Watching the season five premiere of Mad Men with two friends was, well, writhing on the sofa awkward and also hysterical when Jessica Pare, as Megan, Don Draper’s second wife (technically, third), serenades him at a surprise birthday party he already clearly detests by performing the 60’s French pop song, “Zou Bisou Bisou” in a micro-miniskirt. I don’t think we made eye contact once during that little number. In fact, I felt nothing but pity for Don’s character and embarrassment for Megan’s. Afterwards, however, Zou Bisou Bisou, became a kind of joke for us, an absurd signifier for all uncomfortable, sexual (if playful) innuendos in the public sphere.
Recently, I had my own Zou Bisou Bisou memory. While thumbing through an old journal, I found a poem that can only be described as a “playful” ode to my ass, written a few years ago, by a well-known middle-aged male poet, who was at the time a visiting writer at the university where I was a PhD student in poetry. This particular person had been flirtatious in an amusing, not quite problematic way all evening when he borrowed a piece of my friend’s notebook paper and spontaneously penned “Sicilian Ars Poetica for Cara (with a C)” which begins, “Lovely arse/I look at it long/and feel your intended’s (Luighi) knife.” If you can decipher the rest of it, I’d be interested to know what it says. Actually, I take that back.
The point is that it was awkward when he handed it to me, and even more awkward when he recited the first few lines. I remember mentally writhing on another sofa in another state. I also don’t and didn’t consider myself a victim in that situation. It was, if anything, a moment when some implicit contract was broken, when the self-conscious “harmless, lecherous middle-aged male poet” and the equally self-conscious “bemused younger female poet who is going to laugh at your lechery” paradigm crumbled, and I blushed feeling embarrassment for him, and mild pity for myself. At least those moments have a soundtrack now: Zou Bisou Bisou. I remember folding the performatively lecherous poem into the pages of my then journal, thinking that I’d write my own poetic response. And I did. So far, it hasn’t been published.
Perhaps this is a good time to mention that there’s new content up on VIDA’s blog, HER KIND, with an especially interesting Conversations piece about space, place and gender, featuring writers Melissa Chadburn and Roxane Gay.
Suggested additional activities: try doing a Google image search for “lechery.” Many of the results, minus a photograph of JFK, seem more like potential objects of lechery.
Desired feedback: share some of your own Zou Bisou Bisou moments and how you responded to them. For the record, I laughed nervously, extracted myself from the sofa, and poured myself a large glass of wine. Presently, I’m smiling and thinking that each birthday I am liberated a bit more from the Zou Bisou Bisou gaze.
And of course I’m going to share the fun shame: