Fifty Shades of Camouflage: Broadwell and Kelley

Cautionary tale or just a slice of the zeitgeist pie?

Posted Nov 19, 2012

Do Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley remind you of the Kardashians, or is that just me?  It’s not just their looks or how they dress but their attitude.  These two women seem to be so much of a piece with the culture— ready to be on The Real Housewives of some place.  It’s not hard to imagine either of them in the opening sequence with pouting lips, wearing very high heels and a skimpy dress: “the biographer” and “the socialite.”  Of course, their sobriquets are not exactly accurate, but the zeitgeist doesn’t seem to require accuracy.  After all, Broadwell is a biographer who slept with her subject, needed a ghostwriter and did press in a black shoulder-baring dress.  Then again, “socialite” Kelley appears to have gone bust giving those parties and apparently never met a man with any power she couldn’t sidle up to, and wasn’t averse to gate-crashing when she didn’t have an invite.  

 Did you see the picture of General Petraeus kissing Kelley on the cheek?  Her eyes are closed and she looks like she’s swooning.  Is it any wonder that Paula Broadwell clutched?  

Are these two women emblems of a new cultural trope: when having it all isn’t enough?  Or maybe there’s no power like a guy’s power?  (Can this be when what we’re supposedly witnessing is The End of Men?)  They’d each snagged a doctor husband, had the pretty house, the full closet, the two kids, after all, but still went the seductress route.  In that, they both reflect the new cheat-on-your-spouse norm which used to be guy-territory but now belongs almost equally to the ladies as well.  Cyberspace and emails — which have facilitated cheating generally—are essential pieces of the script here too.  It’s so much easier to cross that line by hitting “send”; in the one-on-one, it’s harder to ignore what’s catching the light on the third finger of your left hand, although —in the end— at least one of these women managed.  

But wait… isn’t the seductress supposed to be single?  The black widow?  Rielle Hunter whispering “You’re hot” to the very married Presidential candidate?  Not one of Tiger’s paramours was married, after all.  Isn’t the seductress supposed to be the shut-out-from-domestic-bliss single woman who ends up boiling the bunny?  

The weird thing is that for all that this is a sex scandal, there’s nothing remotely sexy about it.  Is it that the idea of these relatively young and attractive women going after these geezer-types with medals on their chests is just basically unsexy?  Are clichés, by their very nature, unsexy, even with a role reversal?  But that can’t be true since porn is full of both clichés and role-reversals and if the statistics are to be believed, lots of people find porn very arousing.  

  This gets me thinking about what passes for “sexy” other than porn in the digital age and then the zeitgeist whispers four little words: Fifty Shades of Grey.  

Would anyone have bought that book if Ana had chased Christian?  If the whips, the chains, the plane, but more important, the seduction had been hers?  I ask an admittedly random group of Millennials —all huge fans of that illiterate and enormous bestseller —and the resounding answer is “No!”  For all that we’ve come a long way, baby, women are still looking for that prince to awaken them —literally and metaphorically— with a kiss even in the digital age.  The new Amazon woman — she who can out-run and out-maneuver the Spook-in-chief and she with a handy list of everyone who’s somebody who can help her climb the ladder of social standing with all the subtlety of a Kardashian in a china shop —isn’t what a Millennial wants to be.  They like their independence mixed with a soupçon of subtlety and seduction. 

So much for Fifty Shades of Camouflage.  As for me, I’m waiting for the Lifetime movie or for Jill Kelley to star in Real Housewives of Tampa.  She’s got the look and the teeth, and I understand she needs the bucks.