Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Love in Many Guises
Pretty Woman is one of my favorite movies. I understand that you might think that's crazy, but I can explain.
This is a film set in reality. The poor woman has no way to earn decent money except to sell her body. The rich man has no intimacy in his life, with himself or anyone else, and is not particularly a nice guy; this describes pretty well the rich men I have been around.
To sell her body, the pretty woman played byJulia Roberts resorts to making herself into a cliche, with a blonde wig and stereotypical clothing of the kind associated with pornography (or, these days, found in high schools and malls). But she has a natural goodness, a spirit and sense of humor that comes through and enchants the poor little rich guy. In the scene above, he enjoys wielding power-through-money after the woman has been snubbed in an exclusive shop; she enjoys it too, and gets her own back. The snooty saleswoman is left to contemplate her bad karma.
The clothes do great things for the girl; that's the Cinderella story exactly: a great dress and shoes. BUT she does not get the man (the proper ending of a love story) until she stands up for herself and walks out on him and sets about getting an education. He has to humble himself and climb up her tower with roses. And apologize. What woman wouldn't love this story?
Oh, quite a few, maybe. I would understand it if this movie made some folks sick, as it traffics in all this skinny youth and beauty and appearances. But I like it, and I am a feminist. I mean, I do not believe men ought to be in power because they're men - power in the home or the workplace or political office. I believe these institutions should be run in a democratic spirit. I do not believe women should be pretty, not smart. I think we should be paid the same as men for the same work.
Actually, my radicalism goes deeper. I think we are all intrinsically valuable and equal in the eyes of eternity, and that competition is by and large a bad thing, a feature of patriarchy that creates a few winners and a lot of cheating and a lot of losers. I don't see why a CEO should ever earn more than a janitor, whose job is dirtier, more dangerous, and less appealing. I believe all men and women are created equal, so there you are - I'd revise the Declaration of Independence, that's how bad I am.
This movie is the kind of fairy tale our culture is built on. Pretty girl gets prince. Still, I like the feminist spin of the ending. The idea here is that a woman can stand up for herself and make her own way without a guy or his money. So what do we make of that happy ending? Well, by and large chick lit and chick flicks are about love, intimate love being possible between two people. I am contrasting this in my mind with another favorite film, The Big Lebowski, a buddy film that shows committed love between friends, the kind of guys who have a hard time attracting women, I guess. Like Pretty Woman, this is a film based on stereotypes that rises above its genre.
Fair warning: if you are offended by obscenity, you might want to skip this clip, in which the guys are holding an impromptu guy memorial service for their friend.