Rescuing a Lost Entry

You may recall two years ago I was having serious problems with my Movable Type blog software install (which turned out not to be a problem with MT, actually, but with the site host), so for a day or two I posted to my LiveJournal account while I thrashed things out. Which means the entry below never actually showed up here, which I think is a shame. So I’m posting it here, now. I originally wrote it on June 28, 2007. Sigh. I was so young then.

Today’s Example of an Egregious Use of Something a Writer Once Learned in Freshman Philosophy

It comes from Matt Feeney in Slate, discussing whether various action films are homoerotic (in this case, the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze Surf Crime Dude flick Point Break):

Indeed, claiming a macho film friendship is not-so-secretly gay has become its own kind of silly convention, a fake-subversive cliché. It is better—sounder both aesthetically and sociologically—to view the masculine pathos in films like Point Break in light of the tradition of heroically minded philosophy that runs from Aristotle to Nietzsche. If Point Break is homoerotic, in other words, then so is Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

Well, and it is. All the major Western philosophical tracts are, like, totally gay, right from the moment in Crito when the dying Socrates reminds his friends that he owes a cock to Asclepius. Philosophy never got past that. Consolation of Science? Gay. Summa Theologica? Practically swishes across history. The Praise of Folly? Glam. The Prince? Clearly meant to be read in S&M bars. And let’s not even talk about Nietzsche’s The Gay Science. Because, come on. It’s right there in the title. I don’t even know why this is a question.

More seriously, however, reaching all the way back to Nietzsche and Aristotle to explain why Keanu and Patrick are not, in fact, planning to cock fence each other at the soonest opportunity is completely unnecessary, the middlebrow cultural commentary equivalent of going after a fly with an axe. There are several places to go before you have to hijack Western philosophy for such a meta-exercise. You can talk about director Katheryn Bigelow’s stylish-but-straight directorial canon, the camera gaze of Point Blank focusing more on the action in the film than the hunky, hunky bodies, or the fact that while Keanu or Patrick individually may generate tasty waves of homoerotic delight, placing both in the same film makes them cancel each other out, leaving you with nothing but a bland and depressing straightness that not even Lori Petty’s butchtastic presence can dent. Any of these work without having to drag poor closeted Hegel into it.

And as for the “macho = homoerotic” thing, both in film and in general, well, let’s just chalk that up to the fact that at this moment in the history of our nation straight men have ceded everything but snarky T-shirts, Xbox 360, leet speek and the classic geek pear shape to the men of alternate sexualities. A good-looking man in text-free clothing, speaking about something other than the iPhone? Gay. Two such men engaging each other in a way that does not have a WoW server as an intermediary? Super Gay! 300 such men, fighting Persians in jock straps and capes? Super-Mega-Ultra Gay! You don’t need to drag all of Western philosophy into the discussion, when the present heterosexual male abdication of anything more culturally, emotionally and intellectually resonant than “Dick in a Box” works just as well.

Going back to Aristotle and Nietzsche, Western philosophy’s cute couple, a good and general rule of thumb is that, unless you are having a discussion about philosophy, if someone starts trying to link the topic under discussion to the superstars of Western thought, you should probably have your internal Mr. Sulu raise the Pretentious Twaddle Shield to maximum and then brace for impact. It’s not that the fellow is wrong (Feeney’s overall point that macho is not automatically homoerotic is largely correct), it’s just that going there is probably unnecessary on the rhetorical level, and the only reason to do it is to impress an editor or to show off to your conversational partner that, indeed, you got one of them there edumacations (showing off your book learning? That’s so gay). It might seem impressive at first blush but what it really suggests is a certain lack of rhetorical sophistication, and the lack of awareness of every cultural thing between the quotidian subject under discussion and the giants of philosophy. Something inbetween is likely to be more relevant and on point.

In short: Dragging philosophy into the discussion is not always as effective as you might think it is. Just because Ayn Rand ran to Aristotle for every little thing doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Hell, it didn’t actually work for Ayn Rand. Let’s not get into that now. Although I will say this: if Howard Roark and John Galt ever got together, that would be hot.

(original posting, with comments, here)

55 thoughts on “Rescuing a Lost Entry

  1. So, a in a nude mudwrestling and philosophy competition would your money be on Camus or Plato?

  2. Whenever Nietzche is invoked in a wholly pretentious, loves-smell-of-own-farts kinda way, I usually quote the great philosopher Olson Johnson, who said, “Oh, blow it out your ass, Howard!”

  3. I have to disagree, John; the unending round of posturing and lies that is our politics becomes a great deal more coherent when one can invoke the will to power in the interpretive cause.

  4. The first chapter of the Corpus Hermeticum is totally homo-erotic.

    Poimandres shows the narrator an entirely new way of looking at life and the world around him by giving him a mindblowing sensory experience, then basically says “you work for me now” and drops him off at a boarding house to show other men this new way of life.

    “Shepherd of Men” indeed.

  5. You can always tell the pseudo-intellectuals in half a second, because anyone who grew up in the American public education system knows, the ones who are really smart learn not to show off, and let people think what they want.

  6. Richard @3 [insert oblique reference to Monty Python’s Drunken Philosophers song here]

    [insert oblique reference to Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Soccer Match here]

  7. Heh. Ayn Rand slash. That’s so absurd that it can’t possibly *checks Google* OH GOD IT EXISTS ABORT ABORT

  8. Whatever, Scalzi. This doesn’t get you out of the Smallville slash I’m eagerly expecting to find in… well, you know.

  9. You forgot the mother of all gay philosophical works: Plato’s Phaedrus.

    This is a quiet little man-date between Phaedrus and Socrates; they sit out in the countryside, enjoying the peace of a trickling river and lounging in the shade of a tree while they talk about love. This dialogue is so gay, it out-gays all the other gay philosophical gaynesses.

  10. Going back to Aristotle and Nietzsche, Western philosophy’s cute couple…

    Mr. Scalzi,

    The bill for removing nasally-expressed soda from my keyboard will be delivered to your solictor shortly.

  11. So, a in a nude mudwrestling and philosophy competition would your money be on Camus or Plato?

    That’s a tough one. The Greeks, after all, pretty much invented wrestling (in the mud or otherwise) while Camus was a member of the French resistance during WWII, and so knows how to fight dirty. I would go with Plato though, who was known for being able to keep a rhetorical stance up all night long. After a few rounds, Camus would give up, because what’s the point, really? Wrestling — nude, with mud or otherwise — is a futile act presented numbly to a disinterested universe.

  12. The first three times Patrick Swayze appeared in the post I read it (somehow) as Patrick Stewart. And was having difficulty imagining it.

    Patrick Stewart in a surfer movie, that is.

  13. Today’s “I have no truck with the fruits [chuckle] of my education” entry, following yesterday’s “American SF writers are tougher than leather” post, makes me wonder whether somebody has recently been asked how much he bench-presses.

  14. The thing I found amusing about this entry back in the day was why Matt Feeney cared so gosh-darn much about proving there was no homoeroticism in these macho, macho action movies. If I spent half of Point Break hoping Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swazye made out…who cares? Ten paragraphs of ‘girls don’t get our special bond’ was certainly not going to stop me.

  15. The Marty Stue of an amphetamine fiend with a second-hand grasp of economic theory and a third rate imagiantion.

  16. What’s kind of funny is that I recall reading an article (or was it a video) that showed the difference in how a woman director portrayed men versus how a male director portrayed women. The example in the article of a woman director portraying men in a movie was “Point Break”. And I thought it provided quite a bit of evidence that Point Break showed the main characters as whole individuals.

    The “gay” version would be something like “300” where you get closeups and zoom shots of King Leonides and his men. 300 has slow motion shots of bare chested men moving in combat that is nearly identical in objectification as showing Pamela Anderson doing a slow-motion jog on the beach in Baywatch.

    There’s also the sexualization bit. the men in Point Break wear board shorts. The men in 300 wear leather speedos. board shorts essentially desexualize the body, deemphasize the sexual component of the body. Speedos draw attention to the crotch.

    It’s odd to see “Point Break” talked about as having a gay component to it. I didn’t have that experience. I do recall watching 300 and thinking “this is weird” because they were using all the cues of costumes and photography that they would normally use to objectify women, except it was the Spartan men.

  17. Corby @22: John Galt is in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

    It doesn’t help that I’m unpacking a delivery from Dover
    which contains works by many of these philosophers. :)

    John, et al….thank you for making me giggle maniacally for the rest of the day. My regulars will understand, my new
    customers, on the other hand, will be convinced the
    bookstore lady is strange. Harmless (I hope) but strange.

  18. @Corby #28

    “who is john galt” is a catchphrase from Atlas Shrugged.

    I’m also “unpacking” a lot of the works in this conversation… from my BrainPal. Handy little thing.

    I’m posting from the Sparrowhawk, actually. I guess we ended up in this universe on this skip we just made on the way to CorOH MY GOD

  19. Okay #29, what the hell? This is the second time today I’ve seen the name Alcibiades after going my entire life never having heard of him. What is going on here?

    Calling various things out as being “gay”? Way gay.

    Oddly enough, Rupert Everett, who actually is gay, has been the least gay thing about most of the movies he’s been in, even the ones in which he plays a gay man. There’s probably a lesson to be learned here.

    After this post I’m considering changing my “that’s really gay” catch-phrase from “Gayer than Seigfreid and Roy in a bubble bath” to “Gayer than Keanu and Patrick in Point Break”. Wadyathink?

  20. Point Break may or may not have been homoerotic. Didn’t do a damn thing for me, I must say. Too stupid.

    As for 300—was there anything about that movie that was worth watching other than the ridiculously scantily-clad “Spartans”? I couldn’t bring myself to watch it, even though I absolutley love watching smooth male bodies like that, because of its blatant racism and historical laughability. Again, too stupid.

  21. Awesome as Galt/Roark slash would be, it could also be disasterous, because seriously, who would be the bottom? It would consist entirely of them glaring at each other with desire. Maybe Roark would design a temple in honor of Galt’s huge cock.

  22. @#32, your observation is interesting to me since I found his portrayal of Oberon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” almost unwatchable due to the homoerotic overtones. I don’t know if it was the director’s “vision” to show Oberon as gay, or if Everett simply couldn’t play the part straight. Of course some of the cast butchering the Bard didn’t help my enjoyment (especially Callista Flockhart).

  23. Why do Galt/Roarck fiction when a reading of AS clearly indicates that Francisco d’Anconia and Hank Rearden unrequited feelings for each other? With Dagny taken by Galt, there clearly is only the logical thing left to do.

  24. I simply must delurk to rebut Ian B., who says that Phaedrus is the height of gayness. Like Irene Delse, I would nominate Symposium, which has much praise of gay love, as well as a hearty dose of relationship drama.

    You’ve got Phaedrus and Pausanias praising the noble institution of man-love (in literature and in contemporary practice), as well as Aristophanes offering the androgynous creation myth made famous in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Then, after Socrates says his bit, his ex-boyfriend Alcibiades crashes the party, drunk, rambling on about how they met and how he wants Socrates back. (Alcibiades fell hard. A young stud like him going after the older Socrates was just Not How Things Were Done.) However, the evening ends with Socrates, ever playing hard to get, snuggling on the couch with Agathon.

    The Symposium: pretty gay.

  25. Huh? Maybe I am wired wrong but I have never grasped the whole homoerotic thing. Phalic symbolism also completly slips right by me. I just don’t get it.

  26. Let me just say that, as much as I appreciate the responses, I actually know who John Galt was, and was merely quoting the catchphrase from the novel.

    I am basically self-educated, so any philosophy, etc, that I know has been learned way after high school and not in community college where I got my associates degree. (Best seven years of my life.)

    I read The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and Anthem. I really enjoyed them, not necessarily for the objectivist rhetoric, but for the style of the story. I also love that Rush’s 2112 is a take off of Anthem.

    However, I actually don’t know what quotidian means.

    Sorry, John, for the unintentional troll.

  27. @33: No, there wasn’t anything to see in 300 but the fanservice. And even that wasn’t that good. I think I made about twenty minutes before I decided I couldn’t take it.

  28. @38 – Anything that vaguely looks like a penis? Phallic.

    Ketchup bottles
    Candle sticks
    Guitar Necks
    The Washington Monument
    Rockets
    Ice Cream Cones
    A Porsche

  29. I didn’t see “300” in theaters, being totes turned off by how wingnuts embraced it: I thought it was basically a RW wet dream. But a friend brought the DVD over for movie night at my place, and I enjoyed it – quite a lot, actually. The leads – Butler and Headey, esp. – did a wonderful job. Perhaps having no expectations helped. Perhaps, also, seeing the movie as more of an historical metaphor for the Battle of Thermopylae than any kind of actual retelling of the battle helped.

    BTW, I am unsurprised, but still utterly aghast, that there is such a thing as AR slash. I’m hoping I can continue to refrain from going off and looking for any. Unless there’s ultra snarky, sarcastic, crackfic slash, in which case: point me at it!

  30. John, if I didn’t have a water resistant keyboard, you’d owe me a keyboard. I did need a good, ventilating laughout, though, so thank you.

  31. Corby @39: “quotidian” = “daily”, usually, but here more like “everyday”. As in, “When you’re talkin’ ’bout plain ol’ everyday schtuff, ya don’t need to bring in yer fancy-pants philosophizin’.”

    And FWIW, I got that “Who is John Galt?” was a reference rather than a question. But I’ve managed to absorb Randian philosophy by osmosis from the acquaintance of far too many Objectivists/Extreme Libertarians. So I never bothered to read the books. Are they actually any good? :)

  32. @44 Are they actually any good? :)

    Hmm, that’s not an easy question. There are many fine ideas in the books. And they read pretty easily, if I remember correctly.

    Do they have value? Yes, definitely. If for no other reason than to be in on the pop culture references when they come up. Are they “good” objectively: i.e. well written, well plotted, good characters, etc.? No. Are they “good” subjectively? Yes, I think so.

  33. Clearly, every great man in history was as flaming as Nathan Lane. Thank God ( suspected gay, but not out ) for revisionist homoerotic scholars.

  34. “Thank God ( suspected gay, but not out ) for revisionist homoerotic scholars.”

    Didn’t he show one of the prophets his “hind parts”? Sounds pretty gay to me.

  35. “Diving for Aristotle” has now replaced “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” as my new favorite euphamism.

  36. I always thought the whole ‘Point Break is gay’ thing was so subtle code for ‘Bigelow should piss off back to the cinematic kitchen”

  37. Wonderful prose, Mr. S., and entertaining as always. The peanut gallery is particularly erudite here as well, so their comments and snark have added to the grins.

    I wish I had something suitably subtle and clever to add, but, as a Real Man ™ most of these things are beneath my notice. I simply wish the endless wars would end so a bunch of other Real Men could come home and dilute the swishiness which has run rampant since they left. Do you think other wars had that effect?

    Do you think there is any chance that Obama will actually bring home the warriors who might remember opposing Communism? Sorry, I know that’s way off this topic, and I’m not attempting a threadjack, but beneath the deepest snark meaningful concerns and problems lurk. Send away the Real Men, let the swishers stay, and the government gets to do whatever it wants to. Your light-hearted mockery of the lavendering of America cannot help but raise the question “why has this happened?”

  38. # Elizabeth Colemanon 15 Jul 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Awesome as Galt/Roark slash would be, it could also be disasterous, because seriously, who would be the bottom? It would consist entirely of them glaring at each other with desire. Maybe Roark would design a temple in honor of Galt’s huge cock.

    —–

    Just so you know: you have become one of my personal heroes.

  39. So, a in a nude mudwrestling and philosophy competition would your money be on Camus or Plato?

    Dude. Plato was a professional wrestler. That’s where he got his name. (I mean, his manly name, as opposed to the swishy one he was born with, Aristocles.) “Plato”, meaning “broad”, is right in the same vein as “Hulk”, “The Body”, “Stone Cold”, and so on throughout history.

    So. Yeah, I think Camus is going down.

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