Exercises in high macho style

Passing between channels on my tv on the 6th, I caught a moment from the show Mr. Robot (S3 E9) in which Terry Colby, an exec at the Allsafe Corporation, spins out a riff in high-macho figurative language, a piece of crude poetry:

That’s all teddy bears and hand jobs, but what are your financials?  We can’t wake up one day and find ourselves tits up, dicks blowing in the breeze.

The masterstroke in all this is all teddy bears and hand jobs, an invention intended to convey an ironic, dismissive version of the high-toned all sweetness and light or, better, the vernacular all beer and skittles ‘all fun and pleasure’ (skittles, the game of ninepins)

On the tv show, from Wikipedia:


Mr. Robot is an American drama–thriller television series created by Sam Esmail. It stars Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson, a cybersecurity engineer and hacker who suffers from social anxiety disorder and clinical depression. Alderson is recruited by an insurrectionary anarchist known as “Mr. Robot”, played by Christian Slater, to join a group of hacktivists called “fsociety”. The group aims to destroy all debt records by encrypting the financial data of the largest conglomerate in the world, E Corp.

(all) sweetness and light. From NOAD:

sweetness and light: social or political harmony: the relationship was by no means all sweetness and light; a reasonable and peaceable person: when he’s around she’s all sweetness and light. [taken from Swift and used with aesthetic or moral reference, first by Arnold in Culture and Anarchy (1869)]

With all, the expression is often used in a negative context, either explicit or implicit (“Things aren’t all sweetness and light today”, “That’s all sweetness and light, but…”).

(all) beer and skittles. From NOAD:

(#2) Graphic by Fox in the Loft, Nottingham (UK), “Funky Crafts & Unique Graphic Design”; no idea why the skittles are in rainbow colors, but I approve

beer and skittles: [often with negative] British amusement or enjoyment: life isn’t all beer and skittles.

The Mr. Robot version, all teddy bears and hand jobs, names one thing presumed to be amusing (teddy bears) and one presumed to be pleasurable (hand jobs), but in the context conveying the dismissal of the thing said to be all teddy bears and hand jobs.

tits up. Figuratively, ‘non-working, dead’; the relevant image is presumably of an immobilized person lying flat on their back.

(#3) A notably un-deep quote from the actor Max Irons

The source of the image (AZ Quotes) has quotations from a great many people, including a fair number who seem to have been included on the basis of their celebrity (rather than on their ideas). So we get thoughts from Max Irons, the hunky actor with the interesting face. From Wikipedia:

(#4) Irons in The White Queen, showing nipple (continuing the tits theme)

Maximilian Paul Diarmuid “Max” Irons (born 17 October 1985) is an English-Irish actor and model. He is known for his roles in Red Riding Hood (2011), The White Queen (2013), The Host (2013), and The Riot Club (2014).

Irons was born in Camden, London, the son of English actor Jeremy Irons and Irish actress Sinéad Cusack. He is a grandson of actors Cyril Cusack and Maureen Cusack.

dick(s) waving/blowing in the wind/breeze. Conveying, more or less directly, ‘naked and exposed’, but figuratively ‘helpless’.

Notes on form. Teddy bears and hand jobs is a nicely parallel coordination, of two N + N compounds, the whole thing making a trochaic tetrameter line with a superstrong second half:

S W | S W | S | S

Later there’s the half-rhyming pairing dicks … tits, all alveolar obstruents:

/ dɪks … tɪts /

And then the whole thing ends with the alliterative blowing in the breeze (as a variant of waving in the wind).

3 Responses to “Exercises in high macho style”

  1. John Baker Says:

    As an earlier precursor to “sweetness and light” and “beer and skittles,” I am reminded of the line from Twelfth Night, “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” This actually doesn’t resound with me as much as it might, in part because I’m not quite sure what kind of cakes would go well with ale.

    Of course, “teddy bears and hand jobs” is a particularly clever variant.

    • Robert Coren Says:

      “Cakes and ale” appear to have been very much a thing in England in the 16th-17th centuries. Cf. the Purcell catch that starts out “I gave her cakes / and I gave her ale, / I gave her sack and sherry…”

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      OED2 and other sources have cakes and ale as ‘the good life’ or ‘the good things in life’, as here:

      7.a. Cake is often used figuratively in obvious allusion to its estimation (esp. by children) as a ‘good thing’, the dainty, delicacy, or ‘sweets’ of a repast. So cakes and ale, cake and cheese (Scotl.). to take the cake, (†U.S. cakes): to carry off the honours, rank first; often used ironically or as an expression of surprise…

      with citations in 1606 for cake and cheese, in 1623 for cakes and ale from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (see below), and lots of take the cake.

      From Wikipedia:

      Cakes and Ale, or, The Skeleton in the Cupboard (1930) is a novel by the British author W. Somerset Maugham. Maugham exposes the misguided social snobbery levelled at the character Rosie Driffield, whose frankness, honesty and sexual freedom make her a target of conservative propriety. Her character is treated favourably by the book’s narrator, Ashenden, who understands that she was a muse to the many artists who surrounded her and who himself enjoyed her sexual favours.
      Maugham drew his title from the remark of Sir Toby Belch to Malvolio in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” Cakes and ale are also the emblems of the good life in the moral of the fable attributed to Aesop, “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse”: “Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: