Fiat 500 Abarth, or On Stereotypes in Advertising

Just hearing the Fiat Superbowl commercial on the radio as I was driving home today made me think: is this straight out of the Mad Men era? Wasn’t it a trite cliché years ago to personify a desirable car in the image of a desirable woman? And all that copy about ogling, undressing, owning? Do women not buy cars, in the world as Fiat sees it? Do women not buy small cars, for heavens’ sake?

Then I watched it on YouTube and I was further dismayed. Feel free to tell me that I have no sense of humor, but it is not clever if you make white latte foam trickle down between the woman’s breasts; it is sophomoric. There must be other ways to get a young single male target segment to take an interest in a zippy car with a shift stick. I hope. I do hope.

Olive Kitteridge. This is writing

This is Elizabeth Strout’s description of a turning point in the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Bonnie and Harmon.

But one night he turned to her in bed, and she pulled away. After a long moment she said quietly, “Harmon, I think I’m just done with that stuff.”
They lay there in the dark; what gripped him from his bowels on up was the horrible, blank knowledge that she meant this. Still, nobody can accept losses right away.
“Done?” he asked. She could have piled twenty bricks onto his stomach, that was the pain he felt.
“I’m sorry. But I’m just done. There’s no point in my pretending. That isn’t pretty for either of us.”
He asked if it was because he’d gotten fat. She said he hadn’t really gotten
fat, please not to think that way.
But maybe I’ve been selfish, he said. What can I do to please you? (They had never really talked about things in this way — in the dark he blushed.)
She said, he couldn’t understand — it wasn’t
him, it was her. She was just done.

Literary quote of the day: Wilton Barnhardt, “Gospel”

Sorry about exploitation of clichés, but this snippet of dialogue is too fun to omit in the name of political correctness.

“[Hakim’s] slave Masoud was found to have the largest member of any black man alive. I’m sure […] Masoud was discovered after a not entirely joyless search. Not unlike the survey of Africa made by Tiberius for the same reason, his ‘collection’ at Capri.”

Lucy added, “Lampridius writes that Elagabalus Cesar sent out emissaries to Africa for the same purpose”.

O’Hanrahan was momentarily silenced. “Lucille! Is that what you have done with your learning, read Late Empire filth like Lampridius?”

She put back her head and laughed. “That’s the only reason anyone does Classics, sir – the filth.”

“That seems to me to be a commonplace and to be therefore a matter needing no comment at all”: Ford Madox Ford on sexual passion

I am enthralled by stories told in the voice of an unreliable narrator, and it appears that The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915) is a prime example of the technique. It is also a novel on which, almost a century after it first appear, critical opinion is firmly divided, covering the whole spectrum from “perfect” to “wholly improbable”. I’ll let you take sides; but, so you can decide whether it sounds like something you would enjoy reading, I offer you, my dear readers, a couple of pages (courtesy of Project Gutenberg). The narrator – who, you see, is quite inexperienced in these matters – is musing about the nature of love, apparently resigned to his own startling insights:

I have come to be very much of a cynic in these matters; I mean that it is impossible to believe in the permanence of man’s or woman’s love. Or, at any rate, it is impossible to believe in the permanence of any early passion. As I see it, at least, with regard to man, a love affair, a love for any definite woman–is something in the nature of a widening of the experience. With each new woman that a man is attracted to there appears to come a broadening of the outlook, or, if you like, an acquiring of new territory.

Continue reading

Candidate Romney, voters need to know about your faith

Interesting article by Christopher Hitchens on Slate.com, discussing Mitt Romney’s success in deflecting all questions about his faith: journalists who cover Romney’s presidential campaign have been bamboozled into self-censoring every time that a question about Mormonism occurs to them, and Romney himself has said that such questions, were they to occur, would be “un-American”.

But the Mormon faith does have some grey areas that, to a reasonable observer, may appear, well, questionable. Romney’s family, Hitchens reports, “is, and has been for generations, part of the dynastic leadership of the mad cult invented by the convicted fraud Joseph Smith”: a church that, until 1978, was an officially racist organization. To this, I would add that Romney’s faith seems not to be extraneous to ineffective public policy decisions that Romney made as a governor of Massachussets, such as funding abstinence-only sex education in schools – a policy that was quickly overturned by his successor after a federal study found that “students in programs focusing solely on abstinence are just as likely to have sex as those not in such programs” (and, one imagines, have it much less safely).

American voters need to choose a leader they can trust. Or at least not mistrust any more than they mistrust their current President (a born-again Christian who is living proof that, well, anybody can get a second chance in America). Coming clean about the dark corners of one’s faith seems to be a prerequisite to even start building that trust.

Jane Smiley on de Sade’s Justine and the morality of the novel

A few months ago I submitted to your attention, dear readers, a few notable excerpts from Angela Carter’s The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography. I am now enjoying a rather more diverse piece of literary criticism, Jane Smiley’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel.

Smiley, an acclaimed biographer of Charles Dickens and the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Thousand Acres, writes thoughtfully about such broad topics as “What Is a Novel?” and “Who is a Novelist?”; in her sixth chapter, “Morality and the Novel”, she needs to deal with de Sade and his Justine.

But before getting to Justine, a quote about how one – in Smiley’s opinion, and in mine – becomes a novelist, which is out of a compulsive habit of reading as a child:

Undoubtedly, we were reading for all the wrong reasons — escape, pleasure, avoidance of responsibilities and human contact. We were reading because it was easy and fun and because we were unsupervised. We were reading to find companions more congenial than those around us. We wanted to fill our heads with nonsense and tune out practical considerations. We were not, most likely, athletic or useful sorts of children. We were reluctant to help around the house or to go outside and play. […] We were reading because we had two lives, an inner life and an outer life, and they were equally important to us and equally vivid.

Ever met children like these? Ever been one?

And, now, to Justine.

Justine was published in 1791, during the French Revolution, and the novel’s theme, you might say, is the right of every man of rank to do whatever he wants with any woman he can gain access to, preferably by force. […] In Justine, the goal is not to reinforce the social order but to maximize the exploitation of female flesh. […] It seems obvious that de Sade wrote Justine for pornographic reasons — that is, the plot and the protagonist are there to serve the author’s and the reader’s shared desire to fetishize sex and cruelty and to use images for lascivious excitement. Even so […], de Sade makes rape part of the apparatus of state control as expressed by individual members of the ruling class (most of whom possess formal authority; they are not renegades or rogues). […] Justine is a true heroine; she never betrays herself, always tries to understand and survive, never loses her moral compass. Surely she speaks for the author as much as the men do. […]

Ostensibly shocking and immoral, Justine actually promotes a certain moral point of view — that integrity and virtue can be retained and recognized in the face of relentless suffering. In addition, to expose secret corruption is to challenge its existence because of the nature of the novel as a common and available commodity.