Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I've been digging through the pattern magazines lately, and with half a dozen laid out from six decades, a whole lot of history is splashed across the pages; the 1950 ones are laden with baby stuff, the 1960s are full of space-themed everything, the Seventies are all earth-toned, What's more fun than the patterns or the colors (if an avocado is that sickly shade of green, you shouldn't eat it, and I don't think you should put it on your head, either) are the models' poses.

Never mind the hair and makeup. We can make fun of all of that some other time. I'm talking about the actual poses, since they repeat so much. Pick up any mass-market magazine right now and look at the women: everybody has skinny eyebrows tweezed into a sharp half-circle, and they're all smiling so hard their bleached-bright teeth show all the way to the jawbones. If it's a food ad we're looking at, the models are holding spoons in the vicinity of their mouths, but they're too busy smiling in a sort of rigid, clown-face way to take a bite. That's going to be the face of this decade, like it or not...and when we look back at photos from these years, we won't like it any better than we do some of the other regrettable fashion phases.
I'm not talking about pictures of people being real; I mean exaggerated movie-star glares or profound gazes, usually with a tipped-down chin. There's a shawl I want to make, but the pattern was written about 1952 and the page features a woman snatching the shawl up around her, glowering at the camera in a half-frightened, half-enraged way. I can't help it; it'll forever be the Scared Angry Lady Shawl. She looks as if the photographer has made a grab for her wrap and she's about to shriek "No! It's MINE! I'm telling!"
And how about this collection from the Eighties? All of the guys are vaguely outdoorsy and staring into space, and all of the women are either clutching books to their chests while peeking shyly out from behind big hair, or standing, hands on hips, displaying their "important bow blouses". Blouses are important. They keep you warm in cold offices and keep you from getting arrested in case you're not wearing a bra. However, the bow at the neck didn't make them or their wearers all-powerful. There's another thing: why, through the Eighties and Nineties, did so many models hold one hand up, wrist kinked back, hand bent to a finger-snapping motion? It looked as if they'd been holding up a card and hadn't noticed they'd dropped it.
Maybe that one came back from a brief appearance in the early Sixties, when it seemed to go with the "I'm ever so sophisticated" pose--nose in the air, fingers snapping on one or both hands. Most magazines seemed to favor that one with First Lady white gloves and pillbox hat, but I can't picture Jackie Kennedy being caught dead twisting herself around like that.
Speaking of politicians, my all-time favorite ridiculous pose came in a rash of political ads during the 1990s. For four or five years, every politician had to be pictured striding out of the office, slinging a suit jacket over a shoulder, and pausing for a moment on the steps of the Capitol--or, if need be, some state office building--to squint into the setting sun. It was supposed to convey a long work day, a job well done, and an eye to some distant future. What it looked like was "Oh crud, it's late, I forgot to call home, and now I can't remember where I parked."
Oh, dear, what are we going to do with the late Sixties and early Seventies? A lot of us who were alive then would really, seriously like to Photoshop our high school yearbooks, because the clothes were...that is, the hairstyles were...and the poses...oh, never mind. At least people in magazines were getting paid to look like that. You cannot tell me anyone is really fond of the picture of a girl smiling vaguely at the camera, or more like the general direction where she and the photographer both think the camera might be. She's wearing a hot pink minidress and white fur boots. This makes sense to her. So does the fact that she and the draperies are having a polite conversation.
In a couple of years, the magazines change from neon green and hot pink to brown and beige, harvest wheat and wilted lettuce. The girls have quit bleaching their hair because it isn't natural and the guys have quit shaving. They're leaning on wagon wheels or holding farm tools, the idea being that they've gone back to the land, the problem being that they look as if they have no idea what to do with anything they found there. Apparently, they were planting the seeds for the Eighties bow blouse harvest.
There was a brief burst of really bad modeling copied from porn ads, in which all the women are pouting about everything from undergarments to floor wax. Some actress must have made that look sultry and tempting, but by the time it ran through a few layers it just looked as if the photographer had threatened to slug the model and she was caught in the middle of saying "Oh, yeah, bub? How'd you like a swift kick?" Speaking of the adult entertainment trade, there was a billboard around here for a gentlemen's club (I doubt most of the customers were gentlemanly.) The picture was one of the dancers lying on her side on the floor, one knee drawn up, hand clapped to her forehead. It was supposed to look like the throes of negotiable passion. What it looked like to nearly everybody was "OW! I went down that whole flight of stairs on these blankety-blank six-inch heels and I got such a splittin' headache!"
Ah, yes, back to this year's magazines. Sooner or later, somebody will figure that the giant super-white teeth in the smile that never reaches the eyes are not quite natural, and some photographer will get so daring that he encourages a model to take an actual bite of the strawberry she's been holding at arm's length for an hour. (That'll be her entire calorie allowance for the day, but that's modeling for you.) Pretty soon, thanks to the unimaginative nature of Madison Avenue, all of the models will be eating in pictures, so the next photographer will have to think of another idea everyone will copy. Maybe he'll pick an ordinary person and take a picture of them doing what they really do every day...
Nah, never happen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Apocalypse, Like, Whenever

The other night, commercials for post-disaster movies were interrupting our golf watching, and we realized we weren't sure which movie to be mad at. When we thought about it, there were at least two,maybe three, or was it four? They all looked alike. Stuff was blowing up at random, a sweaty-faced scowling hero was barking at a bad guy, and people were getting shot and flying around from the aforementioned explosions. Wouldn't it be cheaper to re-cook the old disaster movies instead of...oh, wait, they're already doing that.
Maybe it's a testosterone thing, but I don't get a lot of the movies. Think back to the last one you came across. Let's go with the standard assumption that 99.9% of the earth's people are dead/have disappeared/are some kind of weird mutant thingie, but all their stuff has been left, if not intact, lying around:
1. Our hero is always a male, indeterminate young-adult age, brilliant at improvising. However...all the Stuff is still lying around. Why does he have to make his own gun and shells? You'd think he could take his pick of whatever's left.
2. This brings me to his clothing. Guy Hero could five-finger discount any wardrobe he wanted, but he's always staggering around in a dirty, usually torn, shirt or a leather vest that never gets damaged even if the shirt under it disintegrates. Here's another thing: bust a belt loop on a real guy's jeans, and they start falling down. When our jeans rip, the seat comes out. Guy Hero's skin-tight jeans never come off, no matter how badly they tear, and the only rips are on the thighs, not on the hiney or anywhere else embarrassing.
Meanwhile, Love Interest always manages to stumble all around Apocalypse World in a short, skin-tight, badly torn dress and heels. Are you telling me common sense never gets her to walk into the busted-up mall and pick up some jeans and a pair of hiking boots for climbing over the piles of metal debris?
3. How about Love Interest, anyhow? Her job is to stand around, scream in the right places, and look impressed by Guy Hero's inventions and combat skills. How come she never DOES anything? A few movies have Love Interest be a brainiac of some kind, but always in some scientific field rendered all but useless in Apocalypse, Like, Whenever, so the brainy blonde with the huge gazongas gets to stand around and...(Oh, wait a minute, it's a guy movie. Never mind.)
4. This is a family column, so we'll leave out the obvious, but how come NO ONE EVER TAKES A BATH? I don't care if he's the last man on earth. Sooner or later, Guy Hero is going to stink and even Love Interest will start gagging. Guy can build a nuclear reactor out of tweezers, a Band-Aid and his own chest hair. Are you telling me he can't figure out how to pick up some soap and climb in the river?
5. It can be gruesomely hot and dry, or gruesomely hot and pouring rain, but it can't be cold or snowy after the earthquake/asteroid/virus/volcano/nuclear war. Apparently, the entire world is, and has always been, a desert. I guess the torn jeans and leather vest over bare chest are too important for cold weather. Anyway, Guy Hero is too busy trying to rig a computer out of the wiring from an Edsel to walk into the ruins of an outdoor store to pick up a parka. (Or, for that matter, to walk over to the computer store and pick up a laptop, then salvage a few dozen car batteries from the parking lot by way of power.)
6. Oh, yeah...how come he can never find a windmill generator, hydro plant or solar rack to power his gizmos? They wouldn't stop just because people did. Shoot, if he could find an abandoned off-grid house he'd be in great shape. Nah, it's more fun to sleep out in the open beside a deserted highway within sight of eight bazillion hotels with actual beds.
7. Eating rattlesnakes makes a guy look really tough. It would also be (a) boring if you did that very often and (b) hard on the rattlesnake population. The canned stuff in supermarkets would hold out for a long time, even if I might start eating rattlesnakes after a week or so were the alternative endless cans of Spaghetti-Twirlies.
8. The bad guys are supposed to be geniuses, but they never think of clothing, showers or housing, either. They're too busy cruising around in their Mega-Giant Machine O' Death, which never runs out of fuel.
9. Oh, yeah, the motorcycle. Guy Hero HAS to have a really great bike. After a couple of cross-country runs, wouldn't you be tempted to drive a car? I mean, Harleys are great, but not so much in pouring rain or for those thousand-mile runs across the inevitable desert. Come on, the parking lots would be full of sweet Mustangs and '57 Chevies. Air conditioning, cruise control, a stereo...Guy Hero could always rig a gas pump to work somehow. For that matter, why doesn't he use a Hummer? Or, when the bad guys show up in their techno-truck, a tank? It would save a lot of those tedious conversations:
"You see, Guy, we have a giant laser, with which we propose to--"
10. After the bad guys have been conquered and the desert is safe for what's left of humanity, Guy Hero and Love Interest always look off into the distance vaguely and ride off together toward, umm, more desert somewhere else. At no point do they find a nice abandoned mansion, rig the power and water, haul out the stock of sports videos and lie around in the den vegging out. How, in all his brilliance, can Guy Hero not figure out how to make beer?