake. The biggest star on the big screen through the late Fifties and early Sixties, Rock Hudson, was 6ft-5. But 5ft-9ers began to predominate: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen; and by late in the decade young up-and-comers (Michael Anderson, James Stacy, Mark Slade) were compact to the point where two 6ft-4 supporting actors were brought in as father figures to tower over everyone else in High Chaparral (Leif Ericson) and Lancer (Andrew Duggan).

In an atmosphere like this no wonder Alan Ladd, a western hero (Shane, 1953) but 5ft-6 and a half, felt such a misfit, so isolated and insecure as to be suicidal — pilloried in the States in contrast to Brit heroes John Mills and Richard Todd were visibly shorter but held aloft rising above their female co-stars on stilts. Ladd complained of Boy on a Dolphin (1957) that playing love scenes with Sophia was like being pummelled with melons. (Poor him!) And poor Richard Widmark, erect and lean — but 5ft-9 will only go so far — was acutely embarrassed and tried to withdraw from John Wayne’s production of The Alamo (1960) when he found out he was playing pioneersman and cutlery craftsman Jim Bowie — built like a brick teahouse and standing 6ft-6 in actuality. Wayne, producing and directing at the same time, was committed to playing the somewhat smaller role of Davy Crockett a lot taller: a sawed-off Crockett, of all icons, was not an option.

In an age of feminism thriving in the early Seventies, Dustin Hoffman (5ft-5) and Al Pacino (5ft-6) started the trend to conspicuously pixie-sized leading men — and let it all hang out up against taller leading women like Marthe Keller and Diane Keaton, though wisely never paired with amazons Sigourney Weaver or Geena Davis: a bridge too far of logistical illusion. Of Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme, Jackie Chan, none can be called above the average range, never mind tallish. My impression of Arnie’s height is more mind over matter. Black men, by contrast, were always expected to be of some physical menace, at least of strong implied authority, on the screen (but for comedians — Bert Williams, Flip Wilson, Eddie Murphy). So for Canada Lee, Noble Johnson, Juano Hernandez, James Edwards, Harry Belafonte, Brock Peters, Woody Strode, Ossie Davis, Sidney Poitier, Jim Brown, Yaphet Kotto the bar of just standing there 6ft was the lowest of hurdles they had to meet.

Today, of very tall actors I can think of Liam Neeson… and then there’s… Did I mention Liam Neeson? Maybe Daniel Day Lewis — playing Abe Lincoln, after all. Oh, and there’s that other guy who looks taller than average — can never remember his name, good actor — in that remake of Driving Miss Daisy with Shirley MacLaine playing a former president’s widow: Nicholas Cage. On tv, 6ft-3 and a half and 6ft-4, Vincent d’Onofrio and Jeff Goldblum on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, great actors but not all that stellar.

Hard to believe that men’s (perceived) height is still an imperative with many people, one way or the other. There are authoritative, convincing lists of heights of US presidents “proving” that the tallest ones — Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt — 6ft-4 down to 6ft-2 — were the greatest ones. And on dating sites, tall women of 5ft-11 short on brains insist on the inalienable right to wear their seven-inch heels and to still have a man that towers over them — the top 0.00001 percentile of men, that is. I’ve just discovered another secret of life — No wonder butt-ugly basketball players with just enough brains to get by on sports scholarships are so popular as breeding stock!

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