Saturday, April 14, 2012


I wrote a long critque about TALLEY'S FOLLY last August. Only recently have I found this Tiger Beatdown piece that identifies exactly what the Sally character in the play is - a Because...? Um Girl:
So then, of course, you have Eastbound & Down, where a man calls a woman a “bitch” and promises to “fuck her up (with some truth),” because she doesn’t want to immediately jump into a relationship with him, and her reaction to this is to dump her fiance and move to a new city with him about five seconds later, so he basically verbally abuses her into being his girlfriend, which, if we were encouraged to look into her motivations to the same extent that we’re allowed to examine the motivations of the other (male) characters on the show, would be some spooky tragic cycle-of-abuse bullshit – the show emphasizes that the only other characters who are drawn to him are deeply fucked up, I would take “deeply fucked up” as an answer here – but in the context of the show, it’s all cool. Because she’s not a person; she’s a plot point. Because she’s a woman.
Fear and contempt of women are the only motivating factors to write a character this way. In Apatow-Brand comedies, the girls who are not “Because, Um…?” girls are either bitches (wives; sexually unavailable women; professional women; ex-girlfriends) or sluts, typically of the crazy drunk variety. (Woody Allen, another prominent “Because, Um…?” writer, uses Manhattan to compress all of the above-listed “bitch” characteristics into a successful lesbian ex-wife, whom he hilariously confesses to having tried to run over with his car. HA! A man trying to murder a woman because she ended their relationship and/or is not heterosexual! It’s funny, ’cause that’s how a lot of women actually die!) Eastbound & Down takes this tack by having literally only two other female characters, a wife whom we’re encouraged to think of as an uptight bitch and a “fuckbuddy” whose only defining characteristic is that she is such a crazy drunk slut all the time. The “Because, Um…?” girl can only exist in the negative space created by this double bind. If women have standards, they’re bitches; if they don’t have standards, they’re sluts: try to write yourself out of this, and you find that the only feasible way to create a non-threatening female character is to give her no motivations or personality whatsoever, to turn her into a cipher who provides love or sex simply because the plot demands it.
That describes the Sally character in TALLEY'S FOLLY perfectly. She really has no motivation or personality (in spite of claims by the Matt character that she has a temper - which we never actually see) she is there to provide love/sex because the plot demands it. Because Matt suffered from anti-Semitism and deserves a consolation prize for that, no matter how personally obnoxious he is.

But here's the thing - I don't think anybody is claiming that the movies/TV shows discussed in the Tiger Beatdown article are great works of art - OK, except the films of Woody Allen, but the rest of it is generally understood to be a bunch of crappy bro-mance kind of movies, the Porky's of the 21st century. Raw meat to throw to misogynist adolescent men to make a nice profit.

But TALLEY'S FOLLY won a Pulitzer Prize. It's supposed to be High Art. And yet here we see a pure example of the "Because, Um...? girl - she is literally abused into being Matt's wife - stalked, cornered in a boathouse - he physically blocks her from leaving at one point - and then told that her community is a bunch of morons and her family members have stupid names.

Granted, TALLEY'S FOLLY was written in 1979 and there's been some consciousness-raising about stalking since then - but that doesn't seem to matter. The play is still produced to this day and nobody seems to be bothered by the fact that the hero of the play is a stalker and a bully. To date I've yet to meet anybody else in the theatre world who has a problem with TALLEY'S FOLLY.

So if our culture still treats TALLEY'S FOLLY as a touching love story and High Art, can we really be surprised that low-brow bro-mance comedies make free use of the "Because, Um...? girl trope?