Monday, August 11, 2008

"God will get you for that, Walter," Maude said often. There's a reason for this terrific Bea Arthur photo. Really. You'll see. They just don't make tv shows like this one any more.

There's an alarming story about 3 vintage clothes wearing gals attempting to live vintage lives. It's published in some kinda tabloidy Brit paper, so one can certainly question it's accuracy. (The few dealings I've had with the press I was misquoted and/or my name was mis-spelled, so I generally presume that the news has been tampered with.) But I must say I'm worried about these women. At any rate, you can read it hereand some commentary here. It references a tv show about them that is currently airing in the UK. You can find clips here. (In all honesty, the article makes the women sound crazy, but the clips seem a little more balanced.)

There's a dame devoted to each of these 3 decades: 50s, 40s, and 30s. Although our 50s gal seems a bit kitschy to me (I love not only the flowers in the hair, but also the strangely asymetrical placement of said flowers, very Dorothy Lamour), our 40s and 30s gals look a little more down to earth (though the 40s gal is more New Look than wartime rations). These ladies are serious. They live in homes from their eras, surround themselves with decade appropriate knick-knackery and use only the technology that was available during their time: cars, cake mixers and whatnot. This ironically means they spend a lot of time on the internet to find their historically accurate stuff, but nonetheless, they have created time capsules that they inhabit.

So why am I concerned about these ladies? After all, don't I lounge on an orange velvet couch and talk on a 1970s analog French Princess phone while wearing polyester palazzo jumpsuits? When I'm not busy seeing my analyst or eating fondue with my consciousness raising group, of course. Well, not quite. Just missing the fondue pot and the consciousness raising group (gotta work on that). And while I'd love to coat everything in faux fur and become a primal scream therapist, my style isn't strictly 1965-1972 though that's what I like the most these days. I think that vintage clothing should not be worn to create period authenticity. I caution all vintage neophytes to avoid this trap. Just wear what you like mixed with what you like. The more diverse the time periods the better. I ascribe to the Iris Barel Apfel school of surrealism: combine things that are thematically similar, but come from different places and times. Otherwise you can end up looking like an extra in a period movie.

So who am I to care what decade pops someone's rockets? After all, just like me, these ladies have cherry-picked the things they like most about their decades. Ms. 30s doesn't stand in bread lines, even if she could find one, and I'm not lamenting inflation, high gas prices and protesting an illegal foreign war. Oh wait, shoot, I am doing just that. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I tell ya.

What worries me about these ladies is that they have retreated to the past to avoid the messiness of today. All of them state that specifically. All avoid the newpapers and current affairs, while fetishing traditional gender roles. Not only that only that: all three claim to get the biggest bang out of doing housework and cooking for their husbands (though one couple is just shacked up). Gadzooks! Do I hear Stockholm Syndrome? Get them all copies of The Feminine Mystique. Didn't we already determine that being subsumed into the family unit and losing you own identity is bad for women's mental and physical health?

The other problem with settling all your happiness on another person is not just that they could up and leave you (though there is that), but also that they could (through no fault of their own) get sick (or run down by a trolley car) and die (pfui! kaynehora, keep the evil eye away). And then where's your raison d'etre? And, in these cases, where's your meal ticket? Ever tried re-entering the job market with gaps in your resume? How about a total lack of marketable skills? Plus what about pensions? They might get some kinky thrill out of being housewives now, but what about retirement? Women tend to have greater longevity after all. What will they do at 75? Can't draw a pension if you don't pay into it yourself.

Other people also have the uncanny ability to change at the precise moment when you need them not to. Like you find yourself going through major health problems (pfui! pfui! pfui!) or some other catastrophe (pfui! pfui! pfui!) and your lover man decides he needs to climb Mount Everest, go back to Law School, have an affair, or become a Scientologist. If I could reduce this to a slogan it would be this: "Other People: not always there for you".

Oh, dear, if only I did really have a consciousness raising group and could invite these ladies. However, it seems to me that all these women are really engaged in long-term performance art-installations. Though there is a creepy doll house quality to Ms. 50s set up, mixed with fetishism. Again with the Stockholm Syndrome. Do these men really want home-made jam? Or are these gals just obsessed with making time-consuming edibles, like as artists? There's so much false consciousness here, I need some smelling salts.

Plenty of people sure are compulsive about their environments. Watching Ms. 50s scrub her floor in the clip, I was reminded of the overwhelmingly clean-freak, detail-oriented, house-proud folks at I think that dusting the baseboards every night before going to bed is a textbook case of OCD, and there's medication for it. But on Apartment Therapy you'll find people who do just that. And think everyone else should too. I think it would be much worse to live with a minimalist than a 50s fetishist. After all, the 50s fetishist is happy when you bring home more 50s tchotches, but the minimalist comes unglued every time you buy a pair of earrings or fail to wipe down the shower curtain after bathing. (Trust me, I speak from experience: never live with a minimalist, it's just a more socially acceptable form of control-freak crazy.)

Finally, something that no one seems to mention is that historical re-enactment folks are always white. This is so obvious. Does anyone else really miss the good old days of segregation, violence and discrimination? Really now, how can one say that those were kinder, gentler times? Just because they didn't have reality tv? And, I might add, the 40s were not a particularly fun time to be a Jew.

An angry commenter on one of these sites that linked to the article (one of these dudes without the ability to understand statistics who feels discriminated against because shelters exist for battered women but not for men)unintentionally inspired me. He wrote something like: What about a 70s wife? One who won't cook, clean, or dress to please you but will complain about oppression. He wrote that like it was a bad thing. And I thought, where can I meet her? She's my new best friend. Or how about the 20s girl? She's got bootleg gin in a hip flask and she just loves to dance the charleston and vote. Hey, I just might have the makings of a consciousness raising group there.

Yes, full disclosure, I am nostalgic for the 70s. Ironically feminism was less derided in the 70s than it is now. People thought that peace and government spending on social programs were good ideas. And you had shows like Maude. Bea Arthur was a limosine liberal, it's true, but she wrestled with her issues, and held her salt-and pepper gray-streaked head high. We don't eve have gray-haired women in the mainstream media any more. Let alone a gray-haired woman who runs for public office. Not only was she outspoken, but Maude had an abortion (on demand and without apology) on prime time tv. Now we have movies with PG-13 ratings that can't even say the word abortion. What happened? There's only so much backlash a free-wheeling woman can stand.

Labels: , , , ,


Blogger Rhetro Zenberg said...

To Bea, or not...

3:10 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home