Monday, August 24, 2009

Women Then and Now: Guns

Several photographs of women "then" and now show how shockingly, women have changed over the years in maturity, values, and comportment. One of the great things about the Internet is the constant juxtaposition of things past and present, a reminder that history did not begin yesterday, or in 1968. The Black and White photographs (and a few in color) of the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information Collection are now digitized and available for online viewing and downloading. They provide a fascinating look at the dress, physiques, general living conditions, and more of average Americans in the 1930's through WWII. Several photographs, contrasted with America's first modern female celebrity, show how the change in American women have been, for both good and bad. Particularly as the change relates to "guns."

First, Madonna, age 51, on a Yacht in the Mediterranean:

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Note the customized basketball jersey and shorts. And well, the "guns' or very muscular arms (with no body fat) as Madonna tries vainly to remain 28 forever.

Now look at the images of the "Victory Corps" from 1942. The "Victory Corps" was a program, lasting from 1942-June 1944, that prepared High School students for the military, increasing fitness and specific skills (aviation, mechanic, marksmanship) but also included girls, as well as Blacks, and included other skills such as first aid, industrial or manufacturing training, radio repair and operation, and canning of food.

Here is a series of images of young women at Roosevelt High School (now almost entirely Latino-Mexican origin) in East Los Angeles:

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Now, bear in mind these girls are teen-agers when these pictures are taken. But their general manner of carriage, dress, and demeanor make them look like women in their twenties today. Part of it is hair-styles, teen girls do not wear their hair or dress in that fashion today, making them look "older" to today's eyes. But they also have a no-nonsense approach, in posing for the picture. Probably created by a childhood of chronic shortages and severe economic constraints, followed by war-time rationing and emergencies. At ages 16-17, they look more mature than Madonna at age 51.

Also note their guns. Not gym toned results of hyper-dieting with expensive prepared food and private trainers, but real guns that shoot bullets (they look like .22 LR training rifles based on the Springfield 1903 series). There's even, yes, a firing range at the school. Can you imagine real life girls at Roosevelt High School today practicing with rifles in a school shooting range today?

There is much good in the world of today. Women are independent, and don't need to worry about being their father's or husband's dependency, they have their economic destiny in their own hand. They have freedom of choice in all areas of their lives. Women today don't live in a segregated society with different drinking fountains for Whites and non-Whites. There is no threat of a gigantic, racist and murderous Japanese or Nazi empire intent on wiping out the Anglosphere. There is no long history of a brutal depression that caused bread riots and massive social strife, and internal migration. Women have, for the first time in their lives, total freedom to live and do as they please.

But in all that ... there has been a loss of seriousness and purpose in women's lives. I would not trade the world of 1942 for that of today. But the images of the past do teach us one thing. Women should be practicing with guns. Not developing them. And teen-agers of the past were more mature than the grotesque parodies of aging pop stars today. Those same girls practicing with rifles, likely went on to become mothers, wives, and had careers. Madonna, at age 51, is a professional pop tart who pathetically tries to keep time at bay. In that sense at least, the world of 1942 was wiser in America than we are today.
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

How Sustainable is the New Girl Order?

The Wall Street Journal on Saturday, August 22, 2009 ran a story "They Know What She Wore Last Night," about the website (and book), that allows young fashionistas to find out what designer a starlet wore to some event. Featured celebrities include Rachel Bilson, Kate Moss, and Rhianna (of the Chris Brown beat-down and criminal court case). While garnering only a small following (its weekly newsletter has only 125,000 subscribers, a fraction of what larger sites garner, even in the fashion subsegment), the website gets a commission from sales by users clicking on links to what various celebrities wear. Partners include everyone from Maybelline to J.C. Penney.

But what happens when the money runs out?

Rebecca Ravenna, who describes herself as "a religious WhoWhatWear reader," says she didn't know the site was selling feature names and getting commissions from the purchases of its readers. But she's not bothered. "It's a time for all of us to get creative financially," says the 23-year-old real estate broker from Chicago.

What happens when the 23-year-old real estate broker from Chicago can't afford to buy the latest fashions, and adopts a "use it up, wear it out" type of attitude? Particularly if she is not a real estate broker any more, and has to scramble for money?

Much of the new girl order is discretionary spending, on things such as fashion and cosmetics than can be stretched out, or used up. Belmont Club has links to various economic predictions of either inflation on a massive scale, debt repudiation, or perhaps both. Regardless, states like California, can no longer afford to simply keep government employment up, particularly when the stimulus money runs out in 2010. The the female-friendly employment in Health, Education, and Welfare, will be hit along with the far more sensitive resource extraction, construction, transportation, and manufacturing sectors that generated most of the layoffs, ala the Mancession. Government employment does not generate its own income stream, and depends on the larger economy for tax receipts. The current economic picture does not look good.

Inflation, of course, eats away at discretionary spending, which is the heart of the New Girl Order. Much of the "fabulous" excitement seeking in all areas, regardless if it's fashion, or politics, or relationships, in the New Girl Order has been based on bubble wealth. has the uncomfortable ring of or So too does the spending on fashion, cosmetics, and other trivialities when inflation and debt repudiation by the US Treasury (something that has never happened before) are seriously considered. This is particularly true if real estate brokers in Chicago lose their jobs, and have to struggle to find work and pay bills. Website visits and spending on fashion can quickly go to zero. Eventually, if Jeffrey Rogers Hummel is correct, and most democracies will run out of money fairly quickly to fund most social programs, this will include the growth sectors of Health, Education, and Welfare that are and were, female-friendly.

It is not merely froth, bubble websites like that will take a hit, but most of the female-friendly employment sectors like real estate, banks, and so on that already are struggling. Commercial real estate is already reaching high levels of empty, unleased spaces, and tenants have far more leverage to negotiate deals. Maguire Properties are warning of defaults to loan terms. All of the non-governmental office jobs that helped support discretionary spending on cosmetics and fashion (or X-boxes and Playstations for men) are at risk and likely to disappear at least in part in the next few years. Men got hit first in terms of employment, via exposure to sectors vulnerable to initial layoffs, but women are sure to follow.

This means quite likely, an end to the "New Girl Order," which could only survive, briefly, amidst economic expansion, and assured physical safety for women.

A reader, anonymously, sends in a series of links to what Britain is dealing with. These are (mostly all young men) who are deemed "not in education, employment, or training" aka "NEETs" who form a menacing, looming semi-criminal class, at least 1 million strong, in the UK. Not connected politically or socially, they seem intent on lounging around like Somali warriors in Mogadishu, waiting for opportunities, and whiling the time away in fairly poor circumstances (Britain's welfare state is not generous to natives). Meanwhile, young females in Britain remain at least, underemployed if not fully employed. But have understandable concerns for their safety.

Indeed, the death-knell for the "New Girl Order" is likely to be the twin factors of safety and economic security. Attractive young women will certainly find somewhat older men who have financial security more winning than they used to, if not for marriage then certainly co-habitation. There promises to be relatively few of these men who are unattached, but "soft polygamy" of the John Edwards variety is gaining acceptance, and indeed it's probable that Edwards career is not over. The other issue is of course safety. Increased risk of crime and gangs of young men with nothing to do are not generally associated with young women out and about on the streets at night, or even the daytime.

For most women, however, their lives promise to be radically different. Bars and nightclubs promise to be rare events, if nothing else because every penny has to be watched. Longer cohabitation with parents or family, or room-mates promises to be a factor for both men and women. Discretionary spending for both sexes promises to crater.

But likely the biggest factor is the collapse of the whole entertainment-media complex built around the "New Girl Order." While male discretionary spending certainly exists, it tends to be oriented around specific sectors: video games, cars, trucks, motorcycles, and entertainment centers and electronics. In other words, big ticket items. More and more men live on their own, and do spend on a wide variety of consumer items, but marketers still inhabit in one sense the world of the 1950's when women do all the shopping. You can still find sites such as asserting that 85% of all consumer purchases are made by women. Intuitively with high divorce rates, and delayed marriage rates, and chaotic cohabitation rates (couples rarely stick together) this figure does not make sense. Nevertheless, marketers believe it.

What we are likely to see, and in some instances already are is the substitution of online games for pay, console games, and the fairly rapid erosion of the video game industry, along with huge declines in auto, truck, and motorcycle sales. For "New Girl Order" sectors such as fashion, cosmetics, and the like, similar declines are a certainty as female consumers face inflation eroded paychecks or layoffs. It is not merely a question of going out of business, it's dramatically reduced ad buys on "Gossip Girl" or the five or six vampire TV series that reduce them to not even a shadow of profitability. It is women forgoing seeing "Sex and the City Part Two" on release in favor of a cheap pay-per view or download from Netflix or Amazon or rental at Redbox a few months later. Its the entire edifice of everything from Oprah to the View to Today to the CW to Entertainment Tonight collapsing under ad revenues that simply cannot support the cost structure.

Much of the female-dominated media-entertainment rests on the simple fact that with huge margins, fashion houses, cosmetics manufacturers, and the like were willing to pay large sums of money to reach the inhabitants of the "New Girl Order." With neither the economic pay-back (their consumers are likely to be pinching pennies for years) and an expectation of an ever-growing market, this is likely to change significantly, and in short time spans too.

Quite likely, we are going to see a broader, more mass-oriented culture, and one that is no longer youth-obsessed. We've already seen the start of that with the annoying Viagra and Cialis ads, and it's likely that since the few remaining consumer dollars will be in middle aged hands, that is where the advertising dollars and revenue will move.

With younger women constrained both physically (risk of danger in the streets with our own "NEETs" about) and more importantly, economically (there will always be "some" safer areas), it is quite likely that younger cohorts can receive radically different cultural messages. Messages more attuned to the innate conservatism of middle age, when there is much yet to lose, than the risk-taking of the young. In particular, it is likely that the current wave of vampire fiction and television shows and movies will be the last, as young women find risk-taking in relationships less than appealing with a large dose of daily risk in their own lives. This would not necessarily mean "the return of the Beta Male" but he won't look as bad as he did when the good times were rolling and fashionably dressed young women from Warsaw to Westchester did not need to worry about where the next paycheck will come from. Financial and physical insecurity tends to create a more conservative outlook.
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mad Men, John Edwards, and the Hotel California

More people are writing about "Mad Men." Obviously, part of a roll-out of the publicity campaign, which might even push viewers north of last season's 1.5 million. However, no matter how mundane the reasons why the new spate of articles about "Mad Men" are popping up all over, the attitudes towards men, women, and the disconnected state of both in the modern world are revealing. America might still be saved, or entering a terminal decline, checking into the Hotel California. Ironically, the fate of John Edwards and his political career, or not, will likely signal the outcome.

First, let's look at Newsweek's Sarah Ball. Among her points is the following:

Why are we so wild for Draper? By any measure, the character's a cad. He constantly cheats on his wife. He skips town for weeks and won't write or call. He doesn't talk much, and anesthetizes any feelings with copious amounts of booze. He's an enigma, a locked box of a man who resists, maddeningly, easy explanation. And yet he excites an attraction among women—particularly ones my age, women in their late '20s and '30s who were born after the era that Mad Men portrays—that seems unmatched by any leading man on television today, with the possible exception of Lost's con artist, Saywer (another strapping scoundrel with a deeply troubled soul). We describe our obsession in words that, like the show itself, are somewhat retro. "He is a straight-up man. He makes me feel like a woman via the TV." "He's a throwback to a time when men were men. "It's the thickness of his body." "Shoulders to cry on and a jaw that causes women to swoon."

A man's man. A virile man. A masculine man. Strong terms. And ones that would make our postmodern gender-studies professors blush. After all, we're the generation of women who grew up beating the boys in math class, reading Judith Butler (by choice or by force), celebrating "Grrl" power. Traditional male-female roles were going out the window while we were still toddlers. And maybe that's why we feel a little guilty when we stop to admit to ourselves why Draper excites us. Because we're not supposed to be using those terms anymore to describe our desires. Those words threaten a backsliding—they hint at some deep, unspoken turbulence; that, as if by saying we want a "real man," we threaten to erase all the gains our mothers made in terms of equality in the workplace and the home. After all, we don't believe in that evolutionary "me Tarzan, you Jane" nonsense anymore. We're supposed to want men who are sensitive and respectful; men who emote and help around the house, and talk openly about their feelings. And we do want these things. Don't we? So then why are we fantasizing about Draper rather than Jim from The Office?

So we've been raised to marry different men. Men like our president, Barack Obama: supportive, mature, levelheaded, equal partners. A bit sexless, OK, but who these days still thinks that a gal can have it all? Better a sexless Obama than a philandering Bill Clinton (speaking of men who make powerful women simultaneously swoony and ashamed of said swoon). And anyway, there are so few men like Draper around that we're not in any real danger of meeting one—at least not in the affluent, cosmopolitan jungles where Mad Men's viewers are concentrated, and where smart young women flock to make their careers take flight. They're a dying, if not dead, breed: these men who came back from the battlefields and settled down in whitewashed houses and were somehow expected to find the same visceral rush in office jobs and country clubs and nice, sweet wives that they gained from far-off adventures and wars. Men who couldn't be satiated by these staid substitutions; men who were made caged animals by domesticity; men who unleashed their restlessness in ways both erotic and destructive. These types of men are not the men we marry anymore. But, apparently, they're still the ones we love. [Ed: Emphasis added.]

What this says, about the writer, is that women of her class, generation, and background have no clue about masculinity, strength, or what indeed makes a man. It's telling that while "Mad Men's" bad-boy in adult clothing, Don Draper, creates a huge fuss among the show's mostly female fans, and the female-dominated media, the example of male strength and compassion in last season's "Life" (with "Band of Brothers" star Damien Lewis) had almost no reaction in either the press or female fans of a similar age and background (late twenties, to mid thirties female professionals). This despite the character being written and acted as a "Man's Man" i.e. one with restraint, power, protectiveness, capable of being gentle and shockingly tough as the situation required, and with an air of mystery and semi-controlled anger underneath his seemingly good-willed charm. Moreover, a character that liked and respected his tough, independent female partner, found few takers among female fans and fewer champions in the feminized media. A failure that is both telling and depressing.

Don Draper is of course a woman's idea of a masculine man, and bears about as much resemblance to reality as does the geek ideal of the waify, butt-kicking gal with superpowers, who has no annoying "girly" desires for shopping, friends, fashion, and family (her parents and siblings, or a desire for her own children). The waif-butt-kickers of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Dollhouse" or "Firefly" are about as realistic a portrait of women as Don Draper is of men, and what makes masculine strength. Women of the particular age and class that Sarah Ball refers to, confuse aggressiveness, betrayal, high and unleashed sex drive, constant philandering, and drama, with masculine strength. Posing a false dichotomy between weak and feminized office drones like "Jim" from "the Office" to dangerous and loutish philanderers such as Don Draper or Bill Clinton. Or John Edwards for that matter. Only a comfortable, loft-dwelling hipster writer could refer to WWII or Korea as "adventures" instead of the miserable, terrifying hell it was. War is never adventure, merely survival. Update: That the foolish writer of would view WWII or Korea as "an adventure" and generating "sexy" men speaks to her own biases: one in favor of aristocratic, violent, and dangerous places, in place of "boring" men (and women) in safe, wealthy, Manhattan. I suspect she would not like adventure, or real-life "adventurous" men. At any rate, the men who survived WWII or Korea were not "sexy." Decorated WWII and Korea Navy fighter Pilot Ed McMahon, or GUADALCANAL! veteran Don Adams, or D-Day and Malmedy survivor Charles Durning, or Navy Cross recepient (for his heroism at TARAWA!) Eddie Albert, along with 8th Airforce Veteran Jimmy Stewart, were typical of the survivors. Indeed most of them, tried their best to avoid war and conflict and like the real life "Band of Brothers" Maj. Ed Winters, settled down happily to quiet lives after experiencing real life horror. Only a profoundly immature writer would characterize war as "adventure"

Just as Hollywood creators such as Josh Whedon pander to fantasies of a butt-kicking waif who likes big explosions too! so do the nearly all female writing staff of "Mad Men" create a woman's idea of a masculine man. With constant validation of his attractiveness by other women having sex with him. A Bill Clinton (or John Edwards) for our time.

Others have noticed this failure as well, that men in particular commenting on "Mad Men" fail to notice that the younger urban and professional crowd find Don Draper irresistible because as blogger Josh Xiong put it your average sexist, cheating, borderline alcoholic is very attractive to women in the SWPL class. Even the Wall Street Journal got into the act. Note the obligatory applause for the obligatory SWPL gay kiss between two men.

SWPL young women, of the urban professional class, have no clue and no mentors (among older women who used to fulfill this role) about what makes good or bad boyfriends, husbands, and so on. Without guidance and control, younger women simply confuse men being a jerk, self-destructive with substance abuse (either alcohol or drugs or both), philandering, with little self-control that marks the necessary but not sufficient qualities of a successful and strong man, as being "masculine." In particular, these younger women deride the notion of control, confusing that with the overly feminized cubical dwellers who are "nice" and polite to them. Being so because this is what social messages have told the cubical dwellers to be: cooperative, team players, pleasant, and the sort of "supportive" men that feminists and women have declared they wanted, but really loathed. [Which explains much of the younger male anger, overt messages, ala PC and Multiculturalism, which must be ignored because they are completely false. Young women don't want supportive men, and despise those who offer it, even as they demand it. Phony overt messages that must be decoded into what the speaker really wants, but won't say, always generates anger, particularly when those receiving it take the overt message for face value for too long.]

Of these two fantasies, the Don Draper is by far the most destructive. There simply are no waify-butt kickers in real life, and while your average geek might yearn for a woman who likes "Mythbusters" and discussing the Linux kernel, he knows it's a fantasy. There are however, many real-life Don Drapers, and the result is usually disastrous for both men and women.

The National Enquirer reports that John Edwards plans to move his mistress and love child to a mansion near his own, to keep an eye on them and be more involved. His wife, Elizabeth, dying of cancer, is said to be furious. As Caitlan Flanagan wrote in The Atlantic:

John Edwards—whose intelligence we are supposed to accept as an article of faith—has managed not only to wedge himself between two exceedingly powerful and angry women, but also to have scorned both of them. Nice one, John! On the one hand is his wife, whose suffering might have seemed impossible to multiply, but he found the perfect way; and on the other hand is his (former) mistress, a known hellcat who has been flummoxing boy-men since the ’80s and whose rage over Elizabeth’s book is held in check only (and here I’m admittedly basing my speculation largely on what I’ve come to learn about women’s dreams and desires) by her hankering to live in Tara. Hers is not an intelligence or an ambition difficult to plumb, and her dream is almost certainly to have Elizabeth shuffle off the mortal coil so that she can instate herself in the North Carolina pleasure dome and become the fun, hip, “Being Is Free,” bleached-blond, super open-minded, videographing, Power of Now stepmom, a prospect so hideous that it makes Elizabeth Edwards’s last-chance book tour look like what it is: a desperate attempt to protect her sweet, sad children from the influence of this erstwhile cokehead and present-day weasel after she has died.

These are the stakes, ultimately, for any woman betting it all and betting it wrong on a Don Draper: ending up like Elizabeth Edwards. Who in any case will have her own children supplanted by John's love child with his mistress, alone and essentially parentless as their father betrays them as well with his new young baby. Because for those women who choose the Don Drapers, there is always a woman younger and with no regard for marital bonds, propriety, and much of anything else.

Today's young, urban, hip, professional women have so much security, at ease-safety, and sense of belonging, that they yearn for any stimulation, excitement, or danger. Not knowing just how low the men who give them that sense of danger and excitement can take them. And their children. John Edwards says he is "tired of all the lies" and wants to acknowledge publicly his love child daughter. Mickey Kaus has blogged that Edwards still harbors ambitions and believes Bill Clinton's example will allow him to continue his political career, perhaps with a stint as an appointed official in the Obama Administration. Kaus might be right. I don't think even Elizabeth Edwards sad, tragic example, will deter excitement seeking young professional women from confusing men being an asshole with men being strong.

The good news is that while this SWPL female professional class is very strong in its presence and control of the media and entertainment, most women are vastly different. Most women, as a result of the birth dearth, are older. Most women love their "beta" husbands and sons, and find the idea of Don Draper repellent. Which accounts for it's miserable ratings, and likely, Bill Clinton's protege, Al Gore's defeat to flub-tastic newcomer George W. Bush in 2000.

The danger is that, however, the SWPL girl-women who love Mad Men and swoon over Don Draper and Bill Clinton (and likely, John Edwards) are the wave of the future, even though there are a lot less of them than their mothers, they dominate the younger classes of women and are indeed the future. The younger women of this class are disconnected from older women who could give them solid advice on how to avoid the tragedy of Elizabeth Edwards, who's particular form of betrayal was up to chance, but the general shape of it was sealed the moment she said "I Do."

In this sense, the tremendous amount of publicity and attitudes expressed by women like Ball, or Sandra Tsing Loh in her article about passion versus the boring realities of married life or Cristina Nehring's Vindication of Love (which advocates serial passionate affairs instead of boring marriage, and of course bad-boy lovers) are swords with two edges. On the one hand, they propel young women into more bad-boy chasing, which they are inclined to do anyway. The media taking over the position of older female counselor, but giving younger women horrible advice. The other edge of the sword being the male reaction, which has ranged from PUA (Pick Up Artist) of various stripes, to withdrawal to bromance and X-Boxes. Which gives women the choice of Don Draper, or no one at all. If 72% of married women considered leaving their husbands in the Woman's Day survey, the next generation of women might not get any at all, not "Jim from the Office" or the "Kitchen Bitch" variety that Sandra Tsing Loh derides. Instead a nation of young men would make themselves into a Don Draper. Or as much as they can manage.

The saddest thing of all? John Edwards might indeed have a political career left. When a feminist like Cristina Nehring can defend Republican Mark Sanford in the pages of The New Republic, on the basis of "love" and "passion," America's young professional women might have a case of the terminal desire for Bad Boys. [It's clear that older women, who love Sarah Palin, and detest the betrayal of Elizabeth Edwards, are very different socially and politically from younger women who seem to be the exact opposite: detesting Sarah Palin and at least, not despising John Edwards.]

If Edwards stays staked, like a destroyed vampire, never to rise again, America is saved for another day. If enough women of Nehring's persuasion (most men loathe Edwards, for a variety of reasons but most especially for his betrayal of his wife which is unmanly in the traditional way of self-sacrifice for family) excuse his disgusting behavior to the point where he is "rehabilitated" then truly, we are welcomed to the Hotel California. Where you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. The only question then remaining is when America fully checks in.
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Lady Gaga Wants You To Turn Gay: The Cold Civil War and the New Girl Order

Recently, Pop star "Lady Gaga" gave an interview to Out Magazine, a gay publication, where she said:

I very much want to inject gay culture into the mainstream. It's not an underground tool for me. It's my whole life. So I always sort of joke the real motivation is to just turn the world gay.

This is not unusual. American Idol Judge Posh Spice has said she has a "gay man inside her waiting to come out" and that she has nothing in common with straight men, excluding her husband, father, and brothers. Various studies show that younger White women, who are not religious and are college-educated, have more positive attitudes towards homosexuality, gays, and gay behavior than male peers, even controlling for educational levels (i.e. compared to college-educated men). African-American women however generally hold more negative views of gays than their White female peers, even controlling for educational levels.

The cultural war between young, single women, who are politically more liberal and hold social views different from that of young single men, drives much of the debate in the culture over Gay Marriage and a host of other cultural issues. Increasingly, it seems that instead of total victory by young single women to "turn the world gay" per Lady Gaga, the global culture (not just the US) is entering a "Cold Civil War" with a stand-off likely to last for some time.

Much of the increasing acceptance and endorsement of gay culture (consider this the "Berlin of the Cold Civil War") is being driven, essentially, by the purchasing power of young women and their spending habits. If this spending on the New Girl Order as coined by Kay Hymnowitz declines significantly, so too will the push for re-norming society along the Gay Standards that Lady Gaga and Posh Spice advocate.

By way of comparison, Hoover's Online estimates that the combined US sales of $48 billion (2002 figures). The US Cosmetics revenues total $7 billion. The US Apparel Industry revenues (including shoes) totals $182 billion. Combined, Cosmetics and Apparel total $189 billion in the US, versus $48 billion for Arms/Weaponry. By way of comparison, the US Auto Industry (including imports) amounted to $213 billion in 2008.

These are substantial sums of money. A quick and dirty analysis can be performed at any Supermarket. Simply pace off the linear feet devoted to women's grooming products, including body lotion, shampoos, conditioners, and the like, and those devoted to male grooming, including shaving cream, razors, deodorant, and after shave. There will be generally be an approximately 7 to 1 ratio of shelf space devoted to female-male grooming products.

However, the discretionary spending of the New Girl Order is highly discretionary. As Hymnowitz points out, the entire Order depends on the following factors:

  1. Delayed Marriage making consumerism possible throughout the 20's and much of a woman's thirties.

  2. Rising female education and earnings levels (women make up the majority of College students in the US, UK, France, Germany, Norway, and Australia) allow more discretionary consumer spending.

  3. Urbanism and the ability of women to live on their own or with room-mates makes consumer spending possible (instead of the old order of family kitty contributions.

  4. Employment for women has been concentrated on industries like media, fashion, design, marketing, and advertising, along with education, health-care, and social work

All of these factors in turn depend on a global party where the good times roll. A party that is coming to an end. While it's likely that women will continue to delay marriage, and indeed as Hynmowitz notes, fulfill demographer's prediction that 30 percent of women with college degrees will remain child-less (and thus with spare cash to spend on consumer goods), the global party that spurred global consumer spending is coming to an end. Declines in oil exploration and cheap, easily extracted oil guarantee in the long-term, more expensive energy, as has the inability of the US to develop nuclear or clean coal technology to produce significant amounts of electricity. Shocks such as unrest, coups, invasions, or other disasters in places like Nigeria, Venezeula, the Persian Gulf, and the Caucasus can produce oil price spikes due to inelastic demand (the US must keep the lights on) and supply shocks (it can take decades to create supply out of oil-tar sands and shale, for example).

Much of the rest of the global economy in the 1990's and 2000's was based on bubbles. The Dot-Com bubble, the Real Estate Bubble, the credit bubble, all provided inflated consumer wealth that led to over-spending from places like Iceland to Dublin. Including consumer spending on fashion, cosmetics, and the like, which unlike food and energy are discretionary.

As the Wall Street Journal article "Thick Fashion Magazines Are So Last Year" makes clear (Marketplace, P1, Aug 17, 2009), Ad spending in magazines are down from between 20 and 41%. With advertisers moving to cheaper on-line venues after years of resistance.

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Young women living the Sex and the City lifestyle were able to do so on the bubble economy. Now that cheap credit is gone, and energy price shocks an inevitable outcome, it is quite likely that the world will experience the equivalent to the "Lost Decade" of Japan, where consumer spending matched income: stagnant. Much of the "fabulous" jobs that were "semi-creative" such as design, fashion, marketing, advertising, and so on will simply disappear. We are already seeing the stormy petrel of this event in the reduced advertising spending on Fashion Magazines, and indeed the reduced revenues that fashion designers are finding in the global recession.

Even with the "Mancession" (men outnumber women in joblosses as noted by Seeking Alpha and The Atlantic) women have long-term vulnerability. The few sectors showing growth: Health, Education, and Welfare are vulnerable to downturns in government spending.

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Currently women have an advantage over (White) men in these fields. Women have an Affirmative Action preference in all over men, particularly in Education and Welfare. Special programs even exist targeting only girls to put them into College. Most college-outreach programs have female-preferences. In government jobs, the direct Affirmative Action preference for women guarantees more women than men, in significant amounts, will be hired, and promoted. The National Organization for Women pressured Obama to change the stimulus bill away from male-employment to female-friendly spending, and towards State Government bailouts. The few dollars that went to infrastructure spending were funneled into repaving highways. Eisenhower built the national highway system, and Obama repaved a few miles of it.

But the stimulus bill, which requires an increase in welfare spending by the States, and welfare workers (most of them female) is good for only two years. After that, the money runs out. States are in a budget crisis — not just California but nearly all states have far more expenses (mostly government employees who expanded during good times) than revenues. The scope of the deficits are so large that the Federal Government, already pressed by the stimulus bill, auto bailout, financial bailout, and prospective Health and Cap and Trade spending simply won't have the money to keep State employees at current levels. Some employee cuts will have to be made. The same is likely true at the Federal level. While the Federal government can push inflation as back-door tax increases, the ability to do so while the Chinese hold substantial amounts of US debt is in question (inflation erodes the value of their investments in our debt). At a minimum, inflation (reducing purchasing power applied to Chinese imports) would seriously impact China-US trade, the detriment of China. Producing an inevitable reaction. Already, Chinese delegates laughed at US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's assurance that the US is determined not to see inflation rise to 1970's levels.

With added public pressure to reduce the deficit on a wary, frightened Congress spooked by the reaction of the public to incumbents, the ObamaCare debacle, and past spending, it is highly likely that the Federal Government will face tremendous pressure to reduce federal employment, particularly in the Health, Education, and Welfare spending categories. Middle class White voters feel that these areas are merely for connected people and lobbyists, not any benefit to they themselves, or at best non-Whites who collect money set-aside for those groups. Lack of broad political patronage aimed at the White Middle Class means there is little enthusiasm for mass government employment and spending, among the middle-aged middle class. And middle aged people outnumber young people by significant margins, and voting participation reliably goes up as does age. Seniors not only outnumber the Youth Vote, they vote in much higher percentages.

All of which means, the New Girl Order has at best a few more years before they too, find themselves in the unemployment line. Already fashion industry mainstays are experiencing less revenue than in prior years, and stores have ordered far fewer amounts in anticipation of reduced sales. While legal efforts to impose Gay Marriage on the US through the Supreme Court no doubt will be successful, the ability of the New Girl Order to impose gay values and make the world gay, per Lady Gaga's wishes, seems increasingly shaky. While marriage and relationships may indeed be made "gay" much of the male world is increasingly disconnected and removed from the New Girl Order, which itself seems on very shaky financial foundations. As noted at the Belmont Club, it takes only a few Bombay style attacks on shopping malls and such during the Holiday shopping season to tank retail sales ("Black Friday" is so named because that is when stores go into the "black" i.e. profit during the day after Thanksgiving sales). Causing another crash to match the auto and financial industry and housing crisis.

It's unlikely that a crash or series of crashes along with greatly increased female unemployment will change young single women's behavior. Their male peers will not be any more attractive — they themselves will be unemployed alongside them. If anything this prospective crash will simply increase the hypergamous competition for the few "Alpha males" with natural or applied "Game" (i.e. cocky-funny, aggressive attraction for women). Leaving most men unemployed or underemployed or feeling pressure, and with Halo and porn and sports for diversions.

What this does mean is that the ability of young single women to dominate the culture through large amounts of discretionary consumer spending is likely to end. Culminating in a "Cold Civil War" coined by April Gavaza not just in politics, but in culture, along gender lines.

Young single women will want the world turned "gay." So that beta, "icky" men will stop expressing sexual or romantic interest in them. Leaving them free to pursue the few Alpha men without distraction, and sharing them in a gay, or harem-derived fashion. Young single men, on the other hand, will want the world turned "Halo" or WWE. Withdrawing into their own private spheres, largely off the current media world, which seems set to decline into genteel poverty, ala Miss Haversham in "Great Expectations."

Such a Cold Civil War could last for generations, until one side simply exhausts its resources. Given the dependence on the New Girl Order on discretionary spending by young single women in urban areas (themselves excellent targets for WMD-wielding or even ordinary terrorists) with rising incomes in "fashionable" female fields or government employment, I'd bet on the WWE and Halo.
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Beyond Gay Marriage

Gay Marriage seems inevitable. While California's Proposition 8 has temporarily called a halt in that State's issuance of new gay marriage licenses, existing gay marriages are valid, and inevitably the courts (the elites favorite tool for forcing social change) will create Gay Marriage across the land. Likely, as a result of a Supreme Court 5-4 decision with Justices Kennedy, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Stevens (or their replacements by Obama) against Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas. A five-four decision is as good as nine-zero decision, as far as being legally binding. In every other Western nation, gay marriage is either the law of the land, or the forces pushing it unstoppable. This despite popular opposition, because the modern post-War era has produced fabulous amounts of wealth for middle-men like George Soros or David Geffen, or Warren Buffett, who then use their vast amounts of wealth to push policies that trump the interests of ordinary persons. This is true culturally and socially as well as economically. Indeed the ability of elites to routinely trump the interests of the populace is one of the key factors in the rising anger and pressure-cooker atmosphere all across the West, absent the calming factor of sustained economic growth and good times.

A Wall Street Journal Editorial notes how a federal lawsuit has been filed to invalidate Proposition 8 and other traditional marriage laws. Regardless of the merits of the suit and defense of laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman, it seems clear that the moneyed, Gentry Liberals that Joel Kotkin suggests drives most of the Democratic Party and make up most of the nations wealthiest individuals (being concentrated in finance, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and uber-financiers like Soros and Buffett) will have their way on this. As they have had, so far, their way on Cap and Trade, the ObamaCare proposals, and the stimulus bill. This is essentially the coastal elites having their way over everyone else, using the Supreme Court to do it. Kotkin warns this will have severe consequences politically, and he's right.

However, that's an issue for another post. When, not if, Gay Marriage comes, what will happen to marriage as it's defined, and what will society look like? I expect the following ills to accompany gay marriage and continue to wash away social bonds:

  1. Polygamy will be legalized.

  2. Marriage will be perceived as "gay," for Muslims and other non-mainstream people, or for the very, very rich by most people.

  3. Increasing amounts of new marriages will be either mostly polygamous or gay, while marriage itself declines.

  4. Men will increasingly co-habitate instead of marry, with fragile, chaotic, and short-lived relationships characterizing "family" for most Americans.

  5. "Gay" norms of sexuality, i.e. non-monogamous conduct, will define non-polygamous marriage, driving acceptance of marriage among straight, non-polygamous men to near zero for new marriages

  6. Women and children will be regarded by most men as something they are at best unconcerned with and at worst, openly hostile to, given the new marriage environment

  7. Most children in the US will be born to single mothers, and single motherhood will define how children are raised, with the accompanying social pathologies found in that environment

UPDATE! check out these lunatics: here where two people who should NEVER have sex (aging hippies) talk about reprogramming jealousy. Yeah, that will work.

Obviously, not all of these will happen in an instant-on light-switch type of process, but the trends are un-mistakeable. Together, they threaten to remake America within a few generations into a combination of Morocco and Tijuana and Pacific Heights. With most of the nation resembling the first two instead of the latter.

From the Wall Street Journal Article some passages that deserve quoting in full:

If marriage is redefined, its connection to organic bodily union—and thus to procreation—will be undermined. It will increasingly be understood as an emotional union for the sake of adult satisfaction that is served by mutually agreeable sexual play. But there is no reason that primarily emotional unions like friendships should be permanent, exclusive, limited to two, or legally regulated at all. Thus, there will remain no principled basis for upholding marital norms like monogamy.

A veneer of sentiment may prevent these norms from collapsing—but only temporarily. The marriage culture, already wounded by widespread divorce, nonmarital cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing will fare no better than it has in those European societies that were in the vanguard of sexual “enlightenment.” And the primary victims of a weakened marriage culture are always children and those in the poorest, most vulnerable sectors of society.

Candid and clear-thinking advocates of redefining marriage recognize that doing so entails abandoning norms such as monogamy. In a 2006 statement entitled “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage,” over 300 lesbian, gay, and allied activists, educators, lawyers, and community organizers—including Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich, and prominent Yale, Columbia and Georgetown professors—call for legally recognizing multiple sex partner (“polyamorous”) relationships. Their logic is unassailable once the historic definition of marriage is overthrown.

Is this a red herring? This week’s Newsweek reports more than 500,000 polyamorous households in the U.S.

Along with the Re-Norming of Marriage, the changes wrought by Gay Marriage will reshape the social landscape of America in profound ways. Intensifying some trends, and obliterating others.

First, Polygamy will be legalized. As seen above, feminists, gay activists, educators, lawyers, and community organizers, what Kotkin describes as "Gentry Liberals" are determined to have their way on this as well as with Gay Marriage. Legally, it seems inexplicable to allow marriage to be gay but not polygamous, and as Mark Steyn points out in jurisdiction where Gay Marriage has been the law of the land for long has polygamy remained outlawed. Polygamy is de-facto recognized in Great Britain and Canada (where Muslim men may claim welfare benefits for their four wives) and in the Netherlands the law of the land. As Steyn points out, there will be many more takers for Polygamy than Gay Marriage.

Last year, Aly Hindy, a Scarborough imam, told the Toronto Star that he’d performed 30 polygamous marriages just in the last few weeks.

Legalized polygamy and ostentatious displays by gays in gay weddings (what other kind you ask could there be?) will rapidly move marriage in the cultural sphere to "gay" and "Muslim" and for the rich. The rich can afford huge spreads, gigantic parties and ceremonies, and would remain both enamored of class distinctions and able to bear the costs of marriage (i.e. money makes it a bad deal for divorcing). In the otherwise forgettable "Nanny Diaries" the prospective Nanny (Scarlett Johanssen) lunches with the older, married woman thinking of hiring her (Laura Linney). A friend of the Linney character stops by, and the two commiserate on her recent divorce, which put the luxurious life of penthouse apartments in Manhattan and Cape Cod "Summer Homes" out of reach. Hyper-fabulous gay weddings, with the usual distasteful (to straight men) exhibitionist display, will rapidly push weddings and marriage into the "gay" category like Broadway. Lost in time, there was a moment when Broadway was not automatically considered gay and showtunes were popular among straight men. Straight men avoid like the plague any noticeably "gay" institution.

The non-acceptance of marriage as an institution for average, middle class Americans will simply accelerate. Kay Hymnowitz of City-Journal has called the marriage gap will continue to grow, as men find the institution itself defined by polygamous Muslims, gays, and the rich (but not hyper-rich like say, Paul McCartney). Hymnowitz argues that the gap comes educated, middle and upper class women having a "mission" to prepare their kids for college and success, but cites no evidence to back that assertion up. There certainly is a sizeable gap between blue-collar, working class White women and middle/upper class White women in marriage rates. But it's just as likely that rather than "the mission" the relative attractive quality of men (to entice women into marriage) is greater among upper and middle class women than in the working class.

In other words, the "script" that Hymnowitz asserts women follow, is marrying a man who might plausibly be "enough" of an Alpha Male, socially dominant, "cool/hip," and impressive to her friends and social circle, and critically, the supply of those men greater in middle/upper class circles, rather than child-success preparing. Delayed childbirth and marriage ages creeping upward are a factor in middle and upper class marriage, so this might just as well explain the marriage gap.

There is a limited supply of handsome lawyers, doctors, "venture capitalists" (ala the film "the Wedding Crashers") staffers in political offices, NGOs, and the like (think "Mr. Darcy" as a "respectable, but independently wealthy, human rights lawyer" in the film "Bridget Jones Diary.") These are the men "suitable" for marriage, i.e. the bride will not suffer embarrassment or humiliation to be seen marrying the man, and will be willing to be "off the market" for a period of time at a minimum as the wife of her husband. Women already complain about the supply of "good men" (i.e. top-rank Alpha males willing to commit) in upper and middle class circles. Anything that further reduces the supply, and gay marriage with polygamy making marriage irrevocably "gay" and "Muslim" will do it — creates far fewer "good men" and pushes even middle and upper class women to co-habitate with Alpha men rather than marry an undesirable "beta male."

Co-habitation, as noted in the link above, and also here and also here and the Heritage Foundation "Map of the Family" here is an unmitigated disaster. Co-habitation (unlike places such as Sweden and Iceland) is generally fragile, with fathers or men bowing out frequently, and much poverty, abuse and unhappiness for children en-meshed in co-habitation:

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Co-habitation was clearly on the rise before the economic melt-down. May 2009 is "National Cohabitation Month" and sites like "Alternatives to Marriage" which extols both Polyamory and Gay Marriage extol cohabitation as well as other arrangements in lieu of traditional marriage. Culturally, there is a great acceptance of co-habitation as "better" than marriage, and idolization of rich celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (who can afford it) helps move it along. Of course, co-habitation is still relatively minor, about 10% of all marriages, however from the link here we can see that this effect is not the same across all age cohorts:

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As you can see, the trends in the younger generation are not good. Increasingly, co-habitation seems to be the norm, for the younger generation. The older generation probably sways the national average, as many more older women are married. The graph below is a crude but useful estimation to see how the larger group of older women, who were mostly married at one point (I crudely subtracted the "Never Married" from the total age cohort to arrive at the married figure, others may refine the numbers to a better point, but you can see the large trends) which tends to make the growing acceptance of co-habition among younger women of all races better than it actually is.

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Along with Co-habitation, comes greater acceptance of "gay norms" for marriage, and indeed relationships in general. From Television shows like Mercy to movies, the media, and social trends, casual sex with others in a relationship is not viewed as wrong, at least insofar as female infidelity is concerned. Male infidelity is viewed as situation-dependent. A John Edwards or Bill Clinton or Tony Villaraigosa or Gavin Newsome or Bobby Pitino , with the "correct" politics and Big Man demeanor, don't face social sanctions and condemnation. Those on the wrong side of politics, or with non-Alpha Big Man demeanor, face social condemnation (Mark Sanford, for one).

Gay norms of marriage, and the growing push in Hollywood to make marriage "gay" as possible, makes co-habitation a better deal for men versus marriage, since they can walk out at any time, and often do. Particularly if there are no children, and in states without "palimony" statutes or court decisions. Some have suggested that beta males will be happy to accept "Kitchen Bitch" status, that is a care-taker, dependent, and often-cheated upon house-husband, but the relative fragility of co-habitation, and the growing number of women in younger age cohorts who form households with another person co-habitating instead of marrying seems to suggest otherwise. Certainly the closest analogue to the US, the United Kingdom, has not seen the growth of "Kitchen Bitches" or Mr. Mom house-husbands who passively accept wives cheating, but rather the huge decline of traditional marriage and chaotic co-habitation.

These changes, marriage as "gay" (or Muslim and polygamous) will leave most men, particularly the backbone of the United States, the beta males who are in skilled professions, engineering, skilled blue collar jobs, and the like with no investment or incentive to become invested in the larger society. Women, and children, will be seen as someone else's concern, or matters for the government. This has been the case in the UK, where the disintegration of traditional marriage at all but the upper levels of society has led to most men becoming profoundly disinterested in the fate of women and children. Indeed, fatherly involvement in co-habitating arrangements, is less than for married fathers, and often non-existent when couples break up as they do far more often than married couples.

This will make all but the wealthy, born into de-facto single motherhood families. Even with the biological father present, there is little to tie him to the mother if relationships are amorphous and ever-changing, as Barbara Ehrenreich once lovingly described her vision of the future. The various social ills, besetting England, particularly youth crime (of all races, not just Pakistani youths) which makes the UK resemble "Clockwork Orange" more than "Goodbye Mr. Chips" is certain to bedevil the US over time.

The most powerful institutions in America are the Media and Hollywood, at least as far as shaping the culture. Religious attendance is down, across the board, for Catholics and Protestants alike. Most people take their values from those depicted in Hollywood and the media, particularly women, since both focus on the female audience and in doing so chase away male viewers. America seems lurching towards a new era of relationships between men and women, one characterized by mistrust, vastly different goals, and vastly different value systems.

Women, and the cultural institutions aimed at them, aided by moneyed elites such as George Soros or David Geffen, seem intent on making marriage and relationships "gay" and the ability of money to trump votes and the interests of most people seems unchallenged. I certainly expect a Supreme Court decision legalizing Gay Marriage across the United States.

But women can't force men to marry them under "gay" norms. Indeed, few of the men willing to be married (the George Sodini desperate for female contact types) under those conditions would be attractive in the first place. Sodini was in fact able to get dates. But no woman was willing to sleep with him, let alone marry him. The few men willing to accept "Kitchen Bitch" status, ironically, will be unwanted by those desiring a house-husband and numerous Alpha lovers.

Where does this leave men and women? For a few lucky Alpha PUA (Pick Up Artist) types, heaven. Women available, in relationships or outside them. Everywhere, all the time. For the rest of men, outside the Sodini types, unable to find women to sleep with them, occasional sex, intermittent co-habitating, chaotic and breakable relationships, with perhaps one or two children by women they never see anymore. Their children, merely distant facts in their lives, like the capital of Mongolia. A lucky few Alpha men who are upper class, or upper class with enough money/status/prestige to be considered Alpha, will marry, and have relatively stable relationships with no divorce and little cheating, given the stakes of the Hamptons Beach House (and cost of splitting a modest fortune in half).

For Women, most will be able to attract at least for a while, the Alpha men they crave. For women seeking to maximize sexual opportunities, this is heaven. Some Alpha men may live with them for a while, or they may attract some Beta men on the downward slope of their attractiveness to co-habitate. There will be little to fix these relationships in stone, however, and the least pressure will fracture them leaving each partner single and separate. Women will likely get some child support earnings in the face of co-habitating splits, but will face, under large uncertainty of parentage, increased legal challenges and DNA paternity tests, by men uninvested in them or society. Alimony, as women start to out-earn their co-habitating partners, can even break against them, and it's likely that as it does women will press for changes in the system. Most women who are at least moderately attractive, will have no trouble in attracting male attention, but keeping male investment in themselves and their children will become increasingly difficult to impossible with each successive age cohort.

Particularly given the college gap (more women than men attend), and attendant earnings gap, with some professions being profoundly feminized, several factors will negatively affect both men and women. Women, in feminized professions, such as medicine, law, and government, will compete heavily over the few men in such professions that are "Alpha" while the men in the professions who are not, will be regarded as "gay" and treated as sexually invisible. For most women, this means finding partners in a bar or other impromptu social gathering, with the collapse of mediating mate-finding institutions like Churches and neighborhood groups. This means, essentially, selecting on the hottest PUA in the bar, for most college educated women professionals. Which will price most men out, most of the time. Ordinary men who are college educated will increasingly opt out of competition in which they mostly lose in favor of porn and hobbies and "bromances" or seek women abroad by expatriate opportunties. A few will look to PUA gurus to become PUA themselves in the ruthless bar/club competition.

For the increasing majority of men NOT college educated, either a ruthless entrepreneurial path, which produces a few winners and a lot of losers, or chav-style brutality, will be the norm for being successful with women. In other words, Gordon Ramsay or the typical soccer yob. With lots of "mate-ism" (working class bromance) and macho displays.

That PUA in general are part of the popular culture, and can make substantial livings off of teaching men how to approach and romance women, is itself a big red flag. Men don't pay thousands of dollars for classes and guided instruction if they are not desperate. Indeed, there is a huge social shame among men who don't have a girlfriend, or wife, and the stigma of "loserdom" associated with that status, and the desperation, is a sign that the rules of society that many men grew up on, simply don't work. If PUA can make a living on teaching men what most of their fathers did without much thinking, that is approach women and be successful, or keep a relationship with one, that very market is a sign of deep trouble, like armed bodyguards for middle class people in kidnap-crazy Central America.

The blaming of Sodini's massacre in Pittsburgh on PUA has already begun. "Nice guy must die." Well, he must. And he is. Nice guys only exist when society creates them. In the neo-Darwinian struggle for sex and relationships based on "survival of the hottest" in the Bar on Friday night, male investment, protection, and support simply does not exist. Contrary to the article, Sodini got his ideas about women from being unable to form and keep a relationship with them, and observing other men who possessed simply social dominance, be successful.

America's danger is not Sodini or Cho type massacres. Though those are bound to become more frequent as social cohesion fails to leash the lunatic and insane. It is rather a whole class of men becoming Chavs or opting out, going abroad, or watching porn. This may look like a female paradise, but women also lose, since they get no male investment on their downside. Cougars and such may get transient male interest, but won't find in a society where relationships and marriage are "gay" any offers by men even remotely attractive and compatible with themselves.

The only hope, indeed for all of Western Society, is culture and entertainment that push a message of traditional morality, and the advantages to women of fidelity and faithfulness in relationships. Including comfort and companionship as they age, a defender and protector through life, and the willingness if need be, to lay down their lives for them. In the finale of the sadly cancelled "Life," the protagonist (Damien Lewis, "Band of Brothers") risks his life to save his female partner (Sarah Shahi). Because he loves her. It was as simple as that.

What America, and indeed the West, needs is more male-oriented entertainment with that cultural message, that also appeals to women and shows them concretely the advantages of traditional marriage and culture. Not the least of which is that they are both independent and protected within that culture. Hollywood, dominated by near-Apex Alpha males, gays, and oriented towards a mostly female audience, is to sclerotic to accomplish this goal. We in the West who seek reform must pin our hopes (and make sure we guide its development) on new media, created outside of Hollywood, distributed through the internet. Aimed at the broadest audience and encapsulating traditional American and Western values.
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Funny People and the Cultural Re-Norming of Marriage

Recently, Ferdinand Bardamu posted his thoughts on the latest Judd Apatow film "Funny People" which was not, all things considered, very funny nor very successful, dropping 72% from it's opening weekend gross according to, with an opening weekend of only $22.6 million.

Considering "Funny People" and other indicators, there seems to be a cultural re-norming for Marriage. One in which female infidelity at least, is not only "OK" but empowering and liberating. An infidelity, that does not threaten the integrity of the family because of "sharing" according to status of lovers and husbands. So far, audiences don't seem to be buying this message, but it certainly seems to be the message cultural elites are intent on forcing upon the larger audience until they surrender.

At least one male reviewer seemed not to understand why the "everyman" character, Ira (Seth Rogen) is irate when a girl he was interested in slept with one of his room-mates. Most reviewers found the ex-girlfriend, played by Leslie Mann, to "enchanting" including The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern and none really took issue with either the appropriateness of the main character (Sandler) romancing his ex, or the ex giddily falling into bed with him despite the fact that she's married and has two kids.

As Ferdinand Bardamu posts, the film "Funny People" centers around former male-oriented comedy star Adam Sandler, playing George Simmons, who hires an out-of-work joke writer Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) to write jokes for him after he learns he's dying of a rare form of leukemia, in between acting like a jerk and having casual sex with groupies. After Simmons is cured, he attempts to romance the girl he cheated on, Laura (Leslie Mann) even though she is indeed married (though she suspects her husband once cheated) and has two small children. Laura responds eagerly and prepares to divorce her husband Clarke (Eric Bana) when he discovers her infidelity, and prepares to do so without shame. This is presented as "romantic." Laura only finally realizes George will make a lousy husband and father when he laughs at her young daughter's singing and checks his cell phone. Unrealistically, she later tries to rekindle her marriage with her husband whom she earlier dismissed casually.

Audiences, by and large found this movie un-funny and as noted by the 72% drop from its opening weekend, however the message, that men can "share" women in marriage, according to social hierarchy, (and in relationships, see Ira with the girl he liked who promptly slept with one of his friends) is clearly on the agenda.

The same message was present in an earlier Sandler movie, "Spanglish," which centers on a family man, John, who runs a swanky restaurant, and has to stay with his cheating wife (Tea Leoni) for the sake of his kids. Similar themes have shown up in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (a cheating fiancee is "OK" with the dominant Alpha), "the Unit" (where one of the wives has a long-term "hot" affair with her husband's commander and has him ordered on missions so they can continue the affair), and "A Walk on the Moon." In all instances, female infidelity is presented as "no big deal" but rather "empowering" and also, justified, since the men are either hot studs or higher in the social hiearchy.

This is clearly, a message that will NOT not resonate with men. It's pushed by the culture of Hollywood, strongly influenced by so many gay writers and producers and executives, and feminists, who while not wielding direct influence can have enormous impact on Hollywood, ground zero for political correctness. This message is also as one might expect, popular with women. Recently, Mercy, the new NBC nurse-drama show depicted in the promotional trailers the lead character unabashedly cheating on her doofus, good guy loyal husband, because he's well, loyal and the wife's "friend" and the ex-lover is "hot" and Alpha and of much higher status. The "cheating wife" storyline was quite popular among female fans of "the Unit" (check Television Without Pity to see) and keeps showing up in "serious dramatic movies" that cover family life. Blogger Novaseeker has commented that in the modern, post 1980's era, women seek the balance between "cads and dads" and often fantasize about having both. This is certainly the case in the Sandra Tsing Loh article and the various writings of Barbara Ehrenreich urging legalized polyamory and indeed, advocating a "dad" housekeeper and various "cad" boyfriends on the side for women. Or, in the CNN article Happily Married, Dreaming of Divorce, nice everyday guys are "boring" and women have enough money and status to live on their own with various "exciting" guys around.

Clearly we have a perfect cultural storm: a very over-represented Gay faction in Hollywood, pushing Gay norms of relationships (affairs are no big thing — they are both men), with feminists pushing aggressively to redefine marriage and family as a hot woman, her boyfriend(s) of hot, exciting status, and housekeeper husband, and the need now that men have fled scripted entertainment to appeal to a mostly female audience. The more of course, this message is pushed, the more men flee.

Male followers of Sandler, to judge by the reaction to "Punch Drunk Love" and "Spanglish" and "Funny People" were not happy with his turn to the dramatic, instead of the flippant, anti-authority comedies he is known for. None of these films exactly set the box office records on fire, compared to say "Big Daddy" which made $163 million domestically against a production cost of $34 million. "Bedtime Stories" earned $110 domestically against a production cost of $80 million. Yet Sandler like other formerly male favored stars (Clint Eastwood, for example) craves acceptance as a dramatic actor. Like the many women with security, he craves excitement and applause from his peers, he already has success.

Which means we can expect more of this, Hollywood as an institution pushes even male-appealing stars to abandon their core audience for approval. Which requires, well themes like "Funny People" or "Spanglish." This is true for Judd Apatow as well, who made money off of fantasies of nerdy, nebbishy guys getting the girl ("40 Year Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," and "Super-bad.")

In some ways of course, as blogger Ferdinand Bardamu notes, Hollywood has done their male audience a favor. He notes the lessons contained within "Funny People" (which parallel those of "Spanglish" and other films, television shows such as "Mercy" and many other tv series) which are:

  1. Women will cheat while married if the guy is more Alpha than her husband.

  2. Guys who follow "the rules" of being "nice," backing off girls with boyfriends, husbands, are losers while those who pursue women 24/7 regardless of marital status, etc. are winners.

  3. Wives and girlfriends, and potential for both, have complex and lengthy sexual pasts, with deep feelings for Alphas who are largely jerks.

  4. Sex with an Alpha means more than family responsibilities, even to children.

  5. Past boyfriends of women can show up at any time and take away wives or girlfriends if they have superior Alpha status.

  6. Being a good father or supportive is un-important, being Alpha is all to women.

  7. Women don't love "friends" or find it sexy, they relegate boyfriends and husbands to "honorary gay status" and seek men who are dominant socially (Alpha).

  8. Women don't seek security, they have their own, they NEED for constant excitement and stimulation.

  9. When women cheat in marriage they seek to replace not supplement their husbands/boyfriends

  10. Non-Alpha men should expect to "share" women with Alphas, while Alphas need not share women at all.

These, then, are the "lessons" of "Funny People" and while based on Hollywood exaggeration, are at least partly descriptive of some of female and Alpha behavior, and describe the distorting effect of security no longer being a basic need upon society in the relationship and mating market. Note the emphasis in the "rules" on female need for stimulation and excitement, and lack of loyalty and dependence on male emotional support. These are red flags that women assume they are either not needed or easily substituted for (i.e. supportive husbands/boyfriends). Some of the lessons (sharing of women by Betas with Alphas vs. replacement of husband by Alpha) are contradictory, but what is most useful is the core lesson that female infidelity is never criticized. It is revealing that while male infidelity (rightly so) is criticized, it is only BETA male infidelity and promiscuous behavior that is criticized (the movie does not take George to task for having one night stands with groupies) and not Alpha male infidelity/promiscuity, and female infidelity is never criticized.

The one red line that cannot be crossed is criticizing this behavior.

Obviously, the caste system for men, Alpha, Beta, and Omega are near and dear to the hearts of Hollywood. Most of the stars, executives, producers, writers, and directors have a complex caste system that encourages Alpha-Beta struggles, and Alphas simply taking (then throwing back) women. This is "normal" for Hollywood, which is a severely dysfunctional place. The situation is similar to a rock band, with groupies being passed around from musician to musician according to status and power within the group. This message is modified by the need to appeal to women audiences, who don't want to feel "disposable" to either Alphas or Betas. When in fact, they are. The record of women in Hollywood, as actresses, writers, and directors, is not a happy one, despite most of Hollywood being oriented directly towards the female audience, certainly in TV, and arguably for most movies outside Summer (male oriented) Blockbusters. In addition, the publicity of angering feminist groups is the one type of publicity Hollywood avoids whenever possible.

The Apex of Hollywood's caste system is powerful indeed. Most of the men there generally don't abuse their power in creating de-facto harems. Even mid-life crises like Harrison Ford confines himself to a single (much younger) actress. They know, either overtly or instinctively, the danger of doing so (creating powerful enemies intent on bringing them down through scandal). Taking a studio executive's, or producer's, or less powerful actor's wife or girlfriend is a recipe for life-time enmity and a bet that said victim will never be in a position to offer payback.

However, the lower levels are rife with such actions, and moreover the supply of women who generally, if they divorce a powerful man, won't be seeking alimony (they have their own money) is relatively slim. Thus, Kelly Preston, John Travolta's wife, was once the girlfriend of Charlie Sheen (and famously shot by him). For powerful but not Apex men such as these, swapping women around, is "normal." Not the least of which is there is generally, again, minimal investment in the women and lots of hookers and groupies on the side, as a general rule, for those who want such things. Lots of money makes many things possible.

This re-norming is of course a Hollywood construction. It might reflect the desires of some women, but it has not gotten wide acceptance in practice. But that was true for Gay Marriage, viewed as a fantasy twenty years ago. Can and will men accept this re-norming?

No. Women might adopt such a norm, particularly as women become larger parts of the workforce, due to the mancession and attempts to increase female employment at the expense of, particularly, White males (see Robert Reich), making even the provider role fairly difficult for most men to achieve. Notably, in the movie "Funny People," the Eric Bana character is a good provider and supportive father, with plenty of money, but he can't match the fame and fortune of Hollywood winner George (Sandler).

Particularly in the Obama-driven "pick the winners" government run economy, a few connected male insiders will make out with even more money than before. Becoming even more wealthy, powerful, and Alpha. Including of course, fame

This means that women, as principal breadwinners, will want to re-norm marriage to support "sharing" themselves with Alpha men. It certainly has many advantages for them, and as we will see later, falls in line with gay norms of marriage as Gay Marriage becomes a nationwide reality.

But for most men, the prospect of having to "share" their wife or girlfriend with another man, Alpha or not, is repugnant. It will simply cause men to forgo marriage, unless they are powerful and Alpha enough to be utterly secure in keeping their wife to themselves. Men in the West have historically fought to avoid sharing their women with other men, and there is no reason to think that will change. Hollywood might be successful in persuading a goodly number (it's likely that not even a majority of women would be required to re-norm and redefine marriage) of women that marriage means a house-husband, a "Kitchen Bitch" (in Loh's terms) who takes care of the kids and family, and various exciting Alphas for whom they will drop everything.

This is a deal not even Adam Sandler can sell.
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Monday, August 10, 2009

The Ugly Side of Disney's Pop Princess Machine

Recently, Disney pop princess Miley Cyrus performed at the Teen Choice Awards. Dlisted has a full range of pictures and video. Watching the video and looking at the pictures, makes one wonder about Disney's formerly sure touch in manufacturing (and discarding) tween appealing pop princesses. Has Disney hit the bottom of the well, and must resort to pandering to the worst instincts of it's tween audience figuring their parents won't be involved? Or is Disney simply unable to execute it's strategy, with any level of coherence, as key executives burn out and are replaced by lesser figures. Either way, we are likely to see both a flashpoint in general between angry, and economically stressed parents, and the ugly exploitation behind Disney's Pop Princess-Making machine.

First, Miley Cyrus at the Teen Choice Awards (yes it's a stripper pole on top of an ice cream cart):

[click Picture to enlarge]

And her nine year old sister, Noah, at the party thrown by the Teen Choice Awards:

Disney has been very good in the past at extracting lots of money from parents of "tween" (ages eight to twelve) girls by pushing a series of (highly disposable as they age) Pop Princesses. From Lindsay Lohan ("Herbie Fully Loaded," Hillary Duff ("Lizzie McGuire"), Melissa Joan Hart ("Clarissa Explains it All"), Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Vanessa Hudgens ("High School the Musical"), Demi Lovato ("Camp Rock"), and Selena Gomez, to of course Miley Cyrus, a common theme runs through the characters Disney creates. An "ordinary girl" who is of course far prettier than an ordinary teen age girl, between the ages of 13 and 16, discovers life outside her sheltered family, as a secret wizard or witch, princess, or pop star (no it doesn't make sense — it's for kids). Girls eight to twelve have reliably consumed this basic princess fantasy, since 1991 and "Clarissa Explains It All" on Nickelodeon. Variations include actual pop princesses (Spears and Aguilera on "the New Mickey Mouse Club") and ordinary-girl/pop princesses hybrids such as Miley Cyrus on "Hannah Montana."

As recent as 2007, Cyrus's concert ticket sales and album sales netted her $64 million, and #11 on Billboard's top earners, higher than Faith Hill and Bon Jovi. Tween girls love pop princesses, and Disney has excelled in giving them what they want. Disney's only concern is — tween girls don't make their own money or buying decisions, their parents do. Sadly, Disney has always had a seamy side to the pop princess machine.

First, there's the issue of disposability. Girls age out of appealing to tweens, when they get too "old" which generally happens around 16-17 or so, and no longer become fantasy figures of pre-adolescents (the way say, Superman or Captain Marvel is for young boys) but rather "near adults" that tweens find harder to identify with (presumably because of overt sexual issues and looming adulthood). Most of the Disney princesses know from past experience with other girls, their shelf-life approaches that of the average NFL career: four years. Indeed, Hillary Duff, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Vanessa Hudgens, and others all started to make their transitions out of tween roles at around age seventeen or so. Some with more success (and happiness) than others. Every girl (and her management/agents) knows that her time as a Disney pop princess is limited, and as such her transition to adult roles must be fairly rapid. Hence the built-in incentives for the pop princesses in transition to act "adult" or take on adult roles as rapidly as possible.

Second, the business itself can be seamy. Teen star Lindsay Lohan famously spun out of control. Britney Spears was famously, briefly institutionalized. Sister Jamie Lynn Spears was pregnant at 16, while starring in "Zoey 101" for Nickelodeon. Rumors (never proven) had it that the responsible party was not the named, 19 year old boyfriend, but a Disney exec. Either way, the end result is not particularly wholesome family fare. Some Disney Pop Princesses and actresses come out alright. These tend to be the smarter, more driven, and more lucky (in that they have functional families looking out for them). But far too many end up with serious problems for Disney to be entirely comfortable.

It's hard to fathom the thinking of Disney execs who while not directly controlling the Teen Choice Awards, certainly have a say in how their principal star acts, allowed negative images to be created. In the age of cell phone cameras, any negative image (and audio, as Michael Richards found out) will be publicized. There simply is not any hiding any more. Cyrus may be their biggest star, and best earner, but the danger in hard economic times is that parents will simply pull the plug on cable TV (and thus, earnings for Nickelodeon which still gets the bulk of its revenue from subscriber fees). Moreover, parents can cut back or simply eliminate Disney purchases for tweens. Which are, at their core, discretionary spending.

It's possible, that Disney execs either did not wish to alienate Cyrus's management, or deliberately encouraged or at least said nothing to discourage, Cyrus from adopting an "overly sexy" performance in an attempt to prolong her earnings power by appealing to older girls, who would as 14-16 year olds find the more solidly adolescent Cyrus a more appealing figure. This would be likely if the launch of new "replacement stars" Lovato and Gomez came up duds.

If this was the case, and it might not be, then Disney execs would be incapable of seeing the danger. The sky-high earnings and popularity of Cyrus guarantee that any possible mis-step will be reported in the press. Probably the video and particularly that of nine year old Noah Cyrus playing around with her friends on the stripper pole in a party aimed at kids and early teens are incendiary for parents. Parents, as a general rule, do not like at all sexualization of children, and negative role models for girls particularly when the words "stripper pole" are involved. Disney was lucky to sweep Jamie Lynn Spears pregnancy (whoever the father) into the memory hole, in good times when parents did not quibble over spending $100 a ticket for Miley Cyrus concerts if it made their 10 year old daughter happy.

Those good times are gone, unlikely to come back, and even if they do, spending habits are likely to be permanently changed (in favor of thrift). Chris Rock had a reputedly hilarious routine about keeping his daughter off the stripper pole. Anger at inappropriate sexualization (aimed at, after all, girls eight to twelve) coupled with discretionary spending at the minimum, means parents have much less slack they will allow companies like Disney.

Any of the explanations are disturbing: Disney seeking to extend Cyrus's run as a money-maker by appealing to older girls with a "sexy" image ala "Gossip Girl," execs fearful of alienating the star and her family/management, or execs simply clueless and unaware of the changing morality caused by hard times. Whatever the reason, Disney seems as unable to chart a course in the recession as any other media company, disturbing since allegedly Disney was one of the better run companies, with savvier executives.
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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mad Men: The Most Feminine (and Revealing) Show on Cable TV

A recent (Friday, August 7, 2009, Weekend Journal, P1) article in the Wall Street Journal contained a few odd hints about the future of cable Televsion. First, it's very girly. The AMC series "Mad Men" may be the most profoundly feminine show on cable. Second, almost no one watches the broadcasts. Third, considerably more will watch on downloads or video on demand, with profound implications as I've noted here and here.

Lets take the last point, since it's buried in the article and is not very obvious at first glance. According to the WSJ, "Mad Men" averaged just 1.5 million viewers per new episode at 10 p.m. last season, up 63% from 920,000 or so the previous season. The subject of much hype, buzz and Emmys (being the first basic cable series to win an Emmy for Best Drama and nominated for a total of 16 Emmys this year), its performance in first-run episodes was pathetic. If you were an advertiser, you were not happy with the results. You would not have gotten much bang for your buck.

However, AMC claims that more than 30 million viewers saw the show last year on downloads, video on demand, and first run plus repeat broadcasts, excluding DVD sales. The latter is expected to exceed $18 million in the first six months. With a limited, 13 episode run for Season Two, that amounts to about 19.5 million for the first-run new episode broadcasts, and about 10.5 million for all other media, including repeats and downloads, and video on demand. That still makes "Mad Men" a niche show, giving it the equivalent of 2.3 million viewers per broadcast, but shows the growth in consumption of of TV shows outside normal first-run broadcasts. Nearly 800,000 people watched the show outside the normal first-run broadcast, or about 35% of the show's total viewers per episode.

Clearly, if you are an advertiser, you want product placement as your ad, so people see it regardless, and ideally you want the entire show to feature your products or services, positively, in the way that original radio shows did back in the 1930's. At a nominal $40 per box set (Best Buy has it for $40 as of today's date, Amazon has it for $32, the list price is $50, I'll use Best Buy as the likely average retail price, you can plug in your own assumptions) that would imply purchase by an additional 400,000 consumers.

The basic economics are fascinating — consumers are increasingly looking to view hour long dramas the way the listen to music. Which is on their own terms, often on their own schedule, at their computers, on portable devices like Ipods and Phones, or on DVDs which are very convenient.

Advertisers are quite likely to respond to these changes in basic consumer behavior, and want ads embedded in the shows themselves, so that viewers see them whenever they the view the show. This also implies that free beats pay, given that advertisers want as many people as possible to see the shows. At an average production cost of say, $3 million per episode, "Mad Men" costs $39 million to produce, about half of that covered by AMC's licence fees, or around 19.5 million. The extra 18 million or so from DVD sales in the first six months (the time for highest volume of sales) brings the show to nearly break even. Which means that moving production to say, New Zealand or Canada could allow the show to make a small profit immediately. Even with niche content that is obviously, not very appealing to a wide audience. More importantly, there is no reason that advertisers, looking to cut through the clutter, and reach consumers directly, could not create "free" web-based downloads and low-cost DVDs for consumers wanting to view the content on their own time, freed from the tyranny of a broadcast or cable network schedule.

Naturally, this is a large risk for Cable networks, which derive most of their revenue not from ads, but from fees to cable and satellite operators. If advertisers move significant amounts of spending to their own, "dedicated" dramatic series, or comedies (which are cheaper to film, being only a half the running time of dramas), Cable networks would be totally dependent on fees from satellite and cable networks. An unhealthy place for any business.

At any rate, even in a niche show like "Mad Men," the changing ways in which consumers watch dramas is evident in the numbers. Nearly 35% of the total viewers saw the show in a way other than watching the first-run broadcast.

That "Mad Men" of course is one of the girliest, most feminine shows on Cable TV there is no doubt:

[Click to Enlarge]

The Mad Men writers, from left to right, are: Marti Noxon, Lisa Albert, Kater Gordon, Dahvi Waller, Robin Veith, Cathryn Humphris, Maria Jacquemetton, at Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood.

Seven of the nine writers are women. Women directed five of the 13 episodes in the Third Season. The female writers, insisted over the objections of the male writers, that female character Betty Draper have a one-night stand. The storylines include: a secretly gay art director concealing his crush on one of his colleagues, a deserter from the Army posing with a stolen identity who is the womanizing star of the show (Don Draper), his wife "trapped" by a third pregnancy, an up and coming executive who sleeps with a secretary, impregnating her, an office manager who's fiance encourages her to underachieve and rapes her on the office floor [more on this later], and an older executive planning to divorce his wife and marry a 20 year old secretary.

With all the soap opera shenangans, it's a wonder anything gets done at the fictional ad agency. As one commenter on Whiskey's Place noted, much of female-oriented fiction consists of people screwing up their lives (often through sex) and wallowing in misery. It wasn't always so, of course. Jane Austen, for one, often brought her characters to the brink, but not over the edge, of screwing up their lives but allowed feminine good sense to reign over stupidity and lust in romance and love. "Mad Men" sadly follows the "screwing up their lives" cheap trick of much of female fiction. [Women are shoddily served, for the most part, in fiction that is created for them. Much of it worse in construction and execution than the worst slasher or most cliched action movie.]

Readers will note, of course, the themes. Women are "trapped" by marriage, victimized survivors, and longing to escape the cruelty of all the men in their lives, cruelty which also attracts them.

Fans of TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" will recognize former Executive Producer Marti Noxon. Who famously conceived the story line that Buffy's "bad boyfriend" Spike the vampire would rape her, and Buffy would love him even more. A story line that series star Sarah Michelle Gellar found obnoxious and tried to kill but failed.

Noxon was noted for her 0ff-Broadway plays about who were raped by their "bad boyfriends" and then committed suicide. Laugh riots. Her plays brought her to the attention of Buffy creator Joss Whedon, who made her a staff writer and then Executive Producer on the show.

This is a pattern repeated by series creator Matthew Weiner, who hired Kater Gordon, 27, after she had baby-sat his sons and worked for series Executive Producer Scott Hornbacher.

What makes "Mad Men" watchable for it's fans is not the writing, which would not pass muster on the cheesiest soap opera, but the amazing art direction and period detail. Even though the writers clearly intend for the audience to despise the lead character Don Draper, and sympathize with the oppressed women who are in some cases graphically sexually assaulted, the limited audience ("Mad Men" remains a very niche show with a very small audience) seems to like the lead character.

Interesting too is the hyper-liberalism of Hollywood, unable to connect to a larger audience. The themes of "Mad Men" which amount to "women good, men bad" are by definition, unable to attract a wide male audience. Even with the deliberate emphasis on a overwhelmingly female writing staff (itself an oddity, women made up between 35-23% of writing staffs in the 2006-2007, and 2007-2008 seasons) the show fights to gain what little audience it has, with all the other shows giving the same soap opera treatment.

A Hollywood that works by PC quota systems, is unlikely, however good the Art Direction craft is, to be able to reach a broad audience. If advertisers do indeed wonder, "why am I paying for this when I could reach more people by doing it myself?" and start to offer free downloads and streaming video of what amounts to 45 minute serials, it is quite likely that writers will not be coming from Hollywood.

Which would be a good thing. Hollywood is itself so incestuous, particularly in writing, that their writers live in a PC, Multicultural bubble. In Hollywood's Golden Age, famous novelists like Dashiell Hammett and F Scott Fitzgerald would pick up easy money for lending their names and talents to scripts, but complain about the hackery of studio writers interested in appealing to the lowest common demoninator. Now, the problem is the reverse. Most of the writers would rather be acclaimed for hipness and "edgy" material, than write something most audiences would enjoy. As advertisers move in a long recession, with money tight all around, towards a broad audience rather than a wealthy niche one, the inability of Hollywood to write anything other than "my bad boyfriend raped me" will bite them squarely in the ass.

After all, even celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay is finding that his own restaurant empire faces recessionary pressures.
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