I Love Dick–Chris Kraus



I fell in love with the Amazon Prime series starring Kevin Bacon and Katherine Hahn.  Each episode left me slightly uncomfortable and seen.  When the season ended and Katherine Hahn (Chris) was walking away from Kevin Bacon (Dick) with blood streaming down her leg, I needed to know what happened next, what was missing, as something is always missing in the transition from text to screen.

Kraus’ book, not a novel, not memoir, is even more chaotic than the Amazon Prime series.  Kraus divides the book into two parts–“Scenes from a Marriage” and “Every Letter is a Love Letter.”  In the opening pages, Chris falls in love with Dick over dinner and explains why she begins writing him letters.  “What sex is better than drugs, what art is better than sex?  Better than means stepping out into complete intensity….It’s about not giving a fuck, or seeing all the consequences looming and doing something anyway.”  And she does.  She is 40, her most recent film has been rejected, she has not had sex with her husband for over a year, and she steps into an epistolary relationship with Dick and herself.  She loses herself in lust, in her sexuality.  From her sexuality she rediscovers her intellectual power.  She moves from writing about her desire for Dick to her analysis of paintings, reflections of desire of other women, the plight of all women.  As she speaks to herself via Dick, her diary, she asks “Who gets to speak and why?….is the only question.”  Through a Dick projected onto an authoritative art figure, Chris finds her voice.  Towards the end of the book, Chris turns to schizophrenia and semiotics.  In a neat loop back to the beginning of her affair with herself via Dick, she writes, “I think desire isn’t lack, it’s surplus energy—a claustrophobia inside your skin.”  Once Chris began writing, her desire flowed despite rejection from its muse, despite her own flights of hesitation.  Her desire led her to create something new, even while she writes that “no matter where you go, someone else has been before.”

Having read the book on which the Amazon Prime series was based, I’m left hoping for a second season that moves beyond her desire for Dick into her discovery of herself.  The broken, rejected Chris walking away from Dick is not the end of Chris’ story. I hope it will not be the end of the series.

Finished 10/1/17


Why This Feminist Isn’t Furiously in Favor of the New Mad Max

I am stepping outside of books for this post to get a rant about the new Mad Max film off my chest.

I did not see any of previous Mad Max franchise films and I had no plans to see the new one until I read that Eve Ensler was a consultant and that Charlize Theron had gone above and beyond in physically preparing for her role as Imperator Furiosa.  My feminist friends posted calls to see the film and, once they had seen it, posted paeans of praise for Eve Ensler’s single-handedly turning the masculine-bound action franchise on its head.

So I tromped to the theater to enjoy this feminist dream.  I was horribly disappointed.

Yes, the film revolves around the rescue of a handful of sex slaves.  Yes, the rescue is led by a woman (Charlize Theron) who is the leader of her warlord’s shock troops.  She even bears the awesome title Imperator Furiosa.  And she’s missing half an arm.

Others have commented on the failings of this film as a feminist venture (such as this article by whatculture.com or this by inthesetimes.com).  These writers bemoan the scant clothing of the rescued breeders as well as the fact that they are breeders.  They point out that there is a romantic interest and some frisson between Furiosa and Max and that, although Furiosa is tough, Max saves the day and then rides off into the sunset (well, walks).

What I have not seen, however, is anyone commenting on what, to me, was the most egregious anti-feminist element of the film.  When the film takes us into the warlord’s fortress, before we see the empty breeders’ chamber with the famous red graffiti “Who destroyed the world?” (because women could not possibly have been involved in that), we see in a chamber full of the warlord’s henchmen a series of chained women whose pendulous breasts are attached to milking machines.  The henchmen grab jugs of “mother’s milk” and down them thirstily.  The women are captives, exposed, whose bodies are continuously violated to feed the literal thirsts of the warlord and his men.  Why is there no outcry about the plight of these women?  These women are not young and lithe.  They are women we would likely call plus-sized and whose hair and makeup have not been professionally done prior to any rescue.  They are not the type of women our gaze has been trained to find pleasurable.  Surely, however, a feminist film would call attention to their equal exploitation, would categorize them as sex slaves equal to the young breeders?

Instead these women are abandoned when the great rescue takes place.  They are physically and figuratively left behind.  Neither Furiosa nor the breeders comment on their sisters in exploitation who remain chained and whose bodies continue to be violated.  Instead, the film focuses on training all eyes in the male gaze as we together watch their winded cloths slip and fall from their young bodies and as we together watch them remove one another’s chastity belts that are presented less as horrifying than as titillating S&M objects.  Supporting this analysis is the fact that, while numerous images of the breeders and their chastity belts are readily available on various websites, I was unable to find any of the milk women.  They and their exploitation are, once again, omitted.

Why have more feminists not raised an outcry about this gross discrimination?  Young attractive women are worth saving while older, heavier women are not even worth mentioning.  In fact, Furiosa’s truck contains mother’s milk, which the rescuers drink.  They benefit from the other women’s exploitation. Their exploitation is completely unexplored. Why do the men want to drink mother’s milk rather than something else?  How did the women become milkers?  Were they first breeders?

This omission screamed at me in the theater and has continued to scream at me as I have read criticism of the film.  All women are equal, but some women are more equal than others is the message.  While that may be the historically realistic message of feminism (as white, middle-class feminists have ignored or degraded the needs of women of color and lesbian or transgender women, for example), this message is not the theoretical message of feminism, which calls for the equality of women and men.

Let us not rejoice at crumbs, ladies.  We can celebrate the film’s advances while pointing out its shortcomings, just as we do with the society from which it arose.

(Images still from Mad Max Fury Road, a Warner Bros. film.  Linked from time.com and whatculture.com).

The Rise of Enlightened Feminism–Susan J. Douglas

I read Douglas’ Where the Girls Are in grad school and, maybe it was just my age, but her snark seemed wittier then.

Douglas is a feminist media studies scholar at the University of Michigan.  In this book she turns a critical eye to the characters often celebrated for showing “strong” women in the media, particularly on television, and looks at how such images belie the reality of women’s continued inequality and, in some cases, work to counter the gains women made in the seventies and early eighties.  If you adore Buffy or Xena, be prepared for some tough love.  Douglas argues that two groups of women receive particularly rough treatment from this new enlightened sexism:  middle-aged women (the grumpy feminists) and lesbians.   She does devote a chapter to African-American women and argues that they are either stuck as the snappy comedic sister or the ball-busting powerhouse, and so are similarly trapped, but by different means.  Feminism, as portrayed by the media, is best celebrated by thin young women who celebrate girl power while dressed in provocative clothing or who balance their girl power by mourning their inability to have such power and a successful heterosexual relationship centered on child rearing.

Some of Douglas’ rants verge on too snarky for my taste or are just too obvious.  It’s no shock that the Real Housewives franchise or Gossip Girl are not progressive feminist productions.  She refuses to enter Victoria’s Secret, but has to go incognito into Sephora.

One of her consistent themes is the way the media breaks down the ability of women to have any sort of sisterhood and, rather, pits us in competitions for men, the best outfit, the best makeup, the best body, the best jobs (more rare), and the best children.

Some chapters read more quickly than others, but Douglas’ overall message is well worth reading and one I wish all women, especially young women, would take the time to consider.  When we snark at each other, we all lose.  When we let our media outlets get away with it, we lose and advertisers win.

Finished 3/31/12