Celia Shits: Pre-Modern Portraits of Men and Women

Oh, poor Tim the ostler! The humble stable buck hopelessly in love with his boss’s gorgeous, red lipped daughter. Like that was ever gonna happen, and she’s in love with the bad boy Highwayman anyway, a dapper thief with a taste for the high-life; the ostler never had a chance. So, what does our scorned, low-born, beta-male do? The only thing he can- Tim calls the police, another group of men more masculine than he, to properly dispose of the Highwayman.

Thus is the premise of Alfred Noyes’s narrative poem “The Highwayman” (1906). You may have guessed that our poor, law-abiding ostler isn’t quite the hero of the story- that role is more closely filled by the titular scoundrel, with the lesson being that we don’t judge the morality of actions as much as we judge the value of those committing them.

And Tim, as a poor stable-hand, doesn’t have much in the way of value- he’s disposable and invisible. In modern terminology, which is ironically also Old English terminology, Tim is a cuck– and if you want any chance at sexual success, you can’t be a cuck.

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The Entitled Boomer and “Vacation” (1983)

“I found out long ago, it’s a long way down the holiday road”

Believe it or not, Clark W. Griswold was pretty fucking masculine. Sure, “Vacation” (1983) featured a kind of proto-idiot Dad, a trope that would become the standard by 1990- but Clark was a different kind of idiot Dad.

Clark was a masculine idiot Dad.

“Vacation” relied on one-joke with Clark, but luckily it was a good one. When Clark would do something stupid, royally screwing things up or putting his family in danger, he would say “I meant to do that” and move on.

This took many different forms. When Clark goes to trade in his car for a new station wagon before the trip- one he surely researched meticulously (my own Dad has a  “Consumer Reports” subscription to this day)- he gets the old “bait and switch,” being forced into buying an ugly clunker after his own car is traded in destroyed. To dispute this by waiting for the car he ordered to come in would ruin his family’s vacation- so what does Clark do?

He sells his wife on the ugly clunker by using the same line that the scam-artist car salesman used on him: “You may think you hate it nowhoney, but wait until you drive it.” Or, in other words, “I meant to do that.” He isn’t apologetic, he doesn’t admit defeat- he takes inventory of the situation and moves forward. This is the masculine approach- yes, even if you’re an idiot.

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