A state legislator in Montana has introduced a bill that could ban wearing yoga pants in public. Guess which party he belongs to.
His name is David Moore. He wants voters to call him Doc. I haven’t found out where the nickname comes from. He’s not a doctor or a dentist. He doesn’t hold a Ph.D. He has a master’s in business administration from the University of Montana. Maybe he was a pitcher on his high school or college baseball teams and fans called him Doctor K because he struck a lot of guys out. That would have put him at least three years ahead of Doc Gooden in the nicknaming department. Maybe he played basketball and his idol was Julius Irving and Doctor D got shortened somewhere along the line. He’s worked as a teacher but his main job before he got into politics seems to have been auto technician. Maybe he was real good at diagnosing what was wrong with customers’ cars. Doesn’t matter.
Doesn’t matter he’s a Republican either. It’s Montana. Democrats up there aren’t like Democrats in New York. Republicans up there probably aren’t like Republicans in South Carolina. For the record, though, he’s pro-choice, and he’s voted to put money into teachers’ retirement funds instead of taking it out and away. He’s parrots the standard Republican lies about the ACA to justify opposing expanding Medicaid. Conservation groups don’t like him. The NRA does. He doesn’t appear to support marriage equality but he is in favor of civil unions so maybe he’s “evolving.” He’s fifty-three. He’s married. He has kids. He’s a Lutheran. What this adds up to I’m not sure except that he can’t be dismissed as a typical Tea Party yahoo. Which makes me wonder all the more where this anti-yoga pants bill came from.
And it’s not just yoga pants with him.
Moore, who is upset that group of naked bicyclists pedaled through Missoula last year, decided that what his state really needs right now is tighter regulations on trousers. His proposed bill, HB 365, would outlaw not just nudity, but also "any device, costume, or covering that gives the appearance of or simulates the genitals, pubic hair, anus region, or pubic hair region."
He seems to want yoga pants banned on principle anyway, and Speedos, but I think he thinks that because yoga pants tend to be tight in the seat if you wear a pair that happens to be close in color to your skin tone, it might look at a glance as though your rear end is naked.
Think about this.
He was born in 1961 which means he hit puberty in time for his favorite advertising jingle to have been “Who Wears Short Shorts”. If he didn’t have a Farrah Fawcett poster on his bedroom wall, at least one of his friends probably did. By the time he was in college, nothing was coming between Brooke Shields and her Calvins. Girls he went to school with were more likely to wear carpenter pants than mini-skirts to class and up in Missoula the parkas probably came out even earlier and got put away later than they they did in Boston but spring came to Montana as surely as it did to Massachusetts and I would bet the campus lawns at UM turned into grassy versions of Miami Beach and the air was delicious with the smells of coconut-scented sunscreen and baby oil. He was still a young man when strategic rips began appearing below the back pockets of jeans, and he would have been only technically middle-aged when the golden age of cleavage in which we, blessedly, still live, arrived.
What I’m getting at is that he’s lived most of his life in a time when prevailing fashions have been a lot more revealing of female pulchritude than yoga pants, and I’m wondering what is his problem all of a sudden?
Here he is, deep into middle age, approaching grandfather age. He has a family to worry about. He’s holding a job that’s a definite step up from auto technician and substitute teacher in terms of having the ability to change people’s lives for the better, and this is how he wants to waste his time and taxpayers’ money?
What possessed him?
What possesses him?
Maybe he’s always been tormented by the sight of young women in figure flattering outfits. Maybe he’s spent the last forty years averting his eyes or not averting his eyes and hating himself for it. Maybe it’s part of a midlife crisis. Maybe it’s the case with him as I suspect it is with many aging Republican men who’ve realized their time has past and no pretty young women are going to dress or undress for them anymore and resent and blame the young women for reminding them of this. And by the way this resentment might not be entirely sexual. What they might really be upset by is the reminder that they’re getting old and are going to die.
Maybe he’s simply offended by adults going about in public dressed like sloppy children or by overt displays of stupidity. Never mind what sort of adult freaks out over yoga pants. What sort of adult rides a bicycle naked?
Whatever’s bugging him, I’d like to know. And I can’t know. Who can tell me? He can’t. I’m sure wouldn’t tell me if he could but odds are he doesn’t know himself. And when I say “he doesn’t know himself” I mean it two ways. He himself can’t explain it because he just doesn’t know. And he doesn’t know himself as in he’s not sufficiently self-aware. Few of us are, because few of his are in the habit of the intensive self-reflection, self-examination, and self-criticism that depth of self-knowledge demands. Generally, we don’t want to get to know ourselves that well. We’re afraid of the stranger we might meet. Denial, deflection, projection, sublimation, these are tricks we play on ourselves to avoid admitting things about ourselves we’d rather not face up to. Moore is probably as adept at this as the rest of us.
I’d also like to know who around him told him this was a good idea or if anyone warned him he was risking making a fool of himself and what was going through their heads, if they knew, and why did he listen to the one and not the other and what did he actually hear, because we have a way of hearing what we want to hear, and what did they actually say or mean to say?
And I can’t know the answers to any of these questions.
This is why we need fiction.
Television and movies, comic books, and mystery novels and thrillers make use of characters like “Doc Moore” as villains, as victims, as background, as comic relief, but their writers aren’t interested in psychology. They only care about motivations. And because plot takes precedence over everything, the motivations need to help move the plot along, so they tend to be simple and direct matters of cause and effect. A character like Doc Moore would hate yoga pants because his wife left him for her yoga instructor or because he lusted after her yoga instructor. We’d know what drove him but we wouldn’t understand and we would have much real sympathy. Understanding and sympathy are what writers of serious fiction work to provide. That’s what makes it serious. Calling it serious signals intent. It’s descriptive of purpose not a claim of higher artistic merit. Pompous people use it to include the latter but that’s what makes them pompous. A writer of serious fiction is saying “I’m going to tell you a story that matters. I don’t want to just entertain you. I want you to understand something about life, about being human.” Many comedies are more serious in this way than most dramas.
Through stories we can imagine our way to knowing Doc Moore or, at any rate, someone like Doc Moore. If not like him in personality then like him in action and circumstance. “What kind of politician would waste his time and taxpayer money trying to ban yoga pants?” says the writer. “Several kinds, probably, but I’m going to tell a story about this particular kind.”
We imagine what he’s like, we imagine what it’s like to be like him, we imagine what it’s like to be him. We get to know him, understand him, sympathize with him. We don’t have to like a character to sympathize with him. We don’t need to approve of him and we certainly don’t need to root for him. We don’t need what jejune and lazy readers and audiences claim they want, a character they can identify with. Identifying with a character is a good way not to gain sympathy or understanding because it’s almost always solipsistic and narcissistic. It’s a roundabout path to identifying with a someone they already sympathize with and approve of, themselves. To understand and sympathize with a character we have to feel his pain, the pain of being who he is. We suffer that pain with him.
Chekhov was excellent at depicting unlikeable characters, characters difficult if not impossible to identify with in a way that leads to our own self-approval, and making them understandable and sympathetic. Dostoevsky was too, although the result was usually a character who was some type of hysteric. Dickens did it better than he used to be credited for when I was in school. It seems that within the last generation critics have cottoned on to his methods. Because he worked in caricature, fairy tale, and archetype, it can appear that he’s simplifying and letting us see his people only from the outside. But the hidden truths are there to be discovered in his symbols and metaphors, parables and allegorical asides. He was once supposed to be as reticent about sex as any good Victorian but in fact he was acutely aware of the erotic and perversely erotic forces at work in human beings, driving them forward, driving them crazy, driving them to distraction, driving them to murder. His great psychosexual portraits of people twisted and tortured by desires they don’t dare to acknowledge but which they can’t help acting upon or acting out include James Carker with his great, beautiful, flashing white teeth in Dombey and Son (a self-portrait, by the way), the proudly scarred masochist Rosa Dartle in David Copperfield, hating Steerforth because she loves him so much and can’t have him, both the violent and murderous Jonas Chuzzlewit and the lustful hypocrite Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit, and the lesbian seductress Miss Wade and her “victim,” the jealous and self-loathing Tattycoram in Little Dorrit. A case can be made that the diffident to the point of impotence hero of that book, Arthur Clennam, is a male Sleeping Beauty, a forty year old virgin metaphorically asleep his private castle where he waits to be deflowered by his much stronger and much more worldly although much younger rescuer Amy Dorrit. We can skip over Quilp and Uriah Heep who are too obvious. But Dickens was on his way to more overtly proto-Freudian portraits of sexual transgressives with the repressed schoolmaster Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend and the divided personality, John Jaspers, in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
But the writer I think handled characters like Doc Moore best is Anthony Trollope.
The reason I don’t rank Trollope quite up there with his contemporaries Dickens and George Eliot is that he wasn’t as lyrical a prose stylist as Dickens or as profound a thinker as Eliot and he wasn’t as interested in exploring the perversity of passion and desire in his characters as either. His most villainous characters are relatively mild-mannered. His lovers are fairly normal in their erotic and romantic attitudes and activities. And he limited himself to exploring the safer and quieter and more comforting precincts of Victorian England. There’s no below stairs in Trollope’s novels. There is no underworld. There are no back alleys. Metaphorically, psychologically, or in actuality. Dickens, of course, was intimate with all those places, metaphorically, psychologically, and in actuality. Eliot knew them at a remove, politically, sociologically, almost clinically. But Trollope was far more prolific than both of them. He produced a wider and more various gallery of Humans of England. Both Dickens and Eliot were politically aware and concerned. Dickens intended his writing to inspire political and economic change. I should say he hoped it would. He wasn’t optimistic. Eliot was, at least in comparison. Middlemarch is a political novel in that local politics plays an important role in one of the novel’s several subplots and their politics is a point of sympathy between Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw. It can be argued---and I know this because I argued it in a paper back in grad school---that Dr Lydgate’s downfall is due to his abandoning his political principles to advance his social standing. But to a great degree Eliot presents politics as outside business, something people take up or take on in addition or on top of their other concerns. It’s separate from other routines of their daily lives. Trollope sees politics as the very essence of daily life.
Trollope wrote extensively and knowledgeably about the business of politics and from practical experience. A great many of his characters are professional politicians or would-be politicians. His Palliser novels center on a nascent political dynasty. Creating politicians like Doc Moore was routine for him. But his characters didn’t have to hold an office or run for one or work in government to be politicians because in his world everybody is a politician as a matter of course.
Everything people do is political because everything we do is a matter of negotiating our place and function within a society. Politics is the word for how we get along with our neighbors and how we get ahead in our careers. In Trollope’s day, marriage was the career for middle class and upper class women, so in his novels marriages are political arrangements as much as romantic adventures or misadventures and figure importantly in the plots. His novels turn on the question of who will marry whom as much as George Eliot’s or, for that matter, Jane Austen’s with the difference that Eliot and Austen saw the answers as mainly affecting the lovers, would-be lovers, and their families and Trollope saw marriages as having consequences for the whole community.
Who marries whom is everybody’s business.
Trollope was excellent at depicting how individuals think: How they deny, deflect, project, rationalize, temporize, obfuscate, and otherwise self-deceive. How good people can think their way to behaving badly. How honest people can be dishonest with themselves in order to be dishonest with others. How selfish people can believe themselves generous. How generous-minded people can explain away selfish desires. How all people can make themselves think they want one thing while they actively pursue another. How we’re all to some degree hypocrites and liars. How none of that means we’re necessarily stupid or evil or even not actually good.
None of this happens in isolation.
Alienation is practically an unknown affliction among Trollope’s characters.
It’s rare when one of his characters thinks purely for himself and acts on his own and rarer when he’s doing it because of a noble independence of mind and spirit and with high moral purpose. (When one does, it’s almost always not a he but she.) Usually it’s just pure selfishness. And he winds up properly corrected or punished by the community.
On the other hand, when a character does the “right thing” for the “right reasons” and acts unselfishly, sacrificing, her own interests and desires (again, it’s almost always a she), it often turns out to be a mistake caused by her assuming things about what others think and want and by her telling herself what she should think and want because of that.
When you get down to it, Eliot and Dickens were primarily moralists. They judged individuals as culpable for their crimes, sins, and bad behavior. Trollope was of a more tolerant and forgiving disposition. He tended to see people as not in control of who and what they are. We’re subject to too many outside influences, forces, and pressures. Our lives are too mixed up together and there’s no distinct point where our individual selves end and our neighbors’ begin.
Since this is how I tend to see it, I think the story of how Doc Moore---I should say someone like Doc Moore---isn’t a morality tale about an individual driven by his own demons and psychosexual hangups. It’s a political story about a politician reacting to pressures and influences brought to bear upon him by people reacting to pressures and influences brought to bear upon them by people reacting…you get the drift.
The story doesn’t begin in a yoga studio or in the bedroom or inside the main character’s head.
It begins on the floor of the garage where he’s at work diagnosing a customer’s car’s balky engine with the customer’s conversation turning to the subject of yoga pants.
Doc Moore is serious about strengthening the indecent exposure laws but he now says he was joking about banning yoga pants. He may have been kidding about the Speedos too. Going by the tone of the quote in the Mother Jones article, I’m inclined to believe him. It’s the kind of wiseguy remark I’d make, although I’m more of the opinion we need to ban the sporting of ugly beards by baseball players. So I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. He was making a joke.
But we all know what Freud said about jokes.
You should read Tim Murphy’s whole article at Mother Jones, Montana GOP Legislator Wants to Ban Yoga Pants, and this follow up report by Will Wadley of NBC’s Montana affiliate KECI, Lawmaker: Yoga pants comment 'a joke,' inspires beer. Yep, beer is involved or, at any rate, a local microbrewery. See? It’s all about the community.
The little I know about the real Doc Moore I learned at Vote Smart. and this Q and A he did with the editors of the Missoulian.
By the way, Moore’s bill has been tabled, probably to his relief.
Useful in case there’s a quiz:
The Trollope Society’s website, Anthony Trollope.
David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page.
George Eliot at the Victorian Web.