Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mini-Post III: Where the Boys Are

Quel surprise-partie. This mini-post stunt isn't working out quite as I had hoped. Part of this is because I went on vacation. Another part is because the supposed mini-posts end up being nearly as long as the cumulative ones would have been when they get their own space in which to gestate. A third part is that the more I try to unleash my id, the less seems to happen..But of course I will carry through with my intentions through this group of essays anyway.

One night while I was winding down another unproductive day by taking a Youtube trip down a memory lane that predates my own actual memory, I was directed to the colorful preview for this 1960 film, which is linked below, and determined that I had to see it. It is not from any of my lists of classics, but it is better and more fun than you would think it would be. The appeal of the female stars, in particular Dolores Hart and to a lesser extent Paula Prentiss, to me is very high, and a surprisingly peppery Connie Francis belts out several tunes, which in itself would be more than enough to make the movie a Bourgeois Surrender instant classic. When you throw in beatniks, dialectic jazz, a college course (for the women) titled Courtship and Marriage, footage of a to us scantly developed Fort Lauderdale, and George Hamilton (recently maligned in these very pages for his thin body of work post-1965 not being commensurate with even the modest celebrity he has continued to maintain) cruising for girls on the beach donned in his Brown University blazer, the richness of delights for me to contemplate threatens a very lengthy post, which however as I could not deliver it in less than another month, will probably not be forthcoming.

Dolores Hart is probably best known for retiring from Hollywood at age 25 and becoming a nun (really), in which calling she remains to this day, having attained to the title of Mother Superior. Her role in Where the Boys Are is as the beautiful but brainy girl who studies Russian on the beach and questions aloud during the Courtship and Marriage class if playing house before marriage is really so terrible (though she has not acted upon the possibility yet). She pulls it off about as convincingly as it can be done. I thought her part was well-written--her intelligence was not presented by a series of accomplishments or the ability to triumph in verbal one-upsmanship, but was embedded into the character by approaching every circumstance and interaction she had with others in a sensible and considered way, which is how I find highly intelligent women to actually be. Dolores Hart never has to oversell the fact that she is as smart as she is supposed to be, either through her physical expression or her dialogue, because neither what she has to say or the manner in which she carries herself suggests that she isn't. She is a delight throughout the movie.

There is an interesting scene where the Dolores Hart and George Hamilton characters discuss their IQs (hers is 138, his 140, for the record). Some feminist commentators--of which this film has many, though not all derogatory (Camille Paglia, for one, is a fan)--howl about the circumstance that the man's IQ just had to be 2 points higher, but in reality I don't think it is uncommon for intelligent women to desire a romantic interest to ideally be at the very least at her level, with the possibility of some mental superiority either displayed or hinted at. I liked the conversation because it fit my idea about what the conversation of smart young people--or at least young people with high IQs--should be like. There seemed to be something intimate about it--the idea of expressing to another person that one has a certain kind of mind as part of one's nature, independent of more concrete signifiers of worth, not that these were missing either in the context of the film--however they played a secondary role in the moment to the acknowledgement of a sympathetic general intelligence passing between two attractive young people.

While Dolores Hart's main obstacle to romance was her superior brain, Paula Prentiss's handicap was her 5'11" stature, this area also apparently always requiring superiority in the male partner if ideal romantic satisfaction is to be attained. Her character also maintained a good spirit and sense of humor until unfortunately relapsing into some desperation and clinginess at the end, but on the whole I liked her. She did the commentary for the DVD, which was a little sparse, but likable, and still often funny, especially when you remember that she is over 70 years old now. Her father was a college professor at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, which I had never heard of until recently, though I read something else which featured one of their graduates who seemed intelligent in a kind of offbeat, St John's-ish way, so my impression of it is that it must be all right in some way, whether their alumni are accomplishing anything worthwhile or not.

Connie Francis's obstacle to romance by the way is that she is supposed to be unattractive, or at least plain and invisible to men. She is rather short I suppose, but I don't generally think of this as a huge problem, and it is hard to figure out anything else that could be causing the boys to ignore her so willfully. All of the girls except for Dolores Hart are pretty desperate to meet someone, and even to get married, and Dolores herself gets picked up pretty easily on the beach, lasting all of five minutes the first day before she's heading off for a drink. I would like to take part in this kind of dating scene.

It should be noted that the number of black people in this movie is exactly zero; which given the way bit-part black characters were depicted in even good mainstream films at this time, is probably for the better.

Among the song titles of the dialectic jazz band are "A Meeting Between Shakespeare and Satchel Paige on Hampstead Heath" and "Don't Litter the Streets of Philadelphia". Goofy, yes, but funny in the context of the movie because they come out of nowhere.

This was made near the end of the old studio era at MGM, the most opulent and meticulous of the classic studios, famous for its musicals and other lavish technicolor extravaganzas. Paula Prentiss in the commentary touched on the sense one got, especially as a young person, of working in an environment where no expense seemed to be spared and craftsmanship of a particular kind--the MGM formula or package--had been advanced to a state of perfection. It sounds like the money was on the whole not thrown around or lavished indiscriminately but well spent on things like clothing designers and carpenters and in-house musicians who were very good but much of whose goodness also consisted in knowing exactly, or almost exactly, what was expected of them, all of which was course could be bought much cheaper and for arguably more pleasing results than similar talent could be today.

Paula Prentiss also noted that she and the other women and numerous of the men in the cast become close friends and remained so to the present, though a couple of the men have died, even to the point of having recently returned from hanging out with Dolores Hart at the convent. This close-knitness among people of the Silent Generation has been kind of a recurring theme lately--Shirley Jones mentioned in the commentary for Carousel that she had been good friends and even roommates with various people in the cast of that film and still did things like take vacations with these friends and their children on occasion. Moving to sports, I read recently that when Mickey Mantle, who was probably the biggest baseball star in this generation, was dying, a significant number--like ten--of his old teammates had a final reunion at his bedside (it is almost impossible to imagine this last scenario occurring with anyone on the contemporary sports scene. I think it is endearing. People as a whole seemed to have more in common with each other, or something which enabled them to make long-lasting friends at that time.

Though there is a seriously dark episode at the end involving the fourth girl (played by an exquisitely pretty blonde named Yvette Mimieux, whom I have neglected to reference thus far), this did not prevent the number of college-aged kids descending on Florida for spring break the year after the movie came out from increasing fourfold or more, women, doubtless in expectation of meeting a suave George Hamilton type rather than a boorish jock (or maybe not) included.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Mini-Post 2: Are the People With All the Power and Glory in This Society Psychopaths?

No, of course they aren't, and even if they were, that still would not be a valid excuse for one's own failures, especially those of character. Still, the idea seems to be gaining currency amongst that middling portion of the population that thought we were all friends and that is still signifying its willingness to jump through just about any hoop to be allowed to preserve any shred of its late 20th century socio-economic status (I obviously would align with this latter group if my status had at any time been thus high). The master class not only isn't softening, but is getting more intrepid and sadistic in its torment of what remains of the old mass middle. I may not be exactly persuaded yet that in a truly just world, the people who now earn 500 times the annual salary of the average chump would actually deserve more than what they are currently allowed to accumulate, while the aforesaid chump's own pay would be slashed to a level more commensurate with his skills and the reality of the global marketplace for labor--perhaps a tenth of what it is currently, or maybe even nothing at all--but for some reason the conviction and the heart or will to forcefully and continually press the argument against it has no strength in me or anywhere else. All the effective fury lies with the people who already have won everything a thousand times over, and a handful of their giddiest supporters. Doubtless once you have had a taste of triumph in life, you feel a hundred times stronger than you did at any previous time in your life and you want to indulge it as regularly as possible.

This article, has been getting some attention on the internet of late. The most interesting part is towards the middle, the section about the high regard, almost reverence, for extreme intelligence, or brilliance, among the meritocratic elite, and, it is suggested, the rampant vanity which consequently afflicts a growing number of those who are supposed to possess it. Wall Street firms openly operate and promote themselves on the assumption that they are manned, without even a hint of irony, by the absolute smartest people in the world. Of course if you have never substantially failed and have always been profusely praised and rewarded even at the most exclusive schools and other institutions on the grounds of your superior intelligence, there is no reason why you would not believe this, though it does strike me as likely to promote a psychopathic personality development. Nonetheless, it is true that the most brilliant collective of people on the planet has been gathered somewhere, and if you believe the proper use of intelligence is to ensure oneself as many riches as possible, the argument is plausible. To be honest I can endure them more than the science crowd, which  is even more committed to believing in this extreme gradation of intelligence, especially at the top end, such that the cognitive gulf between the greatest physicist in the world and the 20th greatest is as wide, and probably wider, than that between me and the special needs guy who sweeps the floors at the local amusement palace.  Like everything else, being smart at this level is a much more serious matter than I had any idea of at all until I was in my mid-30s. You pretty much have to shun the company and conversation of anyone normal, including and probably especially your intellectually weaker relatives. You will have to become alert to the kinds of serious subjects that the smartest people consider important.You can't just show up in life at age 18 or 19 or 20 with a decent native intelligence and expect to catch up or accomplish much intellectually anymore. By then it's sink or swim. No one has the time to nurture your blankety-blank... 

Boy, this article went nowhere. I'm too tired, every damn day, to get across what I want. 

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Mini-Post I: On the Hatred of Smoking

I am (again) going to try my hand at breaking up an interminable multi-subject posting into three or four mini posts, in the name of (1) publishing more frequently (2) bulking up my post total and (3) presenting a more welcoming format to the contemporary reader. This has the downside of somehow making my topics appear even less substantial than they do already, but I am going to try to do it this one time anyway.

A few years back I was riding on the "T" in Boston--the old green line trolley that runs out Beacon Street and into Brookline, as it happens--when a homeless-looking man on the car I was riding on performed an act that caused nearly everyone around him to gasp in a tone hinting at horror and move backward several paces so as to form a circle with a radius of about two feet on either side of the disheveled ruffian. The reader doubtless will have discerned that the offender had not brandished a knife, groped the buttocks of a  woman, or even exposed himself (indeed, in the Washington DC metro I did once come across an obviously  crazy man who was wandering around one of the stations holding his family jewels in his hand such that they were clearly visible to the public, which for its part walked doggedly past as if it had seen nothing--this was in the early 90s, however), but had pulled out a cigarette--a very dirty and crooked cigarette, it might be noted--and proceeded to light it. As soon as the crowd had overcome its initial shock, about a dozen cell phones simultaneously emerged from various pockets like so many flowers opening at once in a warm sun, calls were placed to, evidently, appropriate parties, for the train was halted at the next stop while a couple of policemen of some kind came on to the car and escorted the gentleman, who by then had extinguished the cigarette, off the train without violence, if not without protest. The professional and educated Boston people who had reported the perpetrator resumed their previous spots and the rest of their regular commuting routine at that point, but the incident had clearly perturbed them; and their souls would find no repose until that particular journey was over.

By the time of this amusing episode on the train, I had long given up attempting to smoke myself. I tried for a time, way back when Camels cost a little more than 2 dollars a pack, to cultivate the habit, but as I both got older and the restrictions and general hysteria against smoking grew more vehement, I gave up this effort, as my main interest in pursuing it was aesthetic; as I enjoyed it most in an old upper storey room with an old window with a view of an old street, seated at an old wooden table with an old book and a view of a shelf containing many more, drinking a glass of something that would be recognizable to a person living in a large city in 1940, the reality of having to go stand outside in the middle of winter in order to have a cigarette because someone two floors up could smell your emanations in the house and believed her life to be at stake because of it rather defeated the purpose. Anyway, despite having moved on in this particular area, I do not  begrudge others their continuing the habit, and scarcely even notice its odious existence anymore, so thoroughly has it been banished from most of ordinary life nowadays. There are apparently a great many people, however, who do not share my benevolent attitude towards those who continue to engage in smoking.

(I was going to give somewhere in the course of this discourse a brief history of the steps by which, from 1990-1994, my college underwent a transformation from having cigarette vending machines in the dorms and allowing smoking in the library to, one week before my class graduated, banning the practice anywhere within the main campus building, including the Great Hall, which had been the scene of so many memorable and smoke-filled social events--I still regard this action as the moment when it finally hit me [though I now realize that other signs had been making this evident most of the year] that my time there had passed and my general suavity and attitude were obviously wanted no more--but this is already more than a mini-post, and it does not really connect with the main portion of the essay. As another aside with regard to school however, I understand that now smoking has been banned in all buildings on campus, including the dormitories, and I have even heard an outrageous rumor that the sale of champagne is no longer allowed at waltz parties. I have also seen at least one person on the internet who is appalled by the food served in the cafeteria and thinks the school should ban fries, chicken patties, white bread and God only knows what else, though I don't think this has happened as yet at least.)

The inspiration for this post was actually due to a blog posting at the website of a company with which I have some dealings. Smoking is banned of course on the entire campus of this institution but apparently there have been incidents of visitors and even staff being spotted smoking in their cars or in some fairly obscure nook, as well as the discovery of cigarette butts tossed on the ground in various parking lots and islands of shrubbery. I was as usual completely oblivious to all of this. Some of the smokers evidently reek of the foul stuff when they come back in to work, and this is not merely unpleasant to other employees, but in many instances the stench alone directly affects their breathing, causes headaches, and generally prevents them from functioning at their highest level. I was oblivious to this too. The post attracted many comments, all signed by real people, sober, professional adults well into mid-life in most cases, and they had more than had it with the whole culture of smoking. All manner of punishments were advocated. Higher insurance premiums; mandatory smoking cessation classes, with suspension from or termination of employment if the issue at hand was not after such measures corrected; more screening of potential employees before hiring to check for the presence of these sorts of dreadful habits. There seemed to be an underlying consensus that anyone in the organization who was still smoking at this point in the war against this pernicious habit--and was intelligent enough to hold down a position in the organization--must not have been shamed and harassed enough to will themselves to quit, it being more than considered acceptable to shame people in this particular area. Given this liberty even of expression, which is not afforded to ordinary people in too many areas of contemporary life, they run with it quite eagerly. They don't want to hear an opposing argument or a defense. They don't even really care if someone is a generally good person, or that he performs his job excellently, at least if he is beneath them in the hierarchy. If he smokes, if he enjoys smoking, if that is one of the main pleasures he has to look forward in the course of the average day, they don't care about any of that. They want him to stop smoking and find something else to enjoy, preferably exercising and eating sprouts I suppose. Defending a smoker or sympathizing with one on any grounds has become almost akin to sympathizing with the lower sorts of criminals. The idea has become so unthinkable in certain circles that the assumption is that there is something seriously deficient in oneself; and I am having a hard time getting around that.