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January 30, 2008


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Continuing with examples from our "American popular culture allows men zero dignity" series, here's a bit from a National Geographic Channel promotional ad.

Now, this ad is apparently supposed to be cute and funny, and ruefully-recognizable too. But what are we being shown? Wifey is disciplining Hubster like The Dog Whisperer corrects a dog. Which means that the wife-husband relationship portrayed here isn't even mom-child, as insulting as that would be. It's wife-equals-dog-owner and hubby-equals-dog.

Am I allowed to wonder how this ad would be received if it showed a man treating his wife like a pet in need of correction?



posted by Michael at January 30, 2008


I hate arguing with you, Michael, but I have to. These ads have been a fixture on American television for as long as I can remember. They feature a loser schlub guy and a nagging humorless harridan of a woman, bossing and shrilling and shrewing all over the pathetic lost bubele. And my memory goes back to the sixties on this cr*p. These ads are designed to appeal to the American wife, demonstrating her superiority over her husband, typically in the traditional area where she's supposed to be of house and family. These ads pander to the needs of the American woman.

There is something very depressing about these ads, though. The wonderful old Euro-aristo-reactionary Erik von Kuehnheldt-Leddin (sp? apologies to the late EvK-L) many years ago put his foreigner's finger on what's wrong in American man/woman relationships. He said something to the effect that America seems almost like a matriarchy, with the American woman a notoriously bossy, domineering, nagging harridan, and the American man a bullied, testicle-free, verbally and emotionally abused non-entity.

But...said vK-L, when you look and listen more closely, American men neither listen to nor obey American women. Indeed, they talk to them in a manner that is so condescending as to be insulting. The constant nagging and attacks from the women were a symptom of their powerlessness, not of their dominance. vK-L concluded that one of the reasons "European" men were considered more attractive than American men was that they talked to women so if they're (gasp!) people.

What is troubling about these ads, Michael, isn't that they're new, but that they're not. They're portraying the American couple as hostile, aggressive and passive-aggressive, and doing the same old nagging/moping schtick that they've been doing for decades. What's sad about these ads is that they show American couples still unable to simply talk to one another. And this negative portrayal helps sell things! Oy.

Plus ca change...

Posted by: PatrickH on January 30, 2008 8:19 AM

And note that this promo is for the National Geographic Channel. I don't know for sure, but it's my impression that this is one of the relatively few non-sports TV channels that appeals more to men than to women.

Posted by: Peter on January 30, 2008 9:11 AM

Exhaustion has set in here, Michael. Have you noticed that it isn't even possible to get a good outraged fight going over this crap any more?

I think that everybody has simply withdrawn to their own corner, there to give the other factions the middle finger.

I know that I have.

I've abandoned the hip intellectual white women for old world Filipinas. The white women would like to punish me for this, and they do whenever they can... but that seldom happens. I learned 15 years ago to use the diversity crap against them in the office. Try it, boys. It works. I'll leave it to you to figure out how to do it.

I've got an old world Filipina, and she makes a damn good living, and cooks a damn good dinner. She sets it out on the dinner table with pride. She irons my clothes because she figures my appearance reflects upon her honor. The assholes can call me a male, chauvinist pig all they want. My Filipina mama just laughs at that shit and showers me with hugs and kisses.

So, I'm in great position to simply stick that middle finger up in the air, smile and tell the hip intellectual world to go fuck itself. Fred Reed is doing the same thing and writing very well about it.

Leave the fag and fag hag world to its own vicious, stupid and empty devices. The fags and fag hags deserve each other.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on January 30, 2008 9:21 AM

Hey ST, I think Patrick gave up a pretty damn good fight in the first comment, one that rings more true than your whining about evil white American women. However, the main reason I'm a bit disappointed with your comment is that you forgot to mention you live in Woodstock. It's the little consistencies that make the day go by.

Posted by: JV on January 30, 2008 11:01 AM

PatrickH -- Great rant. But what are we disagreeing about? I'm not even sure I'm saying anything that *can* be disagreed with -- I mean, basically all I'm saying is "Hey, look at this! Weird, no?" Lemme see if I can come up with something more substantial ... Hmm. OK: it seems to me that the image of "the guy" in popular culture allows for far less in the way of dignity than it once did. Ricky Ricardo and Dick Van Dyke may have been pretty goofy, but they were considerably more grownup figures than sitcom guys are today. The action-hero type in the '60s included stylish spies, seen-it-all cops, lawmaking cowboys -- guys who knew how to drink and make love. None of them were living with their parents; none of them had scenes where they confessed that they were working on growing up. (Surfing around I saw such a scene on a sitcom the other night -- the guy was confessing to his ex-wife that he was immature but was working on it.) Straightfaced heroes today are videogame figures, or else they're (blech) David Caruso, whose appeal I can't make any sense of at all. Admittedly, this is just an impression. Still: when someone like Costner comes along and tries to put conventional-traditional dignity and heroism on screen (and whether or not he does it well or successfully), one of the reasons it's striking is that it seems so unusual, no?

Peter -- Does NatGeo appeal to guys? Then that promo ad is really double-weird. Scary to think that guys might enjoy such an ad.

Hey, a really interesting thing that dimwitted me just woke up to -- have you noticed that 3 out of 4 of the people who are having trouble with their dogs that the Dog Whisperer shows up to coach are women? Now, this could be because women are more willing to ask for help than men are, or because women like putting their troubles onscreen more than men do, or because the show's producers have made some kind of policy decision. It might also be because women tend to have more trouble with dogs than men do. Or some mix of the above, I guess. Anyway: it's really striking how prone women are to treating their dogs as children or lovers, and to spoiling them and projecting scads of emotionality onto them and creating neuroses and moodinesses. Many women seem to want a dog in order to enjoy an emotional relationship of the complicated, rich, endlessly-fascinating kind that women often seem to crave. My guess is that most guys don't do that. I think guys tend to want dogs for two reasons: 1) a dog is a buddy, and 2) guys are like dogs, dogs are like guys -- it's a noncomplicated relationship, unlike one's relationship with the gals. So a guy who's a bad dog owner is likely to be a brute or an authoritarian or clueless or neglectful, but he's unlikely to mistake the dog for a child or a lover. Anyway ...

ST -- I watched the little clip I posted remembering my dating days, and my horror at most American women. (All gals who visit this blog excepted, of course.) I mean, American women can be sweet and cute, god knows. And god knows it's hard for this guy at least to live without sympathy, sex, and fond/indulgent head-scratches. But lordy, can American women be bossy, uninteresting, banal, demanding, unimaginative, with nothing of interest on their minds ... The Wife is a joy (and shares my aversion to much American relationship stuff). But had I not met her ... Anyway, before her I'd made it into my mid-30s assuming I'd never settle down with a gal. The cost was just too high. I'd have a girlfriend for a month or two, then hightail it out of there. One of the things that was really striking about my stay in France as a kid was meeting women (woman after woman after woman) who had no deep-seated quarrel with being a woman. I mean, being even a Frenchwoman involved needs, tragedies, poetry, etc, sure. Gals are gals. And Frenchwomen can be a terrible drag. But there's a kind of fatalistic ease they have about being a woman that's a revelation to an American kid. Funnily, being OK with being a woman doesn't seem to prevent them from living life, being active, having jobs, etc. American women so often seem to be quarreling with fate ... What *is* it that so many American women are looking for? And how *do* so many American men put up with it?

A question for all of you: Why don't we see any scenes -- any scenes at all anywhere in American pop culture -- of a female learning something from a guy, or apologizing for being shallow and selfish, or reflecting quietly that she has actually deepened as a person thanks to her adventures with patient and loving men? I mean, it's really remarkable that that particular moment or beat is entirely absent from American pop cult, no?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 30, 2008 11:14 AM

JV -- Hey, how about skipping the cutting remarks and volunteering a little something of your own instead? I'm curious to hear what you think.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 30, 2008 11:18 AM

Michael: Ans: Because it'd be the equivalent of killing a dog in a movie. Folks will sit through human corpses piling up, but take out a doggie and you get walkouts. I'm sure having a contrite woman in a popular entertainment would result in howls of scorn across the American media.

Posted by: yahmdallah on January 30, 2008 11:51 AM

Not all American women are part of this revolt against the fate of being born female. Not even all American white women.

My sisters, all down home girls, take care of their men the old fashioned way. But, they are not members of hip, intellectual society. They could give a damn less about feminism, gays, etc. All they care about is their husbands, their kids, their homes and their jobs in that order.

I've been involved in the arts since I was a kid. When I left my home town for college, I bought into the notion that doctrinaire leftism was the province of the artist. Certainly, all of my professors believed that, and they ridiculed me mercilessly for my backward, white boy ways. (Yes, they were doing this even back in the 60s.)

I wanted to see the world, and I loved the old romantic stories about the life of the arts in San Fran and NYC. By the time I had lived in these places for a short time, I knew that, while I wanted the opportunity and excitement of the big city, I didn't give a damn about the hip sexual pretensions. What I wanted was wild romantic adventures on with beautiful, sexy ethnic women... in the manner of Henry Miller.

I long ago decided to be myself. One thing you have to admire about black guys... they're up front about being macho men. If they're hetero, they make no bones about getting their hands on as many cows as possible, staking their claim, and producing as many offspring as possible. Of course, they are aided in these pursuits by the black dick struck idiocy of those same white feminist women who ridicule machismo in white men.

I still want the money, power and excitement of the bright lights and the big city. I can have it, and still enjoy the company and beauty of traditional ethnic women who love a macho man. Why not?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on January 30, 2008 12:27 PM

Whenever you write about stuff like this I feel that you are writing about space aliens.

Posted by: BP on January 30, 2008 12:34 PM

What the hell? Did the mens chase all the ladies away from this thread?

Well, I'm no lady, but I'll toss my toque in the ring, too.

I've met idjits on both sides of the gender divide. Neither sex has a lock on that one. This is a young country that has been through outrageous upheaval in its short history, including what constitutes appropriate behavior for gender, especially in the past 40 years.

Before you get too het up about the portrayal of the dumbass hubs in advertising, please please remember back to the world pre-1980s, when the situation was reversed. (There was a reason David Ogilvy had to say "The consumer is not an idiot. She is your wife." (And even still, you'll note the little lady didn't get to exist without the "Mrs.")

As a younger woman, I recall not hating men nor being resentful of them but being sort of bewildered by the process. I'm supposed to--according to my father--acquire my title and corner office by age 30, work the requisite 70 hours/week to get them and...produce grandchildren for him? How the hell does that work? Do you mens get some extra hours per week we don't know about?

Okay. That was me, going off. But really, that's about as bad as it gets. What I have zero patience for is a lack of even _trying_ to grok what the other (meaning, the not-you) is going through. It destroys relationships, it slowly but surely annihilates civilizations. This is where the radical everything goes off the rails, IMO. When did anyone ever successfully bludgeon someone else into belief? Submission, I'll grant you, but come on: we've evolved past that, right?


What I love about MB is that I know our ideas diverge sharply at certain points, and yet he's always tolerant--a supporter and champion, even! A huge component of his nimbleness and flexibility, I believe, is humor. As in, he's got a sense of one.

I can meet most people on common ground, however tiny, if that's there. If not...well, godspeed to you, my friend. You'll need it.

Posted by: communicatrix on January 30, 2008 1:18 PM

Real, French-like" women exist in vast amounts in the flyover states. You CAN find traditional, non pretentious women who will treat you well and understand their own differences and limitations. They'll even celebrate them and NOT give you shit if you dare hold a door open for them.

Posted by: Biff on January 30, 2008 1:27 PM

I think that men may just be a little more secure with themselves in being self-deprecating. I mean that in pop culture most of the clowns in movies or on TV were men. There were no female Three Stooges for example. You have to go all the way back to Lucy to find a female who was willing to make a fool of herself for an audience. I think that with the political correctness that has taken over, it all has been carried to an extreme and there are not many male roles that do not seem foolish. It plays into the supposed-to-be reality that pop culture creates where men are just overgrown boys that need a mommy.

Posted by: Robert on January 30, 2008 1:54 PM

Yeah, I think it's an important point that men like being the clown a lot more than women do. We like jokes so much we even like being the butt of jokes. (I do love funny women, knows. But they're all too few and far between. Plus, most funny women aren't clowns and jokesters.)

But even taking that into account ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 30, 2008 2:21 PM

I must largely agree---I just never figured out how to get a man to take my shit and never even make me apologize in real life. I DO see those relationships all around me. How do those women do it? Why do the guys take it? Is it taken for being "masculine" in a man's eyes? Like they are not supposed to need an apology or a thank you or, y'know, an interesting conversation or a laugh, or anything?? Is it the princess-thing---they think women who treat them like crap are more inaccessible and "valuable"? Are they all marrying their mothers, and women who become mothers in this country are all whiny boring bitches who raise neurotic men who expect to be treated badly? What the hell is it?

I like doors being opened for me, BTW. I also like to laugh. But I also seem to like men more than a lot of women do. They may have roped a guy, but they don't seem to like them very much. Do women in NY or wherever not like doors being opened for them? That seems so... seventies...and boring.

Posted by: annette on January 30, 2008 2:51 PM

Annette -- Funny comment! I could be wrong, just guessing, but I suspect you wouldn't get too much out of those waiting-for-the-marching-orders men, would you? What's the appeal of 'em for a woman? And what's the appeal of the bossygals for a guy? Beats me why people wouldn't choose instead to enjoy good conversation, mutual appreciation and respect, and lotsa laughs.

Posted by: MIchael Blowhard on January 30, 2008 7:03 PM

Oh for crying out loud, all this whining...

The reason that this trope is still funny is because the reality is (although less so) that when it comes down to brass tacks, in most relationships the power rests with the men. Whether that power is expressed financially or physically, men are mostly still calling the shots.

Humor is through the absurd, and the reversal of power in the trope provides the absurdity. It's like having the employee tell of the boss, etc.

And yes, it's all generalities, etc., etc., etc.

While I didn't find the commercial particularly funny, but I found the comments just painful. I can't believe the level of whining that most women aren't leaping to throw themselves into traditional roles. Sure there are a some women who truly are fulfilled by the traditional roles, but now that they have the opportunity to go beyond that, of course most women aren't happy with it.

The job of the traditional wife is bloody hard work, and not immensely rewarding (in the short term). I don't know of any husband who's been left with the kids for week (and done more than smack the kids in front of the TV) who hasn't realized that a day job is *vastly* easier than rearing children (and yes, my rant is predicated on the job of rearing children).

After all at work, there's generally the companionship of your peers, financial recognition of your labor, praise for your efforts, etc.

I'm not certain most women are angry, but I think they are looking to see a little more equitable division of effort and reward *without the responsibility being dropped altogether*.

That last part is pretty important. It seems that men are better able to ignore the overall responsibility of raising a family. If the woman does it, that's all well and good, but if not, then nobody will and that's all well and good.

And I think *that* is where you get angry women.

As someone said, children are the last, best chance to grow up. It's when you realize that your partner isn't willing to grow up that you realize that you're not partners together making tough sacrifices for your greater goals. Instead, you're saddled with the knowledge that it's up to you to sacrifice just about everything for the sake of responsibilities that you both chose to take on.

And that can make a "harridan".

Sorry guys, but being a "good provider" is about 35% of the way to being a good husband and father (an important 35%, but only part of the way there). It's a bit of a pity that so many feel their responsibility is limited to that.

Posted by: Tom West on January 31, 2008 7:46 AM

Tom West is officially the hottest guy on 2Blowhards.

Posted by: communicatrix on January 31, 2008 1:24 PM

Tom W:

Since I seem to be the only one to have used the word "harridan" in the comments, I assume some of your comment's bile is directed at me. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) And yet...I read your commment, and I am at a loss to understand where you and I differ on anything fundamental. Except that, like Michael, you seem to think this is something new, something post-feminism, a reaction to the fact of working women (I think...I'm not too clear on why you think that the 'traditional' role was too difficult for women. I was under the impression that housewife and mother was portrayed in the recent past as chronic underemployment.)

In any case, I don't think there's that much new about this's been going on for decades, pre-dates feminism, and gets to the heart of something fundamentally troubling about the way American men and women communicate. The American woman's reputation as a shrill, nasal-voiced aggressive nag isn't new.

And doesn't it seem unlikely on the face of it that all the virtue in this conflict is one side of the gender line?

Posted by: PatrickH on January 31, 2008 2:00 PM

ST-up here in the People's Republic of Masachusetts, we have lots of those women you talk about, and they all discover the same thing-the black dick disappears. They are all now feeling betrayed by the brother they were instumental in electing governor because, after all the campaign promises, he's basically disappeared for the past year, not being able to work with a legislature that's 80% his own party! Obama supporters take note (like his mother should have!).

But it exposes the fundamental liberal lie-they push for affirmative action and other such, never admitting that they are denigrating the very same people they purport to help. The white male is held to vastly different standards than the black male. If you accept sub-standard behaviors, you will most assuredly get them.

MB-the good thing about French women, and most foreign women, in fact, is the fatalistic stance, because they KNOW that evertually their man is going to wander someplace else for his Lewinsky.
And they accept that in their culture, as was made evident by all the French media castigating Americans for being down on Bubba Billy when he got his (actual) Lewinsky!

Pat-It's absolutely true that American men don't listen to American women. Where my ex-wife was concerned, I usually couldn't understand the question! But I was lacking in the ability, to quote Neal Stephenson, to condense fact from the vapor of nuance. To hear someone say "I'm not happy" and react with "What's wrong?", only to be answered with the fact that you don't know what's wrong because you're an insensitive cad, etc. That women have the obviously innate ability to deduce answers to complex issues by non-rational means means I'll never understand most of them.

My girlfriend is cut from a different cloth. Even though she's a working professional, I occasionally get home from work to find her cleaning my place. Her cleanliness standards differ from mine, and she has no problem taking matters into her own hands without busting my walnuts. In turn, I'm her sounding board and best friend, listening without judgement to her irrational complaints about feeling fat (she's 5'9", 125 lbs.) or ugly (she modeled while she was in college). And I feel strongly that her lack of the modern harridan gene is because women like her are ofter ostracized by the Sisterhood, something I've seen firsthand, and she's never had a lot of woman friends to learn these behaviors from (she's an only child, mother divorced after 3 years of marriage, she has never had a relationship with her father).

That's why I've never been one to be bothered by the modern harridan; they are so much worse to their own than they could ever be to men. Just a couple weeks ago, I was on the treadmill at the gym next to two new members, both overwight 40-somethings. They were ripping some of the woman members about their more fit and toned bodies, something you'd be hard pressed to find guys doing. Then one of them said, "Look at that skinny bitch coming out of the locker room! I bet she pukes after every meal!" I looked up from magazine and saw they were talking about my girlfriend! I told them I thought she had a pretty healthy appetite for someone so slender, at least she did when we eat together, and I should know because she's my girlfriend. They both turned 6 shades of red and crept away. The girlfriend, whan appraised of the commentary, spent the rest of her workout following these 2 around to the various stations, making sure they had her spandex-t-top-and-yoga-pants self in view at all times.

Posted by: Brutus on January 31, 2008 2:59 PM

Enjoy this Kay Hymowitz piece.

Posted by: bdr on February 1, 2008 2:03 AM

I take back my previous comment. Don't know where my head was that day.

I think a lot of reasons given here are right:
1. Tom West's has some good points. I would add that families seem to get a kick out of dad being taken down a notch, and maybe because they feel he's the most powerful and seeing the big guy take a fall can be fun.
2. Whoever said white guys are the last safe target is right.
3. Perhaps it's also a reflection of guy's deepest fears - we feel we are perceived as a buffoon, so seeing it played out is cathartic.
4. All or none of the above.

Posted by: yahmdallah on February 8, 2008 5:41 PM

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