It is no secret that some men, perhaps many, are stimulated by images of women stimulating themselves or pretending to do so. The visual metaphor – the euphemism, the double entendre for this is women fondling their faces. Sometimes I wake up around 6:30 or seven on a Saturday morning, having forgotten that yesterday was Friday. I turn on the TV, expecting to catch up on ABC News Breakfast with yet another presage of Armageddon left hanging in the aether the night before. Instead I get the dregs of Rage, and boy, are the ladies going at it, facewise! Sometimes they provocatively frame their faces with ornate hands. Sometimes they pat their faces as if applying face powder as in days of yore (I think Bjork started this), while inclining to one side and drifting into a blissful narcissistic dream. I have to make a peculiar confession. I can only take so much make-up before I feel nauseous. There is a scene that recurs in many films, wherein a line of women stand at the mirror applying lipstick. Yuck! When they… aaargh… don’t do it, don’t do it!… swallow their lips I feel physically sick. Even the abbreviation lippie makes me gag. It’s true that I have never met anyone else who feels this way. Anthropologists could be interested. I myself would like to understand the symbolism (why is the scene used so often?) but I cannot watch it.
The hands framing the face ploy can also have some presumably unintended effects.
There was one recently on the cover of Spectrum, above this banner: The Making Of A Pop Princess. The royal pretender is leaning slightly back and slightly to one side diagonally, in queenly fashion, while one hand arches over the top of her head from behind, the fingertips possibly touching the hairline. The other hand, forward of the noggin, is cupped upward from below. The fingertips just about touch the chin. She looks as if she is unscrewing her head from her neck, preparatory to handing it to you on a plate.
Well, I’ll say this, man: sexual roles are reversed here. Sorry about the ‘man’ business, but one of the guest Rage presenters kept talking like a jazz hipster from my childhood in the 1940s. What I mean is that Salome is rewarding my great, great, great… etc… grandfather John The Baptist, for sitting patiently through her tired old dance of the seven veils, with the gift of her own head. This head remains in the family, currently in a vault below the Commonwealth Bank in Martin Place.
The ABC presenter whom a whimpering, chortling Bob Katter addressed rather unpleasantly as Missy – while correcting her regarding the old Queensland gerrymander – once asked her co-presenter (who might indeed be justified in calling her Miss Bossy Boots) whether he thought rock clips were an art form. A friend lying in bed with me at the time redirected the question to me. ‘Sure,’ I said, ‘but art can certainly be irritating’. She agreed.
For instance? Well, I take exception to the rock clip convention in which oldies appear in the background looking angry or mystified as the band really gets it on down the main street to ecstatic dancing by youths, including women showing us their elbows (?), tipping back their heads and lifting their arms up to the Almighty as if they were on Hillsong. The oldies are there to establish the band’s rock cred. Here is another irritation: the recurring intense young man singing with his guitar while a sexy but troubled girl (with attitude) prowls the perimeters of the video. Thinking of him of course. Well, sometimes she is thinking, ‘I am so sexy I’m like a hunted animal.’ Hmm. I am almost 74. I don’t know anyone who is shocked by rock music. All of us have heard it since the mid 1950s. Elvis was a young man and famous worldwide in my teens. I was sick of the word ‘cool’, used in exactly the same way as it is today, by the end of the 1950s. There was even a song round that time called Oliver Cool (he’s the swingin’est boy in school) and another which began, ‘Walked in the classroom cool and slow – who called the English teacher Daddyo?’ I was not, like, shocked by punk. Yes, some of us used ‘like’ in, like, exactly that way. Just not so often. My aunt Joan, who jitterbugged and jived in the swing era, died recently at 90, having just given me a CD of Johnny O’Keefe’s hits which she’d had for many years. She knew him and his family and claimed we were related (but her dementia was well advanced by then) What is certain was that the O’Keefe rock and roll band rehearsed between trading hours in her husband Charles Valentine’s restaurant. Or Carlo Valentino if you prefer. Jitterbugging? Jiving? Amusing, uh? But the dancing in early rock and roll movies – eg Rock Around The Clock – was a mixture of swing era jiving and square dancing (spinning your partner round etc). Weirdly enough there was a square dance craze just before rock and roll. I watched them through the window of the Police Boys Club, which they’d hired for the night. They wore blue jeans with big turn-ups and check shirts. I think the women wore short skirts, much like the early rock and rollers. When big bands played in certain venues the jivers were segregated by rope from the ballroom dancers, due to the danger presented to the latter by the flying feet and wild aerobatics of the latter. That was when Joan was young, but you would have to raid the age care places to find anyone now who has not heard rock through most of their life. Marketing genius has sold us the same rebellion a thousand times.
This is not an attack on the music, of which I have a fair collection, but of the bull surrounding it. Back to Rage. Here is the platoon of women standing, squatting spreading their thighs and closing them, flipping them open and shut like the bi-valve shells in Walt Disney’s version of Alice In Wonderland (or maybe it was Pinocchio). Stimulating? Hmm. To a degree. But also gross. I have to admit that for a joke (maybe) I once went with a girlfriend to a porn movie theatre in Kings Cross, where I was living at the time. We brought with us a bag of sticky cakes from the shop down the street. And yes, some of it was surprisingly stimulating and sometimes very funny. For instance a group of men and women did practically everything in every combination, but the climactic moment came when the camera switched to a handsome, glossy dog trotting down the path, seemingly toward the action. ‘I knew they’d left something out,’ I said and those who heard me burst out laughing, and then everyone joined in. Okay, it was almost wholesome, but once was enough. It’s hard not to feel that we are subjected these days to wretched excess.
Not only of sex, but of projected personality. In those panel shows that don’t need a laugh track because they all laugh at their own jokes, no one dares not laugh, because the camera might catch them looking dour while all those around them are flashing lots of teeth. Personality even invades the ABC’s science show. I enjoy this until…’Oh no, it’s Yonicka Nubile!’ What else is on? Sometimes I wish they would all leave their personalities at home.
Now this is not widely known because I have not been in the habit of boasting about it, but for the past eight years I have been voted most boring man in Glebe and Annandale. And I’m proud of it. There’s something to be said for predictability. It works for art. It’s unique. Send me the leather medal. Have you noticed that Miss Bossy Boots laughs like Tony Abbot? That is, like an idling motor boat.
P.S. Another View
That this is the Renaissance again. Certain technological advances have allowed the human face and all its powerful expressions and subtle nuances – along with the human body, in all its actions and configurations – to be projected into our consciousness with vivid immediacy. In the Renaissance it was the development of linear perspective (sometimes in fact called Renaissance perspective) that gave painters the facility to send glances, glares, smiles and half smiles – along with gesturing hands and posturing or dynamically moving limbs – into the space between viewer and painting with vibrancy and hypnotic detail. This detail was inspired of course by what we might call a burgeoning scientific awareness of the world. A realism that was often, paradoxically, experienced as magical. The realism of Jean Fouquet for instance, – e.g. his portrait of French Treasurer Etienne Chevalier – is startling today, specially in enlarged details. Of course we can now project the human face and body to the size of a prehistoric monster – bigger: we can cover the side of a huge building with the fetishised forms of Man and Woman.
But that is not all. Because more than half – much more actually – of Renaissance painting was concerned with religion, you can flick through page after page of reproductions in which expressions are contained within the gamut of doleful and pious. Oh, there’s the occasional confronting image of Christ’s agony, with Mary’s lamentation also prominent. Yes, there are great and horrific battles, and a portrait or a depiction of charging horses – with pikestaffs reaching out towards our gizzards – can be unnerving at little more than life size, but many of the faces have their mouths shut and many of the bodies are fixed in postures rather than in dynamic action. Hieronymus Bosh and Bruegel The Elder were exceptions. Both also portrayed sex, or at least kisses and foreplay, and in some of Bruegel’s paintings peasant men danced with erections. Maybe rock and roll began right there. The sad fact, however, is that many of the humans look to me to be trapped in an invisible web of religious torpor. It is the architecture and landscapes that more often inspire me. A favourite of mine is Albrecht Altdorfer. Also Leonardo. Even as a child the blue misted distance, the sharp peaks and crags, the running river, attracted me more than the Mona Lisa herself.
Now, my complaints about sex-drenched videos are somewhat trumped up. The religious stupor of icons and Renaissance holy works has been replaced by that other source of deep communion. Sex. In olden days the subject of paintings was often a given: God is great. The artist could then concentrate on craft and interpretation. The given subject of the popular song is: I loves you baby. the songwriter can concentrate on its expression. Recently I saw a video in which I recognized one of the women. Some time ago we met again after not seeing each other for a couple of years. We talked and laughed and then went in opposite directions. I heard her call, as an urgent afterthought, ‘You look fantastic!’ And I was too self-conscious to go back and tell her that so did she. I have seen the video quite often now. She is the one who… Never mind. They’ll stop playing it soon.