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FINEFROCK Retrenching Feminism's Trenches
Nicky Arnstein -- CUBED!

by Steve Finefrock - Hollywood Forum
[scriptwriter] 6/23/06

FROM THE PHONE BOOTH: The Smallest Space in Hollywood

What an idiot! Or so that was my thought, watching the Big Screen image of Nicky Arnstein falling into criminality because he'd fallen behind his ever-richer wife in "Funny Girl" so many years ago. Barbra Streisand's rendering of her love for this dashing icon of male perfection was in warbling "Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein" in continuous, adoring repetition. Omar Sharif, an Egyptian cinema icon at the time, stirred up some Mideast passions for playing opposite a Jewish actress as Fanny Brice, but his acting chops effectively conveyed the chasm that was swallowing him, with the crestfallen face that was suffering less for going to prison than for failing to match his powerful wife's fortune and achievement.

Seemed silly, thirty-plus years ago, that he wouldn't slip into the comfort of 'sharing' his wife's expanding largesse. I grew up since that scene was seen by so many; Hollywood didn't, nor have the feminists. Case studies broad and narrow, close and distant, abstract and personal have proven Nicky's lesson to be broad and deep. It's one of many dilemmas of the classic gender wars turned toxic, as Mars and Venus are crashing into each other's orbits. Even "Sex In The City" addresses it, rather maturely, in the story thread of a bartender mating with his power-lawyer, in an episode titled 'Caste System.'


Founder of Hollywood Forum, a speaker-bureau and panel-discussion vehicle to "Bring the Potomac to the Palisades" on issues that overlap politics and culture with the Hollywood film-TV influence on such national concerns. His scripts have addressed politics [including a TV series pilot/bible package about state political combat, called "A State of the Union"], hazardous materials [from twelve years in emergency management, including six years managing FEMA's Superfund curriculum for hazmat], terrorism, equestrian reincarnation, serial murderer killing journalists in the nation's capitol, and fantasy about time-wasters.[go to Finefrock index]

But not silly at all, for Nicky to feel the marriage could not last, if he were perpetually pegged as an accoutrement to his wife. She had met him when he was up, now he was down, and couldn't get back up without a shady scheme, having gone sour and he having to go to the hoosgow. Since that film's tragic romantic story line, many feminists have come and gone in the public eye, and in private eyes of my witnessing. None have latched onto a poor-soul artiste struggling to write his poetry while driving a cab. Every case of a successful woman finding her soulmate has revealed him to be as powerful as she, or more so.

Gloria Steinem bedded for years with multi-millionaire publisher Mortimer Zuckerman, taking her R&R via his corporate jet and NYC penthouse apartment and limousines, by which she recharged her spiritual batteries before returning to adoring audiences waiting to hear pontificating elaborations on how A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. But the feminist can make handy use of the limo, jet and penthouse servants aplenty. And when she married, finally, after parting ways with Zuckerman? You got it, a millionaire.

Poor Steve, as he beds lawyer Miranda in "Sex" and then loses her, and she loses him [perhaps more importantly], in a story line that is remarkably honest for HBO's production bias, focused on the NYC leftwing crowd's viewpoint of the world. For all its controversy during its original run, it does have heart, and soul, and some good sense. Miranda is the hard-shell lawyer, getting softer in each season, until her heart opens toward motherhood, then marriage before series' end. And to Steve, after a tumultuous zig and zag -- but, she reconnects to her child's father after he's become an entrepreneur, owning his own bar during a hiatus in their 'friendship' as co-parents of an accidental baby.

"'Sex" sells sex as its draw, but imbedded as an 'embed' in the story are some rather traditional thoughts -- such as each woman who becomes pregnant, or has a false-alarm, never considers "fixing the problem" but ponders the wonder of life, and come to a bit of the thinking of the "Episcopalian" straight-arrow, Charlotte. A lot more straight-arrow thinking in a series that flaunts queer life-fluff as normal stuff, and casual sex a 'norm' even for the Episcopalian character. Even man-hungry, man-like sex kitten Samantha finds domestic bliss with a macho-seeming actor who's Mr. Commitment, luring her at series' end to a traditional viewpoint of man and woman. He is the un-Nicky, accepting her PR prowess to boost his off-off-Brooklyn stage career into a national sex icon. Okay, the series can't hit on all cylinders for honesty to reality.

Art reflects life, and life is the source of art, and honesty in each must return to standards that have been standard for generations. Men is men, women is women, and the two orbits must not clash. Nicky Arnstein is the standard of maleness, and any male who thinks he can cleave to a mate of superior earning capacity is laying the groundwork for a big cleavage. "Funny Girl" was fiction, and art, but art that was true to form of humanity. I scoffed then at Nicky's obtuseness -- Hey, man, you can live with her success, and live off her success also -- but now it's become clear, that Nicky was true to form.

It took only thirty years. Along the way, how many men were lured into thinking it could be otherwise? How many in the new generation are still fooled? How much misery, how many Nicky Arnsteins are being sentenced to a fate worse than prison, for having bought the Steinem deception? Look at Gloria, boys, and all the "Glorias" like her, and you'll see that it don't work, like it didn't work, couldn't work for Nicky Arnstein.

Barbra's lilting refrain is the message of the past three decades -- Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein -- resonating endlessly thru relationships which were destined to falter, then fail. Dating is tough enough, marriage tougher enough still, when the power relationship fits the traditional pattern, without adding the burden of a fish-riding-bicycle insanity [no, STUPIDITY] of that old Steinem adage. It's quite an arc of art's representation of this theme, from Barbra as Fanny to Cynthia Nixon as Miranda. Nicky never got back his mojo; Steve goes for the brass ring and becomes a bar-owning entrepreneur, earning Miranda's hand, and they move to their happy home together -- in Brooklyn!

In the end, "Sex And The City" surrenders to suburbia for the power lawyer, softened by motherhood and a decent guy who went from living on tips to taking a tip from Nicky and getting closer to the power-level of his lawyer babe. Two of the other three locked into firm relationships, one in a second marriage and adopting a Chinese child, and the lead-character still seeking Mr. Big, him a power-meister existing about six levels above her small-time columnist status. Indeed, this "Gloria" went the way of the original Gloria. HBO was honest in this respect, leading each lady to a lady's relationship with men of equal or greater status, even the small-potatoes actor becoming an icon, enabling his PR passionata to give her heart to a commitment of the kind which the series dismissed out of hand, in its establishing first episodes.

No, a woman can't be as casual about sex as a man -- that opening theme died in the final season, as dead as that fish riding a bicycle, and akin to Steinem's surrender to a man with far more money than she. Nicky, Nicky, Nicky.... you were a tragic figure, and followed by millions of real life tragic figures who thought they could live a life worth living as an inferior partner to a power woman. Thirty years wasted, as Gloria Steinem showed that she needed that bicycle after all. CRO

copyright 2006 Steve Finefrock





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