NEW YORK”In 1943 the great Tex Avery created an animated cartoon character called, simply, Wolf.
Wolf was a modern version of the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood,” so he wore a tuxedo, drove a luxury convertible, and hung out at a Sunset Strip nightclub where a curvaceous swing-band singer, known only as Red, danced seductively to some hot Mae West-influenced lyrics like:
Daddy, you better get the best for me (meaning diamonds and sables)
Oh Wolfie, yes Wolfie, ain”t you the one (which turns out to be a gold digger’s come-on)
Put your arms around me, Wolfie (and get clobbered with a sledgehammer every time you do).
What made the Wolf so funny is that, whenever he saw a sexy woman, he lost control of his whole body. So overpowering were his sexual urges that he overcame gravity, rose up into the air, went rigidly horizontal (symbolism, anyone?), whistled, howled, pounded on the table with his fist, pounded on the table with his chair, lost control of his tongue as it dropped onto the floor, breathed like he was having a heart attack, pulled out a sledgehammer and pounded himself on the head, built a clapping/pounding/whistling machine so he could have extra hands, lost his eyes as the pupils popped out and raced up to the stage so they could examine every inch of Red’s body (talk about your male gaze”his eyes could also burn holes through a menu like lasers), kicked himself in the head, ripped his own head off and pounded it on the table…you get the idea.
And this is not the full extent of Wolf’s lust, by the way. There were apparently some other things Wolf’s body did that didn”t get past the Hays Office.
At any rate, the Wolf was extremely popular during the war”especially at USO screenings, where MGM would adapt Red’s lyrics to make her hot for servicemen. His appeal, then as now, was universal. He was recognized as the archetype of the skirt chaser, the tomcat, the masher, the playboy, the flirt, the rouÃ©, the horndog, the lady-killer, the lech, the gigolo, the heartbreaker, the lothario, the rounder, the Don Juan, the goat, the Casanova, the rake, the seducer, the satyr, the lover boy, or what we have come to call in modern times the womanizer. (And so the English language declines. “Wolf” was so much better.)
In our archive of collective storytelling, the Wolf always loses. In fact, in Tex Avery’s original cartoon, he commits suicide because Grandma won”t stop trying to rape him. And since he’s a predator, we have a variety of ways to get rid of him:
The Shotgun Wedding, orchestrated by the father, in which the tomcat truly reaps what he sows.
The Big Brother intervention (threatening the knave with imminent death).
The Angry Mama intervention (cutting off access).
The Face Slap. (This is a 20th-century variation in which the masher’s target exacts her own justice.)
The Humanitarian intervention. (In Casablanca, for example, Humphrey Bogart rigs the roulette wheel so that Claude Rains, as the lecherous and corrupt Captain Renault, can”t take advantage of a beautiful young Bulgarian refugee desperate for money to help her husband escape the authorities.)
The Love Conquers All transformation. (Robert Preston, in The Music Man, is a con man who has a new girl in every small town he passes through, but once he meets Shirley Jones, he has no way out of River City, because he’s made the fatal error of falling in love.)
The Aggrieved Ex-Girlfriend intervention. (In Under the Yum Yum Tree, Edie Adams makes sure promiscuous landlord Jack Lemmon can”t get his hands on virginal Carol Lynley.)
And the most satisfying plotline of all:
A sad, lonely death as the libertine ages out. (There’s a French movie from the early “80s in which Gerard Depardieu plays the elderly Casanova, his face a pasty mask, traveling with his trunk of pomades, ointments, and gels, desperately trying to remain youthful and score one more conquest.)
And now, for the first time in a hundred years, we have a new one:
You call up The New York Times and slut-shame him on the front page.
Yes, it’s true, the Times is running stories about men in Silicon Valley who hit on women who come to them asking for money. They”re calling it sexual harassment, even though the two people don”t work for the same company and so there’s no violation of EEOC rules.
So, first of all, people, let’s get your terminology straight”this is not employer/employee sexual harassment, as codified in federal regulations; this is a version of the old casting couch, perfected in Southern California, recently exported to NorCal in the form of venture capital firms that get pitches all day long from people trying to start tech companies. A woman comes in asking for, say, a million dollars, and the guy says, “Yeah, I might be able to do that. Wanna have dinner first?””although, judging by the guys who got outed in the Times story, some of them don”t even bother with dinner.
I have a close friend, a lawyer, who worked dozens of sexual harassment cases in the “90s. At that time the standard settlement payoff was $5,000, but that was only if the woman was lying. That was about half the cases, the ones with the typical scenario: Woman gets fired, woman makes sexual harassment claim, company settles to avoid publicity. In the cases where the guys were guilty, the payoff could go sky-high”there was actually an informal scale of sleaziness depending on whether touching was involved, whether there was outright coercion or sexual blackmail, and whether it was a romantic affair or not. Just a single episode of oral sex could jack that payment up to $50,000″that’s how scared they were then, so I can imagine what it’s like now.
Anyhow, I showed my lawyer friend all the Silicon Valley casting couch stories published by the Times and asked her if any of them rose to the level of actual crimes, and she said nope. They didn”t even rise to the level of actionable civil suits. After all, these women weren”t employees, and the Times even went so far as to point out that the women got their funding from other venture capitalists, presumably some of whom were male. So it all amounts to women who are out there successfully raising millions of dollars but feel the need to publicly shame their fellow millionaires. Meanwhile, there are no journalistic exposÃ©s of”to pick two business categories at random”the treatment of immigrant motel maids, or the casual back-of-the-store nastiness toward waitresses in gourmet restaurants. Those women can”t raise half a million dollars tomorrow at their Silicon Valley pitch”they”re kind of stuck with what they”ve got.
Talk about your First World problems.
The most amazing part of this story is how many of the Silicon Valley guys rolled over. “I”m a creep,” one of them blogged. Another was publicly shamed for emailing one of the women, “I didn”t know whether to fund you or hit on you””which strikes me as the essence of honest communication and a vow to do the right thing! He characterized funding and “hitting on you” as mutually exclusive”he was probably not a wolf! Anyway, about half of the guys publicly apologized”presumably to keep their investors calm”and the other half did the old he said/she said, since this is, of course, the ultimate he said/she said situation. These cases are so murky and subjective that no jury could ever puzzle them out, but some of these guys are apparently apologizing for having a working penis.
And that’s the larger context. Bill O”Reilly, the popular Fox News host, was ousted from the network in April because the Times reported that Fox had paid $13 million in settlements to five women who claimed he”d…well, we don”t know what he did, because it’s all listed under the basket term “harassment,” and besides, the $13 million involved confidentiality agreements. In other words, he was ousted after the women had already taken their pound of flesh! (And since we”re on that subject, if you get sexually harassed and then settle out of court for what used to be called “hush money,” and then years later you talk to the media anyway, do you have to pay the money back? I think Bill Cosby could basically guarantee an income for his twilight years based on reports of how much he’s already paid.)