Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Now I Get it, Jezebel!

I just watched William Wyler's 1938 film Jezebel starring Bette Davis (and her eyes) as a southern belle who refuses to conform to hegemonic gender and class norms. I used to work for Gawker, whose sister site is Jezebel and I began to wonder why Nick and Anna named it that. Clearly Jezebel as a concept precedes the movie (starting with the Old Testament carrying into the New and reiterated in thousands of forms) but Bette Davis arguably is the kind of communally called upon image associated with the word. Weirdly, when a Jezebel writer named Moe Tkacik explained why they chose the name, she neglected completely to mention the movie.

Clearly the appeal of a beautiful outspoken forward-thinking woman is self-explanatory but--in the movie and probably inadvertently in the blog but definitely there as well, is the knowledge---obscured from the writers in one case by dramatic irony and the other by narcissism, that one's Jezebellian outspokenness and flailings for attention operate within a system in which complete devotion to fulfillment of desires is or can be harmful to others. The underlying assumption in the behavior of Davis' character Julie is that freedom of expression and from societal mores are ends in themselves; What one actually says or does is immaterial; who one hurts in the process is incidental. This same treatment of what is essentially a means as an end underlies the logic of aspirationally iconoclastic writers that one finds on the pages of Jezebel. (Not all of them, some of them.) And you can almost see the resolution and character arc. Just as Davis repents for wearing the red dress at the Olympus Ball--not because she has come to agree with the rigid strictures of New Orleans society but because she learns to love Preston more than her pride--so too will these writers who spray binary shit into the world under the guise of wit and intelligence be led off to a leper colony where their colleagues-- who too have shared so much of themselves that their limbs and noses are falling off--finally repent of their selfish heedlessness.