Selling Vulnerability

5 March 2002

First, a question: why is birth control a prescription drug? I understand why it used to be a prescription drug. It used to have huge, hideous doses with much worse side effects, and doctors maybe used to change the actual prescription instead of just switching pre-formed brands among the ones pushed by the insurance company. But now? Look at the potential effects of, say, NyQuil. We're perfectly fine with letting people deal with that over the counter. So why not The Pill?

(And failing that, why can the idiot who's covering for my doctor -- and who called me to harass me for the way his system's prescription refill system works -- not have my prescription refilled as he said he would? ARGH.)

That was how my errand day began: hideous line at the post office, and then a fruitless trip to the pharmacy. Luckily, things got better. We had a good time with Stan and Judy at SF-MoMA and the House of Nanking, and they were introduced to Happy Eggplant Fish. (I have no idea what the real name of this dish is.) We also got new stuff, including "spicy-spicy chicken." I don't know if this was the chicken's real name or if the waiter was just warning us, but it was good.

I got a list of freewrite titles from SF-MoMA again. I tend to do this when we go to art museums. I don't really mind, although I don't freewrite as much as I'd like. I think mostly I have more than enough story ideas for the time being, and I don't really want to play with fire on getting more of them. But that sounds pretty silly, so I think I'm going to start doing more freewrites again. I hope. If I can make the time.

I really did like the Edward Weston exhibit -- photos from Carmel and Point Lobos in the late 1940s. Weston seemed to have a sense of human time that we usually see among journalistic photographers, as well as the sense of geologic time that comes more to the fore in "artistic" photographers. There was one photo, "7 a.m. Pacific War Time" that seemed to capture life on the West Coast during the second World War. It was of a woman pulling at a tarp on a roof -- we could only see her head and shoulders and upraised arm -- and then there were trees and mist beyond the roof. Simple. Good stuff. Recommended.

Timprov did point out a convention that bothers him, though, and now it bothers me, too. In most of the nude photos Weston took, the woman's face was obscured in some careful fashion. In one ("Civil Defense") she was even wearing a gas mask. (That was cool in itself, though.) Timprov noticed that a lot of nude photography seemed to be careful to obscure all or part of the face, as if the face would make it pornographic. I'd add an addendum to that -- it's all right to show naked old people's faces, just not young people's and especially not young women's. Still, it's disturbing.

It did spark a nice experiment idea, though: I'd like to show people a series of nude photos and have them sort the photos according to which ones are pornographic and which ones are not. See where the lines go and why.

Oh, that reminds me. I was reading Karina's entry about music, and she was bothered by women singers who feel the need to sell their songs with sex constantly. I agree with her that this should not be the primary way a singer makes a name for herself, but other industry pressures bother me a lot more. I think the biggest one is selling false vulnerability.

If a child of mine liked Madonna, I would roll my eyes and sigh, wondering what I had done wrong. ("You could sing all the words to 'Fire and Rain' before you went into kindergarten! We had such hopes!") But Britney Spears would worry me. Why? Because for all that she can be tacky, tasteless, obnoxious, pandering, and any number of other things, Madonna knows what she's doing. She may not have what we would call good impulse control, but she doesn't seem to let anybody else control her, nor does she give the impression that she does. Even when she sung "Like a Virgin," we knew it wasn't very much like a virgin. But Britney Spears sells the tarty schoolgirl version, and the giggly girliness of it bothers me a lot more than the sexuality does. "Oops, I did it again," she sings -- she is not in control. Nothing is her fault. Oops. Teehee. Her nipples were showing? Gosh, she didn't know that....

And while Britney is a pretty obvious example, there are other singers who are selling "girliness." Listen to Ella Fitzgerald sometime. That's a woman singing, not a girl, even when she was young. Same for Billie Holliday and Dinah Washington. And it didn't stop with them, either. Janis Joplin did it. So did Aretha Franklin and Grace Slick and Cass Elliot. Chrissy Hynde still does. Jewel does not. Do you see the difference here? Some women are deliberately making their voices smaller, more wistful, girlier. More helpless-sounding.

I don't think we need to be selling helplessness. I don't think singers need to make a big deal out of how empowered they are, either, but you don't have to make a big deal out of it if you're just doing it. Fifteen-year-olds should want to grow up. Thirty-year-olds should not want to grow down. When "The Saint" came out, I went around offering people a money-back guarantee that no physicist ever had a voice like Elizabeth Shue's. Why? Because you can't take someone seriously when she talks like that. Because talking like that says "please don't take me seriously."


Ah well. On a completely different note, I finished a draft of Timprov's and my Magritte collab. I'm not sure what he'll think of it. This is the problem with having a collaborative work when both writers are stuck -- then when you get unstuck, you don't know if the other person will like the direction of your unstuckness. But we'll see.

So. Today I'm going to try the post office again, and we're going to go vote, and I'm going to work on the Not The Moose Book and possibly on some short stories as well. Timprov may want to buy some new shoes, since his old ones are...a bit worn, shall we say? And I should run my pile of old clothes to the Goodwill one of these days so that they're not cluttering up the closet. Mostly, though, it's a work day, and a rest-as-much-as-possible day.

Oh, hey, go read about the acetone disturbance energy source, it's muchly cool. Also you might enjoy this essay about a little kid who loves dogs. I am that little kid, grown up. I don't windmill my arms in my stroller when I see dogs coming. But I do tend to greet them on the street and pet them if they and their people will let me. I say, "Hullo, dog." Then I sometimes feel like I have to greet their people as well, so I say, "Hullo, person." Mostly the person laughs, but sometimes if it's a real dog person, he or she looks at me like I'm being silly: what are you talking to me for? Don't you see my dog? Well, yes.

Be well. I have work to do.

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