• In America, only pretty young women become movie stars. Middle-aged male actors who are unattractive–or at least Bogart-ugly–can and do play romantic leads, but no actress who is much short of beautiful or much older than thirty has much chance of seeing her name above the title of a big-budget movie, save as part of a package deal. This harsh reality is, of course, a flagrant and fundamental contradiction of all that the members of the film industry hold most politically dear. I sometimes wonder whether one of the reasons why Hollywood is so liberal might be that its male inhabitants are secretly ashamed of the sexual double standard by which they live. They will sign any petition, contribute lavishly to any sympathetic-sounding candidate, perform any act of political penance–anything, in fact, but sleep with an ordinary-looking woman of a certain age, much less cast her as the love interest in a major motion picture.
• Speaking of double standards, I’ve been reading The Land Where the Blues Began, a memoir by Alan Lomax, the white musicologist who spent a half-century touring the Deep South making field recordings of black blues singers. Lomax truly loved the blues, but there was more to it than that, as he acknowledged in his book:
I strolled along, wrapped in my envelope of Anglo-Saxon shyness and superiority. We had grabbed off everything, I thought, we owned it all–money, land, factories, shiny cars, nice houses–yet these people, confined to their shacks and their slums, really possessed America; they alone, of the pioneers who cleared the land, had learned how to enjoy themselves in this big, lonesome continent; they were the only full-blown Americans.
Somehow I doubt it ever occurred to Lomax–who was, as it happens, a Communist fellow traveler–that his self-flagellating praise of the joys of working-class black life was at bottom every bit as condescending as the happy-darkies stereotypes he held in such deserved contempt.