Let’s Read “Spreading Misandry”, Chapter Two
Posted by Richie on December 6, 2009
LET’S READ SPREADING MISANDRY
LAUGHING AT MEN: THE LAST OF VAUDEVILLE
As well as the first, middle and penultimate bits of Vaudeville. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the crotch-deadeningly inevitable “But look at all the men on television! Why, they’re bumbling idiots!” chapter.
Vaudeville was not what man people would now consider a politically correct form of entertainment. Ethnic humour was characteristic of many comedy acts. This tradition was partly an outgrowth of nineteenth century minstrel shows, in which white actors impersonated black character “types”. Al Jolson became famous as a “blackface” performer, his most memorable song “Mammy”. But black people were by no means the only ones to be stereotyped and ridiculed, sometimes affectionately, on stage.
Yeah, they did it again again. It’s like they made an “Actual bad things to compare our paranoid whining to in a desperate attempt to seem legitimate” list and are steadily ticking off the items as they go. Did you know that Protestants were stereotyped prior to the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572? It really makes you think…
Today, people often say they are embarrassed by recorded vaudeville shows or vaudeville as it was portrayed in early movies. In any case, very few performers would dare mock blacks, Jews, or women. (Those who do find themselves isolated and attacked, as Andrew “Dice” Clay was for a stand-up routine that mocked women). But the vaudeville tradition survives. One group of people is considered the legitimate object of ridicule: that of men.
For the Nathanson & Young version of Andrew Dice Clay’s sort-of-fall from not-really-grace to approach anything resembling factual accuracy, replace ‘stand up routine’ with “career”. Andrew Dice Clay was a man whose talent extended as far as dressing up as Fonzie and lighting cigarettes on stage who spent much of the late 80′s and early 90′s attacking anyone who wasn’t exactly like him. When pressed, he claimed that it was just his stage persona and his material was supposed to be satirical. Yeah, one of those. Some people were pretty vocal about him and he was banned from MTV, but since his whole act boiled down to shouting “Look how offensive I am!” over and over like a three year old who’s just learned to swear in front of grown ups, a few uppity women and an MTV ban were just what he was looking for to boost his street cred. Even if being banned from MTV were in some way a rare, career-ending occurrence – and it’s not, particularly if you aren’t actually a musician – he was still appearing in prime time on other channels, guest-hosting Saturday Night Live and performing his act to sold out football stadiums of cheering fans. When his career did go belly up in the mid 90′s, it wasn’t because he was exiled to Siberia by a sinister Star Chamber of women’s studies majors, but because people got sick of his old material and he wasn’t talented enough to come up with any new perspectives on why the women in the front row should suck his dick. See also the downfall of Benny Hill, something else we’re told was the result of “Political Correctness” rather than the fact that a middle aged fat bloke dressed as a schoolboy is only funny the first eight thousand times.
Listen to Brett Butler, of Grace Under Fire fame. “My mom always said men are like linoleum floors”, she says, “Lay ‘em right and you can walk over them for thirty years”.
If anyone out there is so offended that they can’t continue reading, I understand.
Of interest here is not that someone might have said this a generation ago but that someone was repeating it in our time. Maybe you had to be there on both occasions. Maybe everything can be explained with context. Maybe. It would be hard to imagine any acceptable excuse for a similar sentiment about wives.
What, “Lay your wife right and you can walk all over her”…? No, of course not; husbands aren’t supposed to sexually gratify their wives in the hopes of getting something in return, they’re supposed to give her something and get sexual gratification in return. And what’s of interest here is that jokes about men spending money on women with the expectation that she’ll do something, shall we say, proportional later on don’t really go down well, not because they’re misogynistic, but because they’re so close to accepted practice that they barely register as jokes. Even alleged feminist Ellie Levenson says so in her book The Noughtie Girl’s Guide to Feminism, the only redeeming feature of which is that it isn’t Spreading Misandry.
But the wider issue here isn’t that you don’t hear ‘similar sentiment’ about wives, it’s that you do hear far, far worse sentiments about women in general, something Nathanson & Young predictably fail to address because it completely destroys their argument. Against my better judgment, let’s return to the almost impressively tedious oeuvre of Andrew Dice Clay, and take note of this randomly chosen stanza from his mystifyingly popular “nursery rhyme bit”:
Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie
Jerked off in his girlfriend’s eye
When her eye was dry and shut
Georgie fucked that one-eyed slut
All things considered, this isn’t even that bad by contrived offensive comic standards, yet it’s still much, much more degrading and aggressive than the “Show your man a good time and he’ll let you get away with murder, amiriteladies?” example quoted earlier. Nathanson & Young are on preternaturally thin ice using Andrew Dice Clay as someone who was unfairly vilified for mocking women, since not only did he go above and beyond ‘mocking” and into the kind of verbal abuse you can get arrested for, but that for someone they claim was ‘isolated and attacked’ he was, in fact, one of the most popular comedians in America. Why is Andrew Dice Clay their example of choice, then? Though I could be wrong, I’m going to suggest that it’s because all the other misogynist comedians continue making money without receiving any real criticism for their material, leaving Dice as the only visible example of someone who got anything more than the occasional “tsk”, and only then because he deliberately courted it. But picking at the many, many holes in Nathanson & Young’s argument isn’t even necessary in the first place, simply because if it were even remotely true then Tucker Max, a man who says ‘fat girls aren’t real people’, repeatedly calls women ‘cum dumpsters’ and openly fantasises about ‘shooting every one of those bitches’, wouldn’t be a best-selling author with a movie deal.
Andrew Dice Clay, isolated in a sold-out football stadium and attacked with the adoration of his audience.
Misandry is considered lucrative, not merely funny. One commercial for Polaroid makes this clear. A female ethologist says, obviously recording a field trip: “After miles of searching through remote territories, my efforts were rewarded… a group of nomadic males. Strong, powerful, magnificent! They truly are impressive beasts.” And she means beasts. The camera shows a group of very paunchy, middle-aged men getting out of their car. They yawn, scratch themselves, discover that they’re locked out of their car, and proceed to get drunk. It would be unthinkable for any company to advertise its products by exploiting stereotypes of women.
Yes, it really does say that.
As with the ‘lay him right’ joke earlier, Nathanson & Young’s decide what constitutes a female stereotype by taking a male stereotype and reversing the gender without changing anything else. They then discover, to their amazement, that the hypothetical stereotype they just imagined does not exist and offer this up as solid proof that nobody ever stereotypes women. You are correct, Nathanson & Young, that one would never see an ad featuring a bunch of paunchy, middle-aged women locking themselves out of a car and getting drunk. One might see an ad featuring paunchy women, almost certainly for weight loss or an ad featuring middle-aged women, almost certainly for anti-ageing cream or an ad featuring drunk women, almost certainly for somewhere that men go to find drunk women, but an ad featuring even two of these things at once, let alone all three, would never even be comissioned. If the audience were shown an ad featuring a bunch of paunchy (I love their use of ‘paunchy’, by the way; most middle-aged men do have a paunch even if they aren’t otherwise fat, simply because it’s part of the aging process, but Nathanson & Young are desperate to make everything sound as awful as possible. I bet some were going bald, too) middle-aged drunk women, the expected reaction wouldn’t be laughter, it would be revulsion.
Because when Nathanson & Young complain that so many men are portrayed as fat and incompetent on television and nobody seems to bat an eyelid, they’re so convinced that this is endemic of a culture of man-hating that they miss the obvious point: It’s not that the audience perpetually look down on men for being fat and incompetent, it’s that they don’t care if men are fat and incompetent. Because the audience doesn’t care, men are actually portrayed in every conceivable way depending on the demographic that he product is aimed at: The men in ads for cheap beer will be Regular Joes, the men in ads for a fashion houses will be lean and immaculately groomed, the men in ads for luxury cars will be high-flying corporate executives, the men in ads for needlessly complicated watches will be yuppies, the men in ads for camping equipment will be outdoorsmen, the men in ads for anything with the prefix “i-” will be student-chic… and so on. The men in the Polaroid ad aren’t there because mockery is all men are good for, they’re there because it’s supposed to be funny.
But fat, incompetent women aren‘t funny, they’re an offense against the natural order of things who are genuinely ridiculed rather than simply found amusing. If one does appear in ad, then she won’t be a background detail used to sell an otherwise unrelated product, she’ll be the focus, along with her deficiencies as a human being. Every woman not designed to be ridiculed will comply with a very, very specific definition of attractiveness, while the men around her are free to look however they want. This isn’t about making women look good and men look bad, it’s about forcing women to comply with certain standards or be ostracised. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, Unilever connections and other assorted dodginess aside, is notable because not only did it take a campaign to get those women shown in public, but that no other companies followed suit. There’s an underwear billboard right outside my flat, in fact, selling women’s underware “no matter what shape you are”, yet the three bodies on display have maybe two inches of variation between them.
I could continue in this vein for hours, but instead I’ll just embed some advertisements I found after literally thirty seconds on Google.
I know we’re all sick of seeing this one by now, but I still adore their “It’s in the style of Caravaggio!” defense. “Saint John the Baptist is beheaded by a the new D&G 2’6″ wrought iron sword, 450 Euro at select stockists”.
Some idiot’s going to claim that this is actually misandrist because it implies men only care about cars. Please don’t be that idiot.
M’lud, the prosecution rests.
Sitcoms, which draw heavily on ridicule for their humour, have probably done more than any other genre to turn men into objects of derision.
I like how this sentence manages to eat itself. The genre that gets a laugh out of ridiculing people is found to be ridiculing its male characters. Misandry, or the fact that these shows are almost entirely about men and the women only exist peripherally as sarcastic killjoys? LET’S FIND OUT!
On The Simpsons, fathers, and men in general, are routinely mocked. Bart is, to be charitable, a fool.
I’m trying not to throw in a comment after every single line, but they’re making it really difficult not to. The brattiness of Bart and the stupidity of Homer do drive an awful lot of The Simpsons‘ stories, but that’s sort of the point: They’re the main characters, they generate the laughs and the stories are about them. They’re flawed, self-centred and not too bright, but they’re also portrayed as sympathetic, lovable and ultimately good-hearted underneath it all, not ‘objects of derision’. No matter how badly they mess up, they’ll see the error of their ways, fix the mess they made and be forgiven before the story ends. This also goes for the ‘men in general’ who populate springfield, with even stereotypical “loser” characters like Moe, Principal Skinner and Chief Wiggum given their own stories in which they display humanity and dignity, even if everything’s reset the following week. The only men who genuinely qualify as ‘objects of derision’ are Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, Hans Moleman and Doctor Nick Riviera, all of them running gags rather than fully-formed characters. Patty, Selma and Mrs Krabappel, meanwhile, are ridiculed just as much as the male cast, with only Marge and Lisa escaping relatively unscathed… oh, and what a shock, they’re the foils who aren’t funny on their own.
And then there is MTV’s Beavis and Butt-head, its two characters described in overtly sexist language by Giania Bellafonte as “unwavering in their testosterone-fueled stupidity.” This series was turned into only a movie, Beavis and Butt-head do America (Mike Judge, 1996), but also a spin-off series: Fox’s King of the Hill. The central characters, all of them male, are described sarcastically by Bellafonte as “real men”.
Firstly, I’d like to draw your attention to the phrase ‘all of them male’. That’s everything you need to know, right there.
Secondly… No, I didn’t make up that bit about Beavis and Butt-head, it’s actually in the book. The difference between the Beavis and Butt-head shorts and the “animated sit-com” approach of The Simpsons or King of the Hill is that Beavis and Butt-head really are objects of derision; they’re unsympathetic morons to the core and the humour doesn’t come from identifying with them, but from watching them fail to grasp things that are immediately obvious to both the audience and the other characters. I’d agree with Nathanson & Young that it’s sexist to credit their behaviour to testosterone, but I doubt that’s what Mike Judge was actually thinking when he wrote the show, because Beavis and Butt-head is a critique of a specific kind of masculine culture, not an indictment on men as a gender, and the leads are taken to task and ridiculed by other, smarter men.
One show, more than any other, has exemplified this state of affairs. Though no longer in production, it will be shown in syndicated re-runs for decades to come. In the fall of 1991, ABC introduced a sitcom called Home Improvement. From the beginning, it was massively popular, the top-rated show week after week. Clearly, then, the phenomenon is of importance. “Some would argue”, says Christopher Loudon in a TV Guide interview with the show’s star, “that Home Improvement is about men being jerks.” Loudon is careful to add that he personally thinks “it’s really a celebration of how smart – and tolerant – women are.” Tim Allen responds by saying “I think it’s both,” although he adds that he thinks Tim Taylor, the protagonist, has “grown” and that “what was politically incorrect when we started the show has since become the norm.” That last comment is extremely interesting. When the show began, it was still considered unwise to ridicule either women or men as groups. By this time, according to Allen, ridiculing men had become the norm. And lamentably, he was correct.
That’s right, ladies, you get to tolerate jerks! Hells yeah! Guys, you get to do whatever the fuck you want, safe in the knowledge that women are going to end up forgiving you for it whilst simultaneously raising your children, cooking your dinner and washing your clothes. That’s… that’s actually a pretty good deal. Hey, this book is full of shit!
Men are stereotyped on television. I don’t like it when men are portrayed as idiot manchildren whose hands will fall off if they try to wash the dishes, but I also recognise that men benefit from it, because “not being expected to do the dishes” just means that… men can get away with not doing the dishes. Or the laundy, or the ironing, or the cooking, or anything vaguely domestic, provided there’s a woman around to do it for them. In comparison to stereotypes like “women are too emotional to handle tough jobs, so let’s not promote them and then use the fact they haven’t been promoted as an excuse to stop hiring them”, it’s not really in the same league.
Stereotypical Things Women Do:
- Cry all the time for reasons that aren’t important.
- Put up with men’s behaviour, no matter how idiotic or destructive.
- Perform thankless domestic drudgery.
- Ruin men’s fun.
- Roll their eyes.
- Buy shoes.
- Look pretty.
Stereotypical Things Men Do:
- Do important things that make money and command respect.
- Have fun.
There is, and always has been, a double standard.
Pretty much, yeah.