Combating Dystopia.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

In Which We Actually Have to Discuss "Reality Television"...

I would have liked to go my entire adult life without having to stoop to discuss "reality" television in any real seriousness. Class this morning focused on gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and ...almost the moment I started breaking down the variations in sexual orientation a woman raised her hand and made a long commentary about the "Real World".

I was more than a little aware of the story. It's been pretty well covered by gay-friendly entertainment blogs. (Heck, if we're to be honest, I used to have a subscription to the site he was on when I was in college...yes, I've seen the person in question naked in real time) If ever a story showcased both the casual affirmation of Kinsey 3's and 4's behaviorally, and the rigidity of the operationalization of sexual identity its this one.

Here's how sexual identity and societal expectations regarding both gender and sexuality can differ drastically. Dustin Zito is young, and apparently identifies as straight. At some point in his recent past, he did some modeling for FratMen- a site that cherry picks young, brawny "All-American*" college aged men to leer and pose suggestively and exude virility and hyper-masculinity (otherwise known as pseudo-"heterosexuality") while at the same time winking and posing for the objectifying gay male gaze at a rather expensive membership charge.
(*read-ambiguously European/"White"-a definite conversation for another post) Essentially, to pander to the archetypal fratboy motif.

This eventually morphed into a webcam centric website where scores of the guys would move to a building and basically fulfill vaugely homo erotic fantasies for the viewership- the lionshare of whom were likely male and identify as gay-which proved to be very marketable despite its softcore tease approach and the coyness with which all of its "actors" presented their sexualities. The professed sexual identities of the participants ranged from the staunchly heterosexual whilst playing around with a more mailable "boys will be boys" wink and flex. And its much this way with the sexual identities of "gay for pay" sex workers; many of whom identify as heterosexual in their personal lives whilst being behaviorally "gay" in their semi-professional one. Its a particularly old story when it comes to profitability and porn, but it speaks a great deal to the variation that exists within ranges of sexual behavior and the operational definitions that we so imperfectly use to define them. This all dovetails nicely with the now timeless Kinsey research, as most people tend to fall in the central limit of the bell curve distribution regarding their sexual reality and merely conform to the social expectations about the sexual identity they've adopted beyond that. In other words, what people do when it comes to sexual experiences and attractions and what people SAY they do, vary wildly. This is rooted in stigma and the archly homophobic social controls that sanction even the merest indication of same sex attraction, but the effects provide a profound and troubling distortion in cultural behavior and identity.

Cut to now, while the Real World, the "reality" show that started it all, indelicately stumbles its way through this incredibly complex social issue. It doesn't help that, Zito, perhaps as uncomfortable with his understanding of his own sexual identity, internalizes and displays when confronted about the prospect of having an openly gay roommate on camera open and abject homophobia. Those of us who were both familiar with the "character" Zito was during his time with Fratpad and the "role" he's taken on while on the Real World were somewhat expectant of a "bisexual horror show". The anxiety and societal discomfort brought to bare on men who express the merest deviation from the presumption of masculinity can be searing in its intensity, but for a man who identifies as straight to admit to having had sexual contact with other men- for money- and then to present himself as heterosexual in our society a difficult pill to swallow.

In my experience, both sides of the Kinsey curve seem to reject the notion that bisexuals exist in earnest, or more aptly that people transition from attraction and relationships both of a sexual and an interpersonal nature from one gender to the other. So much so, that our culture tends to force the duality of adult sexuality as though its inherently inflexible. The lines in the sand are so fixed and associated so rigidly so early that we clutch our pearls when boys aged 5 paint their toenails pink. A lot of this is, as I've alluded to in other posts on the subject, rooted in the cold war propaganda wars that reinforced such hyper-conformity. The result on the individual is the sort of ineternalized self loathing, externalized homophobia and general purpose repression and denial so oddly showcased here. Zito confessed before others "outted" him that he was uncomfortable around gay people and alluded to them being predatory.

The result on the other "castmembers" seems to be outright and blatant homophobia. The girl he was seeing feels "betrayed" and questions whether she should be tested. The rest of the cast seems oddly insistant that his omissions are more damaging and egregious than they are. If we removed the specter of homosexual sex from this senario, would Zito suffer any stigma for incidental sex on camera for money? Likely not enough for people to feel "betrayed" by his not telling them sooner.

More amusingly, I don't find much difference in the "whoring" any of he and his fellow cast mates are doing on the Real World: Las Vegas compared to what he was doing..."showcasing" himself in underwear in a different house in LA. Both cases involve opportunistic, attention seekers looking for their next big break. And while the Real World cast seemed scandalized about the prospect of male/male sex, the next week's preview was all about two hawt girls making out. Ahhh, the mind boggles.

On a less bizarro-land note: Ra Ra Riot's newest album "the Orchard" is to die for. That is all.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lock Out- Homophobia and Sports Culture

A few thoughts spring to mind when I read a study like this on College Sports and Gay Athletes:

(1.) I really miss doing social research from time to time- especially the really relevant things like peeling back the social complexity of homophobia in entrenched "hypermasculine" environments,

(2.) The internalized self loathing involved in some of these stories is staggeringly difficult to read have been on the receiving end of it must be emotionally exhausting, I get why it would be safer to stay closeted for the entirety of one's career...but its inexcusable to put that sort of strain on people psychologically in the long term.

(3.) I really need to make a decision about what to do about school over the next month or so...burning the proverbial daylight.

(4.) I'm dubious about whether or not homophobia in sports is waining as much as the article suggests- I brought this up in class yesterday; or more aptly the scenario surrounding the Kobe Bryant "F-bomb" and the rationalizations were mixed and perplexing. Some students did the "he didn't mean the slur as a slur" rationalization, others , the "everybody in sports does it so it must be okay" argument, and still others the "people in the sub-culture (gay people) refer to themselves as f-bombs...if Kobe was gay would it matter?" *facepalm* We're going to have to reboot this discussion it seems...some of them are juuust on the verge of connecting to the idea that slurs and stigma have a purpose, and that purpose is fulfilled based on context.

I showed the group a few skits from the Chappelle Show, and am curious about whether or not they laugh AT or WITH the joke. Is the marginalized group "funny" or is it funny because racism is stupid? I'll update this as we revisit it in class tomorrow. Internalized self loathing seems a good place to begin. Fun times.

Some Sneaker Pimps to get the day going- "Low Place Like Home"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Little Boy Lost

Its a synopsis that, on paper, might not sound very appetizing. Sullen boy hustler, meets lots of boys, and realizes that the labyrinthine apartment building he's entered will not allow him to leave. He tells a string of white lies that come easily, and seamlessly becomes whomever is needed to please. Sex is art and art is business, and for the nameless hustler-cum-hero of the film his odyssey within the complex serves as both a walk through various aspects of the gay male experience and a subtle expression of how identity plays a very complicated role in the lives and attitudes of gay men.

The characters within the story itself could have easily been sordid one offs with little substance beyond titillation- and granted, this film isn't terribly shy about its subject matter-but it manages to strike several interesting chords despite this. As the protagonist moves cynically from room to room he encounters different men with different needs, the opportunist in him seeks to fulfill. Seemingly despite himself he takes away more from these interludes than a mere exchange of currency, as the film progresses he finds himself profoundly changed.

Several of the scenes I find quite telling, though on some level the mid-point with the aging flamboyant cokehead felt gratuitous and only served introduce a character that reappears later (somewhat poorly) and to explain to the audience that the protagonist is really a "hustler with a heart of gold" for playing along with his delusion that they were long lost friends.

One scene in particular where the film offers some interesting commentary on gay culture and identity, is when the cipher of a hustler is awkwardly approached by a young, doe eyed closet case who while bemoaning the flaming neighbors that live down the hall and stressing how "not gay" he is, offers to pay to perform various acts of fellatio on the guy. Almost intuitively, the Hustler-hero seems to know what role to take on. "I knew this was going to be some fag shit." He scoffs, channeling the homophobia that radiated off the john. The closet case quickly goes to work reassuring him that the act itself, is "not gay" and spins the rationalizations that soothe whatever self loathing that may be habitual when in perpetual denial. He then, with an eagerness that betrays such nonchalance, goes about getting what he needs from the protagonist. Its the post-coital that's the problem. He turns the hustler around with a look of clouded, frustrated rage in his expressive eyes and then unleashes the other poorly restrained emotions-rage and loathing- upon the recent and former object of his lust and begins choking the life out of him.

Its a familiar commentary, and one well explored from such a brief scene. The conflicted married man who walls himself up in pretense, clings to this protective identity that projects all of the things he's not. Masculinity, being "straight" ...all of that barely restrained disdain for the "fags down the hall". All of it the Lady, protesting too much. All of it the character trapped in his own fragile identity and unable to come to terms with that which he really is- and terrified of what that aspect of self represents or really means. Not all gay men are the prancing dandies he detests his neighbors being, nor is being attracted to men entirely incompatible with being a father and family man. I find that the more light of day that is shone on the realities of homosexual people- much the way Harvey Milk suggests- the harder it will be for individuals and society to mis-characterize people like this. The more out and honest gay men and women known publicly, the less angst and stigma that can be associated with being gay.

The bloodied and slightly less pretty Hero is saved by a squarish old man who stumbles upon the pair whilst doing laundry. The man takes the hero to his room, nurses his wounds, and proceeds to have an exchange with him about intergenerational gay issues, the hustler's own identity issues (He's "not gay-politically" and "likes sex with guys" but is disconnected from emotion). The wizened sage rattles off this line, which I feel encapsulates their exchange:

"You know, guys like me fought on the front lines [of the gay movement] so that guys like you could feel ambivalent."
"Still get punched though."

And its an interesting idea to unpack. The idea that a generation ago, gay men even in the Meccas were constrained and herded off in squad cars, were pushing for acknowledgement , speaking out against institutionalized cruelty and discrimination and becoming political. Its a sad part of any generational change in a civil rights movement of a minority group. The older generation pushes against oppression and stigma, engages in rallies and sit ins- while the younger generations argue for why "nigga" is a perfectly useful term because "nigger means stupid person in the dictionary". We ultimately become disconnected from the struggles of the recent past.

The mentor/mentee relationship between the pair is instantly tender and affable. It seems apparent the nameless hero has rarely been so exposed, has rarely let his guard down in so many ways.

The old warrior presses the boy about who he is and might not be allowing himself to be. On the idea love, he plants the seed that he merely may have not been" in love with a guy, yet" and that emotional connection may well be around the corner.

And perhaps the crowning moment of the story, which saves what could have been a very cynical piece about emotionally stunted hustlers and generic johns, the Hustler wanders the halls of this vacuous building and stumbles headlong into the depth and intimacy he was previously resistant to. He meets a boy who he finds he shares a powerful connection with despite himself. The boy learns to feel and think and becomes more completely connected to himself through the sequence of events that befall him. Through sex, salvation? Not the worst prospect in the universe...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The "Problem" With Pink.

inspired by: Joe. My. God.: J. Crew Ad Draws Wingnut Fire

I can't count the ways this is an overreaction. But perhaps its a worthwhile exercise in gender to try:

Much the way a 5 year old playing "Daphne dress up" on Halloween is no indication of a person's sexuality later on, painting a boy's toenails is not an automatic correlation with "the Gay". These are children. Gender roles, while powerful, are the first lessons many in a society learn...and every child experiments with the concepts as they are socialized into them. Many play, house and engage in role taking, emulate what they presume their parents roles to be etc. The "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" biological deterministic explanation for behavior is so grossly overestimated that its incredibly difficult for most people to tell where "Nature" begins and where social expectations/prescription ends. Hair length, apropriate style and length of clothing, norms associated with one gender or the other... socially perscribed and variable cross-culturally. If gender roles and behavior were fixed and inflexible (and if they were purely biological hardwiring) they'd be constant over human history. Our ideas on gender and gender identity vary from culture to culture and are incredibly subjective. Nail polish and the liking of a particular color has little bearing on a person's identity until society makes it so. The rabid associations being made in the media, and in the rest of society about boys and masculinity does a great to shape (and punish) "deviant" behavior and perpetuate homophobia. The vigor with which many seem to react to gender deviance underscores how pervasive adhering to gender roles are in our dear patriarchy. Boys doing anything remotely percieved as feminine is considered a loss of power. And given how much emphasis we attach to masculinity in our culture, its almost incomprehensible that any boy would want to "give up" his it becomes something that is done to him, or something his mother is responsible for in some Oedipal assumption...our society clings so strongly to gender typing that it finds this MINOR deviation at the age of five enough of a white knuckle panic attack that it launches a quick and decisive counterattack. On a 5 year old... clearly everyone's lost their minds.

This sort of histrionic terror of "feminization of boys" is rooted in Cold War Lavender scare propaganda and the people (over)reacting to this? Sad hangovers from this rigid socialization. Gender roles are very much just that. Which means they're negotiable and culturally defined. Not every boy has to play with guns and despise pink to identify as masculine. Its safe to come out of those bomb shelters and unclench already. There really are bigger problems in the world than a boy with pink nailpolish. What with the still record high unemployment rates, and this budget everyone seems quite content to feud over, you'd think we could find more important things to concern ourselves with collectively. Funny thing, those priorities.

UPDATE: Given the extreme importance of...everybody chiming in on how a mother raises her 5 year old. The View, and the perpetually clever Jon Stewart add their 22 cents.

Pilot Speed- Melt Into Walls

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"See What I Did There?": Rally Baiting and the So-Called "Culture Wars"

Its a story that seems oddly familiar for a reason. At a sign of potential social upheaval, polarized groups with vested interests on either side seek to- in classic assertion of conflict theory principles- seek to protect these interests. Under normal circumstances, this plays out in pretty draconian fashion; with those with stronger socio-political ties and robust networks having more powerful voices.

In the case of Unions, its an interesting thing to stop and consider, what with the admitted economic demands some state and city unions put on the taxpayer. (e.g-The Teachers union in Easton, for example has created some rather incendiary debate at local school board meetings) The debates in Wisconsin and pressed by pointedly anti-union Governors has been a matter of very unfortunate timing, as the 100 year anniversary of the Triangle fire, a tragedy that changed the way workers rights were discussed in America.

While it is impossible to accurately claim that all Unions are blameless, entirely benevolent entities, its also incredibly dense to suggest, even in passing, that on a organizational level unions have not done a great deal of social good. (The five day work week and the eight hour workday? Organized labor gains at its finest)

When union protests have occurred of late, we see a very rigid political divide where republicans and conservatives of all ilk are staunchly opposed to unions as a "glut" on we the taxpayer. Left leaners and union supporters tend to identify unions as social constructs that buffer the working class from the demands of the bourgeois. The overall utility and implications of unions is very much a public matter and therefore, worthy of public dialog.

What it isn't grounds for is grandstanding of this nature. Joe. My. God.: GOProud Vs. "Union Scum":

Short story here is that a pair of apparently earnest conservative college students go to a Philadelphia rally in the interests of "creating a dialog" (at least this is what they state on their self-congratulatory blog on the topic). Without question, dissenting viewpoint and counter-debate is of essential importance to any democratic nation, and under normal circumstances not at all out of place at a pro-union rally. But, what these two "brave" young students do here in waving a sign calling their political opposition "scum" and then pretending to be aghast at the "brutish" treatment upon doing so is the height of duplicity. It is reductive and essentialist to suggest that one can be shocked at anger and open hostility when their way to create such environments. What is more galling is the way these arguments are then presented: "Well of course my opponents are violent and thuggish, it vindicates my position and invalidates theirs." They can then smugly sit back and thumb their noses at the argument of the opposition on the whole.

What Mister Hissey and company have done here may seem passingly familiar, because another grandstanding conservative (better known as Terry Jones) on a quest to prove "those muslims" to all be the extremists he knows them to be. How does he go about proving this task? By doing something most people with a whit of political and cultural awareness knows will likely lead to an incitement of violence. The results are delayed, but not unsurprising.

Jones, 59, had considered the possibility that burning the text might elicit a violent response and that innocent people might be killed. In his characteristic drawl — a slow-motion delivery that seems incongruous with the church’s fiery rhetoric — the pastor said the church also debated whether to shred the book, shoot it or dunk it in water instead of burning it.

Jones and Hissey are within degrees, using the same playbook here. The economic/political/religious opponent in question is baited in ways that a thinking, rational person would likely think twice about, and when they react: "Obviously people from position X are thugish and inhuman and prone to violence, when we simply wanted to create dialog". That anyone could make such a claim while holding a "Union SCUM" sign is lightyears beyond me. But of course, the likes of Jones and Hissey won't let their culpability in these acts deter them from spinning it as a "win" for their column. Emboldened that they were "right" about their noting the inhumanity of their enemies. It is a ploy that is as utterly repugnant as it is transparent. It is neither "brave" nor worthy of encouraging to dance with a candle on a powder keg and then use it as a point of fact in your case. Its an argument and a ruse that deserves to be shouted down in every venue its presented in.

Monday, April 11, 2011

When We Say "Job Creation" What We Mean is...

I find it harder and harder still to find a Tea Party candidate who got into office on this "we're only interested in fiscal reform" platform actually doing much remotely concerned with the reviving the economy. When they're not hawkishly slashing prices? They're of course dutifully defunding NPR, waging wars against Planned Parenthood...which, according to Senator Kyl Falsely (which is a bit ironic when dealing with misleading statements THIS egregious) apparently is responsible for 90 percent of the abortions in the universe...or something. In short, its simply an out and out falsehood- there are even pie charts to underscore how overestimated this statement is (by 87% for those of you with math anxiety). But I suppose such a flagrant lack of concern with truth doesn't really concern most.

Beyond the increasingly obvious ruse of "create jobs and fix the budget" posturing lays one more "faith based" slight of hand after the next. I'm curious about the rationalizations that'll come about how this is relevant to either job creation or the budget... because as we've learned about "Tax Cuts for All" ...there's always a price to pay, and its usually on the backs of the ever-eroding middle class.

"Hey, here's a way to defend marriage, help all those unemployed spouses out there get a job. From AMERICAblog Gay we learn that the Republican chairing the hearing wants to impeach Obama (so what else is new?):

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), chair of the committee, has said President Obama could be impeached for his decision to drop his administration's defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court, and the upcoming hearing would likely represent his views.

In a March interview with Think Progress, Franks said he supports defunding the Justice Department if it doesn’t defend DOMA and added he would “absolutely” favor impeaching Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder if support for doing so “could gain collective support.”
Well, he's going to have to impeach a lot of other presidents, including GW Bush, and Reagan posthumously, because they did the same thing Obama did. The lies these guys spin. Just amazing."

Also for your listening enjoyment, the ever cute and clever Foals "This Orient". It might sweeten our collective moods after swallowing that sour pill.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mississippi still racist. In Other News? Water is still wet.

The fine folks of Mississippi's Republican Party, when polled (N=440) about politics and social issues expressed that 46% of them would prefer interracial marriage be illegal. Not shocking, but the implications are telling all the same...

Q14 Do you think interracial marriage should be
legal or illegal?
Illegal ..............................................................
Not sure 14%

Well, it just confirms the idea that unsurprisingly entire pockets of the deep south have through sheer force of will have managed to avoid reality and modernity. It further underscores a much more important idea: that left to popular vote, the ability or right for interracial couples to marry whom the see fit would- if 46% of the sample had its way, be illegal. The collective rights of the American people should never be left up to the musings of a popular vote, as the old biases tend to be pervasive regardless of whether or not we naively expect others to do the "right thing". The "Will of the People"(tm) is not always right or fair. It was, after all, only 1967 when Loving v. the Supreme Court of Virginia decided that Interracial marriage ought to be decriminalized. There are more than one types of American culture, some of which exist in the present, some of which pine for the days past. These sort of intra-generational divides I have a feeling will grow more pronounced as the Baby Boom generation advances. Gay marriage, interracial marriage, the sudden and xenophobic fear of all things sharia...all growing pains social conservatives can't bring themselves get out of the past long enough to see clearly... and seem desperate to counteract at the cost of the liberties of others.

(And the always great Arcade Fire, for your reading and listening pleasure. )

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Campus > Yours.

As a mildly underemployed adjunct, I've had the luxury of parusing a few community colleges around Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and on the whole am well pleased with the range and depth of the curriculum. The campuses? Not always sterling, but a bargain at any price. That said, here's a ranking of 10 community colleges that will likely out shine anything I'll ever teach at (Middlesex County College's main campus was pretty grand mind you) , but it bares consideration.

Also? British Sea Power is one of those bands I hear on occasion, am reminded I adore...and forget to add to my rotation. This track? Just perfect.