Friday, October 12, 2007


Gentle readers: We will admit, we’ve been absent from the scene for longer than the silences between laughs at a showing of Evan Almighty. Where did we go?

We went where all the stars go when they feel sated by the glory, laud, and honor their exercises in the public eye have brought them: we lumbered off to our cabanas in St. Pete’s for some serious off-the-grid R&R 1.

Like two grizzled Grendels retiring to their caves, chins slick with the grease of too much lipid-intensive pop depravity2, stomachs churning with the offal of your prime-time perambulations, your late-night sticky-finger “blogging” which, as we have mentioned before in these “pages,” we prefer to continue to call “typing”3, we needed some us-time.

J. McCarthy
Jenny McCarthy repositioning herself.

Because quite frankly, we’d had it. We were done. We had spent our essence upon the field of pop culture battle and had lost the taste for it. How did this happen? Perhaps we were simply worn down by the deluge of excess and fearful of our own contribution to it. What, we were going to say more about the core-level embarrassment that every American surely feels about Angelina Jolie’s desire to adopt more children? Or about the fact that this apparently sells millions of tabloids each week? Cleaning the sand from between our toes, we would ask: Is there a single joke left to make about High School Musical that hasn’t already been made by every 13-year-old boy in every middle school in the land?4 The barrage of jailed, Chihuahua-wielding celebutants moving in and out of rehab like it was a Jimmy Choo outlet—it was too much and too little at once. To our astonishment, we found ourselves not really caring about whether the Big King won a Clio. We didn’t even get ratcheted up when Jenny McCarthy repositioned herself as a (gulp!) thoughtful and credible spokesperson for parents of children with autism. No, we just shook our woolly heads and rolled over on the bag of Doritos, popped another two-three Dilaudids with a Hostess Cupcake chaser and went back to deeply-addled sleep. We just didn’t give a shit.5

Our “retirement” can be summed up by a question: How can you be disquieted when disquietude has become the baseline hum of a culture plainly hurtling toward a full-on addictive need for disquietude itself?

But then it, happened, blazing into our inboxes via CNN Breaking-Almost-News-Update: Britney lost custody of her children to Federline. Now, MOTHERHOOD. In the sights.

Kee-RIYST on a raft with one oar a-spinnin’.

In response to such a travesty, we present a new, oddly perseverant edition of Disquieting Modern Trends, all having to do with our most cherished institution: the cult of the women who pushed you out and brung you up coREC’.

Saddle up, little buck: it’s gonna be a long night.

The Dispiriting Loop of Public Humiliation, Knee-Jerk Mockery of That Humiliation, Followed by the Lamenting of Said Mockery, Tumbling into the Mockery of Said Lamentation, Ad Infinitum

Britney Spears (left) tonguing her mother at the MTV Video Music Awards.

We must contextualize, a priori, in case you have been living under a rock.6 Britney, falling apart before our eyes, was just sad. When she unleashed her famously-plaid-skirt-hidden cha-cha on the YouTube-viewing public in November 2006, we laid it out for you. It was the end of an era, and maybe it was end of our ability to even laugh about it all. Nearly everything that followed—the arrests, the chopping off of hair, the public statements of her parents, up to and including Britney’s humiliating sleepwalk through her “new single” at the September 9th MTV Video Music Awards—it simply sapped us further of our snark. Maybe it’s our increasingly paternal view of things, but we wanted to tuck Britney into her snuggly covers with a hot chocolate or a chicken soup. Her career was over. The girl was ill. Or something was.

In the next few days, however, things got funny again.
First, there was the parade of people saying how gawd-awful she had been on MTV, speaking as if the general content on MTV (and the various MTV awards shows in particular) were not usually parades of public embarrassment and self-indulgence. “Did you see how terrible her lip-syncing was?” “She’s pudgy!” “Those background dancers were better than she was!” “Wasn’t that a terrible song?” Yeah, the lip-syncing was awful, but since when is lip-syncing anything but? Pudgy? Sure, compared to the 16 year-old that you used to ogle back in the 90s and the 16-year-olds the culture is currently promoting today. We were dying to know why these many astute Britney critics were watching the MTV Music Awards in the first place, given that MTV stopped playing music videos before the word “iPod” was even a twinkle in Steve Jobs’s eye.

Pop singer Britney Spears at the MTV Video Music Awards (left) and a douchebag (right).

That this would—in a matter of hours—be followed by gender-ambiguous weepfests about how cruel it was for people to judge Britney after she had, well, placed herself on television to be judged, just doubled our sense of delighted disquietude.7

O.K., so here is where it gets deep and, ultimately, disquieting. You become wildly famous for being the semi-talented vehicle for others’ desires, then you crumble back to Earth as the real, vaguely pathetic person you always really were. But the punishment for this inevitable come-down-ance is … the loss of your children to a disreputable sleaze of an ex-husband who, just months before, was held aloft as the very cause of your—by which we mean Britney’s—problems? Irony piled on irony and topped with a plump, Red Dye No. 2 of a maraschino irony. There it is: MOTHERHOOD, in the sights. Rich fodder. Chthonic resonance. Psychology. Wow, Britney—do you have clearance for this level?

Where do we begin?

The Sanctity of Family and Marriage Puked upon by Flarging Mitt Romney and All His Little Mormon Von Trapp Stormtroopers

An example of the rare American Mormon.

It is always tricky to launch a broadside against a Mormon, since that most-American of religions has undergone the most intense public relations makeover of any American export since Uncle Ben. Once they stood for all that threatened the family; now, they are its poster children. The “Mormotron 5000,” as Jon Stewart has gorgeously dubbed him, has cornered the market on monolithic paterfamilia menschhood as rhetorical blunderbuss, eager to stare down serial sorta-monogamist and—the consensus is in—asshole Rudy Giuliani in the values arena if not the hero one. But wait: Mormons and family? This must be “interrogated,” as we expensively learned to say in grad school … against a backdrop of Big Love8 and the merciful conviction of polygamist/rapist/dangerous-old-coot Warren Jeffs.9

The polygamist Warren Jeffs.

What we’re seeing is a junction of cultural vectors pointing in 14 different directions at once, sort of like signs with all those cities on them at the center of the camp on M*A*S*H. “Plural Marriage,” former L.D.S. style, is rape when practiced by an ugly old scab like Jeffs but possibly heroic when practiced by Big Love’s Bill Paxton—whose jawline handsomeness, we hereby note, is not unpresidential10; Mormonism, on a presidential scale is both something to be run from and run on, as Romney’s Holier-Than-Thou-But-Maybe-I’m-Just-A-Born-Again-Guy strategy suggests. Poor Britty-Brit is a Madonna-kissing cultural-icon/role model for 13-year-old girls when her records are selling and her tummy is tight; sad, shame-inducing Britney must be punished by the legal system when she’s revealed to be what we knew her to be all along, just without the teen ripeness that we all denied (but knew) she was selling from the git-go. It’s as old as the Madonna/Whore Complex and it’s as new as whatever crap is on MTV and its disquietude is as wide as the demographic for dance-pop.

All of which really only points up how—here it is again—hoary and trite this unattainable model of family bliss really is, how much of a cartoon, how far removed from how people really live. It is funny and grotesque, this parade of candidates’ families—and not just Romney, mind you, but the whole lot of them — with their smiles and their dresses and the tacit assertion that not once ever has one of them had a dinner of EasyMac out of the microwave while Mommy and Daddy yelled in their bedroom. We are sick of the whole mess of them.11

Mary-Louise Parker: Lady Madonna

dmtweedsmlp.jpgWe are made even more sick of this Sanctity of Motherhood tripe when we see the embarrassment of riches of real honest-to-Pete mothers all around us, who are actual, flawed human beings who work their asses off WHILE loving their kids to death in their most honest, fucked-up, selfish but good-hearted ways. These stories are a whole lot more interesting than either the bogus cleanliness of Mitt or the debauched decline of Britney. And their pop-media patron saint is, of course, Nancy Botwin, Our Lady of Agrestic.

We’re not sure that Weeds is a brilliant TV show, what with its often awkward stance as a contemporary “dramedy”12 stuck (sometimes) painfully between shtick and heart-tugging. But Nancy Botwin, as played by the adroit Mary-Louise Parker, is a classic. Lest you think we are merely enchanted by Ms. Parker’s obvious auburn-maned comeliness,13 let us note that she has won a Tony (for Proof) and an Emmy (for the destroyed wife in Angels in America) and plays Nancy Botwin as a deliciously complex mom who does not rationalize her pot-dealing as much as she simply lives around it, wrong though it be. Truly, she reminds us of the actual moms (and dads) out there who are trying to love and raise their little Caitlyns and Jareds amidst the compromises of real life. These moms and dads, of course, have not recently had a baby with actor Billy Crudup, but we forgive them even as we prefer us some M-LP.

The actress Dana Delany.

Let us not, however, get carried away. We are NOT herein digging on any of those Desperate Housewives harpies; we find their routine tired and offensive, actually, since they do not caricature expectation completely enough to really get clear of the Stepford Wife undertones, but seem totally oblivious to the dramatic/ironic possibilities of such. At the end of the day they are all just catty and expensive, because we like them that way, not because the world is broken.14 CAVEAT: Dana Delany. We are seriously intrigued by what she might do up in that piece.

Whither Britney?

Which brings us back around to where we started. What will now become of Britney, and why did it—utterly—have to happen this way? We end, à propos, with a collection of three lone gunman-grade theories as to how/why Britney’s children have been removed.

First: was this really just a Christo-level stunt engineered by Karl Rove so Romney can actually get some more marriage mileage in the public eye? We could certainly imagine Tipper Gore and the rest of the P.M.R.C. being brought out of mothballs, consulting on the sly, maybe explaining why Al’s not running. If this is the case, will Federline himself wind up with an ambassadorship? We can see him in Belize in a three-piece suit.

Second: is this simply the next logical step in seeking cheap über-publicity in light of the comparative impotence of any other publicity stunt accessible to the woman who made the mainstream cha-cha flash passé? That is, could Britney actually be some kind of evil genius of public stunt-ery, a kind of Karl Rove of the TMZ set? Cool!

The actress Lindsay Lohan, shitfaced in an S.U.V.

Finally (and this theory seems most spiritually plausible to us): maybe this is all just a drama generated at the highest levels of government strictly for the eyes of Lindsay Lohan—so she can learn what not to do and how not to totally kill herself, which we really don’t want to see.15

In any case, we have had enough. We look forward to the end of the Britney fracas—and, frankly, the election—so we can finally settle down and start working on the issue that is REALLY bugging us: in a world ruled by Judd Apatow, how are any of us supposed to step up to … FATHERhood?

Bah, never mind. The brain reels. We’re going to go do some Stoli Pomegranate shooters and fire up the Halo 3 to totally dominate some thirteen-year-olds in Singapore. Screw you guys, we’re going home.

1 Which, when someone actually does it in this hyper-imaged, Web-cammed-up world, is quite a stunt. Exhibit A: Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth, who--having dropped a blazingly funky fourth Tom Tom Club record in 2000 before forming part of the first generation of the phenomenon that is "Gorillaz"1a--have seriously vanished. As in, we are raving fans and we cannot get a crumb anywhere. The T.T.C. Web site: not updated for years. Even Tina's Wikipedia page's last entry can only pull up a rewarmed quote from 2004 about what a shitheel David Byrne is. Correction: we know HOW they are--they are toked out of their gourds on the beach. What we don't know is how they managed to make it so we don't know WHERE, or--frankly--if they are ever coming back.

Former Talking Heads Tina Weymouth (right) and that shitheel Byrne.

1a BTW we knew Jamie Hewlitt when he was first inking Tank Girl, which, Lori Petty be damned, is still gorgeous. Get on that if you haven't.

2 Speaking of bodily oozings, time for an ...
You may remember--of course you do--that O.E.C. was bemoaned by your Gentle Authors here as one of the maddening evidences of physical decrepitude accompanying us into our Middle Years. We thrill to announce that we have discovered (through intense double-blind morning-shower research) that Head & Shoulders shampoo seems to totally address the problem. As in, generous application of H&S to the outer ear, followed by a gentle rinse, renders the offending ears babysmooth and crustfree. And as a Total Bonanza Bonus, application of same to our strappingly hirsute chests also clears up Teeny Tiny Chest Pimples, which we also bemoan but deemed too revealing a topic for even us to broach in these pages. Dwindling funding thus far has only allowed trials of the "Refresh" variety of H&S (far be it from us to tell P&G that verbs as product names don't quite scan; they could crush us like bugs), but we are happy enough with both its anti-crust-and-tiny-pimple efficacy and the strangely--um, "Refreshing"?--tingle that accompanies its application to stop research right here and declare a winner. We wonder, of course, whether we have discovered the new Windex, or even a suburban miracle like unto the mud that drops the scales from one's eyes biblically (dropping here the scales from our ears, pardon), but mostly we are just happy to be incrementally less disgusting, and hereby irresponsibly and without bottom-of-screen disclaimer recommend the product to you for any and all dermatological unhappinesses forthwith. Let us know if anything falls off! Happy scratching!

3 This particular jab does not, we learned last week at the able "Critic at Large" elbow of Louis Menand, adequately sum up On the Road, which was actually a carefully crafted, endlessly revised piece of work, and a whole lot more--aw hell, you just gotta read the thing. We are still slack-jawed at the beauty of it. Louis Menand über alles.

Andy Samberg, with his package in a package.

4 Hey, S.N.L. and Andy Samberg: good to see you finally getting around to this bit of fish-in-a-barrel parody! And, Andy, we just want to apologize about not getting around to seeing Hot Rod this summer, but we were too busy catching up on reruns of Full House to check that one out! Of course, we loved "Lazy Sunday" and "Dick in a Box" as much as the next guy, but at this point we have exactly two words to say to you: Dana Carvey. And, uh, fire your agent.]

5 A subject about which we know quite a bit, let us tell you Bob.

6 Like Andy Samberg. But we also hope you have a better agent.

7 Natch, the mockers took about three hours to begin tearing away the dignity of the lamenter, and so on and so forth. In two days, word spread that the blond-haired Brit-fan, Chris Crocker by alias, was being offered a TV deal, we shit you not. From the ashes of a mega-star, a tiny little pseudo-star was (maybe) born. The beast feeds itself in an ever-shrinking gyre of self-reference. By the time you read this s/he will be last YEAR's digital fishwrapper.

Chloë Sevigny, the alluring weird-looking actress.

8 We've watched Big Love from the start and, though we place it only in the middle ranks of the great HBO shows, find it as alluring as a midnight slice of chocolate cake with that really heavy icing that is pure butterfat. Bill Paxton is actually annoyed that he has to sleep with Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ginnifer Goodwin (who looks a little too much like we think Tank Girl REALLY looks) and--mostly--Chloë Sevigny. Sevigny, we think you are the most alluring weird-looking chick currently treading the globe. We would gladly devote one third of our manly resources to you.

9 Jeffs is "not a Mormon," we know. The Mormons disavowed polygamy in 1890 in a quid pro quo with the Feds in exchange for statehood, and probably with the understandable intent of forestalling ANOTHER invasion of the Salt Lake Valley by federal troops.9a Which history makes a Romney presidency, actually, kind of interesting to consider: he wouldn't be the first Mormon Commander in Chief, just the first who is Commander in Chief of the ACTUAL army, not the Nauvoo Militia, of which Joseph Smith named himself lieutenant general.9b

9a The Mormon church must be lethally lawyered up to defend this point: note how it has been reiterated by every talking head from Wolf Blitzer on down in reportage of this story, almost before the actual 5Ws get explained. We find that disquieting as well--again, not in the funny way.}

9b Do we know a bit more about Mormonism than might be seemly? So we seem to.

10 Hurried IMDb research indicates that, while he has played at least one astronaut and two fighter jet pilots, he has not yet played the president. Assuming, Bill, that your agent is not also Samberg's you should get right on this. We'd also like to note that you apparently played a "punk" in The Terminator and had some kind of a role in 1993's most bizarre film--the David Lynch's daughter-directed Boxing Helena, about an obsessed surgeon who amputates all the limbs of his beloved so that she cannot leave him. If you have not seen this film--to which one of us was invited to the première and watched while sitting next to his mother-in-law--we can only count you among the very lucky.

11 Except for Elizabeth Edwards, who is genuinely the most real and ballsy human you have ever imagined. We have met her, and we shit you not. We like to picture her at home with the ex-Senator, mussing his $700 haircuts while listening to Parliament's Chocolate City. Or something like that.

12 Our recollection is that the term "dramedy" was first used to describe Moonlighting, the late Reagan-era detective spoof that launched the career of the perennially wisecracking Bruce Willis and gave us all one more ogle at former model Cybill Shepherd. Like some kind of ugly mutant beast--a squirrel with the head of a Certified Public Accountant, perhaps--the dramedy too often embodies awkwardness and repulsion rather than charm. Even the good ones like Moonlighting seem inevitably relegated to novelty status, not the kind of thing that can be endlessly rerun in TNT weekend marathons. That said, the only-somewhat-balding Willis was charming back then in a wiseacre-from-Jersey way that is now only detectable in the occasional Letterman appearance. Bruce, we miss the pre-Demi you.

13Go ahead; say it. She's a "MILF". We don't particularly want to be the ones to use this cheap porn-cronym, but someone is going to. Oh, wait a minute: Snoop Dogg did, to her face, and waxed it in Season One if memory serves.13a Need it be elaborated here that the MILF phenomenon is just one more bit of Madonna/Whore business with an oedipal tang? We think not. Onward.

13a Yes he did indeed--look. Ah, Snoop Dogg, the clown prince of hip hop. (Yup, that crown used to be worn by Public Enemy's Flava Flav, but now that Flav is a reality TV star the Hip-Hop Nation has hopefully ex-communicated his ass. If Chuck D ever makes a guest appearance on America's Next Top Model we are going to mail our Adidas and both of our copies of Fear of a Black Planet back to suburban Long Island where they came from.) "Clown Prince," we would note, is not an honorific you hear so much these days, and we sorely miss it. Upon whom has it ever been bestowed, actually, excepting Jerry Lewis and, we think, the Harlem Globetrotters? The first civilian to send us citation of the use of "Clown Prince" in print since 1979 wins one pair of high-end "Sock Guy" running socks that we wore to smoke our 10K personal best last weekend by more than two minutes.13a’
13a’ Are you having trouble reconciling our extraordinary cardiovascular fitness with our excesses elsewhere? Do you, with Mike D, wonder how we can be so skinny, yet live so phat? As Walt Whitman taught us: We are large. We contain multitudes.

14 It goes without saying, we hope, that this is exactly how we felt about Sex in the City, a show that did for the expensive high heel what Bob Guccione did for the decidedly untrimmed pubis circa 1974. If Sarah Jessica Parker once had the potential to be a M-LP three-named goddess, then it was squandered in her smug combination of sluttiness and consumerism on HBO. Again--Madonna/Whore, but with shoes. We also resent that because of her we now know what "Manolos" are. Ugh.

15 We love you, Lindsay. Calm the fuck down in the name of all that is Disney.

The actress Lindsay Lohan, sober.

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