cock rock: To some, the term conjures up images of rock gods in white jumpsuits, long hair haloed by a rainbow of lights, fans waving their Bics in unison as an immaculate guitar solo screams out from a tower of amps. To others, it evokes backstage legends of drugs and debauchery, the triumph of malecentric hedonism over social conscience, the unapologetic celebration of sleaze. To still others, it’s shorthand for memorable riffs with a backbeat that makes you want to throw some devil horns and bang your head.
Amy Richards met Jim McKay as he was getting ready to release his first film, Girls Town, in 1995. McKay was kind (and political) enough to offer his film to the Third Wave Foundation, which Richards cofounded, for a benefit screening. Though Third Wave has had dozens of events since then, none has come close to matching its success, in terms of sheer dollars raised in one sitting (over $20,000), the number of new donors and allies attracted to the organization’s work, and the unparalleled visibility that comes when you combine social justice and Hollywood.
Years ago, Joe Kelly noticed a Maidenform ad reading “Inner beauty only goes so far” on the side of a city bus, and was horrified to imagine one of his young daughters as the subject of it. As one of the founders, with wife Nancy Gruver, of New Moon: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams, an award-winning, youth-edited publication, Kelly was well aware that the relationships between girls and their fathers hold an importance that’s too often dismissed or overlooked.
From the machismo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone to Woody Allen’s nebbishes and the teenage fantasies of the Porky’s and American Pie franchises, manhood in all its flavors is a staple of the silver screen. Writer-director Wes Anderson is clearly fascinated by the subject too, yet over the course of his four films he has turned his lens on one specific aspect of masculinity: the balance between boyish and manly behavior necessary for the health of not only the individual male but also the culture he embodies.
A few reviewers have acknowledged this by mentioning, if only in passing, Anderson’s penchant for father-son or mentor-protégé relationships, and Anderson himself has confirmed it. In a 2001 Los Angeles Times interview, he credited director James L. Brooks—who helped him find the funding to turn a short film into his 1996 debut feature, Bottle Rocket—with inspiring his filmic exploration of mentors. Each of Anderson’s four features involves a relationship between a young man and either his father or a man who is old enough to be his father: wannabe thief Dignan and crime boss Mr. Henry in Bottle Rocket; 10th-grader Max Fischer and his industrialist friend/rival Mr. Blume in 1998’s Rushmore; favored child Richie Tenenbaum and his irresponsible father Royal in 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums; and airline pilot Ned Plimpton and the titular marine-life documentarian he suspects is his father in 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Those simplified labels, however, are inadequate to describe the mutual give-and-take of the pairs.
In 2004, every corner of popular culture was populated by men in crisis, and I don’t just mean George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney. We had men in trouble, men in triumph, men in uniform, men on the cross, men in squarepants; men being men with other men, talking about masculinity—what it is, how to have it, keep it, get it, make it last. We might even call it the Year of the Man, but the response to such a title could reasonably be, So what’s new? Isn’t every year the year of the man?
Detailed discussions of diarrhea (Survivor). On-camera vomiting (TheBachelor, The Biggest Loser). Extensive cosmetic surgery (The Swan). Endless hot-tub makeout sessions (take your pick). On reality tv, no subject is too personal to reveal, no biological function too intimate to discuss—except for one final taboo too terrible to mention: menstruation.
It is not my pleasure to remind anyone of the 2001 teen flick Sugar & Spice. Teetering between the black humor of Heathers and the girly glitz of Clueless, it achieves the success of neither, and I bring it up now only because of a single scene.
Two years ago, the preppy mall staple Abercrombie & Fitch released a line of t-shirts that paired early 1900s–style caricatures of Chinese men (complete with coolie hats, big grins, and slanted eyes) with slogans like “Wong Brothers Laundry Service—Two Wongs Can Make It White” and “Wok-N-Bowl—Let the Good Times Roll—Chinese Food & Bowling.” The clothing chain then professed great surprise when Asian-American activists cried foul; A&F’s pr flack Hampton Carney told the San Francisco Chronicle, “We personally thought Asians would love this t-shirt.... We are truly and deeply sorry we’ve offended people.” As a result of continued protests, the shirts were eventually pulled from stores (and quickly became hot commodities on Ebay).
A film studies professor once told me that everything you need to know about a movie is revealed in the first five minutes. This is particularly true of The Stepford Wives.
In the opening scene of Bryan Forbes’s 1975 original, Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) takes a long, scrutinizing look at herself in the bathroom mirror. Her reaction is one of mild surprise, then subtle resignation, as if she’s thinking, That’s me?…Oh, well. She appears wistful and introspective as she walks around the silent Manhattan apartment that has been emptied for her family’s move to the suburbs. Compare this to the start of Frank Oz’s 2004 version: Joanna (Nicole Kidman), a powerhouse network executive, struts like a supermodel up to a podium, delivers a self-congratulatory speech, and previews the coming season’s reality shows to a huge industry crowd. The mood is loud, flashy, and in-your-face. The difference between the two scenes is night and day, and therein, as my professor foretold, is everything we need to know.
The first thing you see is food. a breastlike dome of cake towers at the top of the ad, frosted pink with a raspberry on top. “It’s like dessert for your legs,” declares the text, and just in case this copy wasn’t clear, below it a pair of cellulite-free gams balances a bottle of Skintimate After-Shave Gel in lieu of icing.