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Montecristo Captain Quixote


The World Line of the Horizon Star

Some would say I was a lost man in a lost world

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Montecristo Captain Quixote

Is all fair in love and war?

Monday night I felt like a movie, so I shut down around 10:30, got my popcorn out and went to watch "Something to Talk About." Okay, this is something of a chick flick. I have a closet grudging respect for chick flicks, if they are done well. This one was interesting. The movie stars Denis Quaid and Julia Roberts as Eddie and Grace Bichon, a pair of married, successful, people engaged in the business of raising horses. They're life looks pretty smooth sailing until Grace catches sight of Eddie smooching-up some other woman in public. Everything goes to hell from that point, until the conflict resolves. Grace subsequently finds out that Eddie has cheated on her more than once. From here, the movie loosely follows the standard plot-line of boy-had-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-tries-to-get-girl-back, but moved into somewhat higher gear, for more angst-y stakes, and it is told from the point of view of Grace, not Eddie.

The movie got me thinking about how art and literature regard cheating on the part of men and women. There really is a double standard. Why is it that when a woman cheats on a man in a book or movie, she always has very deep and meaningful reasons to do so, and she's always really conflicted and torn by her decision to do so, either that, or she is the partner of some guy who is such a bastard that you wonder why she is with him at all, and see her cheating as an escape from an intolerable situation? On the other hand, when a guy cheats on his spouse, it is always with a woman of lesser intelligence, character, and personality, and he is doing it in response to an undisciplined indulgence of pure libido. When a man cheats on a woman, whatever act of petty revenge or release of pent-up malice the wronged woman decides to inflict upon the man is okay: destroy his car, divorce him and take him for all he's worth, etc. ha ha, it's all funny. On the other hand, if the man is the one cheated upon, he must "take his lumps stoically" or dish out his vehemence only upon the woman's lover, (which is only sometimes okay, and then only when it is the lover who is an unscrupulous cad taking advantage of the poor woman, and the wronged man is just trying to get his partner back) but the guy who is cheated is never supposed to have any anger for the woman who did it, or feel wronged in any way, really. In fact, most of modern literature treats the guy who gets burned as if the best course of action were to just come clean and admit that he deserved to be the recipient of lies and broken promises. In other words, why do writers or Hollywood, always sympathize with "the girl"?

Of course, the most straightforward theory that would explain this favoritism is that Hollywood knows who goes to see chick-flicks -- women, for the most part. Of course, that just begs the question: why sympathize with petty revenge fantasies in the first place? What does it net you, to "get even"? All it does is accentuate victim-hood. If it is beneath a man's dignity to indulge petty revenge fantasies for being cheated, isn't it also beneath a woman's? What in the hell is the with the double standard? It seems as if the feminists, who are a large party to this cultural mess, and who have amused themselves turning 500 years of Western Civilization's jurisprudence into so much Kotex, are desiring to eat their cake and have it too.

On one hand, a marriage is supposed to be a commitment, where if the man breaks it, by cheating, then he is a scoundrel and a cad, who must be forced by the legal system, to "pay up" on his broken obligation to the woman he married and for whom he promised to always be there, in sickness and in health 'til death do they part. In this view of marriage, the woman gives up an independent career or at least trades-off a significant portion of her future earning power, to bring children into the world and make a home for the family which the couple are building. This is the traditional view of family. It's worked for centuries, despite certain flaws and pathologies which can crop up under the wrong circumstances, both individual and cultural. Economists would recognize this arrangement as being operating instances of the principles of division of labor and relative advantage. This view recognizes certain biological realities, like the fact that men can't carry children, they will never have to deal with pregnancy, or birth and nursing, and having their bodies filled up with ten plus pounds of baby, plus logistical support tissues and organs, and then having to re-adapt after the pregnancy culminates in a birth. It is the woman who makes this investment, and pays this cost regardless of how solicitous her spouse is of his wife's costs in making an investment in family life.

On the other hand, if the woman feels, for whatever convoluted reason dredged up from her id, that she'd rather screw around, and shop for her "perfect lover," and attempt to "find herself" she should be able to cheat, or even dump her spouse with impunity, or kick him out of the family they were ostensibly building as a joint effort, and he still owes her his livelihood even though she's left him. As an aside, in an article discussing the unfortunate trend these days of men being less willing to marry, Wendy McElroy cites another opinion piece which advances the idea that, if the feminists are right, and marriage is "slavery for women," then it is certainly also true that divorce is slavery for men. Of course, this assumes that popular art and literature would even acknowledge that women sometimes get a wild hair and run off just to screw around on their husbands in the first place. Where in the heck is the sense in that assumption? It's true, that pregnancy is a potential risk factor which men do not face, but modern birth control methods have pretty much taken some of the edge off of that fear. Are women not as human and as subject to bad premises and psycho-sexual impulses as men are? Do they not also indulge libidinous notions, and suffer from regrets about ill-advised commitments? I certainly haven't seen many cases in art or literature where a woman blows off her commitments and cheats on her husband in the heat of frivolity and irresponsibility, but I know that it happens. What's with that? Does that make sense?

Of course the difference between how men and women are portrayed in art with respect to being cheated wasn't the only point the movie raised in my mind, either. Elsewhere in the movie, the Julia Roberts character is advised to take her wayward husband back, but to also "practice a little herbal aversion therapy on him" to show him that his wife wouldn't tolerate his waywardness. In other words, the aunt advises her niece to invite her wayward husband home for a nice dinner and then poison him with something that will make him sick, and Grace Bichon sets out to do just that. She invites her husband home and begins preparing a dinner of "doctored" poached salmon with mint mustard sauce. He arrives early, and they begin talking as Grace is preparing the toxic mint mustard sauce in the food processor.

The scene plays well. It certainly aspires to the kind of suspense for which Alfred Hitchcock was famous, even though it doesn't quite reach this lofty goal. Eddie Bichon comes in, unaware of the consequences for him being brewed up right in front of him, in Grace's food processor. He begins talking to his wife, making tentative overtures of apology. Grace, meanwhile, is struggling with herself, fighting a battle with her conscience and empathy on one side, and her senses of wounded pride and outraged justice on the other. As her husband's fumbling attempts to communicate alternatively strike chords of love and sympathy or rancor and hostility, the audience watches Grace's determination to poison him swing back and forth, as she starts and stops the preparation of the noxious meal in the food processor. Eventually though, their conversation fails to assuage Grace's outrage and hurt, and she decides to go through with it.

Eddie gets ill. He becomes overwhelmed with a violent attack of nausea and falls to his knees and Grace, no doubt alarmed and beginning to wonder at the wisdom of her actions, and feeling remorse for poisoning him, runs to her stricken husband and confesses to what she's done. Indeed, her aunt told her that she has to tell her wayward spouse what she's done so that he'll know that it was deliberate, and be properly "warned". Eddie promptly vomits all over her front. The next scene opens with them in the car and Grace is driving Eddie to the hospital. He is in pain and violently ill, and she is obviously suffering from regret, empathy, and worry, and she's clutching Eddie's hand, where she hasn't touched him since the day she found out he was cheating on her, before this.

The question in my mind is, what was the aunt's real reason for dishing out this advice to Grace? Is there any "homespun wisdom" in what she was attempting through her poisonous advice, or is it all just an indulgence of revenge and a crude attempt at behavior modification through intimidation by a crafty old woman who had the knowledge to do so? Was the potion for Eddie, or was it more for Grace? Consider the original disposition of Grace's psyche before acting on her aunt's advice:

  • She is hurt and furiously angry.
  • self-righteous and unwilling to rationally consider the pros as well as the cons of her relationship with Eddie and evaluate her options for dealing with him and the relationship objectively.
  • She is feeling victimized, humiliated, and powerless.
Now consider what happens after Grace poisons Eddie:
  • Grace becomes guilty of dealing Eddie an ill almost as bad or worse than the infidelity he inflicted upon her, and can no longer maintain quite so much self-righteousness in the face of what she's done.
  • She has inflicted a "payback" on Eddie and cannot quite feel so victimized and powerless in the face of what he did to her.
  • The circumstance arising from her actions has caused her to feel sympathy and empathy for Eddie, which was in short supply before the incident.
Now, as a fellow traveler with Objectivism, I can say that the philosophy at work here is not a good one. It's the kind of philosophy which holds that life is about the exchange of suffering and misery, IF Grace's aunt is only acting upon the idea of payback and guilt distribution in what she advises. On the other hand, perhaps the advice is designed to teach Grace the folly of what she desires by giving her a taste of what she thinks she desires. It is true, that the lesson relies, for its propriety, on the false premise that somehow, two wrongs can make a right, but are the aims of the "lesson" legitimate?

The big problem I have with the morally tangled mess is that Grace's aunt really has no business inflicting suffering on Eddie just to "fix" Grace. Of course, on the other hand, Grace's aunt's actions did get for him what Eddie apparently desired, reconciliation with Grace. It reminds me of an old story/joke I once heard:

Once there was a little bird who procrastinated and started flying south for the winter way too long, after the rest of the flock had left weeks before. Because he waited, he got caught in freezing rain while flying along and his wings iced up. Because of icy wings, he couldn't fly and crashed into a barn yard. He would have died in the crash, but he landed on a pile of manure. Things still looked grim for the bird. He had survived the crash but now he was freezing to death. A few minutes later, a cow came along and took a dump right on top of the poor bird. The fresh dropping was warm, and it restored the bird's circulation and melted the ice on his wings. The bird was so happy he poked his head out of the cow crap and started singing. A passing farm cat heard the singing and went to investigate. When he found the bird, he dug him out of the manure and ate him.

The moral of the story goes as follows:

  • Not everyone who shits on you is your enemy.
  • Not everyone who digs you out of the shit is your friend.
  • If you're in the shit, but happy anyway, keep your mouth shut.

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perhaps I'm merely ignorant of a genre, but I can't think of enough examples in literature of cheating spouse plot lines to make the generalizations you've got here (unless one counts daytime tv, which you never, ever should).

There is statistical evidence that men cheat more frequently and for different reasons than women, by and large. These studies are very popular reading among women, who then stretch the results to a cultural generalization that men are more likely to be cheating scoundrels than women. You can trace the origins of this dichotomy back to an earlier double standard: the one about how men and women are taught about sex. Here is society's message to it's little girls: sex is special and should be saved for that one person you want to spend the rest of your life with. If you have it too early, or with too many people, no one will love you. Here is society's message to little boys: sex is fun, and you should have as much of it as you can with as many people as you can. The more sex you have, the more people will like you. That's oversimplified, and we're slowly moving away from it, but still true in general. I have had friends call me up at three in the morning, crying and saying "am I a slut or a bad person because I've been with three guys?" These social attitudes don't disappear because someone makes a promise. Women feel like they have done what they're supposed to do, but men feel like they're missing out. The latest reports (and I'm talking scholarly journals, not Cosmo) average a report that men are unfaithful to their spouses about twice as often as women, and their most common reason is lack of sexual stimulation (interesting side fact, more than two thirds of men who identified themselves as pattern cheaters in one study said that their mistresses cooked better than their wives). If you want to read the studies, go to your local college library and browse the online database (psycinfo is a good one) for key words like infidelity. There are literally hundreds of them. Of the women who cheat, the most common reason given is more emotional than libidinous- women feel unloved or not supported, whatever. In both cases in generally boils down to poor communication. They don't get what they want and they don't speak up about it.

Of course there are people who are just plain selfish on either side of the coin, and from your story it seems this was what you endured.

As for the media portrayal, I think there are other stereotypes at play. Women are portrayed as being the ones who express their hurt and frustration by being sneaky, decietful, and vengeful. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but when I see portrayals of this type of protagonist, it isn't something I identify with or find admirable. It usually ends up being funny, but as is shown in the above example, this revenge attitude doesn't seem to pay off very well. There is a taboo about men being the ones to exact some form of revenge on a woman, because men are still percieved (and in some cases, are actually) as the ones with the power and control. From that perspective, women are the underdog.

I've been sitting here trying to think of any movie about a man who is cheated on, and I finally got one. "Nothing to Lose." Now, in this example, the man is the protaganist. And when he attempts (unsuccessfully) to cheat in return, the viewer is rooting for him (though you change your mind when you find out she wasn't really cheating). He shows a lot of anger, resentment, and pain - he nearly destroys his life - and that is supported by the movie. In "The Devil's Advocate," The main character sort of cheats on his wife, and although it isn't seen as a good thing, the blame in the movie lays squarely on the head of the seductress. He is merely the quasi-innocent pawn of the devil's game. Now that I think about it, I can think of a lot more "slutty woman trying to seduce the good, faithful man" roles than I can think of "rotten scoundrel deservingly taken out by his wife" roles. But again, perhaps that is merely a side effect of my viewing choice.

Post too long, going to next one...

Also, I don't understand this idea of divorce being a good thing for the woman. I know there are cases where a woman gets alimony, kids, a house, and the new guy, but from the (numerous) examples in my personal life, this seems quite rare. I have no statistics to back this up, but I know a lot (at least a dozen) of single mothers struggling to make ends meet and completely forgoing any hope of reentering the dating scene, and I can't think of one who is living the high life off of her ex-husband's success. I was raised by a single mother, and even though my dad paid child support, it didn't even remotely cover her needs for taking care of me - she often worked two jobs and had almost no social life.

Oh, as for women screwing around, there is a great movie with Meg Ryan and Matthew Broderick (I think the title is "Addicted to Love" but I can't do a web search right now). In it, Broderick plays a character whose wife just runs away to New York with some french guy on a whim. Here the woman is totally in the wrong, and he goes nuts and moves to new york to exact his revenge or get her back (in either case he would be in the right). In the process he meets Meg Ryan's character, who is getting her revenge on the frenchman. They of course get said revenge, are happy about it and fall in love with one another. Here the man and the woman are on an equal playing field. However, when Hollywood portrays women in the light of irresponsible sexuality, it is more often a single woman, (in my mind) because "that kind of girl" doesn't get married in the first place (does it show too much that I have a bit of resentment against the "madonna/whore" complex?).

I think there might be some bias in the direction of what you're saying, but it stands out more to you because of your experience.

For the last point, regardless of the outcome, I don't think there is a justification for the aunt to advice her niece to inflict pain upon the man. For me, at least, utilitarian morality just doesn't work. And if the portrayal doesn't present it clearly, there is no way to identify true intentions.

That was fun. Good night!

Wow. That was interesting!

You know, I think I'm going to take your statistics at face value with regard to whether men or wome cheat more often. It does match with the idea that men and women pursue different "biological strategies" with regard to sex -- the woman trying to find a stable mate who will care for her children and their home and the man attempting to spread his genetic material as far as possible. Eh. I'm not so sure of motivations and evolutionary drives, but culturally, I think you're right -- that double standard is the traditional one. I think that feminism though has made inroads on it. Surprisingly enough, I think much of modern feminism has done less to enlighten and elevate men but rather provide women a liscense to be just as uncouth and unethical as some of the more boorish men.

For what it's worth, I am one of those people who believes that sex is far too important to be indiscriminate or promiscuous about it. I believe that it is self-debasement to treat something like sex cavalierly. To be honest, my ex wasn't just "indulging her libido" or "screwing around." It was "the communication problem" between us too. Her reaction though, was just to "go shopping" for something else regardless of what it did to her family. What I found most unjust and painful nevertheless, was her deceit and the fact that she did it repeatedly, instead of being honest or at least having the self-control to not screw someone else while allowing me to believe that she was still interested in being my wife. The biggest thing I fault her for is not that she did cheat, but that she thought I would be too stupid to catch her at it and that she couldn't just be honest with me about what she was doing. I could understand deception and even more drastic measures if I had been threatening her or blackmailing her or applying some other unethical coercion to keep her as "property" but I wasn't. Hell, I suspect that "sneakiness" was part of the "charm" of having an affair for her. In the end, she did it with impugnity, because I think it was simply easier for her, in the short run -- better living through deceit. In her mind, I think deceit allowed her to have her cake and eat it too. She didn't need to do the work of fixing anything with me as long as she had an "escape hatch." She keeps insisting, probably as a justification or a sop to her own conscience, that I regard her as evil. I don't. She's not. She's just contemptibly weak and cowardly. I guess finally deciding to cut her "lifeline" and leave me took some courage, and perhaps I should thank her, but frankly I'm just too disgusted with the whole mess to afford her much sympathy.

You're right about the revenge thing. My point though is why should a woman accept that "underdog" self-assessment by wallowing in petty revenge gratification? The need for petty revenge is just empowering to the object of ones frustration. As I said, if it is beneath the wronged man to take it out on the woman, why should it not be beneath the woman too? If a woman sets herself up to be used by a cad and a jackass, why should she not take responsibility for her decisions?

You've given me a couple of things to consider. I may have more to say after thinking about things a bit. Thanks.

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