*The Boost – Part 2

Quite a while ago now, I wrote Part 1 of what was intended to be at least two columns on the theme of ‘Things the Appeal of Which I Will Never Understand’. Even though there are a great many such things, I have never got around to doing Part 2, an oversight that I am sure I shall rectify one of these weeks. More recently, though, I examined certain things from days gone by that I would like to see returned to their previous eminence. Here then, already, is Part 2 on that topic and, assuming that anyone cares, I’m optimistic that there will even be a Part 3 at some point.

First up, I find myself constantly missing the days when there was a glittering literary ‘brat pack’. I remember a time in the eighties and nineties when you could reasonably expect to open up any Who magazine and see at least one of three young authors out on the town. The ‘pack’ was, of course, Jay McInerney, marrying and/or dating and/or writing about models, and going to nightclubs all the time; Tama Janowitz, incessantly socialising with Andy Warhol and even strutting along catwalks in fashion shows; and Bret Easton Ellis, going to nightclubs and, best of all, appearing ‘as himself’ in a party scene in one of my favourite-ever nighttime dramas, Central Park West, which was about not merely the ‘Big Apple’s cut-throat magazine world but also the treacherous doings of Manhattan high society. Jay McInerney did let the side down for a while, when he got married (albeit, for the third time), moved to a farm near Nashville, fathered twins and talked incessantly in interviews about how he didn’t go to nightclubs anymore. Soon enough, though, he was once again divorced and going to nightclubs. I remember seeing McInerney talk, back in the Gay Nineties, at a Dymocks Literary Lunch. Frankly, as he wasn’t Ruth Cracknell, there just weren’t a lot of people there, but he was a fluent and hilarious speaker, and, I seem to recall, was enjoying himself so much that he practically had to be dragged off the podium. Nervously, I queued to get my book signed, and McInerney could not have been more charming until I produced my movie tie-in edition of Bright Lights, Big City, which had a picture of Michael J Fox, in dishabille, on the cover. ‘Well, that’s just a silly one!’ he barked. I note that McInerney has strolled down the aisle, yet again, to wed a woman who is, I am pleased to announce, not only now four times married herself, and a publishing heiress, but Patricia Hearst’s sister.

And, speaking of glamour, how I long for the time when beauty pageants had their rightful place on television. Back in the nineteen seventies and early eighties, watching a pageant on TV and, over a mug of tea, debating the merits of one young woman’s appearance over another’s could make families forget their other, many, differences. These days, it would be a miracle if a television network screened even the Miss Universe competition in prime time, but I can remember when the powers that be didn’t baulk at putting something as lowly as the Miss New South Wales pageant on the box. I can assure you that when my folks and I watched Miss New South Wales, a good time was had by all, although less so when the Charity Queen, the contestant who’d raised the most money for the worthy cause associated with the pageant, took to the stage for her few minutes in the limelight, as we did not enjoy this diversion into number crunching and good works.

Back in the era that I was able to watch beauty pageants at, what in retrospect seems to be, any moment of the day or night, I saw on television a splendiferous 1973 movie called The Great American Beauty Contest. In essence, it was about a ‘Women’s Libber’ who enters a pageant, planning, should she win, to denounce sexism rather than give an acceptance speech. However, when she does win, she is completely overwhelmed and the denouncement goes straight out the window. The film, I am happy to say, also features Louis Jourdan as a judge who sleeps with the contestants. These days, I can recognise that the flick was actually satirical in its intent and a searing indictment of how easily humans will betray their principles in the face of a little tinsel, but when I was a child I interpreted it straightforwardly as the Libber ultimately coming firmly down on the side of pageants. This was quite right too, as far as I was concerned. When I was watching Miss New South Wales, I yearned desperately to be a part of it all; part of it all in what looked like a Travelodge.

And, speaking of happier times, I’d like to see the return of an upbeat approach in public health advertising on the subject of sexually transmitted diseases. In the seventies, I was fascinated by ads I’d see on the insides of buses that featured a row of cartoonishly drawn naked people running after each other, their arms held out, and the slogan: ‘VD: It’s going around; it’s catching!’ Therefore, anything to do with ‘VD’ (a term that itself seems to have disappeared) seemed less connected with having an STD than it did with acting like you were in one of the livelier scenes from Don’s Party.

And things must have been even better for those living in the United States, where they made some first-rate television commercials on the topic. These had not only the same jolly feel as our print advertisements, but uplifting music. One, from circa 1970, has an inclusively spirited jingle, ‘VD is for everybody’, which resembles, due to, I assume, the fad in the early seventies for the things of the nineteen twenties (as personified by Robert Redford playing Jay Gatsby), a song from The Boyfriend. To its accompaniment are images of, inter alia, a woman, who has a big floppy white hat and a white parasol, reading a book; a steel-rimmed-spectacled librarian checking out a book; a man playing a violin; and a ballet dancer practising at the barre. All of this suggests that having VD, rather than being something that’s for everybody, is actually a mark of a high level of literacy and/or artistic gifts. The ballet theme continues in another television advertisement on the subject, which looks to be from a few years later. It has – aside from a couple companionably walking and talking together while carrying books, and close-ups of men wearing aviator sunglasses – another ballet dancer, this time doing pointe work. All this is anchored by a funky black woman, who, after cautioning in song, ‘It’s time to learn the facts of life’, notes gladly, ‘Love can happen overnight and it’s spreading all over the world!’ This song, while as merry as ‘VD is for everybody’, musically more closely resembles the Good Times theme, and its energetic defiance in the face of adversity (‘Temporary lay-offs! Good times!’).

Speaking of good cheer, I’d like also for there to be a rise in the use of apostrophes to create a loose, swinging feel. Take 1983 Tom Cruise vehicle Losin’ It. Not only do we see excellent application of the apostrophe to lend a devil-may-care feel to the title, the tagline of the film is ‘They were boozin’ it, bruisin’ it and cruisin’ it, but mostly they were …’ Still, even before this, was the, to my mind unjustly, forgotten situation comedy Makin’ It from 1979. It centred on Billy Manucci, who has to work for the man, in Tasty Treats ice cream parlour, during the day, but frequents a disco called Inferno by night. The theme song was performed by David Naughton, the show’s star, and is apparently unique in having been in the American Top 40 for longer than the show was actually on the air, as it was cancelled after eight episodes (I myself saw the program in the off-ratings period in the summer of ’79). No one could wonder at the tune’s success, though, considering that its lyrics include ‘makin’ it’, ‘takin’ it’, ‘fakin’ it’, and has ‘breakin’ these chains’ in there for good measure.

I have to tell you, I’d be much more inclined again to delve into Tim Winton’s works if he’d written, say, The Turnin’. And, while you’d still have to endure Nicolas Cage chewing up and spitting out the scenery as messily as an angry baby spits out its lunch, the prospect of enjoyment no longer seems completely out of the question if you’re going to be sitting down to a film entitled Leavin’ Las Vegas.

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