The email came in, the first of its kind ."Dear Eat the Press," it read, "Please, please, I beg of you, please rebut Stephen Hunter's creeptastic piece in the WP style section today!" Hm. I clicked on the link, and started reading. A few paragraphs in, I sent my tipster a reply: "I just started. EW."
Hunter's piece is a paen to female flesh, but that makes it sound less creepy than it is. It's more a paen to furtively-glimpsed and personally-fetishized female flesh, preferably of the young sort, as exposed in flowy summer dresses, clavicle-exposing tank tops, and foot-baring flip flops. He doesn't say it, but we're pretty sure he has a thing for toe cleavage. A sampling:
Brother, sister, child and pet, do I mean the taut glory of the outer thigh? Do I mean the curves where it's all streamline and suggestion, where the promise is the faintest vapor on the air? Do I mean a neck? Take it from me, brother, necks are okay. Oh, and what about that meadowlike expanse across the back, from the shoulder line down, with its muscular tides, its shallows, its occasional pools of limpid viscosity. Do I mean that?
Wow. Now that's poetry.
Hunter's piece is as meandering as his lascivious around down the female body, going from simple appreciation of the variously-exposed female form to waxing nostalgic about how flesh was hidden away during his day, encased in the nefarious and unforgiving confines of girdles which taunted him like so many impenetrably-locked chastity belts: "The elasticity of it represented control, structure, the secret bindings beneath the pleated skirts...The panty girdle's primary function seems to have been to quell the jiggle. It was to deny flesh its fleshiness." OH NO! GIVE ME FLESHINESS OR GIVE ME DEATH! Also, the phrase "splurge of thigh" is used.
Here's something else: The accompanying illustration is clearly in, um, a school. (And the various be-flip-flopped feet are both male and female, but why quibble?) The point is, given the pantingly libidinous nature of the piece — "the wondrous four to six inches above the knees, fabulous little toes splayed in a rictus by the thong of a rubber flip-flop, and even (and of late ubiquitously) navels" — it seems a wee bit inappropriate to so illustrate.
But really, the piece is plenty creepy enough on its own. At least he limits himself to watching: "Now they go by, the girls in their summer dresses, and we stand on the corner and watch and marvel at the liquefaction of their clothes and the glory of their flesh." Yes, thank heaven for small mercies.
Girls In Their Summer Clothes [Bruce Springsteen]
*We will give Hunter a point, though, for the headline, which uses one of our favorite jokes. So long, arms! Best of luck! I'd wave but, well, you know!