Friday, May 13, 2011
"But in our research, and in the work of other scholars who study the psychology of behavioral ethics, we have found that … [human] conduct, whether in social life or work life, happens because people are unconsciously fooling themselves."
-NY Times, April, 2011
The subconscious influence of popular culture is pretty astounding. An abstract idea, something intangible, impersonal and totally made up that never needed to exist, like Rock 'n Roll, the Simpsons or Milfs somehow catches the collective imagination and changes everything, the way people talk to each other and sh*t.FN1 In real life. If you really think about it, Holden Caulfield style, and are a freshman at Vassar, it will freak your a** out.
No one can seriously contend that 30 Rock is a bad TV show. It's funny, it's smart and it consonates in a comfortable way with the snarky, self-referential ethos of the moment. But it's also had this effect: every other highly educated, upwardly mobile white chick in SF who clocks in between a 6-8 in the looks department is now pretending to be Tina Fey.
The idea of Tina Fey is something like this: present-day reality, most notably the men that populate it, is a hilariously and fundamentally flawed FAIL! and that's HILARIOUS but in a knowing, equanimous, basically sympathetic way that concedes we're imperfect and not an overcompensating, over-invested blockhead like Tyra Banks.
Being superior but only ironically so is a savvy move. It creates a psychological valence that can't be called into question. It's saying, "You, you, you! You're all ridiculous. Your lives are shams. But concededly so is mine, so no madsies that I judged you!…even though I made the moral standards by which you and I were judged, plus I rendered the judgment not you which has implicit significance, so naturally I win."
But this kind of winning has limits. It translates into certain situational victories, the kind that get you an edge at work or a high five, but it's not Charlie Sheen winning. It's not a marker for sexual success. 30 Rock plays this straight: Tina Fey's Liz Lemon character is single. She has man trouble. And that, ostensibly, should undercut her designs on inner awesomeness.
But it doesn't. Because if you watch 30 Rock for more than 3 minutes it's clear that Liz Lemon is not single for conventional reasons. She isn't single, by way of example, for the reasons that stars of a) Friends, b) Sex and the City, or c) Rock of Love were single (the semi-tragic inability to, respectively, a) be three pretty girls and three handsome guys but not do the math (consistently), b) make a connection as enduring and powerful as the one the girls had with high-end handbags, c) take off his bandana).
No, Liz Lemon is single because the guys she hooks up with are all literally or metaphorically unavailable. In absurd ways. They possess faults (by character or situation) that are way beyond deal-breakers. They're midgets or blood relations or beeper salesman or white collar criminals or twenty years old or, as in the case of her current beau, pilot Matt Damon, both emotionally and geographically remote.
This is a crafty conceit. It dismisses the relevance of romantic failure as a relevant identity marker by transposing the source of the failure from Liz Lemon the person to some vague behavioral condition. The problem is not that Liz Lemon is undesirable, no, it's that her decision-making is haywire.
It's actually craftier than that because everything else about Liz Lemon's world implies she has the best brain in the postal code. She's the BAWSS.FN2 She's the winner even when she pretends she's not. Liz Lemon may love unavailable men but in every instance she's the only party who KNOWS that her relationships are doomed. It is up to her in a climatic of moment of exasperation to condescendingly lecture each and every one of these clueless horndogs on the intractability of the situation.
Liz Lemon's flaw, then, is not really unavailable man love. Her flaw is that men are f*cking retarded (metaphorically). And that's a fake flaw, like not owning a TV or being called a womanizer.
The semi-attractive, upper class women of America, nowhere better represented than San Francisco, California, heart the hell out of this sh*t. They only go for unavailable men! Men who ADORE them but are way too young/gay/moving to Alaska/hot but dumb/vampiric to sustain a living relationship. It's hilarious! A hot mess! Comical disaster!FN3
But it's even larger than this. Bullsh*t self-effacement about one's seduction skills has become the default M.O. of career women everywhere. SF women are wildly enthusiastic about their horrible fashion sense, inability to flirt, lack of maternal/sensual instinct, and any other epigamic traits that typically draw people together romantically. Jezebel, in its amusing take-down of the 30 Rock's "skinny glutton" leitmotif, describes the message as such: "I may look glamorous, but I have the mind and soul of a fat person! And this is hilarious!'"
Hilarious indeed, like religion or a snooty vodka preference or the verse Morgan Freeman reads at the end of Invictus or any other delusion to cope with certain terrifying prospects of existence, such as thunderstorms, mortality, being judged or getting dumped. LOL. "You know why that crappy thing happened? Because of God. I mean social convention! I mean he lived in Boulder, it totally couldn't work! One thing is clear: in no way was it because I didn't measure up in some intrinsic way! No way! I run triathlons! My career is demanding! Actually, you know what the reason was? I so can't wear high heels! Isn't that absurd? The reason I'm single: my inability to walk seductively in misogynist foot wear!"
It's madness. It's fantasy. It's manufacturing whole lives out of pixie dust and solipsism. But SF women don't care. They don't give a sh*t. They've seen that video about the honey badger. And nothing will ever be the same.
FN1. It's equally possible that the causality moves the other way. Society redefines itself on the down low then seizes upon some random trend or icon as the coherent expression of that redefinition, like the dude who proposes precisely when his hair loss starts to show.
FN2. Aside: After new statistics showed more female than male managers in the workforce last year, there has been a spate of articles on the incipient dominance of women in higher education and corporate America. The default explanation is men lack the social intelligence of women. This has to be partly true but misses a more obvious explanation: women sort of ENJOY being part of a corporate structure and liked by their bosses and perceived as competent. They are emotionally invested. To the male mind, this is insane. Guys HATE corporate life. They hate the soul-crushing boredom and the demeaning affects of hierarchy and everything else that made Office Space a cult classic. If a job wasn't a crucial variable in sexual selection (which it presumably is not for women), no dude would ever work in a million years. Not when there's fishing, tents and nerf sports.
FN3. The huge and sort of cliched appeal of the unavailable man is that he's harmless. Sure, he represents all kind of neatly packaged drama due to the inherently conflict of him being unavailable but really that's downside protection. It's almost the opposite of reckless. It's more like an insurance policy. It's provides a huge sense of security. When the relationship fails as it inevitably will there are no casualties. It's precisely what was supposed to happen. By contrast when an available guy (who's not gay or a werewolf or married) dumps you it means something. They got to know you in a very intimate way, saw every angle and facet and they passed. It's the judgment of just one guy but not really. No man is an island. When you get dumped, society has spoken.
Posted by Samuel Snodgrass at 11:34 AM