Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tadpole by Gary Winick

Tadpole is a humorous (and probably self-indulgent) look at the Oedipal complex and the latent fantasy of having an older woman as one's sexual companion. It is mildly erotic, and its insights are facile, but it does lead one to reflect on the nature of attraction.


A woman reaches menopause much earlier than a man reaches his "male" menopause. Hence, traditionally, in the interest of a longer childbearing union, men have married women younger than themselves.

It is conventional wisdom that the majority of men, especially older men, find young women more attractive than women their own age, or God forbid, women elder to themselves. The image of a lascivious "dirty old man" is quite well-known. The crimes of pornography involving children predominantly exploit young girls more than young boys.

The evolution of pornography on the internet (mostly catering to men) has created niches catering to very specific fantasies. There are offerings for those who like to fantasize about partners from a different race, from a specific ethnic background, of a certain body type, having a certain amount of pubic hair, of a certain age, who are acting unwilling or masochistic or bossy or bitchy or cuckoldish, etc.

One of these categories is known as "Mature" or "MILF" (Mothers I'd like to Fuck) porn. In this, typically men in their twenties seduce (or are seduced by) women older than themselves (typically in their late thirties). There are obviously psychological reasons for liking a specific kind of sexual partner, and this review-essay will focus on the fantasy of a young man for an older woman.

Freud was the first to forumulate the mother-fixation in sexual relations of a male as a unviersally occuring Oedipal Complex. From early childhood, the boy is possessive of his mother, who is "shared" between him and his father. The love towards his mother (which has elements of erotic desire) coexists with a resentment and animosity towards his father. The father is seen as an adversary, competing for the affections of the woman. Various factors, such as an affectionate father, can to some extent attenuate this complex but it survives in various forms in most men.

A survey of pornographic material (stories, situations in films, South Indian porn productions, softcore mujras) in India and Pakistan brings out clearly that the male psyche in this region is infantile (and also in a certain sense, laden with feelings of guilt and inferiority) and much more mother-fixated than in the west. The typical fantasies in this region revolve around elder female relatives, the housemaid, the landlady, mother's sister, the schoolteacher, elder brother's wife, etc. If we consider not just the age of the desired sexual partner, but also the body type of the partner and nature of the acts fantasized, it is clear that the fixation is on the breasts, on a moderately plump body-type, on a submissive and nurturing attitude, on oral acts performed on the woman, etc.

I think men who are unsure of themselves like to fantasize about elder women, because, seemingly, the younger men are being the givers in the relationship. Such men are also generally less masculine than they think they should be but they compensate for this inferiority by indulging in various surrogate activities (intellection is but one of them, as shown in this film). The elder woman fantasy is a fantasy of acceptance, of being led back into the womb, of not being challenged or being forced to pursue and seduce and manipulate but of being nurtured and nourished. In a sense, the umbilical cord of these men is still intact. They are not willing to fight for women "out there".

In this film, for example, the protagonist clearly has a face which looks weak, malnourished and almost ready for suckling. Compare his face with the various elder men in the scenes (his father, his father's friends, Diane's boyfriend, the guard at the gate) all of whom show a certain fullness of features, a surety of understanding. Whereas Grubber shows pre-eminently confusion (covered up with intellectual name-dropping and French), anxiety and an emasculated body-type.

It is also a feature of metropolitan life (the film is situated in New York) that concerns about procreation and childbearing while choosing one's partner have been overtaken almost completely by a legitimization of one's sexual idiosyncracies. The modern man has trivial justifications for choosing one's partner in a metro (the shape of hands, the colour of one's car), and therefore divorces are considered a matter of course and not a tragedy.

The city is "happening", as compared to a village, due to the increased probability of new sexual encounters and due to the anonymity under which one can indulge one's fetishes and fantasies. In the city life, it is a given that one must look one's best at all times (for obvious reasons). The "urbane" life is a hotbed of neuroses in full bloom, because the traditional tools of suppression (morality, religion, fear of ridicule, fear of looking different) have been removed, and there is no time for reflection which, coupled with the vastly increased exposure, might lead to evolution.

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