Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Revenge of the X Chromosome
“Women are going to take over the world. You know, men, no matter how bad they were to women over the years, over the centuries, needed women for the race to continue. But all women needed were about a hundred semen slaves that they could milk every day, you see, and they could keep the race going. So they don’t need us. And – there’s a real possibility in my mind, about one in ten, that a hundred years from now there will be about a hundred men on earth and the women will have it all to themselves.. . . "
We’ve been sitting in the dark waiting for the last credits to roll by on the movie remake of “Total Recall”, and I’m marveling at how well the movies have trained us to sit through the credits. While I’m sitting in the dark I’m thinking about a short story by Ray Bradbury called “the Anthem Sprinters” about Irish movie goers and how they hate the Irish National Anthem so much, at the end of every movie they make an Olympic sprint for the door to see who can hit the lobby first before the anthem cranks up. The immense credit list for Total Recall sails by and then Rick the manager turns on the house lights, a friendly signal to get the hell out so they can sweep.
Rick is my kid's new boss. My kid’s gotten his first job in the movie industry - making popcorn, sweeping up trash under the seats and tearing tickets. Everybody starts somewhere. Tarantino famously worked in a video store, Tom Hanks carried scenery backdrops across town.
Colin Farrell plays the part once played by Arnold Swarzennegger in the 1990 film as Douglas Quaid, a down at the heels factory worker whose job is to tighten two screws on a robot’s chest plate. Quaid is longing for a little romance and mortal danger in his life. To be Somebody. Total Recall has two female leads. One is the nice bitch, one is the cruel bitch.
Kate Beckinsale is his loving and faithful wife Lori, at least until she isn't. He’s having these awful dreams of being a secret agent on the run and goes to “ReKal”, a kind of vacation travel agency that can artificially implant memories of derring-do in your skull that are indistinguishable from reality, without the inconvenience of actually being tortured, burned, shot or mutilated or destroying your marriage with adulterous affairs.
His attempt to have memories of being a secret agent backfire when it is revealed that in fact he really is a secret agent whose memories have been suppressed to keep his cover air tight which creates an interesting premise – is he really a secret agent disguised as a dull factory worker? Or is this the memory he paid good money for? His loving, sexy wife turns out not be that at all – no – she’s a violent, vicious, snarling bitch whose mission was to keep a lid on him in case he breaks through the memory suppression and becomes Hauser the secret agent again. All this cheerful mayhem is based on a short story published in the old sci fi pulps by Phillip K Dick gorgeously titled “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale”. Dick, who had mental health issues, was fascinated by the fluidity of consciousness and identity and made it one of the central themes of his work. The mystery which is never revealed is whether the memories are real or a “paranoid episode”.
It’s the women in the movie that fascinate me. Lori is a kind of ideal working class wife, with a job as a paramedic on an emergency trauma unit; sympathetic, longsuffering and sweet tempered and runway model hot in slinky underwear. She’s way too good for him, but doesn’t seem to notice. When the memories are implanted, or reawakened, take your pick, she transforms instantly into Totally Hot Kung Fu Bitch Mama (THKFBM), trying her goddamnedest to kill Quaid with a hot slug between the eyes or a stiletto heel in the temple. When Quaid wails “But those last seven years, I thought you loved me!” Lori grins maliciously, “What can I say? I give ‘good wife’.” and pops a few more rounds at his head.
On the run, Quaid/Hauser meets Melina, another THKFBM, who while equally totally hot (are there ever any ugly women in these movies besides Judy Dench?) is a rebel and former lover and devoted to saving his ass.
One of the challenges in story craft is creating a deep character, a character with presence, contradictions, soul and personality. One of the images in the writer’s tool box for making the hero/heroine stand out in clear focus is making him/her a part of a larger character web. You see the character defined by the people who are close to him, especially when the people close to him are opposites. Batman is defined by the Joker when they share the same scenes, because they are so similar but inhabit opposite ends of a moral spectrum. Lori and Melina are similar, have similar roles, similar relationships with the hero, but inhabit different ends of the moral spectrum.
There is a trend in popular entertainment these days which I think has ramifications for human evolution. The revenge of the x chromosome. For millennia, men have pursued the demands of that Y chromosome to spread their sperm as far and wide as possible. There is a theory, which I think has some truth in it, that one of the reasons men have fought wars since ancient times is for free pussy. Burn a village, carry off the women and you’ve got loads of new pussy. You can even skip the carrying off part. In an instant of bliss a man ejaculates enough sperm cells to impregnate every woman of breeding age in the continent of Europe. Genghis Khan, the emperor of emperors, spread his DNA diversely enough to be currently tracked in millions of men today. Historically emperors have had fantastic harems, the Old Testament attributes 700 official wives to King Solomon, and that’s not counting concubines and slave women. It’s good to be king, although even in my most lurid fantasies that seems a little extreme, especially if you have the additional duties of royal office to attend to. But great women leaders have rarely had harems of men. Catherine the Great, Cleopatra, Elizabeth I (who often sent lovers with a wandering dick off to the Tower of London. It’s good to be queen.) tend towards capricious serial monogamy, taking lovers one at a time and disposing of them when they become boring or annoying.
When I lived in the Caribbean I observed the macho image men have constructed for themselves there, which has little to do with what women want, and more to do with alpha apes competing among themselves for dominance through display, often to the detriment of their families. Macho is what men created for other men. In America, up until the ‘60s, there was a definitive image of the manly man as a quietly strong guy with a steady hand on the rudder, who keeps his existential angst out of sight. He goes to work on the assembly line with his blue collar and lunch box, has a beer with the guys and comes home to his family. His wife is there, Buddy the son, Spot the dog, and his pipe and slippers served up just before the hot dinner by a slender, sweet tempered woman in a dress, heels and pearls. He is the benevolent lord of his tiny fiefdom and his great calling in life is to bring his paycheck home to his family. This is a definition of manliness which I believed was defined by women for men.
Times have changed, life is unreliable, men even more so in the Age of Crazy Pussy and women feel they have to be more self reliant. Reliant to the point of not needing a man for anything other than the transient pleasure of his company. Like the great empresses, if he gets annoying or dull he’s disposable.
The ’50s TV mom has always been a quietly erotic image created by men for men. She is wise and capable, but emotionally pliant. She defines herself by her house work and her family. She needs them and will never abandon them to “find herself”. She has the ability to gaze raptly at his conversation even when bored. She worries about things that can be managed with a little gumption. She does the housework made up to the best of her beauty, usually in a knee high dress, clothes referred to sometimes by rape detectives as “providing accessibility”. When the lord of the realm comes home from a stressful day it’s easy to brush aside the pipe and slippers, tiptoe mom upstairs to his room, a friendly shove backwards on the bed, up with the skirt and faster than the Beev can gasp “Gee, Wally!” he’ll be feeling so much more relaxed.
Images are the personification of an idea. They are the distillation of complex ideas, going far back to a time before man became literary when complex ideas were expressed in stories and richly deep images from cave paintings to the Sistine Chapel. Dream images are the personalization of complex ideas under the surface within ourselves. Movies and television, novels and stories, these are the way a given culture dreams and packages itself in popular mythos. The THKFBM is a kind of aggressive caricature personifying the modern woman’s dilemma. A woman more and more has the feeling of having to go it alone in this world, plus still managing her traditional duties. What is most core to the character of the THKFBM is that she doesn’t need or even expect a man to save her or help her. She needs them to stay the eff out of her way.
Which begs the question – whose fantasy is this? Is this a man’s fantasy? I don’t think so. I think this is the fantasy and the personification of the exhilaration and frustration of the modern woman. Modern religion is very much the product and consequence of fascination with linear thinking and linear consciousness. Ancient religion, before the wide spread of literacy was all about encapsulating complex and unthinkable ideas into pictures and stories. Icons. This is the origin of myth. In ancient times no one believed there was such a thing as the Garden of Eden. It was the symbol, the myth, of something much bigger.
Which begs the question – if the THKFBM is a woman’s fantasy, is she also a myth? What is the myth that she embodies? Maybe Norman Mailer is on to something.