For decades, I’ve known about the Frank Zappa album Weasels Ripped My Flesh. I’ve never listened to any of its tracks, but weasel, being the most hilarious of the mink family, and the flesh-ripping–well, let’s just say that the title itself caught my attention.
What I didn’t know until recently was how Zappa came by the title: apparently a friend and devotee discovered the magazine cover to the left, and gave it to Mr. Zappa. He passed the magazine off to a cover artist called Neon Park, and said “Think you can do better?” The famous (and controversial) album cover is below as well.
There was also a 1979 B-movie cult horror film of the same name, either derived from the cover of the album, or the men’s adventure magazine.
But i’m not writing to talk about all this. What i’m thinking about today is the whole genre. I discovered the whole genre of men’s adventure magazines, which reached a heyday in the 1950s-1960s. Publishers called them “men’s sweat magazines” or “armpit slicks” (ew). They were the GQ or Maxim magazines of the day, proscribing to hundreds of thousands of mean a daily dose of what 1950s men were like, or should be like, and what they should act like. I found a list of these magazines online, and wanted to give you a brief a sampling of the titles of the sweat mags: Man’s Life, Man’s Look, Man’s Magazine, Man’s Odyssey, Man’s Peril, Man’s Prime, Man’s Smashing Stories, Man’s Story, Man’s Thrills, Man’s True Action, Man’s True Danger.
The campy cover art, and the very topics of the headlines made me shake my head and laugh, but it’s interesting to examine them to gain a meta-perspective. The covers often feature angry beasts, or violent cultures (Nazis; later, Communists; sometimes African tribes), or hordes of crazed women. The man on the cover is usually rescuing a heroine from a dastardly plight. The covers are sensual, slightly erotic, and always adventurous.
What a strange, man hormone-laden troglodytic representation of the male gender! It’s as if our archetype has to do; not think. We have to act, and save the damsel (and hopefully see down her dress). Was America tapping into an urgent national need to prove its penis length? We we perhaps so afraid of the Nazi/Communist menace that we had to reassert our dominion?
And more alarmingly, what about the tribes of Amazons/female buccaneers? Were we afraid women would usurp our primacy with cutlasses? It’s as if the covers (1) made the hero dominant and (2) made a sexual caricature of the women, as if to say “this is what they’re *really* good for, when you’re done saving the day, men.
Reading the corners of the magazines was also fun There seemed to be lots of teasers for articles about sex. Most of them are of the “What if she cheats on you, while you stay faithful?” vein. The pathological fear of our loss of status was simply astounding.
So today I’m wondering how we’ll be viewed 50 years down the timeline. Will People think we are crazy and hung up over the sexes? Maybe homosexuality will be viewed as the “next big threat.” Kind of makes me sick to even think about how depraved we are, sometimes.
I don’t know about you, but I have plenty to be happy for. I don’t enjoy being terrified, or uncomfortable, or worried. I was lucky–a decade before my elementary school years, children crouched under desks, to evade becoming a grease spot during the inevitable atomic holocaust. I wasn’t in that culture. The cold war ratcheted up in political rhetoric, but the terror of our population had subsided.
By the early 1970s, the “armpit slicks” were all but gone from newsstands. Had men of the seventies begun to finally recognize the value of women as something-other-than-sex-objects? I don’t know about that. Men are pigs. We can all agree on that. But maybe we weren’t as terrified of them as we were; placing them on a level of communists, Nazis and wild animals.
A few years ago, linguist George Lakoff entitled a book Fire, Women and Dangerous Things. Its subject was, among other things, classification of objects by metaphor. An Australian aborigine tribe was reported to classify in the same group “fire, women, and dangerous things”. It was meant to be comical. Maybe the Australians knew more about the American male gender and their irrational fears than we give them credit for. Just a thought.