Hillary Clinton has denounced Bernie Sanders far more times than she has denounced her friends Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Clinton, Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein.
— tweet from Anonymous (the group)
On the same day that we learned about the zany double-endorsement of Klobuchar and Warren by the execrable New York Times, the capitalist press was also regurgitating remarks by Hillary Clinton which included, “Nobody likes Bernie Sanders.”
In the past few weeks, we have seen the acknowledgement by these stenographers for power that Senator Sanders is positioned, his army of millions mustered, to grab the Democratic nomination. This was followed by a barrage of smear campaigns dutifully echoed and amplified by that same capitalist press. Hillary Clinton’s anti-Bernie jeremiad is just the latest. On the other hand, her bomb went off like a wet squib and had the same anti-effect as the hit job during that buffoonery they called a debate: Sanders’ fundraising spiked, and the political semiosphere exploded with stuff like the Anonymous tweet above.
I admit to disliking Clinton, the Clintons actually, her and Bill both. I dislike their perfidious center-right politics, but I also have a problem with the way she attacked women who spoke out about Bill Clinton’s career as a slimy sexual predator. It’s astonishing to me that she continues to use the senescent playbook of the same handlers who engineered her loss to Trump. Her judgement seems even more flawed than I could have imagined; on view as she attempts to resurface in the post-#MeToo, post-Epstein “suicide” era — an era that exposes Bill and her craven complicity with him.
Goldwater Girl meets the Rhodes Scholar who grew up in a town built by the Irish mob. And she stands by her man — even if she despises him . . . because she refused to sacrifice that stepping stone to her own embittered ambition.
At the same time that Elizabeth Warren is deploying bourgeois “feminism” to tar Sanders with the “Bernie is a sexist” smear, cribbed from the Clinton campaign, Clinton herself has popped up again . . . like the perfect target.
Last year, Wipf and Stock, my publisher, released a little book of film crit I did called Tough Gynes — Violent Women in Film as Honorary Men. It looked at nine films with violent female leads, unpacking the bourgeois “feminist” tropes in these films that correspond to “lean in,” “girl power,” and “post-feminist” feminism. Liberal feminism, if you like. That brand of “feminism” which demands only the most symbolic forms of “equality” by promoting women in positions of unjust power instead of men . . . and which leaves the circumstances of the overwhelming majority of women untouched. Instead of a golden bull-calf, we can worship a golden cow-calf. There was one anomalous chapter in the book, which deconstructed the film Michael Clayton. I’m posting that chapter here, because it mentions Clinton in the most compassionate way I know how, acknowledging the double-bind of women ascending through the old ceilings of power, and I’ll follow with a few concluding comments.
Chapter 6: Monstrous Women and the Idol of Success: Karen Crowder
Tilda Swinton, superb in Michael Clayton, makes a virtue of being the only gal in her own otherwise male-dominated ensemble. Her performance as the morally decentered opposition lawyer Karen Crowder is a brilliant reproach to a frankly wretched part: the role is tinged with misogyny, but Swinton makes Karen, with all her neurosis and terror, seem like the stricken victim of a man’s world.1
I agree with Silverstein. Michael Clayton is partially redeemed by Tilda Swinton’s performance from the clueless misogyny of its own writer, director, and producers; because Swinton takes a Monstrous Female and humanizes her in a way that bridges — in my view — the contradictions of a film like this and the contradictions of women in the real world contesting for the traditional power of men. When I saw Swinton’s “Karen Crowder,” I found myself empathizing with her even in the face of her murderous calculations. I thought of the real Hillary Clinton, not the persona she has been driven by her ambition to project in public for so many years, but the more tragic private one — obsessive, perpetually worried, terrified of any whiff of vulnerability being discovered, and thereby cut off from the kind of vulnerability that is the precondition of intimacy. Sacrificing all before the idol of success.2
Karen Crowder is not the main character in Michael Clayton, Michael is, played by George Clooney. Along with Arthur Eden, the brilliant, bipolar attorney at the mega-firm that employs Michael as its fixer. Michael is “fixing” the problem of Arthur going off the rails as lead attorney defending U-North (a kind of fictionalized Monsanto) in a class-action law suit over a highly carcinogenic herbicide. Karen Crowder is U-North’s General Counsel, a position that we can infer is relatively new, and relatively tentative, given her obvious anxiety and obsequiousness in the company of her boss, CEO Don Jeffries, and her embarrassed reference to a bumpy start in the not-too-distant past.
Karen Crowder is not the main character in this film, but she is the main villain. She organizes a contract killing of Arthur, followed by an attempted assassination of Michael Clayton, to neutralize the threat of her employer losing its multi-billion-dollar class-action lawsuit.
In a sense, I am departing from the theme of honorary male with Karen Crowder, because — even apart from the casual misogyny of the film — Tilda Swinton’s performance hits inadvertently on a paradoxical truth about real women trying to make it as honorary men in the real world of high-powered politics and business. If it degrades men, it will degrade women. But that is not what this film is meant to convey, at least by intent.
Let’s talk about misogyny first.
The writer and director, Tony Gilroy, is the author of the screenplays for the Bourne series, high-powered, fast-action thrillers starring Matt Damon as the amnesiac former government assassin, Jason Bourne. Gilroy was nominated for an Academy Award for Michael Clayton, as were others; but his comfort zone is obviously with the boys; and his one female action lead was actually Jen, in Star Wars: Rogue One, which he co-wrote with Chris Weitz and Gareth Edwards. Jen was a Smurfette, the only significant female part in an otherwise all-male film. Jen kicked ass, for sure, and she was “hot.” [earlier references in book to the trope of Exotic Hot Girl with a Gun]
Michael Clayton centers its initial action around the manic monologue of Arthur Eden, after his middle-aged infatuation with Anna, a nineteen-year-old member of one of the plaintiff families, triggers a man-epiphany about the depth of the evil of the company he represents. This is the Insider Becomes Outsider trope. Arthur’s monologue opens the film as a voiceover, then the movie circles around to re-capture that monologue again in person after Arthur is locked up for stripping naked at Anna’s deposition.
During this carpet-chewing monologue, Arthur describes his Damascene moment, which happened while he was with two prostituted Lithuanian women. Understand, that Arthur is meant to be the absolute most sympathetic character in the whole film;3 and this is important, because as he describes this epiphany — after he has understood the difference between Good and Evil — he says:
I look up and there’s Marty in my office. He’s got some champagne. He tells me we just hit 30,000 billable hours on U-North and he wants to celebrate. So an hour later, I find myself in a whorehouse in Chelsea with two Lithuanian redheads taking turns sucking my dick. I’m laying there and I’m trying not to come and I wanna . . . I wanna make it last, so I start doing the math. I think, “Thirty thousand hours, what is that? That’s 24 times 30. That’s 720 hours in a month, 8760 hours in a year . . . No, wait, wait, wait! Because it’s years! It’s lives! And the numbers are making me dizzy and, you know . . . now, instead of trying not to come, I’m trying not to think, and I can’t stop. I mean, is this me? Am I this freak organism that has been sent here to sleep and eat . . . and defend this one horrific chain of carcinogenic molecules? Is that my destiny? Is that my fate? Is that it, Michael? Is that my grail? Two Lithuanian mouths on my cock? Is that the correct answer to the multiple choice of me?
I’ll wager that this monologue strikes men and women differently. I’ll further wager that many men will feel himpathy for Arthur without giving much thought to how thoughtlessly he has simultaneously objectified and marginalized two probable victims of sex trafficking4 whom he has exploited with none of the remorse he now feels for defending his client.
Two women whom he reduces without a second thought to two mouths on his cock, and is that his destiny, his grail, the answer to the multiple choice of him. Because as we identify with Arthur, in his moment of revelation, we know that it is all about Me. Man-Me. Those exploited women who have been ordered by a pimp to stick Arthur’s rich, middle-aged dick in their mouths are not the equivalent of (virginal) nineteen-year-old Anna, the Midwestern farm girl who has stolen Arthur’s heart — “God’s perfect little creature,” Arthur calls her — and inaugurated his redemption. Two throwaway Lithuanian “redheads” are just part of Arthur’s symbolic background music, Arthur’s account of probable rape5 being kind of funny and cute. Another “cute” throwaway line is Michael himself, on the phone with another attorney, saying, “Look, what can I say? Don’t piss off a motivated stripper.” Whore-Madonna, anyone?
The Monstrous Feminine takes a turn with Karen Crowder. Generally speaking, the term, as coined by Barbara Creed,6 refers to men’s sexual anxieties with regard to women, to toothy vaginas and castration complexes. But with Crowder, who is systematically de-sexualized in the film, her monstrosity is based on her inability to handle man-stuff in a man’s world without resorting to the worst of the man’s world, in this case contract killing through a shadowy Blackwater-type security agency. So when one man, Arthur Eden, suddenly faces a moral dilemma and tries to put justice aright (albeit by breaking his oath as a lawyer) for the virginal nineteen-year-old Anna and her family, it is the woman Karen Crowder’s inability to deal with the crisis that leads her to a fatal escalation — which, by the way, will be put aright by another man who comes face to face with his own moral dilemma — Michael Clayton (joining the Insider Becomes Outsider trope).
Crowder’s de-sexualization — accomplished with unflattering shots of her rubbing her sweaty armpits and non-provocatively half dressed in a hotel room, emphasizing rolls of fat along her midsection, dressed for work in suits that efface any hint of sexuality — highlights her loss of (sexually attractive) womanhood (in the mind of the writer-director) as she attempts to make it in the world of real (ruthlessly competitive) men.7
Her loss of womanhood, in contrast to the fair Anna, is precisely the basis of her monstrosity, monster in its meaning as something that deviates from the norm.8
Crowder’s “unexcused” incompetence raises the damning possibility that women per se may be ill-suited for the world of high-powered lawyers. This is a more troubling conclusion than other lawyer films that imply women can be competent lawyers if they reconcile the inherent tensions between their professional and personal lives. Karen Crowder epitomizes the depravity that exists once women venture from the private sphere [not the position of the author], where they are thought to find their ultimate satisfaction, into the public sphere of the legal world. Stripped of her femininity, she is a shell of a human being with no sense of purpose, no significant personal relationships, and no redeeming personal traits. Whereas being a workaholic can be seen as a sign of passion and dedication in a man, in a woman it is portrayed as a sign of weakness. With no sense of self, she looks to other people for answers, for confirmation of her role and identity. With her entire identity defined by her performance as general counsel of U-North, Crowder does the unthinkable [contract killing].9
Karen Crowder becomes simultaneously the antithesis of both sweet Anna and the Hot Chick with a Gun (redeemed, at least, by “fuckability” [earlier reference]).10 Her character is an expression of men’s sense of dislocation in the face of women with economic and political power. This male discomfort extends far back into literary history. Just look at Chaucer and Shakespeare (un-reformulated by decontextualized modern readings), when the monstrosity of women in power was codified in philosophy and law, and this same trope re-emerging in Michael Clayton is as unsurprising as men’s casual acceptance of the story line and the narrative’s casual misogyny.
The distorted image of women lawyers in film is fairly widespread and is the subject of frequent commentary. Most women lawyers in 1980s and 1990s films are unmarried or divorced, struggling to reconcile their professional lives with their personal lives . . . The prevalent theme in these films is that women cannot exist in the legal world without sacrificing their “female self” — their roles as mother, daughter, wife, or girlfriend.11
Compare this with the spate of popular ruthless (black!) women-in-power series that now dominates the television scene (How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal), and we can gain a glimpse of three different, related phenomena: how reactionary Karen Crowder’s character is, how popular race and gender decoys can conceal actual power structures, and how modernity’s moral anchor, stretching its line back into the past, has broken loose and left us ethically adrift. In Murder and Scandal, two different but both brilliant professional black women — both trained as lawyers — are portrayed as successfully playing hardball with the Big Boys, amorally and ruthlessly so, each with a multi-racial, sexually-diverse posse, who bang their ways through hyperactive, life-and-death plot twists with the alacrity of Serena Williams knifing back fast serves at the Australian Open. Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) and Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), characters created by a very successful African American woman — Shonda Rhimes — represent black women who have “made it,” albeit at the expense of nearly all remaining moral ground (a postmodern conceit), in ways that look remarkably post-racial and post-feminist (both characters are highly sexualized; and both series use a good deal of fast and furious sex involving almost all the main characters to salaciously retain their tempo). In the real world of the audience, however, the majority of racial minorities and/or women are still getting the shitty end of the stick.
This is classic race-gender decoy signaling (falsely) that if you work hard (and set aside any moral scruples) you can make it (in the white “meritocracy”). It abandons any and all criticism of the actual system within which these women are “succeeding.” This, in turn, indicts our “post-theoretical,” post-modern period. Old moral strictures held on through the evolution of a political economy based on avarice and ruthlessness, waning vestiges of some long-forgotten attachment to actual human virtues. Now they are being discarded in favor of raw power, and that raw power is celebrated as virtue; just as symbolism (underdogs “making it”) comes to trump reality: unreconstructed racial and gender inequality created and maintained by the very system within which that inequality nests.
Karen Crowder is meant as a warning from men to women, an old fashioned one that predates the MTV kick-and-punch narrative pace and post-Tarantino moral destitution of Scandal and Murder. It says that at the end of gender, as a system that divides power between men and women, is chaos and horror. In a very real sense, Michael Clayton is a 1970s Reluctant Hero trope,12 and women are seen through that (male) lens. This is why the predominantly old, white, male Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was quick to bestow multiple Oscar nominations on the film. It was familiar: film noir (concrete jungle), hero-lawyer (male), Insider Becomes Outsider (male), Western (white male, reluctant hero). This is why many of us enjoyed the film with our first uncritical viewing. The conventions were familiar, the production values high, and we like those things for the same reason I can eat a large bag of Twizzlers — they’re tasty, strangely addictive and familiar satisfactions without much nutrition.
Katarzyna Poloczek makes some interesting observations about Michael Clayton and Karen Crowder in her essay, “From the Kitchen into the Bathroom.”13 Women characters, prior to the backlash against feminism, were portrayed in the kitchen: the Angel in the Kitchen trope. Think I Love Lucy, Leave it to Beaver, Little House on the Prairie, and more recently Soul Food. Poloczek notes that as women were confronted (in the male mind) with the drawbacks of feminism, the site of their angst became the bathroom. She cites episodes of House, Black Swan, and Michael Clayton.
In Michael Clayton, this happens in the first scene after the opening sequence in which Michael’s car is mysteriously blown up. We flash back. On screen: “Four days earlier.” We are in the swarming hive of the big law firm, “Kenner, Back & Ledeen.” One lawyer approaches another with a telephone, announcing, “It’s that cunt from the Wall Street Journal,” whereupon his Big Boss takes this unseen but uppity “cunt” and puts her quickly and soundly in her place. That’s what the “cunt” gets for playing with the Big Boys. The next thing the boss asks, during a frantic midnight crisis management scene in the Big Office, is, “Where in the fuck is Karen Crowder?” Her name called, Karen does not make her entrance in the film with the protagonist’s first-scene backlighting. Instead, we find her cowering in a bathroom stall, mouth agape, overwhelmed with anxiety, lifting up her arm and showing the audience a huge sweat stain that would have been covered by her suit jacket.
Likewise, throughout the rest of the film, the official game of (self) deception that the Swinton character plays is interrupted and undermined mainly in the bathroom scenes where the nearly out-of-her-mind woman puts aside her professional mask, and we can discern her true emotions. Unseen and unjudged by others, it is only in the bathroom that Crowder can be in touch with her body and her real feelings. Karen escapes to the bathroom each time when the situation becomes too overwhelming and when she is about to lose control. The audience examines Karen’s exposed body, with all its imperfections, corporeal fluids, and strained nerves when her entire organism revolts against what her mind is rationalizing.14
Paradoxically, these are the most compelling scenes in the film, in my opinion. In spite of the male misogyny that permeated this film and motivated her scenes, Swinton humanized them with her amazing performance. They confront us with a reality for women trying to make it in a “man’s world” that is difficult to acknowledge without setting the stage for certain ideological confusions. This is where I think we can usefully compare the fictional character of Karen Crowder with the real politician, Hillary Clinton.
Managing a public persona, especially for people driven by powerful ambitions, requires the most profound kind of compartmentalization — the separating out of one’s performances, even one’s professional duties and obligations, from all other aspects of one’s life that might be categorized as personal. There is no more emblematic role for compartmentalizing than that of the combat soldier, who might engage in the most barbarous kinds of violence and calculated cruelty in a war zone, then be expected to behave in dramatically different ways as a brother, husband, or father.15
In an interview, Tilda Swinton explained how she got into character for Karen Crowder, saying, “For me, she is like a soldier. She wears a uniform. She follows the flag. It is reductive to think this is only about lawyers or America. It’s about systems that require people to leave themselves outside while following orders.” Swinton went on to describe Crowder as a “good girl” who wanted to do a good job, but in her need to prove herself surrendered to desperate measures. “My lawyer was at the screening . . .” said Swinton, “and I said to her, ‘Tell me this isn’t true.’ And she said, ‘Well, I believe it.’”16
Hillary Clinton began running for the presidency of the United States sometime between 1992 and 2000. We can’t read her mind about exactly when she set her cap for it;17 but in 2000, she changed her address to New York for the express purpose of using her and former President Clinton’s political capital to run for the safe, soon-to-be vacated US Senate seat of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Few people doubt that this move was calculated as the logical springboard for an eventual presidential run, or she’d have run for Senate in Arkansas. When she did run in 2008, her willingness to perform in accordance with the cynical machinations of several of her husband’s former managers (winning her a reputation as a highly scripted, and even wooden candidate) backfired in South Carolina, and set Barack Obama on a course to defeat her for the nomination. Her consolation prize was to be appointed Secretary of State, whereupon she very predictably threw her hat back into the ring for 2016. What was going to be a party coronation ran into a roadblock as a populist revolt threw up Bernie Sanders, an avowed “democratic socialist,” as a serious primary opponent. The rest, we know, is history, as she was narrowly and stunningly defeated by the unlikely, terrifyingly stupid, and dimly venal Donald Trump.
Politics is gendered, and when anyone is running for President, the highly gendered question is raised, again and again, of who is tough enough (read: macho enough) to be a “strong Commander-in-Chief.” Clinton knew this, and as a Senator, she was already erring on the side of military action, voting yes on every military action proposed, including the disastrous war in Iraq. As Secretary of State, she hawkishly promoted the expansion of US attacks from two to seven nations, the (again disastrous) overthrow of Libya by military action, and even facilitating a coup d’etat against a democratic government in Honduras. No one was going to out-macho her as Commander-in-Chief; and she amassed a body count to prove it.
Like Karen Crowder, though, where men could get away with doing these amoral man things in the tough “man’s world,” women were caught in a double-bind. On the one hand, when you commit big crimes, you deserve to be punished; and both women were willing to have others killed to get where they wanted to be. On the other hand — and this recalls the contradictions of the O. J. Simpson trial — the public sphere is infected with sexism (and racism), and there is little doubt that the difference between the way Clinton was treated for doing the same things that men had done was — for a substantial part of the population — based on a profound double-standard. So, for some the opposition to Clinton during the nomination process was based on opposition to particular policies that were similarly opposed in their male guises by Bush and Obama. For others, there was explicit sexism. And so many people found themselves simultaneously opposing Clinton’s policies while trying to defend her from attacks that were based on sexism, as well as defend themselves from those who took any opposition to Clinton as evidence that they were guilty of sexism.
In the film, Michael Clayton, speaking for myself, I had a glimpse, through Swinton’s portrayal, of the special price paid by women for that kind of ambition — and I felt empathy for the character as she rehearsed and rehearsed, fighting always with a kind of latent self-loathing at a perceived inadequacy drilled into a woman for her lifetime, lapsing into a terrible sadness between “takes” on her upcoming performance in that bathroom mirror. And it makes me wonder about Clinton, in her moments of highly privatized vulnerability, and how unbearably sad she may actually be. Justice aside, because I’m not clean either. I was a combat soldier; and I committed brutal actions in pursuit of my own ambition to prove some version of masculinity.
The danger here, in acknowledging the moral and emotional cost for women who are trying to fill what were formerly male shoes, is twofold.
First, by focusing on the cost for women, we might miss what is wrong with these forms of power in the first place;18 and second is that anti-feminists will be quick to attempt, as Poloczek points out, laying this issue at the feet of feminism for “taking women out of their proper roles,” emboldening the anti-feminist backlash.
Has Hillary Clinton made herself over to be an honorary male as a route to the top? I would suggest the answer is a qualified yes. Traditionally male roles do not adapt themselves — or their “masculine” character — to liberal feminists. The liberal feminist, if her goal is to “make it” in the existing hierarchies, will be forced to adapt herself to the norms, goals, and attitudes of the job description, developed by foregoing patriarchal males within a meshwork of patriarchal social relations, some pregnant with violence.
A related problem is the “cult of success.” For Christians [I wrote this book from a Christian perspective], who follow an itinerant beggar rabbi who was killed by the authorities, the notion of meritocracy, and its “cult of success,” ought to be anathema. Moreover, the “cult of success” mindset is one that easily substitutes individual and symbolic success stories for the goal of systemic justice (for all). It is a powerful temptation, because any group of people who have been systematically put down by being told how they are unfit to “make it” will understandably celebrate anyone who proves this particular claim of unfitness wrong — simultaneously rebelling against the system while accepting and reiterating its basic premises.
Hillary Clinton did make it, even if she didn’t make it to the very top. And while I wonder about the price she paid, morally and emotionally, to get there, I would ask the same question of the men who preceded her.
Recognizing that her status as a woman really was an impediment in a sexist society, I also have to recognize that the price she paid may have been steeper than the price paid by men. In real life, I imagine this is very difficult for her. Clinton did engage in directed violence, though unlike Karen Crowder, who is represented as pursuing violent goals for personal gain, Clinton — like all politicians — wrapped her violence in the flag and characterized it as redemptive. In real life, it is true, she continues to benefit from her status and power; but I wonder if she might also be sad in her center.
Karen Crowder, on the other hand, must be made to pay.
Ironically, now as a converted neophyte, Clayton executes the conclusive justice on Karen . . . Clayton triumphantly and patronizingly preaches Crowder a backlash lesson . . . “For such a smart person, you really are lost, aren’t you?” . . . Swinton’s character seems to epitomize aptly . . . the recent backlash against women. Ingenious as the acting performance is, it does maintain the negative stereotypes of professional women clichés: Crowder [note the surname, crowding in where she does not belong] is viewed as desperate; an emotionally disturbed person with no personal life who decided to build her career over the dead bodies of her competitors — not just for money or power but to prove to men that she “can have it all.” She is ultimately overcome and victimized by the very same patriarchal system that she tried to serve so dutifully.19
In 2017, as the Weinstein revelations came out, Hillary Clinton said of her old friend that she was “appalled.” Her appallment has never extended to her estranged husband, and she is loathe to mention the name “Epstein” now, because everyone knows that Bill and Jeffrey were tight.
In fact . . . and this is where the latest from Hillary is the most indecipherable except as her handlers’ incompetence . . . in the era of #MeToo, the best thing she would do for the Democratic Party establishment — up to its neck in sexual predators — is to keep a low profile. So what’s going on?
Let’s begin with her own history of complicity in defense of her own spouse. Surely she understands that this just re-exposes her, Bill, and much of the geriatric Democratic establishment, to exactly the kind of childishly simple opposition research that could sink political careers. Her own bourgeois “feminism” is a fallen statue in the wake of #MeToo, a movement that has put patriarchal sexual relations between men and women back at center stage. It’s very difficult to say “believe women,” when you’ve tried to attack and discredit the numerous victims of your own husband’s sexual predation.
Say their names: Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, Leslie Millwee, Kathleen Willey, Sandra Allen James . . . all asking at once to Clinton’s bourgeois “feminism” what Sojourner Truth asked to the Women’s Convention of 1851: “Ain’t I a woman?”
What’s going on, I suspect, is another Hail Mary play from the establishment in their absolute panic about Sanders as he is positioned to sweep Iowa, New Hampshire, and — with that momentum — Nevada . . . prior to South Carolina and Super Tuesday. And like every play they’ve tried so far, it will crash on the rocks, because they are using old maps to navigate a new political terrain. They “really are lost.”
I believe they are trying to re-nominate her. Hulu is featuring a miniseries on her, and the press is going nuts republishing her remarks against Sanders. I think they’re floating trial balloons for a strategy that involves inserting her into a brokered convention.
It’s an idiotic ploy, consistent in every way with how they’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory again and again. And every attack on Sanders, trying to paint him as a closet sexist over the last week and a half, has resulted in backlash against the perpetrators, a continuing loss of credibility among the sycophantic press, and another surge in support and fundraising for Sanders.
I want to tell them something about being in a hole . . . stop digging. But they can’t hear. It’s like they’re trapped in a bubble that’s broken away from the political firmament and started floating away . . . further and further away from reality . . . and everyone in it listens to everyone else obsessively saying the same things over and over, in complete denial about the fact that they are no longer attached to anything.
1. Silverstein, Women & Hollywood.
2. Film that portrays this idolatry in men tends to redeem the male protagonist from his personal failures by making him very good at his job. Perhaps what will redeem films is when they can portray this idolatry in men the same way they did for Karen Crowder. But, as it stands in this film, Michael Clayton — also a failure in personal matters — is stereotypically redeemed in the public/professional world by solving the whodunit and taking down Crowder. Swinton’s portrayal does make Karen Crowder come across as a victim, which I will argue is the truth in many respects about what happens to women trying to “make it” as honorary men — the moral hazard of “equality” in a world where men have the prerogative, even the obligation, to engage in cutthroat competition. However, the film goes on to subvert Swinton’s performance, and its implications, by depicting Crowder, and not patriarchal cutthroat competition, as somehow monstrous.
3. A trope that Kate Mann calls “himpathy.”
4. “It’s lives!” But there are two Lithuanian women whose lives are incidental.
5. Department of State, “Lithuania.” More than forty percent of people trafficked from Lithuania are women and girls destined for the sex trade, mostly in Britain and the United States. These women are under the constant control of pimps, “broken in” by gang rape, often at the ages of fourteen to fifteen, and “work” virtually as sex slaves. Therefore, anyone who pays (ultimately pays a pimp) to have sex with them is engaging in nonconsensual sex, i.e., rape. This condition of coerced servitude is true of most prostituted women, and should give pause to the people who try to sanitize this situation by calling prostitution “sex work,” and try to pass off this vicious and highly-organized form of sexual exploitation as a “contractual” relation.
6. And seen through a Freudian-Lacanian frame, again.
7. There is a whole field of psychology, called “disgust psychology,” studying how disgust is learned as a social policing mechanism. Who is in? Who is out? There is a long history of hatred for the female body, sexualized and de-sexualized, reinforced by culturally encoded disgust. This exists alongside the idealization and sexualization of women’s bodies — which are infantilized with compulsory hairlessness and thinness, demobilized in high heels, and silenced in representation (with its opposites represented as disgusting). The body’s boundaries are policed by socialized disgust; and women’s bodies, as the boundaries that are breached, by menstruation, lactation, and childbirth, are represented as disgusting objects. This body-boundary disgust is symbolically associated with something called “animal-reminder disgust,” which is likewise associated with the fear of death. Culturally, the object of disgust is dealt with by expulsion, often using a scapegoat mechanism. The object of disgust is expelled from within the social boundary, exiled or destroyed. Karen Crowder will eventually be destroyed figuratively (as she collapses to the floor) and expelled (arrested and presumably sent to prison), this being the cathartic moment in the film.
8. Monstrosity for females comes in several guises: castrator, bad mother, black widow, ambitious woman, etc. Mythically, monsters are often “unnatural” hybrids — centaurs, minotaurs, etc. Androgyny, the manifestation of both “masculine” and “feminine” characteristics, is still perceived by many as monstrous, or “unnaturally” hybrid.
9. Banks, “Women Lawyers Betrayed,” 119.
10. The criterion of “fuckability,” reviewing now, is related to the maintenance of men’s sexual prerogative, a perceived entitlement to women’s bodies, and an entitlement to define women as sexual objects, particularly in the face of women’s “incursions” into formerly male fields apart from sex, like certain work and sports. It is a way in which men can continue to “enclose” women, reducing them to a figuratively possessable object. Where men are seeing their control over women diminished in other fields, they will more aggressively reassert that control in the sexual realm. You can have that gun in my story, as long as you meet my “hotness” standard.
12. Kamir, “Michael Clayton,” para. 23.
13. Poloczek, “From the Kitchen to the Bathroom.”
15. Real combat soldiers are overwhelmingly men. The same applies, however, to sisters, wives, and mothers in armed service.
16. Wloszczyna, “‘Clayton’ revives conspiracy genre,” para. 27–28.
17. Carroll, “10 times.” She stated in 1994 that she wanted to be the President, then played it off as a joke. By 2006, she admitted she was “looking at it.”
18. Or the fact that men are, likewise, emotionally damaged by masculinity.
19. Poloczek, “From the Kitchen to the Bathroom,” 231.