Day 242 2/22/14: JAWS: Countdown to Ecstasy!

-1I am way too busy/excited/distracted to blog today. Why so busy? So animated? Why, there are only a few mere HOURS to go before the hilarious and astounding JAWS benefit reading: An Evening of Relentless Terror and Really Awkward Sex! 

Recoil as the shark reduces Chrissie Watkins to a mass of bone and jelly!

Thrill as married Ellen Brody reveals her torrid sexual fantasies to a cocky marine biologist!

Marvel at Martin Brody’s immense bladder!

Gasp as Quint makes fun of the shark’s genitals!

All for a mere $10!

Day 241 2/21/14: Beyond JAWS: Peter Benchley & Conservation

Horrified by the fearful, reactionary effects of the JAWS legacy, Peter Benchley devoted much of his life to undoing the myths about sharks.

Day 240 2/20/14: Relentless Terror & Really Awkward Sex

An Evening of Relentless Terror & Really Awkward Sex: A Benefit Reading of JAWS is a mere two days away….

Come Los Angeles!  Eat shark-themed cupcakes and buy one-of-a-kind shark memorabilia!

Thrill to a live reading of Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel!

THIS Saturday Feb. 22, 7:30 pm

Twinkle Toes Dance Studio

5917 North Figueroa Street Los Angeles 90042

Admission is $10

ALL proceeds go to shark conservation

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Day 232 2/12/14: “JAWS” & Feminism Part 2

Virginia-Slims-Wonder-WomanWe left off yesterday lamenting the elusive female orgasm and speculating about Ellen Brody’s signature scent.

Predictably, many ads in the October 1974 issue of Cosmo focus on personal hygiene and its not-so-subtle campaign to engender women with self loathing. The Mark Eden Developer promises “A Perfect Bosom for the Girls of Summer.” My nostalgia for the word “bosom,” almost lulled me into forgetting how gross this is. Dig the breezy copy: “The Summer Bosom is high and full and firm and proud…and looks enchanting in the bright, brief clothes of Summer.” I don’t think “Summer Bosom” is a copyrighted term, but  the capitalization sure adds dignity and presence. The ellipses encourage the reader to reflect on just what it means to be “high and full and firm and proud,” while I confess that “bright, brief” evokes more than just skimpy clothes to me. It is the fleeting season of Summer itself. I am almost half tempted to clip this Mark Eden coupon out of the page and send my $9.95 & 50 cents for postage and handling to San Francisco and wait for my discreet plain wrapped package (not a cream, or artificial stimulator, but an “exclusive exerciser” that has delighted millions. One more ad before I go on to the serious discussion which a title like “JAWS” & Feminism demands.

Like signs for Burma Shave or Wall Drug that greet the traveler along the American highway, the reader navigating the landscape of Cosmo finds little ads at the end of articles asking questions like: “Do men ignore your legs because you ignore your feet?” Then a smaller, insistent sentence: “Every girl should have pretty feet.” Finally on page 261, we get to the ad which features a woman’s legs from the lower thigh down. Her knees are coyly touching, one foot is raised. The ankle is held by the hand of a nude man who reclines on the ground in a quiet, smiling “HI THERE” pose. “Pretty Feet. Because a girl should snare a man, not snag him.” Haunted by Ellen’s obsessive shaving, showering, powdering and perfuming, I read: “A girl should be soft. All soft. Not just her eyes. Or her lips. Her toe tips, too. Yes, every girl should have soft pretty feet.” I recalled the boyfriends I’ve snagged with dragon claws. The fleeting shame. The laughter. The promise to clip. The end.  How differently things play out in the advertising universe when the tiniest flaw could result in some sort of…what? Banishment from womanhood itself?

But Cosmo, is of course a big contradiction. Right next to the ubiquitous cigarette as emancipation Virginia Slims ad, is an article by feminist novelist and critic Elizabeth Janeway that boldly declares: “Not womankind but the weak among men and women alike–the subordinate, the submissive, the symbolically raped  are THE REAL SECOND SEX.”

As my students so often, so lamentably write, “This really caught my attention,” because of a section in “Jaws” that is just eye-rollingly absurd or downright offensive depending on your point of view. Will a 2014 audience understand the insane ridiculousness of Ellen declaring that her only sexual fantasy is “The usual. You know, rape,” and that her “date” Matt Hooper can barely stop drooling as he asks, “Is it a black man?” I tend to read a long entertaining disclaimer at the beginning of the reading just in case.

Maybe I should just read this article instead.

I like Janeway’s honest analysis of the psychological threat of and “visceral reaction” to the Woman’s Movement. Janeway explains that dividing the power structure of the world by sex binds men both the powerful and influential and the weak together by virtue of their anatomy. But if women are suddenly to be seen as equal to men, it sends a message to men that they can expect to be treated like women—as objects and others, not doers, but those to whom something is done:

“Closing the male/female split means a drastic rearrangement of the barriers between the weak and the powerful…the weak become the second sex–subordinate, submissive, subject to rape. (Though in our society the fear of rape by men of menus not often acknowledged, it exists, and the underlying premise is quite clear: if power has no bounds, it will extend to physical misuse. The paradigmatic act of the powerful, performed up on the weak is rape.)

Now, rape need not always be performed by force. Indeed, one of the charms of pornography is that it records session after session of guiltless rape in which the powerful are licensed to have their will of the weak because the weak “really like it that way.” Last Tango in Paris, the story of encounter between strangers offers a brilliant example of this theme. Only symbolic rape is present here, because the woman accepts subordination and asks for abuse, but we can regard it as psychologically equivalent to physical rape because the relationship  involves dominance of female by male to the point which society usually considers degrading. The heroine, who is not presented as a individual, but rather a mythic projection of “what they really like,” is deputized as wanting degradation and returning willingly to the male in order to receive it. In the end she can free herself only by violence, can win back her autonomy and reassert her identity only by killing him–leaving us with the moral that it is a law of nature for men to be dominant and the only means by which women can reverse this edict is murder. In other words, equality is nonsense and women who ask for it are dangerous fools who end up slaughtering men.”

This last bit about women resorting to violence reminds me of ANOTHER (non-Ellen Brody) moment in “Jaws” when Officer Hendricks is at his desk reading a detective novel called “Deadly, I’m Yours,” as the phone rings (a missing person’s report: nude swimmer, Chrissie Watkins, the shark’s first victim): “the heroine, a girl named Whistling Dixie, was about to be raped by a motorcycle club. Hendricks let the phone ring until Miss Dixie castrated the first of her attackers with a linoleum knife she had secreted in her hair.”

Who would have thought when I sat in a tree in my Wrangler jeans, eating Apple Stix and trying to figure out the weirdo sex passages of this book that it would yield, so many years later, such a complicated feast of gender trouble? Reading Janeway’s article helped me entertain the possibility that Hooper’s titillation was only a projection,  a symptoms of a much deeper fear of subordination and identity loss. But I still wish Ellen had read this article before she met him for lunch.

Day 231 2/11/14: “Jaws” & Feminism Part 1

$_57In my attempts to inject “authentic fun” into the “Jaws” reading, I have acquired some genuine 1970s props. An October 1974 Indianapolis phone book will allow the audience to fully inhabit the soul of a desperate Mayor Vaughn as he effortlessly locates  Quint’s name in the “Q”of the white pages. Of course, I would have preferred a directory from Cape Cod or Long Island, but even the casual fan will remember Robert Shaw’s scene-chewing U.S.S. Indianapolis speech, a grave late night retelling of that ship’s disaster which provides the motivation for Quint’s shark vendetta that is sadly lacking in the book.

A May 1974 issue of Cosmopolitan for the scene in which a “randy” (a word that sounds even worse than the dreaded “horny”), Chief Brody comes home to find his wife Ellen in bed wearing a diaphanous nightgown and reading Helen Gurley Brown’s quasi-liberation rag. In the novel, Ellen Brody is a bored housewife and former preppie princess ever aware that she married “down” when she hooked up with Martin Brody, policeman. Class differences are a recurring source of tension in the book. Hardworking Brody’s amorous overtures toward his scantily clad wife are no match for the potent brew of nostalgia for her old upper middle class flame David Hooper, (the brother of Matt Hooper, the ichthyologist with whom she will enjoy a round of fervent, but mechanical sex), and Seconal.

“Jaws”  is not a PC novel. Peter Benchley varied his shark attacks with half-baked mafia subplots, weird sex talk (though the sex itself is stilted and bizarre and occurs only in flashback), words like “faggot” and “dyke,” and “grass.” Ellen, though too old and too straight to be an unapologetic hippie chick like minor but pivotal character Daisy Wicker, clearly craves SOME sort of liberation from routine, and at least some fleeting escape to a classier time.

Seeing what a frustrated and curious Ellen Brody would have read in Cosmo circa 1974 is a weird “meta” experience. For example, “Jaws” is offered in the Book of the Month Club right between “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and “Pat Loud: A Woman’s Story.” Would Ellen have applauded beleaguered celebrity wife Pat Loud’s divorce or quietly recalled Jonathan Livingston’s  lessons in spiritual flight when she watched the petty gulls of Amity stealing sandy French fries from the beach?

One of the most ridiculous moments of the novel details Ellen’s elaborate post-shower/pre-sex hygiene routine, which involves daubing cologne all over her body including her feet. If she were to have selected a scent from the pages of Cosmo, Ellen would have had her choice of faux-natural perfumes like Green Apple cologne by Max Factor (“Wear Green Apple. He’ll bite.”), or a host of Sweet Earth Fragrances by Coty like Amberwood or Hyacinth. Maybe these are Daisy Wicker territory. Ellen would probably prefer Chanel No. 5, but take a blast of Charlie or a splash of Jean Nate in a pinch.

Although no mention is made (sexist) of Matt Hooper’s pre-love cleansing ritual, Wind Drift AfterShave (“The clean, refreshing scent for women who love men who love the sea”) would have been a nice choice. Matt gifts Ellen with a tiger shark tooth necklace. The least she could have done was pick up a bottle of Wind Drift for him. In the ad, a hand rising from the sea clutches a square bottle of Wind Drift topped with an enormous cork. The ad’s print quality is so bad that the cork looks a little like a polluted water sample. But thankfully, I  located a clearer photo on ebay where 3.75 ounces of Wind Drift is going for $29.99. (0 bids, 2d, 17h remaining), and can appreciate Wind Drift as nature and English Leather intended it.

After a restorative post-coital bath,  I’m pretty sure an exhausted and confused Ellen read the article “Why Girls Can’t Have Orgasms.” But she might have only made it through the opening couple paragraphs before the Seconal kicked in:

“Darling, did you come?” he asked. You lie there, not answering.

There’s no loneliness like it, no sense of private loss to compare with the soul-sickening anguish of making love with everything you’ve got—and not having an orgasm.

“Are you alright?” he persists, looking pleased with himself.

Sometimes you cheat and tell a lie. “Wonderful.” You like or even love this man. He can’t help it if your vagina feels cramped and heavy. Help! Somebody help me!  He did his best and you did your best but now you feel alone and rejected by him as well as by your own body. Sometimes you lose your cool. “Of course I’m not all right you selfish bastard! Can’t you tell when a girl comes?”

(Stay tuned for “Jaws” & Feminism Part 2)

Day 230 2/10/14: Great White Synchronicity

I love synchronicity.  When it happens I feel that I’ve glimpsed the greater pattern of the universe if only for a second. When it happens I feel that all is somehow well. Tonight while editing the scripts for the JAWS reading, I had just typed this description:

The fish broke water–snout, jaw and pectoral fins rose like a rocket, then the smoke-white belly, pelvic fin, and huge salami-like claspers,

when I stopped to check my e-mail and saw this image by David Jenkins on my Yahoo homepage:

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Day 229 2/9/14: Fonzie’s Finest (Half) Hour

I am working on a fascinating piece about JAWS and feminism, but it’s taking me a while to put together. In the meantime, here’s a clip from the 1977 “Happy Days” episode that now symbolizes the precise moment when anything crosses the line from cool to embarrassing. Even the shark seems a little humiliated to be part of it.

Thanks Connie & Gail!