Men and Screwy Media

In my giddiness over new books and reading adventures, I neglected to weigh in on António Lobo Antunes’ Fado Alexandrino, which I finished a few days ago. Initially, it hit me like the first few pages of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury: that is, I couldn’t figure out who was speaking or what exactly what was going on. But then it became clear that the reader is essentially sitting in the midst of an extended and often chaotic conversation, complete with the inner thoughts of the person/s speaking. So: dense and somewhat stream-of-consciousness, but that’s all to the good, and not as experimental as Joyce’s Ulysses still feels.

What’s stayed with me most powerfully, in this tale of veterans rehashing what’s taken place with their lives since they came back from the Colonial War in Mozambique, is just how male a book this is. That’s no surprise; it’s an account of soldiers trying to make sense of their worlds, in a time before women had started serving in combat missions, and even, for part of the book at least, before 20th-century feminism had established firm roots. Published in 1983, I really shouldn’t get disheartened about what seems to be an exposure of what or how contemporary men (as if we could group them into one homogenous pile) really think of women. But it was hard not to feel discouraged, and apprehensive about just how prevalent the attitudes found in the book really still are: affection acting as a veil for sexual aggression; wives being seen as having trapped their husbands into an unpleasant institutional arrangement; the speech of women being perceived largely as frivolous or vicious or manipulative.

This isn’t to say that Antunes himself necessarily holds these views; just that he’s constructed a particularly vivid representation of a certain population at a certain time. But that thread of gender-based derision just keeps popping up all over the cultural scene. I won’t get started on The Wire, because there’s just too much to deal with there; previous attempts to explain my indignation with Old School have resulted in metaphorical pats on the head and pleas not to be so uptight. But I’ll give two instances that, although dated and, I realize, not representative of the population in general, have stuck with me since seeing them, and, like it or not, have insinuated their poisoned fingers into the jumbled mess in my head that falls within the category “male-female relations.”

1: A skit on Saturday Night Live featured Chris Elliott as a husband who, disgusted with the wife who’s aged into matronliness, seduced the underage babysitter with the help of Zima. The last scene shows Elliott behind bars, raving like a madman, “I’d do it again!” The skit itself was problematic enough– but it was the audience’s boisterously empathetic reaction and general tickledness– an essential admission that they were rallying behind this character and the domestic scene he was trying to flee; the message that “This is how men think!”– that did something unkind to my heart.

2. One of the maybe three King of Queens episodes I ever bothered watching featured the husband being so annoyed by his wife’s telling him about her day, and/or talking in general, that he continues to find new ways to injure himself physically in order to get out of listening or of participating in a conversation. A new variation on the “marriage is a trap”/”why can’t women just cook, clean, and put out without talking?” theme that in itself was old hat– but was kept alive by an audience finding it all terribly funny.

So, I’ve strayed from Antunes into the realm of stupid TV to which I should really pay no heed. I’ve shelved the book, and it’s not really bothering me all that much– but I’ll be glad when– if– some of the lingering scenes and conversations that are still fluttering around my brain decide to retire into the remote regions of some neural fold or other, and just decide to stay permanently in the dark corner they’ve made their home.

 

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