Monday, June 25, 2012

Bieganski in Softcore Pornography: Harold Robbins' "79 Park Avenue"

Harold Robbins' "79 Park Avenue" is the single worst book I've ever read, and I read a lot of books. It was so stupid, so hateful, and so without any redeeming features such as humor or eroticism or even just interesting use of language that I often felt that merely to pick it up I should be wearing a Hazmat suit.

The books contains gems like the following:

"The ash-blond Polack hair that feel like shimmering gold around her face, the wild wide mouth slashed sensually with scarlet, the slightly parted lips and white teeth just showing beneath their shadows" (10).

And this:

"The hot Polack blood is still runnin' around inside yuh, and yuh can't change that" (194).

Robbins can't even manage to spell the simplest of Polish words. "Fluudjincki," his character's last name, doesn't exist in Polish, or in any other language, for that matter.

But to call Harold Robbins' Marja Fluudjincki a character would be like calling a blow-up doll a human being. Robbins moves his pen on the page, not to give life to real people and real issues, although he'd have you believe that.

Rather, he wrote of a large breasted (you're reminded on almost every page), long-legged, white-blond Polack female who is relentlessly tormented by a world full of men who are eager to hurt her, and do. Robbins' creation is molested by a shopkeeper, molested by a school chum, raped by her stepfather, screwed over by the criminal justice system, molested by a guard, forced to put on lesbian performances, betrayed by several fiances, her child is kidnapped and threatened . . . no need to continue. You get the idea. She is *not,* though, tied to a train track.

Please don't get the idea that this is a sexy book. It very much is not. There are no descriptions of humans engaging in sexual activity. None. The fewest number of words possible are used to inform the reader that Marja is about to be raped again, or has just been raped again. The only activity described in any detail are kisses, and these descriptions are flat and complete in four or five words.

Of course, the book offers zero verisimilitude. Robbins' inability to so much as find one believable Polish name for his character is reflective of a complete lack of reality on every page of the book.

Robbins repeatedly calls Marja "intelligent," or even, redundantly, "bright and intelligent" (10), savvy, and worldly wise beyond her years. Then, when he wants her, again, to be raped or mistreated or involved in some idiotic, easily cleared up misunderstanding that ruins her life, he gives Marja the IQ of an ashtray.

That's right. Though he tells us again and again how "bright and intelligent" this girl is, he never, in 406 pages of torments, gives her even the most basic IQ necessary to escape from the many torments he throws her way. This "character" who, in the previous paragraph, had displayed a wisdom of the world that mature adults might envy, appears to have had her entire brain erased, and she becomes the helpless, squirming, all too female female, ripe to be tormented again.

When it is convenient for Robbins to wrap up the book with a happy ending, again, he completely rejects any concept of verisimilitude and uses a crow bar to force a completely unbelievable happy ending into a text that, previously, had consisted solely of scenes of the humiliation and abuse of his heroine.

That nothing erotic ever happens in this book also speaks volumes. The erotic thrill Robbins provides and readers get has nothing to do with human pleasure; rather, it has everything to do with images of a helpless, squirming woman humiliated, disempowered, disappointed, and in pain.

The pivotal event that spirals young Marja's life into complete catastrophe, and removes her from her lifelines to any decency or hope, and the "nice guy" who loves her, is her rape and impregnation by her stepfather, an unemployed, lazy Polack drunk. Immediately after being impregnated by this rape, Marja is incarcerated, thus preventing her from terminating the pregnancy. It is this pregnancy, the book lets us know, that turns Marja from a teen tease who will probably settle down and marry her "nice guy" boyfriend into a full bore whore.

This episode, in this book, speaks volumes. For some, removing women from control over their own bodies and their own reproductive capacity is the supreme act of sexual sadism and misogyny.

Robbins provides this population with its ultimate sexual fantasy, not a fantasy involving mutual pleasure or life-affirming activities, but the control of a woman with too much power, that power being the inappropriate power over men her body gives her.

The ultimate control over female power is to deny her autonomy over her own reproductive capacity. Here, pregnancy is not a blessing, but, rather, enforced pregnancy is the ultimate prison and punishment for an uppity female who is too female for her own good.


I posted this review on Amazon in 2005. I thought of it again recently when a blog reader insisted that the 2010 Canadian film "The Shrine" couldn't possibly be an exploitation of the Bieganski stereotype because, after all, the name of the ostensibly "Polish" village in "The Shrine" is "Alvania" and "Alvania" is not really a Polish name.

But that's the whole point. People who exploit the Bieganski stereotype know nothing about Poland. They just know everything about the Bieganski stereotype. Polaks are brutes. They live in places with weird names like "Alvania." They have weird last names like "Fluudjincki." These names are not reflective of reality. They are reflective of a stereotype.

A previous blog post mentioning "The Shrine" is here.

1 comment:

  1. Lost for words. It is very annoying to observe the same stereotype resurfacing again and again. And again. And knowing that, in all likelihood (, the cycle will continue.

    Political correctness has done little for Poles and Polonians. My only conciliation is that it would no longer be PR to publish a book full of "Polacks" in 2012. I hope it wouldn't.



Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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