The focus on the controversy is silly, but in our media-saturated world, it's the way things play out, with lots of loud posturing and little reflection. So much public debate and discussion is joined over gay political matters that conflicts and concerns over cultural changes in heterosexual relationships are left to the popular culture to pursue, which happens with a passion, for better and for worse.
I frequently have been struck by the sad state of affairs in (and have often written about) young women's coming of age as depicted in "Girls," the new HBO series in which romance is dramatized in the dreariest and crudest ways. This is surely the low point of sexual liberation, circa 2012. Glib remarks such as Gloria Steinem's bitter gibe that "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" have morphed into satirical drawings of schools of female fish pedaling unicycles (probably in pursuit of male fish).
The knight in shining armor is long gone as a fairy tale. It was always fantasy, even though it captures a young girl's innocent desire to be cared for when she leaves the home of her parents. The story never followed the couple after the wedding, living happily ever after, because everybody soon learns that life is more complicated than that. Wish fulfillment stories with happy endings are fun to read, even to tell, but rarely forged from reality. They're the stuff that dreams are made of. Pleasant dreams.
Today our cultural stories offer a different tale. The latest one is based on direct observation, but it goes back to classical myth, captured wittily in a New Yorker cartoon of two young sophisticates sitting on the banks of a river in ancient Greece. As the boy stares at his reflection in the water, the girl asks pathetically, "Tell me, Narcissus, is there someone else?"
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