Wednesday, May 09, 2007

In a huff about Huff

Watched the first two episodes of Huff last night and I’m afraid I’m hooked.

I don’t need this.

A show about an outwardly happy and successful middle-aged man coming apart at the seams? Every week we watch as another stitch in Huff’s life pops and more of his stuffing bursts loose?

And he just sort of stands outside himself and watches it happen?

Here’s a guy with a great job he’s very good at. He has a beautiful, loving, sexy wife who looks great in a blue teddy and even better after she wriggles out of it, a condition she enjoys attaining for his sake and more importantly and more erotically exciting for her own; who misses him when she wakes up in the middle of the night and finds he’s not in bed with her; who worries about him; who puts up with his bizarre mother and the rival demands from his clients for his time and attention; who still manages to be an intelligent, talented, successful person in her own right and have a life apart from being his wife. He has a preciously wise and compassionate teenage son who worries about him and tries to be there to take care of him.

Ok. His mother is nuts. And his beloved younger brother is schizophrenic. And his best friend has a self-destructive streak and apparently thinks that the best thing for him to do about it is try to drag Huff along for the downward ride.

But on the whole Huff has it pretty good.

And then all of a sudden he finds himself isolated within his own life. All at once he’s disconnected from everybody and everything that matters to him. He’s batting away attempts from all sides to continue or re-establish those connections that were there and important just a few minutes ago. Nothing he does gives him any sense of satisfaction or accomplishment. Even doing good, helping people, loving them, feels wrong. Whatever decision he makes, feels like the wrong one, except for decisions not to care anymore.

It’s as if Huff has fallen asleep and is dreaming his own life and as if in a dream Huff has no power to affect or control or even interact with what’s happening to him, only to watch. The scary part, to me, though, is that Huff describes what’s going on in exactly the opposite way.

He says he feels as though he’s just woken up from a long dream and now he’s looking around like Rip Van Winkle not recognizing the world he’s supposedly a part of and the people that are supposed to matter to him.

This is scary to me because I think it happens to people all the time.

There are moments when everybody feels as though it’s happened to them. Whole days can go by when it is in fact happening. But then it stops and things go back to normal.

Except, now and then, for some people, it doesn’t stop.

Something terrible happens to Huff and that seems to be what does it to him. But Hank Azaria, who is great as Huff—the whole cast is terrific—has in the few short scenes that precede the tragedy manages to suggest an already rooted restlessness. Huff’s impatient, brusque, even a bit irritable with the first three clients we see him with. They’re annoying him. They are annoying people, but it’s Huff’s job not to be annoyed with the people who come to him for help; his talents include the ability not to be annoyed longer than most of his colleagues can go without being annoyed. Azaria makes us see that the talent is still there but the discipline is going.

The terrible thing is not just the straw the breaks the camel’s back. It happens because the camel’s legs are already coming out from under him.

What I’m saying is that something big and terrible didn’t have to happen to Huff for him to become a stranger in the strange land that is his own life. He was already wandering and he would have wound up there anyway. And that’s how most of us who get into the same strange country will get there. We’ll just wander in.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You Mr Rosewater a character talks about hearing a click go off inside another man. The click is the sound of whatever demonic engines inside him that drove him to be what he was shutting down.

You're to this man. You've known him twenty years. You're working along and all of sudden you hear this click from him. You turn to look at him. He's stopped working. He's all calmed down. He looks real dumb. He looks real sweet. You look in his eyes and the secrets are gone. He can't even tell you his name right then. He goes back to work, but he'll never be the same. That thing that bothered him so will never click on again. It's dead, it's dead. And that part of that man's life where he had to be a certain crazy way, that's done!

That certain crazy way we all have to be, that’s us, it’s our self and all that self was connected to and cared about.

There’s a hopeful side of this. People who are living bad lives, who are destructive or self-destructive, who are trapped in miseries of their own devising or who have been trapped by others, can suddenly wake up and see their way out. The strange land they wander into is reality or a happier reality than the one they’ve been living in.

But that’s not what happens to Huff and it’s not what I’m afraid of happening to me or to people I know and love.

Which is why I don’t need to become addicted to a show that’s going to have me constantly on the alert, listening for the awful sound of that click.

I may be saved by the fact that Huff was not picked up for a third season. There’s no point in sticking with it through to the end of Season Two, which ends in an emotional cliffhanger for Huff and his wife Beth, if there’s no conclusion to watch.

I might as well give it up right now.

I don't need it. Or anything like it.

But I’m afraid I’m going to be drawn back in.

By Azaria.

By the one actress I've always been nuttier about than I'm nutty about her daughter Gwyneth, Blythe Danner, as Huff’s impossible mother.

By Andy Comeau as his brother.

By the wonderful Oliver Platt as Huff’s self-destructive pal Russell, a brilliant but unscrupulous attorney who is as much fun to watch at his worst as he is at his best.

By Paget Brewster as Huff’s wife Beth---by her performance and by the promise of her continued wrigglings out of various colored teddies and lingerie.

Something else I don’t need, as you know, if you read yesterday morning’s post.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Observations from my red convertible

I've been trying mightily to resist the temptation to write about this, Garance Franke-Ruta's call for raising the age of consent for girls who want to get naked on camera.

Franke-Ruta is worried about the future careers of the young women flashing their breasts for Girls Gone Wild. She has a point. I think that it's good to keep in mind that on Arrested Development GGW was parodied as Girls With Low Self Esteem. Joe Francis, the pondscum producer of GGW, makes his money by taking advantage of women at their most vulnerable, when they are young, inexperienced, insecure about their bodies, sexuality, and self-worth, and, usually, stupidly drunk. It's a shame that some of these young women might lose out on a job when they are 25 for one overly-excited moment that occured because they weren't thinking when they were 19.

But. But...but...but...

I've been trying to resist the temptation because I have begun to worry about myself. I had been a long time praiser of older women, proud of the fact that on the beach I could look past the 17 and 18 year olds in bikinis to ogle their mothers. Once upon a time I, like Neddie Jingo, could rhapsodize about the regular mom-aged women in their sensible one-piece swimsuits who grace the pages of the Land's End summer catalog.

Lately, though----well, lately, not so much.

There's a college town near here that because it's where our drug store, video store, church, and barber are, I visit a lot. It's spring, the weather has been beautiful, and that means the lawns around town are dotted with blankets on which lie somehow already magically tanned college women in mostly nothing more than their glistening skin, and on my last trip up there I almost drove off the road, twice.

I don't like this. It makes me feel like I'm just one more pulled muscle, one more childhood favorite's death, one more grizzled baby boomer buttonholing me to rave about Bobby and tell me how much I'd appreciate it because "you're the right age to remember" (I'm not and I don't, not clearly anyway), one more reach for the Zantac away from an eye tuck, orange hair, and a red convertible.

Writing about nubile young women getting naked seems like a bad choice for me right now.

Not that it has or will stop me. I'm just saying why I've been putting this off and why now, even though I'm giving in to temptation, I'm leaving the heavy lifting to others.

Lindsay Beyerstein for one.

Garance seems to be arguing that the current age of consent for porn is no longer appropriate because the stakes are so much higher today. I’m not sure I agree with her cost/benefit analysis. Sure, a compromising video clip can hang around the internet forever. On the other hand, everyone else’s pictures are going to end up there, too. At a certain point enlightenment or mutually assured destruction will kick in and our social mores will adjust to our technological milieu.

Frankly, I doubt that some old untagged GGW clip floating around online is all that much of a liability. Sure, the footage will be out there, but unless Joe Francis identifies his subjects by name, it will be difficult to match today’s 18-year-olds to their future selves.

Garance thinks that raising the age of consent for commercial porn will give 18-to-21-year-olds more freedom for erotic experimentation with their peers. She hopes her proposal will let young adults flash each other and take pictures on their camera phones, safe from greedy letches like Joe Francis.

I don’t understand how 18-year-olds could lack the maturity to choose whether to be in a commercial flick and yet be able to give meaningful consent to being photographed by their peers. If I were advising an 18-year-old on how to protect themselves from future embarrassment, I’d worry less about GGW and more about friends with camera phones. Compromising pictures taken by friends and lovers are much more likely to end up on the internet with enough context to identify the subjects later.

Lindsay's right. Just ask Dr Laura.

But I think Roy puts things best, as Roy so often does.

Lord knows our discourse is distorted when it comes to sex. It is my observation that it is distorted because of our misperceptions about sex and the body, not because sex and the body are themselves noxious. Popular R-rated giggle-fests from Porky's to the American Pie movies are, to me, dirtier than a typical porn film, because they posit sex as something you get away with, like theft or vandalism.

The appeal of "Girls Gone Wild" is based on that social malfunction. It's not the sight of 18-year-old tits that's gross -- O, far from it! -- but the idea that the filmmaker and the viewer have stolen the view because the nubile was, in Franke-Ruta's words, "intoxicated by both a Scorpion Bowl (illegally served) and her own newly developed form."

To worry as Franke-Ruta does that "Girls Gone Wild" participants will suffer lasting damage when their videos "follow them around for life" is to acknowledge that this fucked-up American sex-madness is unavoidable and undefeatable. Why else prevent women who are otherwise judged capable of sexual freedom from exhibiting their lady-parts? Elsewhere Franke-Ruta explains that she doesn't complain if young women (and men, she suddenly adds) privately enjoy "photos for personal use." But what is the meaning of the "privacy" concerns she claims to support if she wants private citizens to be legally enjoined from exercising or disposing them?

Exploitation, alas, exists. But this is no reason to fold the tent of liberty. All our rights -- the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right not to incriminate ourselves, etc. -- can be exploited, and indeed are exploited every day, but we try to find (or should try to find) the least restrictive way to limit those abuses, rather than allow those abuses to limit our rights.

So if the brain-damaged idea of sex as explotation is the problem, I say let us militate against that idea, not against the sexual autonomy of legal adults. Let us have wide and unapologetic dissemination of sexual imagery. Let us preempt the Joe Francises of the world by having fully empowered girls (and boys) go wild on their own terms...

I may not be old enough to really remember Bobby, but I was just the right age for Porkys and Roy's dead on. Those movies creeped me out because, for all the lovely T and A they included, the emphasis was really on the guys as they were driven into chattering, screeching, chest-thumping, pre-mastabatory simian delight. Young women were treated as objects, definitely, but the young men were treated as chimps in a zoo.

I haven't seen any of the American Pie franchise or the lastest in National Lampoon's series of Field Guides to Girls With Prodigious Breasts, but my sense is that the only way they've "improved" on the Porkys formula is that the T and A shots aren't as fleeting and now the young women get to act like lady chimps.

In other words, these kinds of movies aren't liberating at all, because all they do is let us see sex and sexuality and the human body in exactly the way the Puritanical see them.

So I agree with Roy, for the state of our own mental health and sexual well-being, it's best to fight exploitation with exuberant expression not well-intentioned repression.

But if Roy's utopia ever comes to pass I'm afraid you'll find me out there joining in.

I'll be the guy with the orange hair and the permanently surprised look about the too wrinkle-free forehead, leering from the driver's seat of his red convertible.

Avedon doesn't think much of Franke-Ruta's proposal to protect women from their own decision-making because it would have the effect of turning photographs of naked adults into "child porn." Besides, says Avedon, she can think of a few different kinds of decisions that can have worse effects on an 18 year old's future than getting photographed naked on spring break, like:

Being indentured for the rest of your life by student loans or foolish credit card decisions could just end up being a life-ruining thing, though. But we don't seem to get nearly as upset about that.

Jon Swift, high-minded conservative that he is, begs to disagree of course. To save civilization, Mr Swift declares, the age of consent for posing naked needs to be raised indeed, to sixty-five.

Then, says Mr Swift:

Young men would begin to think of sex as something their grandparents do to make a little cash and could put the energy they once used to search for porn on the Internet into fighting terrorism or curing cancer or pursuing more difficult quests on World of Warcraft.