Thursday, January 24, 2008

Captain Kirk's Parted Lips

Shelley Winters (left) advised her roommate and sister-starlet Marilyn Monroe in the 1940s how to assume the cheesecake look: tilt your chin up, cast your eyes down, (or chin down, eyes up), and part your lips slightly.
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The physical blind spot is on the retina (on the back of our eyeballs), where the optic nerve passes through. This spot lacks any light receptors necessary for vision. Because our brain fills in the missing image, we don't realize we're not seeing something.

Psychological blind spots are gaps in our mental vision we don't even know we have. Star Trek's view of women is a textbook case for demonstrating these, as Donald Rumsfeld called them, "unknown unknowns."

Star Trek set out to challenge social stereotypes, and they did pretty well for the time pushing the boundaries of race and nationality.

Kirk and Uhura's kiss, for instance, is the first interracial kiss on fiction TV, which counts even though aliens made them do it. Star Trek used a bunch of classic Grade-B-movie tricks like that, a la film director Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows," etc.), to fly under the censor's radar.

But the makers didn't question the stereotypes that fell in their own blind spots, and it seems the collective blind spot where women were concerned was enormous.

Long story short: look at those ridiculous uniforms the women crew of the Enterprise wear. Doesn't all that airtight polyester scream, "guaranteed yeast-infection"?

But, boy, does the show mess around with gender where men are concerned. It's a big part of the fun.

Let's start with those high-heeled boots the starship's men wear.
Anything that destabilizes the body and elevates the rump, like high heels do, accentuates vulnerability and sexual receptivity, which is traditionally what sexy clothes for women, not men, do.

OK, cowboys wear boots with high heels, but that's to hold their feet in the stirrups.
Star Trek boots look like a version of men's flamenco boots* (left).
Wikipedia comments that male dance shoes with Cuban heels are "not considered effeminate." Maybe not in Seville, but when you have to tell a North American audience that something is not effeminate...well, 'nuff said.

I got thinking about the S-T boots when Captain Kirk does not wear them in "Arena."
In that episode, he has to climb lots of rocks (real rocks! not those spray-painted styrofoam jobs), as he evades the enemy lizard captain.

I can imagine Mr. Shatner (or the insurers) insisting he not risk twisting his ankle in the usual boots. He wears instead what look like black leather high-top tennies.
So why are unsafe boots standard Starfleet issue, except that they are considered cute in the 23rd century?

And speaking of cute, the biggest gender-bender is the captain himself.
He's all manly and decisive, sure, but why does he wear eye liner? I don't know, but I like it--it makes him look pretty.

Spock wears blue eyeshadow, true, but he is never girly.

But girly? How 'bout the way Kirk sits in his captain's chair, legs crossed tight, thighs closed? Manly men in the 20th century were supposed to rest their ankles across their knees, thighs open.

Less obvious is one of the most feminine things Kirk does:
he parts his lips slightly, like Shelley Winters. The look is more about being kissed than kissing.

In fact, Shatner reminds me of Winters.
Don't think The Poseidon Adventure (or priceline.com)--look at Winters when she's young.

Both actors, when young, had a ripe, sexy fleshiness that promised an overblown-rose old age.
(The type for whom temptation came covered in whipped cream.)

There's a whole realm of Star Trek fandom--slash--that explores a relationship between Kirk and Spock as lovers.
That's not what I'm talking about here.

Kirk and Spock make goo-goo eyes at each other, and they're obviously crazy about each other. But whether or not they fuck doesn't really matter; it's beside the point. Gender and eroticism are not the same as sex.

No, I just think that by the 23rd century, men get to wear high heels and eye-liner, sit like sissies, and make pouty, kissy faces at other guys if they want--and also beat the hell out of giant killer reptiles. Who they go to bed with is a separate matter.

That's a future I'd sign up for. But not if women are still wearing pantyhose to work.
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[Update] I'm glad I hadn't read Mark Simpson's hilarious article "Captain Kirk's Bulging Trousers" before I wrote this, because I wouldn't have bothered, when someone else had summed up Kirk as, among other things, a "rug-wearing bisexual WASP jock captain."
But he missed the Shelley Winters connection, and I still think that's worth pointing out.

*August 16, 2010: I posted "Tight Trousers and High Heels", about the evolution of the Star Trek high-heeled men's boot.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

My understanding of the flamenco boots' heels is that you need the heft for pounding the surface.
I don’t think you’d get the same sound with flatter heels, even though they are stuck with nails to get the crisp sound.
--DDP

cob-blogger said...

this blog has got to be the funniest, the most knowledgeable about the 'strangest, little known facts'and. . . putting everything together in a coherent package sheer genius!!

fresca said...

Strange little facts are one of the delights of my life---and now I can add why flamenco boots have heels to my stash!

Matt_J said...

...by the 23rd century, American men get to wear high heels and eye-liner, sit like sissies, and make pouty, kissy faces at other guys if they want--and also beat the hell out of giant killer reptiles. Where no man has gone before indeed!

fresca said...

Indeed. It will be most interesting.

Lee said...

By a strange coincidence I saw "Arena" recently and was particularly struck by the way Kirk sort of dances and bounces effeminately around whenever he runs—for instance, when he's dodging mortar shells while "charging" for cover, or when he stumbles in a very unmanly fashion over some vines. The REAL reason they took him out of high heels is clearly that, otherwise, he'd look TOTALLY FLAMING!!! (Though the risk of injury was, I grant you, probably the second consideration.)

T'Keid said...

You have put your finger right on it! ST:TOS is so special (aside from the thoughtful story telling) because this is a future I'd sign up for (well providing I get to wear pants, like Leila Kalomi or Aurelan Kirk).
It would just be a healthier world if men were at least free to wear makeup and make goo-goo eyes at each other without having their masculinity questioned.
wonderful episode analysis!

fresca said...

Ah! Here, a year later, someone has read this post and liked it, which makes me happy--it's one of my personal favorites. Thanks!

Yes, freedom does not contradict a healthy society, quite the contrary (as long as it rests on a base of compassion).

Fresca said...

JUST TO REMIND Me, FRESCA:
This comment is from Barrett S. Newhall, r.i.p. October 2011:

Anonymous cob-blogger said...

this blog has got to be the funniest, the most knowledgeable about the 'strangest, little known facts'and. . . putting everything together in a coherent package sheer genius!!

January 25, 2008 at 6:37 PM