Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Good Job, Jerks.

I'm sure that everyone and her dog has already posted about this, but I'm really starting to feel that the whole Miers fiasco was a classic case of bait-and-switch. Step 1: Nominate a woman for the Supreme Court, on the condition that she must be completely unqualified. Step 2: Stand back and watch as the world rejects that woman. Step 3: Now that you've made an obviously doomed pseudo-attempt to place a woman on the Supreme Court bench, go ahead and nominate a man. Push the Supreme Court one step back into the past, where you and your party have always longed to move.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

"My great-great grandfather is not gay!" and other insightful criticism

Apostropher and Bitch Ph.D have both drawn attention to this article, a collection of one-star Amazon reviews of Time's 100 top novels.

Some of these folks actually seem to know what they're talking about. I really liked the review of The Grapes of Wrath: “While the story did have a great moral to go along with it, it was about dirt! Dirt and migrating. Dirt and migrating and more dirt.” But most of it is more in line with this review of Lord of the Flies: "I am obsessed with Survivor, so I thought it would be fun. WRONG!!!"

Saturday, October 22, 2005

$ = Voice. Sometimes.

According to Afro-Netizen, Dean, Kerry, and Bush all relied heavily upon campaign contributions by upper middle class white people. In fact, they actively solicited contributions from wealthy, predominately white neighborhoods. Both of our major parties lean towards the right (they say "middle," but the middle is steadily drifting toward wacko fundie-land), and both seriously undervalue people of color. Afro-Netizen is supporting a survey of black campaign contributors, to see where they place their financial support. I think this is a great idea, for many reasons, so I encourage everyone who can to pitch in.

Because playing the game isn't lazy enough

I just watched Jon Stewart's interview with The Rock. T.R. (or "Dwayne") was promoting his new movie "Doom," and he assured us that it would be "faithful to the game." Yes, that's right: apparently actual movies are just too hard to make, so they're just filming a damn videogame. The videogame shows a disembodied gun floating in front of some unconvincing CGI zombies; the trailer shows a disembodied gun floating in front of some unconvincing CGI zombies. Clearly, this will be worth $10 ($20, if you bring a date) and two hours of your life.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The right wing seems to be preparing a concentrated assault on the right to abortion. It seems like a good time for people who have had abortions to speak out of their experiences. I don’t know a single person whose experience with emergency birth control has not been marked by run-ins with extreme right-to-lifers, and it seems that our experiences may foreshadow the future of abortion in this country.

I never had a full D&C. I did have unprotected sex with my first boyfriend. I was eighteen years old, and I had just started college, and I had never come close to having sex with anyone before. He told me that sex without the condom would feel better, that it would prove I cared about him, that he was clean, that he would pull out – the usual. I was young. I was irresponsible. I believed him. And he didn’t pull out.

The next morning, I felt betrayed and angry, and I told him that I wanted to get the morning after pill. He just shrugged.

“If that’s what you want, I can drive you to Planned Parenthood,” he said. “It’s a long way from here, though. Are you sure you want to take this so seriously?”

I said no. Then I got dressed, went back to my dorm, and told my roommate K what I needed. We did some research on the Internet, and found that the nearest clinic with access to emergency birth control was three hours away. It was a clinic, and not Planned Parenthood, but I didn’t think there would be much difference – doctors were doctors, and they had to give you medicine if you were in need, right? We also found out that I needed to take the pill within seventy-two hours in order for it to be effective. That evening, we got into K’s car and made the long drive to the clinic.

I was treated by a sweet, efficient male doctor who asked a few relevant, impersonal questions and prescribed the pill easily, as if it were no big deal. After he wrote the prescription, he told me to go to the waiting room, where another doctor would deliver the pills and take my money.

That was the easy part.

After I had been in the waiting room for about fifteen minutes, a female doctor came out of the back offices and asked me if I was the girl who wanted the morning-after pills. I nodded.

“Well, honey,” she said, “I can’t give you those pills. I’m a Christian.”

She said this smiling, as if I were supposed to accept this, as if “I’m a Christian” was a perfectly reasonable excuse for refusing to give someone medical treatment.

“Oh,” I said. “Well, I guess I’ll just wait a few months and get someone to do it with a coathanger.”

She stopped smiling.

“You don’t understand,” she said. “To me, it’s the same thing.”

“How can you even call yourself a doctor?” I said. “How can you refuse to give people medicine based on your personal religion?"

“I am a doctor,” she said, nastily. “I’ve delivered babies.”

“Oh,” I said, “In that case, maybe I should deliver my baby to you, because if you want me to have it so badly I’m sure you won’t have any trouble feeding it and caring for it for the rest of your life, you bigoted Jesus-zombie bitch.”

I may have over-played my hand with that last part. She tossed me out of the clinic. In the parking lot, as she was turning away, I called out to her.

“What am I supposed to do?” I said. “You’re the only clinic in driving distance! I only have a few more hours!”

She turned to me.

“You should have kept your legs together,” she said.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

According to Bitch Ph.D, Harriet Miers has supported a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. I knew that girl was no good. And finally, there's a real and concrete reason to oppose her nomination (besides her utter lack of qualifications and her creepy relationship with W). Still, I suspect that if Miers is rejected, her replacement will be far more conservative.

Monday, October 17, 2005

I hate science fiction. I hate action movies, too. In fact, I hate pretty much any genre of film in which things explode on a regular basis. On the other hand, I love good writing, intelligent humor, postmodern genre-bending, and movies that can scare you without resorting to cheap tricks. "Serenity," Joss Whedon’s debut as a feature film director, has all of the above.

To get a few things out of the way: yes, “Serenity” is set on a spaceship. Its name supplies the movie’s title. Yes, there are cowboys in it, with horses and funny hats and old-timey dialogue. Yes, the movie also features “Reavers”, mindless zombie-like cannibals who can somehow figure out how to fly spaceships. No, that doesn't make any sense at all. But it's entertaining, and movies are ideally a form of entertainment. Whedon brings a refreshing, edgy pomo sensibility to his work, which elevates it from schlock to art. The plot is dorktacular ("sixteen-year-old girl is tortured by evil empire, becomes psychic action hero, fights space zombies; cowboys help"), but it’s self-aware, and tips its hat to every Western, space opera, and zombie movie in recent memory, while moving in directions that you’d never expect. Furthermore, I swear that you will be honestly moved by those zombie-fighting space cowboys. Things will explode, and you will care.

Whedon is a character-driven writer, and his protagonists are human in all the best senses of the word. The titular spaceship is staffed by seven people; they each have their moments, and their interactions are believably chaotic, intimate, and moving. River, the action girl, has a sweet, sheltered brother who can't stand to see her put in harm's way. Captain Reynolds, the Han Solo-esque hero, has an ex-girlfriend with intimacy issues, who just happens to be a sex worker. The other characters fit the conventions of the genres that Whedon toys with (dumb muscle, wholesome farm girl, stone-faced soldier, wacky comic relief) while they subvert them: the muscle gets the best laughs, the farm girl has a filthy mind, and the comic relief has the saddest moment of all. Stereotypes are just as much a part of science fiction as ray guns and "aliens" with prosthetic foreheads, but "Serenity" eschews all three. That’s what makes it special.

"Serenity" is in theaters now, but it's fading fast; movies like this, that take chances and thrive on word of mouth, are in danger from the moment they hit the screen. My advice: go now, and pay the insane ticket prices with glee, because movies that play to your intellect and your adrenaline are rare enough to pay full price.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Ariel Levy

"Female Chauvinist Pigs" is a big, messy, troublesome, exciting book. It doesn't take up much space on a bookshelf - it's only 212 pages long, including the notes - but in terms of its impact, it can be compared to the other Big Books of feminism, including Camille Paglia's "Sexual Personae" and Germaine Greer's "The Female Eunuch." Like Paglia and Greer, Levy talks back to feminism, addressing its perceived failures and asking for more. Unfortunately, along with Paglia and Greer, Levy often delivers old stereotypes in shiny new packages. Many of her would-be "radical" statements are just re-phrased puritan cliches.

Levy argues that the images of hetero pornography -- blonde, skinny/curvy, ultrafemme women performing for the male hard on -- have become mainstream. She also argues that, whereas straight pornography used to be an imitation of sex, straight sex now tends to imitate pornography. She cites women who perform pornographic tricks for men or present their bodies in a porn-o-riffic way (bleached hair, long nails, high heels, skimpy clothes, bodies exercised or altered to meet stereotypes of "hotness") without bothering to figure out what feels sexy or beautiful to them, women who are "sexy, but not sexual." And she blames women - women who, she says, watch "The Man Show" or go to strip clubs or consume mainstream porn in order to be "one of the guys," and to prove that they're not "prissy little women." Women who aren't performing the porn-femme are embracing a frat-boy aesthetic in order to win male approval; in either case, we're doing it for the boys, for a taste of their money or their power or their freedom. Rather than being a personalized, fluid expression of identity, gender is increasingly being locked into a mutually repressive, male-supremacist binary.

That portion of her argument is right on. But it's buried in messed-up generalizations, obviously skewed reportage, and heterosexism. She cites only the porn that fits her argument, and ignores the radical queer, feminist, and amateur pornographers who make porn that challenges conventional power dynamics and beauty standards. She devotes one chapter to young queer women, but she only acknowledges genderfucking and genderqueer people by claiming that bois are misogynist and femme-phobic and that many transgender men are "confused lesbians." (In a book filled with fairly offensive and inaccurate generalizations, this one ranks at the top of my list.) The rest of her book is devoted to the power dynamics of heterosexuality. It's also mostly about white people. Her book would have been much stronger, in my opinion, if she had consistently drawn correlations across the lines of race, gender, and sexuality. But for the most part she treats white, heterosexual culture as the only reality that exists, as if it were the only culture that could indicate anything important about gender relations. She says very little about straight men who feel oppressed by the need to "be men" or to embrace conventional "manliness." And despite her fixation on pole dancers - she mentions them obsessively, once every few pages - she interviews not a one. She has plenty to say about their motivations, about their looks, about their victimization, but she doesn't have much to say to the actual people who work the pole. For an author so obsessed with sexual performance and sex work, Levy doesn't engage with many sexual performers. She quotes sporadically from Jenna Jameson's memoir, holds a brief interview with feminist porn director Candida Royalle, and talks to a few of the performers at a "Girls Gone Wild" video shoot. The rest of the book, for the most part, is representation without interaction. This points to one of the key flaws of the book: Levy seems to feel that the sex industry is inherently, irredeemably dirty, and that anyone who participates in it or enjoys it is a woman-hater or a victim. Rather than wanting it to change, she wants it to go away. She does make some fairly compelling statements about women owning their bodies and their sexualities, rather than imitating a commercial brand of "hotness," but too much of her book seems to echo the famous second-wave idea that "if pornography is a part of your sexuality, then you have no right to your sexuality." Instead of offering alternatives, she corrals sexuality into a retro moralism.