Monday, June 18, 2012

We Love The Bad, The Stupid, The Vapid, The Obsequious

A poster for the movie "Tilt," starring Brooke Shields.  Who knew?
What's the Parisian equivalent of a "dive bar"?  I don't really know, but I was in one the other day.  This being Paris, it wasn't so much a dive bar in the sense of being dark, noisy, and full of drunks.  It was more a place for drinking, buying lottery tickets, placing bets on things, watching sports, and pretending to do all these other things while really flirting with the cute Chinese waitress.  It was also a place for playing pinball. 

You remember pinball, right?  Its heyday was just before PacMan, back in the paleo-agonic era.  Pinball machines are endangered now, but maybe you've seen a few of them tucked away in their modern sanctuaries: hipster bars.  Instead of a "screen" they have an actual ball that bounces around; instead of a "joystick" or "game controller" there are these flipper things. 

I always try to avoid saying things that make me sound like an old man, like "You kids with your Wiis and your X-boxes and your games of war and shooting-up-prostitutes, you don't know nothing."  But in this case what else can I say? 

I could go on and on listing points in favor of pinball.  The main one relevant here is that it is possible to be sexy and cool while playing it.  Video games, not so much.  Using a joystick looks ridiculous, and the new machines, where you have to wave your arms around to make the motion of a tennis racket/baseball bat/fist/whatever -- they're even worse.

Part of the appeal of pinball is that you have to interact in a masterful but gentle way with a 300 pound machine.  Nudging the machine a bit:  essential strategy.  Nudging the machine too much:  TILT! your ball is over.

Anyway, in my dive bar there were these guys playing pinball.  And one guy had on a nice suit, and nice shoes, and he had a nice haircut and a reasonably intelligent look on his face.  He also had -- what's the equivalent of road rage for pinball?  He had TILT RAGE. 

He could barely contain his anger.  Every time he lost it was like a new tragedy.  He hit the machine; he stomped his feet; he swore at the people around him.  I don't think he every really technically tilted the machine.  He was just really pissed off about losing.

And now we're finally getting to the point of this post, which is that I found this an attractive quality.  I didn't find it an admirable quality.  I think getting really upset about a pinball game is stupid.  This is a case where a quality I find attractive in a person is not a quality I find sensible or good, and isn't even a quality I'd be looking for in a friend.

I think this situation -- that what's attractive isn't always what's good -- is more common than people would like to admit.  When people date the Bad, the Stupid, the Vapid and the Obsequious ... it really gets under everyone else's skin. 

In particular, when a woman dates a Bad or Stupid Guy, there's often a whole narrative about it: Oh, She Must Have Been Mistreated As A Child and That's Why She Likes Him. She needs to regain her self-esteem.  The implication is that the normal healthy person finds attractive in the opposite sex the qualities of goodness, patience, and generosity.  But isn't this contradicted by the facts?  As I've mentioned before, Keith Richards has to fight them them off with a stick.  Nothing against Keith, but it's not because he's a Good and Virtuous Man.

This whole problem had been much on my mind before seeing Tilt Rage Guy, because I'd been thinking about it as it arises in the books of Anthony Trollope.  I've just been rereading The Palliser series.  Because they concern the English aristocracy, these novels contain a lot of plot elements having to do with the marriages and marriage-longings, suitable and unsuitable, of various young persons. 

In The Prime Minister, poor Emily Wharton is swept off her feet by one Ferdinand Lopez, a man we know ahead of time to be fast-talking, good looking, and easily angered, and a man we later come to know as truly despicable.  Of course Emily's family is deeply mystified by her choice, and also angered by her rejection of Mister Suitable, a long standing family friend.

I was talking over Emily's problems with my friend and he pointed out how many of Trollope's heroines were in the same situation.  They love the scapegraces, the smooth talkers, the passionate lovers and the cutters of fine figures.  The upstanding and quiet young men everyone else approves of for them?  Meh, not so much. 

It drove everybody crazy then, and it's driving everybody crazy now.


Greg Lavers said...

Nice post. It reminds me of this time when I was having some drinks with three other guys at my friend's apartment on St-Laurent Boulevard in Montreal (not in the middle of the bar scene but on the outskirts). Two of my friends had shitty jobs at the time and needed to get something to eat. They went to the corner store, bought bread and potato chips and made `chip sandwiches' (we must have been almost thirty at the time, so this was not at all a reasonable meal). One of the two, Al, halfway through his chip sandwich, out on the balcony, sick of his lot in life and certainly the remainder of the sandwich, became angry as he saw some spendy car pass. He threw the chip sandwich at the car and it really lands square on. Two minutes later, back inside, we hear the doorbell ring. We imagined it is the guy from the car, but no. Three young women were impressed by the guy who threw his sandwich at the car and invited us to the bar that they were at across the street. They had no interest in anyone but Al.

Patricia Marino said...

Ha! Great story, Greg. But the best part is "chip sandwiches." WTF?