Retirement From Sex

A better title for this essay would be Retirement From Life, but the word sex attracts more readers – don’t worry, I’ll get down to the juicy parts soon enough, just consider this intro foreplay.  I’m spending a lot of time thinking about retirement from work, but I realize the word retirement can encompass far more than just that one part of life.  Retiring from work is a major transformation in one’s personality, but as we get older we go through so many transformations that can also be called retirement.

For instance, I’ve long ago retired from going out to bars to hear live bands.  That used to be part of my personality, listening to live music, but I’ve gotten old and can’t handle noise.  Even loud restaurants feel like psychological torture.  My wife hasn’t retired from live music, so she still feels youthful in that regard and I feel old.  I know lots of guys who have retired from going to the movies.  I haven’t yet, but only because it’s a major way to socialize with my lady friends.

Another area that I will be retiring from is heavy lifting.  Guys like lifting heavy stuff because it proves they are still young and strong.  A woman mentions she needs a 25″ TV carried up three flights of stairs and you volunteer, to make a point about your maleness.  Women don’t need men for much, but lifting is something they seem to appreciate.  So to retire from heavy lifting means checking out of the strong male club and it means you are admitting you’re weak, like a woman.  And this is a big change.  It’s humiliating to have to say, “Sorry, I can’t pick up something that heavy.” 

Men retire from the heavy lifting club slowly.  As you get older and something needs to be picked up and younger guys are around, you start letting them show off.  But if you’re the only guy you keep trying to prove yourself as long as possible.  George Carlin recently joked about this in his new comedy routine about turning seventy.  He tells his audience, once you turn seventy you never have to lift anything again.  Oh, you might pretend to try, but a younger person will rush over and do the job for you.  I’m only 56, so I still have to lift things, but there are times when my wife talks about helping friends move, and I’ll remind her of my back problems.  Of course, if a lovely young woman at work is in need of heavy lifting help, I don’t worry about my back so much.

Retirement from work means a huge change.  Work means you are useful to other people.  It’s more than just earning a living, work is social and it defines an essential part of our personality.  The first thing people want to know when meeting you is what you do.  Saying you’re retired is like saying you’ve stop being somebody.  Of course, you solve this problem by becoming somebody new, but that’s hard to explain, especially if your hobbies are rather piddling.

Now, back to sex.  Sex is a big topic, but few people express the personal details of their sex life, and neither will I.  Let’s just say I’ve reach an age where I can see an end to my sex life.  I feel sort of cheated by that because I remember back in the 1960s seeing documentaries about how people in their nineties could have active sex lives.  I think there are some people who are still balling when their age hits three digits but they are few and far between.

Sex is not something I want to retire from, but I’m starting to see the dirty writing on the bathroom wall.  I am appreciative for all the sex my wife gives me, and I do know on her part she’s doing a lot more giving than receiving, because she’s been closer to retiring from sex since menopause.  (At least with me, I don’t know about her and her boyfriends.)  She feels guilty about retiring from sex, which is lucky for me, but it’s not an emotion I want to play on for long.  I’ve joked with her that if she doesn’t want to change the cat box then maybe I can find someone else for the job.  She told me to go for it, but I think she’s confident that few women want the chore of being kindly to an overweight old bald guy.  I guess she knows, it would still be changing the cat box to them too. 

I don’t think I’m the only guy in this situation.  I’ve gotten hints and jokes telling me the well is running dry in other marriages.  Some of my friends even allude to losing interest themselves, and a couple joke like Al Bundy when he complains about having to service Peg.  Although,  I have heard rare reports of lucky older guys who have wives with matching libidos, but those guys might be lying, just like how some guys lied about the frequency of their sexual successes when they were younger.  But statistically, I know the world is filled by all kinds, and anything is possible.  Of my male friends who dine alone, they just make jokes about how happy they are they don’t have to move furniture all the time.

What surprises me about retiring from sex is how men are so much different from women.  I know a lot of divorced and widowed women my age, and older, and the common consensus is they are overjoyed to be out of the sex provider business.  I find this a little hurtful because it makes me wonder if they ever really liked making us guys happy.  I always ask my single lady friends if they wouldn’t like to get married again, and they universally groan. 

There is one common joke I hear, “Oh, I wouldn’t mind marrying a rich guy with a bad cough.”  This strikes me as severely mercenary, and makes me further wonder about the motives of the women I knew when I was younger.  I know books, movies and television shows are all about romance and sex, but I’m starting to wonder if pop culture hasn’t been perpetuating a long standing urban myth.  I just assumed women were different before and after menopause, but now I wonder.

Retirement from sex means learning who you really are.  When I was at Clarion West Writers Workshop I wrote a science fiction story about a guy who volunteered for an experimental treatment to temporarily turn off his sex drive to see what life would be like without his little slave driver.  The story got a violent reaction in the critique group.  The night before my older classmates, both men and women, told me how much they liked the story, so I went into the critique the next morning thinking I’d have a hit, but I was blasted by the young people.  Some of the younger women called the story misogynistic, which was scary.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that.  On one hand, it could have been true, on the other hand, why was the story admired by some and hated by others, and the dividing line seemed to be age?  If a man turns off his sex drive does that mean he devalues women, or even hates them?  Since the younger women were writing romantic stories, I could see my anti-sex story as anti-romance.  What’s funny is women become anti-romantic after menopause.  Well, that’s not quite true, they become anti-sex romantic.

Jane Austen is the queen philosopher of post-menopausal women. All my older women friends want a Mr. Darcy for dinner and dancing, handsome, rich, dashing – and a man who never expects the heroine to leave her Empire silhouette gown.  Retiring from sex for men, means fulfilling a new role for women, one more fitting for a Jane Austen tale.

Don’t get me wrong, young women also love Jane Austen, but they either want or expect to unsnap their jeans for Mr. Darcy.  Retirement from sex means changes in personality for both men and women.  I think many woman are happy to go off to their little houses to live alone after their children grow up and their husbands leave them through death or indiscretion.  And I think with older married couples, the concept of romance changes with them too, with women preferring their husbands to retire peacefully to their workshops or computer rooms.

In the life-long battle of the sexes I’m never sure if either sex understands the other.  Women smugly claim to understand us males, thinking we live by one single motivating force, and claiming we don’t have a clue about their fairer sex.  I think men have multiple drives, with sex just being the obvious one.  It’s like asking little kids about going to the bathroom, inquiring if they need to go do #1 or #2.  Well, there’s a lot of males hopping on one foot needing to go to #3, and that’s all women see.  Sometimes it’s, “Oh, how cute,” and other times, it’s “Can’t you wait.”

I know when I go out with my women friends and the dinner check comes, they whip out their purses insisting to pay their half.  I’m amused by this because I wonder if they are thinking, “I don’t want him believing I’m going to put out for $18.35 plus tip.”  Like I said before, many of my lady friends have joked they would marry an old rich man with a cough.  I’ve got to wonder if there is an incentive that would bring them out of retirement that falls between the price of dinner and a large inheritance.

Retirement from work means withdrawing from the complex social life of the office.  Retirement from sex means withdrawing from a life of close physical contact.  I don’t think men and women experience this retirement in the same way.  I think the constant intense biological pull that women feel to be mothers and wives disappears after menopause, so they actually feel free and relieved to be independent.  Whereas men who have always been free and independent feel psychologically cut off from people when they retire from sex.  Men often die after retiring from work, and they often die when they have to live alone, and sometimes I wonder if they die when the final realization comes that the little guy is not going to have any more fun.  Old women seem to thrive on independence and their retirement from sex.

What’s weird about thinking about having to retire from sex is how it changes my personal opinion about myself, and what it reveals about my personality.  Gays and lesbians teach me a lot about sexual identity, in a rather round-about way.  We define ourselves by who we want to get naked with, but what happens when we never take off our clothes with other people?  Do we lose that identity?  Do we suppress or bury it, or does it just slip away like time.  Already I feel my sexual life has regressed to what it was like when I was a teenager, when I considered getting to first base a major goal.  I’m back to wondering why women are so stingy with their riches.

Does retirement from sex mean a total regression, a devolution back to virginity?  The phrase “old men and their toys” takes on a whole new meaning.  Or will retirement from sex be the undiscovered country of my future?  Or should my work retirement goal be to become an old man with money and a bad cough looking for a younger women willing to trade a few years of cat box changing duties for a long term retirement plan of her own?  Or should I admit that I am not Mr. Darcy in anyone’s eyes and I should just develop a new identity, but one without sex?

Time Goes By, is my guide to getting old, and even Ronni, my elder guru, discusses the waning life of sex in, Been There, Done That. What’s Next?, although she is quick to defend that elders are having sex in, CNN: Elder Sex is a Dirty Joke, which reports 73 percent of people 57 to 64 are still having regular sex, and 53 percent of people age 64 to 75, and 26 percent for people 75 to 85, are still getting it on too.  So retirement from sex, is like retirement from work, not everyone retires at the same age.

My point of this long-winded essay, is retirement is all about change, and fundamental changes, changes deep in our personality.  This makes me not want to retire in any way, and keep on going the way I have been.  On the other hand, I’m ready to rush into this new undiscovered country and start exploring.  Escaping death is not an option, but I’d like to think everything else is, but that may not be true either.  A lot of men would prefer to die at their desk, and I can understand that.  And a lot of guys joke about coming and dying at the same time, and I can understand that too.  The harder thing to imagine, even scary to think about, is living twenty or thirty years without work or sex or the ability to lift heavy objects.

Jim

What Motivates Science Fiction Fantasies?

Awhile back I wrote “What is Your Science Fiction Fantasy?” and I had a couple long and well thought out replies from my blogger friend Carl V of Stainless Steel Droppings that make me want to return to this subject.  I’ve been a life-long science fiction fan, and my adolescence was filled with fantasies of two types.  Like most guys that age, the majority of my waking thoughts back then were about sex, but between the constants T&A flicks playing in my brain I’d project fantasies about rockets and space travel.  I loved science fiction books, movies, and television shows.  I grew up thinking when I got older I’d have sex with lots of women and I’d be an astronaut. 

As you might have guessed, things didn’t work out quite like I planned.  We live in at least three worlds.  The first is the unseen world of microbiology and its programming.  The second is the actual reality where our bodies dwell.  And third is the fantasy world of our minds where we constantly reshape reality.  Most of the fantasies worlds we build are unconsciously inspired by the unseen biological world that lives inside us.  We seldom examine its motivations.

I know why I had the teenage sex fantasies and where they came from.  At the cellular level I am programmed to reproduce and the reptilian and mammalian parts of my brain did everything they could to keep me focused on the target of passing on my DNA.  Every story about boy meets girl is our cells instructing us on how to make babies.

It’s rather hilarious, don’t you think, that the porn industry makes its billions by triggering the baby making response in males?  Yeah brothers, the next time you have your hand on the joystick and you’re self-hypnotizing your mind with delicious sexual desires by drooling over images of female body parts just remember what 13.75 billion years of evolution is trying to trick you into doing.

Now ladies, don’t think y’alls lot in life is any more dignified.  Guys may be slobbering monkeys playing with themselves, but women are the ones painting their faces, contorting their bodies to protrude in suggestive monkey appealing ways while acting like robotic slaves to appearance and competitive fashion.  Not only that, but Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice can turn you into a swooning puddle of quivering romance.  Sure in your eyes Colin is Mr. Right, but go reread the paragraph above and remember what Mr. Firth sees in his eyes.  

Now you might not believe what I’m saying, but you can at least see the possible connection between the plots of most novels and biology.  So where the hell did all those spaceship fantasies come from?  Is there some deep urge to explore that exists in our genetic structure?  Maybe my lower brain functions wanted me to be an astronaut after my neo-cortex told them that fly-boys got all the chicks.  Porn and romance books make sense but what’s the logic of science fiction?

In my youth I justified my interest in trashy science fiction books by telling adults I was preparing for the future.  As I got older I worried I was just reading SF to avoid growing up.  When it was obvious my Heinlein training wasn’t going to pay off I felt that college years were meant for having fun before I was sentenced to the 9 to 5.  Then I told myself that all those silly outer-space dreams were just as realistic as all those sex dreams were turning out to be.  I wasn’t making babies or riding in rockets.

I ended up believing that fiction and fantasy was just entertaining diversions for when I had free moments from living and working.  I concluded that art, fiction, stories, fantasies, were meaningless expressions of creativity.

Now that I’m older, I’m re-evaluating that.  Could it be that our sense of wonder dreams are telling us something?  Carl doesn’t like how I keep referring to entertainment as escapism:

Now I’m not naive enough to ignore the fact that there is some degree of escapism in watching films and reading. I don’t believe there is any way to ever get totally away from that. But I think there is a fine line between escapism and entertainment and I firmly believe that if you read something and it stays with you and you are thinking about it and mulling it over and it somehow inspires you, lifts your mood, etc. then it is making a positive contribution to your life. ‘Escapism’ as a term seems to bring up only images of negative stuff.

I tend to use escapism as a synonym for entertainment, so that’s getting me into trouble.  I do this because I see entertainment as a vacation from work.  But what if our entertainment desires represent a positive drive like sex?  Out of all the zillions of species on planet Earth we’re the only ones with these Buck Rogers dreams.  Sure, we could tie them to biology and say they are just our territorial genes on steroids.  Is the human impulse to build skyscrapers really that different from ants building mounds?  There seems to be no natural analog for the SF drive.

Carl’s science fiction fantasy is to be a hero like Hans Solo:

Also I love the whole hero thing. We all want to be heroes, as husbands, fathers, friends. I’m attracted to Han Solo because he represents what I think so many guys are and want to be…we are by nature somewhat independent and yet at heart we crave a few good, close, intimate friends and the love of a good woman who is our equal, not a damsel in distress. I look at my own personal life and I believe I have that. My wife is every bit the person I see in so many of the romantic movie and book roles I love.

This goes a long way to explain why entertainment fantasies are positive driving forces in our lives.  My formative SF fantasies came from the Robert A. Heinlein’s young adult novels from the 1950s.  Instead of wanting to be a Joseph Campbell hero like Carl, those books made me want to be an explorer or pioneer, and my fantasy was to grow up and join a team that colonized Mars.  And long after it was obvious I was never going to live my fantasy I’ve wanted the same fantasy for the human race by supporting the space program.

The word “escapism” does seem negative, and in some contexts so does the word “fantasy.”  We come home from a hard day at the rat race and read John Scalzi’s latest or put on a DVD of Aliens, or play Halo on the Xbox, and tune out this world.  Is that a negative or a positive?  We could be doing something more constructive – I’m sure our wives think so.  Is the act of communing with our science fiction selves telling us something?

Most fiction involves stories about this world with slight variations.  In fact, most stories are a variation of boy meets girl which is only an elaboration of the plain old sex fantasy.  Other movies, like action pics are expressions of alpha male fantasies.  Chick flicks show the inner motivations of females.  Our entertainment reflects our biological programming.  Again, I’m back asking where do these science fiction fantasies fit into biology?

Is this SF drive greater than our biology?  Think about the big bang.  It was a big explosion of energy that shoots out in all directions.  After that for reasons hard to understand this energy reorganizes itself into matter that forms stars and planets.  Visualize blowing up a building and then watching as the rubble reassembles into something new.  That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it.

After the planets were formed by bits of rock clumping together we eventually get biology.  Talk about an infinite army of monkeys typing away and to produce the works of Shakespeare.  Is it any wonder that some religious people came up with the idea of intelligent design?  Cosmologists are now explaining this odd drive to complexity by saying we live in a multiverse – an infinity of universes and we just happen to live in a universe that has accidentally acquired this organizing drive.  They imagine most universes with big bangs that produce an entropy of particle haze.

Life represents replicating organisms.  What is the purpose of all this reproduction?  Humans have developed a rather peculiar side-effect:  self-awareness.  I think science fiction is aptly named.  As science has expanded our awareness of the universe, science fiction has programmed us with motivation to explore it.

If you look at porn and forget why it excites you then you are in animal mode.  If you watch Pride and Prejudice and forget why its pushing your buttons you are sleep walking.  If the latest science fiction novel electrifies your sense of wonder and you don’t under stand why, you’re a robot without AI.

I return to Heinlein over and over again, and Carl knows the foundation of his psychic world is Star Wars, but do we know why this art we admire so much is pushing our buttons?  Sex is the most powerful motivating force for humans behind survival, but we forget how it influences our art and culture.  Has the academic world every psychoanalyzed the motivating power of science fiction?  I do not have any answers.  I am just now forming the question.

Jim

Flirting Among the Wrinkled

When I was young I didn’t think aging would be much of a problem.  I imagined it was just a matter of becoming wrinkled and losing hair.  “Geez, I can handle that,” I thought at the time, but boy was I ever wrong.  I was reminded of those thoughts the other day when my friend Janis told me about one of the side effects of aging she hated.

I was telling her about Miss Austen Regrets a PBS biopic about Jane Austen, explaining it was essentially several theories about why she never married.  One theory appeared to be she didn’t want to give up flirting.  Janis said that was something she didn’t like about getting old, and I asked her to elaborate.  She said life was more thrilling when she was younger and got so much more attention.  She said it was depressing to be ignored more as her age increased.

I replied that I was very attentive towards her and weren’t other guys our age still flirting with her?  She said, yes, but it wasn’t the same.  I quickly shot back, “Oh, yeah, it’s only the young Mr. Darcy types that count,” thinking to be funny, but realizing it was masking a stab to my ego too, when I realized that all my flirty communiqués had probably fallen on her limp and impotent because I was not young and dashing.

Since I moved into my fifties I’ve tried to reign in my natural tendency to pay attention to women under forty and focus more on women my own age.  Now Janis was essentially telling me I was wasting my flirting time.  I had already discovered that post-menopausal women had a declining interest in sex that was directly proportional to a growing desire for independence and self-sufficiency.

Biologically this makes sense, because if the reproductive system shuts down why would women need any stinking men.  I use that last phrase because I have heard more than once women friends say, “I no longer want to put up with any stinking man in my life,” and then go on to describe supporting a husband being very much like taking care of a kid.  Many times I have talked to a woman my age who related fantasies about life without husbands.

I remember asking one lady what this freedom would bring.  She said she could go shopping after work.  I replied, you could go shopping after work now.  No I can’t, she said, I have to go home and cook.  I’ve learned not to ask “What’s for dinner” at my house after my wife has expressed suicidal rages at those words.

In the end, I think Janis is atypical.  I know lots of women my age and older that still like the attention of men, even if we’re bald or wrinkled.  Now they mentally may be putting a paper bag over my head and painting a picture of Mr. Darcy on it.  I tried to cheer Janis up by suggesting that getting old means adapting to new ways of flirting but she seemed to want to cling to the idea that if you’re female you’re only a target if you’re young.

There were scenes in Miss Austen Regrets where you could dramatically see this.  Jane was besotted by a young doctor who admired and intelligently flirted with her, but her face would pain when the doctor’s attention shifted from her to Jane’s niece, a girl half Jane’s age.  I tried to convince Janis we could have a flirting society just among our own kind but she didn’t buy that.  Do women need to be pre-menopausal to value the attention of men?

This might be another explanation of why older men chase younger women, and another reason why older women hate them so much for it.  The obvious assumption that I have always lived with was old men chase young women because they thought young women prettier.  As I got older I thought old men chased young women because they were the ones that put out.  Now I have to wonder if it’s because its the young women who value flirting and attention.

When I continued to try to convince Janis that flirting could exist at a different level among the wrinkled set she kept insisting it wasn’t the same thing.  I finally decided, at least with Janis, flirting is only exciting when it’s part of that whole gestalt of choosing Mr. Right.

I pictured a hot steamy pond with hundreds of croaking he frogs flirting with the she frogs and imagining a lady frog amused by all the bull frog attention trying to pick just the right Mr. Frog for reproduction that season.  The tension would be great.  Among humans it would be even greater because we mate for life, or so we think at the moment.

I have to wonder if my conversion with my friend wasn’t really Miss Janis Regrets.  I hated to see her unhappy over that, but I also realized that I had something new to be unhappy with too.  If women reach a point where they devalue flirting because of biological changes, and men don’t go through those same changes, then we become out of sync with women our own age.  I think this is one of the many reasons why women hate getting older more than men do.  We’re still game and they’re not.  That’s going to be painful.

Jim

Battles of the Sexes in Juno

If you haven’t seen Juno, do not read beyond the first paragraph because I haven’t learned how to write a movie review that doesn’t give things away. I’m more interested in dissecting films. Subliminal philosophy and politics in pop culture inspires me to write more than helping people decide how to spend their money and time. Although, only a misanthrope would hate this charming movie about sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff’s struggle to find a good home for her unborn baby. Juno, played by Ellen Page, reminds me a lot of Tom Henderson (a.k.a. Chi-mo) in Frank Portman’s novel King Dork because of the music Juno and Tom both love. Juno the movie, lacks an edge except for Juno’s the character’s wonderful dialog, which zings due to the writer Diablo Cody. Cody, the author of Candy Girl, A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, provides the one clue to one of my major questions about the film: Is the dialog and attitude of the young girls in this picture in any way representative of youthful females of today?

Juno is the realistic polar opposite of the unrealistic movie Knocked Up, a film I dissected in “Morality in Knocked Up Places.” Both films are about unplanned pregnancies resulting from smart women making stupid mistakes when it comes to having sex. You’d think with all the official and unofficial sex education that goes on in schools and pop culture that these basic skills would be ingrained in the current generation of young people exploring biological urges. But then comedy is often about exceptional mistakes.

In Knocked Up we had a career-successful female beauty mating unrealistically with a career-lacking loser of questionable physical charms, Juno realistically pairs a girl geek with a boy geek. Unlike Knocked Up, Juno spends more time exploring the abortion issue but both movies reject it. Cliché Hollywood is supposed to be about liberalism, but it’s my belief that both films promote common conservative ideals. Back in the 1960s and 1970s this subject matter would highlight the generation gap, but in Juno, Juno’s parents are savvy and supportive from the first moment this issue comes up. Juno isn’t abandoned by her parents, kicked out of school, shunned by her friends or required to move away for nine months and hide her shame. Hell, Juno isn’t even shown as being ashamed for being a dumbass and not having her boyfriend wear a condom.

In fact, this is a pretty guilt free movie, even though there are a lot of regrets expressed by the characters, and emotional suffering. The story and characters show a kind of Eastern philosophical acceptance about what goes on in life. Like I said before, this is not an edgy film full of intense overblown drama. There are two events in the film I would like to examine, and like I warned above, talking about them will spoil the movie if you haven’t seen it.

My first question about this film: Is Mark Loring, the potential Dad for Juno’s baby played by Jason Bateman, portrayed as a bad-guy in Juno? At the last moment he decides to leave his wife, ruining her plans for motherhood, and messes up Juno’s dream of giving her baby a better place in life than her life. At first viewing, Mark appears to be the poster male for the often stated remark of angry females that men are assholes. Vanessa Loring, played by Jennifer Garner, is at first shattered by the news but quickly accepts his decision?

Mark decides to do what the men of Knocked Up only dream about. He abandons marriage and child for personal interests and hobbies. Oddly in Juno, written by a female writer, this is accepted, but in Knocked Up written by a male writer it is not. I have to ask is it male guilt that maintains the monogamous status quo? Juno picks Mark and Vanessa living in their picture-perfect McMansion as the obvious place to let her baby nest and grow up even though it’s clear to both her and the audience that Mark and Vanessa have nothing in common. They are as different as the couples in Knocked Up, yet they hadn’t married because of pregnancy.

Juno MacGuff desperately wants marriage to be about living happy-ever-after forever, something her parents failed to do. Mac MacGuff has to advice Juno is to find the person that gets her and hope for the best. As Peeping Toms staring into the two worlds of Juno and Knocked Up – we the audience sees that most of the couples do not follow this advice. The philosophy expressed by Judd Apatow is men should abandon their personal desires and bite the bullet for children and family. Diablo Cody on the other hand expresses that friendship is more powerful than families.

Mark Loring is leaving Vanessa because he wants friends of his own kind, and in this movie that is accepted. The second piece of implied movie philosophy that I question though: Why shouldn’t the baby go to Juno and Paulie? Am I the only person to wonder why Juno and Paulie shouldn’t keep the baby once they discover how important their friendship is to each other? What is Diablo Cody and Hollywood telling us in this instance? Is the right thing for irresponsible sixteen-year-olds is to give up their babies? Yes, our society abhors teenage pregnancies, but does it also hate teenage marriages? Is Apatow taking a better moral stance than Diablo Cody? Sure Vanessa deserves to have a baby too, but doesn’t a baby deserve to have its genetic parents, especially when they love each other?

I can’t help but wonder if you got Judd Apatow and Diablo Cody together if they wouldn’t hammer out some kind of policy that up to a certain age people should be free of responsibility. Cody evidently believes if there are no children you can always opt out. In all of this I’m wondering if Hollywood isn’t slowly working out a philosophical position on modern morality, but one that probably trails the actual activities of the current generation.

Juno has a happy romantic ending with Juno and Paulie playing guitars together. We know the results of Juno’s agonizing decision making when we see her scrawled note to Vanessa framed on the wall, but we do not know the process of how she reached that decision. Juno never consulted Paulie, the biological dad, or her best friend Leah, or her parents, so her thoughts are never revealed to us. But I like Juno so much as a character that I believe she would be a wonderful mother and Paulie would be a good father. I feel sorry for the kids growing up with the Knocked Up parents because they were too much like my parents, married and staying married for the wrong reasons.

I’m quite sure most people will think I’m seeing too much in movies. However, I don’t believe writers write just to entertain, although that might be 99.99% in some cases. I think serious writers, even writers of comedy, want to say something about their generation and the world. As a baby boomer, I was bombarded by the fictional morality of the generation before me. I know the baby boomers demanded and expected the whole wide world to watch them. So, is it too much to expect that later generations might have reactionary messages hidden away in their stories? King Dork was a hilarious missive from Gen-X to the Catcher-in-the-Rye crowd.

JWH

Portraits of Reality or Fantasy?

On the Friday before Christmas I was practicing with my Nikon D50 camera at work learning how to use the RAW mode, a technique to maximize details. I’ve become the unofficial photographer even though I have limited photographic skills. This allows me to justify spending a bit of work time learning photography. Coincidentally that day, a lady at work wanted a new photo for our web page and I decided to use her for my tests using RAW mode. I soon learned that the goals of RAW filming conflicted with female psychology and I had to learn to use the Blur Tool instead. Thus photography becomes a lesson in reality versus fantasy.

One goal I have for taking pictures is to capture reality as accurately as possible. Mastering photography should train me see light and detail the same way Monet did for his painting. That might sound like a Zen koan conflict though, since Impressionist paintings seem far from accurate. Monet saw his landscapes with greater detail than any camera sensor and he understood what he saw – he just heavily compressed his final output, creating the essential paint pixels to give the impression of what he wanted us to see.

Monet could give the impression of a pretty girl with just a few strokes of his brush. What the lady at work wanted for her web portrait was just enough pixels to give a good impression of her image. She wanted enough detail so people could recognize her.

It is human nature to want to look good, but philosophically I’m fascinated by the RAW mode of reality, and I’m downright intrigued by our society’s rather neurotic compulsion to change how things look. We want High Definition TV for nature shows, but we want Photoshop photos of people, especially women.

I’m not a good looking guy, and my rosacea makes taking appealing photographs of me very hard. However, everyone I know has to look at me and they see far more detail than any photograph. So why should I pretend to look different and use the clone tool to even out my skin tone? It’s pretty obvious that we don’t look at ourselves, and when women look in the mirror they start dabbing make-up on their faces and when they see photographs they don’t mind at all if the photographer uses some Photoshop make-up on their images.

This is not an ethical conundrum but I can’t help but wonder if it’s not a psychological problem. On the web people often like to be anonymous, and prefer avatars or photos of anything but themselves to stand in for their likeness. Yet, try to imagine a world were women’s magazines only used RAW mode untouched photos and movie and television actors and actresses looked real rather than made-up?

Many years ago, in my late forties, I saw a Playboy Magazine for the first time in a very long time. I was shocked by the photos of the naked girls because they looked like faked photos of Barbie dolls being passed off as real flesh and blood women. And it was more than a visual shock, but a below-the-belt scare that made me feel like I had ED. The instant magic I felt as a teenager looking at Playboy was definitely not there. We knew the girls were airbrushed back in the 1960s, but there was enough impressionistic detail to make the centerfolds trick our brains into thinking we were seeing real girls. Obviously I’m older and my testosterone decline has caused the magic of paper women to fail.

Aesthetically though, at least for me, heavily Photoshopped images of women are no longer beautiful female humans but Jessica Rabbit clones. Not only that, but those cartoon images are what women, and maybe younger men, want to see plastered on the faces of women in reality. What’s Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers terrifying is an ad I saw in a photography magazine for a program that does this same kind of cartooning magic to kids. Talk about pod people!

The desire to make women look good in photos and the mirror is really a deep down desire to look young. So I have to ask isn’t it insane to change the look of actual youth? We’re moving into some weird territory here. We no longer want to pretend to look young, but animated. Is this a rejection of being human? I think we need to get both real and human. Maybe we should even use sexuality as a yardstick. In the real world a good looking women with wrinkles produces wood for me whereas women who follow in Tammy Faye Baker’s footsteps do not.

I think the beauty pendulum needs to swing back towards what’s real. I’m not saying that because I’m homely and want to promote my kind, but because psychologically I think we need to stay closer to reality. Fantasy is fun for Harry Potter books, but acting like magic exists is unhealthy. If everyone grows up seeing non-human fantasy characters in the movies, on television and in the magazines, what is reality going to be like in their mind’s eye?

JWH