A Quick Note on Brother Brett

Quick. Does anyone know a single person who is so dedicated to the goals of a national political party that they would willingly place themselves between a rabid, violent mob of anti-abortion zealots and their holy grail? The idea that Dr. Blasey has fabricated her accusation simply to further the goals of the DNC — in spite of the catastrophic consequences to herself, her career, and her family — is absolutely fucking ridiculous.

But about ol’ Brett.

To sum up yesterday’s performance by the Phil Hendrie character who has been nominated to the Supreme Court:

I came away knowing four things about Brett: he played some serious JV ball, he’ll rape anyone he wants to and kick anyone’s ass who dares to mention it, he wants to see the goddamn manager immediately, and the boy fucking loves beer.

I mean, for real. If you took a shot of beer every time Kavanaugh expressed his enthusiasm for drinking beer during that hearing, you would have been as wasted by 4 PM as he was when he tried to rape Dr. Blasey.

It almost doesn’t matter how credible Dr. Blasey’s testimony was (extremely); Kavanaugh demonstrated yesterday that he isn’t intellectually or temperamentally qualified to make a decision about anything save a fantasy football draft.

Brett is an unhinged, wrathful sports hick who is most definitely a rapist (and likely a serial one) and lacks the judiciousness required of an ATV salesman. He delivered his opening statement with the acuity, spittle, and panache of a shitfaced wrestler. Ron “Tater Salad” White — with zero preparation or prior knowledge of the details of the case — could have responded on Kavanaugh’s behalf to the questioning he faced with more grace and eloquence than he did. He either didn’t bother to prepare for questioning at all — in which case he’s winning an unwarranted arrogance contest with Tekashi 6ix9ine — or he did and he’s just a fucking belligerent dunce.

What’s surprising isn’t that Donald Trump nominated this middle-aged frat try-hard or that the contemporary GOP plans to follow him straight to hell. It isn’t even surprising that he managed to wend his way through Yale Law and onto a federal bench (the boys’ club is real). What’s truly shocking is that, after that performance, there remains a single person who can think of him as anything other than the peewee football coach you wouldn’t allow your kid to play for.

I don’t know where this guy belongs, but it’s closer to angrily slamming 32-oz mugs of Pacifico by himself at a corner table at the bar of a Ruby Tuesday than it is to a Supreme Court seat.

I could go on for a few thousand more words, but it’ll have to wait.

The Object and the Missing Subject, the Effect and the Missing Cause (Part 2)

Last week, while I served as the designated driver for my mom and her two best friends, one of those two friends — a self-proclaimed football fanatic — apropos of zilch, brought up the statement Jamie Naughright made on Inside Edition back in October recounting a 1996 incident in which Peyton Manning sexually assaulted her. My mom’s friend was incredulous, wondering aloud, “Why would you bring up an incident from twenty years ago? Why didn’t she report it back then?” She was clearly under the impression that no such assault had ever occurred.

My initial mental response was, “Bruh, are you fucking serious right now?” But I played it cool and informed her that, not only had Naughtright reported the assault immediately after it occurred, but she was also awarded a settlement from the University of Tennessee over the incident because it actually happened. I also regaled her with eye-witness tales of Manning’s behavior during his stint as the King of UT; he made a habit of attending frat parties with a posse of members of the UT defensive line, where he would approach women who were with their boyfriends, grab them by the crotch, and then turn to those boyfriends (he apparently didn’t bother to address the female victims’ reactions) and say, “What are you gonna do about it, faggot?” and walk away laughing. (Sue me, bro.)

This is all a bit of a digression. I mean, it’s obvious that Peyton Manning is a psychopath — if for no other reason than the fact that he bros down with Papa John Schnatter, who is clearly a serial killer — but Shaun King has already addressed that fact and this case at length. What struck me was this woman’s baseline assumption that the victim was a liar, an assumption based on the incorrect and irrelevant belief that a significant chunk of time had elapsed between the “alleged” assault and Naughtright’s decision to report it, when in reality she had simply decided to revisit it in the context of the accusations against Harvey Weinstein and the nascent #metoo movement.

This lady ain’t no outlier. Though things have improved slightly with the emergence of the ubiquity of sexual harassment and assault as a topic in mainstream discourse, it remains the case that victims of assault can and should expect to be met with suspicion at a minimum — and more likely with overt hostility — even from other women who have almost certainly had similar experiences. The barriers to reporting are all still firmly in place, and they include far more subtle and disappointing discouragements than the cop who shames a victim for not wearing a burqa or having had the temerity to drink in public, or the attorney who defends his client by framing the victim for the crime of trollopdom.

I could make a bullet-point list of those forms of discouragement, but that would make for boring reading, so I’ll go with another bit of gruesome personal experience instead. In part 1 of what is apparently going to become a stream of trauma vomit, I described a series of incidents that were a “four on the ‘most fucked up things that happened between the time I grew boobs and turned 22’ scale.” The following is maybe an eight, so if you’re squeamish, stop reading now and go watch this instead.

In the late spring of my sophomore year, just as the flood of bullshit I recounted in the prior post had begun to recede, I went on a Memorial Day weekend camping trip with my best friend, Randy (his real name) and his older sister, Molly (not her real name), who was eighteen. It took some serious maneuvering to convince my parents to let me go, maneuvering that included Molly coming over to the house to assure my parents that she would watch over us fifteen-year-olds with the vigilance of a horse charged with the care of a dog. What she didn’t mention was that there would be three more campers in attendance — friends of hers who were all dudes aged eighteen to twenty — by the names of Danny (not his real name), Mike (not his real name), and Justin O’Brien (his full real name, which I’ll go ahead and use since he’s dead now — details to follow).

I didn’t mention these three either, naturally, as I knew it would be an instant deal-breaker and I had no plans to hang out with any of them anyway. My only plans included Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor and tubing in a river with my BFF, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Molly had recently been spending less of her time with the usual carousel of surf bros I encountered when I was at Randy’s house and had taken up with Justin, a wigger who dabbled in Chicano culture by means of calling other white guys “guetto.” She had a huge crush on him, which she had confided to me on multiple occasions and which I didn’t really get. He brought Mike, another guetto who fancied himself a cholo, which he at least had a slight claim to by dint of dating the only chola in town whose bangs were teased and lacquered so high that they had to back her up a foot for her yearbook photo. Let’s call her Daniela. The third member of their crew, Danny, was one of about five black guys in town and was the older brother of my best friend from junior high, so I knew and liked him, unlike these other two clownish strangers.

Justin, as wiggers/poser cholos are wont to do when in the presence of a black guy or a Chicano, spent about half of his time making racist jokes to prove to someone that he was so down that he could insult people to their faces without getting his ass kicked. It was real clever crossover shit, too, like calling Danny “La Beno,” which he repeatedly explained was Spanish for “Uncle Ben,” the rice brand with a photo of a black guy on the box. I doubt he realized he was tacitly calling Danny a faggot by using the feminine article, given that he didn’t even know the Spanish word for “uncle,” but I’m sure he would’ve been jubilant had he known that he was being permitted that offense as well.

So, one Saturday morning, we all set off in Molly’s car for an Indian reservation about an hour from home. We had to stop along the way to fill two coolers with various malt liquors, of course. Despite the fact that I was only fifteen, I was the only person in the car with a reliable liquor store hook-up, so they sent me into Sami’s Liquor with all their money and orders to spend every dime of it, and to make sure I bought a twelver of Coors Banquet and at least six 22s of Cool Colt, a short-lived menthol-flavored variation on Colt 45 released in the early 90s.

I’m dilly-dallying here, aren’t I? We got to the campsite, didn’t set up a fucking thing, and started drinking at around 1 PM. Being a teenage lightweight, I was absolutely wrecked by 3, my tubing plans scuttled by my inability to walk. All I could do was sit at the picnic table, smoke cigarettes, and slosh my head back and forth to convey my unwillingness to pull my shirt up each time the request was made by Justin or Mike. (Danny didn’t make any such requests, but I can’t say why definitively.) I’m not sure where Randy was, but I announced that I had to find a place to pee, and Mike offered to escort me to the bushes about a hundred yards away and act as a lookout. That ain’t what happened. The details are hazy, so that’s all I’ll say on the matter.

I stumbled back to the picnic table and told Randy I wanted to go somewhere else, so we went and sat on a rock and continued to drink. I didn’t say anything about what had just occurred, and he didn’t ask. (I wasn’t privy to the conversation that occurred ’round the picnic table until I heard tidbits later third-hand, but I’m sure I could recreate it with about 99% accuracy without having to ask anyone who was there.) When the sun went down, we wandered back to the area where we were ostensibly to sleep and attempted to figure out how to set up a tent while drunk in the dark. I gave up quickly and slumped at the picnic table, leaving everyone else around a fire someone had built about 75 feet away while Randy and I were gone.

A few minutes later, Justin wandered up to me at the picnic table, pulled his dick out, and stuck it in my face, making a verbal demand I don’t suppose I need to quote. I put my hand up to shield my face, started crying, and told him to get the fuck away from me. Instead, he pulled the side of his hoodie out so as to obscure the finer visual details of what was happening and began a pantomime designed to make it appear to everyone sitting around the campfire that I had acquiesced to his demand, while I continued to sit there, cry, and shield my face. I was too afraid to look, much less get up and walk away. He eventually went back to the campfire, and I went and hid in the car for the rest of the night.

The next morning, Randy told me Molly was incensed that I had “stolen” Justin. I had spent the prior day drinking, hadn’t slept for one second, and was in such shock that I couldn’t speak. I just went to the cooler, took out all of the remaining Mickey’s, and returned to the rock I had been sitting on with Randy the prior afternoon. He followed, we drank ourselves stupid, and we woke up the next morning to get back into the car with these four to go home. Once I got there, I was still completely befuddled and couldn’t handle being alone in my room, so I went over to Randy’s house to try to talk to him about what had happened.

Molly was home, but her three escorts had since departed. Molly and her friends, all girls 3-5 years older than I was, had — due to my red hair — called me Pippy since I was twelve. That’s not terribly clever, but it was better than what Molly came up with when she saw me that afternoon: Pimpy. This goddamned fool was under the impression that I — not the two dudes who were three and five years older than I was — had been the instigator of two incidents of sexual assault. She was sure my plan had been to blow her crush all along, and she was fucking furious and vicious about it. I stayed in Randy’s room.

Later that night, Justin came back over and joined her in calling me Pimpy. I nearly lost my fucking mind. Randy went into Molly’s room and asked them both politely to stop, to no avail. I continued to hear calls of “Pimpy” through the wall that separated Randy’s room from Molly’s until I got up, went into the room, and screamed at Justin that, if he didn’t tell Molly the truth about what had happened at the picnic table — that I had not, in fact, sucked his dick in front of five other people — that I would go into the kitchen and find an instrument with which to murder him. Miraculously, he did, but it didn’t matter. That was the least of my problems.

School resumed the next day, and I walked into a class I attended with Daniela, Mike’s girlfriend and younger sister to one of my best friends, who was also in the class. Before I saw her, that friend came over, sat down next to me, and quietly told me that Mike had told Daniela that he had “cheated on her” with me and that it was all my fault. I couldn’t fucking believe it. I mean, I guess Mike had to know that Justin and Molly weren’t going to keep their mouths shut, so he did what any rapist with a sense of self-preservation would do, but I was gobsmacked.

I didn’t get much time to process my confusion, however, because Daniela was already striding across the room toward me, her right arm raised in the air. I knew what was coming, so I got up and prepared to defend myself, though I sucked at fighting due to lack of experience. All I knew how to do was grab her by the hair and duck her blows. I have no idea how long it went on for, but by the time our illustrious teacher, Mr. Toma (his real name), bothered to stop laughing and get up to separate us, I had a lock of her hair in each of my hands and we were both bleeding from the face.

The principal asked us what had catalyzed the fight. I refused to speak, naturally, and, to my shock, so did Daniela. We both got suspended for the remaining week of school, the principal and our parents convinced this was just another fight between a chola and a guetta. (It was a common occurrence. My friends in the class told me that Mr. Toma hung Daniela’s hair that I had pulled out over a trophy in the classroom, which didn’t surprise me as he was known for using the word “beaner” in a class chiefly populated by Mexican-American students.)

Despite having been suspended, both Daniela and I were permitted to submit our yearbook quotes. That year’s prompt was “last will and testament.” Daniela’s quote: “I leave my leftovers to ______ _______.” I don’t remember mine, and I don’t have a copy, but her sentiment was preserved for posterity in any case. There are copies of it in the basements of lord knows how many of my friends and acquaintances.

The school year was over, so I assumed I would at least be spared the indignity of being called a whore in public for several months, but no dice. Daniela had my phone number and my parents’ phone number, and she made liberal use of both at all hours of the night. I told her brother what had happened, and he believed me and tried to intervene, but what teenage girl is willing to believe her boyfriend is a rapist? She came over to the house one night and destroyed about $5000-worth of headlights, tires, fenders, and windows on my mom’s car. The following morning, my parents came into my room to angrily ask me what the fuck I had done to bring all of this on myself.

I was so stuffed with shame and fear that I couldn’t speak. I wasn’t indignant. I had begun to think that, had I not gone, had I not gotten drunk, had I asked Molly to take me to pee, had I known the difference between chivalry and predation, had I resisted more, had I been a fucking taekwon-do master, none of this would have happened.

Mike wouldn’t have been bragging to Justin and Danny that he had ejaculated in me, putting me at risk of disease and pregnancy, Justin wouldn’t have been emboldened to approach me at a picnic table and stick his dick in my face in front of a crowd, Molly wouldn’t hate me, I wouldn’t have gotten into a fist fight and been suspended from school, my social life and reputation wouldn’t have been destroyed, my parents wouldn’t have received hundreds of phone calls’ worth of inchoate and profane screaming, my mom’s car would be intact, my parents wouldn’t suspect me of having done something so terrible that it warranted the kind of retaliation one usually only sees in response to a fucking murder, and everything would be as relatively cool as it had been once the furor over the last goddamn time this happened to me had died down.

If the object can’t see the subject, how the fuck can anyone else? The only common thread I saw in any of the misery of the preceding six months was myself, which is exactly what social conditioning had taught me to do. I wasn’t particularly easily cowed as a teenager, but I still started to think that — if people kept doing things like this to me — maybe I wasn’t worth better treatment, and maybe I couldn’t expect any better. Maybe this was just how shit was. From whence would I have gathered the fortitude and certainty to report any of this to my parents or the police?

I suppose I could saunter into a police department today and report Mike for rape, but I’m not going to because it would be 100% pointless. As a joke, let’s say I did. First of all, the statute of limitations on rape in California is ten years, and this happened in 1993, so they would tell me to piss up a rope. Even if that weren’t the case, can you imagine the questions I’d be asked?

Cop: Why are you reporting this now, as opposed to right after it happened?

Me: Well, when it happened, I was a teenager, and I was afraid and didn’t understand what had happened to me. I was also afraid my parents would find out I had lied about who was going camping and that I had been drinking.

Cop: Oh, so you were drunk. Are you sure you didn’t just have consensual sex you regretted later?

Me: I’m sure. He had a girlfriend and I was friends with her brother. I also didn’t like him.

Cop: Are you sure you aren’t just saying he raped you because you are ashamed that you slept with your friend’s boyfriend?

Me: She wasn’t my friend, her brother was. I didn’t sleep with him, he assaulted me. I was fifteen and wasted and he was twenty and close to sober. Isn’t there a law about intoxication and consent? Aren’t there statutory rape laws?

Cop: Was there a struggle? Do you have photos or evidence of bodily damage?

Me: There was, and there was damage, but I didn’t have the clarity of mind to document them because I was a scared child, not an SVU detective.

Cop: Well, this will be a hard one to prove. Also, this guy may have a career and family now. [Wrong. He’s still a fucking loser. But who cares?] Are you sure you want to disrupt all of that?

You get the point.

Twelve years later, at Randy’s wedding, I asked Molly what the fuck she had been thinking, and she apologized and responded that she had been in love with Justin and that she was angry that he “chose me” over her. I responded with a barrage of incredulous recriminations, aghast that she would be angry that he chose to assault me instead of her, that she continued to believe the story he propagated despite the fact that I had forced him to tell her the truth. It was easier for her to blame me than confront the idea that she was in love with a cretinous monster, and she probably continued to believe it until he did something similar to someone else and her boyfriend stabbed him to death nine years after he did it to me.

The demand that women — and teenage girls especially — report sexual assaults despite the socially-inculcated certainty that they are always somehow at fault and won’t be believed by anyone is a cruel and calculatedly dishonest trap set by men who benefit from under-reporting and by women for whom the recognition of what men think of us and the ubiquity of what they do to us is simply too much to bear. It’s such a juggernaut of psychological violence and intimidation that I’m flabbergasted when anyone actually does report an assault.

The task of raising girls with the self-esteem and self-assurance required to recognize mistreatment for what it is seems impossible given the systemic misogyny of a society that refuses to acknowledge or confront the depravity it foments in boys and men, but that’s not the whole of it. When women absorb the idea that other women are untrustworthy foes in the contest for male attention and approval, who are girls supposed to turn to for help when men hurt them? When the whole of a society operates under the assumption that all girls and women are manipulative and dishonest and that men are straightforward and reliable, there is no safe harbor.

“Believe women” is a cool slogan and all, but how the fuck are we supposed to make it happen?

The Shape of Stuff to Come 

I’ve been absent for, like, years. I apologize to anyone who cares. I promise, I wasn’t just sitting around smoking DMT and listening to Power Station (at least not the whole time).

What actually happened is that we moved overseas to open a business and ended up embroiled in a legal lutte à mort with some fucking Trent Reznor idolator who was willing to ruin his entire life in a failed attempt to ruin ours. Since that Single White Female-esque situation is ongoing, I won’t say anything else other than this: beware the pointlessly destructive spite of the delusionally arrogant.

Just when that literal travesty began to turn around, I found out my dad (a life hero of mine despite the fact that he’s male) has stage-four lung cancer. In sum, life of late has really — as the Chinese say — knocked my dick in the dirt. It didn’t leave much time for blogging unless I wanted to turn this site into a whiny public diary or a long-form version of one of those Facebook posts that are broadcast to 1057 people but designed to be read by only one of them.

Being overseas also left me feeling out of touch with the American political landscape and enmeshed in the petty local corruption and wide array of societal dysfunctions in my new home country, which would probably be of little interest to the average reader (at least of this site). But now that I’ve been here in Don’t Tread on Me, Oregon for six months helping my family, I’ve found myself with the spare time and observational attention span to re-engage with something or other. Still, I didn’t write anything until I dashed off that blurb about Hugh Hefner the other day because I’m paralyzed by what feels like an insurmountable political/philosophical conflict. (I’m not deluded enough to think it’s anything novel, though.)

In sum, we’re fucked. People are too stupid and mean to survive as a species. There’s no escaping the reality that is unfurling before our eyes. There may at one point have been a moment at which that fate had yet to be sealed, but the ol’ Rubicon has been crossed and the plane has crashed into the mountain and the shit has hit the fan and the ship has sailed. I am convinced — even if Vandana Shiva were made dictator of the Earth tonight — that we couldn’t turn this project around.

Political culture in the US is so fucking ludicrous now that I almost can’t believe it’s real. The coming Civil War (I mean, there’s obviously going to be one) is going to feature Pantera roadies and MRA pillow-fuckers shooting AR-15s at Against Me! fanbois and crying furries wielding nothing but Judith Butler essays.

If there was a plot, it’s been lost. I wandered away in 2014 and came back in early 2017 to find that Jay and Silent Bob have taken over every position on the political spectrum and that the culture makes as much sense as a sentence written by William S. Burroughs read backwards. Literally everyone is on drugs, be it amphetamines, opiates, benzos, or some combination thereof with fashionable hallucinogens, and it’s showing like a dick on a forehead.

Contemporary reality has stripped me of any hope that global capitalism or patriarchy can be stopped. You know what’s required for someone to get a grip on a system as vast and insidious as global capitalism or patriarchy? A healthy mind that has been taught to think broadly, critically, three-dimensionally, and empathetically. That’s a rare confluence anywhere on Earth. It’s a goddamned miracle in the US.

Still, I’m not one of those expats who will tell you that people who live in developing countries could teach Americans a thing or two about living simply and in harmony with nature. They could, but that isn’t the point. Lose the NFL, level-nine consumerism (Japan is on level ten), political clownery, wanton environmental destruction, and jingoism, and the US doesn’t compare that badly with most other places. It’s kind of illegal to rape or beat women and children here, at least.

The idea that we can approach a global critical mass of critical thought requires more optimism than I can muster anymore. So, how does one reconcile emotional political idealism with empirical political realism? I’ve come close to accepting the idea that human consciousness has been irretrievably corrupted and that I ought to assume the worst of everyone around me for my own safety. I’ve tried retreating from blathering on the Internet to focus on being kind to people who need and deserve it in the course of my daily life, but that doesn’t feel like enough. I have zero hope that the world won’t implode in short order, but I also feel immoral and irresponsible for having retreated from it. Re-entering the fray seems simultaneously necessary and pointless.

I’m sure it’s just a phase.

Pussy the Restaurant opens in LA. No one surprised.

The period from 1997 to 2002 was definitely the nadir of American culture, and there was no worse place to witness the depths of stupidity the entertainment industry was able to inculcate in the public than Los Angeles. I lived there from late 1998 to 2004, a period that saw half the city’s population face the dilemma of whether to set oneself up at one of the infinite points along the Swingers-to-rockabilly continuum or to shoot all the way past rockabilly, buy a stupid hat and an early model convertible sedan, and get down with the Rob Zombie/Sunset Boulevard Guitar Center/Dave Navarro scene. The other half had to decide between house music and trance. It was real  fucked up.

Don’t do an image search for “Swingers.” Trust me.
It’s just like the 50s, only, like, more “punk”!
“Man, we owe everything to Rob Zombie and Nikki Sixx.”
For god’s sake.

The music scene in town consisted of geriatric swaggarts like the members of Velvet Revolver in leopard printed rayon shirts and flavor savors attempting to resurrect the late-80s hair metal scene for audiences with excessive tattoos who were there the first time and were having just as hard a time as the bands were letting it go; bands made up of other geriatric swaggarts attempting to latch onto the rap rock fad in order to try (and fail) to avoid irrelevance; dance clubs that made the ones in Night at the Roxbury seem sophisticated; and a few bands attempting to create an LA “indie sound” out of the derivative dregs of other cities’ dead garage rock scenes.

Tommy Lee with Methods of Mayhem, best known for the 2000 track “Get Naked.” If you can find a picture of someone looking like a bigger asshole, I’ll give you a million dollars.

I suppose it could have been worse. I could have lived in a suburb somewhere outside of California where people were paying money to see the Barenaked Ladies and the Fun Lovin’ Criminals. I could have been aware that the movie The Big Hit existed. Instead, LA afforded me the chance to avoid knowing anyone who talked about attending Woodstock ’99 or thought the Deftones were the most countercultural shit out, but at a fairly high price: living at the center of the production of the means for national befuddlement, a center to which women and men flocked from all over the country to humiliate themselves in order to participate in that befuddlement.

The late 90s and early 00s witnessed the rise of totally pointless and absolutely thoughtless raunch in nearly every realm of popular culture, as evidenced even in movies like Election that (Davetavius claims — and I doubt) had the potential to be clever but were ruined by disappointing, demoralizing sexual references that were neither necessary nor clever, and were more often than not cruel (and I can’t think of a single other movie released in those years that anyone could even claim had the potential to be clever). Everywhere one looked, there was a video of Fred Durst telling someone to touch his balls and touch his ass, there was a clip of Tommy Lee porking Pamela Anderson, there was a Hustler mega-store opening up next door to Tower Records, there was a guy coming up with a novel way to make himself rich off of the misguided desires of young women for attention in a world in which celebrity was morphing into the only worthwhile pursuit in life and something that one gained by any humiliating means necessary. The tsunami of degrading stupidity that we now find ourselves drowned in started in LA, and I was there, man. I totally saw it all happen. I wish I could say that about something other than the beginning of the era of  the contemporary wave of cultural pornography saturation, but alas…

Like I said, it was real fucked up. Fucked up to the extent that even the efflorescence of hipsterism from 2002 until the time I left town was a relief. I’ve been back here and there since, including for a bit of an extended stay last summer, and it has changed some. The exuberant embrace of Larry Flynt as the city’s mayor of edginess has given way to a general acceptance among everyone in town of the fact that porn is everywhere and that even most of those who balked at the vulgarity of the Hollywood scene ten years ago have given up trying to beat anyone and joined. Few people still have the tolerance for the brazen idiocy of the Durst Era, which has caused the city to settle down a bit, but porn culture is insidious and has made itself at home in LA as a whole — rather than just Hollywood and the valley, as was the case before the mid 90s and the Internet porn boom — to such an extent that one can now treat one’s entire family to a fine dining experience at Pussy the Restaurant in the Century City Mall.

The Century City Mall, despite sitting at the center of the ugliest set of buildings below the Cahuenga Pass, is a fairly high end and comprehensive shopping and entertainment complex, but it was lacking an overpriced Porn Chic/Mexican fusion establishment. No more. Now there’s Pink Taco, a cutting edge LA Chicano culture-themed food studio miles in LA traffic away from both the Hustler “boutique” and the Seventh Veil, where one can indulge in drinks such as the Pink Panties and the Pinche Boboso (fucking creep) for only about ten dollars and score a taco platter in a city awash in excellent $1 tacos for merely $25, all while immersed in the Chicano-as-fuck ambiance created by lowrider bicycles, sad clown airbrush paintings, and (probably) waiters dressed as vatos. No one has ever accused any joint at the Century City Mall of sitting at the apex of sophistication (rather than tastelessly ostentatious wastefulness), but a restaurant named after a juvenile vagina reference doing so well there as to expand to the far more expensive real estate on the Sunset Strip ought to convince just about anyone that porn culture is, indeed, a reality. But don’t worry. Pink Taco loves women. (Sorry, I meant tits.)

You’re doing X in spite of Y. Right on. Now how about we remove Y so we can all do A through Z?

One cannot spend eight years reading books on historical esoterica and four years in graduate seminars on the subject of historiography without being forced to train oneself to maintain equanimity of facial expression no matter how many times one is confronted with the trendiest topic in contemporary social science: agency. It’s a trendy topic because it’s obvious and simple, and it allows graduate students who are short on time (and, often, motivation) to pretend they’ve thought carefully about a reading assignment by raising the objection that the historian has not given enough consideration to the “agency” of this or that group of people or has overstated the amount of agency that group of people was able to exercise. So, I’ll admit, of all of the feminist bloggers on the internet, I probably have the lowest tolerance for discussions of the concept of agency, both because I feel sorry for the dead horse and because there’s almost always an element of delusion, dishonesty, or intentional relativism in any agency argument.

The discussion of agency might make more sense in the realm of writing about history than it does in terms of feminism, mainly because there’s no real agreement on the role of the historian in society. Is a historian supposed to tell us how things got the way they are now? How things were at a given moment? Which things led to which other things? Are historians supposed to use the past to warn us about the present or the future? Offer moral judgments? As the belief that the scientific method is the only true means by which one can know anything has come to dominate western (and — at this point — global) epistemology, and as the belief that only “experts” with expensive and standardized training have the cultural and social authority to tell us anything (and even then, experts are only allowed to have opinions about the very narrow subject areas that they’re experts on), historians have moved away from making grand claims and toward attempting to explain “what it was like” at a given time in a given location while avoiding mention of what came before and after out of fear of being accused of teleological thinking or, even worse, stepping beyond the boundaries of their areas of expertise. They can be excused for that. The academy sets up false divisions between disciplines, geographical regions, time periods, and subjects of inquiry that one must tolerate in order to get the funding needed to read for a living. But what that has done to the field of history is fairly dismal. The world looks fragmented, patterns of oppression and violence seem incoherent and quite possibly unreal, economic exploitation appears disconnected from politics, women look like one percent of the population because that’s how much text ends up devoted to telling their story.

Unfortunately, those who write women’s history are often the worst culprits and are frequently guilty of focusing on agency to the exclusion of reality, telling us these women transcended the limits placed on women as a whole, these women resisted male oppression, or these women made lemonade when men gave them a truckload of horseshit and abuse. Usually, these women end up being an infinitesimal portion of the female elites of a given society who were able to exercise a small measure of freedom and write about it, leaving us with evidence that it happened. I’m all for celebrating women who break out of molds and resist, but not when the celebration covers up a reality that warrants mourning, a covering up that often occurs despite the fact that the broader, oppressive reality is cursorily acknowledged in the introduction to the book.

There’s a balance that has yet to be struck; how do we recover and acknowledge the voices and perspectives that patriarchy, plutocracy, and global capitalism have suppressed and silenced without losing sight of the overarching systems of oppression that left us with that dearth of competing perspectives in the first place? Is it more important to recover those perspectives, or is it more important to call attention to the systems of oppression in order that we might move toward taking them down? Do we focus in on individuals exercising agency in a system that’s fucked, or analyze and critique the system itself?

I’m going with the latter, both as a historian and as a feminist, not because I don’t think the former is important, but because the former, while it might make me feel warm and/or fuzzy, distracts me from the work that has to be done. And because, as a feminist, I’m not beholden to the same set of rules I am as a historian. Feminism needs totalizing theories, not micro-histories or anecdotes of individual agency. The fragmentation of knowledge and the emphasis on detail over systematizing theory is a key component in the continuation of capitalism, patriarchy, and human misery. Marx didn’t care whether one factory worker in Berlin said, “Hey, your theory doesn’t ring true for me. My life fucking rules!”

I’m often told that I rob people of agency by making statements that porn is bad, that rape is an epidemic, that stripping isn’t transgressive, that breast implants aren’t a form of empowerment. I’m tired of making those incredibly obvious statements anyway, but how exactly am I robbing anyone of their agency? I know it’s hard to face the idea that one’s agency is limited in a world in which we’re told we are all individuals with unlimited potential, but please have a look around. We operate within fields, as Bordieu would say, and within those fields, our agency is, in fact, limited. Not by radical feminists, but by those with enough social and cultural capital to set the terms of the field itself (which radical feminists do not have). I might ignore what agency you exercise within a fucked system and choose to focus my energies on the system itself, but I can’t rob you of agency or the ability to exercise it, only the system can. What does agency mean when it’s so limited by pre-existing boundaries? Why focus our energy on congratulating people for agency exercised within a limiting, oppressive social formation instead of calling attention to systemic oppression? Why allow seven women’s agency, especially when it plays into patriarchal oppression, overshadow three billion women’s reality?