08/19/16
Dali, Photo Philippe Halsman, 1948.

The Care And Handling Of Pussy

Dali, Photo Philippe Halsman, 1948.

Dali, Photo Philippe Halsman, 1948.

The Sultanette refers here to those beguiling furry creatures that rub against you when they’re petted and go wild when toys are dangled in front of them. Did you have something else in mind?

Back to pussies that purr, when I read last weekend’s Wall Street Journal piece, “Wild Thing,” on training your cat to get along with people, my fur went up.

Satyr Mason, Agostino Carracci, 16th C.

Satyr Mason,Agostino Carracci,16thC.

I’ve treasured two main kitty squeezes in my life. The Abyssinian Turkey, who graciously agreed to relocate to Paris with me and the Good Ex. And Oscar Wilde the Persian who obligingly put up with One&Only for seventy-two cat years. (When his sweet life ended, a friend suggested it was a shame that the vet couldn’t have sacrificed One&Only instead.)

Turkey, Oscar, and I understood the key to compatibility. We agreed that there was one thing on earth we didn’t want to be told: What to do. So when writers John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis explained that “training can help our feline companions adapt to the demands we put on them” I wondered if they’d overdosed on catnip.

Little Jam Thief, McLoughlin Bros Pub, Pearl Series, 1880.

Little Jam Thief, McLoughlin Bros Pub, Pearl Series, 1880.

Cats are aloof, the article condemns. While man’s best friend, the obsequious canine, has been nuzzling up to humans for 15,000 years, it took cats another 5,000 to show a little love. And that was only when they realized it was easier to raid the farmer’s cupboard than the steppes.

The first evidence of cats becoming companionable was 4,000 years ago in Egypt, where archeologists have found them ceremonially buried with their owners, though that might have been a final effort to get them to stay off the kitchen table.

Regardless of their attempts at becoming warm and fuzzy Bradshaw and Ellis report, “owning a cat was taken as evidence of collusion with the devil.” Even into the 17th century, they were still making mischief, resulting in an association with paganism and witchcraft that lead them to be highly suspect during the Salem witch trials.

Cleophea Holzhalb,Hans Asper,1538.

Cleophea Holzhalb,Hans Asper,1538.

But this is now. Cats are clever enough to get with the program, right? Just like the male human is in relationship lockstep? Not so fast. “Cats aren’t programmed to interact with all humans,” the Journal reports. While felines may become “genuinely fond of their owners” unlike the tail-wagging pooch, “they don’t feel the need to ingratiate themselves with every human on Earth.” Don’t we spend millions on therapy to wean ourselves off of that behavior?

Off you go! Book cover, Anonymous,1922.

Off you go! Book cover, Anonymous,1922.

Themost shocking pussy report: “Cats like to be alone.” They don’t even much like to spend time with their own breed, says “Wild Thing.” Apparently before they joined civilization “cats’contact with one another was usually limited to a few days each year during the mating season and the few weeks in which mother cats raised their kittens.” No helicopter parents here. A little sex, a little time with the kids, and it’s off to the races!

The article does allow that “the independence of cats can be part of their charm.” Unless you ask them to leave home. “Cats’ solitary, territorial nature means they are more strongly bonded to the place where they live than with any of the people with whom they share it.” Really? When Good Ex and I moved to Paris, Turkey took to the pigeons toying with her like courtesans on our wrought-iron balcony much more readily than I embraced the dominatrix behind the counter at our neighborhood patisserie. Besides, everybody know these conniving creatures pour their greatest affection on those who feed them.

Cat in a Cage,Gottfried Mind, c1800.

Cat in a Cage,Gottfried Mind, c1800.

But never mind, these failings can be trained away! If this sounds daunting, Bradshaw and Ellis reassure us that “the goal shouldn’t be to bring cats under our control” but to teach them “how to control their own behavior in a way that forges a better fit between feline nature and 21st-century human life.”

Case in point, “cats are hunters.” Yet by keeping them cooped up at home, eating gourmet cat food and sleeping in their designer cat beds while we clean the litter box, we deny them the need to capture prey. Solution? To “reduce a cat’s stress levels” play hunting games with them. Research has proven it! We may think that Snowball is playing, but “the cat seems to think that she is catching prey.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1869.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1869.

As for those anti-social tendencies, “you can also train your cat to be more accepting of its fellow felines.” If a new cat moves in next door, for instance, organize a series of play dates. This is not as easy as Tinder and we are advised “to make the introductions very slowly.” First give them a scent sample like you might sniff an insert of Obsession in Vanity Fair. Then let them check each other out from afar. When you start seeing “signs of relaxation” reward them with a “tasty treat.” Only then can you allow the experts to chase tail.

Congratulations, you have now taught your cat to conform to the 21st century. Simple enough. But by the looks of how we’ve managed love, companionship, and the pursuit of sex and happiness in the 21st-century, might we be better aspiring to the ancient, worldly feline? Single-minded. Discerning. Detached. Playful. Never ingratiating. Valuing its solitude. With a little witchcraft thrown in. That even sounds worth a few hair balls.

07/15/16
The Great Presidential Puzzle, Republican Candidates,1880, illus James Albert Wales, Library of Congress.

Frank Zappa For President! … Or Vice!

The Great Presidential Puzzle, Republican Candidates,1880, illus James Albert Wales, Library of Congress.

The Great Presidential Puzzle, Republican Candidates,1880, illus James Albert Wales, Library of Congress.

I once met a physicist from Oxford. (That’s it for his limerick unless something rhymes with “overbearing.”) He was a nuclear physicist at that, and hopefully better at managing neutrons than women. I can recall only one amusing exchange with him aside from dodging his radioactive advances – a conversation about the American presidential elections. Since the alleged leader of the free world influences global matters so significantly, he surmised, why shouldn’t the entire world be allowed to vote in the election?

The Sultanette believes that politics (and certain physicists) are best kept out of bedrooms and harems though I’ll boast that a harem member is now working on the Hillary campaign. (He’s even schmoozed with the presumptive First Dude, Bill!) But given that this blog is “a contrarian view on the rules of engagement” I believe it’s my civic duty to nominate The Sultanette presidential candidate. After all, we have a Democratic, a Republican, and a Libertarian on the ballot. So where is the contrarian?

Suffragists,1920 Republican Convention, Nat’l Photo.

Suffragists,1920 Republican Convention, Nat’l Photo.

The answer came to me after seeing Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words, director Thorsten Schutte’s inspired documentary, now in an open run at New York City’s Film Forum.

Eat That Question tells a contrarian’s story in his own words,” writes Tom Cole in Music News interview with the director. Schutte discovered Zappa’s music at the age of thirteen and relates to Cole that what hooked him was not just “the beauty of the melody, but also the dissonance of it and the noise and the cacophony.” You see, he’ll fit right into this campaign!

Zappa had been composing since high school before he started the Mothers of Invention in 1964 at twenty-seven. But besides his chops as a prolific composer whose avant operas were performed at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the film reveals Zappa as unflappable in his convictions, unpandering to authority, and a sexy beast. Need more specific presidential qualities?

Southern Pacific RR Nixon WhistleStop Menu,1952, Nixon Pres’l Library&Museum.

Southern Pacific RR Nixon WhistleStop Menu,1952, Nixon Pres’l Library&Museum.

Okay, here he is managing congress at a 1985 Senate Committee obscenity hearing on “porn rock”: A prim senator attempts to expose his lewd character by attacking his parenting skills. When he refuses to take the bait she squares off, “I’d be interested to see what toys your kids ever had, Mr. Zappa.” He shoots back, “Well c’mon over to the house, I’ll show ‘em to you!” and breaks up the chamber.

And Zappa’s foreign policy relations: In 1990 he is invited to meet with Vaclav Havel – writer, philosopher, dissident and president of the nascent Czech Republic. Zappa’s music had been smuggled into communist Czechoslovakia since the late-sixties. Now Havel appoints him “Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism” inspiring Secretary of State James Baker to declare, “You can do business with the United States or you can do business with Frank Zappa.”

Louis Abolafia Nudist Party, Pres’l Campaign Poster, 1968.

Louis Abolafia Nudist Party, Pres’l Campaign Poster, 1968.

As for Zappa taking on gender politics, I can hear a stump speech poaching unpolitically correct lyrics from “Bobbie Brown” like, “Am I a boy or a lady? … I don’t know which.” Not to be one-upped by the Soviets, the US censored “Bobby Brown” but the complete lyrics, including the golden shower bit, can be found on his 1979 album with fave Sultanette title … Sheik Yerbouti.

I know what you’re thinking, Zappa passed away in 1993. But how crucial is that? I’m ready to wager that our self-serving, blinkered, hidebound congress wouldn’t even notice that their commander in chief was a dead man.

It’s all brilliant I know but I can’t take full credit because … news flash! According to “the official website of Frank Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust” the album Frank Zappa for President! is set to be released on July 15 (that’s today!) to the world of voters and non-voters alike!

ABC TV Pres’l Convention Coverage, 1956.

ABC TV Pres’l Convention Coverage, 1956.

That’s just in time for the opening salvos of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 18 (unless its greasy participants create another oil slick fire on the Cuyahoga River (see “Burn On” on Randy Newman’s 1972 album Sail Away). Including previously unreleased cuts and excavated early tracks like “If I Was President …” and “When the Lie’s So Big” it ought to be required listening for delegates of both parties.

If that doesn’t get your patriotic juices flowing, head to the Frank Zappa For President page on Facebook which as of this writing has 18,441 people talking about it. A July posting of the “Grandmothers of Invention” featuring two matronly vixens in house dresses jamming on electric guitars before decidedly non-psychedelic flocked wallpaper, is worth the visit.

And if the upcoming conventions leave you feeling like you’ve had Chinese takeout – stuffed but unsatisfied and knowing whatever isn’t immediately consumed will congeal in hours – feast on Eat That Question.

Musical score fragment, Black MIDI, IanTrobsky, 2016.

Musical score fragment, Black MIDI, IanTrobsky, 2016.

At the end of the film, now showing signs of wear from the cancer that will end his life at fifty-three, Frank Zappa is asked what he’d like to be most remembered for. With calm certainty he looks straight at his interviewer. Being remembered means nothing to him, he replies. She presses him. It’s his story and he’s sticking to it. If fierce conviction, searing discernment, roguish charm, and a life that refused to be censored, categorized, or immortalized is all that matters, that’s quite a platform. Come to think of it, Zappa’s too good to be President.

06/7/16
Miss Moneypenny negotiates.

Sex Talk 101. Will you pass or fail?

Miss Moneypenny negotiates.

Miss Moneypenny negotiates.

“This is important to me. How can we create a situation that is comfortable for both of us?”

Talking points for your annual employee review? No, this is pillow talk as reported in the May 31 Wall Street Journal piece, “The Question About Sex So Many Men Have Asked” by Elizabeth Bernstein.

S Wheeler Toilet paper, US patent illus,1891.

S Wheeler Toilet paper, US patent illus,1891.

Note the diplomatic use of “we” vs. “you.” (No more accusatory phrases like, “I want you, you dirty sexy beast.”) And no more delirious spontaneity. Jumping your partner on a random Sunday afternoon has been replaced by “sitting down to solve the problem together.” What was once a reckless escape from daily life is now a domestic chore like changing the toilet paper roll.

As for the sex question so many men want to know? A study by the Universities of Toronto and Western Ontario just published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reveals the startling truth: “Women may want more sex than their husbands or partners think.”

Shopping at Agent Provocateur.

Shopping at Agent Provocateur.

Easy to say but how to drag Dagwood away from the football game for a bodice-ripping timeout? Forget parading in front of the tube in your latest confection from Agent Provocateur. The Wall Street Journal report quotes that couples should: “Communicate – not just about when they want to have sex or what they like but also about what signals they use to show their desire.” Does congress put that much effort into the national budget?

And speaking of getting screwed, the article also suggests that you “consider having sex if you’re not in the mood.” Formerly known as “faking an orgasm” research now dubs it “sexual communal strength.” It’s a proven fact that “people in long-term relationships who do this … are better able to maintain their sexual desire over time.” So the more you do it when you don’t want to do it, the more you’ll want to do it!

Punching the Clock, Philly,1942, Marjory Collins, Library of Congress.

Punching the Clock, Philly,1942, Marjory Collins, Library of Congress.

If you can’t fake it ’til you make, consider scheduling sex. Here’s how: “Explain that you find your partner attractive and want to be intimate just not at the moment. And promise to find another time.” (Your Google calendar might be helpful here.)

“It doesn’t sound romantic” the Journal observes. But Amy Muise, a University of Toronto postdoctoral fellow says, “It lets you plan and get psyched about it.” You might think Amy is talking about creating that warm tingling feeling that begins in the loins and fills the body with a sense of urgent anticipation. Not exactly. Dr. Muise prefers to think of the sensation as “pre-negotiating a good time.”

Rendezvous, Konstantin Somov (1869-1939), Oil on canvas, 1918.

Rendezvous, Konstantin Somov (1869-1939), Oil on canvas, 1918.

When did sex go from reckless surrender (the French call it la petite mort) to a dilemma that needs to be examined until all the lust is x-rayed out of it? Speaking of the French, one solution to weathering slumps in the marital mattress touted by those frisky philanderers (men and women alike) is the discrete affair. Like a vacation from a demanding job, when the affair packs up, the adulterer comes home recharged. (“Mon dieu! You are such the insatiable rascal tonight, cheri(e)!)

I know what you’re thinking. What does the Sultanette of a male harem know about keeping the flames fanned with a significant other? May I remind my voyeuristic followers that before curating this mentourage, I spent time in the trenches? Once the explosive passion cooled to a sizzle with One&Only, I settled down to fifteen diligently faithful years of pleasurable but predictable sex. Looking back, if I’d known it would go south, would it have hurt to take a few hot detours along the way?

Sex Experts?

Sex Experts?

I don’t knock going for marriage refresher sessions with a good therapist. But how did getting sexual pleasure evolve into a pass-fail course conferred by academia? For prepubescents, the subject of sex as a body-rocking turn-on is considered pornography. When we’re old enough to enjoy it, wired with guilt and shame, we’re treated to psychobabble from institutions of higher learning to fix it.

Love in the Afternoon, Cooper & Hepburn, 1957.

Love in the Afternoon, Cooper & Hepburn, 1957.

Might there be more effective ways to get a bang for your buck than a university sex study can recommend? How about telling the office you have a family emergency, turning off all electronic devices, and stealing a few hours at the No-Tell Motel with partner, lover, or gardener. If you’re looking for a better idea, get a subscription to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and dive between the spreadsheets.

05/11/16
Giove seduces Olimpiade, fresco, Giulio Romano.

Where Have All The Playboys Gone?

Giove seduces Olimpiade, fresco, Giulio Romano.

Giove seduces Olimpiade, fresco, Giulio Romano.

I remember the Playboy Mansion like it was yesterday. Gotcha, salacious followers! Okay, The Sultanette never wore Bunny ears and cottontail though I’ve been known to don the random, ribboned corset. And I did press my face against the wrought iron gate of Hugh Hefner’s Chicago chateau at 1340 North State Parkway in hopes of spotting a louche Leporidae.

Freshly graduated from Dairy State U, I was living up the street in a mansion that had been converted into apartments. On weekends, my roommates and I joined the throngs along Chicago’s Gold Coast single’s bars searching for Sex-in-the-Second-City.

Rush Street, ink, Scott Nazelrod.

Rush Street, ink, Scott Nazelrod.

When I found it on occasion, in a haze of marijuana-inspired gropings (The Sultanette never inhaled) it seemed hardly a match for the sybaritic antics at the mansion. Not that I had aspirations to serve cocktails in bunny drag to ogling James Bond wannabes. But Hefner’s televised series, Playboy After Dark, featuring girls with torpedo tits and perfect flips draped over Barcelona sofas enjoying laid-back flirtations with cool celebrities, seemed more compelling than suffering boilerplate come-on’s in the din of Rush Street’s beer palaces.

May ‘58 Playboy Playmate of the Month, Lari Laine & Ozzie Nelson on Ozzie & Harriet.

May ‘58 Playboy Playmate of the Month, Lari Laine & Ozzie Nelson on Ozzie & Harriet.

I was reminded of the Playboy heyday upon reading Christopher Turner’s review of the phenomenon’s recent interpretations, “If you don’t swing, don’t ring” in the London Review of Books. If the same publication that holds forth on Sartre, Freud and Descartes can spill ink on Hefner’s “Playboy Philosophy” it’s worth a shout-out from The Sultanette.

Full frontal disclosure, I do have insider’s info on the Playboy days from the first Bunny costume design meeting to eggs with Lenny Bruce in the mansion’s breakfast nook. Nothing you can’t find in a memoir I collaborated on (unless you count the unpublished bits I’ll never reveal) with the artist LeRoy Neiman, “Hef’s” lifelong friend and Playboy Magazine contributor.

Memories of rich conversation while working on All Told with LeRoy are as potent as the aroma of the Cuban he puffed on everyday after lunch, its precarious ash accumulating as each story unfolded. But that’s another story. If you want to know how a Depression kid went from WWII GI to partying with Salvador Dali, cavorting with Sinatra, and sketching Muhammad Ali, Amazon awaits your order. For now, it’s Playboy’s art of sex for seduction sake I invite you to consider.

At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo, oil on canvas, 1892, Edvard Munch.

At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo, oil on canvas, 1892, Edvard Munch.

When Hef conjured up the idea that LeRoy would set up studios in Paris and London and record his experiences in Man at his Leisure, the magazine’s column became his Playboy Philosophy writ large. From nude beaches to Ascot, Paris discos to the casino in Monte Carlo, the life of a jet-setting bon vivant embodied “The Man Who Reads Playboy.”

While LeRoy was gallivanting, Hef was playing lord of the bachelor pad in his pipe and silk pj’s. Turner writes that his third floor bedroom with its “circular rotating (and vibrating) bed” served as Playboy HQ. If he didn’t invent the man cave, he furnished it. Playboy’s first editorial declared, “We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.”

Is there a sapiosexual in the house? Bookish Playboy.

Is there a sapiosexual in the house? Bookish Playboy.

Stop! When did the seduction playbook change? While The Sultanette may not require beluga or a discourse on Karl Marx to surrender her accouterments, how about a subject, a verb, and some savoir faire? And when did we become so authentic we lost our sense of irony? I would still prefer a tongue-in-cheek quip like, “I know a spot with some decent Bordeaux, good music, and rare filet mignon. My place?” to a “What’s up?” on WhatsApp, i.e., “Want to grab a drink and my dick?” Note to prospective Male Harem members: A text is not foreplay.

In Danger of Being Seduced, litho, 1855, Berlin.

In Danger of Being Seduced, litho, 1855, Berlin.

Once in the door, according to Playboy’s “25 Steps to the Perfect Seduction” a mandatory piece of furniture is the bar trolley which “permits the canny bachelor to remain in the room while mixing a cool one for his intended quarry … “. In that vein, while Canny Bachelor is fumbling to undo Intended Quarry’s bra strap after a libido-lubricating conversation about Kierkegaard, his couch flips to horizontal at the touch of a button. Brilliant solution to the hazards of martini spillage on the commute to the boudoir.

The last official Playboy Club (Manila) closed in 1991. The sixty-year-old Playboy centerfold was inevitably eclipsed by online porn. But where have all the playboys … and playgirls gone? In a world of multi-tasking is there no place for an intermezzo with a chéri(e) amour? A stylish caper with a sig other in the midst of life’s daily barbarism? The thrill of complicity between consenting adults seeking mutual plunder?

Allegorical Scene, oil on canvas, Konstantin Makovsky.

Allegorical Scene, oil on canvas, Konstantin Makovsky.

Curiously, non-American men, seem to more readily embrace the concept that sex is an event that occurs before penetration, and that seduction involves gamesmanship. (Due credit to The Impresario.) American men, like good capitalists, just want to get the job done so they can concentrate on boosting the GNP and watching baseball. In their befuddled efforts to treat women as equals like they’ve been told, they’ve gone from behaving like gentleman to jocks.

In 1967, Hef fitted out a black DC-9 jumbo jet with the Bunny logo on its tail and christened it the Big Bunny. “It was a penthouse on wings,” Turner writes, “with dance floor, screening room, wet bar, sleeping quarters for sixteen and an elliptical bed for Hefner covered in Tasmanian opossum skins.” The last time we saw anything close were the bar stools on the yacht of Aristotle Onassis, upholstered with the foreskin of the minke whale.

“The Flying Nun” Sister Aquinas,1943, DC.

“The Flying Nun” Sister Aquinas,1943, DC.

The plane, alias “Hare Force One” was sold in 1976. Its latest clone was the private jet of “King of Good Times” Vijay Mallya, who stamped his initials in gold on the wingtip. It was verified to me in droll conversation with a former passenger (don’t ask) that babes were frequent flyers. But recent news that the roué’s misspent lifestyle has landed the plane on the auction block by Indian tax authorities could mean the demise of flying the horny skies.

Is it the end of getting high on seduction? Turner writes that Hugh Hefner founded Playboy with a loan from his mother who had hoped he’d become a missionary. If instead, he became minister to the Church of The Glorious Chase, get me to the nunnery.

04/7/16
Photo: TheSultanette

Trickery! Cheating! Chicanery! It’s Tax Time!

Head over heels at The Met.

Welcome to the perilous days of April, fellow Americans, when we’re reminded that nothing is certain but death and taxes, and that cheating (not the fun, sweaty kind) is a patriotic duty. So what better inspiration than a trip to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit, Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play.

Encouraged by Andy Battaglia’s Wall Street Journal review promising “shady characters, dirty deeds and their often grizzly results” I hopped an uptown subway to the Met, still a sacred monument to art in spite of its jazzy new logo.

Photo: TheSultanette

Enter under your own risqué.

Threading my way past heroically endowed Greek warriors in the buff and ermine-clad monarchs in gilded frames, it was a relief to face the raw candor of honest criminals and the exhibition’s inviting threat of graphic subject matter. “Rangy social outcasts” is how the opening salvo described the gallery of reprobates – always on the Sultanette’s A-List.

Runway Chic or Runaway?

Runway Chic or Runaway?

The first set of assorted characters, posed for booking shots at the Chicago Police Department, hardly looked menacing. One woman reminded me of my Aunt Annette Krystowiak whose closest brush with crime was cooking blood sausage in Milwaukee. The men might have been posing for a Dolce and Gabbana spread.

Lend me your ears!

Lend me your ears!

On to a more encouraging crew – French anarchists. Sniffing them out in late-19th century Paris was dealt with in such scrupulous detail by French criminologist, Alphonse Bertillon, suffering the process became known as being “Bertillonaged.” As curator Mia Fineman explained it to Battaglia, “If you really wanted to make sure you had the right person, you would look at the shape of their ear, which was unique.” Credited as the first mug shots, these are selfies on steroids.

Book it, Danno!

Book it, Danno!

If you were looking for naughty nightstand reading in 1860, you’d click on Amazon (What! There was no Amazon!) for Rogues: A Study of Characters. Compiled by Samuel G. Szabo, its medley of bad boys including sneak thief, highway man, lifter, and wife poisoner, are straight out of Dickens. Each entry, labeled in elegant script, purports to uncover criminality through physical characteristics.

The eyes have it!

The eyes have it!

Why have we made such a science of exposing evildoers? Are we that easily fooled by the con man? Or do we prefer to swallow the most convenient truths, even from our lovers, family, and cohorts? … Do my darling’s eyes betray that he’s a lying, cheating bastard? Is jolly cousin Molly plotting to edge us out of the will? Might glad-handing Bob at the office really be back-stabbing Bob?

Mea culprit!

The Reverend. Mea culprit!

Working my way through the show, I became an amateur criminologist, analyzing the faces of these masters of guile. “The Reverend” Lawrence Hight’s unimpassioned stare from behind bars masked a venomous nature coiled to break free.

Freddie the farm boy

Freddie the farm boy.

The benign demeanor of 12-year-old Freddie the farm boy who shot his two sisters in Wausau, Wisconsin, belied a calculating murderer.

Then there was Frank Smith (a likely name). Hauled back to Kansas State Prison on an illegal gun charge after moldering there for twenty-six years on a previous conviction, he’s reported as saying he was “glad to be back.” Compared to the deadly reality of life on the outside maybe incarceration had its perks.

Debutante romp.

Patty Hearst debutante romp.

The exhibit may best demonstrate the allure of crime in the Femme Nikita photo of heiress Patty Hearst turned bank robber. Snatched from her gilded cage by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, she was held hostage for nineteen months of capers before being rescued by the FBI. “Tania” then listed her occupation as “Urban Guerilla” and was sentenced to seven years in prison, commuted after twenty-one months by President Carter. Upon release, she tied the knot with her prison bodyguard and raised two children. Was the marriage a form of self-imposed house arrest to resist the exciting life of crime?

If the shoe fits ...

If the shoe fits …

Or does it inevitably end on a shelf at the morgue like John Dillinger’s sheeted body, his feet tagged as if at a sample sale. I wondered studying the soles of this notoriously dashing gangster, if a hunted-down corpse manifests a different postmortem persona than a body that dies a natural death. If I ever invite a coroner into The Male Harem, we’re in for some grisly pillow talk.

Doormen on duty.

Doormen on duty.

Still, the romance of the outlaw persists. Based on the show’s 1892 portrait of the Wild Bunch, you’d take these hotties over your milquetoast accountant any day after April 18. All dapper and dandy in bowler hats, they look more like investment bankers than bank robbers (though these days they’re one and the same). In comparison, a gaggle of cops from the 40’s, taken by crime photographer laureate, Weegee, look like Upper Eastside doormen with nightsticks.

It would be easy to relegate Crime Stories as an homage to film noir and head for dinner at Demarchelier on 86th(their coq au vin makes for good tax-time comfort food). The Valentine’s Day Massacre has become endearing folklore. Even the infamous electric chair at Sing Sing earned the charming moniker “Old Sparky” and was painted by Warhol.

But that might be denying ourselves another impulse.“Poring through the gore in the collection offered certain forbidden pleasures,“ writes Battaglia of the show’s curation. Whether artistic in intention or vernacular in nature, curator Doug Eklund tells him, the images ‘have a kind of energy and make you look’.

"Old Sparky" at Sing Sing

“Old Sparky” at Sing Sing.

Maybe observing this parade of wrongdoers allows us to become voyeurs of our baser selves. These hard-boiled criminals stir up the dirty little secrets that we conceal with such immaculate pretense – those private transgressions that escape the scrutiny of judges or juries, spouses, friends, children, even the tax man. Yes villainous acts against society should be punished. But in freeing their calamitous spirits, are these daring outcasts more wildly sincere than our shamefully hidden selves?

To quote outlaw laureate, Oscar Wilde, “Sin is the only note of vivid colour that persists in the modern world.” These photos, in stark black-and-white attest to it.

Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through July 31. Suggested admission is tax deductible.