Since the earthquake Friday, I’ve been thinking about Japan and checking the news online almost hourly when I’m home. I ‘m worried and frightened for Japan and for my friends and the people I’ve worked with there. (Everyone I’ve contacted is OK at this point.)
I don’t have anything to say right now that would add to the larger conversation. I just need to express my deep concerns here.
Over the past several days actor Charlie Sheen has been waging a media blitz to win friends and influence popular opinion with a series of bizarre interviews (summarized in this link for those who may have missed them) glorifying his own talents, professing magical substance abuse healing, employing sex workers as child care providers, and general trumpeting his own entitlement. This is not to say that in general sex workers are not good caretakers for children.
I’ve been amusing myself by imagining a female attempting the same exercise. It definitely stretches the imagination.
First, envision a 45 year-old actress with a top ranking television show who has a history of substance abuse and hiring sex workers, some of whom turn up with injuries in police stations afterward. This woman has five children (three in ex-spousal custody), and invites interviewers into a home she shares with a marijuana magazine cover model and a porn star, whom she maintains are helping her care for her toddlers in residence. Does she meekly enter rehab and work to provide a more wholesome home environment for the kids? No, she states that her genius simply aroused envy in the less gifted people who showcase her talent, and demands a raise. She is ridiculed by many, yet millions follow her rants simply because they are so outrageous.
I don’t admire the behavior no matter what gender of the person doing it, especially because of the children involved, but I think I’d want to read a book about a woman doing that.
We live in a culture that both glorifies and mistrusts rebellion. But love it or hate it, it’s more available to men than women.
In 2008’s Hellions: Pop Culture’s Rebel Women by Maria Raha, a rock journalist (who also wrote Cinderella’s Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground) says of growing up in America:
“[W]e become young women who are expected to avoid getting too fat, too loud, too inquisitive … As a woman who doesn’t meet mainstream beauty standards; who has never had enough money to even consider indulging in material overconsumption (another expectation for women); who questions too much and is too loud, too angry, and too unhappy with the world around her most of the time, I know the most important thing to me during some of the most challenging times of my life has been cultural images commemorating women who pick up, move on and stare down convention like a time-tested enemy.”
Marilyn Monroe said it in 40 seconds in Some Like It Hot — I had forgotten how short that song was, the impact echoed longer!
And yet the dropped flask that ends the song telegraphs that women have to pay the price immediately and in full for any transgressions. Everyone pays eventually. Much as I adore S. Hunter Thompson’s writing, his life ended in disease and suicide.
I confess that part of what makes me laugh about the opening to S. Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegasis the sheer, screw-you bravado of it:
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. . .” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was filled with what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming, “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”
Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest to facilitate the tanning process. “What the hell are you yelling about?” he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. “Never mind,” I said. “It’s your turn to drive.” I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.
The scene is beautifully imagined in the Terry Gilliam film:
So I laugh at Thompson. Charlie Sheen’s antics … not so much.
But Sheen’s popularity does not appear to be affected by his rants.
I’m guessing that those who view his defiant, high profile, televised breakdown of the past week as appealing rather than as a slow-motion train wreck do so for reasons similar to those that make Thompson’s Fear and Loathing books appealing to me. They please the rebel somewhere in my soul who replies with an upraised one-finger salute when authority figures try to exert control.
After movie star Errol Flynn‘s trial for statutory rape, the expression “In like Flynn” entered into the language and was used admiringly to refer to a situation where one is certain to succeed — a sure thing. In his autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Flynn says that after the trial he took the precaution of posting, “a neatly printed notice on the door … Ladies: kindly be prepared to produce your birth certificate and driver’s license and any other identification marks. One of my pals scrawled under that ‘preferably on your thigh’.”
Our culture as a whole has always had a soft spot for a certain kind of rebel, who sometimes gets away with the unthinkable — just so long as he’s young or youngish, wealthy and unrepentant, male and rampantly heterosexual. Those who don’t fit the profile need not apply.