“Rape of the Sabine Women” 1583. Giovanni de Bologna [or, as he is known in professional circles, John of Baloney] reveals the sublime beauty in a good, classic rape.
Like many delusional Americans, I shell out a handsome monthly stipend to the Time Warner Cable Company. And for what? Once, about five years ago, I saw Howard Zinn on C-SPAN. He wasn’t groping anybody, or yelling, or eating insects, or chaining up by the wrists any bleeding young Asian women in shredded Frederick’s of Hollywood teddies. I raised a joyous eyebrow. Ever since my Moment of Zinn I’ve been waiting in giddy anticipation for another television experience that didn’t make wish I were having a root canal instead.
My vigil has been a long and fruitless one. No epiphany hath forecome. Whenever I turn on the TV I might as well be bending over and pointing at a sign on my ass: “Behold another receptacle for patriarchy’s indoctrinatory videographed ejaculations.”*
The monthly dough from which the Time Warner Cable Company is pleased to separate me entitles me to but a solitary commercial-free channel, the Turner Classic Movies channel. The regular reader is no stranger to my insensible and embarrassingly anti-revolutionary tolerance for this TV channel. This set-up is this: avuncular film critic/host Robert Osborne presents, without commercial interruption, Hollywood films dating from the 20’s to the 80’s. Osborne gives a short, unscholarly introduction to each, engaging the drooling viewer with enticing but meaningless biographical fluff, such as “Ironically, Gig Young died with his 5th wife just 8 years after winning the Oscar for this film in a tragic murder-suicide.”
Like all television, TCM is exceptionally dudely. The movies are directed by white dudes, written by white dudes, are about white dudes, and glorify white dudes. When the movies aren’t about white dudes, they’re about gorgeous white women who never find happiness until they marry white dudes. Once a week, white dude Osborne shares the camera for about 2 minutes with non-dude film critic Molly Haskell, but he cannot refrain from interrupting her, making these interludes (or “interdudeludes”) particularly painful.
That it is commercial-free is the reason I began watching TCM back when I was laid up with my broken ankle; reading books (or, at least, comprehending them) was out of the question owing to my steady diet of pharmaceutical opiates.** The habit (the TCM habit, I mean, not the Vicodin habit) stuck when I discovered it to have an unexpected*** dialectical application: TCM is a sort of chronology, an historical record of the misogynist antecedency of modern patriarchal thought, a reference manual to the canonized idols, saints, and gods of 21st century oppression.
Since Hollywood is the crucible from which emerges all our stinkiest cultural narratives, the myths are all here on TCM: romantic love, marriage as the ultimate objective of romantic love, virgins vs whores, heteronormative upper middle class honkiness, Christianity, capitalism, America’s inherent moral superiority, the nobility of war, the nobility of poverty, the nobility of humble darkies who serve heteronormative upper middle class honkiness, rugged American individualism, the romanticization of binary sex roles, the notion that the “good old days” actually existed, the codification of femininity and masculinity, et al. The whole stinking sexist, racist cesspool is focused through the vaselined lens of a dominant male perspective that seems to get more dominant and more male with each passing year.
You will be wondering, and I don’t blame you, at which, if any, salient point this meandering preamble will eventually arrive.
Well, what that prompted me to write about Turner Classic Movies today is that the channel recently aired the beloved, critically-acclaimed, appallingly misogynist, honky, heteronormative Oscar-winning 1954 musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” [plot summary].
Not that TCM doesn’t air misogynist shit all day long. In addition to the regular program of anti-woman Hollywood films, they are currently running a promo for a DVD boxed set notable, apparently, only because it contains early movies with “shocking” scenes of pre-code “salaciousness”. This “salaciousness” amounts to the depiction of women in states of degradation unusual for the period (but hardly anything at which one would bat a jaded eye today): titillating footage of a very young Barbara Stanwyck enduring a full-on boob-grope, and of Jean Harlow getting punched in the face, and of Mae Clark (she of the Cagney-launched grapefruit-in-the-kisser) forced into prostitution by the cruel hand of fate. Whoo hoo. Get’em while they’re hot.
But back to “Seven Brides.” The whole story is astonishingly atavistic in its depiction of women’s cheerful, obliging submissiveness, but the piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance arrives in a scene based on the Rape of the Sabine Women (which you will recall from your tireless study of ancient dude-historian Plutarch as that episode in early Roman history wherein Rome, endangered by a dearth of women to incubate Roman fetuses, incurses on territory inhabited by the Sabines, abducts a bunch of females, knocks’em up, and uses the kids as pawns in settling the ensuing border dispute). In the “Seven Brides” scene to which I allude, some oafish honky mountain men who want wife-slaves conduct a raid on the nearby town, kidnap a bunch of apple-cheeked virgins, and tote’em back up to the cabin, whereupon a convenient avalanche compels them all to spend the winter.
This charming display of masculine predation is humorously executed in the film with much gay Technicolor dancing and singing. Lyrics like “Now let this be/ because it’s true/ A lesson to the likes of you/ Treat ’em rough like them there Romans do/ Or else they’ll think you’re tetched” romanticize Stockholm syndrome like it was a surrey with fringe on top. Naturally, once they stop crying, the kidnaped girls fall in love with their abductors, and live happily ever after once their “honor” has been restored by shotgun weddings.
Thus we see that 1954 marks the pinnacle, in terms of bouncy, effervescent comedic mainstreaming, of a repellent misogynist narrative motif that continues, 60 years and two waves of feminist agitation later, to afflict the popular view of women as fuckbot slaves.
Although, really, what was I expecting? That the revolution would be
* By ‘indoctrinatory ejaculations’ I mean any and all televised programming: “Brady Bunch” reruns, the Mutilated Women Show (“Law & Order: SVU”), beer commercials, Mel Gibson movies, “Seinfeld,” the lot. There was never, for instance, so depressingly dudely a display of liberal malecentricity as Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show.” Last night’s episode contained exactly 4 women. One was footage of a blonde hottie anchorwoman mocked by Stewart for ditzily catching snowflakes on her tongue on national television; one was Katie Couric (the Gerber daisy of broadcast news) saying something empty-headed about W; another was a close-up of a pair of jiggling breasts; and finally there was a blob of teen seduction reclining odalisquesquely in a clip from “the new Peter O’Toole film,” the plot of which is — brace yourself for this astonishing revelation — that brilliant patriarchal treasure of narrative innovation, the septuagenarian-dude-in-existential-crisis-lusting-after-hot-young -chicks.
Where’s the show called “Radical Feminists Through The Ages with your host Andrea Dworkin”? Or “Smashing Patriarchy,” a dramedy about Southeast Asian women laborers beating the crap out pf their sexual harassing bosses? And how come all the women on TV boink men?
** My argument that American commercials and Hollywood films do not differ ideologically in the least will appear in some future post.
*** Sure, it’s obvious to you, but cut me some slack; I was in a chemically-induced coma at the time.