Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wire Hanger Moments

Joan Crawford (1905-1977). Image Source: George Hurrell via Photographers Gallery.

In this post, I mentioned a friend’s encounter with a Millennial who did not recognize Joan Rivers on television and had never heard of Alfred Hitchcock. Because pop culture and marketing so relentlessly target the youth market, maybe its not surprising that some members of that demographic don't see the world beyond themselves. Recently, a Gen Y commenter on Twitter claimed that one of the most discussed topics today in the world is his generation, the Millennials.

Really. There’s nothing else out there? The economy. The Web-turned-surveillance-society. The Arab Spring. Asia’s markets. The environment. The energy crisis. Space exploration. The tech revolution. Politics. Terrorism. Impending nuclear war.
Mass media create false realities; and it takes awhile to see past the bubble that has been tailor-made to cater to, and shape, one’s own demographic, nationality, subculture and class.
The path to understanding the falsity of generational labels begins when some extra-generational pop cultural reference leaves the uninitiated in the dark. Never knowing who a known figure is or was, is part of a natural process of forgetting in public memory. On the other hand, that memory is sometimes renewed through remakes, biopics, homages, quotes and similar references to earlier pieces of pop culture. In those cases, members of the younger demographic become aware that what they are looking at, or listening to, is a cultural artifact that is an echo of an echo of an echo.

I think back on my own Gen X ‘Joan Rivers ignorance’ moments. One of them came from the American sitcom, A Different World, the late 80s’ Cosby Show spinoff. In one episode (29 October 1992; see it here), main characters Whitley (spoiled rich girl) and her husband Dwayne (hard-working, bright Cosby scion) get robbed. All that’s left in Whitley’s designer clothes closet is wire hangers. “I hate wire hangers!” she shrieks.

Now, at the time, I didn't get the joke, because I hate wire hangers too, which is kind of funny if you think about it. In 1992, I had already seen the movie Jasmine Guy's character was quoting, but I didn’t make the connection.
Of course, the ‘wire hangers’ reference comes from Mommie Dearest (1978), the scathing and controversial portrayal of the late Joan Crawford by her adopted daughter, Christina Crawford. The book caused a sensation because it was the first tell-all by a child condemning a celebrity parent. In a way, it marked the passing of an earlier era in Hollywood, when secrets really were secrets. Mommie Dearest was a turning point, after which nothing was sacred anymore. Today, we take that You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again standard for granted. Any public buzz (good or bad) is profitable: there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Christina Crawford's disputed revelations scandalized a generation of older stars who kept up a Potemkin village of perfect appearances. One by one, they closed ranks, and rallied to protect the late Joan Crawford’s reputation from her daughter’s condemnation.
In the book and later film version (1981), Crawford, slathered with an overnight facial masque, wakes up her young daughter and begins howling at her and beating her because Christina hung up her expensive clothes with forbidden, cheap wire hangers. The term 'wire hangers' instantly became synonymous with crazy motherhood and toxic celebrity stardom. The film version is rumoured to have ruined the career Faye Dunaway. She dared, it is said, to take on a role that angered the powers of old Hollywood. Her OTT portrayal of Joan Crawford attacking Christina Crawford for using wire hangers is below.
Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in the wire hangers scene in Mommie Dearest (Paramount; 1981). Video Source: Youtube.

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