CONFLICT BETWEEN THE MASCULINE AND FEMININE IN SOCIETY
A movie which illustrates the divide between political camps in America right now is the 1961 flick “The Misfits,” starring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clft. Directed by John Huston, with screenplay by playwright Arthur Miller.
Do you know the plot? Obsolete, aging cowboy “Gay” (Gable) becomes involved with younger woman “Roslyn” (Monroe). They like each other. They like the difference of the other person, which broadens each one’s experience of the world. They’re so different in outlook they inevitably clash—with striking emotion depicted in some of the most heart-wrenching moments seen on a movie screen. (Superlative acting from all involved.)
An early dispute is when Gay and Roslyn disagree over rabbits which have been disturbing their nascent lettuce patch, at the idyllic ranch (owned by troubled ex-bomber pilot Guido) they’ve been staying at. Gay goes for his rifle. Roslyn, played by Marilyn as a proto-flower child; a kind of pre-hippie—a person of total feeling and empathy—doesn’t understand why he has to do what he’s set on doing. Which is, kill the rabbits. His interest is in protecting their little turf. Conflict is delayed by the arrival of a small plane—flown by Guido (the person with no sympathy for anyone or anything, played by Eli Wallach). Guido has spotted a small herd of wild mustangs. Which for the two men is a means to avoid “wages” i.e., social conformity. A way to stay out of the societal hive. Before going on their excursion after the horses, the group recruits the Montgomery Clift character as an extra roper.
Conflict between the two leads, male and female, explodes when Roslyn realizes the cruelty involved in rounding up the mustangs—and how they’ll end up. (Dog food!)
The conflict is, in a sense, between two halves of society. Between two halves of the self—the male and female. Clark Gable represents the prototypical alpha male, wanting independence—control of his own life—above all else. Marilyn Monroe represents empathy and emotion.
Their struggle is played out through Gay’s final struggle to submit the mustang stallion to his will. The tiny herd’s own alpha, which has become a symbol for himself.
Clark Gable the actor was under stress from the moment he agreed to star in the film. It meant holding his own on screen with younger actors who were heavyweights of Method acting—Clift, Monroe, Wallach. He, Gable; who had skated through so many movies on mere reputation and charm. For the first time in decades he would be required to act.
His co-star would be the sex symbol to end all sex symbols. . . . The epitome of soft, voluptuous feminity. Also a troubled woman from a broken home who’d once used a photo of Clark Gable as a father substitute.
In the film, Monroe and Clift take Method acting to the furthest extreme, stripping their personalities down to their naked core; giving you themselves, unfiltered. Gable struggles to do likewise.
More significantly, Gable insisted on doing many of his own stunts, including in the grueling final struggle between man and horse. A sequence which is magnificent and heroic but harrowing to watch, particularly when you realize the struggle killed the man. Clark Gable had a massive heart attack upon completion of filming, and died eleven days later.
Where’s the parallel to today’s politics?
Only in that Donald Trump perceives himself to be an alpha male, and behaves like one. This alone for many people is a shock. When he says he wants to make America great again, he subconsciously means that he wants to return to the days when America was a less regulated, more rugged and masculine country.
By this viewpoint, America has become feminized the last couple decades; embracing a “kinder, gentler” vision of itself. More feeling, more caring— becoming as a result more vulnerable.
The female personality feels, as Rosyln feels, for every living thing. The idea of cruelty in the universe is unbearable. Intolerable. And so, screening migrants, or restricting them, or controlling one’s borders—which the male personality sees as a way to reassert control over one’s life, or the nation’s life, becomes, to the female side of the nation’s psyche, pure hate.
(There’s a lot of cruelty in the film, especially toward the band of misfit humans.)
Is Trump’s stance protecting borders logical? To him it is. It might be nothing more than a futile gesture; a stubborn willfulness against fate, the same as Gay/Gable’s determination to impose his will upon an alpha horse. A holding back of the future. An embrace of a declining past. Or it might not be futile. Only the future will tell.
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT
There is some basis from history for Trump’s instinctive stance. It’s in a long series of examples of prosperous civilizations which as a result of their prosperity became soft and decadent; an attractive jewel for less civilized parts of the world.
One thinks of the warlike early Romans and their determination to defeat wealthy trading city Carthage. In turn, centuries later, decadent Rome invaded by barbaric Gothic hordes intent on plunder. Or Cortez and his ruthless conquistadores toppling fabulously wealthy but hesitantly uncertain Montezuma and the fate-dominated Aztec empire.
The targets had become soft, voluptuous cultures.
From this stance, America today sits as a prosperous, declining land. For the ruthless male from a more masculinized culture, a woman waiting to be taken and dominated. Isn’t this how the young men of ISIS view the affluent West?
The conflict raging within America is about what kind of civilization we’re going to be. Tough, hard, ruthlessly logical in protecting our interests and our status in the world? Abiding the hard lessons of history? Or like Roslyn/Marilyn, indulging our “better angels” and feeling for—and opening our arms to—virtually everyone?
It’s important that alpha male Clark Gable destroyed himself making “The Misfits” while protecting his status as an alpha male—but too-sensitive-for-this-world Marilyn Monroe destroyed herself as well. It was her final completed film.
Postscript: Though the performances of Monroe, Clift, and Gable were phenomenal, they received no Oscar nominations for their work. The film won not a single Academy Award. Meanwhile, a conventionally p.c. film, even for 1961, the musical “West Side Story,” swept the nominations and awards that year. It’s an excellent film, very well made—but without the depth or the significance of the cruelly underrated movie “The Misfits.”
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
“The Misfits” and Politics Now
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Reflections on an Essay
An excerpt from a memoir of the 1970’s by Gary McDonald, now up at the New Pop Lit website here, is about the sexual liberation of that era as much as it about the anti-war protest described at its beginning. At that, it’s about tthe sexual liberation of men—something seldom touched upon with the proliferation of Women’s Studies programs.
Noteworthy about the memoir is its frankness. McDonald isn’t presenting an idealized version of himself. Transparently present are the raging hormones of himself—and of both sexes—often taking precedence over politics. As would be expected among college students in their late teens and early twenties.
Sexual attraction between men and women is the something missing among the uptight p.c. political radicals of now. The very idea of it may be unwanted among that crowd—could itself be a truly radical act. At least in the academy now.
The current ethos among the intellectual Left is a kind of unreal puritanism. Desires are carefully regulated—especially male desires—where once they were channeled. This includes forbidden desires for goods and ego. Men must tread carefully in the alternate universe of the university, lest they offend someone.
One sees inevitable reactions to this mindset. The election of Donald Trump, walking embodiment of male ego, appetite, and political incorrectness, was one such reaction.
Former Democrat Trump isn’t a true conservative. The sharpest reactions against political correctness are from extremists whose ideas and behavior are anything but conservative.
Many of the alt-right’s leading figures, for instance, are young, and gay or bisexual. Some are professed Satanists. They’re invariably well-educated, are the creation of the academic Left and its doctrine of Identity Politics. The alt-right embraces Identity Politics, but with a twist.
The most extreme reaction to the ongoing feminization of the West is coming from radical Islamicists. (See ISIS.) Their behavior consists of total indulgence in the male appetite, with brutally negative consequences for all others.
America’s p.c. Left circa 2017 is full of contradictions. They embrace multiculturalism and disdain the West, yet the equalities they espouse are strictly the product of the West. I was reminded of this while rereading parts of the Somerset Maugham novel The Moon and Sixpence, whose chief character Charles Strickland is based on painter Paul Gaugin. Toward the end of the novel, Strickland encounters the uninhibited, “liberated” world of Tahiti—liberated, and as a result, completely sexist.
“I shall beat you,” Strickland tells a prospective mate.
“How else should I know you loved me?” she answers.
Civilization domesticates the male. Gaugin/”Strickland” flees from it.
One can’t ignore nature. One can’t put men into too strict of a box, or some will break out of it.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
The Independent Artist
Among the many crimes of the Nazis against mankind was the destruction of Vincent van Gogh’s most poignant paintings, “The Painter on the Road to Tarascon.” Few works of art so well convey the determination of the independent artist who follows, against all obstacles and hardships, a unique vision.