Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Shame Machine

Here are more of my promised ruminations about the Modern Screen magazine I bought. I have been busy writing and FINISHING (yay!) a novel, which I will talk about in a later post, so I am slow in getting this up. I will make the promised scans later. The Lysol Douche ad really needs to be seen to be believed.

I grabbed this one up because of the screaming "Divorce- the Shame of Hollywood" headline on the top. It made me laugh, what with the irony of it all. Divorce in 1950 Hollywood was shameful, but not nearly as shameful as divorce in 1950 middle America. But both still happened.


Well, all of the obvious reasons, I suspect. People finding out they just weren't compatible, infidelity, mismach of agendas, etc. So what did Modern Screen have to say to the whys of this Shame Epidemic in Hollywood? Nothing, actually.

The article in question starts out saying that statistics DO NOT point to there being more divorces in Hollywood than the general population. That, in and of itself, is interesting. The article went on to say that actually, there was just a lot more media coverage of Hollywood divorces, and that was what made them seem more numerous. Wouldn't the fundie-nut 50's lionizers just shit a brick when they realized that people of that time period were not, in fact living the Ozzie and Harriet dream? I am very surprised that the article is intellectually honest enough to admit the "Show Business" types weren't a uniquely sinful aberration in an otherwise peaceful marriage-loving society. What the article really is about is the toll divorce takes on children. As this was before joint custody became the norm, there were some odd and truly egregious situations befalling children of divorce who were often completely abandoned by one parent (usually the father), or torn apart from siblings in what was then a regular practice of awarding custody of one child to one parent, and custody of others to the other parent. The article actually goes to point out celebrity splits that work (Ronald Regan and Jane Wyman were cited as divorced parents who dealt well with the child-rearing issues). Why then, the sensationalized "Shame of Hollywood " headline when the article itself didn't match the tone?

You have to read the rest of the magazine for the answer to that. This magazine was obviously marketed to women, and all of it's contents point very strongly at a propping up of conventional gender roles. This magazine is a great "how-to" manual on Ideal Femininity, Circa 1950's. Every story, every picture, every ad glorifies femininity, chastises women who aren't feminine enough, and offers ways for women to buy their way into the good graces of society, and the men in their lives. Almost every ad plays upon fear, so it makes sense that the headline would, too. Women were obviously used to reacting to shame, and it probably felt good to them to think that someone else might be shameful, too.

Unfortunately, we haven't gotten too far from that shame tactic. Ads targeted at women still extol model femininity, and still imply that most women don't measure up. Advertisers have just gotten a little slicker in their delivery, and have had to dump some of the most patently dangerous and offensive material.