All posts by Richard

Help Wanted: Charismatic Rebel – No women need apply

Lynne Murray says:

Anti-heroines, anyone?

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.”

p. 13 and 15 Hellions: Pop Culture’s Rebel Women by Maria Raha

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 Vegas is 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.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, by S. Hunter Thompson.

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’.”

p.293, My Wicked, Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn

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.

Koch Brothers: Social Change Choices

Richard Dutcher says:

Laurie was browsing through the web and ran into an article about the Koch brothers, which included a list of the consumer products produced by companies they own. That list includes the AngelSoft toilet paper she says she buys.

If you don’t know who the Koch brothers are, don’t worry about it; few people do.  In the last couple of years, various investigators have been teasing their story out.  They are American billionaires who inherited a lot of money and have continued to successfully amass a *lot* more.  They are major financiers of the climate change denial movement, conservative think-tanks, and lately parts of the Tea Party movement.  <under-statement>Laurie doesn’t like their ideas and the movements they support; neither do I. </under-statement>

AngelSoft is good toilet paper, and she buys it cheaply.  Nonetheless, she won’t anymore, or anything else avoidable she finds on that list.

What has this to do with Body Impolitic’s brief for body image activism and social change art?  Not much, directly.  But she’s asked me to make a point about social change, because she’s heard me talk on the use and meaning of boycotts.

Changing the behavior of wealthy people and large organizations is difficult.  Organized boycotts take years of dedication and noise to have any effect; just talk to the people who’ve been pressuring Nestle for the last 30-odd years.  I’m sure somewhere out on the Web and in the world several groups are organizing boycotts against the Koch brothers.  Power and success to them.

But Laurie is not changing her toilet paper to change the Koch brothers’ behavior; she’s changing hers.  Social change, good or bad, is incremental. “The personal is political” is not a cliché, it’s a truism.

Sometimes social change breaks out in dramatic and visible forms; the personal computer and web revolutions, punk rock, the uprisings in the Arab world now astonishing us all.  But most change, including the change that sets up the dramatic events, is day to day in our personal lives.  Some is change that happens to us, some is change we choose.

Social change is life work, and like any work, we need to pace ourselves, we need to be kind to ourselves, or the work (and us) suffers.

Body Impolitic is focused on changes we choose.  How we think about our bodies, the bodies we see every day, and the way we behave to ourselves and others. And sometimes, the brand of toilet paper we choose.

The list:

Angel Soft toilet paper, Brawny paper towels, Dixie plates, bowls, napkins and cups, Mardi Gras napkins and towels, Quilted Northern toilet paper, Soft ’n Gentle toilet paper, Sparkle napkins, Vanity fair napkins, Zee napkins, Georgia-Pacific paper products and envelopes, and all Georgia-Pacific lumber and building products.