Friday, May 9, 2008

Don't Forget To Buy Your Dad A Really Nice Tie

"Momma's gonna make all of your nightmares come true.
Momma's gonna put all of her fears into you.
Momma's gonna keep you right here under her wing.
She won't let you fly, but she might let you sing."
-- Lyrics from Pink Floyd's "The Wall", taken from TIME Magazine's collection of the 10 Best & Worst Mothers in pop culture.

Of course, I'm going to focus on some of the bad girls because, well, they're bad! And do you seriously want a discussion about Dumbo's mother, and - I shit you not - "Gaia"? (TIME is just waaay too insanely NewAge,...)

Also, these characters speak to the motivations of many women throughout time: their need to control, to seek revenge, to break the rules - and kill. Unfair? Maybe. But in a time when emulating bad men seems to have been redefined as a goal for the "weaker sex" (and it's almost taken as a given that it's a woman's birthright to do so) it's at least something we should take note of:

TIME claims it's "not great" that Mrs. Robinson was married when she seduced Benjamin Braddock in "The Graduate" - not wrong, mind you, just not great. "The gracious thing to do would have been to step aside" when "Benjamin falls in love with Mrs. Robinson's daughter Elaine," intones the magazine, but, as we know, "the knives really come out" instead.

Cheating on your husband, deceiving your friends - and sleeping with their kids - only to attack them when they fall in love with someone their own age. All very - what's that word again? Oh, yes - "sophisticated".

That's the word used by the Mrs. Robinson Society, "a movable social club and think tank for sophisticated, vibrant, fully evolved ladies of a certain ilk". And what "ilk" is that, I wonder? Liars? Home-wreckers? Destroyers of the family? Child molesters? They don't say. There are two rabbits featured on their home page, though, so it must have something to do with "good breeding",...

TIME seems to have returned to it's senses when it comes to Hamlet's Queen Gertrude, so I'll let it's text stand on it's own:
" She's a complicated lady. Yes, she married her dead husband's brother, and yes, her new husband murdered her old one. But it's never quite clear how much of the crime she's in on: she never owns up to it, and she has more empathy for her tortured son than anybody else in the play. While everybody's trying to figure out what's bothering Hamlet, she's the only one willing to state the obvious: 'His father's death and our o'erhasty marriage.' Well, yes.

So what's she doing on this list? The special horror of Gertrude lies in the fact that she truly feels tender, maternal love for Hamlet — yet she betrays him anyway. One minute she's all compassion, the next she doth protest too much. And she's an incorrigible flirt, the original Elizabethan MILF: no wonder Hamlet could never settle down with that nice Ophelia, when his mom won't free him from her Oedipal apron-strings. 'What have I done,' she asks her sulky son, 'that thou darest wag thy tongue/In noise so rude against me?' Think for a minute, Gertrude. You'll get there."
The "special horror" link, above, leads to a page about "the most beautiful and at the same time the most nervous person" Warren Beatty had claimed to have ever "known", Julie Christie, who played Gertrude ("Such a weird part."). It ends with this perceptive bit of Christie's political foreknowledge:
"An inveterate lefty, she plans to leave Britain for somewhere like-minded, France or Spain. 'I won't see my own history being dismantled in front of my own eyes.'"
Smart lady. After making her name playing a self-destructive fashion model ("Darling"), a 1960s "free spirit" ("Petulia"), a tough, unflappable madam ("McCabe and Mrs. Miller") and, finally, a woman with Alzheimer disease who forgets about her husband and falls in love with another man ("Away From Her") I'd suggest France as the proper destination for her particular politics, outlook, and talents.

Like Gloria Steinem, after telling other women, since the 60's, there was something hideously wrong with the institution, Christie married "discreetly" in 2007.

Ah, Livia Soprano, who can forget her? Master manipulator of everyone she encountered, ultimately trying to have her own son killed by his uncle. (And the fact she also kind of looks like my ex -wife is fitting.) What a gift to mankind.

" Oh, she doesn't have it easy. Since his retirement, Enid's husband Alfred just sits in his chair all day doing nothing. Just sits there! Her daughter Denise is divorced. One son, Gary, won't stop criticizing, and the other, Chip, has gotten fired from his job. It's only natural that Enid should nag Alfred constantly, even though he's seriously ill, and that she should tell all her friends that Chip is "doing law," even though he's doing temp work for a law firm, and that she should hound Gary into a state of neurotic depression, even though he's worked all his life to please her, and that she should be convinced that her daughter is having an affair with a married man, even though she has no real evidence to support such a conclusion.

Enid wasn't born a monster. She was born a loving, sensitive, intelligent woman, but life disappointed her so incessantly and irreversibly that she can no longer appreciate those things she still has, and she makes sure everybody around her knows it. Unlike the other mothers on this list, she isn't an outsized creation; she's chillingly life-sized and utterly plausible. Which makes her that much scarier."
-- Lev Grossman, for TIME Magazine, on the mother in Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections", a book I own but haven't found time to read. I will now.

In another TIME article on the author, Richard Lacayo adds:
"The social disorders of the 21st century are expressed mostly through the personal distempers of the three siblings and their flight to the false consolations of sex, careerism and consumerism. 'They all lose something in leaving behind their parents' values,' says Franzen."
I can't wait for the movie.

It's weird when TIME's writers (in this case, Lev Grossman again) agree with me while trying to be cute. Check out this description of Carrie White's crazy mom:
" Granted, Carrie White probably shouldn't have telekinetically murdered her high school classmates at the prom. But her home life almost justifies it. Mrs. White — played in the movie by Piper Laurie — is a religious maniac who believes that Carrie is getting her period because she is sinful, and that the proper remedy, rather than a tampon and an awkward conversation, is to lock her in a closet and make her pray. Also, she refers to her daughter's budding breasts as "dirty pillows," which is just bizarre.



Laurie reportedly thought her character was so over-the-top that the movie she was acting in must be a comedy. Which of course didn't turn out to be the case, but you can see where she was coming from: Margaret White's religious mania is beyond caricature — "Eve was weak! Say it, woman!" Though in her defense, it's worth pointing out that on some basic level Carrie's mom was right: Carrie was a witch, and it probably would've been better if she hadn't gone to the prom. If she'd only been a little quicker with that kitchen knife, so much unpleasantness could have been avoided. Kids: what they really want is discipline."
Why aren't I laughing?

"Unlike many of the mothers on this list, Joan Crawford was, sadly, a real person: brilliant Oscar-winning actress, amazingly lousy mom. The movie 'Mommie Dearest' was based on a a memoir by Crawford's adopted daughter Christina the recounting the many traumas her vain, demanding, perfectionist mother visited on her as she wrestled with the (not unrelated) problems of her alcoholism, her flagging career and her hopeless love life. Matters come to a head in the unforgettable sequence where Joan goes berserk after discovering that Christina has hung her dresses on wire coat hangers. ('You live in the most beautiful house in Brentwood, and you don't care if your clothes are stretched out from wire hangers!' Well, she did have a point.)"



"Though the memoir was a huge bestseller — it was published after the mom in question's death — the movie was a critical disaster, and it's often said that Faye Dunaway, who played Joan Crawford, never quite recovered from the role. But 'Mommie Dearest' (as Joan instructed Christina to call her, and 'mean it!') quickly flipped into a camp classic — audiences actually showed up with wire hangers and cleaning supplies, ready to participate in the fun, a la 'Rocky Horror'. A bad mommy, even unto death, Crawford left her daughter precisely nothing in her will."
Yowsa! All TIME's wink-wink irony just falls away when the real world is unavoidable - which is (surprise, surprise) just like dealing with women!

See? It all holds together in the end. Kinda.

Yea, I'm outta here.