Saturday, August 12, 2006

All Men Are Dogs?

All right, after the Lindsay Lohan revelation, not too many of your ran away screaming (or at least those of you that did live too far away for me to hear you) and so we'll move on to Vol II: Cesar Millan.

If that name doesn't create an automatic response in you, I'll help you out by giving you his more common moniker: The Dog Whisperer. Better? Right. If you've somehow missed this phenomenon, despite multi-media coverage and a long-standing spot on the NY Times best-seller list, then here's a link to his site. Check it out. I'll wait.

I should tell you, up front, that I don't have a dog. Periodically, I think that I should get one, just for the exercise alone, but also because I love the way that dogs look when they are outside--it's like the whole world is new to them, and they couldn't be happier than they are at precisely that moment. What's better than that? Then I remember that dogs are smelly and require baths, they don't relieve themselves in an indoor box, they can be really loud, etc. I'm clearly just NOT a dog person, although I do wish some friends of mine would hurry up and get dogs that I could play with. Despite all of this, I find myself called by the siren song of National Geographic's "Dog Whisperer" in which Cesar Millan shows up at your house and fixes the behavior of your aggressive/yappy/dangerous/annoying or otherwise-badly-behaved dog. In part, I think the appeal here is that multiple creatures can be rehabilitated in one short hour (or 4-5, if a DW marathon is on). What's actually fascinating about the show, however, is Millan's contention that the owner, not the dog, needs to be fixed. His philosophy and pratice rely on the group dynamics of the dog pack, and the replication of those dynamics in your own home. You, of course, are trained by Millan to be the Pack Leader. [See Malcolm Gladwell's writeup of Millan here.]

The true draw of the show, then, is the way in which Millan goes after the owners--who are often women. In a number of episodes, the women with problem dogs work in occupations that require their competence and authority: nurses, junior high school teachers, business-owners, etc. When it comes to their relationships with their pets, however, they resist the idea of enacting the same kind of competence and authority--or what Millan would call "projecting the energy that allows the animal to be calm and submissive."

Nine times out of ten, these women make the jump between their behavior with their dogs and their behaviors with men. AND HERE'S WHERE IT GETS WEIRD. For example, a woman who's dog is fine with the family, but attacks anyone and anything else. After Millan's visit, she states: "This dog wants to dominate me. If he made a living, maybe I'd let him." WTF, boys and girls? Again, I say, WTF?!! The next woman--"I need to use the same kind of tactics in my home as I do in my classroom." Yikes.

There are at least two salient points here. First, the relationship between women's homes and their workplaces. Part of me can understand their fatigue with the dogs--if you have to strap it on at work, who wants to do that when you come home? Isn't the home space a retreat from the rigid workplace constructions and expectations of gender? Or at least shouldn't they relax a little? But this is where the second point comes in: if women are indeed trying to "relax" (both mentally and more abstractly, adjust their gendered behaviors) at home with their dogs, is this how they also approach their hetersexual romantic relationships? To phrase an earlier sentence differently, "if I have to strap it on to be successful at work, then I just want to put it down when I come home." A fine and understandable sentiment, unless you're in a relationship that demands negotiation of roles. Which I think is more common all around.

Both of these, of course, obviate the third and final point--that the editors of the show are choosing these cases because of their approaches to gender. Millan's theory, after all, is nothing if not biological determinism. How do you train your dog? By understanding the way his mind naturally works, and adopting behaviors that he understands. It's a short jump from here to the ways in which chicks have to behave for men to respond to them. Hell, we're only a skip and hop away from The Rules now.

Oh, popular culture. Why must you be so f*cked up?


Blogger Jonh Q said...

Maybe you can train men since men are dogs!
Train Dog

Thursday, September 21, 2006 3:12:00 AM  

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