Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Bonny Boy

I have an admission to make which may make a slight ding in my geek cred (and others besides, at that) but it helps organize my thoughts for today so that’s a risk I’ll have to take. Here goes: I kind of like Gone with the Wind.

I had a girlfriend in high school who was a gigantic Gone with the Wind fan, both the novel and movie, and we were together long enough that it was somewhat inevitable I would end up reading the novel and watching the movie. The whys and wherefores as to the appeal of Gone With The Wind in my girlfriend’s specific case are probably neither here nor there, but she was enough like me that her fandom manifested not just in enthusiastic affection for the object but also a desire to learn behind-the-scenes trivia and generally become something of an armchair expert on the subject. I can spontaneously rattle off the names of alien Green Lanterns in a list long enough to choke a giraffe; she was able to quote zingers that Bob Hope had delivered when he hosted the Oscars ceremony which Gone with the Wind more or less swept. And that really is a kind of geekery in and of itself, which no doubt drew me in.

Not to say that I might not have eventually worked my way around to Gone with the Wind on my own. I have previously copped to going through a phase as a teen when I purposefully read incredibly long novels just because it seemed like the kind of thing I would reliably do. And Gone with the Wind, in both incarnations, is such a pop culture touchstone in its own right, even if it is a romance and inherently girly or whatever, that never having read it or seen it would feel like … well, like the way it feels when I confess to never having seen Jaws or read The Da Vinci Code. (Both true, the former being something I do intend to correct, the latter something I’m stubbornly proud of.) Sure enough, when I took an American film class in college of course Gone with the Wind was on the viewing list, but by then I had already seen it. Probably more than once at that point.

I mean, I’m not a total apologist for Gone with the Wind or anything. I don’t think it’s great literature by any stretch (though I will argue for the many technical merits of the movie) and to say that the wishful misrepresentation of slavery and race relations in the antebellum South is problematic is a massive understatement. But on balance, I’ve always responded positively to it. And for all its flaws and ugly warts and various elements which may or may not be someone’s cup of tea, it does contain a font of pure awesome: Rhett Butler.

One possible explanation for my inordinate love of mint juleps
Seriously, I would argue that Rhett Butler is in the all-time top five upper echelon of characters from American fiction, full stop. He is practically the quintessential avatar of American maleness, both in his positive and negative qualities. More than once when I have been indulging my creative muse and trying to portray a character as badass and cool as hell, I have subconsciously modeled said character on Rhett Butler: ladies’ man, gambler, scoundrel (the line from Rhett Butler to Han Solo is straight as an arrow), iconoclast, and of course … doting father.

As recently as a few years ago I would have been hard-pressed to pick my favorite Rhett Butler among the many chameleon-like shadings he takes over the course of the story. There were times in my life when what I found most affecting was his fierce love of Scarlett, which might as well have been unrequited for the fact that she never quite loved him back with the same intensity, even when they were married. There were other times where I dug his bootlegging adventurer persona, who helps a war effort on his own terms without being so foolhardy as to enlist, and other times where I preferred the moment-of-clarity Rhett who does go ahead and enlist. (Yeah, yeah, wrong side of the war to root for, I know … again, I take my enjoyment of it all a la carte.) But since my little guy came along, and especially since I now have a little girl on the way, everything else pales in comparison to Rhett’s unconditional love for Bonnie Blue.

Remember those thoughts I said I was trying to organize? Here they come! The little guy started at his new daycare this week and it has gone very well. Granted, he refused to take a nap either on Tuesday or Wednesday, but other than that it’s been nothing but positive reports, both from school and the little guy himself. No two-and-a-half year old makes for a reliable narrator, and ours is no exception, but he seems genuinely happy. My wife and I had some misgivings about pulling him out of one school and dropping him into another, for fear of bruising whatever social attachments he was just beginning to develop, but that looks to largely have been projection. (I moved mid-schoolyear in fourth grade. It SUCKED. Note to self: Preschool I is not Fourth Grade.) The little guy is home today with his mother, but he’ll no doubt happily scamper back to daycare tomorrow, and everything seems pleasantly back to normal.

In fact, it may even be better than back to normal, because it represents a clean slate. And here there is not even a trace of confusion in my mind – I am well aware that the clean slate is for me, not the little guy. Not too terribly long ago, the little guy received a birthday party invitation from one of his daycare classmates, and I basically dropped the ball. At this point I can’t even remember what general cognitive dissonance convinced me that attending the little fete was a non-starter (no doubt something about being overly busy and weekends being at a premium and my wife having to work that Saturday and so forth) but not only did I opt the little guy out, I didn’t even call the parents of the other tyke to RSVP with regrets. Which is probably no big deal but also not very cool.

Of course I had anxiety about the party and invitation etiquette for toddlers and so on going in, but it increased exponentially on the other side as I imagined the snubbed parent talking behind my back to other parents and my little guy not even getting invited to the next kid’s birthday party all because his dad is socially maladroit, and the part of me that wasn’t sighing over the utter absurdity of it was sick to my stomach. Not a very good reason to enroll the little guy in a new daycare, in and of itself, but if other circumstances happen to lead down that very path … you can see how I might look on such a development as a second chance.

And thus this week I’ve been thinking about Rhett and Bonnie, and the moment when Rhett realizes that while he and Scarlett have never cared if society snubs them or shuns them or looks down their noses at them or whatnot, he refuses to force his daughter to bear that burden. He never stops thinking that the upper crust is a big joke, but he stops openly sneering at it, and in fact starts playing the game. And of course he’s exceptionally good at playing the game, because he is a smooth mofo. The montage in the movie of Rhett Butler kissing up to the dowager matrons of Atlanta, with just a hint of sarcastic laying-it-on-too-thick which the old biddies simply obliviously eat right up, all to give Bonnie a path of entry to genteel society … that may not always have been my favorite part of the movie, but it is now.

Or so I’ve been telling myself, along with “I can do this.” I can turn on the charm with my little guy’s new teachers and the parents of his new classmates, and do the same for my daughter when she gets here. I can reorient my natural inclination toward saying yes to party and playdate invitations (or at a bare minimum make a really heartfelt apology while declining). I know I can’t control everything, and there could still be unfathomably mean kids or their mean parents or teachers who make my children’s lives miserable for no discernable reason. But I’ll be hanged if I’m going to actively cause any problems for my kids because I think it’s not worth my while to play the game. I’m old enough now to realize that there can be situations which are both totally ridiculous and yet have real, non-ridiculous effects, and that pretty much makes it incumbent on me to handle those very kinds of things as best I can. I don’t plan on wasting my one free hit of the reset button.

1 comment:

  1. While I have long coveted the title of "scoundrel," I've never had it applied. Wastrel, certainly. Cad, often. Other epithets given to me include scalawag, blackguard, ne'er-do-well, villain, base-born deceiver, and several colorful terms rooted in the idea that the marital status of my parents was dubious at the time of my birth. But never "scoundrel."

    I think it's because my mustache is the wrong shape.