As my regular readers know, when I get sick I allow myself to watch whatever bad TV I want. And holy crap, have I been sick! My entire family was besieged by a plague of stomach flu. And guess what has been on TV this week? Why, a good old-fashioned Doris Day marathon (in honor of her birthday).
A marathon of 1960s bedroom comedies from the queen of bedroom comedies? Don’t mind if I do.
Don’t know what a “bedroom comedy” is? These are the 1960s-era, Hollywood movies that got laughs because they so carefully held to the strict moral codes of the time. These movies have an almost rigidly predictable formula designed as a near-propaganda film for hetero-normative family structures and a woman’s “biological” destiny to want marriage and children above all else.
Here, I’ll try to break it down for you:
- Contrived meet-cute: The successful, beautiful, poor-so-and-so-because-she’s-still-single woman meets the handsome, rich, suave businessman. (Ex: Two people share a party line but hate each other; a businessman’s car splashes a pretty woman on the sidewalk… you get the idea.)
- She hates him: Even though he can have any woman in the city (and has — wink, wink), she becomes the object of his desire because he can’t have her. Subtle, no?
- Through benevolent trickery, he gets her to fall for him: In some cases, like most Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies, this relies on the female lead having never met the male lead before. Then he just assumes a false identity to woo her with abandon.
- After love, comes…. NO SEX. Even though you know they really, really, really want to have sex. There is NO SEX in the bedroom comedy! Ever. That’s what makes it a bedroom comedy! See? Wait. Why aren’t you laughing?
- Style over substance: To compensate for lack of sex, there are rampant double entendres and amazing 1960s-era fashion sequences where they go on dates and wish they were fucking. (This is not Mad Men, people.)
- The trick is revealed, and she is pissed. I mean, she almost gave up her magic muffin to this guy, breaking the ultimate cultural code! ‘Nuff said.
- Love conquers all: He wins her back with a grand gesture (and a marriage proposal).
What you really have to watch for are the side-kick characters. Tony Randall was the king in many of these movies. Audrey Meadows’ performance in That Touch of Mink is worth it alone:
For 2000 years, we’ve had their children, washed their clothes, cooked their meals and cleaned their houses. And what did they give us in return? The right to smoke in public. We sold out for a cigarette — and you don’t even smoke!
Better yet, just go rent Pillow Talk, That Touch of Mink, and even though it doesn’t have Doris Day, House Boat is always a winner (Cary Grant and Sophia Loren? Forget about it!).
But even in my fevered state, I know these movies are high on style and low on, shall we say, feminist points. From a modern, progressive point-of-view, these movies are the dark ages. The only women who have a voice and autonomy are also banished to the edges of society. The alcoholic, witty maid. The wise-cracking roommate. And, of course, women only work outside the home because they have no choice; they haven’t found a husband yet!
But it dawned on me while watching Doris Day try to “cleverly” get out of defiling her womanhood by sleeping with Cary Grant in That Touch of Mink, that these movies offer a kind of window into the souls of the men behind the War on Women. Without the style points or zippy one-liners, of course. After all, the worst thing that could happen to a woman in a bedroom comedy is that she would get a reputation for sleeping with men. (A reputation, mind you. Not even the actual act. Just people thinking you did it! Now that is a narrow line.) These are people who want the world of Mad Men to be like the world of Pillow Talk. Chaste. Proper. And white men in charge. Of EVERYTHING. (That includes vaginas.)
Are we all just trapped in some bizarro bedroom comedy?
The thing about this ideology is, as much fun as it might be to visit the wacky realm of the bedroom comedy when you stricken with the plague, it’s no place to dwell in the light of day. Nobody is really happy in a bedroom comedy. They’re not even romance stories, when you get down to it. They’re really just a plot vehicle for innuendo, cultural propaganda, and style points. You watch enough bedroom comedies and you start to notice that love is not really a quality as coveted as a diamond engagement ring. And everyone — men and women alike — are dying to have sex.
This is the catch that the War-on-Women GOP terrorists keep forgetting. The more you push back on the advances of society and the equality of women, the more you lose. In a world where women are afraid they might get pregnant (because they have no access to birth control), you might be getting less sex with a woman. (Judging by the number of times we hear about highly religious and/or highly powerful men caught getting sex outside their marriages, I think this is an important point.) And you’re definitely getting a bigger need for public services due to a rise in unintended pregnancies (and lack of abortions). And I’m pretty sure that includes secret mistresses, too.
And I’m pretty sure no one ever asked Doris Day to get a transvaginal ultrasound in a bedroom comedy. You know why? Because they are not funny.