Thursday, 17 July 2008

152: Jean Shepherd

Life, when you're a Male kid, is what the Grownups are doing. The Adult world seems to be some kind of secret society that has its own passwords, handclasps, and countersigns. The thing is to get In. But there's this invisible, impenetrable wall between you and all the great, unimaginably swinging things that they seem to be involved in. Occasionally mutterings of exotic secrets and incredible pleasures filter through. And so you bang against it, throw rocks at it, try to climb over it, burrow under it; but there it is. Impenetrable. Enigmatic.

Girls somehow seem to be already involved, as though from birth they've got the Word. Lolita has no Male counterpart. It does no good to protest and pretend otherwise. The fact is inescapable. A male kid is really a kid. A female kid is a girl. Some guys give up early in life, surrender completely before the impassable transparent wall, and remain little kids forever. They are called "Fags," or "Homosexuals," if you are in polite society.

The rest of us have to claw our way into Life as best we can, never knowing when we'll be Admitted. It happens to each of us in different ways - and once it does, there's no turning back.

from “Hairy Gertz And The 47 Crappies “in “In God We Trust - All Others Pay Cash”, 1966

This is the introduction to an essay that originally appeared in “Playboy” June 1964. However that version didn’t have even a hint of all this stuff about “fags” being failed, infantilised heterosexuals who didn’t have the balls and spirit to be real men. Rather then just being sheer macho disdain, I suppose it’s possible there might be some sort of pop psychology swilling around in all this. And even if you’re never Admiited, there’s always the consolation that you’re not a fag.
Again, I like Jean Shepherd, and everyone should watch the film “A Christmas Story”, but this only demonstrates how even the most hip and counterculture humorists are often mired in their time. Of course the essay then goes on to become a mock-epic deconstruction of a typical men’s fishing trip, but evidently Shep felt strongly enough that he has to add these few new comments. At a time when camp is just starting to make inroads into mainstream comedy, Shep feels the need to bolster up his own brand of playful, forthright but fundamentally boyish nostalgia.

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