The search for wholeness in society, personality, and romance
By Mark Wegierski
The critique of contemporary dualism is an important aspect of the over-all critique of late-modern, Western society. One of the facets of this critique is pointing out the fact of the triumph, on the one hand, of excessive rationality (as in the economic and technological spheres), and, on the other, of excessive irrationality (for example, in terms of certain elements of personal lifestyle, in the extremal aspects of some contemporary popular music, and in the burgeoning acceptance of various “occult” beliefs). Both these trends seem to increasingly expand at the expense of what was once the rooted ideational centre of the society. (This distinction is similar to Daniel Bell’s perception of a rational, economic sphere of society, which is at odds with the antinomian, cultural sphere, as described in his book on “post-industrial” society, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism). It is also reflected in one of the catchwords of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: “adults at work; infants at play”.
Another interesting aspect of this critique is to look at the increasing incidence of the disappearance of a properly-balanced psychological identity among men, vis-Ã -vis sexual relations with women. On the one hand, one sees the ravenous, hypersexual “stud”; and, on the other, the cerebral and introverted “square” or “geek”. What was once the basic traditional male identity in this regard (which might be loosely described as “the hero or knight-errant questing for his lady” — or the ideal-type of the “gentleman”) has come under the fire of both radical feminists and “sex-educators”, who seek to disenchant traditional gender identities and relations. The balance of strength and sensitivity seems to have split (or been forced to split) into these two oppositions.
Ironically, the spirit of romance and of the masterful male is often maintained today — if in a highly derogated fashion — in much of standard, heterosexual-male-oriented pornography. It might even be argued that the impetus of male desire towards increasing extremity in such pornography, is largely in reaction to the emerging society-wide triumph of a neopuritanical feminism, which basically seeks to abolish those dangerous, masterful aspects of men. A more critical view of this phenomenon would see it as part of the over-all, heightened sexual obsession of society — for example, in rock music, television, video, advertising, and film, as well as in that peculiar North American combination of softcore sex and hardcore violence, typified by the so-called “teen slasher-flicks” — which is a social excess existing in parallel to that of the antisexual (or antiheterosexual) type of radical feminism, both of which feed off of each other at the expense of the rooted ideational centre.
The emerging problem in male-female relationships, for most young women, is that the “stud” is exciting but often too cruel; the “geek”, decent enough but unexciting. Two popular movies which showed “masterful” men with a sadistic streak were Nine-and-a-Half Weeks (with Mickey Rourke) and Wall Street (with Michael Douglas). The phenomena of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatrical-operatic interpretation of The Phantom of the Opera; Tim Burton’s Batman epics; The Beauty and the Beast television series; as well as the good knight dressed in black in Ladyhawke (who fights an evil, heretical bishop dressed in white) could be explained psychologically as representing some of the attempts for “the whole man” to re-emerge, in a world dominated by various contemporary correctitudes.
In a similar but somewhat less-positive vein, there is as well today the emerging popular obsession with male as well as female vampire-figures, typified by the Anne Rice novels (and many other works in this subgenre), Francis Ford Coppola’s rendering of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with its motif, “Love Never Dies” (which is only one of several recent movies on a similar theme), as well as the television series Forever Knight, which portrays the half-shaded, twilight figure of a “vampire-cop”. There has also appeared a major network television series, Vampire: The Masquerade, which had much romance and mystique, but little horror. Indeed, vampire romances are now a recognized pulp subgenre.
It may be argued that female psychological identity itself (vis-Ã -vis sexual relations with men) seems to have fragmented into at least three different aspects (although some of these divides were present, to some extent, in many traditional societies) — the faithful but unexciting wife or companion (or nice but not very sexual friend); the sexual temptress; and the completely independent woman. The synthesis of the positive elements of all three of these aspects seems to occur ever-more infrequently. The latter two aspects do arguably appear as united in a character such as that played by Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (who, like the two quasisadistic male figures mentioned above, veered towards the psychologically problematic); or by Michelle Pfeiffer as “Catwoman” in Batman Returns; as well as by the pop-idol Madonna (who is similarly tinged). But it might also be pointed out that many of these very sexual women often fail to achieve (in the real world) what should be remembered is the natural result of sexual relations between men and women. They are thus sexual but not fecund.
An interesting phenomenon is that typified in many young adult females, who tend towards incredibly intense obsessions with idealized “teen idols”, who are very sexual figures to them, but where actual sex, in the vast majority of cases, can never take place. The more average men who are sexually available often become perceived as either too rough or too weak, and generally inadequate. There are clearly a large number of areas today where the critique of excessive opposing extremity, as in personal psychology, social issues, politics, and culture, can be highly instructive.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher, published in Alberta Report, American Enterprise, American Outlook, Books in Canada, Calgary Herald, New Brunswick Reader, Review of Metaphysics, Telos, and The World & I, among others. An article of his about Canada was reprinted in Annual Editions: World Politics, 1998-99 (Dushkin/McGraw-Hill, 1998).