This past week was spent either bouncing back from a particularly strenuous (to me, the weak sauce sister) week or clearing out volumes of Netflix Videos on Demand. One of those videos left me even more exhausted and sick of the world.
There exists out there in the Zeitgeist a film about Harlan Ellison. Now, I’ve always loved Harlan Ellison’s work. It resonates with me on a couple of different frequencies. He’s got that lyrical ear for fitting together words in a musical way and he’s also got a great sense of what makes for a great story. Some of his things irritate me with their LSD coating (“Repent, Harlequin” Said The Tick Tock Man tops that list…) but most of the Ellison work I do enjoy. And since I’m on a quest for other writers–and they don’t have Writers’ Bars and Writer Pride Parades where I can find those other living-outside-the-lines people I do things like watch two hours of biographical documentary on Harlan Ellison.
And herein lies my issue. Ellison is apparently, among other things, a raging arse. He treats everyone badly. He yells and swears and abuses folks who will take it because He Is Harlan Ellison, a guy who once wrote a cool episode of Outer Limits…and then two books’ worth of essays on why TV is garbage. (Way to write off the hand that feeds you, Ellison.) Even more than that, Ellison appears to be a card-carrying member of the Warren Zevon/Tom Baker school of “Be a drunk and abusive jerk who sleeps with hundreds of women and breaks their hearts and then when you get old and grizzled and all man-boobed jowly, find a younger woman who will make it all okay.”
It irritates me, this view of women popularised by this particular urban legend. But you see it over and over again in magazine stories about men with checkered pasts. The first one I ever encounted was the Vanity Fair cover story about Dennis Hopper back in 1988. That was when he had his two-fisted comeback with Hoosiers and Blue Velvet. It struck me then as a wonderful story. How fantastic for him, to come back so bravely from a storied struggle with drugs and drink and ego! It was the perfect fairy tale for every man.
Now as I look back on it, holding Ellison’s life next to Hopper’s, I see the gross unfairness of it all. The women they used and discarded in their misspent youths are aged, affected by the years as all women are. Yet the men themselves are attractive–either physically or socioeconomically–and as such can dip down into a younger generation of princesses for their fairy-tale ending. It’s become so beloved a modern fairy story that James L. Brooks turned it into a movie.
Why, instead of being heart-warmed by the stories of these reformed bad boys are we not just a bit miffed at the way these men continue to objectify women–even once they’ve supposedly reformed? Read just one of the interviews where the friends of HimDerella talk about how “she saved him” or “she quiets his demons” or whatever other way they have of saying “he has replaced a dependence on drugs with a dependence on this former makeup artist.”
I love a good love story; love is the engine of my best work. But I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t more selfishness than love in some of these reforming codgers.