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Knee-Jerk Libertine

The Washington Post is adding another minute or two to "Washintonienne" Jess Cutler's Warhol Clock:

.... Jessica and her friend slid onto stools in the cool dimness of Bullfeathers, a popular Capitol Hill watering hole. Jessica ordered a Southern Comfort. It was the middle of the afternoon on May 18.

"What happened to you today?" the bartender asked.

"I got fired. I lost my boyfriend and my job, and it's my birthday," Jessica remembers telling him.

["Blog Interrupted", Washington Post]

Of course, this is all so three-months-ago, now, but it's rearing its ugly head again, and I'm tempted to wonder why; but here it is, so I'll put into bits some of what I thought at the time, aged by a couple of months to bring a little nuance to the brew. Sit back and listen to a story, then, children, all about a girl who thought she was invisible. Or maybe she just didn't think at all. The details are sordid, and while some of the details are a matter of dispute, the core sounds disturbingly familiar: A young woman takes a quasi-glamorous job in a Senate office that doesn't pay enough to support her in the style to which hip modern young middle-class people believe they should be accustomed. She discovers that she can use sex to improve her position, often through direct cash payments. One day, she begins to blog; her day to day life has the sordid cachet that seems to connote credibility among the denizens of the Fox Generation. And this time, unlike the Plain Layne soap opera, people can actually corroborate the story.

One day, again, she counts her lovers and they total six. "There are seven days in the week," she says in her own defense. The "boyfriend" she "loses" is only one of six men she is sleeping with on an ongoing basis. Two of the others pay her regularly. One of those is a married political appointee, who is only interested in anal sex.

I have some empathy for poor little Jessica, but little sympathy. She bragged about her job and her connections and talked up her exploits as though they were something she was proud of -- though reading between the lines, she seemed to me to be running on bravado as much as anything. After all, bravado -- the willingness to take that dare, even if it's from yourself -- leads an awful lot of people into trouble who are otherwise perfectly "nice". I see her as buying into a set of ideas about what she ought to be like, and how she ought to use her sexuality -- market-based ideas, really. She had an "asset" to sell, and she "sold" it, and she's selling it still, looking for ways to drag out her 15 long enough to close the book deal. All stuff, by the way, that I'm quite sure all her friends are eager to tell her are "smart" things to do.

But even if it's all bravado, all behavior to impress her herd-mates, she still had to choose to live that way. It probably wasn't one big choice. It would have been the result of a bunch of little choices, like making up an imaginary boyfriend to impress the other girls in school. And it's interesting to note that the style of her presentation is much like that men use to tell their own sexual lies. (And while the fake-boyfriend story isn't substantiated, a pattern of other lies-to-impress has been.) It's not that I regard it as scandalous when women adopt male sexual behaviors; in fact, I rather think it's kind of pathetic. After all, what does identifying with the oppressor ever really get you except self-repression?

I also lack sympathy for the Conservative backlash. It's unexamined; it lacks credibility. After all, this "girls gone wild" culture is pushed most assiduously in the broadcast realm by "Conservative" stalwarts like Fox Broadcasting and Murdoch's News Corp. That tells me that there's more than a simple "conservative" v. "liberal" opposition going on here. It seems clear that in a culture driven by consumption, business prospers as we become more neurotic, and the simplest way to drive that is to increase the degree of sexual stimulation at the same time that you increse the pressure to conform to conservative sexual moral strictures. This is nothing new, and it's not driven by any genuine philosophy of enlightenment: It's as old as advertising, and it's driven by the desire to make profit.

So both the Conservatives and the Libertines are fellow-travellers in this, as far as I'm concerned.


Very well thought out. Kudos.

Nice blog--Rusty Shackleford

Still, does it comes down to the same old "same old"?

"Bad girls" are bad, you wouldn't, like, want to bring a "bad girl" home to meet the folks, but "bad girls" are interesting enough to cause this kind of thought provoking dialogue, they are, at worst case, just plain entertaining. (That point was already made here, let's face it, they get the attention.) And if you like bad girls, good to know they still exist and carry on, right? So "bad girls" are in a sense good. Good to have around, at any rate.

But does that mean good girls are bad? It usually does, "good girls" aren't suppose to be sexy, so they are boring. And if they are, that's not good. So "good girls" are bad, too. In a different way. In a way that doesn't serve them.

It's still a basically double standards society, as so adequately pointed out (and supported?).

What's a girl to do?

When you look at women as "good" girls or "bad" girls, you're already framing everything in terms of opposition. I.e., Jessica Cutler or Jenna Bush have to be "good" or "bad" in relation to some standard.

Where it tends to get twisted around is that it's commonly regarded as "good" to be "bad".

What a girl's to do, I'd say, is be herself. Not a simple thing, to be sure; how do you separate your own mind from the stew of the world?

But here's the real crux of the issue, to me: "The way Jessica saw it, suckers were stuck doing things they didn't want to do. Jessica refused." [WaPo] This is the problem. This is the moral choice: You can view other people as people, or as suckers. Because, let's face it, there can't be any Jessica Cutlers without a herd of suckers to support them.

Of course, a hypothetical Jessica can simply respond that the suckers can also choose. And she's right: It's broadly logically possible for the suckers to choose. But it's also broadly logically possible that I'll be elected president. In November 2004. It could happen. But it won't.

The real score, here, is that Jessica gets to be "bad" and be famous for it because the substantial body of people aren't "bad". Bad is a moving target.

But Jessica will probably do just fine. She's got the kind of flexible, pop-culture morality that can bend with the wind to let her take whatever ethical position suits her best. That's what being a "survivor" is about.

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