Beauty in Hollywood by Karen Durbin

Julianne Moore by Gilles Bensimon
  • “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces.”
  • “a beauty that easily looked cruel”
  • The original meaning of glamour: magic, a spell.
  • Films are escapism.
  • Womens struggle in Hollywood is about “sex and sexual definition”.
  • USA cultural puritanism meant Hollywood divided women into good girls and bad girls.
  • Both men and women share anxiety about a “bad” woman’s “dark and dangerous thrills”.
  • Lulu: “the dark thrill-to dream of being dangerous and desirable”
  • Mary Pickford was the ultimate “good girl”.
  • The 1934 Hays Code repressed/censored film and made it conservative. It asserted sex as a greater threat to public morals than violence.
  • Camille Paglia correctly identified the pre-Code cinema era as “the twentieth-century’s first sexual revolution”.
  • “the irreverent liberationist spirit of the 1930s”
  • Hitchcock “championed the openly sexual woman”.
  • Blaxploitation prefigured the attitude and content of rap music.
  • Hollywood responded to feminism with male buddy films and won’t give female directors second chances.
  • Through the 2000’s women in Hollywood (actresses and directors) were still greatly shortchanged but had more niche opportunities.
  • An incomplete list of films mentioned: Becoming Jane, Pandora’s Box (Lulu), The Blue Angel, Madame Satan, Thou Shalt Not (documentary about pre-Code cinema), Queen Christina, Mildred Pierce, Notorious

Ariel Levy on current day “sexiness” in Female Chauvinist Pigs

Quoted from pg. 29-31.

“If the rise of raunch seems counterintuitive because we hear so much about being in a conservative moment, it actually makes perfect sense when we think about it. Raunch culture is not essentially progressive, it is essentially commercial. By going to strip clubs and flashing on spring break and ogling our Olympians in Playboy, it’s not as though we are embracing something liberal-this isn’t Free Love. Raunch culture isn’t about opening our minds to the possibilities and mysteries of sexuality. It’s about endlessly reiterating one particular-and particularly commercial-shorthand for sexiness.

There is a disconnect between sexiness or hotness and sex itself. As Paris Hilton, the breathing embodiment of our current, prurient, collective fixations-blondeness, hotness, richness, anti-intellectualism-told Rolling Stone reporter Vanessa Grigoriadis, ‘my boyfriends always tell me I’m not sexual. Sexy, but not sexual.’ Any fourteen-year-old who has downloaded her sex tapes can tell you that Hilton looks excited when she is posing for the camera, bored when she is engaged in actual sex. (In one tape, Hilton took a cell phone call during intercourse.) She is the perfect sexual celebrity for this moment, because our interest is in the appearance of sexiness, not the existence of sexual pleasure. (Before Paris Hilton we had Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson to drool over: two shiny, waxy blondes who used to tell us over and over again that sex was something they sang about, not something they actually engaged in.)

Sex appeal has become a synecdoche for all appeal: People refer to a new restaurant or job as ‘sexy’ when they mean hip or powerful. A U.S. Army general was quoted in the The New Yorker regarding an air raid on the Taliban as saying ‘it was sexy stuff,’ for instance; the New York Times ran a piece on the energy industry subheadlined ‘After Enron, Deregulation is Looking Less Sexy.’ For something to be noteworthy is must be ‘sexy.’ Sexiness is no longer just about being aroused or alluring, it’s about being worthwhile.

Passion isn’t the point. The glossy, overheated thumping of sexuality in our culture is less about connection than consumption. Hotness has become our cultural currency, and a lot people spend a lot of time and a lot of regular, green currency trying to acquire it. Hotness is not the same thing as beauty, which has been valued throughout history. Hot can mean popular. Hot can mean talked about. But when it pertains to women, hot means two things in particular: fuckable and salable. The literal job criteria for our role models, the stars of the sex industry.”

juicy meat #2: femininity coaches on social media, preliminary notes

“juicy meat” is an ongoing series analyzing media content. This instalment contemplates femininity coaches on social media.

“Femininity coaches” are trending right now. They’re plying their trade on Youtube, TikTok and elsewhere. Lots of commentators say elements of this are “problematic”, but what actually explains the phenomenon? Some early thoughts…

Why Femininity Coaches Now?

  1. Cultural backlash against “Female Chauvinist Pigs”, a phenomenon best exemplified by the Call Her Daddy podcast. Certainly true, right? Femininity coaches reject the Call Her Daddy woman but stop short of outright “social conservatism”, a welcome compromise.
  2. The bitter internet lurkers favourite explanation and sometimes the explicit conceit of the content: hypergamy. Femininity coaches can help you secure a “high value man”, that’s the hope. Women definitely complain about the quality of men in the current day so maybe the stakes are just that high.
  3. Pure fantasy. The content in question has virtually no practical relevance for most of the people consuming it. This is clear from many “comments” and obvious more generally. This explanation is best seen in light of the immersive and intimate quality of the digital media environment. You’re curled up in bed alone in your apartment and a “femininity coach” ambushes you on TikTok.
  4. Women’s desire for feminine intimacy with other women. Straight women desire lots of intimacy from other straight women.* That said, stuff like woman-on-woman hair-brushing has surely declined in the era of the smartphone. Maybe alluring imagery on said smartphone fills the gap? Do current-day men (including “high value men”) really want women to be “feminine” in the style of this content? It’s iffy.** Is this all a woman-on-woman fantasy-projection?

*See: ASMR, fodder for any number of future “juicy meat” posts.

**To be clear, I’m not speaking for myself. I’m not taking a position any which way but playing the objective social analyst.

Jennifer Silva on working-class young adulthood in the USA

Jennifer M. Silva is a Professor of Sociology at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. The following quotes are from her book Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty, a contemporary classic.

“She taught me love
She taught me patience
How she handles pain
That shit’s amazing
I’ve loved and I’ve lost
But that’s not what I see
‘Cause look what I’ve found

-Ariana Grande

“Over and over again, the men and women I interviewed told me that growing up means learning not to expect anything from anyone. They told stories of investing their time and energy in relationships and institutions, only to find that their efforts were one-sided. I demonstrate how experiences of betrayal, within both the labor market and the institutions that frame their coming of age experiences, teach young working-class men and women that they are completely alone, responsible for their own fates and dependent on outside help only at their peril.

They learn to approach others with suspicion and distrust. Many make a virtue out of necessity, equating self-reliance and atomic individualism with self-worth and dignity: if they had to survive on their own, then everyone else should too. In an era of short-term flexibility, constant flux. and hollow institutions, the transition to adulthood has been inverted; coming of age does not entail entry into social groups and institutions but rather the explicit rejection of them.”

“For the vast majority of the men and women I spoke with, coming of age has been reimagined as a psychic struggle to triumph over the demons of their pasts. These ‘demons’ take several different forms: pain or betrayal in past relationships; emotional, mental, or cognitive disorders (e.g., depression, dyslexia, or anxiety); or addiction to drugs, alcohol, or pornography. Hurtful and agonizing betrayals within the family lie at the root of these torments, grounding their adult identities in the quest to heal their wounded selves. Through telling their stories of confronting a difficult past, working-class women and men stake a claim to dignity and respect, based not on traditional markers of adulthood but on having undergone emotional trauma and emerged, triumphantly, as survivors.”

“…couples who want to create relationships that foster the growth of their deepest selves find that self-realization requires resources that they do not have, and they must decide whether commitment is worth sacrificing their own interests and desires. For women, fears of losing the self predominate: their sense of self feels too fragile to risk in a relationship. Because many young people fear disappointment, betrayal, and dissolution, they often choose to be alone.

In a world where you have only yourself—hard-won through privation and suffering—to depend on, relationships feel overwhelmingly risky. Caught between two impossible ideals of love, many find themselves unable to forge romantic relationships that are both satisfying and lasting. Respondents thus numb the ache of betrayal and the hunger for connection by embracing cultural ideals of self-reliance, individualism, and personal responsibility.”

“As the coming of age stories of working-class young people reveal, the strain of risk-bearing has split individuals, families, and communities apart, leaving them with only the deep and unyielding belief that personal responsibility is the key to meaning, security, and freedom. In an era defined by neoliberal ideology and policy, collective solutions to risk run counter to common sense. Young working-class men and women understand personal choice and self-control as the very basis for who they are, and blame themselves, rather than large-scale economic precariousness and risk privatization, for lacking the tools they need to navigate their futures.”

“Mock trials,” Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan and Gawker

“Yet unlike Denton, Thiel wasn’t content to simply ballpark his odds. He wanted proof that the case had the legs to go the distance. What can we know that they don’t know? Where’s our edge? He spent nearly $100,000 for his lawyers to conduct not one but two mock trials in Florida. Gather up a bunch of prospective jurors, pay them by the hour, and run the case in front of them. Judge every reaction, learn everything they like and don’t like. No self-serving assumptions, no generous assessment of our strengths. The purpose? As Harder presents their case to these jurors in a nondescript hotel conference room—he wants the hard facts. What’s our worst case and how does it stack up against their best case? Where is Gawker strong and where are we weak? What do we have to do to beat them? What they find is that even ceding certain advantages to Gawker, Hogan’s case plays very well.

It is with a kind of nasty glee, more characteristic of Gawker than anyone else, that Thiel’s team would recount to me, several times, a discovery which they would exploit, which very well might have been the deciding factor in the entire case. In those expensive mock juries, they had discovered that their case played exceedingly well to a very specific type of person. ‘It became very clear that the kind of jurors we wanted were overweight women. Most people can’t empathize with a sex tape, but overweight women are sensitive about their bodies and feel like they have been bullied on the internet. …'”

“Karen”: a Mass Projection in the Psychological Age

Yep, we’re living in the “psychological age,” and the psychological age serves up psychological figures like the “Karen.” What’s a Karen? A middle-aged, middle class white woman caught on camera making a scene of managing others behaviour, at worst being racist and calling the cops.

One strange feature of the psychological age: we’re entitled to make an amateur diagnosis of other people on the fly. Yes, Karen can be outright racist and harmful, but is more often simply entitled, passive aggressive, dysfunctional, sad and pointless. What’s going on in her head?

Resentment certainly plays a role in the Karen phenomenon. As “middle class white women” any given Karen has got to be part of established or “privileged” society and therefore a legitimate target for scorn at the level of pop perception. In the age of mental health acceptance, this is one group it’s OK to gawk at as they break down.

Is it true that “white women are in crisis” as the Twitter joke has it? One quarter of middle aged women in the United States are on antidepressants. You’d think that would be cause for greater concern, generally speaking. The endless advertisements for psychotropic medication on American TV often feature a Karen type who can’t quite manage anymore.

When you go door-to-door as I have for various job’s and talk briefly to many strangers, you start to notice household “subtypes.” One very distinct variant is the lonely middle-aged white woman gripped by nervous breakdown.

And there’s a political angle to the Karen. As everyone knows, a majority of white women voted for Trump in 2016 and there was talk in the aftermath of “holding white women accountable.” In 2020, Trump pleaded, “Suburban women, will you please like me?”

Combine resentment, peaked politics, psychological projection, public spectacle and some element of genuine harm and you have the Karen. The Karen is a negative identity (everything it’s cool not to be), a “meme” figure willed into existence in the psychological age. Karen seems to have legs, what new characters slouch forward?

Marshall McLuhan on why women are better suited for the modern workforce

“The electric world, because it does not favour specialism, does favour women. Men are naturally specialists compared to women. Men are very brittle and unadaptable people compared to women. Women have had through the centuries to adapt to men rather than vic versa. So, specialization, which used to be taken for granted in modern industry, has now become very very shaky and roleplaying has taken over from job holding in big business. Role playing means having several jobs simultaneously or being able to move rapidly from one job to another. A good actor can play many parts. So women’s lib is really a reply to the new electric conditions of employment in which huge information is available simultaneously to everybody. In the electric world the simultaneity of information is acoustic in the form that it comes from all directions. Role playing is a very different thing from goal seeking and in the electric time we are moving very much in that direction. The reason that most of you in this room find it difficult to imagine a goal in life is simply that you’re living in an electric world where everything happens at once. It’s hard to have a fixed point of view in a world where everything is happening simultaneously. It is hard to have an objective in a world that is changing faster than you can imagine the objective being fulfilled. Women’s lib therefore has very deep roots in the new technology and is not just a matter of votes for women. It means that the work that is being performed today can in many cases be done better by women.”

The late 19th century “New Woman”

“One of the most important and most visible threats to traditional masculinity was the New Woman. As described by John Tosh in A Man’s Place, the term was coined in 1894 but the phenomenon which it described “had been discernible since the 1880s.” These New Women, emblematic above all of feminine independence, smoked cigarettes, rode bicycles, and spoke their minds. Many took on jobs, postponed or eschewed marriage, and renounced familial obedience. As Tosh demonstrates, traditional male elites found their authority questioned in every aspect—as fathers, husbands, teachers, and representatives as the state. Not only did allegedly rogue women put men on the defensive, so too did new laws that eroded male privilege in matters from parental prerogatives and property rights to access to education and the vote.”

Gail Bederman in Manliness and Civilization

“Immigrant and working-class men were not the only ones challenging middle-class men’s claims on public power and authority. Concurrently, the middle-class woman’s movement was challenging past constructions of manhood by agitating for woman’s advancement. “Advancement,” as these New Women understood it, meant granting women access to activities which had previously been reserved for men. Small but increasing numbers of middle-class women were claiming the right to a college education, to become clergymen, social scientists, and physicians, and even to vote. Men reacted passionately by ridiculing these New Women, prophesying that they would make themselves ill and destroy national life, insisting that they were rebelling against nature. As one outraged male clergyman complained, feminists were opposing “the basic facts of womanhood itself.. We shall gain nothing in the end by displacing manhood by womanhood or the other way around.” Yet the New Woman did “displace manhood by womanhood,” if only because her successes undermined the assumption that education, professional status, and political power required a male body. The woman’s movement thus increased the pressure on middle-class men to reformulate manhood.”