Saturday, March 6, 2010

Blonde Bombshell

Film Forum is showing the 1933 Jean Harlow movie "Bombshell" this weekend. It tells the story of a movie star played by Harlow who just wants to live a normal life and flees Hollywood to be a normal person. In the end, though, being ordinary doesn't work quite out for Jean and so she returns to Hollywood delighted once again to be treated like the glamorous screen idol that has always suited her best.

This film apparently led to the pairing of the words "blonde" and "bombshell." In fact, the British version of the film was reportedly renamed "Blonde Bombshell." After that Harlow became well known as the blonde bombshell, as did a number of Hollywood stars after her. But why? What was going on at the time that made this an apt metaphor for a glamorous movie star? One meaning might be that such women were regarded as disarming, as even mightier than the sword, so to speak. Or, I suppose, it also fits that they have an explosive impact on others and their surroundings. Or perhaps, as one internet explanation suggests, they are like a great and sudden surprise, as in a sudden and alarming revelation. There always was something a bit alarming about Harlow, kind of threatening almost. Which, too, leads to the idea that no man is safe around such overwhelming females. They are as dangerous as a bombshell.

In the end, though, such analogies feel pretty offensive and still one more sign of our tendency to adopt violent images and metaphors that may initially strike us as harmless enough but probably do more damage than we realize.

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