Grinning and Baring It

Richard Goldstein on the crimes of Courtney Love; he likens her to Janis and frets: “If you step back a bit from this vaudeville, it’s hard to ignore the evidence that Courtney is a woman in crisis. She faces drug possession charges. Her daughter has been removed from her custody. The 10th anniversary of her husband’s suicide is coming up. Sure she markets her madness, but the primal currents that course through her act are real. That’s what makes her a hunger artist. And she doesn’t just put her personal pain in your face. In the tradition of Joplin and Finley, her art answers Sojourner Truth’s fearsome, if rhetorical, question: Ain’t I a woman?

But Courtney’s ‘tude also evokes a much less salutary tradition. Entertainers like her are often rewarded for being out of control, and the reinforcement accelerates their downward spiral. That’s what happened to Janis, and for that matter, Judy Garland. Baring the breast can represent a rebellion against this sacrificial rite. It’s a gesture of agency. Check out the manual of psychological disorders and you’ll see that exhibitionism is regarded as a quintessentially male pathology. When women do it, they lay claim to the phallus.

There’s something about a rampageous woman flashing men that resonates with power. You expect guys to rear back in horror, as they did before Sojourner Truth, or to throw lit matches, as they did at Finley. That was then and this is now. David Letterman was anything but fazed by Courtney’s desk dance. In his insouciance, you can glimpse the liberal man’s defense against the phallic potential of women. Don’t try to repress it—that’s for Republicans. Just sit back and enjoy the show.

If I have to choose between The Stepford Wives and MTV Spring Break, I’ll definitely opt for the latter. But at least conservatives take sexual transgression seriously. The liberal solution is to tame it by trivializing it. That way, male distance is maintained. The classic gesture of female incursion is neutralized. And ultimately the joke is on desire.” —Village Voice

Learning From Prozac:

Will New Caution Shift Old Views?: “Since the ascendancy of the biological approach to psychiatry in the 1980’s, Americans have tended to view psychiatric illness as something that should always be treated with drugs and to believe that medication is the only intervention needed. But the real story of 20th-century psychiatry is how complex mental illness is and how difficult it is to treat.

If there is are lessons to be learned from this controversy, they are that antidepressants should not be dispensed like candy, that depression is a serious problem and treating it a serious enterprise, that therapy should always be considered as an option and that, at the least, patients who are given medication should be carefully followed by people who ask them how they feel.”

—Tanya Luhrmann, professor at the University of Chicago and the author of Of Two Minds: An Anthropologist Looks at Modern Psychiatry, in New York Times

"I still think the world is ending, but perhaps a bit slower than I thought."

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The Age profiles Art Spiegelman’s new work and its reception: “Spiegelman’s role as a staffer at (The New Yorker) became decidedly precarious when the editors saw the working drawings for his new book, In The Shadow of No Towers, which illustrates his emotional and political confusion since September 11.

‘The work is on my feelings towards the hijacking and then the hijacking of the hijacking by the Government. I’m not so sure The New Yorker is being complacent. I’m sure I’d be welcomed back once I had found the right medication.’

Spiegelman’s new book is sure to cause as much, if not more, ruckus as MAUS. It depicts a government out of control, or, more chillingly, totally in control. ‘They had an agenda already on their mind before September 11,’ he says. ‘Drying up funds for health and education and moving the funds upward to the rich, all made more implementable by the war in Iraq.’

Works in progress from The Shadow of No Towers were roundly rejected when he first showed them to publications in New York. They finally found a home in a Jewish newspaper in Manhattan, The Forward.

‘They are a peculiar format,’ he says. ‘They’re broadsheet, colour works.’ MAUS was black and white in paperback format. ‘I’ve finally got them placed in The London Review of Books, Liberation in France, Die Zeit in Germany and La Republica in Italy. So I’ve found my own coalition of the willing.'” [via walker]