In the Guardian, Hester Lacey bravely defends the rights of people who never read books. But, who is she defending them from? As far as I can tell, 70-80% of the adult population doesn't read books. Do they get attacked in the streets by readers? Do readers yell insults at them from the windows of bookstores? Let's be honest- is there any social pressure whatsoever to read anymore? Certainly this Philistine offers no actual examples in her article.
I think she's trying to argue that there's no intrinsic merit to reading- that it's just something you either "get" or don't "get". No reason to force it on people. She compares this to math. But, most of us didn't "get" math until we learned how to do it. And when we did, it made our lives easier. Should we stop teaching kids to read because it might not be their choice as consumers? I think that's it, too. I think the "consumer" is now the model for all adult behavior- no longer the citizen. Just do as you wish and expect the staff to make believe that you're educated, informed and intelligent- all evidence to the contrary.
Certainly, most people don't read. I have no problem with that. But, I can't be expected to pay their opinions the same respect as I would pay opinions that are informed, considered and educated. Why would I? I think she wants us all to pretend that the uneducated and uninformed are the intellectual equals of the informed and educated. Because, you know, it would be cruel to state the obvious. I mean, she's right- very few people are born stupid, but most people choose to be stupid. But, that's a "lifestyle choice" that it's very hard for me to get behind.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
In the Guardian, Hester Lacey bravely defends the rights of people who never read books. But, who is she defending them from? As far as I can tell, 70-80% of the adult population doesn't read books. Do they get attacked in the streets by readers? Do readers yell insults at them from the windows of bookstores? Let's be honest- is there any social pressure whatsoever to read anymore? Certainly this Philistine offers no actual examples in her article.
Saturday, August 27, 2005
This is the sort of film that you don't so much watch as look at. And that's the problem. It's a visual stunner, and extremely gory, with plenty of nudity, but it's as if all of these tricks are intended to distract us from noticing that there's nothing much to this thing. This is a comic book turned film that has gone from being two-dimensional to being more two-dimensional.
Quentin Tarantino has said that the Sin City comic books are impressive for their rich "mythology", but that isn't evident in the movie. What the movie consists of is stock characters speaking corny lines that we've heard a million times before in scenarios that leave no mystery as to where they're headed. No doubt some witless critic will say this is all "like Mickey Spillane on drugs", but it's more like Mickey Spillane phoning it in. The real selling point for the movie is that it's "faithful to its subject matter". Robert Rodriguez has bragged that he shot the comic books as if they were storyboards- but is this something a director should brag about? That he made no real artistic choices? And are comic books supposed to be a higher art form than films? I can see how these stories might play in a comic book as a wry commentary on stock noir characters and situations- but here it just plays like stock noir characters and situations.
At any rate, the film consists of three stories about tough guys sticking up for dames. In Tarantino style, the stories are interwoven and track back on themselves. In true Tarantino style, this is supposed to distract us from how disposable and soulless the whole thing is. Sure, the gore is cool, the frequent nudity is cool, everything is cool, cool, cool- but the true target market for this thing is fifteen year old boys who wish that they themselves could stick up for a dame sometime. Frank Miller's idea of nuance is to give his characters crudely "paradoxical" character traits- a priest who kills prostitutes, a young nerd who kills prostitutes, a Senator who's involved with crime, a cop who gets drunk and beats his girlfriend, a hooker with a heart of gold. And so on. Again, all of this would have sounded cool to me when I was in detention back at W.T. Woodson High.
Of course, criticize the thing this way and you seem humorless. Don't you get it? It's supposed to be stupid! What do you want? Bergman? Okay, well fine. I understand it's a fan boy movie- full of endless references to 50s schlock and no visible adult relationships. All the bad guys get castrated, and all the girls walk around topless. Nerd heaven. I can accept all of that. I really can. My real problem with the film was that I understood that it was going to be that way from about five minutes in. After that, there were no surprises. It was like listening to a drunk college kid yammering on at a bar- loud and brash and raunchy, but excruciatingly boring.
New Mexico and, well the Old Mexico have agreed to raze all the buildings in a Mexican town that has become home to drug smugglers and illegal immigrant runners. I'm sure this makes everyone feel good in New Mexico, but how could it possibly make any difference? Okay, so now the town won't exist... and? Aren't migrants, by definition, completely unreliant on fixed addresses or buildings? Is it me, or is this war on illegal immigration already lost? Also, how can we spent so much money to build up our own border and protect ourselves from the "threat" that a bunch of Mexicans will become landscapers in the US, but we can't secure the borders to Iraq and protect our troops from people who actually want to kill them?
Here is a lovely letter reprinted from Salon:
I have run into at least four people who are randomly revisiting "Madame Bovary" this summer. I don't know whether there's been a vast sale of Bovaries or some sort of Bovary giveaway, but Flaubert's classic seems to be on a lot of people's minds. I just finished the book last week, and now I'm encouraged to do something I never thought I could: read more French literature.
Like most people, I didn't think I would like or even be able to stand "Madame Bovary." As a recent college graduate who's freed from the reading requirements of professors, I've found myself pursuing classics on my own as a sort of punishment for not studying more in school. "Madame Bovary" was supposed to be an exercise in academic masochism -- a part of a summer regimen where I've whipped myself with the tasseled ends of Baudelaire, Tolstoy, Genet and now Flaubert.
What instantly drew me in were the novel's details. Flowers, trees, window curtains, crenelles -- what the hell is a crenelle, why does it sound so nice, how come nobody uses it around me? Reading "Madame Bovary" makes you want to be a better reader, a more educated person, a speaker with a greater vocabulary. I felt the thrill of a book that actually challenged me to pay attention, to follow the minute, the seeming infinitesimal shifts in the breeze. If you read the book at even 50 percent attention capacity, which for contemporary readers is an achievement, you get a vivid sense of the world. As a writer I felt embarrassed, humbled and challenged. As a product of the American college and high school system I felt anger that I haven't been reading more books like this, or even had them assigned or recommended to me.
Coming down from "Madame Bovary" I made the mistake of jumping into contemporary novels. The difference is startling. Gone are the details, accumulating character traits and psychological insights. Most contemporary classics don't stand up. It felt like I went from eating filet mignon to McDonald's. That's why I went back to the library and stocked up. I've finished three Tolstoy novellas and have now begun Flaubert's "Sentimental Education" and "Three Tales." I've also started -- since I'm a contemporary, multitasking man -- F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise" and the beginning of Flaubert's "Salaambo."
Running into recent Madame Bovary converts, I feel like I've become a part of a secret club. Our eyes widen in amazement at finding another camouflaged member on the subway, in the office or at a restaurant. We nod to each other, realizing another person has opened the passage to what could be a new way of looking at reading, writing and the very act of thinking about the details of the world. Most of the time I smile and say with intentional understatement, "Good book."
-- Aurin Squire
Not a perfect letter- a bit too much of the "it must be good- other people are doing it too" school of comment. But, what a great thing to behold- the resurrection of attention. It gets at what I love about Proust- you have to read slower and pay attention- but Proust notices everything, and he has something sparklingly clever to say in every paragraph. Great writing forces us to notice all the things that we've become accustomed to ignore. It alters the way we think and even live. It changes us.
Friday, August 26, 2005
People are getting irate about gas prices and yelling at gas station employees. I guess there are always jerks, but how could you not have heard by now that gas prices are high? It just seems like walking into the grocery store and screaming: "What have you done with the Lowenbrau?!"
The gas issue is interesting in itself. Driving is quickly becoming a class marker, isn't it? I have to sell my car, because I can't fill it. The real difference between this and the 1970s gas crisis is that it's not clear what's causing gas prices to go so high, and that's interesting in itself. I'm assuming it's the sudden intense demand for fuel from Southeast Asia and instability in the Middle East. But, as of now, there's no answer, or end in sight.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Oy vey! The author of that dreadful book about "metrosexuals" has a new book saying that men have become the butt of too many nasty jokes as women have gained independence and strength in the work force. Essentially, American women are now in the `Rock Hudson 1960s swinging professional bachelorette pad` phase, and men are the ditzy secretary. Or, something like that. Apparently, men have to, once again, reclaim masculinity, and express their true selves. And she's here to tell them how. The author, Marian Salzman, says:
“Men have been the butt of the joke for too long. TV is the snapshot of our everyday lives . . . there are men making jokes about men, women making jokes about men but not men making jokes about women because that would be politically incorrect.
I agree that televison is strikingly misandrist. But, it`s frankly hard to take seriously someone who calls it the `snapshot of our lives`. I would hope not.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
One of the things they lectured about today was "active learning", which is apparently "revolutionizing higher education". Basically, the idea is that students zone out during lectures, so we're supposed to get them involved in the learning process. (Learn more: Here.) Examples would be things like:
The teacher pauses and gives the students time to figure out a question with their neighbor,
Whole class debates,
It's all interesting stuff, but the tone of the presentation turned me off. The lecturer told us that %40 of higher ed students drop out or fail, and so we have to realize that the old methods just don't work. Then, he went on rapturously about active learning for a while and asked us to imagine what an active class looks like. People said things like "excited", "enthusiastic", "happy" and so forth. I've never understood the mentality that goes: "Well, the old ways don't work anymore. So, let's do the complete opposite and that should fix everything." Also, I have to wonder if a lot of this "active learning" doesn't amount to us getting paid to have the kids teach themselves.
Here's a nice little bit about Agnes Smedley, journalist, activist, feminist and, apparently the McCarthyites were right, a spy for the Soviet Union. I like this piece because of the intellectual honesty of her biographer, Ruth Price, who found herself in that difficult position for any progressive- she had to name names, so to speak, after the fact. As the Soviet archives open up, the historical record is widening greatly. I agree with Price that historians should be doing a lot more with this stuff.
Pat Robertson apparently reads this blog religiously, as he has apologized for that assassination fatwa he made. Apparently, he denied having said it, and then admitted that, okay he said it, and he's sorry. I can guess two commandments that aren't highlighted in Pat Robertson's Bible.
The other thing that's really strange about teachers is how many of them bitch about their students. Can you imagine hearing a doctor say:
"These patients are getting sicker and sicker every year! What is wrong with them?"
Of course not. And college students aren't really getting stupider. But, if you teach something year after year, what happens? You learn it, until it becomes like second nature to you. Then, when you see a newcomer struggling to get it, you forget how hard it was for you at first. So, the kids aren't getting stupider- the teachers are getting more alienated from teaching.
Which brings me to my number one pet peeve- I hate, hate, HATE academic blogs that bitch about students. There is nothing less professional. You, the public, have no right to know what happens in my classroom. And so, you won't.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
So, this week, I'm training to teach. I was warned that this would be the most boring week of my life. It hasn't been that bad. I'm still not sure why they had us cut green paper into the shape of a tree that "best represents our teaching right now". But, I'll survive.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
A DC-based feminist group has set up shop in Cambodia, a country that has a severe problem with human trafficking as well as the worst forms of sexual exploitation. Can I say what a good idea I think this is? It's high time for feminism to be globalized, and the next stop should be Iraq.
Here's why- the two problems that American feminism has long suffered from are:
1) It seems too obsessed with the problems of upper-class white American women, who aren't exactly the most oppressed group in the world,
2) It seems like a wing of the Democratic Party. This was especially true with Bill Clinton. I mean, here you had a man in power who was, in the worst case scenario, a rapist, and in the best possible scenario, a letch. And NOW wouldn't comment on it! After dragging Clarence Thomas through the mud over a lame pubic hair joke! Oh, it was embarassing!
But, going to Iraq solves both problems, because it shows that feminists are aware that Muffy and Buffy not being able to say "pussy" at a Park Avenue party isn't the height of patriarchal oppression. Also, it's something that few Democrats are going to do, and so it breaks with the party. But, most importantly, it shows that the left isn't going to stand idly by and let the Incompetant in Chief destroy the Middle East. Liberating Iraq is still a noble goal, but the supreme arrogance of these people has made that seem less and less likely of ever happening. So, I think it's time for feminists to go global, and rediscover their relevance.
The Blog for the group is here.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Remember all those conservatives with "Four More Years" bumper stickers. Well, the Army is planning for four more years in Iraq. And according to Sgt. Zach, over at A Soldier's Thoughts, special forces members are even talking about 10 or 20 years. But, the good news is that the Vice President is talking about pulling out in the next year. The bad news, of course, is we're talking about Dick Cheney here.
Never Mind the Dead Kennedys reunion- Here's Biafra- sounding angrier and fronting a band that comes closest to the old rocking band of his youth than, well anything since DOA on the album he did with them. In some ways, this is the album that we need right now- and then... on a number of tracks, Biafra shoots bizarrely wide of the mark.
The first thing you notice here is how hard the Melvins rock on this one. They sound like a punk band, which is more than a bit wierd if you've ever listened to their sludgy metal stuff. But, it's actually the first Jello-combo that I've actually really wanted to see live. Every song on the record is musically tight- even when the lyrics are a bit unreflexive. Oddly enough, it veers towards jam band at times too.
Jello's said the title is just something that King Buzzo said to him as a joke, but it actually fits the album pretty well because it's a laughably ridiculous warning, and the lyrics tend to parody the current security state. You sort of expect this from Biafra, and part of the problem is that you expect this from Biafra. Half of the songs sound like collections of quips that Biafra probably repeats again and again in his daily life.
"Plethysmograph" is a musically furious parody of that bizarre interrogation machine in which a creepy John Ashcroft injures himself while fooling around with the thing. "McGruff the Crime Dog" imagines a solution to the terrorism and unemployment problems in which everyone gets their own spy in McGruff mask following them everywhere. "Caped Crusader" is a truly creepy portrait of a religious terrorist, with "lyrical assistance" from Ashcroft and Mohammad Atta. This is probably the best song as it attacks religious fanaticism and sends chills down your spine.
Now, for the bad- "Islamic Bomb" uses a fantastic guitar line for lyrics that make the exact same point that Jello did in the song "War Pimp Renaissance" off of LARD's Pure Chewing Satisfaction. Perhaps, I can let that slide. But, then "The Lighter Side of Global Terrorism" is exactly the same joke he made in "I Wanna Be a Drug Sniffing Dog" off of Pure Chewing Satisfaction, as well as a misguided attack on airport personnel. "Yuppie Cadillac" is a fun parody of SUV drivers. But "Enchanted Thoughtfist" asks people not to take Biafra seriously and sounds like cobbled together soundbites from spoken-word albums. "Don't just question authority/ Question everything!" Okay. And "Dawn of the Locusts" is perhaps the best thing he's done musically in twenty years, with lyrics that sound like a teenage punk band. "Corporate logos are the new swastikas/ for the patriotically incorrect hordes." Ugh. Not much to chew on there. It's nice that he's rallying the troops here, but which troops and for what? You know what I'd love to see? Biafra doing a whole spoken word album or even musical album where he just talks about his life, instead of political analysis. Because, honestly, he's getting a bit canned in that area.
So, musically, this album shreds. And lyrically, it's about half-good. Which is really strange since Biafra is paid to speak. Maybe, he could use an editor.
Okay, so I should have known better looking at Slate, but I still thought that this article on heavy metal might be interesting and insightful. No such luck.
Yes, it is the one-millionth article on "What are hipsters in Brooklyn doing this month?" Apparently, get this!, they're wearing Iron Maiden tee-shirts. Don't worry- they're still being smug and condescending about it. But, here's an interesting question after I've wasted five minutes of my life reading this- who fucking cares?
I'm sick of it. The publishing capital of the US, hands down, is New York City. And so, most magazines and webzines come from NYC. And since they have to fill space, inevitably they all seem to turn to this same topic- what are hipster trust-fund babies doing this month? Most of the artists got priced out of the city long ago, but there's still rich kids hanging about, working as someone's receptionist and buying clothes and cocaine. Because New Yorkers think that New York is just inherently interesting, there are writers whose entire folder of articles can be summed up as: "I went to a hipster party- here's what they were wearing!"
But, here's the real problem with "What are they doing in Brooklyn this month?" articles: They're never actually doing anything. There's never a new literary movement or an innovative artist or a great thinker. Never anything genuinely creative. Nope, the articles are always about a bunch of poseurs ripping off old Devo records or old 70s rock fashions, but you know, being smug about it. Nothing interesting has come out of Manhattan for at least twenty years, but because of its zip code, I'm supposed to care if hipsters are ironically wearing the tee-shirts that my neighbors are wearing non-ironically.
Let's face it- New York City is boring! And, even worse, people who live there are convinced that it's not boring because, after all, Andy Warhol was there 30 years ago and Henry Miller was there 70 years ago, and blah-blah-blah. So, they don't even try to be interesting- just hip. Just really great shoppers. The reason that it's such a cultural dead zone is that everyone in New York really, really cares what other people think of them, and simultaneously pretends that they don't. New York culture is vapid, stupid, boring, and dead. And yet, I'm supposed to care about "Jewfros" or "Fugly" or "electroclash" or whatever condescending poseur angle is big this month? Please. Give up.
You know what I'd love to read, just once? What's big in Nebraska this month. Or what about Arizona? Or how about someone who's sincerely interested in something. Anything. I'm starving for art and culture, and all I'm finding is a slowly spreading blanket of hipster smugness spreading over the culture and snuffing out every creative impulse.
How exciting to see history in the making in Israel! How often does a relatively peaceful pull-out happen decades after a war? Perhaps a parallel would be the reunification of Germany in the 1990s. Entire worlds are changing here, both physical and, hopefully, mental.
I've never supported the far left in their "Israel is a terrorist state" bullshit. Especially as it seems to amount to the idea that Israel has no right to defend themselves when attacked. Also, I've tended to side with Israel because I just can't see how Palestine will found an actual state on a widespread acceptance of suicide bombing and rabid anti-Semitism. But, I also see this pullout as just good sense. The occupation was never meant to last this long, and it's kept Israel and Palestine in this no-win situation of ever-increasing violence. The oneupsmanship could likely have only ended when Israel decided to use its nukes, a very-real possibility that critics of US involvement in the region tend to forget.
People will call this "surrender", but it's really just good strategy. Now Israel will have greater support when they demand that the Palestinians change their culture. As the occupation ends in the West Bank and Jerusalem, those in Palestine, and let's be honest in our own country, who won't be happy until the middle east is Juden Frei will, theoretically, be the ones who are isolated from the world community. Now the onus is totally on Palestine to root the rabid anti-Semitism out of their own society. Nobody with any sense has ever thought that the occupation was above reproach. But, groups like Hamas have warped an entire culture, and now it's time to rebuild that culture without those groups.
Honestly, I just can't comprehend why people would let their kids blow themselves up, or conversely be blown up, to please some ancient book anyway. Nobody has ever explained to me why God would have "chosen" this barren wasteland in the first place. Shouldn't Hawaii be the holy land? As pathological as I think the Palestinian acceptance of suicide bombing is (and can you imagine how parents would freak out if American teens started blowing themselves up? We'd have 1,000 organizations all called things like "PABYU" Parents Against Blowing Yourself Up! But, you never see that there!), I'm not greatly sympathetic to people who say: "We need to raise our children in the most dangerous place we can possibly find to kiss up to God." Does God really want His children to be that stupid?
Anyway, I think it will be good news. Now, the peace process can begin again with the onus on Palestine, and that, if anything, is unexpectedly hopeful.
The Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts Gallery has been ordered to pull several homoerotic paintings of Batman and Robin by artist Mark Chamberlain.
You can see the paintings here though. Whether or not they should be pulled for their totally lousy composition is another matter. But, is this really copyright violation? With the Nike ad I was complaining about a while ago, it seemed very likely that someone could see the ad and think that Minor Threat or Dischord Records did an ad for Nike. Because, well, I did think that. But, is there anyone who is going to see these paintings and think:
a) Batman and Robin are real people and now I think that they're gay lovers!,
b) DC Comics licenced their characters to a lousy painter for the artistic equivalent of a fart joke,
c) DC Comics themselves must be getting into the world of cornball "transgressive" art,
d) I am Batman, and dammit, there's nothing wrong with living with a teenage boy and hanging around in spandex underwear all day!
As for those last two posts:
One is a piece I wrote for a zine back in 1995 and the other is something I wrote yesterday. I made a few changes to the older one- mostly grammar related, and nothing that changes the major points, even though some of them seem a bit naive to me today.
It's sort of strange, looking back, to see how much has changed. The last time I watched television, the sitcom we were watching was just packed to the gills with dirty jokes. It's strange to think that it wasn't so long ago that the radio wouldn't play George Michael's song I Want Your Sex. Now, there seems to be an overabundance of sex in all media. How can these fictional characters be so horny all the time?
Yet, it's dumbed-down sex. It's sex as a hobby or another shopping item. There are dozens of sex-blogs, for example. But, have you ever read any? Sure, there are some brilliantly clever ones like panties3, but a lot of them are intensely boring. Listening to people describe their sexual exploits at length is like asking somebody what they bought at the grocery store and having them pull out a two-foot long receipt and say: "Okay, well first I bought..."
Ultimately, I think sex should be dangerous and chaotic and mysterious. There's a frission that gets lost when it becomes yet another yuppie lifestyle item. Perhaps, this is why Sex and the City was never actually sexy. This is a time when "sophisticated people" see sexual preferences as being as important as what toothpaste one uses, and there's something so utterly banal about that. Sex should be spiritually shattering, or conversely spiritually transcendant; but never banal and insignificant. Oddly enough, Andrea Dworkin had more respect for sex than most "sex-positive" types because she saw it as being inherently powerful. The Dworkinites may have been extremists, but at least they didn't treat sex and art as meaningless.
Here's something I wrote when I was twenty, back in 1995.
Porn to Raise Hell
On February 27th, 1995 the George Washington University film board decided to show the porno film John Wayne Bobbitt Uncut. The board member who chose the film said that she wanted to stir debate about pornography, and certainly accomplished that. Enough so that the local news media was there to cover the controversial showing and all of the groups protesting it. And, as they say on the news, I was there!
When I strolled into the lobby of the University’s Marvin Center Building at around 8:30, I was soaked to the skin. It was a warm night for February, but still drizzling out and I had walked from the Metro, as was my habit. The Marvin Center looked like a train depot during Spring Break, with numerous confused looking kids wandering about trying to avoid making eye contact. Apparently, the porn aficionados and pro-porn activists were going to be watching the film on the first floor, while the anti-porn folks would watch the anti-porn documentary Not a Love Story upstairs in Room 405. When I arrived, neither film had started, so I milled about the lobby with the cameras, cops and various assorted jerk-offs, and one would suppose anti-jerk-offs. I was tired, wet, bored, strangely horny, and couldn’t smoke anywhere.
It was pretty obvious that the lobby was filled with kids from either faction having very little to do with each other. One could be “anti-censorship” or “anti-rape”, but not both. It was cast in those polemics. Both sides went to their respective showings quietly, without having discussed anything. Of course, it’s tricky for two people with tunnel-vision to see eye-to-eye.
I went upstairs where Posititve Force DC was preparing to show Not a Love Story and then follow it with an “open discussion from a variety of perspectives”. At least, that’s what the flier said. To their credit, PF did try to get some strippers to show up. I have to wonder if they wanted to get their input, or to “save” them though as most of the anti-authoritarians in attendance seemed to be from the “from-protesters-to-Protestants” school of radicalism. Moralism runs deep everywhere in America, and the punk parish is no exemption.
But, I’ll blame the tone of the event on Womyn’s Issues Now, the co-sponsors and a group apparently as much opposed to spell-check as porn. P.F. seemed to want to question the porn attitude towards women (that they have sex?) whereas Wimrn’s Issues Now wanted porn outlawed to stop rape.
I should note that, rather embarrassingly, one of the P.F. members had asked me to attend as a “representative of the other side”. I’m hoping that they didn’t see me as a porn enthusiast, but more the type who isn’t particularly threatened by media. I’ve probably seen three porn films in my life, and pretty much got the “point” after the first five minutes of the first one. So, I was there for the other side- the strippers were smart enough not to show up. This was going to be my chance to be the Malcolm X of porn. “We didn’t jerk off on Plymouth Rock! Plymouth Rock jerked off on us!” Ahem.
Anyway, Not a Love Story was a Canadian documentary about the pornographic industry in New York and was intended to question the images of women in porn. Subsequently, the film features many pornographic images and was rather controversial in Canada itself. Under the McKinnon-Dworkin laws, and probably the laws of karma, it was illegal there as well.
The film starts off well enough by interviewing various people in the porn industry and an articulate stripper who complains about the feminists who assume that she is stupid enough to be “forced” into her line of work. She claims to enjoy dancing and the attention that she gets doing it, but agrees to join the filmmakers in their quest to expose the entire industry.
The strong points of the film are its earliest interviews with the sleaziest pornographers they could find. It’s not easy to get pornographers to hang themselves with their own words; these aren’t people who pay a lot of attention to dialogue normally. These interviews were shot before the video revolution made it possible for anybody and their Women’s Studies instructor to appear in a porno film, and before rape was officially a porno no-no. Subsequently, the porn auteurs make themselves look worse than the filmmakers ever could. Tis better to keep quiet and appear a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.
The film gets a pretty good anti-porn vibe going this way, but unfortunately blows it by turning the cameras on more radical feminists than pornographers. They could have probably found some psychologists to denounce pornography, but oh-nooooo! Instead, they interviewed dozens of activists against sex, but not one with a rational bone in their body. Pun intended.
So, after about 45 minutes of Women Against Pornography reading really bad poetry and telling us what men really want (a bit like having David Duke lead Talmud study) the film starts to take on a campy effect. The tragic violin music playing over fairly benign images of a woman licking a lollipop didn’t help much, although it did cause the Thurston Moore clone next to me to mutter: “Oh no! Oh my god!” throughout the film. The tone was also not helped by the feminist in the film who claimed that blowjobs are the “ultimate male fantasy” because “the man is in a position of complete power”. Sister, when your most favorite part is between someone else’s teeth, you’re not in complete power. As far as it being the ultimate male fantasy, how boring! My ultimate fantasy involves twelve candy-stripers with dildos and no underwear giving me and each other a thorough physical in the school gymnasium.
The film reached a point of ultimate unintentional self-satire with a couple that embodied everything that ever went wrong with second-wave feminism. The husband sat mute throughout the entire interview wearing a snappy Speed Racer scarf and a terrified look in his eyes, rather like that of a pet that has been caught urinating on the carpet. Meanwhile, she talked on and on about how rape is caused by porn, and strangely has nothing to do with sex. She claimed that rape happens because men hate women and read porn to better hate them. Her plan for ending rape was simple: make women “think things are worse than they actually are” and even though she’s a “man-hater” she makes the men she loves feel “not guilt, but shame” so they will learn to behave. Then they will stay in line out of fear, and not because they actually want to. And not urinate on the carpet, we can guess.
After the movie finished, I felt depressed. Not because I’d realized how horrible nudie-flicks, sex, and rape fantasies are, but because both feminists and pornographers claim to understand sex, and none of them know squat. How did it come to this? Nobody alive today has done as much to explain human nature as Freud, Masters & Johnson, or even Wilhelm Reich. Man can conquer the Earth, the moon, and the stars, but not his own need to get at those cute girly bottoms, and none of the writers in Psychology Today, Ms. Magazine, and Playboy have been able to explain that as well as even the Cramps have. It seems that strippers and drag queens best understand sexuality because they can approach it playfully. And why isn’t anybody playful about it these days anyway?
The movie was followed by a discussion group that I remained dazed through. What, me Malcolm XXX? Everyone there basically felt the same way, and with the more emotive people getting more respect than those with thought-out points, it reminded me of every anarchist organization meeting I’ve ever been to and felt a sinking feeling inside when certain regulars start to speak. It was a strange mix, actually; half anti-porn Catholics and half anti-porn radical feminists. A sexy bearded Catholic boy argued that banning porn wouldn’t actually be censorship because “if the Nazis had a weapon that they were using against the Jews, I’d want to take it away.” And with that, he activated the rule: If you have to evoke the Nazis, your argument is probably pretty flimsy. A cute young feminist with breasts practically exploding out of her tank top informed us that, “Studying art history from a radical feminist perspective, I’ve come to realize that all classical art is pornography. You have phallic fountains and reclining nudes in the symbolic rape position.” So, today the XXX theatre, tomorrow the Louvre apparently. Perhaps art history shouldn’t be studied from a radical feminist perspective. Perhaps the world should not be filtered through ideology.
The group discussed the issue for a half-hour longer. Apparently, the radical religious right and the radical feminist left could agree that porn should be outlawed; one side doing so “for the children” and the other “for women” and both speaking of their respective victims’ group in the same terms. I wandered out into the muggy Washington night feeling perhaps a bit colder than I would have otherwise.
Looking back, it's hard to remember the paranoia that existed over porn in certain segments of the left and the right just ten years ago. Where did Women Against Pornography go? Did they finally go inside the adult theatres that they used to picket? Certainly there never was a Malcolm XXX, but porn seems to have become one of those things like masturbation, a close cousin, that nobody either opposes or owns up to anymore. Every now and then, someone will still point out the high percentage of prison inmates who have seen porn, although nobody ever points out that the same percentage of the general population is familiar with the stuff. Porn is everywhere. It's no coincidence that organized feminist anti-porn campaigns ended in the late 90s, as the Internet was gaining widespread use. With porn out of the peep-show shadows, it suddenly seemed a lot more fangless than it used to.
If anything, porn is simply strange. It portrays the most emotionally-charged event in most people’s lives in a completely unemotional way. Frankly, much of it gives me the creeps- like watching a woman give birth without registering any feelings. The most offensive aspect of porn is that it seems dedicated to the idea that sexuality absolutely must be stupid. The idea of a porn film showing an intelligent conversation is as odd as PBS showing penetration, but why? Is there any topic that has been so meditated upon as sex?
Meanwhile, because the anti-porn activists were more heat than light they tended to turn off anyone who saw free-speech issues as fundamentally different than, say, Nazism. There is no doubt that pornography can paint a bleak portrait of human beings, but the answer, as always, seems to be to make pornography that celebrates human beings. With the advent of the Internet, plenty of people have done just that. Instead of wall-to-wall rape fantasies, there are countless websites in which husbands and wives celebrate their sex lives with each other. It’s nearly wholesome. When offended by art, create art that speaks for you.
The anti-porn side was doomed to lose because porn itself is nowhere near as horrible as it has been made out to be. Also, as often as we veer towards censorship in America, we still tend to believe strongly in consumer’s rights. Give me Big Breasted Nurses Vol. 3, or give me death. Ultimately, we hate the idea of any group telling us that we can’t buy something that we see nothing wrong with.
Of course, there are troubling aspects to porn. One imagines a young man who was exposed to nothing but commercial porn would have very sad ideas about what women look like, how they behave, how little they think, and what standard of behavior they should be treated with. But, only an Andrea Dworkin would be warped enough to imagine a young man being exposed to nothing but porn.
I would say, however, that certain porn aesthetics have become mainstream. When I was in University, I was startled by the ways that a sort of alternative “morality” had asserted itself in lieu of the old one. Most sex acts were accepted, and even expected, and I didn’t hear a girl called a “slut” in four years. Yet, there was something strangely taboo about unshaved pubes, and the slightest emotional attachment could be seen as “stalking”. In fact, while the feminist establishment has decided that their role in the discussion about sex should be teaching upper class white women to use the word vagina in polite conversation, and the rest of the country has gotten so spooked by sex that a pop star’s nipple sends them into paroxysms of fear, a sort of hyper-sexual porn mentality seems to have permeated the culture. Today, I’d say the biggest taboo about sex is that it has some innate emotional content, or that it may be inherently irrational.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Art experts are divided over the authenticity of 32 recently discovered Jackson Pollock drip paintings. How hard would it be to fake a Pollock anyway? I mean, they're great works, but isn't a lot of that just context? If I did a drip painting as myself, would anyone care?
Last night, as I was falling asleep, I visualized a school dance in the mid-1970s, with all the boys wearing those plaid dress pants that I used to see as a little kid. It was all shot with that documentary glare that you used to see when cameras had a row of floodlights screwed to them. Remember that? When subjects in documentaries looked like they were in the headlights of a car? Anyway, today I found an image nearly identical to my dreams.
From the James Cohan Gallery's current show of Bill Owens' photography. Owens did some pretty remarkable work in the 60s and 70s. I'll try to post some here. Anyway, it's unnerving when the visions in your subconscious are shared by others. Maybe there's a collective subconscious store of images of suburbia at 3 am.
Here's another article about why theory is dead. These things are getting sad. But, it's better than the old norm, which was that there were two sorts of articles published about theory:
1) Theory is an anti-American cartel out to destroy our culture. Any academic who opposes it loses their job, and the only thing that can stop it is conservatives, who are actually pretty opposed to culture too, but not if we're talking 16th century culture.
2) Theory will save academia and anyone who isn't a fan is a right-wing fascist who is horribly threatened by Lacan, in spite of the fact that nobody on earth can understand what Lacan is saying.
At least this article was written by someone who understands that the debate over theory should be an intellectual debate instead of a political one. Best lines:
When an avant garde succeeds it is institutionalized, routinized, and finally trivialized, but this is not where recent theory most fell short. Nor should its major flaw be found in its obtuseness toward earlier theory, which John Ellis establishes so clearly in his essay. Such exuberant claims to novelty are a reflex of any avant garde, though they sit badly in anything that passes for scholarship. Theory respected no foundations but its own, which it rarely questioned. But its chief weakness lay in its hostile or neglectful dealings with literature itself. If we asked what made the critics of theory so incensed, it was this loss of the literary by those who should have been its most ardent guardians.
No kidding. It's generally pretty annoying to see academics treat great works of literature like evidence at a crime scene instead of... well, records of the greatest sensibilities of the species. We're stewards of culture. Or we're nothing.
Arizona school does away with textbooks in favor of laptops. More and more universities, similarly, try to remake their buildings to look like the mall. Is the trick to getting kids more interested in learning really to pretend that they're not actually in school?
What a great conversation this is, between Camille Paglia and Robert Birnbaum. Two intelligent people dishing and quite often disagreeing. And it's all about what's happened to culture! One thing I hadn't thought of that they both agree on- part of the reason that Manhattan has become such a cultural dead zone in the last decade is that artists can't afford to live there. But, it's all good- like listening to your two smartest friends at dinner after a few drinks.
CP: What I am saying is we need a major reclamation project here. What I am saying on the [book] tour about Western civilization, that we are supposedly defending by going into the Middle East with this military incursion. I’m saying it’s more than the Bible—
RB: You are assigning a responsibility to artists that I wouldn’t think that all artists accept—to be the publicist or—
CP: Yeah, this is why they are shrinking. This why they are unimportant. You can make a killing in the arts or you can be struggling but it’s an artificial, hollow world right now. Many people are trying to do art but absolutely it’s subterranean in terms of the culture as a whole. The arts have never taken root in America. Ever since Puritan New England—this is a business-oriented culture as opposed to Europe where it’s a part of the cultural heritage of the nation.
RB: And you are blaming the segment of the population that is artistic—
CP: Yes, I am.
RB: As opposed to acknowledging that the culture is not fertile for arts.
CP: It isn’t fertile for the arts and therefore something is necessary. Artists, cultural organizations and the universities and primary schools have the obligation to put art more to the forefront. Instead of 30 years of badmouthing Western culture—
Anyway, as usual, I don't agree with everything, but it's fun stuff.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
See, the other difference between now and then is that there's a lot more of us than there used to be. When I was a kid, it was just the weirdo punk freak kids that hated the war. For everyone else in my town, it was like the fourth of July, the Superbowl and Christmas all rolled into one. It was awesome. When I was 14, I heard someone say that there was probably nothing really wrong with gays; this was the first time in my life I'd heard this. When I was 15, I heard someone say, for the first time, that maybe athletes weren't really better than other people. So, of course, I gravitated to punk rock- otherwise, I felt pretty damn alone.
But, that's all changed, hasn't it? The tide is turning, isn't it? Oh sure, this is an era of war, hysteria and braying stupidity. Sure. But, these times they are a changing... Now, everyone I know is sick to death of the way things are. Teachers, bookstore owners, shopkeepers. I don't know a damn person who's happy with this war, or this culture, or the media. At all. Mark my words- something's coming and it's bigger than anything you expect. There are a lot of ideas that have been in the wilderness for far too long. Fuck, ideas as such have been in the wilderness for far too long.
Kathleen Hanna was right here too. First, we have to get off the Internet, and get back into the world. And not just to go shopping for more stupid shit.
But, that will happen in time. Mark my words- change is inevitable. I look forward to it.
I've had the same conversation with a number of people in the past year about what it is that's changed in the past eight or nine years. A bookstore owner I know here in Toronto says that he used to know dozens of people in Toronto who would get together and go over the books they were reading, or call him up because they were getting some people together for a potluck, or hang out and read their poetry to each other. Hakim Bey has said in interviews that his audiences have become these passive observers in the last decade. Another teacher at UB, but from Baltimore, remembers The Beehive Collective in Washington DC, which imploded in 1994. My friend Cate remembers that Riot Grrrl Convention very well. Everyone I knew was doing something.
I'll repeat that- Everyone I knew was doing something.
Making zines, shooting movies, forming bands, they were all doing something, and they were all trying to figure things out as they went along. And it wasn't doctrinaire leftism. It was fluidic, ludic creation. It was play. So, what happened?
I've been thinking about it. Why aren't there these get-togethers, potlucks, meetings and so forth going on? I started looking for them, and I found some small signs, and even a potluck- but, it was only four people, and only once a year. What happened to all those Temporary Autonomous Zones? Where did everyone go?
And then it hit me. Ten years ago, if I wanted to find people to talk with, like-minded individuals, and so forth, I couldn't go "on-line". I actually had to find them. I had to leave fliers in places and call people and make plans to meet them. I couldn't look up the Yahoo! Group, or the My Space listing, or go on Craiglist. I had to force myself to be social in the real world.
And I'm guessing a lot of other people did. It's so weird when people brag to me that their site gets _______ number of hits a day because it means fucking nothing. It isn't real. Nine-year old kids reading your blog on-line and laughing isn't the same as having a real conversation with a real person. This means nothing. It changes nothing. It's surrender.
I'm a hypocrite, of course. Here I am, on-line, suggesting that being on-line has cut a culture that I love off at the knees. Here I am, blogging, saying that this culture is passive and asocial and that it can't go on this way because it's as if we're giving up before we got started.
Well, not exactly.
So, what's with me chewing over old times? Reviewing albums that I owned in High School? Posting about the early 90s punk scene? Don't I know that nostalgia is poison? Don't I know that it's a soft calming voice that kindly convinces you that your best days are behind you?
Yes, I do.
But, I have a point. Longwinded though it may be. Let me get to that next.
Here's an interesting article about why Hollywood movies don't have sex in them anymore.
Basically, it's hard to promote R-rated movies, Wal-Mart puts them in it's "adult" section, and television channels won't broadcast them. Also, movies are now almost exclusively made for 13 year olds. So, no, sex doesn't actually sell.
Well... except if it's porn.
So, your viewing choices are either:
A) Archie and Jughead: The Movie, or
B) Ganbangers Vol. 3.
Remember what I said about Richmond, VA?
The Richmond school system was selling $50 used laptops on Tuesday- which quickly led to a riot. There was a stampede "with people getting thrown to the pavement, beaten with a folding chair and nearly driven over." One woman even peed her own laptop rather than surrender her place in line. "People threw themselves forward, screaming and pushing each other. A little girl's stroller was crushed in the stampede. Witnesses said an elderly man was thrown to the pavement, and someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd."
"Jesse Sandler said he was one of the people pushing forward, using a folding chair he had brought with him to beat back people who tried to cut in front of him.
"I took my chair here and I threw it over my shoulder and I went, 'Bam,'" the 20-year-old said nonchalantly, his eyes glued to the screen of his new iBook, as he tapped away on the keyboard at a testing station.
"They were getting in front of me and I was there a lot earlier than them, so I thought that it was just," he said."
Carlton: Did we get any mail?
Claire: No. Nobody loves us.
Carlton: Speak for yourself sister!
Carlton: Everybody loves me.
Carlton: Because I'm Captain Awesome.
Claire: Captain Awesome?
Carlton: Or Commander Awesome?
Claire: What about me? Am I Queen Awesome?
Cartlon: Well, you're definitely part of Team Awesome.
(Then I start laughing uncontrollably)
Claire: You just think you're so funny, don't you? You're just like: "I can't believe how funny I am!"
Carlton: I keep myself happy, yes.
Sometimes, it's hard to listen to music that you loved as a teenager, sort of like looking at old pictures of yourself with a bad haircut. I have to admit that I thought Judge were a lot better than they were, and I have no idea why I ever bought a Dred Zepplin CD.
So, I was a bit nervous about this CD version of the old Born Against albums that I played to death on the mix tape that my friend Tom made for me in High School. I still wish I had hung onto the Eulogy 45 I got in 1990. Born Against was one of those critical bands of my teenage years- right up there with MDC and Dead Kennedys for me. Their live show was one of the most physically intense things I've ever seen. And then, sometimes, it was Sam leaving the stage to "take a shit" and coming back at the very end of the set for twenty seconds. You never knew what it was going to be.
Stop rambling, Carlton. Does the CD hold up a decade later?
Absolutely. These songs still bury me. Adam is one of the best guitar players in punk rock, and these songs have some of the best, most innovative riffs on any album I own. They're rough and loud and complex, but still sound like the band could come apart at any time. The opening of Shroud is still completely unnerving. There aren't so many great musicians in hardcore, but he is still one of the best. His stuff with Young Pioneers was just as good.
And, yeah, some of the song topics are a bit obvious, but Sam's lyrics are still powerful and meaningful to me. Sure, Jock Gestapo means less now, but how many 19 year olds could write a song about mass-culture (Mount the Pavement) and have the insight to include the lines: "Well, it's the puppets that pull the strings. No one's got the boot to our heads and we still gorge ourselves on their troughs"? The topics include the corporate buy up and grind up of genuine culture and idiotic mass media (Test Pattern, Mt. Dew, Mount the Pavement), execusions (Murder the Sons of Bitches), abortion (Mary and Child) and the measures taken to ensure obediance of children (Footbound and hobbled), amongst other things. There's this hysterical anger to the songs that just beats you in the face with how bad the early 1990s were. I don't know if it's better now though. Let's see- back then, we had radio stations full of idiotic middle aged white men complaining that the welfare negroes and Mexicans were overtaking the country, war in Iraq waged by an incompetant brahmin, self-mutilation for ridiculous television commercial standards of beauty, art turned into ads for cars, a polite tolerance of rape, religious fanatics fighting to reclaim control over other people's behavior, pointless jobs and blue-collar misery, war fever, my Arab friends getting harassed at school by kids who were too stupid to do anything but repeat what they heard on those radio stations... Yeah, la plus ca change...
Sam has matured as a lyricist, but the vitality of these old ditties hasn't faded or dimmed a bit.
Monday, August 15, 2005
"Carlton, you sure wrote enough about riot grrrl! Maybe you should write a master's thesis about that!"
Actually, someone already has.
"Words+ Guitar: The Riot Grrrl Movement and Third-Wave Feminism" by Hillary Belzer
My Notes While Reading it:
It's pretty much accurate. I'd totally forgotten about the Tailhook scandal, the William Kennedy Smith hearing, and the Spur Posse; not to mention the fact that they happened right about the same time as the Clarence Thomas hearing and the heyday of the anti-abortion movement. I remember Camille Paglia was hated, although the sex-positive feminism she was tied to eventually caught on in a big way. The author pretty much misquotes Paglia, which is painfully de rigeur with these sorts of articles. Andrea Dworkin was a lot more popular than the author suggests. Also, the anti-media animus was exactly as strong as she suggests. Remember the massive protests against Basic Instinct? Ah, was it that simple back then?
I also don't know how much "cultural theory" went into it. Academics tend to use the word "postmodern" the way 1950s ad-men used the word "atomic"- they just slap it on the old product and make it sound sexy. I don't remember hearing about Foucault ever- besides, Foucault was a mysogynist if anybody ever was. Also, Derrida was a university thing, but not what you heard about at shows or meetings or wherever. The biggest influences actually seemed to be second-wave feminists. I heard all the time about bell hooks and Andrea Dworkin and Kate Millet. Why exactly do academics treat two older French men like they're expert voices on American feminist issues anyway?
But, there was the idea of "feminisms" which was pretty much central to both the third wave and Riot Grrrl. Also, she's right that there was a strong belief that all forms of oppression are linked, race is impossible to get away from in DC anyway. And, I remember hearing about "the gaze" all the time. I guess my problem with the cultural theory stuff here is that people were trying to figure out how race and sex work- not writing footnotes to books of theory. I just don't know if this part of the essay is correct- I can't remember anyone talking about theory. People loved bell hooks, who I found tiresome, but that wasn't really "theory". I don't know. I'm not the one to say really. I was just sort of around, the meetings were girls-only. It does say something that the writer has academic sources and zinester sources, but no zines about theory.
The author is absolutely correct about why so many girls wrote on their bodies and actually about a lot of things. I'd still say a lot of those people were pretty steeped in second-wave thinkers and writers a hell of a lot more than in po-mo academia. Also, she doesn't really get at what huge issues rape and pornography were for the girls and boys of that scene in that time. Rape especially was the big issue that was dragged out of the closet in that time. Anorexia was big too, but rape was pretty much the big horrifying thing that everyone seemed to decide to fight against at the same time.
All that said, the thesis is extremely accurate and makes its points well. Also, I stupidly misspelled Erika's name in the last post. Twice.
Strangely overlooked in these debates about teaching evolution in the schools are the full implications of the President's own words on the matter.
"I think part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought."
Does anybody else want to call a spade a spade here? Okay, fine. This is cultural relativsim.
But, Carlton, isn't the point of education to expose people to different schools of thought?
Sure. But, what do you call it when a grubby hippie professor decides that, instead of searching for objective standards of truth, science should teach what every different culture believes and treat all of these ideas as equally "true"? Hmmm. You call it "postmodernism". You call it "cultural relativism". And, if you're Roger Kimball, you'd claim each and every day that this "cultural relativism" is threatening everything that we hold dear in the west. Then you'd probably talk about how Derrida ruined education in America. Because, after all, the underlying argument here is that there is no such thing as objective truth- just different interpretations. What nihilism!
Now, when the President of the United States says that, instead of searching for objective standards of truth, public high school science classes should teach what every different culture believes and treat all of these different ideas as equally "true", what do you call that? I'll say it- this is cultural relativism. Because, again, the argument here is that there is no such thing as objective truth- just different interpretations. What (politically-motivated) nihilism!
Given the man's repeated stated belief that it really shouldn't matter whether or not there were WMDs in Iraq, so long as we believed there were, and the slander by the administration that journalists are "members of the reality-based community", I'm starting to believe two things:
1) This should underline the uselessness of postmodern theory for my generation,
2) The President's great philosophical influences are Foucault, Derrida and Baudrillard.
Talk about seeming a bit "French"!
Actually, the last story brings me to a story from my past, and a fact that's striking to me anyway: The DC Riot Grrrl Convention was in 1992. Thirteen years ago- could it really have been that long ago? What the hell happened? Is this what it means to be old? Asking what the hell happened to everything we remember?
I was a senior in High School in Fairfax, Virginia, and involved with Positive Force DC by this point so I was pretty well acquainted with the Riot Grrrl movement, and it was a movement, no matter what you've been told. There was a palpable feeling in the air that something was happening, and unlike so many other "lefty" causes, it was something more joyous than terminally enraged. People were making "zines"- everyone I knew in fact. They were a bit like blogs, but the comparison frankly doesn't hold because there's a hell of a lot of design and creativity that goes into zines that just isn't there in blogs. You have to sit up all night gluing things together, taking pictures, drawing sketches and writing, writing, writing.
But, somehow, everybody seemed to be putting out three zines and starting a record label. Simple Machines was down the street and we used to sit up all night stuffing record sleeves for pizza and wine. Fugazi was in the process of becoming an "important band" so every other DC band sounded like Fugazi. And then there were these college girls from Olympia Washington and Washington DC who were holding meetings in the PF house on Sundays to try to question why it is that such a "radical movement" as punk rock falls all-too-often into bullshit patterns of boy-girl behavior. Mark Andersen has described going to see the real Dead Kennedys in DC and watching a punker boy hand his jacket off to his dutiful girlfriend so he could go dance in the pit. I've never been much of a feminist myself, but it doesn't take Simone De Beauvoir to see that we still grow up with a great deal of crap about what boys and girls are supposed to do and be pumped into our heads.
I remember when I worked at the grocery store I would watch moms and their teen daughters shopping together and it was always the same, mom making the same cutting comments to the daughter to cut her off at the knees when she was becoming a woman and starting to get more attention from dad. Young boys whose way of rebelling against mom was to get drunk and make mysogynist jokes with the boys, rape a few girls before they get out of University, never really learn to relate to others without trying to find the angles to "get one up on" them. I knew, even then, that it was a bunch of shit, more appropriate for the toilet stall walls than a series of cultural norms.
Punk wasn't immune to all of that. Hell, the left was pretty sexist all through the 1960s and 1970s. Have you ever read Black Panthers talking about "their" women? They sound like the Taliban- no kidding. Riot Grrrl was long overdue by the 1990s.
What a weird time it was too... See, Communism was this long nightmare that we forgot about once we woke up. I can't fully explain to Canadians what it was like to grow up knowing that you were going to be nuked, that it was only a matter of time. Any day now. Red Dawn, Iron Eagle, Top Gun, Rambo, the Day After... Even Silver Spoons did an episode about nuclear anihilation. Here's an idea for the novelists out there- a book about a bunch of little boys who were expecting nuclear war to come and allow them to play war forever. That was the 1980s.
Then, it was gone. Overnight. Could it have been such a threat, such a dialectical other to position our lives and minds against? I grew up hating communism, and that never really changed. No matter what the conservatives may say, a lot of us on the left hated communism. Then, it was gone. And everyone in the country was conservative, and angry about everything that had been stolen from them by liberalism. And we were at war again. And Oliver North was a hero instead of a psychopathic felon. It was worse than the 1980s, and even more frustrating because after so many years of hearing "OH MY GOD! THE SOVIETS ARE GOING TO KILL US! THE SKY IS FALLING!!" nothing changed. Conservatives just went on the warpath against abortion doctors, queers, and "liberals" which meant anyone to the left of Pat Buchanan. Those were the "good old days"? Well, I'm glad they're over.
So, why "Riot grrrl"? According to online sources:
The term "riot grrrl" came from two sources. Tobi Vail had already been writing about "angry grrrls" in Jigsaw, her zine. The word "riot" came from a letter that was written to Allison Wolfe by Jen Smith, who had also played briefly in Bratmobile. She was discussing the recent Mount Pleasant riots in Washington, D.C. following a racial shooting incident. Jen wrote, "We need to start a girl riot." Eventually the words were flipped around to "riot grrrl.
Riot grrrl was a breath of fresh air because it suggested that people could change their lives by getting together and creating art. It was the logical next step for a musical genre in which as many fans got into the scene because of Patti Smith as the Clash. And what was really unique was that it wasn't carved into stone in any way. Hardline old-school feminists would get as ticked off to see young feminists in fishnets as conservative talk-show hosts would to see young feminists at all. It was something challenging to just about every established way of thinking of the time. Sex-positive feminism? Huh? Punk rock progressive change? What? It's no wonder the media killed Riot Grrrl in just the same way they kill everything- by translating it into "stupid" so the folks at home will get it.
A few people I remember- Everyone asks about Kathleen Hanna, which is a bit like star-worship. But, if Riot Grrrl ever needed a voicce, they got one in her. How many people in punk rock can sing like that? If you ever saw Bikini Kill live, it was like she was a small, white Aretha Franklin. I was watching a video from the 1992 Supreme Court show a few months ago, and there's one part in there... she's performing the song "Girl Soldiers" and it's just her and a snare drum, and she's singing "After all only women were dying" over and over and over, and it just gives you chills. Aside from that, I remember her as a short pissed off woman at a lot of the shows. Also, every girl I know in DC seems to have gotten a ride home from her at one time or another. She is notoriously big-hearted.
Mary and Erika- or as they called themselves in zines, "Marika" were the bravest people I knew in DC. Actually, I guess I should note here that I was a shy kid, so I never really knew them personally, but they were both really inspiring to me. I remember turning on the news and seeing Erika getting arrested at a demonstration outside of a roller skating rink that wouldn't let girls skate together during the couples' skate. Not only did she go to jail, she also harassed the cops the whole way there about their sexual issues. They were both pretty uncompromising- that can be inspiring, but it can also burn you out. Erika had conflicts with plenty of people I knew. But, they were also two of the only people I knew who were trying to keep punk politics from becoming a cushy armchair to relax in.
There were a dozen other girls that shaped my perspective from that time on, but this is getting long and there are already things I know are inaccurate. That was always the curse of Riot Grrrl- everybody got them wrong. Punk boys wanted to imagine that they were castrating bitches out to weaken "the scene". Then the media caught on- I imagine that there were a lot of feminist journalists out there who meant well, but every article that came out had this shitty patronizing tone that went something like: "These girls don't want to behave, boys! So there!" "Grrrl" became a synonym for "fiesty", which as with everything that young women do, contains a hint of "dumb" in the appellation. Nirvana got big. Hole got big. Suddenly, everyone was getting offers to "sign" to major labels. And everybody I knew was paranoid that their friends would actually do it.
Riot Grrrl is an illustration of what they were afraid would happen. Because you had these really complex, challenging and intellectual, but still fun records, writings and artwork coming out from these young women, and the media apparently studied all of that and still came up with shit like, "Girl Power!" and "Lock up your daughters!" (Newsweak). The Washington Post incorrectly claimed that Hanna had told them her father raped her, causing god knows how much pain for her family. The Evening Standard wrote, charmingly, "Their ideas may be babyish. But at least they have some." That pretty much sums up every article I read. All were written in that ironic contempt towards anyone outside of the press club that passes for "journalism" in this country. These were supposedly brats- little crying gurls. But, that wasn't the people I knew, the people who challenged me to question how I thought about half of the population, and myself. Would I have the sort of marriage that I do if I only modelled it on the way my parents were? Not a chance.
By the time I moved into the PF house, Riot Grrrl was on media blackout. I was supposed to tell any media representative who called to fuck off. So, I got to tell MTV, Sally Jessie Raphael and Mademoiselle to fuck off- sort of a dream come true really. And then, riot grrrl was gone. Most of the "big names" stayed in music. Most of the activists stayed in activism. There are Ladyfests all over the country each year. I've seen a few people since then- none of them can believe it's been 13 years either.
Meanwhile, buying a lot of shit and sleeping with strangers is now held up as the cultural ideal of freedom for women. Girls are expected to cut out everything from their minds and bodies that wouldn't work in a porn flick. Even Bust Magazine, founded in and of that era, avoids ever using the word "feminism" in case it might upset consumers. Just about every woman I know has been raped at some point. I got sick of the excesses of the movement- I knew Dworkinite college girls who actually believed that all Art encourages rape- but, at least, it wasn't this tepid resistance towards adult thought that seems to be the norm today. At least it had ideas, and no, those of us who were paying attention picked up pretty quickly that they weren't babyish ideas. Of course, any thought that isn't babyish is ignored or misquoted.
But, I remember:
BECAUSE we know that life is much more than physical survival and are patently aware that the punk rock 'you can do anything' idea is crucial to the coming angry grrrl rock revolution which seeks to save the psychic and cultural lives of girls and women everywhere, according to their own terms, not ours.
("Riot Grrrl is" 1991)
Well, a doctor up here in Canuckland is making a killing offering vaginal plastic surgery. Women who have had the procedure claim it has improved their sex life, although it is pretty hard to judge if that's accurate. Apparently, quite a few of them come in wanting to look like the women in pornography, which has perhaps become too mainstream. Critics say it couldn't possibly improve sexual sensation, and claim the popularity of the surgery is yet another Western trend towards treating the human body as a problem that must be fixed by slicing and dicing it into conformity with a "norm". One thing's for sure, I never ever want to hear another Westerner express shock and dismay upon hearing that Chinese women used to bind their feet until they were hobbled. If footbinding was in magazines, it would be the latest rage. It's hard to feel sympathy for the problems of bourgeois white women in their quest to be the center of attention for their entire lives. Nevertheless, even more sickening is the suspicion I have that their braying idiot husbands have been nudging them for months while saying: "You know Honey, you don't look anything like these girls in Penthouse." Ugh.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Okay, well now they're burning Harry Potter books in Florida for encouraging children to read, or worship the devil, or whatever. It's amazing to me that the sort of people who want to burn books can actually muster the brain-juice required to light a match and not catch themselves on fire. But, we'll see if they can swing it. In the article linked, some guy claims that teenagers today are increasingly faced with paganism which is apparently really "cool" with teenagers. Yep, nothing cooler amongst teenagers than non-Christian religions that remind them of both dirty hippies and the Amish. I'm surprised that P.Diddy hasn't got a line of pagan loose skirts out by now.
What's weird too is that these people are burning books that they think encourage "occult thinking", but isn't there something a bit.... mmmm... occultish about massive fire cleansing rituals?
When I picked this one up from the record store, the guy there told me I could return it if it won't play because there's apparently a "manufacturing defect" on the CD. Do you think I could return it for being ska-influenced?
The stupid thing is, I didn't expect it to be ska-influenced. Even though it's on Hellcat, which is pretty much a ska label, it didn't sink in. Even with the "Crack Rock Steady" cartoon on the back. For some reason, I was expecting grindcore, which really makes no sense at all.
Anyway, they're from NYC and they play ska-tinged streetpunk, which is a way of saying that they play the same three streetpunk songs that every one of these bands plays. But, they play it well, and at least there's a sense of humor here. Also, it unexpectedly gets great a few songs in. But, seriously- I could never review bands for Maximumrocknroll.
Pretty much the expected themes here. Would it surprise anyone to hear that they're not fond of police officers ("Crack Rock Steady")? Or that they support shoplifting ("Five Finger Discount")? Or that they hate war ("War Story")? This stuff gets called "Preaching to the choir" but it's really more like bitching. So, it's not exactly my thing. But, the question is, would people who like this sort of thing actually like this thing?
Absolutely. "Tha punx" will love it. The melodies are great, even though about half of them we've heard in a million songs, and the lyrics have a nihilistic glee that revels in how stupid most of the things that we believe in actually are. So, it's really easy to sing along with. And, for all their knee-jerk anarchism, the band seems to have read a good number of books. So, they can tie a song about being always broke to a Michael Parenti sample about police brutality and have it make some sense. But, it's hard not to listen to these albums and not think that the lyrics are a lot more hopeless than they were 20 years ago.
Finally, on second listen, the music is really pretty tight. A lot more thrash than it seemed the first time I listened to it. And there's a startling flamenco guitar on "Praise to the Sinners" that bleeds into solid hardcore metal. I just sort of wish these bands would include, along with the typical challenges against capitalists, America, the police, the Church, and everything else that can be placed in the phrase "Fuck _______" something that might actually challenge the listener as well.
Back when I was in High School, Sam McPheeters was this older kid up in New York who put out these great 45s with striking clip art in a band called Born Against. I was hanging around with Positive Force DC at the time and everyone I knew was into Born Against. Including me. They were one of the great hardcore bands from that era. When they finally released Nine Patriotic Hymns for Children, I played the grooves off the record in my first room at the PF house. I think I saw them every time they played DC. That was during the early 90s era when every punk band I saw gave political speeches and everyone I knew was terrified that their friends would "sell-out" in some way. They were paranoid times. I remember those summers as being hotter than any ever since.
I introduced myself to Sam when he played DC with The Men's Recovery Project. It didn't go well. I was a bit older and probably had drank too much, and he was clearly not in the mood to talk to a "fan". I could tell from the moment that I said 'hello' that it wouldn't go well- I was just hit by a wave of contempt from him in the back of this shitty rock club. After saying hello, he glared at me hatefully. I stammered and tried to think of something to say that wouldn't sound stupid. I failed.
"I never know what to expect when I see you play," pretty much the most obvious thing anyone's ever said about Sam McPheeters' various bands. As soon as I'd said it, I knew how stupid it was. It got worse.
"You're either a genius or you're insane!"- and perhaps the least appropriate thing anyone's ever said to anyone. Considering that Sam has written elsewhere since then about: "certain staggering mental problems on my part", and I've since married someone who struggles with staggering mental problems, and it was just fucking trite anyway, I've always wished I could apologize for that. McPheeters looked like someone had just handed him a Nazi Party flier, and I wandered away.
For the record, everyone I know who has ever dealt with Sam has found him to be much easier to get along with.
Now I'm older, and I've seen Sam's art on dozens of records, read his articles in dozens of zines and owned probably 20 or so of his musical releases, and I still think he's one of the most creative and original voices in the "underground" and perhaps, looking back, his contempt for some skinny drunk kid had more to do with toiling in a scene that has almost no original voices and fewer listeners that want to hear anything but more of the same.
Which brings us to the Wrangler Brutes album Zulu- Brooks Headley and Sam from Born Against and Cundo Murad and Andy Coronado from Nazti Skins (Not sic) and Monorchid, amongst others playing minute-long songs that remind me of early 80s California hardcore punk. Pretty clearly intentional- they even have a cameo appearance by Keith Morris. In fact, the band actually addresses the issue of punk essentially becoming a nostalgia movement cannibalizing the past on their song "Maternity Ward". One review took them to task for supposedly bitterly complaining about "the kids", but I'm not so sure the song isn't self-directed.
In fact, one of the real strengths here is how much there is to puzzle about the lyrics. Born Against had some powerful songs, but their messages tended to be telegraphed. Here, we have songs like "Shanked" in which Sam is repeatedly stabbed by his stock broker and doctor's secretary, and on one hand it's bizarre surrealist comedy, on the other hand it's a rant in the style of the DKs "Trust Your Mechanic", and finally it's a paranoid yelp against a culture in which it may be getting harder to live without committing more subdued violences against each other. Similarly, "Slam Dunk" compares writing bad checks on Friday so they won't be processed until Monday to driving drunk or changing the laws of the country in the middle of the night. "Forty-five dollars" wonders how expensive gas will have to get before there are fist-fights at the pumps. Lyrically, the best song is "Unmentionables" which deals with average people in average situations suddenly realizing that they are minute mortal beings here to entertain each other for a while and leave the stage quietly.
Musically, every song is pretty strong- although the obvious comparisons would be with bands like Black Flack or the Circle Jerks, I even hear a bit of the Minutemen here. Not surprisingly, it's a bit wierder than those bands. Even in a band that tends to sound a bit "retro" at times, there's an originality that comes through that will encourage at least a bit of head scratching. To give an idea of that, the cover is a drawing, likely by Sam, of a shirt, a dog and an eagle ganging up on and attacking a skinhead. I have no idea why.
Okay, I'm a "respectful member of the community" now, so I won't say how I know that this an album that you absolutely never want to listen to while taking any sort of illegal drugs whatsoever. It is mean, grinding, angry grudge-music that, I swear, will react badly with any drug vibe you might be experiencing. Which is appropriate because Buzzov-en acutally recorded these songs while in the grip of seriously self-destructive drug problems. According to the liner notes by Jello Biafra: "even in Richmond, one of the heaviest, most self-destructive cities in America, they'd been run out of town on a rail." No shit. Richmond, Virginia is the place where every bad vibe in America eventually winds up. Don't get me wrong, it's also the great Art monster of the East Coast. But, if Richmond got sick of Buzzov-en, well you know something was wrong.
This album contains the To a Frown LP and the Unwilling to Explain and Wound EPs, all of which were released on the now-defunct Allied Records label. Also, it's got a few unreleased takes on old tracks. Musically, it should tell you something that John Yates claims the band always told him that they wanted to sound like Neurosis. I agree with him that they were better. This is heavy, mean pummeling stuff that reminds me of a more derganged Eyehategod, if such a thing is possible. Many of the songs deal with singer Kirk Loyd's various demons. I wouldn't want to be going through whatever he was going through for anything in the world. Aching Improve #9 is probably the closest thing I've ever heard on a CD to someone in a padded room losing their shit. I don't know what he could have been dealing with, but the schizo effect of all the sampled voices layered throughout the album seem totally appropriate.
And, incredibly, the album as an up-note to it, as Loyd's apparently come out the other side of the bad years. He's off the drugs, and actually made the calls that got this album going. Biafra notes also: "He's been to the edge, off the edge and back again. His talent probably saved his life and kept him off the evening news." I can't wait to see what his next album is like! I don't believe that nonsense about artists having to suffer for their art, but if I was any member of the band, I don't know if I could listen to this album ever again. It's painful enough for outsiders to listen to.
I saw a bit of graffiti the other day on a wall that was already covered with stenciled, spray-painted portraits of celebrities from the 70s. The graffiti was a bit of critical reaction, and it said:
"Ironic nostalgia is not Art."
So, the galleries will only hang "established" members of the Art establishment, maybe Art should be invisible. If this is a cultural Dark Ages, maybe Art should try to be invisible. But, the "loyal opposition" had better have something better to say than "Do you remember Fonzie?" Sounds reasonable.
Walking home from the record store today, on the sidewalk along Dundas Street West, I felt a bit run down, a little bit sweaty. There was something agitating me- a kinesthetic message firing up my legs. I couldn't figure out what it was. It seems that, as I get older, it gets harder for me to be around other people, when it should be easier. Maybe it's Toronto and its stupid hipster fashion show- too many twenty-something girls whose proudest accomplishment is being part of a target market look you over like you're a bag of garbage when you're walking down the sidewalk. But, shouldn't I be learning to deal? How old do you get before you stop thinking like Holden Caufield? Of course, his "voice" really belonged to a middle-aged man. But, look how he's doing lately. Does time infect all wounds?
I walked onto the grass and suddenly I felt better. It took less than a second. The feeling of soft ground instead of concrete beneath my feet soothed the muscles like a kiss from my wife. How many generations have we walked the earth and felt the soil beneath our feet? How many generations have we lived on top of concrete, worked in cubicles, been unable to sleep without the drone of an air-conditioning unit? Maybe my resentment's always been for blocks and walls and not for other people.
An art museum in the Swiss capital Bern has removed a piece by Chinese artist Xiao Yu that consists of... hmmm, okay, well the head of a human foetus glued to the body of a bird. A seagull, to be specific. Basically, the sort of thing you might see in the backroom of a carnival, but there sculpted out of plasticine. The artist has said: "The bird and the foetus both died because there was something wrong with them. I put them together as if to allow them to have another life."
The journalist and politician who complained about the piece of art said: "we owe a minimum amount of respect to the dead".
I've never agreed with those people who say, "Well, it's only art." Art changes the viewer; great Art changes the way we see things and leaves it's mark on our neuralphysiology. You cannot see the world the same way after experiencing it. This sort of necrophilic Art that has been in the art world for some time is, of course, shocking, but only for the lack of human emotion that went into it. J.G.Ballard has compared it to wearing swim trunks to a funeral. I believe that true Art is created in states of emotional and psychological detatchment- of heightened awareness. The same with gnostic religious texts. To me, necrophilic Art reveals a sort of grim obsession with death, sure, but perhaps mostly as a way of trashing an art world that now requires the artist to think first and foremost about profit, an srt world that short-circuits the gnostic process. Art needs emotion and heightened surrealism to survive, or it turns to corpse-cannibalizing momento mori that mark the passing of affect. I think these pieces are intended to be bad Art, to be grotesque schlock.
Is something wrong with culture?
Has it been so devalued by money that it cannot survive as it was?
Why can't artworks be religious items again?
Why can't artists resist the commodification of art through ludic beauty?
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Richmond VA Spanish teacher gets sick, takes off work, comes back to find that the school has removed all of his Christianity-related posters, and decides to sue.
Well, this is probably the definition of a "frivolous lawsuit", but the guy's right. It's his classroom and, if the school's got a problem, they can tell him instead of being wimps about it. I'm not sure exactly what right you have to "express yourself" in your high school Spanish class. Sort of lame there; like a math teacher reading the class his poetry. So, he's a douche. But, still what right do the students have to expect that they will never encounter anyone who has different beliefs than them? I'm sick of the "summer camp" style of teaching. The world contains Christians as well as Buddhists, Marxists, lame-os, and whoever else, and the little princelings have no right to be sheltered from people who are different than them.
Berlin's Island Museum is getting back the bust of Nefertiti for the first time since 1939. Great news for Berliners, but still she probably belongs in Cairo, since the original 1913 treaty about unearthing artifacts in Egypt was that the discoverer would keep them... unless they were "important objects d'art" which this piece most certainly is. Actually, she's probably one of the most important art objects in history. I wouldn't hold my breath on this one though.
Ah, maybe it's too easy to bash the idiots. I mean, it seems like a lot of blogs are created like so:
Right-wing blog: Find some stupid thing that a far-left psycho said on some message board and write a post about how nuts it is. Then conclude that "the left" agrees with the stupid statement and that this proves they are either:
A) About to implode, freeing America once and for all from the two-party system,
B) About to take over the country, lock us in PC camps, have gay-sex drug orgies in schools
Left-wing blog: Find some stupid thing that a far-right psycho has said on some message board and write a post about how nuts it is. Accuse all of "the right" of agreeing with the stupid statement. Conlude that they are either:
A) Taking over and turning America into a theocratic fascist state,
B) Sure to lose in the next election against Hilary Clinton, or Ralph Nader, or whichever version of Mr. Rogers the Democrats are running this time.
So, maybe I should try harder. I mean, how hard is it to bash people who are posting on the Internet? It feels like King Kong smashing biplanes. Maybe it's time for me to move on to something else. There's a tendency to get drawn into these "debates" that rival drunken frat boy arguments for their level of sheer stupidity. Maybe I need to try harder.
Okay, so at the risk of sounding like one of those academic jerks that doesn't watch television, I'll admit that... I don't watch television. I'm sorry. I know. If it helps, I surf the web and listen to pop music...
So, I think I'm missing something about Cindy Sheehan. Okay, so her son was killed in Iraq and she is protesting the Iraq war in Crawford Texas, right? Seems like she's got the right to. You know, after all, it's still America. Freedom of speech, etc. etc. Also, since her son apparently died quite heroically in battle, you would think the apparatchik attack machine wouldn't go after her.
And that's what I don't get. The administration decided to flip the bird at the UN, most of Europe and a good portion of the country. There have already been massive protests against the war, most of which the administration has sort of glanced at, shrugged their shoulders and said, "Whatever." So, why does everyone suddenly care about Cindy Sheehan? Isn't the whole deal that conservatives (and no, I hate the word "neo-con") are sick to death of the whole "listening to other people" bullshit and just really ready to "let 'er rip"? So, why don't they just ignore her? What difference could she possibly make now?
I mean, listening to their complaints makes your head spin. Matt Drudge thinks that she can't legitimately oppose the war because she's a flip-flopper- she used to support the war and then she let a little thing like her son's death change her mind. Where exactly are we in our history when the most serious insult in our culture is that someone has changed their mind? Am I seriously supposed to think this woman is Satan incarnate because she has (dum-da-dum!) changed her mind? What kind of totalitarian mindset comes up with something like that?
Michelle Malkin claims that she's wrong to oppose the war because her dead son wouldn't have wanted her to. No, really. You might think she'd know her own son better than some pedant who writes for newspapers. But, alas...
Frontpage Magazine apparently thinks she's a bitch because she didn't really change her mind. No, they claim she's always been opposed to the war. And how exactly does that forbid her from opposing it now? I mean, who could honestly oppose the war and not be called a "Commie-pinko-devil-worshipping faggot" by these people? You can't oppose it if you once supported it, but it's totally illegitimate to oppose it if you also opposed it before your son died?
Let's be honest, is there anyone in the world who could possibly say that they're unhappy with or opposed to the Iraq war and have Republicans respond, "Well, Sir, I can accept that"? Is there anyway that that could ever be an acceptable opinion for right-wingers?
I mean, I think she's dead wrong that we could leave Iraq if we really wanted to, and I have real issues with her claiming that we're really fighting for Israel, which is a classic idiocy. And, let me say that the President himself has handled the matter as best he could. But, as for the bloggers and columnists radio hosts and attackers... have these people no dignity? Her son died!
You know what these attack-dogs remind me of, in a really eerie way? They remind me of those Soviets who use to attack their own most vehemently for deviating from the party line. There's a real sense that these people are fighting what they see as "thought-crimes" and I'm not totally surprised to see so many "reformed ex-reds" going down these familiar roads. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down, eh comrades?