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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 18th July 2004

Forget the Stepford Wives--Where are the Stepford Husbands?


Don't go and see The Stepford Wives when it arrives on British screens at the end of the month. Paramount Pictures is trying to market it as an intelligent alternative to the usual summer fare--it's being trumpeted as a "post-feminist satire"--but the truth is it's even dumber than The Day After Tomorrow. Indeed, it's so bad that the editor of Variety, Peter Bart, devoted a whole column to analyzing its shortcomings.

Why bother to remake The Stepford Wives in the first place? Back in 1975, when the original appeared, the idea of a group of disgruntled men trading in their bra-burning partners for a collection of sexually compliant housewives had some cultural resonance. At that time, the battle of the sexes was in full swing and its outcome was far from certain. There was no telling what depths men might stoop to in order to preserve their exalted status.

Fast-forward 30 years and it's clear who the victors were. Men are now expected to share all the burdens of marriage, whether it's scrubbing the kitchen floor or driving the kids to school, and none of the privileges. When was the last time a man my age was brought a nice cup of tea by his wife and told to put his feet up in front of the telly?

These days, if a man wants to engage in any of the leisure pursuits enjoyed by his father he has to pay a heavy price. For instance, if I want to spend Saturday morning on the golf course, I have to agree to spend the afternoon traipsing around IKEA.

If I was the head of Paramount--and that job is currently held by a woman, incidentally--I'd have insisted on the gender roles in the original story being reversed. A film called The Stepford Husbands in which a group of powerful female executives replace their couch potato husbands with some nice-but-dim Brad Pitt types would be genuinely funny. Given that this is a swap my wife and all her friends would make, it would also be extremely timely.

Don't Spare the Rod

I'm sure that many women will disagree with my take on The Stepford Wives--and they'll cite Rod Liddle, the middle-aged journalist who recently left his wife for a 23-year-old, as a case in point. Women may fantasise about trading in their husbands for younger men, but, ninety-nine per cent of the time, it's the other way round.

However, it's far from clear that Liddle has emerged the winner in this affair. To begin with, he'll be frogmarched to the divorce courts, stripped of his assets and have a lien placed on all his future earnings. Then he'll have to contend with being teased mercilessly every time he opens his mouth.

Before this story broke, Liddle had managed to carve out a niche for himself as one of the Establishment's most irreverent critics. From now on, he'll just be perceived as that stock comic character, a fortysomething man in the throes of a mid-life crisis. I wouldn't like to be in his shoes next time he appears on Have I Got News For You.

I daresay his career will survive--it may even get a boost from all the publicity--but what about his soul? From what I know of Liddle--and I've only met him once--he doesn't strike me as a typical cad. Rather, he seems like an essentially decent man with a wild, uncontrollable side--more Alan Clark than Cecil Parkinson. As such, I've no doubt he'll be tortured by the thought of all the suffering he has inflicted--and will continue to inflict--on his wife and their two children.

Far from illustrating just how little society has changed since the 1950s, the case of Rod Liddle demonstrates that men can no longer get away with bad behaviour.

Why David Bowie and Not Keith Richards?

Of all the rock stars likely to suffer a heart attack on stage, David Bowie must be near the bottom of the list. Even in his gender-bending prime back in the 70s, the "thin white duke" was hardly known for his rock 'n' roll lifestyle. More art school than the school of hard knocks, Bowie has always steered clear of the wilder shores of his profession. How ironic, then, that it should be him, and not Robert Plant or Ozzy Osbourne, who keeled over in the middle of a song.

I'm beginning to suspect that, when it comes to the heart, a healthy and balanced diet is nearly always fatal. First Jane Fonda, then Dr Atkins and now Bowie? If I was Alastair Campbell I'd be seriously worried.

From now on, I'm going to follow the Keith Richards diet. So far, the biggest scare he's had is when he fell of a ladder in his library.

Some Kind of Hit

Unlikely as it may sound, one of the best films I've seen this year is a documentary about the heavy metal band Metallica. Called Some Kind of Monster, it documents the group's efforts to stay together following the departure of the basist in 2001. What makes it so fascinating is that the band's management company brought in a therapist and encouraged the members to thrash out their differences in a series of painful encounters.

Metallica isn't exactly the most sophisticated band on the planet and you'd expect Some Kind of Monster to consist of a series of hilarious, Spinal Tap-like moments. There are a few, of course, but what's surprising is how sensible and down-to-earth the three remaining members of Metallica turn out to be.

James Hetfield, in particular, the band's notorious lead singer, comes across very well. The meat of the film concerns his efforts to renegotiate his contract with the band. After more than 20 years of embodying the spirit of rock 'n' roll, he's had enough. He wants the other members to accept that, from now on, his wife and family must come first.

What makes Some Kind of Monster so good is just how universal Hetfield's dilemma is. This isn't simply something that he's going through; it's a crisis experienced by all middle-aged men. At some point, even the Rod Liddles of this world eventually have to grow up.

The Californian Weather: An Apoloyg

Two weeks ago I included an item in this column in which I criticised the Californian weather. I complained about the fact that the sun was constantly shining and the temperature was nearly always 75. Such lack of variation, I wrote, gave the Californian climate a Groundhog Day quality.

Having now been back in Britain for a week I would like to take this opportunity to unreservedly apologise for these remarks. They gave the impression that our climate is in some way preferable to that of California's, a claim that I now accept is completely without foundation.

In full and final settlement of this claim, I have agreed to pay a sum of money to Snow and Rock on Kensington High Street, purveyors of a selection of fine, lightweight anoraks.

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