The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rest Well, Dillon

Susan Boyle, the unemployed Scot "American Idol" singer is all over the news. I think that the contrast between her visual presentation and her very serious skills...her "never been kissed" claim and the very real sexiness of watching a human being operate at rarified levels of skill...has really kinda captured the country. I think it's terrific. She still has hopes to find love, and I pray she does. Yes, there is an element of judgementalism about her appearance, but since when have human beings not been judgemental? Women more for their looks, men more for their money. Want different results, change the game you're playing: stop expecting the world to change. The television show "Lie To Me" recently had a great bit where a billionaire wants to ask his girlfriend to marry him, and discovers she knew he was rich when she met him (she lied about it), but that she really, genuinely loves him. The advice? Marry her with a prenup. After all, they said, he was attracted to her for her beauty. What's the problem? None, except that we don't tend to be honest about it.


I don't expect everybody to buy the theory of human attraction above, but I encourage people to have their own, based on universal human principles rather than trying to blame half the human race for the problems of the whole--a form of covert sexism, in my mind, suggesting that women are ineffectual and helpless. Is it more unfair of women to be judged by their beauty than men by their power? Once would have to, in my mind, quantify these things, and determine whether it is more difficult for a woman to hit level X of beauty than it is level Y of power. My position is that it takes (in comparison to the actual amount of free time people have) a relatively small amount of time to learn to present our beauty and power to the world. Boyle's voice, for instance, implies a fantastic number of hours of practice. Take 10% of that and put it into learning how to care for her body, hair, and makeup, and you have a different person. If she isn't willing to do that, then her natural partner is a man who has the same lack of care for his finances...or MAYBE a guy with the same lack of care for his appearance, who is at approximately her level of material success. Maybe. I wouldn't bet that way, but I see it sometimes.


Sexism in the film industry? Sure. But the mistake would be forgetting how women choose men for intelligence and power. It is certainly easier for a woman to lose weight than it is for a man to gain I.Q. points, but

that doesn't seem to matter to people, does it?


Porn. You know, my take on porn is that a disproportionate number of the women involved had been abused, and that they chose a life option that makes the most of a bad situation. One of the porn stars I know seems to be in a happy marriage. I sure hope so. The other's heart was completely broken when the star she was dating dumped her because he was told she was hurting his career. In both cases, I have to grant that they may have been following their own star. In a country, or culture, where being a temple prostitute increases your desirability as a mate, I think that such behavior is neutral or positive. But if it diminishes your chance of finding someone to genuinely love and cherish you...I have to come down on the side of "nope." In a perfect world, sexuality would be separate from value judgements, and capable of being judged clearly and without a gigantic emotional load. But both men and women exaggerate or downplay its importance in relationships or society. Because of the need to control the natural outcome of sexual intercourse (pregnancy), we have rules that govern the behavior of both men and women in relation to it, and a gigantic amount of guilt and shame associated with it. Andrew Vachss believes that child abuse is the Rosetta Stone of crime. That assertion looks pretty accurate to me. I think it is also the Rosetta Stone of the sex industry. I'd bet anything that a hugely disproportunate percentage of hookers and porn stars were either abused, or began their sexual experimentation at a very early age.

In a "perfect" world, would such experimentation cause problems? Probably not. But children (and that includes early teens) tend to think they are far more mature than they actually are. And sex is rocket fuel, no doubt about it. Despite Christian's assertions, I see no problem with actors and actresses portraying sexual beings onscreen. The nature of the scene and the emotional content matters a lot, however...but not necessarily more than with other types of scenes. Actors and actresses in R rated films who concentrate on sexual performances probably don't end up any more banged up by life than those who concentrate on, say, stunt work. Emotionally they probably have more problem in relationships, though. I'd have no problem with Nicki appearing in most PG-13 or R-rated scenes. But "most" doesn't mean "all" by any means. But then, I'd feel uncomfortable about her being in some of the "Saw" movies too.

For years I've wondered about the filming of love scenes, and have spoken with dozens of actors about them. Most of these people went on to have successful marriages, raise families, seemed healthier than the average person. And most of them giggled that love scenes were one of the best things about their job--the ability to get paid a ton of money to make out with someone beautiful.

And maybe that's all it is for the Porn stars, too. I accept the very real possibility that that's true, even as I have an instinct that tells me it isn't, quite. That little twitch tells me that for many of them, perhaps most, it is a matter of making the best of a bad hand.


I got bad news today. My little eight year old cousin Dillon, who has had cancer, was going to his last chemotherapy session...and died of heart failure. We'd all been pulling so hard for him. My last memory was him over at the house for Thanksgiving, and playing with Jason. Little bald kid who had a hard time getting into the family games, but finally was just all smiles. Life is so damned short. I think that's why I try so hard to encourage people to find love, health, success. And am so impatient with what seems to me like excuses. I listen to the excuses, and nod my head...and another friend ends up sleeping on the street. Or divorced. Or their health collapses. Life isn't a dress rehearsal, people. There's nothing realer than the fact we have finite days to dance our dance.

Please--dance ecstatically, with the partner of your dreams, even if it is only your own precious heart.

Rest well, Dillon.


Anonymous said...

Another great observation Steve. I am curious and more than a little fustrated though in how hard it is to get most people to see some of these things. Everyone likes to appear as though they are superior to basic needs. I am sure I miss a lot but wow society as whole is scary.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I know a guy who said he cared a great deal about women's voices and not about their appearances, so that's another possibility.

Overall unfairness between men and women? Damfino.

I do think it's outrageous that apparently no one noticed that she has a spectacular voice.

Ethereal Highway said...

My husband and I must be a couple of oddballs. Things are a little backward from the 'norm' for us. He was broke when I met him, but he was (and is - even with a few extra pounds now) TOTALLY HOT (not to mention very kind). While his attraction was also physical and sexual, he admired my business skills and made no secret of it. I think that made me respect him even more. Though I had skills, I was only beginning to use them and didn't have much, so I know he didn't want me for my nonexistent fortune. Together we have built something out of nothing. We use my skills and knowledge, and his outgoing personality and good people skills. My present people skills would probably kill sales. But I'm still HOT. And when other things go wrong, at least our marriage, children and business are doing well.

Physical looks aside, I think there is something very special about nearly EVERYONE that can make them hot. I think that fabulous lady is hot. She totally is. She's got it goin' on. Some lucky man will snap her up if he's got what it takes. She has something special even aside from her incredible and talented voice. She's got real spirit and she's not afraid to use it. I think that's *very* hot. And sadly, it seems kind of rare.

-- Lynn (formerly of Spilling Ink in Public)

Christian M. Howell said...

Well, there was a time when the "fat woman" was the person expected to be able to sing. Jennifer Hudson - yes she looks MUCH better than Susan Boyle but was rather plump when she debuted.

But then most people are plain or less so it should be expected that more people in the larger groups (read: not the beautiful people) will have as much talent as the Beyonces.

I would say that cultural instincts (media pronouncements through childhood) steer women towards certain types. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the ghetto where power is how far displaced you are from "white society." But it could also be a point of they're all there is.
White women are drawn to covet position and black women to possessions. Two different kinds of bling. Same basic effect. Most become jaded and cynical - even in "healthy relationships."

I, though, could never understand why men "think" a woman looks make fruitful, productive children.
Makeup doesn't work in the nursery and healthy thinking is not instinctive.

Get it together.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

It looks as though putting everything into her singing is likely to work out well romantically for Sarah Boyle. It might have been like putting everything on the double zeros, but I don't know how good her opportunities were otherwise.

As for fairness between men and women, I suspect you're thinking about 20 to 30 year olds. If you compute across the whole lifetime and count all adult years equally, I think women have the worse deal.

I'm a little surprised you don't list a notable unfairness for men-- women's preference for tall men.

Something I haven't seen mentioned about Sarah Boyle: she stands remarkably well-- very vertical, but extremely relaxed.

Pagan Topologist said...

I just noticed that on Susan Boyle's facebook fan page there are several people who are making really rude, offensive comments on the wall. I do not get it. Is it really a threat to some people's ego if a woman who does not fit the current beauty standard is competent beyond what they could imagine? Or, is it something else?

ConfusedAAGirl said...


Your comment on love scenes made me start thinking. The trailer for the new Star Trek appears to show what looks like Uhura falling onto a bed with the Kirk character. I'm slightly uncomfortable with the black girl/white guy pairing. It just rings a little too much of the old promiscuous african girl stereotype of minstrel shows and even the plantation days. Could not they have made her a sexually independent character and paired her with another black character? Or just another minority like Sulu? I know I'm overreacting, but the shadows of sexual power imbalances of the past, and the emotions scense like this evoke, make me wonder if it was entirely w/o thought when they did this. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Addison Kerr said...

"MmmfmfmamafFMMmmmm." I was drooling, I'm not sure if it was the drugs or that secretary dancing around taking instant x-rays of herself, fluttering to the floor like leaves, maybe both. Kyle was laughing, Korenby was pleading.

"Get me out of here. Please. I just want to work with my hands again. I just-

Crackling sounds, the sound of a ball-bearing getting loose from a high-speed hard drive and flying around the computer like pinball. Fans whirring out of control.


suzanne said...

Susan Boyle
also suffered
minor brain damage at birth
even more power to her!

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I'm very sorry to hear about Dillon.

Pagan Topologist said...

I have never experienced the death of a child that I was at all close to. I cannot imagine what it must be like. I offer my condolences.