Robert (Bro. Pepper-spray of Reasoned Discussion) (montecristo) wrote,
Robert (Bro. Pepper-spray of Reasoned Discussion)

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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.
Tags: love, movies, philosophy, ponderings and curiosity

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