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What are the Socio-economic/Gendered Implications to an Intimate Proposition?

Recently in the CDPI Diversity Film Series we watched “Vicki Cristina Barcelona.” Coincidentally (or not) in my Romance, Sex, Love and Marriage (RSLM) course at SUNY Plattsburgh we are about to complete the sex theme where we also watched film clips from “Vicki Cristina Barcelona” to further accentuate/breath life into some of the assigned readings. A scene that garnered quite a bit of conversation was when Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) approaches Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) upon their first meeting and invites them to join him on a private plane ride (with himself as pilot) to a small somewhat hidden away island for a weekend of what he describes as showing them around where they will “eat well, drink good wine, and make love.” Upon resistance from one of the women, Vicky, Juan Antonio further adds “Why not? Life is short, life is dull, life is full of pain, and this is a chance for something special.” When further challenged by Vicky to be more explicit about who exactly he is proposing could be making love, he unabashedly states “the three of us.”


Now, in the RSLM course we go places you couldn’t begin to imagine. As in most of my classes, it is about the conversation. Also, it helps having a class of approximately 45 students every class meeting who come from different walks of life, armed with different perspectives. I can’t begin to tell you how this scene was interpreted, assailed, or embraced.

Oddly enough, what didn’t come up in any of the conversations between these two very different gatherings (CDPI Diversity Film Series and RSLM class) were the socio-economic class implications to our "ways of seeing" this scene. Is it possible that the lens through which we view this scene very much reflects our socio-economic reality, with an emphasis on the economic as much as the social? Someone reared in a Judeo-Christian upbringing might easily default to those lessons and see Juan Antonio, in the context of his offer, as one step removed from the anti-Christ. However, someone who has never been propositioned in such a manner, who doesn’t have/hasn’t had the economic means to just up-and-make an impulsive, perhaps even romantic move like Juan Antonio is suggesting, might justify taking advantage of the offer by the mere fact the opportunity might not come around again. Which camp are you in? Should the young women (probably late twenties) be offended, or take Juan Antonio up on his offer? Why? Why not?

Is the response to Juan Antonio a generational thing? Would women of the ‘60s have been more apt to take advantage of the offer than women of the ‘80s, or post millennial generation. Does age become more of a factor in a woman’s ability to read a person for their authenticity and integrity?

What about Juan Antonio? How many men even have the moxie to approach one woman, let alone two, and proposition them upon first meeting for the type of weekend that Juan Antonio proposes? What are the socio-economic class implications that accompany his offer?

Ironically, there was also very little discussion about the very different ways these two best friends saw Juan Antonio’s invitation. Vicky was outright appalled while Cristina was flattered and quite interested in taking Juan Antonio up on his offer. How can two people so very different actually become best friends? What are some of the factors that contribute to that occurrence? Is their relationship an instance of diversity at its best? What are some larger lessons we could learn from the model of friendship that their relationship provides?

Oh, if you haven’t seen the clip I am talking about you can find it on you tube, the scene is actually briefly excerpted in the movie preview.

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Comments

Something clicked when I was reading the description of the scene here and I think I came a step closer to understanding the many points you've made about privlege, JW. I don't know anyone who could just, on a moment's notice, decide to fly their own plane to a private island. I don't have the foggiest idea what it must be like to have the ability to do that, much less the stones (our fellow poker practitioner will forgive me I hope) to invite two women along for the ride with the promise of breaking some commandments. I'm blessed with neither the coin nor the confidence to make such an offer. It's so far removed from my own reality (I thought those people only existed in Soap Operas) that I can't come close to identifying with it. But maybe I CAN identify with someone who views my own privledges with the same confusion and perhaps even jealousy that I view Juan Antonio's privledge.

As for the morality of it all....I'm a big believer that what goes on between consenting adults is their own business and no one elses. I might have a set of morale values by which I choose to live, and, even to impart to my children, but I really don't have the right to measure others by my own yard-stick. If the the two young ladies want to fly off for a fling - it's their business. It's not up to me to approve or disapprove.

I don't think it's outrageous at all that two friends might view this same offer with very different reactions. Sometimes we seek in friendships what we do not see in ourselves. For example, if I'm really "straight-laced" I might seek out someone who is a little more free-spirited. I might admire that person's moxie, their exuberance, or their adventurous nature. I might even try to emulate those qualities to a certain degree. Having friends who exactly like I am would be pretty boring, I think. I'm not sure I could stand to be in a room with me for very long! LOL

There's a reason, Card Buddy, that it's difficult for you to wrap your head around this situation. You can't relate because it IS a movie. It isn't real...and like you said...for the most part it really does only happen in "soap operas".

That said...there are probably a few people in the world that live this way...but it's hardly common...and it's dangerous to make sweeping statements about privilege and human life when using artificial means as a starting point.

Artists...and I'm lumping in movie directors...use their medium to make a point. They embellish and alter reality in many ways to make that point. They take a grain of truth, accentuate it, and shape it to strengthen their argument.

Ohhhh to be rich...good looking...and have a chance to be with two beautiful women in one weekend! Woody Allen simply takes every man's "dream" and tries to twist a statement about society out of it.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that privilege in OUR lives is real. It's concrete because our neighbors next door, across the street, and across town are different than us. It isn't sexy and alluring...it isn't flashy and enticing. But they are there...and we come into contact with them on a daily basis.

This film uses an absolute extreme case...one in which 99.9% of people in the world will NEVER experience...and then attempts to make general assumptions about human nature using dysfunctional people and broken relationships as the medium. In my opinion, the film is a gross misuse of art to prove a point.

Movies are a good starting point for a conversation on human life. But I think it's imperative to remember that characters are chartacters...that someone manipulated the scene to make it EXACTLY what they wanted it to be.

I had the fortunate experience of being able to sit in on the class in which J.W. showed this clip. As a former student of RSLM, I was eager to engage a film clip in the heat of the "Wileyian" teaching style.

Setting aside the topic of socio-economic class, I didn't take offense to his conduct (Is the only reason I can say this because it wasn't "my girl?") nor did I think there was anything inherently wrong with the nature of his proposition (Perhaps that is because I am a man with all sorts of sexist/classist attitutudes allowing me some privilege to find the clip unoffensive). Certainly there is an argument to be made that the primary reason such a scene could be construed as "offensive" is Judeo-Christian beliefs (and other religions and cultures) that teach principlas of fidelitiy, monogamy, and marriage. That aside, if you add the issue of socio-economic class to the clip, the questions of morality and fairness, as they relate to Jaun's proposition, become even more complex.

Juan is a man of power. He is a successful artist who presumably has enough money to eat in the fancy restauranat and borrow his boy's airplane for the weekend to go to an exotic get away where he can afford to afford two women an opportunity to "eat well" and "drink good wine." So what? What does this have to do with socio-economic class? Well, at one extreme, a poor man wearing rags and smelling like rotting flesh could not even situate himself to make such a proposition. He wouldn't be allowed in the restuarant, police might even be called. Who knows, he could even be arrested for being a "bum" (I think they have such statutes, don't they? As if povery wasn't enough oppression for the "bum."). Even assuming he got through the doors and could approach the two beautiful women (arguably a characteristic resulting from their class advantages), he would be received poorly, to say the least. The very idea in Jaun's mind that he could make such a proposition, had, as it's origin, socio-economic privilege.

This clip and the depiction of the "bum" above easily extract the most obvious differences in "pick up ability" as it relates to two polar socio-economic positions. This point doesn't seem very significant because it is so obvious. However, are all thoughts that come to fruition contingent upon our socio-economic status? You may think the answer to this question is obvious as well, but I doubt that most of us have seriously deconstructed the implications of such a truth. Capitalism.

Whaler: How do you reconcile your statement that "characters are just characters" and "that someone manipulated the scene to make it EXACTLY what they wanted it to be" with the idea that we are all actors/characters in life and that an individual can manipulate his environment to make it exactly what they want it to be? Or can't an individual manipulate his/her environment like a movie scene? I don't know that there is such power in the hands of a director either. Certainly the director can't get things "exactly" the way he/she like, right?

I don't understand how you define "real?" I think the argument could be made that the movie is no less real than the bowl of cheerios you eat for breakfast. Furthermore, I don't think you can seriously distinguish between the privilege that Juan has from all gradations of socio-economic privileges. Fundamentally, the man/woman at the bar who offers a woman/man a drink is no different than Juan in this scene. Each is able to make the proposition based on the core fact that the men/women are in a socio-economically privileged situation which allows them to make the offer.

Inherent in some of what you say, the parts that seemingly distinguish between movie characters and real life characters, is the assumption that propositions of this sort are uncommon. 100 percent of the population engages in proposition everyday that is directly affected by ones socio-economic status. Is there anything artificial about that? I mean, I can't understand how this clip, in essence, is any different than all of the propositions that you or I have ever made.

Is the power associated with those who make propositions to young women/men to enter the adult film industry not similar to Jaun's power?

The Reasonable/Unreasonable Man-

You make some interesting points...and articulate those points well. However, I think the fact that you see these characters as representative of everyday life is exactly the problem. I'll attempt to address your questions to clarify what I mean.

You stated..."How do you reconcile your statement that "characters are just characters" and "that someone manipulated the scene to make it EXACTLY what they wanted it to be" with the idea that we are all actors/characters in life and that an individual can manipulate his environment to make it exactly what they want it to be? Or can't an individual manipulate his/her environment like a movie scene? I don't know that there is such power in the hands of a director either. Certainly the director can't get things "exactly" the way he/she like, right?"

The point I was trying to make here is that a movie character (Juan for example) is fabricated. His personality, his position, his career. The director can hand pick a particular actor to establish the exact image he's trying to present. It's no coincedence that Juan is a handsome, rugged looking man. And how likely is it that the three women in his life are not only attractive...but stunningly beautiful? And his career? An artist. What more stereotypically worldly, open minded type of character could a director invent? It fits perfectly. And I do feel the director can make things exactly like he wants. Change this movie around by picking three of your female neighbors...the first three you think of. And put yourself in Juan's position. Now move from Spain to Keesville. The restaurant...change it it to the booths in Stewart's. The island? How about the parking lot of Ausable Point Beach. Suddenly the film doesn't work anymore...because it's too close to reality.

I think your assessment of us being actors in the play of life is exactly what is expected. But I think it's the easy way out. Making direct parallels to unrealistic situations is disingenuous. I just think it's important to remember that a movie is meant to sell tickets. That the actors are supposed to be nice to look at...the scenes are beautiful. There is an inherent appeal to seeing a movie...a draw if you will...that's required to fill seats to pay for the production of the movie...and the salary of the director. So while a director might also be trying to make a point, he's not always doing it in the most "real" way.

You also stated..."I don't understand how you define "real?" I think the argument could be made that the movie is no less real than the bowl of cheerios you eat for breakfast."

Yes the movie itself is real...but like I said above...the characters are created in the imagination of the writer. Unless the movie is a documantary about actual people, then it's not real...it's a story...it's someone's perspective. If Allen is trying to make a point about privilege, what works better? A man and three beautiful women...with sex...and Spain...and money. Or a story about who a salesman in a car dealership walks up to first, an older white guy in a suit or a young black man with braided hair? One idea sell in theaters...the other doesn't. But I'd argue one is a "real" example of privilege and the other isn't.

One last quote...you stated..."Inherent in some of what you say, the parts that seemingly distinguish between movie characters and real life characters, is the assumption that propositions of this sort are uncommon. 100 percent of the population engages in proposition everyday that is directly affected by ones socio-economic status. Is there anything artificial about that? I mean, I can't understand how this clip, in essence, is any different than all of the propositions that you or I have ever made."

I think here you proved my point. Allen wants you to make that leap from Juan to Whaler or to you or to JW. Your two statements are true...but together they don't connect. Propositions of this sort ARE uncommon...and uncommon is nowhere near a strong enough word to state that. That said...yes we do face propositions daily. But the reality of life is that our daily interactions are much more muddied...they aren't black and white as they are presented in the movies. Things are grey. And they are much more subtle. And much more difficult to ferret out how to act and what to do. I don't necessarily disagree with much of what you wrote...but I think it's more prudent to use a movie to initiate a discussion using real people and real examples.

Usually when I proposition a woman to “make love,” I am a bit tipsy and don’t mind too much if she says, “no.” Most of the time we are both feeling buzzed and she may laugh. I’ll laugh too, making somewhat of a joke about it and the night goes on as planned…I go home alone.

At least that was the case before I fell into somewhat of a monogamous relationship last month. So far so good. However, this clip does make me think about what would have happened had I had more money and I propositioned a female while in somewhat of an altered state. Would she take advantage of my buzz and try to raid my wallet once we were through? Maybe I wouldn’t have to joke about wanting to be naughty with her. Maybe it would have become a reality.

Maybe I would be bold enough like Juan Antonia to proposition a woman and her friend. I wonder how many times Juan Antonio had propositioned women before. What if this was the first time it actually worked? How many times did it take him to perfect his objective? Was the proposition sexy because it was done in Spanish? Would it have sounded as attractive in English, translated over in exact word usage and meaning?

If I were approached by a woman the way Vicky and Christina were approached by Juan, I might question myself. A Reasonable/Unreasonable Man brought up a great point. Beauty may be a result of a certain level of socioeconomic class. Does the woman approaching me assume that I have some money, enough money to keep myself clean and approachable? What if she doesn’t know about a possible STD I may be carrying. Should I tell her? She’s the one suave enough to proposition me, therefore should I wonder about STD’s she could be carrying?

Whattup Whaler! It's been a while

Hey Via Via...it's good to hear from you again! Glad you're back.

J.W. –

I am curious as to why you pose the question: “Does age become more of a factor in a woman’s ability to read a person for their authenticity and integrity?” If you are really looking for answers, would not the question be better stated as, “Does age become more a factor in one’s ability to read one’s own authenticity and integrity? Clearly, the discussion here is not about the women.

The attitude exhibited by Juan I would have to agree is a subject of his SES. I race for a captain who owns a yacht on the lake, the man is an attorney and from a far higher SES than I could ever hope to attain. While not a plane, his yacht would be quite the proposition for one let alone two women to travel with him on. He however raises a point to this and I feel it applies to Juan. Should the woman turn him down both men sit in a SES class that afford them the ability to get what they are seeking merely by financial means (were are not talking morally here, if you see my point). This kind of ability affords you the attitude to approach two women and present your proposition, because in a sense there is little to lose. This experience as whaler explained is not one that many of us experience or have the ability to experience but it raises a valid point that was expressed by Reasonable/Unreasonable man that this type of proposition can be scaled to our own independent SES class and fit to our daily experiences. Movies, Real Life it matters not, the fact remains that our placement or work in our SES class affords us the abilities to do a variety of things and propositioning women is not different. The higher up the class it seems the bigger our attitudes or egos? we are afforded.

TL: I agree with your re-framing of the question and I would argue in that as we develop we create, form, and learn what our and others levels of authenticity and integrity are. But keeping in mind that we frame everyone else through our proverbial window . What we read as our own authenticity and integrity impacts how we view others. More than age I would argue that it is our own self-evaluation and reflection that impact our ability to see in others what we view in ourselves, however accurate that may be.

Just some thoughts.

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