I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary-- John Milton, AREOPAGITICA (1644)
Back in November I wrote Noah Berlatsky that as long as he and his fellow travelers continued to be "addicted to victimage," they would continue to provide grist for my critical mill.
I was perhaps giving the HUddites too much credit, since for the past couple of months I've found whatever posts I've scanned to be both timorous and tedious. Ng Suat Tong's essay on Frazetta, which brought about my ban from the HU comment-threads, was poorly researched and badly reasoned. But at least the essay's intemperate foolishness grabbed my attention. Unlike a lot of the HU dreck, it afforded me a "trial by what is contrary."
The other week I scanned through the last two months. I had avoided two of the posts that had a lot of comments, one relating to the coming BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN movie, and one on James Bond,because I felt that I could pretty much predict all the ultraliberal, over-ideological sentiments that I would find there. The fact that the superheroes still attract the most energy at HU, as opposed to lofty noodlings about artistic perspective, speaks volumes.
So I was bored with the current cant, but I wanted to deliver on my earlier promise. I wandered through HU's topic list and checked out the "Batman TV Show" topic that has afforded me some good material ion past. Somehow this led me to a 2014 post by Chris Gavaler, TV SUPERHEROINES OF MY LOVELORN YOUTH.
The essay's trip down memory lane is unremarkable enough, and I wouldn't have called attention to it-- particularly not with the high-faluting Milton quote in mind-- had I not chanced upon a couple of remarks by Gavaler in the comment-thread. I'll preface my remarks by noting that I've no particular animus toward Gavaler as I have toward some HUddites. It's his lack of philosophical acuity I'm criticizing; not his personal life.
The first one once more sings that old familiar song of victimage. Imagine Ronstadt warbling "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" as you read:
A part of me flinches though at my own categorizing of women as sexy, non-sexy, etc. Although I experience myself as inevitably straight, I do wonder what would have happened if my culture hadn’t been through images of scantily-clad women at me as a child.
In this song we hear the strains of the staunch Adornite. One's sexuality is not under one's own aegis; it's yet another aspect of the soul being ruled by that horrible Culture Industry (my words, obviously). By my lights this attitude is comparable to Milton's metaphor of "slinking out of the race." The implication seems to be that "TV and Hollywood," linked by Gavaler in the preceding sentence, are doing something morally culpable by playing up to male heterosexual desire. There's not even the usual demand for balance-- that it would be OK to depict hetero desire as long as there's total equity (whatever that might look like) for whatever marginalized sexual orientations the ideologue may choose to validate. Based on what Gavaler writes here, TV's portrayal of sexy women is A Bad Thing in itself.
But what amazes me about this passage is that Gavaler feels guilty about having indulged in the "categorizing of women as sexy, non-sexy, etc." This isn't just slinking out of a particular race; it's opting out of the human race.
One may argue that adolescents, flush with fresh hormones, can become consumed with sexual fantasies, which may or may not have unpleasant consequences. But there's no sentient human being who doesn't practice some form of "categorizing." For that matter, a sizable quantity of nonhuman creatures practice a form of categorization called "sexual selection." Humans cannot know if the aesthetic priorities of the female fiddler crab, and why she chooses one male crab over another. But even if nonhuman creatures *may* be thinking more about survival potential than pure sexiness-- though of course no one can know that either-- the result is the same. Crab A gets his ashes hauled and Crab B does not.
Suppose that somehow Evil Hollywood had never managed to sink its hooks into the American psyche as it did. Suppose that some Marxist regime enforced the standards that the HUddites claim to desire, so that at the very least there was equity in all representations of heterosexuality, homosexuality, and whatever else gets the inside track. This still would not mean (pause for change to shouting all caps)--
THIS STILL WOULD NOT MEAN THAT THE CATEGORIES OF "SEXY" AND "NON-SEXY" WOULD CEASE TO EXIST!
Not having been a homosexual, I cannot speak for that marginalized faction. However, I strongly suspect that they too prefer to sleep with bedmates that they find to be sexy, and that they avoid the "non-sexy" except when they're (so to speak) hard up.
But I suspect that Gavaler doesn't really want to place all sexual desire in question: only male hetero desire, as is indicated by a question he addresses to a poster who fails to respond further:
Are all these women just items of exchange in superheroes’ homosocial universe?
So what Gavaler is really distancing himself from is not the whole of sexual selection, but from being implicated in the "homosocial universe" of Hollywood, which is just academic-speak for "the old boys' club."
Nothing I could write would alter the writer's notion that this is a virtuous stance. I can argue, though, that it is a "fugitive and cloistered virtue," Milton's essay was concerned with a somewhat different form of censorious attitude, but he keenly saw that the censor harbored the deluded idea that he might promote a beneficial "innocence," but that said censor would instead bring about "impurity." This brings to mind my earlier comment that the ideologues' dominant attitude is pre-lapsarian in nature. They look back at the abuses of history-- though always with one eye closed-- and want to wish them away, rather than considering that there is something in humankind that can only be brought out only through contention. Milton spoke of "purity," while Nietzsche, in many ways Milton's opposite, spoke of the virtue of "courage over fear." Yet both of them were at base protesting against people who tried to opt out of struggle because of a mistaken desire for safety and innocence. In the terms I've adopted from Fukuyama, this is characteristic of the *isothymic* attitude:
*Isothymia* can manifest as Nelson Mandela going to jail for years to promote equal standards for Black Africans, but it can also manifest in "men without chests," endlessly prating about "equity" regardless of any other considerations.
Nietzsche feared the rise of the "Ultimate Men," defined by mediocrity. "Men without chests" was his metaphor. I, having been born in a more graphic era, tend to think of the Ultimate Men as being without something else-- and given the subject, I shouldn't even need to say what the "something" is.