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Tuesday, December 03, 2002

1958 vs. 1973

Emboldened by Elaine (see her post “NO! NO! Halley”), I’m going to risk taking on one of my very favorite bloggers, Halley Suitt. But I’m going to come into it circuitously by way of remarking on a couple of excellent movies which I attended over the long weekend—plus a note of agreement with Halley.

She’s right in her assessment of “8 Mile”—a good movie but too little of Eminem performing. We get a tantalizingly small slice of a guy--clearly a major talent—doing what he does best, and too much of him showing that he can act the part of sullen guy sulking around the bombed-out ‘hoods of Detroit. Well, maybe next time, I hope.

The other movie I saw, “Far From Heaven,” should provide slam-dunk Oscar nominations for Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid. However, this pair, especially Quaid, have been stiffed before. If they’re not nominated this year, they will have been royally screwed.

I can’t recommend this movie too highly. It takes place in 1958 and is a wonderful evocation of the repression of that era. Having come into my own sexuality during that period, I can vouch for its verisimilitude. My wife and I were discussing afterward how, in an interesting and odd way, it reminded us of another fabulous period drama—also set in the well-to-do Connecticut suburbs—“The Ice Storm,” directed by the very gifted Ang Lee. Speaking of getting stiffed! This movie was shamefully ignored in the Oscars for 1997 movies.

Both movies deal with the angst in the suburban milieu of their day, and feature outstanding performances, but what makes the comparison of the two so interesting is how radically the 1973 zeitgeist of “The Ice Storm” differs from that of “Far From Heaven.” In the 1973 movie, everyone, including the kids, is openly experimenting with their sexuality. Mate swapping, for example, is the theme of one of the party scenes.

I remarked to Jill that it was only fifteen years from ’58 to ’73. We both agreed that it was breathtaking to recall how completely the sexual atmosphere changed during that brief span. I don’t think you can fully appreciate it unless you actually lived through it. Which leads me to my disagreement with Halley.

As Elaine says,

” NO! NO! Halley is SOOOooooo wrong about feminism being only about lesbian sexiness. Believe me, I was a feminist back in the 70s.”

I met Jill in ’72. Like Elaine, she was a feminist. I remember her going off to her weekly womens’ group where they supported each other in raising their consciousness. They were all fully heterosexual—without any conflict whatsoever about that part of their identiy. These groups were going on everywhere. The women—straight and gay--were embracing their sexuality, unshackling themselves from the shame and repression of the earlier era.

If you weren’t there (i.e., if you’re under fifty), you don’t know what it was really like. It was NOT a gay issue, although gays certainly took it on as their own. Elaine and I were there. We know that, among other things, it was about emerging from the 1958 darkness. In ’58, there were two basic categories of females: sluts and good girls. Good girls didn’t enjoy sex—they ALLOWED it when they felt they had to. At least that’s how it seemed from the male experience.

The challenge for men in 1973 was to transform ourselves out of our ’58 mentality and become unafraid of the parity and equal libido of our bedroom partners. It probably seems ludicrous to younger men of today, but it was serious business. A lot of guys couldn’t or wouldn’t accomplish the transition. If you don’t think men were threatened, remember the angry, visceral reaction of the construction workers to the ban-the-bra parades in New York? I never understood it. You’d think they would have loved the free-swinging breasts, but I guess these guys felt safer with the girdle and hosiery snaps and stiff bra--encumbered women of their mother’s day.

When I spoke with my first wife on the phone last month—after a hiatus of thirty-two years, she asked me what Jill does. When I told her that she’s a shrink, she replied, “Oh, so that’s how you managed to grow up.” (I think she never believed that I could manage to get it together and successfully raise a family).

That’s not what forced the maturity. It was those heterosexual Jill’s and Elaine’s flaunting their sexuality and telling us, perhaps not directly, but telling us nonetheless, that if we couldn’t meet the challenge, they could do without us. That’s not lesbianism, it’s putting liberation and authenticity first. For the guys who could accept it, it liberated us and gave us the authenticity that we hadn’t realized we were lacking.


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