CSotD: Sex and the Best-Seller

Too Much Coffee Man leads off today with a not-all-that-cryptic observation that things which once passed as cute, or at least normal, no longer do.

I had a sort of half-memory that the old nursery rhyme was pegged to some historic figure, but the more I looked into it, the more it seemed that it’s been pegged to all sorts of historic figures and so I assume a lot of lesser-known people as well.

(The best rule in these matters being that, the more confident someone is in asserting that such-and-such is the true origin, the less likely it is that they’re right.)

I like the idea of it being a more general folk poem, because that widens the implication that sexual harassment has always been looked upon as not simply a form of bullying but a particularly cowardly one.

I came of age in the late 60s, which was a time in which the purported glories of free love were more a media thing than something happening a whole lot on the ground, or, at least, the depiction was different than the reality.

That is, we were all — male and female — under some social pressure to believe it, but it rarely worked out that way for anyone.

Both the long-haired and stylish James Bonds held the view that men and women all wanted to have boundless sex and were only held back by uptight programming, but even the Playboy Philosophy stressed the concept of mutuality, and true mutual consent rarely translated to unbridled, guilt-free frolicking.

My favorite take on the phenomenon comes from Peter Coyote, in a Fresh Air interview about his brilliant, insightful memoir of the Sixties, Sleeping Where I Fall:

I never saw those free love experiments really work. Yeah, there was a lot of elasticity and a lot of permissiveness and people tried their best, but people got jealous. And I used to call it “death over the orange juice,” you know, where somebody comes home the next morning and the – the couple is sitting together after one of them has been with some other lover, and the conversation is something like: “hi.” “Hi.” “Have a nice time?” “Yeah, yeah.” “Would you pass the orange juice, you son of a bitch?”

Even beyond issues of jealousy and faithfulness, there seemed to be an overriding issue of simply needing to really want to be there. One-nighters weren’t unknown, but there had to be some sort of connection beyond the anatomical or it just degenerated into not feeling okay about it.

A later generation invented the term “Walk of Shame.” I don’t recall shame so much as regret, but, in either case, I would note that the onus still falls upon the woman and not the man.

One benefit of #MeToo has been to erase the notion that stories of the casting couch involved attractive but silly, untalented would-be actresses who were talked into a sort of unspoken bargain.

In a Nib piece of which this is only one panel, Ward Sutton mocks the disillusionment caused when intelligent, accomplished women stepped forward and revealed how shockingly direct and swinish the actual predation is.

Polite society has little mercy for these Georgie Porgies, but it never really has, though, again, there remains a lot of blame for those who were coerced and victimized, plus a suspicion on the male side that those who speak loudest in condemnation are likely hiding a bit of their own guilt.

It’s not as free and easy as we thought it was in the Sixties, but it’s not as cut-and-dried as it appears to be at the moment.

After all, the old poem indicates that we’ve always thought pussy-grabbers were cowards and bullies, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t vote one of them into power.


Juxtaposition of the Day

(Reality Check)

(Mr. Boffo)

Speaking of nursery rhymes, I got a bit of a rueful laugh from Reality Check, because I suspect that fairy visited my writing room some years ago, but that bit of a chuckle grew into a guffaw when I got to Mr. Boffo a few clicks later.

I like the idea of a fellow who lies in his hammock inventing catchy little poems that have no literary value but will somehow live forever, though it’s worth pointing out, as one of my professors was fond of doing, that Shakespeare wrote for his audience and his patrons, not for The Ages.

When we read Hamlet, he asked us why Shakespeare had inserted the gravedigger scene. We dutifully responded that it was for comic relief, to offset the dour and brutal nature of the rest of the play.

He suggested another reason: Shakespeare had a couple of clowns in his theater company and had to write a scene for them into each of his plays.

I’m not sure the extent to which I buy that, but it’s certainly true that you wouldn’t sell many oranges with a play that didn’t amuse the groundlings, and we should also acknowledge that, while we think of Shakespearean English as high-faluting, they certainly didn’t.

From their point of view, this was CSI Denmark.

Well, there’s no reason that popular work can’t also be well-written, and I’m not sure why so much good work fades into obscurity, but I do know it’s hard to predict what will endure.

Some is taste and timing: Brilliantly written films like “The Lion in Winter” or even “A Man For All Seasons” seem dated now, their New Yorkerish wit more of an anachronism than it seemed at the time, while some of the Angry Young Men films — “Alfie” and “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” — remain astonishingly relevant and gripping.

I’m sure the name James Patterson will become as obscure as that of Paul de Kock, who was not only Molly Bloom’s favorite author but that of many, many other people of the time.

Then again, I think Fitzgerald was less an heir of Tolstoy than a forerunner of the Kardashians, so what do I know?





2 thoughts on “CSotD: Sex and the Best-Seller

  1. Meh. Lion in Winter is still a brilliantly written (and performed and directed) film. We’re just glutted with so much mediocre stuff that great classics like this get drowned in a sea of Get Outs and Call Me By Your Names that, on re-viewing, demonstrate quite ably that they’re interesting flashes in a pan, but would never hang well from the nipples.

  2. The navagation here is very bad. I can not get url to the new comic, I have to click on patterson and then select.
    Ok sounds like I am lazy. I am.
    This makes reading this post awkward.

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