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Just the Tip

9 Oct

A few weeks ago, while wondering whether the avalanche of uterus-related GOP bullshit might just be an elaborate ruse by a few anti-Mormon Evangelical Republicans to ensure Romney doesn’t win the presidency and force us all to start calling him Heavenly Father, I overheard a few bros at the adjacent table at the coffee joint regaling each other with tales of their sexual exploits. One bro, somewhat jocularly ribbing the other for his lack of manipulative mojo, asked the other, “Dude, don’t you know the ‘just the tip’ trick?” It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a “just the tip” “joke” this month. It’s become a ubiquitous meme in contemporary dude media to the point that urban Comedy Central intellectuals have begun to use it as a parody of the frat scene that they share everything but a sense of irony with but somehow still disdain.

That such a “joke” can reach the level of saturation that it has ought to indicate to the public that now isn’t the time to pare down our already gruesomely uncomprehensive definition of rape.

In case you live under a magical rock that shields you from rape culture, the “just the tip trick” refers to a dude pressuring someone into intercourse by striking a bargain in which he will purportedly insert “just the tip” into whatever orifice into which he’s seeking entry. No one has ever tried out the “just the tip” strategy on me, but as a heterosexual female over the age of fifteen, I’ve been privy to various other forms of male sexual deal-making and they’ve never turned out well for me (or any of the other women I’ve discussed this topic with). The reason for this is that there is usually a fundamental difference in the motives of the parties negotiating booty treaties, or it wouldn’t occur in the first place.

When one partner doesn’t want to be penetrated and the other refuses to simply accept that reality and fuck off, rape culture shows its smug, smirking face. Any bargain entered into in such a scenario constitutes an unrequited concession on the part of the penetrated made in order to get the penetrator to leave her (or him) alone. The penetrator, on the other hand, seeks to forge these bargains in the hopes that, once penetration has occurred, he can just continue on to do whatever he wanted to do before he was refused entry in the first place, following the logic of rape culture that assures us all that once consent to penetration has been given (or, once the penetrated has been worn down enough), even if the penetrated has only consented to “just the tip,” rape becomes an ontological impossibility.

And no dude in the history of the entire world, after having struck a “just the tip” deal, has ever held to his side of the bargain. Which is why it is imperative that we not only refuse to allow men of any political stripe to define rape and to usurp our emperorship over our own bodies, but that we step up and do the defining ourselves. “Just the tip” is a form of rape. “Just for a second” is a form of rape. “You have to carry a fetus you don’t want to carry” might even be called a form of rape.

If I have to memorize the name of one more smarmy, bank-owned suit rack who can’t tell the difference between a Penis Intake/Baby Delivery Module™ and a human being, I’ll run out of time for devising satirical Guy Fieri-isms (“Up next on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, the bacon pastrami dog at this joint in Annapolis will make you say, ‘Oh, snap-olis!’”). Thus, I’ll henceforth be referring to all men with opinions on my right to bodily sovereignty as Ryan Aiken.

Ryan Aiken and Ryan Aiken, likely preparing to pen new legislation on how women ought to pee

Feminist bloggers and activists have, over the course of the development of this new brand of lunacy that appears to “outpace parody,”* done a lovely (and often hilarious) job of calling to light just how comically incorrect these men’s proclamations about female anatomy and sexual experience are. But digging below the extreme-right GOP folderol unearths some basic cultural assumptions that just aren’t that funny.

Reading this piece  by Lissa Harris on her experience as a rape victim at The Nation a few weeks ago got me to thinking. I’ve been a little bewildered by my own lack of interest in Rapeapalooza, at least when I guiltily compare my own silence to the enraged repudiations of Ryan Aiken’s statements by other feminist bloggers and various political commentators. At least, that is, until I read this bit in Harris’s post:

Being myself a rapee, and also an empirically minded sort of person, I find myself wondering what would have been different about my life so far if I’d grown up under Todd Akin Law. And, being fully committed to empiricism even when it conflicts with dearly held personal beliefs, I have to confess: Not much.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t plan to sit around smoking weed and watching Through the Wormhole while a horde of Ryan Aikens legislates women back to the nineteenth century. But I, like Lissa Harris, don’t see a huge difference between the way the world works today and the way Ryan Aiken would like it to operate, at least with regard to sexual assault (abortion, of course, is another matter). (I suppose my lack of rage at reading and listening to arrogant, presumptuous quotes from smug phallocrats who are at best indifferent to the effect rape has on the individual woman or girl and on women and girls as a whole might be a symptom of rape fatigue, but I suspect I’ve been suffering from it for far longer than a few months, and that it has something to do with the paucity of posts around here. If the Kübler-Ross model is correct, then I’d say I’ve passed through the denial and anger phases and entered the acceptance phase in grieving the loss of the idea that men give a shit about women.)

There’s no real way to know whether Ryan Aiken even cares one way or the other about fetuses. He may have just decided to get on board with the GOP because he figured he’d have an easier time keeping his story straight if he went to work for the party that openly admits its absolute allegiance to big business and finance rather than the one that pretends otherwise. But it doesn’t really matter either way.  What matters is that some very large, very proximate, very important dots be connected.

In a culture saturated with misogynistic pornography, in a society in which “just the tip” describes the average male attitude toward women’s sexual autonomy, we ought to quit pretending Ryan Aiken’s ideas are all that bizarre. For Ryan Aiken, narrowly defining rape as “forcible vaginal copulation” and denying women the right to pursue their own reproductive decisions even when they have been robbed of the right to decide whether to conceive in the first place is the logical next step once male supremacists of all political leanings have just-the-tipped the public into the idea that abortion should be restricted at all and that rape is somehow less rapey when there is no visible physical trauma.

Rape culture exists with or without Ryan Aiken. Pornography, “just the tip,” and Ryan Aiken’s views on female anatomy and sexuality are all part and parcel of a rape culture in which women are seen not as fully autonomous human beings but as vessels and canvasses for male ambitions and desires. The Aikens might offer up some benzo-doped fish in a barrel, but liberal feminists are going to have to confront the fact that, underneath all of the borderline-satirical rhetoric, the Aikens’ conception of women hardly makes them outliers.

* See Ben Lerner, “Contest of Words: High school debate and the demise of public speech,” Harper’s Magazine, Oct. 2012.

Porn Part 11: The Difference Between Huffing Dong and Flipping Burgers

15 Mar

For some reason the end note on Porn Part 10 explaining my use of the phrase “commercial rape” has caused an uproar amongst several people who were apparently unable to understand the post itself or the difference between flipping burgers and letting people ejaculate all over you. One of the objections pseudo-intellectual Libertarian dudes like to bring to any discussion of porn and whether it amounts to rape is the fact that no one would consent to do their jobs were they not being paid to do so. This type of objector to feminist discourse casually saunters into an ongoing debate, barely skims the post, completely ignores the comments, plonks his point down in a single sentence surrounded by chimerical “gotchas” and the stench of unwarranted arrogance, and then dips out, assuming he has decimated decades of feminist theory with the epiphany-inducing proclamation he has blessed us womenfolk with.

Naturally, I delete the vast majority of these comments out of respect for the people on this site who actually read and think about what’s being discussed, but I suppose the argument that sex work is like all other work is raised often enough — even in radical circles — that I ought to address it.

In a capitalist economy, labor of any kind, whether physical, mental, or a combination thereof, is assigned an abstract value attached either to a set unit of time during which the work will be performed or to an individual task that is to be performed. All labor relations are considered by “free-market” capitalists to be contract relationships between the employer and the person performing the labor. The person performing the labor, as capitalist ideology goes, is a free agent who chooses the terms under which she or he will perform labor for recompense, limited in only the most basic of ways by federal labor and minimum wage laws. It is upon this idea of free contract labor that political participation and citizenship are founded in the US and most other developed countries.* The problem with the theory of free contract labor has been and always will be the reality workers face when making the decision to sell their labor. The value assigned to a given unit of labor is said to derive from its relative scarcity in a supply-and-demand driven market economy, rather than from the cultural context in which the value of the labor is determined, but that assessment relies on the assumption that markets operate in rational, predictable ways. Clearly, that is not the case.  The value of a given form of labor is not set by the laborer in a vacuum, but is rather constrained by the social, cultural, and economic conditions in which the labor contract is negotiated. There is a reason that most economic predictions fail: economists generally can’t figure out how to account for the often strange contingencies of human psychology and culture.

One of capitalism’s central features, at least according to orthodox capitalist ideology, is universalism. To each according to his merit, as it were. The problem, however, is that capitalism has required racism and sexism as fundamental components of its ability to function on a global scale. The history of the spread of capitalism is inextricably bound up with the history of slavery, imperialism, and the general devaluation of the labor (and lives) of women and people of color for the sake of increased profit. Capitalist ideology is simultaneously universalist, sexist, and racist, because it grew out of and flourished in an intellectual and political climate characterized by all three.**

Most radical anti-capitalism theorists unfortunately fail to recognize that patriarchy has existed far longer than capitalism has and will likely outlast capitalism, and hence must be taken account of if one wishes to devise a politico-economic theory that will actually end group-based hierarchy. Despite the presence of a vocal contingent of purportedly radical men who are pro-sex work, the numbers of those who are anti-capitalism, though growing, are still relatively small, and there are far more regular old dudes who make the “all work is exploitation so porn ain’t so bad” argument.

I’ll pretend for a second that the dudes — radical or otherwise — who take that position are simply expressing an honestly-arrived-at objection to the argument that porn and prostitution are commercial rape.

The value of a given form of labor is determined by demand for that form of labor in a sense, but both demand and the value assigned to labor are socially constructed. In your average office job, the amount of money a worker is paid is determined by how much her employer has determined her set of skills and time are worth, usually about 75% of the amount they would pay a male worker for the same work. Were market forces to operate according to capitalist theory, that pay gap would not exist. “The market” doesn’t work as indicated in this scenario because the market operates within a social system of beliefs. US law, for the majority of the last century, treated women’s work as supplementary to that of a putative male breadwinner, and thus as deserving of a lower wage than men’s work, regardless of whether the female worker in question was married. Despite the 1963 Equal Pay Act, the pay gap persists because the social and cultural expectations that undergirded prior laws and court decisions upholding sex-based wage discrimination continue to exist. Law and economics are not extra-cultural. Because the social and economic gender roles of the wider culture defined manhood in large part as the ability to provide for a family through either wage work or business ownership and defined womanhood as caring for a home, husband, and children, the law and the market followed suit by restricting women’s ability to do as they saw fit with their own labor and by devaluing that labor relative to that of men.***

Women’s labor, then, is undervalued in the sense that they are paid less for work that both women and men do. In fact, there are only a few forms of labor for which women are not paid less than men, and they have a very important feature in common: jobs for which women are paid more than men require both self-destruction and complicity in the propagation of misogyny. For example, female fashion models are paid more than male fashion models because female fashion models, through starving themselves and posing for photo spreads that will later be edited to make their already rare looks even more unattainable, help inculcate a sense of self-loathing among women when they realize that they don’t measure up to an ever-changing and impossible beauty ideal based on the sexual desires of men. Women in porn are paid more than men are because the women in porn play an active role in communicating messages about women that a misogynistic world wants to hear and which help to solidify and expand that misogyny. Consent, in a scenario in which women can only out-earn men by offering themselves up as objects to be debased and consumed, means something far different than it does to the men who love the concept so much. Under non-commercial circumstances, consent’s already noxious definition is “I’ll allow you” rather than “I want to.” In a commercial context, it means, “Because you are paying me, I’ll allow you even though I don’t want to and it likely hurts and makes me feel subhuman, and I agree not to call the cops afterward.”

Porn and prostitution are qualitatively different from other remunerative activities because penetration has long been a metaphor for and a literal act of domination. Most men conceive of their bodies as impermeable, discreet, sovereign units. They are aware that penetrating another human being’s body has a deep psychological impact on the person being penetrated, and it is thus no surprise that men reared in societies that valorize violence, aggression, and competition would come to equate penetration with vanquishing the penetrated.**** Women who participate in the production of pornography not only allow themselves to be penetrated — often violently and often by many men — but they usually evince (paid for/faked/half-hearted) pleasure, which communicates a very clear message to the audience: women like to be dominated, humiliated, vanquished, and used by men; a desire to be dominated is an essential component of femaleness that inheres in women in the form of a vagina, which exists for men to penetrate. It is on this view of femaleness and the use of sex as a tool of domination that societal misogyny rests.

So, yes, allowing one’s body to be penetrated for money, even if it causes a pleasurable physical sensation, is a greater acquiescence to exploitation than agreeing to make $5 Footlongs for $7 an hour, even though it pays more. Participating in the making of anti-woman propaganda requires far greater emotional, physical, and political compromises on women’s part than any job men do for equivalent pay. The relatively high (for women) wage porn work and prostitution command does not represent our society’s great love for the female form, it signifies the fact that we are willing to pay somewhat dearly to uphold and jack off to misogyny.

Of those men who come here and make the simplistic and dishonest argument that porn isn’t rape because all work requires us to consent to things we wouldn’t do for free, I would like to ask how much your boss would have to pay you to let him fuck you in the ass while you blow his assistant before he, his assistant, and the janitorial staff ejaculate all over your face. Video of the event would, of course, be posted on the internet and would be available to anyone with basic internet search skills until the day you die. I am truly interested in hearing the figures, which are surely more than $1000.

* See Alice Kessler-Harris, In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America.

** See Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Ideological Tensions of Capitalism: Universalism Versus Racism and Sexism.”

*** Kessler-Harris, chapter 1.

**** See Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse.

Porn Part 10: The Rutting Dogs of Capitalism

16 Feb

running dog

… a literal translation into English of the Chinese/Korean communist pejorative zǒu gǒu 走狗, meaning lackey or lapdog, an unprincipled person who helps or flatters other, more powerful and often evil people. It is derived from the eagerness with which a dog will respond when called by its owner, even for mere scraps.

Capitalists are not often the root cause of social change. They just aren’t the geniuses capitalist ideology would have us believe they are. More often, they take note of social trends and find ways to latch onto and misdirect social change to their own benefit. Hugh Hefner was a shrewd capitalist. He saw the push coming from women for greater sexual freedom and autonomy, and he also rightly detected (probably because he was afflicted with it) the 1960s trend toward the idea that the only means to expressing one’s “true self” was through consumption. What looks like an ingenious anti-feminist usurpation of women’s liberation ideology in Playboy is really nothing more than Hefner’s realization that the women’s liberation movement had pushed sexuality into the public eye to the extent that he could now sell sex to men along with watches, colognes, and esoteric cigarette brands.

At the moment at which women seemed on the brink of overthrowing patriarchy, Hefner succeeded in turning women into yet another object for men to consume in the pursuit of projecting a fashionable lifestyle and thus — probably accidentally — in driving a wedge between those who could see what was happening and those who didn’t want to that has yet to be dislodged. The story from that point on is a familiar one that leads to the present, when anyone with internet access can find hundreds of pages of rape porn with very little effort.

The cultural journey from half-naked women frolicking in fields to readily-available gang rape porn illustrates a few of the fallacies and problems in capitalist ideology, especially as deployed by defenders of the porn industry. Pornographers claim, as does everyone else who makes a profit selling anything, that they are just meeting a demand (though pornographers doth-protest-a-little-too-much to a greater extent than those who sell products that can’t be shown to be direct causes of rape and human trafficking). Most readers of Playboy in 1969 would likely have been disturbed by the content of a modern mainstream porn clip. For that matter, most viewers of hardcore porn from the early 1990s would be at least mildly alarmed by what is readily available on the internet today. But once something becomes a legitimate target for commodification, all bets are off. Marketers left meeting demand behind nearly a century ago (see the BBC series The Century of the Self) for the more fertile ground of creating it themselves by means of hiring psychological experts to tell them how to manipulate people into believing that they truly needed what was being offered to them for sale. The porn industry is a leader in the psychological manipulation of its customers and makes use of expert advice on addiction psychology and neurological science in order to ensure its continued profits. Scores of studies have shown that long-term porn users find themselves compulsively viewing material that would have upset them had they viewed it months or years earlier, but pornographers disingenuously claim that they are just making what the people want. Horseshit. Some weirdo in Belarus might have decided one day that his ultimate dream was to see a woman get fucked by a dog, but it took the porn industry to create a situation in which every dude over the age of fifteen has seen a video of a woman getting fucked by a dog at least ten times.

Profit is the supreme end of capitalist ideology, and that renders capitalist ideology amoral. There is no realm of human existence that capitalist ideology cannot be applied to, which is one of the soundest arguments against capitalism. That is, if one realizes that there are certain aspects of human existence the application of capitalist ideology to which is immoral. War, health, and sex are the examples that spring to mind first. Capitalist ideology holds that profit is always good, even if extracting a profit from something adulterates or destroys it. The extraction of profit from commodified sexuality has reached a point at which it threatens to destroy sexuality even for those who do not consume its commodified form. (To give one relevant example, extracting profit from commodified sexuality routinely destroys the bodies and minds of those being commodified in the commercial rape industry.*) Pornographers, despite their patently absurd claims to the contrary, do not want you to have a healthy sex life. If you had a healthy sex life, their product would become irrelevant. When porn producers read studies of erectile dysfunction in men under twenty, they rejoice, because it means that they have scored a customer for life who cannot get his sexual needs met without creating demand in an industry that reflects and exacerbates societal misogyny and takes that misogyny out on real women’s bodies. When porn producers read articles about young women who believe that if they don’t embrace their own degradation and physical and emotional discomfort they will be as good as invisible, they shit their pants with glee at the thought of their labor costs decreasing as more and more women flood into the pool of willing performers.

Porn producers are capitalists. They justify commodifying and debasing sexuality to the brink of its destruction on the basis of the capitalist ideology that underlies the entire global power structure. They don’t do it to help the state or the managerial class to control citizens and employees, they do it to make money for themselves. The fact that half of the population is so obsessed with porn that they don’t have any spare time to spend on thinking about the ethical problems inherent in capitalist ideology is nothing but a by-product bonus that the porn industry happens to accidentally contribute to the global capitalist order. Beer companies don’t set out to keep the population mired in drunkenness, hangovers, depression, and alcohol-fueled family dysfunction to prevent them from reaching an emotional and intellectual position from which to confront capitalist ideology, they do so to ensure their own continued profits. That their interests dovetail with those of the managerial class and the world’s governments is a happy coincidence born of the ideology that drives them all. Therein lies the key: within the capitalist world system, everyone in a position of power, whether governmental or financial (the difference between which being diminished to a terminal extent at this point), approaches the task of making decisions from an ideologically capitalistic position. Government officials, when asked to decide whether to regulate the porn industry, don’t opt not to because they believe that the porn industry will keep the population docile by sapping all of its “essence,” they opt not to because they are products of the capitalist world system, the linchpin of which is a capitalist ideology that has assured them since birth that profit is always good.

It is truly bizarre to witness purportedly anti-capitalist or leftist men performing Libertarian mental gymnastics to defend their porn use when it is evident that the porn industry is one of the best examples the radical left could point to as an illustration of the flaws inherent in capitalist theory and practice. But even those who aren’t all that interested in political or economic theory ought to be aware that they’re being manipulated to their own detriment and understand the difference between their own interests and those of corporations for whom nothing matters save profit.

Men should stop using porn because the porn industry rapes, traffics, and kills women. Men should stop using porn because men who use porn make shitty lovers, terrible partners, and are an embarrassment to humanity. Men should stop using porn because men’s porn use makes women’s lives nearly unbearable. Clearly, none of that seems to matter to most men, so how about men stop using porn because it’s bad for men? The porn industry, in seeking to enrich itself, is turning men into sexually dysfunctional robots with no capacity for emotional bonding through the act of sex.

Men, please, have a word with yourselves. The porn industry does not give one fuck about you, and in fact they think you’re just as stupid as they do the women they abuse in the making of their product. They sit around in boardrooms laughing at the thought of you sitting up in your room at four in the morning with your dick in your hand jacking off to images of a bunch of other guys’ dicks doing something to a female human being who is at best incidental. They joke about turning you all gay by directing your sexuality away from women and molding it around other men’s behavior and genitalia. They know their product makes you feel guilty, empty, disgusting, and lonely. But they also know that they can only continue to exist to the extent that you allow them to control and damage your sexuality. Please, for our sake and your own, quit being such a bunch of fucking dupes.

* For those of you new to the site, I call the porn industry the “commercial rape industry” because the women in porn are paid for consent they would not otherwise furnish. If someone has to be paid to consent to something, they have not actually consented to it but have rather agreed not to make their non-consent an issue in exchange for money.

Introduction to Porn Part 10: The Rutting Dogs of Capitalism

12 Feb

The porn series needs an update, does it not? I’ve struggled a bit with what part ten should be about, assuming it ought to be the capstone to an anti-porn decalogue, but I’ve realized that this series will never actually end and hence post number ten need not be some kind of revelatory culmination. So I’ll just return to adding posts to the series as topics occur to me. Today’s topic, as it seems so timely these days, will be capitalism.

The title of this post at The Activists, “Pornography Is One of the Most Powerful Weapons in the Hands of the State and the Ruling Elites,” though it is a little reminiscent of a Rolcats caption, held enough promise that I decided to read it. Read the post if you must (especially if you are a dude who fancies himself a political radical but can’t be convinced by women that you should eschew porn because it’s one of the chief obstacles to the ending of women’s oppression), but it’s really not much other than a fairly ridiculous “what about the men” argument against porn use in which men are urged to give up pornography because it is a tool designed to control men. Reading that post shortly after this one from Valerie M at We Won’t Submit reinforced something I confront quite often: surely, the post was written by a man, and the responses I’ve seen to it thus far indicate that, while denigrating or ignoring decades of toil by anti-porn feminists, everyone is going to fall all over themselves for a chance to fellate any dude who makes an anti-porn argument, no matter how incapable he might be of identifying the real (or at least most harmed) victims of the pornography industry.

Well, everyone is going to have to fellate me instead, because I have a better understanding of the relationship between pornography and capitalism than The Activists do, and because I can express that understanding without resorting to jargon-laden, propagandistic language that would make even Komsomol alumni scoff at its lack of style and subtlety.

The problem with most radical anti-capitalist literature aimed at mass audiences is the inherent assumption that the reader is too dumb to understand the complexities of political and economic power. This leads propagandists to make reference to “capitalists,” “capital,” or “capitalism” as if referring to an individual or an entity made up of a small number of people who coordinate and direct the workings of vast social, political, and economic systems. There is a reason that Marxist/communist/anti-capitalist propaganda has essentially failed as a lasting means to directing the consciousness of large numbers of people: its simplistic formulas are easily undermined by complicated realities, and by the fragmented nature of capitalism as a world system lacking in a single identifiable center of power. When “the masses” try to understand the impact capitalism has on their lives, unless they’re anti-semitic fruitcakes who adore Alex Jones and believe the world is run by shape-shifting lizard descendants of the Knights Templar who present as Jewish bankers, they don’t envision their bosses sitting in a room with the CEOs of Anheuser-Busch and Countrywide hatching a plot to keep them in servitude.

Which is why telling men that “the ruling elite” and “the state” sap their vitality and “milk” them of their “essence” via the “pornographic machine” is unlikely to convince them to stop using porn. I know most men don’t need any convincing that they ought to conceive of jizz as their essence and the supreme indicator of their vitality, but the idea that “the state” seeks to enslave the male population by encouraging them to expend all of their semen is a bit much. Even with a firm grip on the interlocking relationship between capital and governance, no one is likely to believe that a cabal of employers and government officials sit around rubbing their hands together in maniacal glee at the genius of their evil plot to addict the populace to wanking to gang bangs. And everyone knows that most people will write off the entirety of a system of ideas once they detect deception or a perceived logical flaw in a facet of that system of ideas that requires that they do anything other than what they want to do at a given moment. Self-justification is the most formidable foe any activist movement faces.

Those who oppose capitalism need to develop new strategies that take account of the proclivities of the contemporary audience and are not proven failures (as is the case with propaganda tactics derived from the mid-twentieth century) to direct people’s attention to the underlying factor that allows the capitalist world system to operate as it does: capitalist ideology. The historical moment at which the long-term endurance of capitalism was cemented was the moment at which people came to believe that every facet of human reality could be quantified and reduced to a mathematical expression. And I do mean “believe,” in the sense that those responsible for capitalism’s development trusted that, despite the fact that abstract concepts such as labor resisted being reduced to numerical tallies, all it would take to tame the world and bring everything under their mental, and hence material, control was for someone to devise the appropriate means to quantify the as yet unquantifiable. Figuring out how to “count” and assign monetary value to labor opened the door to the commodification of nearly every aspect of human existence.

Just how the idea that it was not only acceptable, but desirable, to assign a monetary value to aspects of existence previously deemed uncountable spread across time and space to bring us to the present situation is extremely interesting to me, but I’ll spare everyone my history dorkery. For the purpose of this discussion, it doesn’t matter how everyone came under the spell of capitalist ideology. What matters is that we understand capitalist ideology and how it operates to perpetuate capitalism on a global scale despite the absence of a directing force.

The porn industry happens to serve as an excellent illustrative example of capitalist ideology in action and the extent to which it has come to direct our thinking. Over the course of the last few decades capitalist ideology has expanded, with the aid of the marketing industry, to dominate the totality of human existence in the US and most other developed nations and to encroach upon it nearly everywhere else.  As disposable income increased over the course of the twentieth century, the marketing industry expanded and its attempts to impress capitalist ideology on the populace in the form of consumerism gained a foothold. Marketers discovered that they could literally sell people a sense of self in the form of marketing lifestyles and the idea of individualism, which made it apparent that anyone who could contrive a new means by which to commodify some theretofore private aspect of human life and create a new “product” out of thin air and people’s desire for self-actualization (whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean) stood to make a lot of money. Sex, due to the misogyny and penchant for literal and metaphorical self-flagellation that characterize the Judeo-Christian ideological heritage the US struggles under, was one of the last frontiers in the commodification of human existence. Sure, women have been bought and sold for sex throughout human history, but American (and, to a lesser extent, European) society was too ashamed of the fact that people have genitalia to deal with sex being sold openly.

Until the sexual “revolution” and the Women’s Liberation Movement and the reaction to them, that is.

To be continued…

Nine Deucian Socio-political Theory Part 1

20 Oct

Before I proceed, I would like to announce that the independent coffee shop from which I will dispatch this post sells a “light bodied” coffee called Dirty Nekkid Lady.

A reader by the name of Gaffa moseyed on by here t’other day, shortly after I had published my Dr. Pepper Ten™ post, to inform me that she (I’m assuming Gaffa is a she, since women are the default humans, according to me) feels frustrated and disappointed in my recent choice of post topics:

There’s the law Congress is trying to pass about no longer requiring Catholic hospitals to at least transfer women to another hospital in cases of medical emergencies rather than perform abortions; there’s Scott Brown’s pronouncement on the fuckability of Elizabeth Warren, and there’s the NYPD mace-ing of women who were simply watching the Occupy protest, and all you can bring yourself to blog on lately are Avatar, Diet Dr. Pepper, and Slim Jim ads? Really?

Most people bristle at being told what they should be writing about, but I initially felt like a terrible feminist, probably due mostly to the fact that I haven’t written much in the last few months, but also because at least some of the people who read my blog apparently find what I choose to write about trivial. I have a lot of reasons for not writing as much as I used to and am still working out where this blog as a whole is going and why, but I’m not all that worried about explaining any of that right this second. What I am interested in doing, however, is explaining my choices with regard to post topics, as it appears I haven’t been clear enough in illustrating just why I think stupid movies and shitty commercials are such a BFD. I mustn’t forget that I write this blog in order to build a movement, not to have a radical feminist intellectual circle jerk with people who are already familiar with the theory that underlies my flip phrases (not that I don’t enjoy radical feminist intellectual circle jerks).

As to the suggested alternative topics, I don’t make a habit of writing about US electoral politics — even when politicians prove that they are misogynistic wangs — because US electoral politics is a professional wrestling league designed to distract the public from what genuinely warrants attention and energy (my somewhat recent post on the Anthony Weiner fracas notwithstanding, though that post has as much to do with just how ridiculous a distraction electoral politics is as with my opinion of Weiner and his wiener). I don’t write about abortion all that often because I’ve said all I have to say on the subject and am aware that the right to safe and legal abortion is constantly under siege, and because every liberal feminist blog covers every abortion story that emerges, mostly satisfactorily. And cops macing female protesters, though it is of course fucked up, is the kind of thing Liberal Dude protesters will blog about plenty in an attempt to “get pussy” by pretending to chivalrousness.

This might disappoint Gaffa (and probably several other people), but I will likely continue to do what I have done since the advent of the ‘chine, which is, among other things, write about popular culture (including porn, BDSM, entertainment media, and marketing) and the ways in which it reflects and shapes societal misogyny. I will do so for two reasons. First and least importantly, writing about popular culture affords me the opportunity to entertain myself and (so I hear) a few others. Second, I actually believe popular culture to be chiefly to blame for the continuation of misogyny. The fact that we have gendered diet sodas might appear trivial due to its brazen absurdity, but people are going to buy Dr. Pepper Ten™, billions of people have uncritically absorbed the ridiculous messages Avatar™ managed to communicate, and men are going to eat poisonous sticks made of lips, assholes, and chemicals because they hate everything associated with femininity so much that they’re willing to eat Slim Jims™ when they’re told that Slim Jims™ will save them from faggotry.

It is essential to understand why these chunks of cultural detritus that we, the non-befuddled, rightly identify as absurd manage to influence the behavior of the general public. My view, derived chiefly from my understanding of radical feminist and anti-imperialist theory, is as follows:

In order for a hierarchy to exist, one must be able to identify who belongs to which status group. That is usually accomplished by defining a subordinate group (or groups) in relation to the dominant group. As in, dominant group A claims to exhibit characteristics X, Y, and Z, so subordinate group B is purported to exhibit characteristics L, M, and N, which are usually the opposite of or “complementary” (the language of hierarchy apologists) to characteristics X, Y, and Z. But difference alone doesn’t make a hierarchy, so the (real or purported) characteristics of the subordinated group are devalued in relation to the characteristics of dominant groups and are generally derided. In the case of gender hierarchy, for example, the prevailing ideology is that men are strong, women are weak; men are rational, women are emotional; men are high-minded, women are petty, jealous, and vain, etc. In order for male (or white, or Anglo-American, or upper class) supremacy to continue, the members of the dominant group are taught that they must do everything within their power to distance themselves, by means of whatever markers possible, from the subordinate group. Because women and men within the same social classes interact and, indeed, live in the same households in most cases, boys and men must go to much greater lengths to disassociate themselves from people they exist in such close association with. Hence, boys are inundated from a very young age with lessons on how to avoid what are most likely natural human behaviors (crying, displaying compassion and emotions other than anger, and so on) because such behaviors are deemed “feminine.”

There is a reason that little boys loathe pink while little girls either like or have neutral feelings about blue. There is also a reason that boys put “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” signs on their hideouts while little girls don’t shun boys — and then only do so half-heartedly — until they perceive that boys dislike them and react accordingly.

Coca-Cola™ and Con-Agra Foods ™ (the makers of Dr. Pepper Ten™ and Slim Jim™, respectively) and the ad outfits that work for them don’t likely have a nuanced, lucid, or even conscious understanding of how and why these mechanisms of identity differentiation and hierarchy affirmation work, but they know they exist. And being corporations, which are entities characterized by absolute amorality, they use the tools available to them to attain their only purpose, which is profit. By taking note of men’s perceived need to disassociate themselves from women and the misogyny from whence that perception arises, these corporations both reflect the level of woman hatred that characterizes contemporary American culture and solidify (and, in my view, increase) it.

Next time I find myself here at the Dirty Nekkid Lady-pushing coffee house, I will further infuriate those who want me to stop talking about Dr. Pepper Ten™, Slim Jims™, and stupid movies by using all three to elucidate my theory of emergent neo-masculinity that relies upon the extreme rejection of the survival instinct in excruciatingly verbose detail, and by finding the most ridiculous possible means by which to relate Avatar™, DP10™, and Slim Jims™ to my hypothesis as to the origins of patriarchy itself!

There is more than one dick implicated in the Weiner scandal.

11 Jun

Having generally avoided paying attention to Democratic-Republican politics for the last few years due to my complete disillusionment with the liberal political machine, I had only a vague idea of who Anthony Weiner was last week when I sat down with Davetavius to watch the Dylan Ratigan Show and witnessed his whiny admission that he’d been sending pictures of his wang to women over the Internet and that he’d been having “inappropriate” conversations with several women on Facebook and Twitter.

The speech itself was pretty boring, save for the snicker Weiner managed to elicit from us when he claimed not to have been drinking when he elected to send pictures of his dick to someone he knew nothing about save that she hates “those damn repubs” and that she wants him to come to Las Vegas and “fuck the shit out of” her (yes, as hard as it might be to accept, there is a woman who says “fuck the shit out of”).  Far more interesting was the commentary Ratigan and his guests offered before the speech on the absurdity of contemporary political culture and the news media’s complicity in allowing politicians to waste every single opportunity they are given to interact with the public on nonsensical grandstanding and offering trite and insulting opinions on whatever the scandal of the week happens to be. Ratigan cleverly refers to Democratic-Republican politics as “professional wrestling,” and also rightly opts to ignore it in favor of drawing attention to the problem that politicians from both parties get paid to avoid tackling: the capture of the entire US government apparatus by the  banking, finance, medical, war, and prison industries. Unfortunately, Weiner elected to hold his press conference just after 4 PM on Monday, which is when Ratigan’s show starts, thus interrupting a worthwhile conversation with his submission to the already immense aggregated collection of histrionic and phony displays of contrition by public figures admitting to having used their penises in a non-approved manner.

What I did not discover until the end of the press conference was that Weiner was prompted to cop to sending the photo by Andrew Breitbart, who posted one photo on his website that Weiner had sent to a woman and claimed to have more. Andrew Breitbart, for those lucky enough to be unaware, is a conservative “journalist” — if one can refer to people who write for The Washington Times as “journalists” — who has recently published a book with the worst title I’ve ever heard: Righteous Indignation. The cover jacket lends the title an even headier air of stupidity, as the “right” in “righteous” and the “nation” in “indignation” are red, giving the book the secondary subtitle of “Right Nation” and indicating via use of color that Breitbart is both angry and sees the red states as the real American nation. The book’s actual subtitle, “Excuse Me While I Save the World!,” might display more unwarranted egotism and self-importance than “Right Nation,” but I can’t decide which one is dumber, and thus a better indicator of where the contemporary conservative movement is headed.

What an asshole.

I wouldn’t know who Breitbart was had I not seen Dylan Ratigan interview him — and even then I could scarcely pay attention because I lost the ability to be amused by conservative commentators years ago — but apparently he makes the claim that objectivity is a falsehood propagated by the “liberal media” in order to cloak its agenda in an air of factual empiricism, when in reality they approach current events with just as much bias as Rush Limbaugh or any other right-wing demagogue. The debate over whether there is such a thing as a “liberal media” is beyond hackneyed and boring at this point, but it is rather amusing to hear a conservative public “intellectual” question the existence of true objectivity. It sounds oddly reminiscent of, oh, I don’t know, let’s say post-modern liberal academics. That isn’t an accident. It’s a part of what Davetavius sees as a new trend among conservative commentators (which I’m sure he’ll write a post about sometime before 2013), which is to jettison the Glenn Beck-esque hysteria that has characterized conservative media since Obama’s election and replace it with a faux-intellectualism that will allow even the borderline-illiterate to feel like top shelf political analysts. Attacking the existence of objectivity may seem like a dangerous thing for a conservative to engage in, being that the insistence on the existence of objective truth is likely the most important epistemological tool at the disposal of those who benefit from the current global power structure, but it’s probably not. Anyone who would pick up, let alone purchase, a book called Righteous Indignation with a picture of a guy abortively attempting to affect skepticism on the front and pretending to yell on the back probably doesn’t possess the intellectual skills to process anything related to that idea. Breitbart knows that. He’s a cynical, self-aggrandizing asshole. Nothing to see here, move along.

But I had no idea. Later on Monday night, I saw video from the press conference taken before Weiner had arrived, in which Breitbart attempts to paint himself as a responsible journalist fighting for the cause of truth rather than a dishonest clown in a mad grab for attention that will help him to further his career.  He essentially blackmailed Weiner into admitting to having sent out pictures of his dick to women on the Internet by threatening to release photos he only had in his possession in the first place because he sits around trolling progressives’ social media pages in the hopes that he’ll catch someone slipping and get hold of just such a piece of evidence that he can use to increase the number of seconds during which television viewers will have to endure his smug presence. He then demanded an apology from Weiner, thereby obliterating the possibility of anyone believing there was even an atom of truth in his claim to care about anything in relation to this story other than how famous it can make him. And that was before he went ahead and released the photos anyway, which amounts to sexual assault in my book. Breitbart, clearly, is a cretinous dick.

One can’t blame Republicans for so aggressively and ruthlessly exploiting Democratic politicians’ sex scandals. They’ve had so many of their own in the last few years that they jump at the chance to show that conservatives don’t hold perversion, sex abuse, and generally assholish sexual behavior in monopoly. And they’re right. Neither party holds an absolute monopoly on immoral or unethical sexual behavior, but one group does seem to have the market 99% or so cornered, at least in the world of politics: powerful men. Not that proof was lacking, but this incident is yet another piece of evidence that no matter how “liberal” men get, the last thing they will relinquish is their sexual doltism. Weiner was no radical, but he is one of an infinitesimal number of American politicians willing to take positions that are easily identifiable as socialistic and worry less about bipartisanship than rationality. Which is why this story, though it isn’t a surprise, does bum my party out.

Anthony Weiner, beloved by the kinds of people who have yet to realize that Bill Maher isn’t leading a revolution, supported extending Medicare to everyone rather than passing a health care bill that did no one but the insurance industry any good. His voting record indicates that he is a strong supporter of abortion rights. Add that to his penchant for publicly chiding Republicans,  his friendship with Jon Stewart — who, though he may not be the most egregious promoter of Liberal Dudism, probably performs a more insidious role in its propagation than anyone else — and the fact that he represents a district that just happens to be the national epicenter of Urban Outfitters liberalism and it’s no wonder Weiner enjoyed a position at the top of the list of coolest Democrats among Tosh.0 viewers (an important category in my most recent scientific poll).

Lisa Weiss definitely loves Tosh 2.0. And is yet another dick in this already huge circus of dicks. Weiss, in a conversation with Weiner on the subject of Sharon Angle (R – NV):

if this wacko wins my state i swear i will have to move! she may be dumber than plain! and that is tough to find!

idiots i work with love this stupid b**ch!

Great. Another woman who shits on women in order to ingratiate herself with men. It may be incumbent upon me as a feminist to empathize with the ways in which women are forced to cope with the pressures we face living in a patriarchy, but I don’t think that ought to extend to condoning misogyny, even if it is directed at sellouts like Sarah Palin and Sharon Angle. And another thing: Weiner claimed at the press conference that all of his interactions with women online were consensual and took place between adults, but this woman sure expresses herself like an adolescent:

let’s kick some gop ass! i hate them!

when r you coming to vegas to help me beat up the right wing
crazies?

They begin talking about sex within one page of their recorded conversations. A month does elapse between the time she first contacted him in August and the September message in which he broaches the idea that they watch The Daily Show while having intercourse with him behind her (that’s right), so there might have been other IM conversations in the interim, but it’s clear that they went almost instantaneously from a cursory and shallow discussion of political party allegiance and Comedy Central programming to material explicit, unsubtle, and stupid enough to stand in for anything Chris Hansen has read back to a shame-faced redneck on To Catch a Predator. It’s “cock” this and “cum” that (probably the two least classy sexual terms of all time) from just about the second page on, with little else in between. Weiss’s behavior doesn’t even approach the nefariousness, dishonesty, and outright piggishness of Weiner’s, but she’s still a dick. In addition to calling other women stupid bitches, she also participated in sexual conversations with a married dude on the Internet, aggressively pushed for a real-life sexual encounter, and sent him a vaguely threatening message when the scandal began and she did not receive a response to her attempts to make contact with him:

u owe me big time for keeping this all quiet…i am defending u to the death on every blog and
to everyone….telling everyone u would never send dirty messages to women

And, of course, she went ahead and released their private conversations despite the fact that they make both of them look like crass, juvenile, oversexed idiots, which is proof that there is no limit to the humiliation people are willing to subject themselves to in order to get their name in the paper or their face on television (and, surely, a check).

Obviously, Wiener is the main dick in this scenario, in both senses. The exact circumstances surrounding the transmission of the wang shot elude me, but I gather from posts on the subject by other feminists that the dick photo Weiner sent to a woman named Gennette Cordova that begat this controversy in the first place was unsolicited and a total non sequitur. The mainstream media haven’t seemed to take note of that fact, but it’s a pretty big deal. It’s nearly impossible to avoid exposure to photos of wangs on Craigslist and dating sites, but even without visiting such sites and interacting with the men on them, most women have been duped into confronting an unsolicited dick photo at least a few times. You know what they used to call that before the Internet? Indecent exposure. Flashing. Men who exposed their genitals to women and girls who had not asked to see them were called perverts,  people avoided men in trench coats, and the police arrested men who ran around sticking their dicks in everyone’s face. But the Internet has made flashing so easy for men that no one even takes notice of it anymore; it’s now such a common behavior that a US congressperson thinks it reasonable to send a photo of his penis to someone with whom he had not had previous sexual conversations. Unsolicited dick shots are not the only means by which Weiner displayed a lack of respect for the emotional and sexual boundaries of the women he has been communicating with, however, as evidenced by these excerpts from his messages to Weiss:

you will gag on me before you c** with me in you

baby you’d be crawling for the door to prevent me from f***ing you silly

<= thinking about gagging your hot mouth with my c***

What kind of person wants their sex partner to gag while they’re being intimate? The proper human response to hearing one’s partner gag during sex — at least if one empathizes with their partner and considers them to be a human being — is to STOP DOING WHATEVER IS CAUSING THE GAGGING and concern oneself with making sure they are OK. The proper human response to seeing one’s partner “crawling for the door” is not to fuck them silly, it’s to have a word with oneself and ask what the fuck one might be doing to cause someone to attempt to escape. If someone is trying to escape from you and you continue to pursue sexual contact with that person, you are a rapist.

He also evinces a complete lack of understanding with regard to female anatomy and a total lack of concern for what the women he’s talking to might find arousing and pleasurable, probably because he can’t be torn away from worshiping his own dick long enough to think about it:

think of my rock hard c***. practice saying, ‘god, anthony, I’m c****ing again

you will gag on me before you c** with me in you

I want to feel you c** with my fat c*** in you

this thing is ready to do damage

it won’t go away, and now I’m taking pics of it, making me ha**er still.

What you have just read, my dear readers, is a set of conversations that could never have occurred before the rise of porn culture and rape culture. Weiner takes almost no interest in Weiss, her (admittedly trite and poorly expressed) political views, her job as a card dealer, her friends, or anything else other than the orifices he wants to penetrate. He makes small talk, begins to flirt with the skill of a sixteen-year-old, and then moves right on to where he’s going to put his penis. He never asks her what might turn her on, but rather inundates her with information about the state of his penis, informing her of exactly what physical and emotional response she will have to it.  That, the insipidness and lack of imagination that characterize his sexual fantasies, and his lack of consideration for Cordova’s boundaries or Weiss’s feelings about whether or not she’d like to be “gagged” during a sexual encounter hint to me that Mr. Weiner might just be a porn user. In porn, dicks reign supreme, and women pretend to fall all over themselves for the purported pleasure of gagging on and being aggressively penetrated by them. They aren’t interested in intimacy, whether emotional or physical, and they have no desires of their own that don’t align perfectly with those of men who are enthralled by nothing more than their own wangs. They’re perfectly happy to chat nonchalantly about the cable or a pizza, then begin blowing the cable or pizza delivery guy in the blink of an eye. Or they’re ready to go from expressing approval for the comedy of Stephen Colbert to hearing all about how they’re going to gag on someone’s penis. Weiss played along it seems, likely swayed by the foolish idea that being desired sexually (or, rather, used as the Internet equivalent of an uncompensated phone sex operator) by a congressperson is a big deal, but that clearly matters little as Weiner displayed the same behavior toward Cordova even though she didn’t engage in sexual conversations with him.

Were the mainstream media to miraculously up and decide to cover this issue responsibly and expend a modicum of effort analyzing what Weiner’s behavior says about our society and culture, this story might warrant some airtime. As it stands, it’s just another opportunity for the 24-hour news networks to flesh out their programming schedules and attempt to attract prurient viewership in order to sell shit and enrich their parent companies, and it’s just another opportunity for the two sides to engage in a bit of professional wrestling while everyone holds to the tacit agreement to deflect attention from economic and social reality, the devolution of which both parties perpetuate in between getting on television to pretend to care about whatever issues they think their constituents want them to care about.

Any shred of hope I might have had that someone in the media might decide to approach this scandal responsibly probably died as Weiner walked off stage after fielding questions and a reporter yelled one last question for him: “Were you fully erect in the photo?!” Because what we really need to know is how big this guy’s dick is, not why we live in a society where he could consider sending a stranger a picture of it in the first place.

Career College Ad Sums Up What’s Wrong with US in 60 Seconds

31 Oct

Being as wasting time seems to have become my latest hobby, I recently found myself watching an afternoon episode of Jerry Springer and its attendant ads. I realize that admitting that might set a process in motion that will culminate in some kind of cyber-intervention aimed at forcing me to stop watching American culture and society swirl down the toilet bowl, but I’ll take my chances. I’m willing to take this risk because watching that hour of television on the subject of “lesbian” love triangles and suffering through the audience comments (which I assure you is the hardest part of the show to endure) alerted me to the existence of OmniTech Institute. Some of you might be wondering why one medical billing/office management/CNA/”technology” school would stand out from the seventy or so advertising in the Atlanta market, and I’ll tell you: OmniTech just happens to have the (unintentionally) funniest ad I’ve seen in years, an ad I attempted to find on YouTube yesterday in order to share it with all of my pals. Unfortunately, the aforementioned ad is not yet on YouTube (though I’ll be sure to forward it on as soon as it becomes available), but I did find two others, and those two others proved far more valuable than the one I’d been searching for in the first place. Let’s have a look:

Ahem.

Why are there more ads for low-grade, for-profit schools for “technology” and “medical” jobs on during daytime television broadcasts than there are chat line ads after midnight on the same networks? Why are “technology” and “medicine” supposed to excite people who watch talk shows about people having sex with people they shouldn’t and the zany consequences that derive therefrom? Well, I suppose the people who produce and book ads for the CW have some idea what they’re doing. It doesn’t take a demographics expert to know that people who watch daytime network TV are unlikely to have steady “nine-to-five” (when are we going to admit that people work at least from eight to five and stop using that phrase?) jobs, that most of them are women at home who might rather not be, that they don’t have a shitload of money on hand or else they’d have cable and wouldn’t be watching the CW at all, and that most of these people have absorbed the idea that “education” is good, that one needs a “career,” and that “medicine” and “technology” are, like, total BFDs. They’re also aware that their audience is generally made up of people of color and that it’s a safe bet to market career education to that audience, because any dumbass knows that the intersection of a Venn diagram of non-whiteness and limited career opportunities is pretty big. Really, if you went for a three-circle Venn diagram with circles representing women, people of color, and people with limited job opportunities, it’d look a lot more like a circle drawn by a four-year-old than Mickey Mouse’s head. I used to watch the CW when it was the WB from time to time when I lived in LA, where the ethnoracial demographics are different than they are here in Atlanta, and it won’t shock anyone to hear that the same ads exist there, but feature Latina/os instead of black people.

I understand what’s going on in the minds of the people who produce the spots for career training schools and decide when and to whom to broadcast them. That’s the easy part. But why are there so many schools out there offering career education in the medical and “technology” fields? Why didn’t I see more ads for other types of businesses that take advantage of people in precarious socioeconomic positions? Why weren’t there more commercials for title loans, personal injury attorneys, or rent-to-own furniture joints? (Not that there aren’t plenty of those, but there are more career training school ads than all other ads put together.) It would seem like a good thing that it’s education rather than outright usury that’s being marketed to the CW’s demographic, were it not for a few things.

First, every single one of these schools is for-profit, and lord knows whether any of them are even accredited. Most of their website addresses are so bootleg as to remind me of the fly-by-night mortgage joints that swarmed like cockroaches onto the radio in the early 2000s (mybrownmackie2.com? Come on, now.), and some of them don’t even have websites. They’re all cagey about exactly how much they charge for their “bachelor’s degrees in three years” or their ten-month career training programs that purportedly lead to jazzy jobs in medical billing and IT, likely because the price is outrageous. I don’t care if it’s $100 a month. The price is outrageous because it’s absurd that someone is making a profit selling education that ought to be offered in every high school and community college in America for free. And let’s be serious here. Are the people graduating from these programs even getting jobs? I only know two people who have gone to schools of this sort, one who went to ITT Tech in order to jump start his career in the hot, hot, hot IT field, and another who went through an EMT course at Atlanta Tech. Right now, they’re selling mattresses and substitute teaching, respectively.

Twenty-four percent of American adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher — which is why there are so many people with business degrees selling Playstation consoles at Best Buy and waiters who know what “endogamous” means — and that means there’s a serious problem with the way we’re approaching secondary education. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning tracking or making the argument that teachers or administrators ought to be able make decisions about students’ futures based on their own cracked and biased criteria, but students should be able to choose to earn an MCSE or other certifications, take business courses, or learn other practical career skills at school rather than being shoved toward “college” and not offered any other options, when at this point the vast majority of college students are only there to get drunk, major in pretending watching movies makes you an intellectual, and avoid getting kicked out of their parents’ house and off their parents’ balance sheet. Ideally, we’d prepare all students for entry-level jobs in high school and close three quarters of the four-year universities and colleges in this country, replacing them with federally funded community colleges designed to either offer useful, practical job training or the foundational courses one needs to transfer to one of the remaining four-year universities that offer degrees that actually give students the opportunity to expand their world views and do something other than become generic suits. Of course, it’d be awesome if primary and secondary education were federally funded and equalized so that students in one neighborhood aren’t sitting on the floor during class while kids three miles up the road are voting on whether to get custom embroidery on the frosh volleyball team’s new uniforms or spend the cash on a few more iMacs in the graphic design lab. It would also be awesome if we had the kinds of social safety nets we need to provide kids with the homes, health care, and food they need if they’re to have a fighting chance to succeed even in well-funded schools, but this ain’t France, so community colleges are my answer. They’re cheap, they’re accessible, and they create a path for non-traditional students and poor people (read: people who have a real motivation to learn rather than a desire to extend high school for a few more years) to four-year university degrees that would otherwise be out of reach.

In sum: dodgy for-profit career schools bad, career training in high schools or community colleges good. No one should have to buy a job.

On to issue number two: each of the ads makes a point of citing mainstream media stories in which “technology” and “medicine” are listed as the top (and, really, only) growth career fields. I won’t say much about technology (I mean, I wouldn’t be able to express myself to more than four people at once were it not for technology) other than that I often wonder just how much technology each of us has to have at our disposal before we realize it isn’t leading us toward some blissful utopia scored by our favorite MGMT tracks in which we do nothing other than order new fashion accessories telekinetically and communicate with people we never actually see in person by means of 140-character not-so-witty witticisms. The medical industry is another story. There’s a reason that there are jobs to be had in the medical industry — especially in the medical billing sector — and that reason is that the medical insurance industry continues to grow and swell and spread and suck up everyone and everything in its immoral, depraved path because Americans are too stupid to question the ethics of medical capitalism and get together in their own self interest to put the medical insurance industry out of commission. I’ll readily admit to getting bored and tuning out over the course of the ninety years or so it took the 111th Congress to figure out how to pretend to do something about the travesty our health care system has blossomed into, but I do know that no one ever discussed the only thing that would have done any good: shutting down the health insurance industry in toto and giving all Americans the right not to die because they aren’t rich enough to pay a hundred times what medical services should actually cost in order to enrich people with no interest in patients’ well-being. Obviously I’m not going to blame someone who needs a leg up out of poverty for going into medical billing because it pays $10 an hour instead of $7.25, but I’m also not going to pretend that there’s anything sustainable or ethical about that career field. Health care and insurance billing may be growth sectors, but that’s only because parasites tend to flourish — at least in the short run — when given unfettered access to the host’s internal organs.

Finally, there’s the presentation of both ads, which is so absurd and offensive that I almost suspect Martin Lawrence was involved.  First we have the commercial aimed at black men, in which the message is, “Get your MSCE at OmniTech, and the next thing you know mad career women will be jumping in yo’ convertible to give you summa dat ass!”  I mean, really. My friend Jackalope just finished a nine-month EMT course, and he isn’t reporting droves of women jumping into his car everywhere he goes, nor did the course result in his ownership of a convertible. (As a matter of fact, he has yet to even get a job in the purportedly booming medical field, despite graduating at the top of his class.) Then there’s the ad aimed at black women, in which we see a group of friends shopping and marveling at all the skirts they can afford. At one point a woman literally says, “I can afford to buy whatever I want!” I’m not black, but I highly doubt that when a black woman is considering career training shoes are at the forefront of her mind, and even though I’m neither black nor male, I have a hard time believing that black men choose to go to computer school with the only motivation being that it’ll result in poontang. Despite the fact that the people at OmniTech clearly don’t agree, I figure I can safely assume that these ads don’t reflect reality because I don’t think black women and black men are one-dimensional caricatures out of an episode of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.

In addition to making plain OmniTech’s demeaning take on the black community, this pair of ads displays some extremely tiresome attitudes about gender. The most obvious example is their decision to advertise their IT program to men and their medical billing program to women. Medical billing, a traditionally pink collar field, boasts salaries that top out near $20 an hour, which OmniTech fails to mention when they feature an erstwhile OmniTech student purchasing her own home. Conversely, IT salaries are virtually limitless given that there are innumerable paths to advancement within the IT field. Then there are the gendered stereotypes with regard to the meaning of success.  The symbol of success for men, as usual, is sexual access to women, whereas for women it’s unlimited cosmetics and clothes. No surprise there — and not really all that noteworthy as ads go, though this one is considerably more ham-fisted in its presentation of that hackneyed idea than most — but if you put that message together with the other messages in these two ads, you’ll get a fairly clear distillation of just how cannibalistic and self-destructive the American economy/advanced capitalism really is: you have unscrupulous individuals using racist and sexist insults and promoting mindless adherence to destructive gender roles and sociopathic marketing directives as a means to sell overpriced career training that rarely leads to a more lucrative career. If it does lead to a more lucrative career, that career will be in an industry that is completely immoral and unsustainable because it exists solely to avoid actually providing what it sells, which is a product that ought to be a human right rather than a product in the first place. And that industry is most clearly negatively affecting the exact communities that these ads are targeted at. Really, it’s an epitomic instance of the promotion of short-sighted, self-destructive, selfish, individualist cosumerism: “Who cares whether this industry will hasten the deaths of both individual human beings that you probably know and the American economy as a whole? If you get on board, you can buy a car, a woman, or some shoes! Why ask why? Try Bud Dry!”

I’m really tired of hearing about Electra. And individualism.

3 Oct

Where in the samhill have I been? Sorry, y’all. I have excuses, but posting them would be both narcissistic and boring, and I’ve got other things I want to talk about.

Whilst enduring a flight from Portland to Atlanta last week, I decided to read this month’s issue of Harper’s rather than watch the same three episodes of The Office that Delta has been playing on their flights for the last three months, an issue that included an article by Susan Faludi entitled “American Electra: Feminism’s Ritual Matricide.” How could I resist, right? A cover story in a tweed brigade northeastern intellectual rag intimating that young feminists — in accordance with the boring old trope derived from the progenitors of classical western misogyny — are literally (OK, fine, figuratively) killing old feminists, which explains what the (weighty pause followed by the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) Problem with the Feminist Movement is. Not only was I going to read the shit out of that, but I even got a pen out to take notes. I mean, there might be a letter to the editor in there somewhere, might there not?

I didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that Faludi had accepted a position as the shoeshine girl of the mainstream media establishment that she had eviscerated in Backlash, but I will admit that I did start skipping in that direction. How could I not? From the title alone, I surmised that I was about to read another tired rehashing of the same old bullshit line: there’s a fundamental and inherent flaw in the feminist movement, and that flaw is women, whose very nature requires that they scratch each others’ eyes out and steal each others’ boyfriends and precludes them from accomplishing anything other than inspiring the coining of the term “fashionista.”

Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but there were some pretty serious problems.

Faludi starts out illustrating the misunderstandings between Second and Third Wave feminists and the ways in which those misunderstandings undermine the cohesion of “the feminist movement” (whatever that is), then extrapolates the purported generational rift that characterizes the contemporary world of feminism back to previous eras. To sum it up, the First Wave earned women the right to vote, and the consumerism of the 1920s created a generation of frivolous, ungrateful young women who rejected their mothers’ idealism in favor of a new image of womanhood that advertisers had sold them. Cigarettes and mass-produced flapper fashion came to replace the ballot as the symbols of women’s freedom, and the feminist movement had been neutered by the power elite, whether intentionally or not. Then came the Second Wave, in which young feminists expressed hatred for their mothers and the stifling brand of conformist femininity they represented. Finally, we have the current round of matricide, in which Third Wavers are waxing poetic about pube waxing while pronouncing Second Wavers and their methods and ideas irrelevant in the age of the iPod.

It’s a tidy little picture, and it works well with a sleek and misogynistic cliche like the ol’ Electra parable. The problem, as is always the case with these attempts to misrepresent feminism in order to sell magazines, is reality.

The first problem is that the argument isn’t actually all that smooth, which I suspect might be the result of the fact that Faludi herself doesn’t truly believe that feminism as a movement is fucked and that it’s fucked because women hate their mothers. Faludi’s sympathies clearly lie with the Clytemnestras in her formulation, or at least with the First Wave and Second Wave Clytemnestras, but there seems to be a giant break in her cyclical progression of ritual matricide; the daughters of the First Wavers, having been duped by Edward Bernays and his disciples into believing that projecting an image of liberation by means of Lucky Strike cigarettes was good enough, eschewed further substantial feminist agitation and shat all over their mothers’ dreams, and then we jump to the current Second vs. Third Wave throwdown, in which the younger generation’s narcissism and consumerism has destroyed the unity and potential of their mothers’ movement. The picture, a few quotes from Second Wavers about hating their mothers notwithstanding, looks more like a parallel with a two-generation gap than a steady progression of generations of matricidal women. First of all, who were the Clytemnestras to the Second Wave Electras? Stereotypical 50s housewives? I thought this was a story about inter-generational squabbling within the feminist movement, but Faludi doesn’t make a single reference to the existence of feminism between the 20s and the 60s*, which is a major problem. If I’m to give any credence to a historical argument, the person making the argument needs to know something about history. She could have easily made the argument that Second Wavers jettisoned the difference-based ideology of labor feminists in favor of smashing gender roles and achieving equal legal protection for women (or at least some of them did), but I don’t know whether she even knows those labor feminists existed.

The second problem, provided that we look only at the two generational conflicts that Faludi presents as parallels, is that young women in both instances come off as lazy inheritors of a legacy they don’t deserve or make the most of. I’ve obviously got mixed feelings on the Second/Third Wave issue, being that I’m a 33-year-old radical anti-porn feminist whose activism has, until recently, consisted of writing blog posts under a pseudonym, but I do take issue with that characterization, if only on behalf of other young feminists I know, who do an awful lot more actual (as opposed to virtual) stomping around and kicking ass in the name of women’s liberation than they’re given credit for. But anyway, it’s 2010. Does anyone pay attention to groups of people in public with signs? Isn’t making use of modern communication media a more effective means by which to raise awareness of an issue? Tactics evolve with movements, and the internet has allowed more and more women to join the discussion when they might otherwise have been excluded. Until young women quit volunteering their time to support causes that they believe in, let’s quit giving them shit for writing about women’s issues on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, huh?

We’ve got a third problem: why are we always trying to figure out what’s wrong with the feminist movement? At what point will there not be something wrong with the feminist movement? When every single person who uses the word “feminist” agrees on every single issue that affects every single woman? Sorry, but that shit ain’t coming any time soon, and when it does we’ll know that the movement has been taken over by men. What is constructive about pontificating on the failings of feminism? Does it teach us how to move forward? Faludi’s piece ends on an extremely bleak note, with a professor of Women’s Studies lugubriously recounting her program being cut as a result of the fact that young women just couldn’t be bothered to learn about anything other than Lady Gaga and exclusionary Judith Butler-esque abstractions that take the focus off of real women’s lives and allow privileged, narcissistic brats to feel superior in their ability to understand what the fuck is even being discussed. I understand her concern, I truly do, but that ain’t all there is out there, and Faludi comes dangerously close to doing what she accuses the mainstream media of having done throughout the course of the history of the women’s movement: pronouncing feminism dead. Constructive criticism is one thing, but sounding the death-knell for the feminist movement and blaming it on some threadbare trope from gynophobic folklore is quite another thing for a feminist to do.

I’ve got some constructive criticism: feminist writers ought to focus on the ideas they have that are actually interesting and insightful and express them honestly rather than forcing them into a mold that will be acceptable to a bunch of old crotchety sexists who someone has mistakenly anointed the arbiters of intellectual rigorousness. I know we all have to make a living, but let’s at least try not to sell out that hard. And I say that honestly, because Faludi touched upon something far more interesting, important, and potentially revolutionary than the ridiculous Electra complex style device: the role of marketing and advertising in the co-optation and attempted destruction of feminism. It’s no surprise that she detects increasing danger in the attempts of marketers to repackage and neuter feminism, and it’s no surprise that she sees these attempts increasing in intensity in direct response to the threat posed by the progress women have made in society (she did write Backlash and all). She’s right. But how about we place the blame for that where it belongs rather than with women themselves? I realize that such an approach makes me sound like an arrogant dick who thinks she’s the only one who “sees through the bullshit” while calling young feminists in the 1920s and the 2000s dupes of the highest order, but I’m not writing this post from Jupiter a thousand years from now. I’m a dupe, too. We’re all dupes (and I mean all of us, not just women and/or feminists), and we need to face it or we’re fucked.

But what does it even mean to be a consumerist sap? What makes us susceptible to buying into watered-down commodified versions of feminism? Why and how do the powers that be rip us off and then sell our own ideas back to our kids (or little sisters) in an adulterated form? It seems to me that the cycle is fairly consistent, at least with regard to consumerist “democratic” societies since the 1920s (things tend to work out serendipitously for the power elite, I know): a group of people gets tired of being shat upon and makes their presence known, the people who sell us things freak out and worry that these people represent a threat to their continued existence and dominance, they then calm down and try to figure out how to sell things to these people, they put all their resources into analyzing and manipulating this new target market, it starts to work because buying products is far easier than sustaining a revolutionary movement over the course of years or even decades, and then the power elite regain their grip on things until the next upheaval comes to pass. (Of course, you have to believe that under capitalism the interests of government and the capitalist class dovetail in order for this to ring true, but if you don’t believe that, you should probably not be reading this blog.)

That’s where I agree with Faludi’s analysis: consumerist co-optation of feminism has become ever more insidious and effective over the course of the past half century or so. But I don’t believe the outlook is so dismal. Maybe it’s because I’m young (we’re optimists!), maybe it’s because I’m a radical (we’re idealists!), maybe it’s because I’m a fool (most likely), but I think I may have found a nugget of the solution in Faludi’s piece.

The problem is the obsession with the concept of individualism, and if we can either temper our desire to be “individuals” or find a way to actually be individuals, we may just be alright. Group movements, posing the huge threat that they did to the status quo, provoked too much retribution in the late 60s and early 70s to survive, and people turned inward, hoping that they’d foment a gradual revolution by revolutionizing themselves. Self-actualization and self-realization took the place of group action and unity, and the power elite took note of that turn and exploited it. Republican politicians encouraged identity politics and the division of the working class and along racial** and gender lines, capitalists found ways to market “lifestyles” in order to help people create and maintain the illusion of their own new-found individuality, and selfishness and self-absorption triumphed over cooperation and empathy as the world (and especially the US) made the transition from the fairly radical liberal consensus that characterized the 30s through the 60s to the conservative consensus that has dominated our lives and political culture since at least the late 70s***. Individualism has, of course, always been a part of our political culture and our foundational sense of who we are here in the US, but the fragmented, mistrustful, and generally selfish tenor of American society in the last three decades is a direct result of the purposeful manipulation of that concept by politicians and corporations in their continued effort to get greater control over and to better be able to predict our behavior as voters (subjects) and consumers****. And just think about the billions of dollars that have been made by opportunists who have capitalized on our belief that we are all special little snowflakes and that we need to express our uniqueness to the world in order to be understood by other “individuals” that, if the cult of individualism has any internal logic, have no hope of ever doing so. We’re being divided and conquered, my friends. And duped. Marketers have convinced us all that we’re discreet units, complete individuals, totally alone and unique, which precludes us getting any of our needs met by anything other than consumerism. That was at work in the 20s, but it’s been so successful since the 80s that even the attempts at thinking of “women as a class” that characterize Second Wave and Marxist feminism have been lost to “my experience.” *****

There has probably never been a bigger threat to the foundation of our social hierarchy than the specter of women’s liberation from patriarchy and the misappropriation of our labor under capitalism. It stands to reason, then, that those with capitalistic or patriarchal leanings would put their back into sucking the qi out of any movement that posed that threat, and that they’d do it the same way they always have: by doing their best to dupe us into taking the easy way out and buying symbols of our liberation rather than sustaining the fight to actually win it. Feminism became yet another lifestyle that could be marketed to women as a means to express their individuality and power. So we got a bill of goods in place of anything substantial: Virginia Slims, shoulder pads, Playgirl, and the Pill. We got the opportunity to act like men for a price, and then the phallocrats got to blame the fact that such a facsimile of equality didn’t make us happy on feminism rather than on the fact that what we were buying was an empty package that claimed to contain personal liberation.******

That process of co-optation and chicanery has continued apace, and recognizing that and moving away from it might be the key to the future of the feminist movement, if it is decided that there needs to be one. I obviously do believe we need a feminist movement and that it’s possible for one to exist without any matricide or filicide, but you can’t work to ameliorate the conditions of women as a class if you can’t conceive of yourself as part of a class called “women” and can’t conceive of the word “feminism” without “my” preceding it.

* See Dorothy Sue Cobble, The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America; Kate Weigand, Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women’s Liberation; and Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, The Cold War, and Modern Feminism.

** See Hugh Davis Graham, Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America; John David Skrentny, The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture, and Justice in America; and Skrentny, The Minority Rights Revolution.

*** See David Vogel, Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America.

**** See Lizbeth Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.

***** This paragraph is the result of a combination several years of  school and a recent viewing of The Century of the Self, a super rad BBC documentary series.

****** See Susan Faludi, Backlash.

The Blind Side: The Most Insulting Movie Ever Made

11 Jun

Davetavius and I consider ourselves the world’s foremost authorities on watching movies for reasons other than those intended by their producers. As such, we go way beyond just watching “cheesy” (whatever that means) movies, 80s movies, or kung fu movies (which I refuse to watch but which every dork on Earth has been pretending to like in some attempt at letting everyone know how “weird” they are since Quentin Tarantino’s ridiculous ass popularized kung fu movie fandom as the #1 route to instant eccentricity cred in True Romance) to focus our attention on recently-released romantic comedies, those obnoxious movies in which two assholes just sit around and talk to each other for 98 minutes, and “serious” movies for which people have been given gold-plated statuettes. One can learn an awful lot about the faults and failings of our social system and corporate entertainment’s attempts to sell us its version of culture by watching movies created by and for the anti-intelligentsia, and if one were to try hard enough, I’m sure one could find the string that, if tugged, would unravel the modern world system buried somewhere in a melodramatic Best Picture Oscar contender intended to make people who refer to beers as “cold ones” feel like they’re considering The Big Issues. There was no way we were going to miss The Blind Side.

Spoiler alert: this is the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I’m going to spoil your desire to see it yourself by writing this post. Also, I may, if I can manage to give a fuck, divulge important plot elements. But it’s based on a true story that everyone has already heard anyway, so who cares.

Let me say up front that I’m aware that I’m supposed to feel sorry for Sandra Bullock this week. She’s purported to be “America’s sweetheart” and all, she has always seemed like a fairly decent person (for an actor), and I think her husband deserves to get his wang run over by one of his customized asshole conveyance vehicles, but I’m finding it difficult to feel too bad. I mean, who marries a guy who named himself after a figure from the Old West, has more tattoos than IQ points, and is known for his penchant for rockabilly strippers? Normally I’d absolve Bullock of all responsibility for what has occurred and spend nine paragraphs illustrating the many reasons Jesse James doesn’t deserve to live, but I’ve just received proof in the form of a movie called The Blind Side that Sandra Bullock is in cahoots with Satan, Ronald Reagan’s cryogenically preserved head, the country music industry, and E! in their plot to take over the world by turning us all into (or helping some of us to remain) smug, racist imbeciles.

The movie chronicles the major events in the life of a black NFL player named Michael Oher from the time he meets the rich white family who adopts him to the time that white family sees him drafted into the NFL, a series of events that apparently proves that racism is either over or OK (I’m not sure which), with a ton of southern football bullshit along the way. Bullock plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, the wife of a dude named Sean Tuohy, played by — no shit — Tim McGraw, who is a fairly minor character in the movie despite the fact that he is said to own, like, 90 Taco Bell franchises. The story is that Oher, played by Quinton Aaron, is admitted into a fancy-pants private Christian school despite his lack of legitimate academic records due to the insistence of the school’s football coach and the altruism of the school’s teachers (as if, dude), where he comes into contact with the Tuohy family, who begin to notice that he is sleeping in the school gym and subsisting on popcorn. Ms. Tuohy then invites him to live in the zillion-dollar Memphis Tuophy family compound, encourages him to become the best defensive linebacker he can be by means of cornball familial love metaphors, and teaches him about the nuclear family and the SEC before beaming proudly as he’s drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.

I’m sure that the Tuohy family are lovely people and that they deserve some kind of medal for their good deeds, but if I were a judge, I wouldn’t toss them out of my courtroom should they arrive there bringing a libel suit against whoever wrote, produced, and directed The Blind Side, because it’s handily the dumbest, most racist, most intellectually and politically insulting movie I’ve ever seen, and it makes the Tuohy family — especially their young son S.J. — look like unfathomable assholes. Well, really, it makes all of the white people in the South look like unfathomable assholes. Like these people need any more bad publicity.

Quentin Aaron puts in a pretty awesome performance, if what the director asked him to do was look as pitiful as possible at every moment in order not to scare anyone by being black. Whether that was the goal or not, he certainly did elicit pity from me when Sandra Bullock showed him his new bed and he knitted his brows and, looking at the bed in awe, said, “I’ve never had one of these before.” I mean, the poor bastard had been duped into participating in the creation of a movie that attempts to make bigoted southerners feel good about themselves by telling them that they needn’t worry about poverty or racism because any black person who deserves help will be adopted by a rich family that will provide them with the means to a lucrative NFL contract. Every interaction Aaron and Bullock (or Aaron and anyone else, for that matter) have in the movie is characterized by Aaron’s wretched obsequiousness and the feeling that you’re being bludgeoned over the head with the message that you needn’t fear this black guy. It’s the least dignified role for a black actor since Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s portrayal of James Robert Kennedy in Radio (a movie Davetavius claims ought to have the subtitle “It’s OK to be black in the South as long as you’re retarded.”). The producers, writers, and director of this movie have managed to tell a story about class, race, and the failures of capitalism and “democratic” politics to ameliorate the conditions poor people of color have to deal with by any means other than sports while scrupulously avoiding analyzing any of those issues and while making it possible for the audience to walk out of the theater with their selfish, privileged, entitled worldviews intact, unscathed, and soundly reconfirmed.

Then there’s all of the southern bullshit, foremost of which is the football element. The producers of the movie purposely made time for cameos by about fifteen SEC football coaches in order to ensure that everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line would drop their $9 in the pot, and the positive representation of football culture in the film is second in phoniness only to the TV version of Friday Night Lights. Actually, fuck that. It’s worse. Let’s be serious. If this kid had showed no aptitude for football, is there any way in hell he’d have been admitted to a private school without the preparation he’d need to succeed there or any money? In the film, the teachers at the school generously give of their private time to tutor Oher and help prepare him to attend classes with the other students. I’ll bet you $12 that shit did not occur in real life. In fact, I know it didn’t. The Tuohy family may or may not have cared whether the kid could play football, but the school certainly did. It is, after all, a southern school, and high school football is a bigger deal in the South than weed is at Bonnaroo.

But what would have happened to Oher outside of school had he sucked at football and hence been useless to white southerners? What’s the remedy for poverty if you’re a black woman? A dude with no pigskin skills? Where are the nacho magnates to adopt those black people? I mean, that’s the solution for everything, right? For all black people to be adopted by rich, paternalistic white people? I know this may come as a shock to some white people out there, but the NFL cannot accommodate every black dude in America, and hence is an imperfect solution to social inequality. I know we have the NBA too, but I still see a problem. But the Blind Side fan already has an answer for me. You see, there is a scene in the movie which illustrates that only some black people deserve to be adopted by wealthy white women. Bullock, when out looking for Oher, finds herself confronted with a black guy who not only isn’t very good at appearing pitiful in order to make her comfortable, but who has an attitude and threatens to shoot Oher if he sees him. What ensues is quite possibly the most loathsome scene in movie history in which Sandra Bullock gets in the guy’s face, rattles off the specs of the gun she carries in her purse, and announces that she’s a member of the NRA and will shoot his ass if he comes anywhere near her family, “bitch.” Best Actress Oscar.

Well, there it is. Now you see why this movie made 19 kajillion dollars and won an Oscar: it tells a heartwarming tale of white benevolence, assures the red state dweller that his theory that “there’s black people, and then there’s niggers” is right on, and affords him the chance to vicariously remind a black guy who’s boss thr0ugh the person of America’s sweetheart. Just fucking revolting.

There are several other cringe-inducing elements in the film. The precocious, cutesy antics of the family’s little son, S.J., for example. He’s constantly making dumb-ass smart-ass comments, cloyingly hip-hopping out with Oher to the tune of  Young M.C.’s “Bust a Move” (a song that has been overplayed and passe for ten years but has now joined “Ice Ice Baby” at the top of the list of songs from junior high that I never want to hear again), and generally trying to be a much more asshole-ish version of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. At what point will screenwriters realize that everyone wants to punch pint-sized snarky movie characters in the throat? And when will I feel safe watching a movie in the knowledge that I won’t have to endure a scene in which a white dork or cartoon character “raises the roof” and affects a buffalo stance while mouthing a sanitized rap song that even John Ashcroft knows the words to?

And then there’s the scene in which Tim McGraw, upon meeting his adopted son’s tutor (played by Kathy Bates) and finding out she’s a Democrat, says, “Who would’ve thought I’d have a black son before I met a Democrat?” Who would have thought I’d ever hear a “joke” that was less funny and more retch-inducing than Bill Engvall’s material?

What was the intended message of this film? It won an Oscar, so I know it had to have a message, but what could it have been? I’ve got it (a suggestion from Davetavius)! The message is this: don’t buy more than one Taco Bell franchise or you’ll have to adopt a black guy. I’ll accept that that’s the intended message of the film, because if  the actual message that came across in the movie was intentional, I may have to hide in the house for the rest of my life.

I just don’t even know what to say about this movie. Watching it may well have been one of the most demoralizing, discouraging experiences of my life, and it removed at least 35% of the hope I’d previously had that this country had any hope of ever being anything but a cultural and social embarrassment. Do yourself a favor. Skip it and watch Welcome to the Dollhouse again.

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Fuck politics, women need to be making sitcoms.

19 Apr

I’m serious.

Justin sent me a link to a recent (OK, not that recent) article about Kathryn Bigelow, the first female recipient of the Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker (who also directed one of the greatest movies ever made — provided that you watch movies for the same reasons I do — Point Break). The article, written by Barbara Kellerman of the Harvard Kennedy School, while it did make me snort a few times, made me come to an important realization: it’s more important for women to concentrate on gaining control of the entertainment industry than politics.

But first, let’s get back to what made me snort. Kellerman, apparently a sex discrimination and objectification apologist, claims that it’s:

… not that Hollywood dislikes women. It does not: films and females have gone together since the inception of the movie business. It’s just that even now, a decade into the 21st century, Hollywood wants women in front of the camera rather than behind it.

See? It’s all good, y’all. Hollywood may not value women’s abilities, intelligence, or artistic talent, but it likes looking at conventionally “hot” ones. Why complain that there aren’t enough female Best Boys when women dominate the Interchangeable Sex Object market? Come on, now. How can Kellerman make the claim that Hollywood doesn’t dislike women when “it” only allows them to play the limited roles it assigns them, when it requires that they perpetuate its own warped ideas about womanity (I love coining new words) if they want to participate at all, when it bars them from occupying any positions within the industry hierarchy from which they might gain the power to create entertainment that depicts women as human beings rather than formulaic rehashes of the temptress, girl next door, damsel in distress, or shrew archetypes? Sounds to me like Hollywood dislikes women and wants to make sure the rest of us do, too.

And then there’s this humdinger:

[I]t would be disingenuous not to point out [Bigelow's] decades-long relationship to James Cameron, the guru behind The Hurt Locker’s most obvious competitor, Avatar, and one of Hollywood’s all time heavyweights.

The fact that they were married for a couple of years a couple of decades ago has no apparent bearing on Bigelow’s emergence as a star director in her own right. But the fact that for years Cameron has been her mentor, as well as her apparently unwavering collaborator and champion, does. It’s anyone guess whether Bigelow could have made it so far on her own, notwithstanding her talent and drive.

Oh, SNAP! So, even when a woman finally does wrest a begrudging nod from the 90028 phallocracy, we have to give a dude credit for it, “notwithstanding her talent and drive” (whatever that means)? I wonder whether anyone, when discussing the garbage James Cameron has strewn across the cultural landscape, has ever bothered to pontificate on the various personal relationships that might have propelled Cameron to his current position atop the entertainment shit heap. Probably not, since when men make use of personal connections to get ahead, they’re just savvy, resourceful go-getters. But when a woman (or anyone who isn’t a white dude) does anything other than take some kind of melodramatic Russel Crowe-esque stand against accepting help from anyone in their struggle to measure up to standards set and enforced by these nepotistic networkers (I’m practicing my alliterations in the hopes that TruTV will hire me to narrate some “shit gone awry” clip show), everyone assumes that she — because naturally, being female, she lacks any true talent or skill — must have hosed her way up the ol’ ladder of success.

Not only does Hollywood dislike women, but I suspect that Kellerman, though possibly unbeknownst to herself, might not be that big of a fan either.

Which brings me to the actual point: women need to get control of the entertainment industry (and its controlling boyfriend, the advertising industry) or else, and it ought to be our foremost goal, possibly even taking precedence over political representation. Whether we are pumped about it or not, the entertainment and advertising industries make up the bulk of our culture, and culture, though it is an excuse for nothing, does appear to underlie everything. The entertainment industry, news media included, shapes and directs public opinion on nearly everything, including and especially gender roles. We’re surrounded by the entertainment industry’s influence nearly every second we’re awake, and it probably plays a larger accumulative role in forming our ideas of self, other, and society than any other influence. If women were to gain control over at least half of that industry and its output, and if that control were to result in kinder, more sympathetic, more realistic, or just plain less hateful representations of women, the effect on our culture would be striking.

Equal representation in politics would be great, but the only way that will happen without a massive reduction in societal misogyny would be through the use of a quota system. Whatever your views on affirmative action or our purportedly individualistic and meritocratic political system, that isn’t likely and would probably lead to the kind of social backlash I’m not interested in learning the details of. It may very well be that the only way to ensure women’s interests are represented in politics is to create the kind of culture in which women’s views and political participation are seen as desirable and necessary to the functioning of society, and the only force in the world with the power and reach to propel us toward that reality is the popular media. Blogs ain’t doing the job. The corporate entertainment industry shut down any potential that the independent media efflorescence of the early to mid 90s offered. No one cares what the local booger punk band thinks. A popular entertainment media takeover by women is the only solution.

But then we’d have to rely on the kinds of women who give a shit about getting ahead in Hollywood to represent our interests to the public, you say? Yes, it’s a lesser of two evils situation, to be sure, but at least women can identify with women as human beings like themselves and would be less likely to make yet another horror movie in which young attractive women are tortured to death for the titillation of teenage misogynists or yet another boob comedy. Without looking it up, I can guarantee you a woman didn’t write or direct American Pie. Sure, I’d like to see something a little more radical than a gradual, piecemeal amelioration of women’s systemic oppression, but until I write my treatise on how to create an anarcho-communist utopia in which beer is blue and tastes like flowers and Cadbury Creme Eggs are sold year-round by peaceable means, I’ll have to stick to offering my thoughts on how to change things from within the cruel system in which beer tastes like beer and I ate my last Creme Egg last night. For now, I’ll take what I can get, and this seems possible. Just think, with a popular media that portrayed women as human beings rather than either syrupy, kissy-faced angels or conniving whores, maybe Barbara Kellerman would be able to measure women and men by the same standard and either give women credit for their achievements without disclaimers about the personal advantages they enjoyed, or call attention to the far more numerous social, economic, political, and personal advantages most men enjoy.

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