Monday, September 29, 2008

The Real Meaning of 'Fiesta'

Is apparently stabbing all the dudes within your reach, all the while dancing the disco dance of death.

God, I love Astoria.

Dudes I Might Possibly Have Dated Once: The Groundbreaking Social Study

So: while I am writing a long and terminally unwieldy piece which aims to set forth a postmodern theory of pornography (yes, I am doing this, may God have mercy on us all), it seems like a reasonable time to be catching up on books in the ever-growing and slightly bullshitty field of Masculinity Studies.

Specifically, I really wanted to read Guyland. The basic premise of the book seems sound: young middle-class white men are raised with a tremendous sense of entitlement, which is threatened by the successes of women and people of color in formerly all-white, all-male environments, and they are therefore retreating into all-white-boy societies where they can act out a particularly virulent and ugly strain of masculinity without actually taking on any responsibilities or having their perceived superiority challenged in any meaningful way? Yes! Okay! Tell me more!

Fifty pages into the book, however, I regret to say that it is not very rewarding. The reasons for this are twofold: first, Michael Kimmel is a horrible writer, and second, he does not get the young people, which would be fine - does anyone ever get the young people, really? - except that it renders his thoughts about youth culture quite suspect. See this:

You can find them in New York’s Murray Hill, or Silver Lake and Echo Park in Los Angeles, Houston’s Midtown, or Atlanta’s Buckhead district, sipping their mocha lattes in the local Starbucks… They are the “friendsters” with their wi-fi computers looking for love, friendship, or hookups, or on looking for next month’s job.

The kids today, with their fancy coffees and their Internet and their baggy pants! It is crazy, I am telling you. And their music?

… is some of the angriest music ever made. Nearly four out of every five gangsta rap CDs are bought by suburban white guys. It is not just the “boys in the hood” who are a “menace to society.” It’s the boys in the “burbs.”


Yet it does not stop. As far as I can see, the writing remains precisely this terrible throughout the entire book.

There's also the fact that Kimmel views terminal boyhood (which is, I can confirm, a very real thing with the dudes today) as an escape from the "responsibilities" of manhood, by which he chiefly seems to mean that these men are not angling for high-powered corporate jobs and getting married at twenty-one. I find that this is actually the least annoying thing about contemporary dudes - the conflation of manhood with social power and the possession of a wife was one of the chief targets of second-wave feminism - and Kimmel's constant insistence that all of these men need to "grow up and settle down" (and stop "hooking up," a phrase which he uses constantly and with the prim, scandalized air of an old schoolmarm) is fairly grating. Yes, there are men who can only ever hook up, men who shy away from the word "girlfriend" as from a branding iron, men for whom an equitable and serious relationship with a woman seems akin to hacking one's balls off with a dull knife and putting them up for sale on eBay, and these men, my friends, these men are assholes - yet, when Kimmel's exploring how male sexual entitlement can lead to rape, it would perhaps benefit his study if he did not speak about consensual, casual sex in the same breath as if it were the same thing.

This is not to say that the book is entirely worthless. If you're looking for an Anatomy of the American Douchebag, this might be not be the worst place to start. It just has the same problem as a lot of social research: the person making the study aims to explain the culture at hand without absorbing it, and therefore ends by concluding that these people are freaks, so that while the actual behavioral patterns and insider perspectives can be enlightening, the framing narrative carries a strong whiff of normative crap. That problem is compounded, in this case, by hugely, spectacularly, breathtakingly bad prose.

Anyway, it's all worth it for this:

Guyland now even has its own literature… in such recent novels as Booty Nomad by Scott Mebus, Love Monkey by Kyle Smith, and the widely praised Indecision by Ben Kunkel.

This is transcendence. There can be no greater joy in this world. My entire life up to this point has been justified, and I know now why I was born - for I have seen Indecision referenced in the same sentence as Booty Nomad.

Actually, wasn't Booty Nomad the original title of Indecision? Either way, it would work.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

One Reason Why I Am Confident In Obama

During his opening statement at the debates last night, I involuntarily clasped my hands above my collarbone, like the love interest in a silent movie. 

When Kerry spoke, in 2004, I just set my jaw. 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Do You Realize...

... that this means we are all probably descended from the Alien Overlords?

When they come for us, we shall greet them as their loving children.

Things Michelle Tea Does Really Well: Long, Long Quotes Edition*

Item #1: Capturing The Thought Processes and Fantasy Lives of Adolescent Girls: "Smoking Marlboros with Marisol, we planned our escape to New York City. We would wait till we were sixteen and had tits and were pretty, because the only way we could think to make money was to pose for Playboy. It was such a dirty thing, we figured not many girls would do it. Playboy would be desperate for models, and happy to have us. Me and Marisol would shave our heads into tall perfect Mohawks that stretched to the sky like the tall New York buildings. We would befriend Billy Idol. We had this plan, we would find out where he lived, ring his bell and pass out on his doorstep. He couldn't leave two unconscious girls on his doorstep. He would have to carry us inside, touch us, lay us on his furniture, and when we came to, he would see what wild young things we were and he would want to be our boyfriend."

Item #2: Embedding Rather Complicated Critiques in Stories About Having a Bad Trip at Lollapalooza:
"The panic was not subsiding, it was growing, and I realized that it was only the beginning. I had just eaten the stuff, it hadn't even fully dissolved, more and more of it would be released into my bloodstream and I would lose my mind. That's what would happen. I was an idiot. I took this drug I knew nothing about, a drug that affects your brain, and like a fool I just ate it and now I would go mad. I was overcome with grief... Up on stage Ice-T was yelling at the audience. I say... what good is a beautiful girl if the bitch don't fuck?! Oh no. He said it again. What good is a beautiful girl... IF THE BITCH DON'T FUCK, chanted frat row, the millions of white boys with baseball caps cheering Ice-T with their fists in the air, over and over. Oh god, I wanted to die. Ice-T was evil. I was on drugs and he was the devil. I looked over at Clive. That's not cool, he said uncomfortably. Duh, Clive."

Item #3: Writing About Sex Work in a Way That Buys Into Neither the Third-Wave "Empowerment" Bullshit or the Second-Wave "Unenlightened Victims" Crap, Making It Clear That the Real Mind-Fuck of It, the Part That Can Screw You Up, Is the Way It Sheds Light Onto Men's Secret Lives and the Relationships Between Men and Women in the "Normal," Outside World: "It was a whirlwind, a blur. A landscape of heaving chests, scribbled with hair and hung with belly, corrugated with ribs. Each man astounded me, again and again, with his complete obliviousness to my hate and my absence. I was not there, except when a spool of rage would suddenly unfurl itself and shake me... It's True, I thought. Everything You Hear About Men. Your Worst Fears, All Of It, It's True. I lay back in a random bed and felt strangely vindicated. I thought about Ma, about all of the good women out there with their men, how their closeness to them sheltered them somehow from reality. How only the ruined girls knew, only the whores and the dykes and the crazy women, only they knew what this world was really like. I was slobbered on, my tits slick and spitty. I was sore."

Seriously: this looks so easy, and it's not. Whenever I give a friend a Michelle Tea book (something I do often), she's either scandalized by all the queer sex and/or sex work, in which case I start to feel uncomfortable around that person and regret giving her the book, or she says something like "this reminds me of my diaries," which is a feeling I also share, but which can be deceptive, because the genius of Michelle Tea lies in the fact that no matter who you are, she can make you feel as if you're reading from your own diary.

She doesn't use a "writerly" voice or retreat into academic language when she's dealing with subjects like gender or sexuality or class or sex work - subjects which do invite high-flown prose, because using fancy diction can be a way of telling your reader, I am not a feminazi/a man-hating lesbian/white trash/a dumb whore: I am educated, and along with the privilege of education I have gained the privilege of being taken seriously. Like bell hooks, Tea doesn't play that. Her prose is always accessible and conversational. The run-on sentences, the colloquial language, the non-standard grammar (people who hate Tea always harp on her "grammar mistakes"), the bluntness of her phrasing - all of these things make her voice seem like the voice of a friend, or the voice inside your own head. Which makes it, ultimately, harder to dodge the message - when the voice in your head talks about these things, how do you distance yourself from them? How do you turn back into the safety of your privilege? How can you refuse to hear?

I saw Augusten Burroughs read, not long ago, at an event in which a friend of mine participated. He was promoting his memoir about his abusive father. I haven't read his work, but the brief excerpt he shared reminded me of everything I don't like about the genre of Trauma Memoirs. It was self-consciously lyrical, stilted; it romanticized pain, tried to make it seem bizarre and theatrical and out of the ordinary, something you could take in as part of an evening's entertainment. I'd met him backstage prior to the event, and had asked him if he could help me open my beer; I didn't recognize him then, but he seemed offended by my request, in a way that told me he was probably Someone Important. On stage, I was struck by how much his voice changed, and became the voice of An Author Reading His Work. It was at least an octave deeper. That brought into focus the thing I like most about Michelle Tea, which is: her shamelessness.

I mean that she is shameless, in the most positive sense of the word. She does not allow shame to enter into her work, or to distort her truth, no matter how weird or dorky or stigmatized it might be. It would be so easy not to tell people about the crush on Billy Idol, or the melodramatic and embarrassing fantasies it inspired. It would be so easy to just gloss over the Goth phase in high school, or the fact that she lost her virginity to a dude who drove a hearse, or her early, '70s-inflected feminism which verged, at times, on unrepentant Dworkinry. It is easy for a writer to just drop any portion of the truth that clashes with her current image, to heighten the dramatic bits whilst grooming them to fit into standard trauma-recovery dogma and to let the rest go unspoken. Michelle Tea does not do that. So, when she writes about her sexually abusive father, it exists in the context of stories about dance class and sneaking into neighbors' pools to swim; when she writes about prostitution, it exists within the context of crushes on rock stars and buying liquor with a fake ID for her friends and learning to put on makeup. It all says, yes, all of this is real, we share the same context; yes, everyone has experienced some of this, although no-one has experienced it exactly as I have; yes, I am just like you, and yes, that is the point.

* All of this is from "The Chelsea Whistle," which I've been told for years is her best book. I am slowly starting to agree with that consensus, although I (like everyone else) enjoy "Valencia" a lot, I guess because it is much more fun and the prose has a lot more velocity and weirdness to it. I cannot understand, by the way, why "Chelsea" is referred to as a "coming-out memoir" on the dust jacket, because (a) "Passionate Mistakes" was clearly the coming-out memoir, being as it was about her first sexual experiences, first boyfriend, first girlfriend, etc. and (b) even though the same period of her life is touched on here, this is quite explicitly meant to be a book about class, family, abuse, and creating a self. So, in my chronology/bibliography, "Passionate Mistakes" = coming-out, "Valencia" = sex & San Francisco, "Rent Girl" = sex work, "Chelsea Whistle" = class/childhood, "Rose of No Man's Land" = first novel, which is something completely new & goes for a lot of these themes from a direction we haven't seen before, for which I have no pithy summary.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Tragedy Is That You Can't Touch Her Boobs. Bourbon?

Here is a slightly Dworkin-y blog. But! I happened upon it today (thank you, Google Reader), and it did shed some light on a rather lovely conversation between Jim Beam and the (Australian) Ad Standards Bureau. It turns out that a lot of female types got all riled up and protested this ad:

I guess they thought it implied that being lesbian was a "tragedy" or something? I don't know where they got that. Here, Jim Beam explains the ad's rich subtext:

In 'The Tragedy' TVC a beautiful girl who is dreamily attractive to any man turns out not to be attracted to men at all, but instead prefers other women. To most men this is the ultimate tragedy, in the same way that Jim Beam is the ultimate bourbon.

The Ad Standards Bureau mulled this over, probably whilst smoking heavily and drinking Old-Fashioneds and trying to hide their affairs with their secretaries from their wives, and came back with the following response.

The Board then considered whether the advertisement breached Section 2.1 of the Code dealing with discrimination and vilification... the label at the end, "The Tragedy," was not intended to mean that it was a tragedy generally for women to be lesbians, but that such an attractive woman was not available to heterosexual men.

Oh, well, I guess that's okay, THANK YOU FOR CLEARING THAT ONE UP.

Anyway, there are a lot of ads in this campaign, including "The Ultimate Neighbors" (spoiler: they're naked chicks), "The Ultimate Girlfriend," who doesn't care that her boyfriend is ugly, rarely wants to see her, and patronizes sex workers, and "The Ultimate Stalker," who, as you might guess, is a lady who follows her ex-boy around a lot. (Silly girl! A Jim Beam man doesn't even want to spend time with his girlfriend when they're still going out.) The Board ultimately pulled "The Stalker," as they thought it might encourage more women to, you know, stalk, but as for the rest of it, they reflected that, "while deliberately chauvinist, [it] did not of itself discriminate or vilify women generally."

These distinctions are so important, wouldn't you say?

Here, for your enjoyment, is "The Girlfriend."

Given this woman's utter indifference to the guy she's dating, and her enthusiasm for anything that directs his sexual or social attentions away from her, I like to imagine that she's about to come out as a "tragedy" any day now.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This Is One Situation In Which You Really Do Not Want To Lose Your Keys

From the London Times Via Feministing:

Professor Derek Abbott and his team from the University of Adelaide in South Australia have invented the first remote control key fob that allows men to control a valve that can switch their sperm flow on and off as required.

The size of half a rice grain, the "fertility control micro-valve" is injected by a doctor into the vas deferens, the duct that carries sperm from the testes, a process that needs only a local anaesthetic. The valve can then open and close to control sperm flow out of the body.

My God. Consider the new levels of marital hostility that have been introduced to the world through the advent of Remote Birth Control: spouses scheming to steal and maintain sole possession of the controller, switching it on or off in the middle of the night (sometimes for a definite purpose, sometimes at random, just to keep each other on edge), battling for custody of it as part of their divorce proceedings... WAIT.

Somebody call Sam Mendes! We've got the plot for Revolutionary Road II!

Revolutionary Road: My Heart Will Go On, Unlike Your Fetus

I had a discussion with someone, not so long ago, about The Awakening. I said that I couldn't bring myself to engage with it, because it fit into a pattern that I had noticed in certain nineteenth-century novels - woman has sexual awakening, cheats on husband, dies - and that struck me as the manifestation of a conservative impulse to contain or negate female sexuality which is not inextricably bound to one man, which must spring on some level from paternity anxiety. (I am fun at parties.) He said that the death was earned by the internal logic of the story, and by the characterization of the woman in question. I said something like, "that's very nice, but also: woman has sexual awakening, cheats on husband, dies." Then I realized that I was being obnoxious.

But I didn't let that stop me! Here is a brief survey, composed entirely of books that I can name off the top of my head.

Survey #1: Books Which Center On Female Protagonist's Sexual Awakening & Consequent Adultery - Does She Die?*

Madam Bovary (1856)
- She dies.
Anna Karenina (1877?)
- She dies.
The Awakening (1899)
- She dies.
Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) - She does not die! She learns the joy of submitting to an outdoorsman! Welcome to the twentieth century.
Then I read Revolutionary Road. While we are on the subject of paternal anxieties and gory lady deaths: oh, my sweet Jesus, this book has them. If I had to compose a one-act play about Revolutionary Road, which completely oversimplified its plot, it would go as follows:

FRANK: We live in the 1950s! We are under great pressure to conform.
APRIL: Bad news: I want an abortion.
FRANK: No, you totally can't have one, because it's my child too!
APRIL: I guess I won't do it, then.
FRANK: Wait - I forgot that I hate you!
APRIL: Truly, our marriage is a sham. Life in the suburbs has killed our spirits! I'm going to abort myself now.
THE NEIGHBORS: Isn't it a shame that April Wheeler died?
The good news is that this play totally has a chance of being optioned for the screen now, because Hollywood is finally making Revolutionary Road: The Movie. Its casting - which I learned just last night - is so amazing that I can't even begin to wrap my mind around it. Which leads us to Survey #2:

Survey #2: Movies In Which Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet Play a Couple Struggling With the Social Constraints of Their Time - Does One of Them Die? If Yes, How?

Titanic (1998) - Yes, there is a shipwreck.
Revolutionary Road (????) - Yes, their marriage is a loveless wreck to which death would be preferable, and also Kate Winslet bleeds out through her crotch.

" HOL-low FUCK-ing SHELL of a WOMAN..."

*Any additions to this list are welcome. I've ruled out Tess of the D'Urbervilles (Tess is raped, and later becomes a kept woman to survive - she's never after her own pleasure, although she does in fact die), and Wuthering Heights (spiritual infidelity, but no sex, although she is quite vocally dead throughout most of the book).

Monday, September 22, 2008

SCIENCE FACT: People Who Benefit From Privilege More Likely To Think Privilege Is Awesome

So: there is a study which states that men with "traditional" views on gender earn more than men with egalitarian views. Surprise! (By the way, I love the euphemistic use of "traditional" rather than "sexist." Like, if I burned a woman to death because I thought she'd been blighting my crops with her menstrual blood, that wouldn't be a witch hunt - that would be "traditional agriculture.") Here, the authors of the study, Livingston and Judge, struggle to explain this puzzling new phenomenon:

"It could be that traditional men are hypercompetitive salary negotiators -- the Donald Trump prototype, perhaps," Judge said. "It could be on the employer side that, subconsciously, the men who are egalitarian are seen as effete."

Oh, "effete!" Yes, that's probably it: employers only give raises to sexist men because non-sexist dudes are giant pussies. By Jove, Science, you've done it again! 

Anyway, it's probably true that sexist men are rewarded more than non-sexist men (and all women) for their work. It might even be true that sexist dudes are super-powered ultra-negotiators who earn higher salaries because of their manly fortitude, although I really doubt it. However, it really seems not at all groundbreaking to point out that the people who benefit most from sexism are the people most invested in preserving it. Call me an idealist, but I generally think that a study should, if at all possible, be slightly more enlightening than an average episode of Mad Men.

Because, seriously, Mad Men has this: 

And he wears shorts. 

Friday, September 19, 2008

Why They Hate Us, or: If Celebrities Were From the Midwest...

... ha, ha, they'd be fat! Oh, and poor. They probably wouldn't have very good record collections, either. You'd be all like, "the new Silver Jews record really isn't very good," and they'd be like, "I don't care, because our cultures are very different, yet in the upcoming election American adults from all walks of life will be voting in (one hopes) the belief that they can elect a politician who will promote the 'best interests of this country,' although widespread use of divisive culture-war rhetoric has made it impossible to even conceive of Americans as having a common interest to which their government can attend. Corn dog?"

Ha ha ha, God, people who aren't us are so lame.