Sunday, August 1, 2010

Fiction as Fact to Fashion our Lives

Here is a bit from a NY Times op-ed by Maureen Dowd that looks at fictional presentation of women: the early 60s from the perspective of 1960s Hollywood of Breakfast at Tiffany's and the perspective of 2000s TV's Mad Men:
Back in the early ’60s, Holly was the woman we wanted to be. The slender and stylish New York beauty was supported by men, yet she seemed free.

Now, back in the early ’60s on TV, Betty is the woman we don’t want to be. The slender and stylish New York beauty is supported by men, and she seems trapped.

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was cool because of its modern glamour, ushering in a sexy future. “Mad Men” is cool because of its retro glamour, recalling a sexy past.

Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly, a call girl with a crazy streak, got money from strange men at boîtes for “trips to the powder room.” January Jones’s Betty Draper, a housewife with a crazy streak, cheated on her husband, when she was pregnant, with a strange man at a boîte.

The tightly wound Betty is a gilded bird in a cage; she needs to belong to someone, this season to a new, older husband, an adviser to Governor Rockefeller.

The wild-child Holly is terrified someone will put her in a cage — in the Truman Capote novella, she won’t even walk past the Central Park Zoo — and she doesn’t want to belong to anyone. (She also doesn’t want anything to belong to her; that’s why she dumps her cat in a garbage can at the end. In the tacked-on happy ending of the movie, she finds the cat; in the book, which has no leading man to tell her she’s already in a cage of her own making, she doesn’t.)

The alcohol-swigging Betty never calls her blue periods “the mean reds,” as the alcohol-swigging Holly did, but the women have their vertiginous moods in common: luminescent looks overlaying dark psyches.
This above bit is the tease to lure you in. Maureen Dowd has more to say. Read the whole article.

The fictional message is mixed. First, it is a distortion, an illusion, drawn to tickle our fancy and excite us about possibilities. Second, it is a lie that hides an more complex, much uglier truth. But, as Maureen Dowd points out, this mixed message can hide good and bad. The feminist revolution was fed to some extent by the Hollywood image of Holly Golightly. At the same time, the image lures people into acts and attitudes that they may end up regretting later. In short, life is complex and you live it from one mistake to the next. What's important is not that you always do the right thing, but that you learn from your mistakes and continue to try and do better.

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