The best article I read about a movie lately had to do with why This is 40 is really not anyone’s 40, unless you somehow became a rich California artist in your early twenties, as one surmises Judd Apatow and his wife must have done, in a fashion that eschews the normative arc of nearly any real person.
I didn’t like the article because I’m interested in the movie. Not gonna watch that movie. I am not really into Judd Apatow movies in general, since they have always to me amounted to sappy revenge fantasies for people with lots of self-pity. Lately, though, I read a lot of articles about things I’m not sure if I’m going to watch. It’s a thing to do now.
Lately people seem to particularly like media that ‘tells us something’ about who we are. Like, I waited until last month to watch Girls in one straight, Jameson-soaked all nighter, because I wanted a personal vacuum, whereby I could just have my own thoughts on the show, possibly even enjoy it, without reams of internet text rattling around my head reminding me ‘why it is relevant’ and ‘what it means’ and ‘why it is galvanizing [something]’ and all of that. I read a lot about Girls, and then I had to forget it all if I was going to watch Girls in any kind of reasonable way.
I think this sort of ‘media conversation’ climate — where people make media and then writers distill the intentional or subtextual social criticism from that media in order to offer a mirror to people who are interested in entertainment — has enabled a landscape where most popular culture is expected to ‘reflect the times.’
But, like, I finally watched The Devil Wears Prada in which a woman is guilted out of choosing her career over her relationship because of the commonly-held perception that one can’t be ambitious or dedicated without being ruthless and evil (or without help from a different dude who also wants a relationship with you). And, like, I really believe the part of Girls where Hannah has low self esteem and keeps cluelessly giving the time of day to a kind of callous creeper. I don’t believe the part where the callous creeper actually turns out to have loyal boyfriend potential. I mean, I guess that’s the fantasy part.
I have seen like nine million movies where the woman who loses patience with her considerably less attractive, orderly and reliable manchild for failing to act like a goddamn adult is portrayed as villainous, hypertensive and unlikeable; in those situations where she actually dares to leave him, she gets her ‘comeuppance’ later as he finds success in exchange for his natural inner whatever, or finds people who appreciate ‘the real him,’ which she has somehow failed to do despite washing his socks and underwear for months.
I have seen like nine million movies where the woman who has a successful career and a life outside the home is subject to predation by colleagues that her loyal boyfriend, always the hero, has to go and like ‘fight off,’ even if it means creepily funneling her away from projects/achievements. I have seen like nine million movies where the man intentionally or otherwise totally screws everything up but it’s okay because he is a ‘lovable idiot’ and he just loves her so much and if she doesn’t slowly soften, sigh, and smile in spite of herself we are supposed to find her a TOTAL BITCH.
It’s weird that we don’t have media where women are rewarded for developing the courage to walk out on disappointing, terminally-adolescent screw-ups. Movies about men prize taking risks, being resilient in the face of life wrinkles, learning new things about yourself, embracing and appreciating life, discovering adult values, stuff like that. Movies about women prize diplomacy, self-sacrifice, the dogged pursuit of love and kindness above all things, ‘turning into a butterfly,’ becoming more sexually liberated (because of men), being self-effacing and patient, basically stuff that makes her more conventionally appealing, less threatening or ugly, more marriageable.
The rise of the ‘manic pixie’ or ‘quirky girl’ in recent years is sort of like, the closest we can get to a subversion of this, an archetype that lets girls still be awkward or ‘goofy’ in a way that is still charming to men and endearing to other women. It’s like, “look at Zooey Deschanel, she’s a total archetype of the doe-eyed and unscary brunette, except she has a predictable and inoffensive ‘fiery streak’ that makes you feel like your own unconventionality might not doom you to years of sexlessness after all.”
It’s weird because this year I’ve looked at Girls and 2 Broke Girls and stupid New Girl and housewives and the ‘bitches’ in apartment whatever, or like other bitches reclaiming the word bitch, and, like, bossypantses. And articles asking about the terminal adolescence of men, and like, how we embraced feminism and did everything required to be admirable self-actualized heroines and now what. And even a smattering of writing about how men could even theoretically go extinct, since we really only need their reproductive cells and we’re supposedly ‘eclipsing’ men at everything else.
And yet our media doesn’t show us what it’s like to live in a world where ‘shit I’m 30-something and I don’t know anyone grown-up enough to make kids with’ or ‘why am I supporting my artist boyfriend’ or ‘maybe I’m totally cool being single and childless and I wish I had more social endorsement for that’ are totally common things that are actually happening to a lot of women today.
There’s a thing me and my friends do around here. People ask ‘what are the men like in New York’ and we laugh a little bit and we go ‘oh there are no men in New York.’ I wanna watch a movie called There Are No Men in New York.
Like, where’s the movie about the woman who is supporting her terminally-adolescent musician boyfriend who slowly realizes that kind of thing isn’t better than being alone, and develops the courage to quit drinking and leave him? That could even be funny! Like, some music montage to her pouring out her bottle of Jack all over his guitar case filled with photos of the younger, more attractive girls he has been wanking to on Tumblr. But like, good music, not late-stage Liz Phair or whatever some Hollywood guy thinks we’ll find empowering.
And then. Imagine if in the end she isn’t the castrating frigid bitch who’s always limited his widdle dreams with her unkind pragmatism and distinct lack of ‘whimsy,’ but is actually the person who is happy and correct and inspires a couple of her friends? Where’s that movie?
Or, like, where’s the movie where the woman has to come to grips with the fact that nobody is really going to fulfill the idea of ‘strong conventionally masculine figure’ that the media has sold her, and that she has to decide whether her physically-diminutive, socially-crippled, delicate narcissistic writer boyfriend is lovable enough to make her redefine her ideas about ‘partnership’ or whether he just sucks or something? I’d totally watch that movie.
Where’s the movie about the woman whose husband has some weird idea of the marriage and motherhood in which she’s supposed to participate and she has to decide if she wants to leave, and she isn’t some indecisive affair-mongerer who tries to kill herself with a gas stove or whatever but is actually like, a reasonable human being?
People are clearly more interested than ever in using media to process their individual experience and cultural transitions, but we still only get more of the same stupid roleplaying. Where is the movie where the heroines don’t really capitulate to Hollywood/advertiser “empowerment” manipulation or ideals of what men think women are supposed to be and instead they just like, deal with the reality of redefining identity in an age where gender norms are constantly being re-mapped? I guess that would be pretty hard to like, sell, or whatever.