In the late '80s, when Tom Hanks appeared on "Saturday Night Live," he'd often perform a sketch called "Mr. Short-Term Memory." It wasn't a particularly sophisticated conceit: Something would happen to Hanks; then 10 seconds later he would forget what had happened, leaving him in a permanent state of surprise. The example that sticks with me comes from a sketch in which his character is on a dinner date. Hanks orders the poached salmon; his date orders the poached salmon; Hanks looks at the menu and says, "Hey! They have poached salmon! I love poached salmon!"
Well, without taking the poached salmon reference too much further, I thought of Mr. Short-Term Memory this weekend when I read Elizabeth Hayt's New York Times Styles section story, "Libidos of a Certain Age." Hayt's piece was pegged to "Heading South," a new Charlotte Rampling movie about 50-something women who travel to Haiti in the 1970s to have boy-toy flings. So it's a movie about women in pursuit of sex. In fact, 62-year-old retired music teacher Bunny Goldstein tells Hayt that she was disappointed that the pure animal rutting got all clouded by narrative issues of love, class and emotional attachment. "I was really in the mood for something hot," she says. "I thought there'd be more sex."
Right. So Hayt's story here is that older women like to have sex, watch sex, talk about sex -- that, in short, they have sex drives.
Hey! Poached salmon! I love poached salmon!
Yes, aging and sexuality is an endlessly interesting subject and "Heading South" is no doubt compelling and hot. But every time we treat post-menopausal libido, or the story of an older woman dating a younger man, as a news-flash revelation, we are just amplifying assumptions about how unlikely these scenarios are. The truth is, at this point, especially in recent years, we have been presented with puh-lenty of evidence that women over 40 (and 50, and 60, and 70!) love to play, often with younger partners. And not only that: There's also ample evidence that people love to write movies and books and tabloid stories about them.
Just check out the recent Michelle Orange story "Mother May I?" in Sirens magazine, which runs down umpteen films made in the past few years that explore a mature female libido and its quest for young man-flesh, from "The Good Girl" to "Y Tu Mama Tambien" to "Something's Gotta Give" to "Birth" to "P.S." to "Tadpole." Orange's story is illustrated with a photo of Susan Sarandon, perhaps the patron saint of the so-called tadpoling phenomenon. At 43, Sarandon romanced 20-something James Spader in "White Palace," at 58 she ditched 32-year-old Jude Law for a younger man in "Alfie," and at 42 she snagged 30-year-old Tim Robbins in real life.
But let's move beyond Sarandon for a moment. Like to Mrs. Robinson; to Cher (who dated some 12-year-old baker named Rob Camiletti in the '80s); to Diane Keaton, who discovered in 2003's "Something's Gotta Give" that her vagina was not in fact "closed for business" after menopause; to Demi Moore, who in her 40s took a third husband 16 years her junior; to the characters on "Desperate Housewives," who all seemed to be banging pool boys; to Jane Juska, septuagenarian author of "Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Love and Romance," a paean to senior sexuality. Each of these pop-culty eruptions has, for good reason, provoked a stirring in the loins of the fourth estate, a reconsideration of the fact that Keaton's character was on to something: The female libido does not wither and die at 50.
Fifty-seven-year-old Pam Grier is after some indie boy on "The L Word." Mary Kay LeTourneau is married to former student Vili Fualaau. Just a few months ago, Gail Sheehy posed as a leather-suited odalisque for a Times story about libidinous ladies pegged to her book "Sex and the Seasoned Woman." And in March, Elizabeth Hayt -- the same journalist who wrote about libidos of a certain age this weekend in the Times -- in her New York Post column explored the "cougar hunting" phenomenon in which young boys pick up comparatively geriatric women (cougars). According to a recent Page Six item, a movie about cougars is even in the works, starring Faye Dunaway and Carrie Fisher.
Just wait till it opens: Hey! Poached salmon! I love poached salmon!