July 2007

Despite the fact that I fell asleep last night watching Disc Three of Season One, my devotion to the show remains unchanged from when, at age eight, I would watch “the shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist.”  The more I watch this show, the more I realize how much I detest all TV since the nineties: the Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars, and even that superman show with the major eye candy in the form of Tom Welling. And no, Hoff worship doesn’t enter into it (although I will admit to finding the video for “Hooked on  Feeling,” Hoff-style, the apex of hilarious kitsch). Here’s why:

1. There are good guys and bad guys. The good guys always win.

2. Sartorially speaking, it’s the achèvement of the seventies in almost Baroque excess: tight pants, long jackets, tasteful ‘fros for the men, pleats, blue eyeshadow, and hairspray (or, gasp!, mousse) for the women.

3. The dysfunctional marriage between KITT and Michael Knight contains some of the most erotically charged moments on TV. Ever.

4. The theme song. There’s a reason it’s been sampled by every hip-hop artist known to the Western world.

5. Unlike dystopian imaginings of the malevolent machine, this one has the hubris to assume that the machine will be endlessly loyal to its human master.

6. Michael enjoys singing along to old-school Country/Western while he cruises the backroads.

7. The inevitable British-accented Henchman of Righteousness (see Magnum, P.I.), played as ironically impotent figurehead by Irishman Edward Mulhare (and those eyebrows! They put a televangelist to shame!).

8. Lots of fast driving, instrument panel shots, and stunt work.

9. Dimwit villains generally act out the struggle of “man vs. machine” at least once per episode, frequently with sledgehammers. They lose, because KITT is frickin’ invincible!

10. No autopsies, no criminal justice system, no law or order. Did I mention that these people are operating “above the law” ?

Alrighty then. Carry on with your day.

I’ve been meaning to write an inspired diatribe about why I hate Baby Boomers (not personally, you understand; it’s just that the ethos, rhetoric, and overdeveloped sense of entitlement typical of Baby Boomers sticks in my craw, although it must be noted that I’ve met a few shining examples of awesomeness in the post-war generation, notably some teachers who saved the fragile barque of my emotions in high school from going down in flames like a Cambodian monk — you know who you are), but I’m going to have to put that on hold in favor of examining today’s early forties singleton, as Miss Jones would have it. Yeah, I know: forty is the new thirty, and thirty is the new twenty, and so on in an orgiastic free-for-all of perpetual juvenalia. But even if that’s true, thirty used to be the time by which people were well and truly grown up, with families, kids, pension plans, and offices to go to or charitable pursuits to indulge in our mechanic shops to run. It’s not just the product middle-class values: across American culture, thirty has long been the gatepost of maturity. Why else were we supposed to “never trust anyone over [it]”?

So anyway, we all know that one of the keys to remaining relatively sane and functional is to have a peer group; as long as there’s support and/or reinforcement for your particular idiosyncracies, you’re less likely to become a serial killer/mass shooter/snuff porn addict as an outlet for your frustrations. And that old American standby, the nuclear family and, even more so, the idea of being coupled, still exists. Pick up any women’s magazine and you’ll see a strong undertone hinting that being coupled is the destination, if no longer the journey, and offering multiple tips on how to perpetuate dysfunctional and irritating couple behavior patterns rather than – gasp! – fly solo. This is not the product of cowardice on the part of editors, but of pragmatism: they know that to be what used to be called a “confirmed bachelor” is another word for “social leper,” and perhaps even “sociopath.”

As long as we’re dealing in stereotypes, let’s focus on the bachelor. Why? Because the confirmed spinster is usually surrounded by cats and cronies — knitting circles are back in vogue, women’s business and social organizations are thriving; she knows to create some kind of social network to keep on this side of the line between eccentric and lunatic. Men, by and large; don’t; for one thing, their social networks tend to dissolve as they leave their twenties (college sports teams, clubs, etc.), and for another, they haven’t been socialized to form close one-on-one friendships (which is probably part of the massive homophobia, especially focused on men, that still pervades our society – men having “best friends” is waaaaay too Brokeback, whereas women can shack up with theirs and nobody bats an eyelash). Grosso modo, you could say that the problem of being a man in American society is the fear of uncontained male sexuality; men have to be safely ensconced in draining jobs and close-knit families so that we don’t fear they’ll unleash their baser urges inappropriately. If you don’t believe me, try getting a fortysomething single man to volunteer working with kids. Compare the screening process and attitudes to those encountered by a fortysomething single woman. She’s an altruist, but he just might be a pervert.

The problem with all of these entrenched prejudices is that they’re a self-fulfilling prophecy. In short, bachelors in their forties aren’t just seen as freaks; they probably are. Why? Because any straight man who’s socially ept enough to escape the trap recognizes that he needs the cred of a family or at least a girlfriend — he needs to be working toward the dream. (And gay men are allowed to have peer groups; that’s why it’s called “the gay community.”) And the result is that the ones who aren’t — the men who are socially challenged or shy or ugly or just plain unlucky — end up spiraling farther and farther down a rabbit hole of isolation. I’m not sure how sorry to feel for these guys; it’s a crap hand they’re dealt, but on the other hand, it hardly balances the vast array of social, professional, and economic advantages men get just for being men. And maybe that’s why those examples of men who don’t quite make it, who don’t have connections or families or mortgages or at least all-consuming careers, by their forties stand out so egregiously, examples of everything that’s wrong with American manhood, angry and baffled and resentful and inarticulate and unstable and isolated, walking among us down sidewalks, sending out signals of “social retard” you can read a mile away.

So if you, like many of my friends, are in your early thirties and female, I have two pieces of advice: 1) don’t date older, and 2) when they say “all the good ones are already taken,” they’re right. And if you or someone you love is a thirtysomething male without an established career or a bunch of family/romantic entanglements, sit down, look in the mirror, and ask yourself, “In five or ten years, am I going to be a freak and social pariah?” It’s a hard question, but the answer is probably worth hearing. Because the truth is that if you listen to those currents in society that tell you you don’t have to decide yet, you have plenty of time, you can wait to make that decision, it’s okay to have not picked a direction, etc. etc., you’ll be that fortyish guy watching all your friends deal with the lives they’ve made and wondering when yours is going to start or, worse, sitting in an apartment you’ve rented wondering why the only chicks you meet are psycho. Et tu, Brute?

My husband has a framed “glamour shot” of Natalie Wood on his desk. My appreciation for the Slavic sultry aside, I object, primarily because it makes his desk, and the surrounding room, entirely too much like the walls of my sixth grade best friend’s private sanctum: papered head to toe with steamy images of the likes of Jon-Erik Hexum and Chad Lowe torn from Teen Beat magazine, they hinted at not only a nascent, puerile, as-yet-unexpressed sexuality, a willingness to embrace commodification of the image and objectification of the sexualized other (this, to me as a prepubescent anyway, was one of the scariest aspects; the idea of the personhood of the icon being obliterated in favor of the airbrushed and depersonalized image; it’s but one step away from the steamy images of nameless vaginas and the women who bore them — torn from Penthouse, Oui, and Hustler, — that adorned the ceiling of said best friend’s teenage brother) but evinced a total lack of any interest beyond the banal, the obvious, and the hopelessly déclassé. The appeal is similar to that of Us magazine, which makes me cringe not only for its lack of imagination but for its total dismissal of the idea that the human animal is capable of anything better — or other — than rubbernecking at other examples of its traffic wrecks (Natalie Wood certainly qualifies there).

Of course, my husband also reads Us magazine. He should be a better person.