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    Saturday, September 30, 2006

    More Critique of Katha Pollitt From the WMST-list

    If biological sexual dimorphism
    was just a social construction, we wouldn't be here. Reproduction
    counts for something. If some tiny percent of people are born
    biologically sexually anomalous, like the intersexed , why does that
    call biological sexual dimorphism into question? There are many
    genetic anomalies, like extra fingers and conjoined twins. But
    basically, people are born with ten fingers, and live in individual
    bodies. We don't go around saying, well, actually it's just the
    hegemonic discourse of digits that makes us think of people as having
    ten fingers. In fact, some have nine, some have eleven, some are born
    with no hands at all! Nor do we say, actually, physical individuality
    is another social construct-- look at siamese twins!
    What one does about genetic anomalies like intersex is a social
    decision, of course. But it's a different question than that of
    whether sexual dimorphism is a social construct in the first place.

    Katha Pollitt


    Yes, sperm+egg=baby, at least for the moment, though things just keep getting better. However, the fact that we are SO DEFINED by whether or not we most resemble those who carry eggs or those who carry sperm means that, socially, sex differences are constructed. What if we defined people into two groups based on another functional difference, say, ability to haul 150 lbs for a city block? We'd think that was bizarre. Well, why do we define people based on their assumed ability to play one particular procreative role? I mean, we carry groceries more often in our lives than we conceive children. [Well, there are probably some extremely rich ladies who lay around getting fertility treatments while their personal chefs buy groceries (or send their own assistants to buy groceries).]

    Also, those in disability studies might say that, in fact, the discourse about bodies is that everyone has ten fingers and toes and walks upright and has an individual, autonomous body. And that this is hegemonic.

    Get it?!!!

    On Fashion and Censorship

    Feminist bloggers seem pretty excited about Madrid's fashion week decision to "turn away underweight models after protests that girls and young women were trying to copy their rail-thin looks and developing eating disorders."

    "I think its outrageous, I understand they want to set this tone of healthy beautiful women, but what about discrimination against the model and what about the freedom of the designer," said Gould, Elite's North America director ...

    Until I started watching Project Runway, I'll admit that I didn't really see fashion designers as artists. They were kind of borderline to me. But now the idea of infringing upon their creative expression is anathema to me. Even if they wants walking clothes hangers. I know that it's only we Americans who seem to hold this as some ideal, but, well, I guess I'm holding onto our last shreds of goodness.

    Are You A Nerd, Geek, or Dork?



    Pure Nerd
    91 % Nerd, 34% Geek, 17% Dork

    For The Record:

    A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.
    A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.
    A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.
    You scored better than half in Nerd, earning you the title of: Pure Nerd.
    The times, they are a-changing. It used to be that being exceptionally smart led to being unpopular, which would ultimately lead to picking up all of the traits and tendences associated with the "dork." No-longer. Being smart isn't as socially crippling as it once was, and even more so as you get older: eventually being a Pure Nerd will likely be replaced with the following label: Purely Successful. Congratulations! Thanks Again! -- THE NERD? GEEK? OR DORK? TEST




    My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:








    free online datingfree online dating

    You scored higher than 99% on nerdiness






    free online datingfree online dating

    You scored higher than 99% on geekosity






    free online datingfree online dating

    You scored higher than 99% on dork points
    Link: The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test written by donathos on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test


    Saw it on What the hell is wrong with you?

    Weekend Homework

    Basically a nice sampling of what I've been reading:

    1. Superhero Worship in the Atlantic:

    Once the province of Garbo and Astaire, movie glamour now comes from Superman, Spider-Man, and Storm.

    2. Writers from the Telegraph UK debate, Can men write romantic novels?
    Should we even be having such a moronic conversation? Of course not. But, since we are, I must read it.

    3. CS Monitor's Stacy A. Teicher reports on the Higher Ed panel and their proposals.

    4. Stephen Metcalf's review of the new Greil Marcus sure makes me want to see for myself.

    5. Razib on Gene Expressions explains that story about the black and white twins and more. I'm a science-dummy, but I tried to hang, and ended up enjoying.

    6. And on torture and The Military Commissions Act of 2006:

    This is What Waterboarding Looks Like, Sayonara, Checks and Balances, and Why the Torture Bill Matters.

    I'll admit it: I'm an unpatriotic liberal right now.

    What I'm Thinking Today

    Awhile ago, and I wish I could remember where, people were batting around some statistics about how many Americans thought it was possible to come from poverty and become a multimillionaire in this country. These stats were meant to show how ignorant Americans are about class operations in their own country. But, if you answered that it wasn't possible, you were even stupider. Is it possible to come from poverty and become a millionaire? Well, duh, yes. I could give you a bunch of examples. It's just extremely unlikely and will take a fine combination of luck, ambition, and VERY hard work.

    There's something on the left that's blasphemous about saying that hard work can take people from poverty to millionaire because it smacks of the whole "up-by-your-bootstraps" thing we despise. But sometimes it's true.

    Some of us don't want to, or can't, work as hard as others. I might be able to compete with the bred-for-success-rich-kids I envy if I were willing to work night and day, but I'm not. So, middling success with middling income will have to do. And it will do.

    If I'd gone to Harvard and prep school before it, if my parents were so-and-so and so-and-so of the Easthampton So-and-Sos, blah, blah, blah, I could probably work a little less hard and be a little more successful. And that's what I'm whining about today.

    I worked hard for awhile to get where I am and I'm over it. I can't sustain a lifetime of striving for upward mobility. I think I only have the energy for middle-class-ness.

    At the very bottom, we talk about the people who have to work two jobs and are still on welfare, but we don't talk enough about how, for many folks, hard work pays off, (though it doesn't often make multimillionaires). And the next step: maybe not everyone wants to work hard and one should be allowed to expect a family, lovers, friends, must-see-TV.

    Thursday, September 28, 2006

    Rob Harvilla reviews American Hardcore

    There's something really satisfying about the fact that, after replacing Chuck Eddy, Rob Harvilla shows up at the Voice and writes stuff like this:

    ... In the end American Hardcore canonizes everyone you expect it to canonize (Bad Brains, of course, emerges as a mystical, overpowering, unstoppable force) and takes a few last-minute swipes at the Hot Topic–shopping chumps still flogging those dead horses at a Warped Tour near you. Even Harley, for all his optimism and boosterism—"If it wasn't for hardcore, heavy metal would have killed itself with hairspray and killing imaginary inflatable dragons and shit," he informs me—indulges in a bit of It Ain't the Same grousing . . . about New York City itself. For him the flick is a last glimpse at his old, dangerous, beloved Lower East Side. "I could give two shits about Manhattan at this point in my life," he says. "It isn't what it used to be, it doesn't have that same beauty, that same charm. It doesn't have that danger." ...

    It's really quite "meta". A real "fuck you" to all those nostalgia junkies who want their Village Voice the way they want their hardcore -- never-changing.

    Even if you kinda miss Chuck, you've got to admit Harvilla got your attention. I don't love everything he writes, but this one sold me on his necessity at the Voice.

    Criticisms of Garden State

    From Pandagon the other day:

    This article by Josh Levin has in it what could be, word for word, one of my better rants over an alcoholic beverage or two.

    Braff also uses pop songs as a cheat, an easy way to heighten the emotional impact of otherwise unremarkable moments. The music in Garden State is so load-bearing that the movie becomes ridiculous if you swap in different tunes—if you don’t believe me, check this out.

    I don’t have anything against using pop music in movies, but seriously, one of my pet peeves is a mediocre movie or TV show leaning on great music to salvage crappy scenes. The entire 60s oeuvre of Motown and Phil Spector have been particularly ravaged by this practice. The worst perpetrator was David E. Kelley on “Ally McBeal”—he took this practice to a whole new level of suck by using a relentless onslaught of 60s R&B and pop in an attempt to make the audience mistake their enthusiasm for the music for their enthusiasm for Ally’s miserable existence.


    One thing I absolutely cannot stand is the disrespect that, well, almost everyone shows to the notion of "form" or "medium". For example, my latest cross to bear is
    this phenomenon where, because of the popularity of documentaries, everyone who should really just be writing a magazine feature has decided to make a movie, but they don't make a movie, they make a 35mm (or, more likely, DV) version of a magazine feature that I would have enjoyed in Harpers, but can't stand when it pretends to be a documentary film.

    Ahem.

    I used to be in the dance world. It was common to discuss a choreographer's "reliance on score". The choreographers who were hot shots choreographed something and then found music for it. In fact, many were known to change the music from time to time for the same piece. Even in fucking ballet. I can't help but think the quote above is akin to that sort of bizarre snobbery.

    If you are a filmmaker (or editor or music supervisor) and you have a weaker scene, or even just a scene that could be vastly improved by a masterful choice of music, your job is to put kickass music behind that scene. Duh. Music is one of a filmmaker's tools.

    "Gee, that scene wouldn't have been that great if the writing hadn't been good. The filmmaker is really 'leaning on' the writing there."

    Maybe you, as a viewer, prefer a film that's well-written to a film that's well-shot. That doesn't mean that a film with better cinematography than writing is using that cinematography as a crutch.

    As for Garden State, which I think gets altogether too much criticism because hipsters can't handle that they themselves didn't make it, it seems that people are mad at the movie because it used music too well. It can't be that good because it did one thing too well.

    And let's think back to THE FILM ITSELF. (As my high school English teacher used to say, "Read the goddamned text!") Garden State is a VERY interior film. While Braff could have gone the "Interiors" route of Woody Allen, using no music, and making an unwatchable film, he didn't. He chose to use music to turn the film inward, to show an exterior landscape, but to allow the viewer to hear the interior landscape.

    My adored Ampersand comments on the Pandagon post and notes:

    In the comments of Pandagon, “The J Train” calls Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State a “vagina ex machina” character, which she defines as “the beautiful, together, inexplicably single woman who just seems to fall out of the sky in front of the protagonist.

    This reminds me of my student the other day who pretended to have viewed the film for class, but referred to the main character as a "he" though the protagonist was, in fact, unmistakably a woman, and a movie star to boot. I don't know if "The J Train" saw or remembers Garden State. One thing Natalie Portman's character is NOT is "together". She's a total mess. It completely understandable that she's single. She's a total mess. She doesn't fall from the sky. She's a total mess, he's a total mess, they meet at the doctor's office to take care of that.

    (Also, shouldn't feminists be a bit alarmed by a phrase like "inexplicably single"? Doesn't it kind of indicate that the only reason a woman would be single is because she's damaged goods?)

    I don't like Natalie Portman, as a person. Her interviews never cease to offend me. But she rocked that part. And it wasn't an easy part. She wasn't ever playing some random-sexy-girl. True: her character wasn't particularly brilliant or successful. I don't really think she needs to be. She's sad. And she had plenty of pathos to play. She wasn't just cute.

    I'm pretty critical. I'm especially critical of the sort of early-twenties-bilgundsroman, common in indie film. And I liked Garden State. That doesn't mean you have to. But please come up with a critique more film-sensitive than, "there was too much good music in it". If what you don't like about it is the writing, criticize the writing. Not how they got away with it by doing other things right.

    Why "Put the Excitement Back in Your Marriage" Advice Doesn't Often Work


    You could also call this entry "EL Auditions for Redbook".

    Helaine Olen interviews Esther Perel, a New York couples and family therapist who has a new book out.

    I like her thoughts on monogamy, especially this:

    Our model is that marriage is for everything. So, we think if it didn't work out with you, I'm not going to think that maybe there is something to question about my model, I'm just going to say I chose the wrong person and I'll go somewhere else to get everything. And there is something about not wanting to give up on that ideal that makes people more willing to go for divorce, and the dissolution of the entire family system and all the bonds, than the willingness to renegotiate boundaries.

    Pathological monogamy anyone?

    I also agree with her on fantasy and on the expense of erotic energy, though I personally would use another adjective. Perel is, perhaps, brainier, more New York and less heartland, in comparison to her colleagues in the field, but she still lapses into certain of their irritating habits.

    There is a notion people have that in the beginning of relationships passion is spontaneous. They actually forget that the beginning was one big story line. There were hours spent anticipating, planning, plotting, developing the script, imagining what you're going to wear, what you're going to eat, where you're going to go, the whole thing. But people remember things as explosive and in the moment and unplanned. And that's not true. But passion can die because we forgo the willfulness, the intentionality and the imagination that fuel the erotic.

    I agree that sex is not necessarily spontaneous at the beginning of a relationship, but passion is, I believe, spontaneous. You're sitting there and suddenly you're overcome with wanting the person you're sitting with. Not that you take them at that moment. But that feeling -- let's get real -- cannot happen as often when you're sitting with that person too often. Your body/mind/whatever-it-is has to turn down the frequency just for your health. You can force something else happen, but I don't think you can make that happen. And a lot of people just aren't satisfied without that.

    Perel says: The whole point of fantasy is that it's not meant to be reality.
    The early part of a relationship is the time at which fantasy and reality are not wholly separate processes. Where what you fantasize, down to the tiniest thing, may or may not manifest. And you feel alternately in control and out of control over whether that happens. Once you're in a relationship, the mechanisms by which you gets what you want are set: generally, you ask for it or you don't get it. Not knowing whether (not to mention how or why) you'll get what you want is part of what makes getting it exciting. You just can't do that later on, unless you want to be deeply unsatisfied.

    Some problems can't be solved. I don't mean that relationships end up sexless after awhile and this can't be solved, but I do mean that you can't put something you've lost "back in" like that when it comes to desire. The thing that makes sexual desire fascinating is that you can't help it.

    Tuesday, September 26, 2006

    I Hate Arianna Huffington

    And it has nothing to do with her blog. It has nothing to do with her cameo on "The L Word". It doesn't even have to do with her political conversion.

    Arianna Huffington and Maureen Dowd are basically interchangeable to me. They're both superficial, but well-educated and connected enough to swipe a "token" slot away from a hard-hitting intellectual woman. Both are as Meghan O'Rourke smartly notes re: the former almost unimaginably unaware of their incredible privilege. Both seem to feel that cutesy nicknames and clothing analysis are brilliant and incisive treatments of politics, making themselves priceless assets to the community of, as they say, "talking heads".

    And don't even get me started on how they gesture to "feminism" when their everyday lives are testaments to how little they value what I consider feminist principles.

    Smart Readers, A Question

    I was reading this:

    The city's board of health is considering allowing transgendered New Yorkers to get new birth certificates.

    Under the proposal, the new certificate would only indicate a person's current sexual identity.


    And my question is:

    Is there a good reason for having one's sex on a birth certificate? I'm not saying there's not, but I just don't know.

    Thursday, September 21, 2006

    What I'm Reading Today

    I'm far from a Shakespearean, but I'm loving this conversation about Lear on Slate.

    A student of mine told me that she didn't have to know how to read and write. Why? Because she's going to be a lawyer. And lawyers TALK, you see. This incident made me particularly interested in Jean's run-down of lawyerly TV. A much-needed reference guide. Hopefully, some doctors and cops will make/have made some of their own.

    After the beginning of "boob-gate", I decided to avoid all discussion of this Bill-Clinton-blogger-party. Sometimes it's nice not to be in the popular clique. But I happened to see this brilliant commentary on a "conversation" (I use the term loosely) about the lack of POC bloggers at the luncheon. (That's what I first noticed about the pic, even before Jessica's chest.) Anyway, it's rather appalling (though predictable) the direction the "conversation" takes.

    Transracial adoption: we talked about it here awhile back, but it seems to have receded a bit from the blogosphere. Of course, gives us plenty to think about. (I'd love to see what it's like in her classroom!)

    More to come!

    The Funniness Epidemic

    I was -- I don't know if this predictable or surprising -- a very serious child. It caused me a great deal of misery, more often from my family than from my peers. My uncles would lovingly torment me; I would be utterly crushed or riled. Perhaps this is the literal-mindedness that characterizes children's approach to external influences. Regardless of the source, my seriousness (distinguished from other children in that it tended to lack playfulness, not just an inability to grasp humor) isolated me. Even as I became less serious, or at least less exclusively serious, "seriousness" remained a crucial criteria in evaluating other people's worth. Someone who "couldn't be serious" didn't belong in my social milieu. Similarly, I can't stand blogs that never get meaty or serious and comedy that doesn't have a bit of an underbite leaves me cold. It's not that one cannot be funny and earn my respect. It's that one must be able to carry on a conversation without it. And I find, more and more, there are a great many people that are simply incapable of it.

    So, I read Peter Hyman's The funniness epidemic with interest:

    Must everybody try to be funny these days? Are we now compelled, as a culture, to be comical, no matter the setting or the endeavor? And if so, what on earth gave rise to this troubling idea? ...

    The end result? The guy standing next to you in line at Starbucks sounds like a nondescript sitcom actor that even your TiVo can't stand. ...

    A related cause could be the contemporary avoidance of sincerity. Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter's post-9/11 declaration pronouncing the death of irony is, five years later, the misstatement of the millennium. From sneakers to cell-phone ring-tones to rain on your wedding day, everything is ironic. Or, more accurately, everything is sarcastic, the less-literary stepcousin of irony. Unlike irony, sarcasm can be printed on a T-shirt or written into every tenth line of an ESPN newscast with the generic (and easily aped) voice of mocking detachment that is so prevalent today. ...

    What is the upside of being funny? Well, apart from getting noticed, it's safer to hide behind the mask of humor, especially in a culture skeptical of intellectualism. Andrew Stott, an English professor whose academic treatise Comedy explored the philosophy of humor, sees it like this: "Being funny is a means of avoiding scrutiny. It's a deeply concealing activity that invites attention while simultaneously failing to offer any detailed account of oneself. The reason humor is so popular today is that it provides the comfort of intimacy without the horror of actually being intimate." ...

    And, for all of the democracy the Internet engenders, it is possible to have too much vox populi, especially when the populi seem intent on using such tired punch lines and hacky premises.


    I think something that Hyman glides over is that there has been a democratizing cultural shift which specifically takes the shame away from failing at humor. When I was younger, a flopped joke was the height of embarassment. Now, people will at least smile at the dumbest thing. In fact, people seem to prefer bad humor (especially sarcasm of any kind) to regular conversation. One is no longer expected to try at humor, but just to sprinkle half-assed bits of it into all conversation.

    I think it's this lowering of humor standards that has led to the proliferation of "funny people" because there are no longer any consequences.

    (Let me be clear: I do this all the time. In many ways, I would not live up to my own standards of company. I would wish I would shut up. I already do wish I'd shut up.)

    Sunday, September 17, 2006

    Back By Popular Demand: Email Access to EL

    I've gotten requests from people I'd actually like to correspond with via email, so I'm getting back in the game.

    Send correspondence of the non-obnoxious variety to:

    elatmap@hotmail.com

    as in EL at M(y) A(musement) P(ark)

    Thursday, September 14, 2006

    Crisis of Conscience: Teaching Pop Culture

    It probably comes as little surprise to you that my pedagogical approach so far has been to mix "high" and "low" culture on a syllabus. There are several reasons for this:

    1. I love certain bits of a both, passionately. My life would be woefully incomplete without either one.

    2. I am one of those wackademics who thinks you can't tell the value of a work of art or culture based on how many times it ends up on college syllabi. The high/low split seems pretty stupid. I prefer it-rocks/it's-crap or it's-useful/it's-not-useful.

    3. I want my students (in their very first college course - "developmental" (remedial) at that) to be engaged, and including pop culture seems to be one way of capturing their attention. My students practically skipped out of the classroom yesterday singing that they got to watch a film instead of read for an assigment. Maybe that's sad, but it is what it is. I truly believe it comes from the fact that, for most people, school is a site of serious trauma and certain "types" of classwork bring up that trauma. My students can barely read standard English and certainly can't write it. They're far less likely to have been traumatized by watching the Wayans brothers than reading out of some literary anthology.

    I remember how I was with math and science. I felt so helpless in those subjects that just encountering a textbook or an equation or, most especially a lab, would panic me. I was looking into the abyss and it was glaring back at me.

    I now regret not having much math or, especially, science under my belt because of this fear and shame. I didn't take a lick of either as an undergraduate. I haven't seen math or science in a classroom setting since May of my junior year. All because it tore me up inside with frustration. I wish someone had tried to reach out to me, to find a way for me to interact with the trappings of science, but no one did. It was one pointless lab I didn't understand after another.

    It's entirely possible that there's nothing anyone could have done to make me understand or feel less afraid. It is entirely possible that, in that area, I am dumb. I believe in dumbness; we all can't do everything. But I don't know for sure that I couldn't do it. After all, in chemistry when we didn't do labs all the time (my great hate), I ended up getting an A. It's just as possible that I slipped through the cracks, despite the resources of a suburban high school and the support that comes with being identified as "gifted".

    I always wish that we'd done a really thorough nutrition unit. Having gotten into it as an adult in all its nitty-gritty, equations and memorization and all, I feel like that might have been a way to steer me gently into science.

    My undergraduate institution had very few traditionally-aged students, though I was one myself. Most of the people in attendance were older and were going back to school. In the courses I teach, some students are still in the high school mode of trying to seem cool. It's much cooler to get into a pop culture assignment than to get into a "high literary" assignment.*

    4. At the same time, one of the wonderful things about college for me, perhaps the most wonderful, was being exposed to so many incredible things I would never otherwise have encountered. I am thoroughly appalled by the attitudes many other professors show toward the students at our institution. I remember the other day this guy saying he felt guilty about being "a pusher of standard English". The department chair replied simply, "that's what your students will love you for." I am privileged to have a good education and lots of it. There's something sick about hoarding the tools I gained from that privilege in the spirit of preserving some invented "authenticity" that supposedly belongs to my students. There's something sick about teaching my students as though they could only deal with texts that are like those they encounter at home. My students deserve a good education, just as I did. (Not to mention that seeming "cool" and "down" with the students is not our job and I can't even begin to tell you how sick I think it is to go into a classroom with that attitude - it's my current cross to bear that a sizable chunk of the adjuncts at my institution seem to see this as their primary goal.)


    So ... there ya go.

    But now I'm doing some second-guessing. One reason is, and this will sound crazy, my students seemed to like this recent assignment a bit too much. Their enthusiasm made me feel like maybe I'm not challenging them enough.

    And then I read this discussion on the WMST-L list-serv:

    Date: Wed, 13 Sep 2006 10:21:26 -0400
    From: Katha Pollitt
    Subject: Re: Shift of tone on WMST-L

    yes, the race division on survivor is racist and idiotic, as is much
    pop culture. But you haven't persuaded me that studying Survivor is a
    particularly valuable way to approach race/ethnicity in a college
    classroom. I would say everything that needs to be said about
    survivor's tribes can be said in about two minutes. i would have
    trouble stretching it out to a whole column (1000 words). It's all
    pretty obvious, isn't it?. And I'll bet that outside the academy
    people in the racial-ethnic groups included would not see the way
    they are portrayed on Survivor as one of their major problems in life.
    The daughter of a friend of mine took a whole course on Buffy the
    Vampire Slayer at NYU. I would be amazed if this young woman has
    studied the middle east or Africa, can speak a foreign language
    fluently, has read five books written before 1500 (or the Koran!),
    or could discuss intelligently the differences between the american
    and French revolutions, or .... Sure pop culture is part of our
    world, and shapes attitudes at conscious and unconscious levels. But
    it's not why we're in iraq, or why people are poor or why they risk
    their lives to write or read novels and poetry. Think of all the
    courses in the catalog at NYU, and tell me why Buffy the Vampire
    slayer was an excellent choice-- better than Modern Poetry, 18th
    Century Women Novelists, or for that matter Economics of Women's
    Labor or 20th Century russian history or Beginning Spanish (or any
    other language) or ...
    A number of people have said that college gives you a skill set, a
    set of analytical tools you can use to read anything, and that
    teaching pop culture is a good way to teach the skill set. i have
    three problems with that artgulment. One, I don't think a course on
    chick lit really does teach you how to read , say, George Eliot, let
    alone TS Eliot. Two, I doubt such courses give students the idea that
    serious literature holds something valuable that is missing from pop
    culture--the point of studying Survivor isn't to get kids to read
    James Joyce, it's to get them to be more critical watchers of reality
    TV. Three, for most people college is the last opportunity they are
    ever going to have to meet difficult, classic, or out of the way
    texts, and learn how to enjoy and understand them and relate to
    them. Having spent their undergraduate years on pop culture, how
    likely is it that once out of college,in the work world, starting a
    family etc, that graduate is going to say, you know, I've never read
    Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky or Emily Dickinson. I barely know who Balzac
    is! I think I'll turn off the set for a bit and spend my evenings
    with the penguin classics!

    Katha Pollitt
    katha.pollitt@gmail.com


    Date: Wed, 13 Sep 2006 10:29:50 -0700
    From: "Dustin M. Wax"
    Subject: Re: Shift of tone on WMST-L

    In a sense, I think it's
    *easier* to get students to read something like _Pride and Prejudice_
    for it's "deeper meaning" -- after all, it's a "classic")
    than to get
    them to "read" something like _The Sopranos_ or _Scary Movie 8_ as
    anything other than trivial. Yet as Katha and others have pointed out,
    our students will be exposed to pop culture that they're intended to
    swallow uncritically far, far more often than to the "demanding" works
    that they avoid precisely because they already know they are expected to
    find some deeper meaning in them, that is, that they're "work".


    students will admit to me freely that they do not read/do not like to read. If,
    under those circumstances, I *do* assign a difficult read such as Faulkner or Woolf,
    I can be assured that they will not read it, they'll go to sparknotes.com or
    some other such website and read the summary. If I want students to *actually*
    read something (or fail the class for not doing so), I know I'll do best to
    keep away from "the classics."

    Michele Ren
    English/Women's Studies
    Radford University
    mren2@radford.edu


    Joan Korenman says:

    I'd like to say a bit more about the pop culture discussion. Some
    people seem to regard that discussion as putting Women's Studies on
    the defensive. I don't agree. The debate over "high culture" vs.
    "pop culture" has been raging for many years in most Humanities
    fields. As an English professor, I've been wrestling with these
    issues throughout my entire career, and not just in Women's Studies
    classes. And in earlier centuries, disputes over whether
    literature written in modern languages (as opposed to Latin and
    Greek) should be taught, and whether American literature was worth
    teaching at all, are earlier versions of the debate.


    When you're talking about teaching Women's Studies (which I don't at the moment), Katha Pollitt's argument is ridiculous, in my opinion. You need some pop culture in WMST because a significant element of the discipline is the analysis of how cultural perceptions of gender manifest themselves everywhere: policy, family, pop culture.

    What about English, though? My students may never see a piece of "literature" again in their lives. 50% of them will drop about before the end of the semester, according to institutional data, and, of those who stay until the end, 30% of them will not pass the course and/or the exam which will allow them to move past the "developmental" coursework. (If they do not pass both, they cannot continue their college education.) For many of these students, I'm their only chance to read and experience non-pop culture. At the same time, there's no way in the world I'm foisting Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons on these students because 50% would quickly become 95%, even though I think the experience of Tender Buttons is something that everyone should have the opportunity to have. I can guarantee, however, that my students will watch more mainstream film and television. They won't watch them in the same way, or discuss them or write about them the same way, but they will encounter those forms. I don't know if my students will ever really read again. Because, as Michele Ren says, my students hate reading.

    I'm so confused. I'm starting to feel I need to dig through the canon. And I have never, ever had that feeling before. My conscience is screaming that my use of pop culture is in some way condescending to profoundly underserved students. It's also screaming at me that to excise pop culture from my syllabi would be a transgression of some of my most closely held intellectual beliefs. Thoughts? (Not just other teachers, but from students current and former, and, well, everyone else.)


    * This reminds of a big moment of embarassment in junior high. After we finished reading it, the teacher asked who liked Whitman's "Beat! Beat! Drums!". My hand shot up in the air with enthusiasm. Laughter began and I turned from my front-row seat to see that I was the only person in the classroom with my hand up.

    Tuesday, September 12, 2006

    Notes on the State of Feminism

    I'm not sure if I need to say anything about this. I think I may just put it up as a piece of found art:

    GM: Is the blogosphere the location for a new feminism?

    Samhita Mukhopadhyay: If you are an activist and not reading blogs, you're not doing your job. [The blogosphere] is a listening audience and an active audience. It could be anyone out there; an anti-feminist from Ohio, a housewife in Illinois.

    GM: Are most of your readers from the Midwest?

    SM: We get a lot of response from the Midwest and Austin, Texas, but the Bay Area and New York City are our two mainstays. We hear from a lot of college students. ...

    GM: Is it possible to have a united feminist movement?

    SM: Those chicks who flashed their tits in the 60s largely cater to the white middle class. They often don't do enough to include women of color. I think what you see now is little clusters [of feminists] getting together on issues, like the Duke rape case. It's fragmented, but once something happens, people rally.


    From an interview with Samhita Mukhopadhyay by Gary Moskowitz here.

    Q. My boyfriend refuses to give up coke for reasons I can't explain. I don't make a stink if he smokes a reefer. I don't make a stink about the tranny sex he's had in the past or the his-and-her butt plugs he bought us in month two. He's well-read, witty, and sweet—but I'm seriously anti-drug for my own reasons, and he knows my stand. We're reaching month six, and in spite of all his skeletons, I love him. But this coke-hating sister can't get serious about a man that can't commit to not doing coke. I need a man's swift and brutal opinion: What the fuck? Is this butt-plugging asshole trying to sabotage our relationship by holding on to some libertarian conviction that was started in ancient Rome? —Coke-Hating Sister

    A. I'm not sure how the Romans factor into this, CHS, but here's the swift and brutal opinion: If a coke-hating sister can't get serious about a man who uses coke, then why is this coke-hating sister wasting her time on this trifling, tranny-banging, coke-snorting brother? Either coke is a deal breaker for you, CHS, or it isn't. If it is, then don't date him. But if this butt-plugging asshole merits an exception—if the lift tickets are balanced out by well-read, witty, and sweet—then date him, girl, and stop bitching about it.


    Relationships are not your amusement park. Just because you find someone you like and they like you doesn't mean you can them remodel them to your further liking. If this guy got coked up and then started treating her badly, I might have some sympathy for Coke-Hating Sister, but the fact is that I hate people with random fucking standards like this. If you don't like coke, don't do it. If someone is mean to you or doesn't listen to you or treats you badly, in other words does something to you, then ultimatums are in order. If not, SHUT UP. The relationship is your to leave.

    You know people like this write to advice columns so that someone will tell them, "People who use coke don't deserve to be in relationships! You lay down the law! If he doesn't completely change into the person you want him to be, he doesn't really love you anyway!" Luckily, she didn't write to Dear Prudence or she probably would have gotten that response.

    She didn't write to Dear Prudence, however, because she obviously likes to think of herself as way crescent-fresh and GGG and liberated and not bourgeois-uptight. She tries to prove this by mentioning that, gasp, her boyfriend's sex life apparently included trans partners! But she was so fucking cool that she let that go, it's just the coke. Well, Coke-Hating-Sister, you are so bourgeois-uptight that I think you ought to have written Dear Prudence and gotten the response you wanted. Next time, try her first. Hell, check out an old bound collection of Dear Abbys from the 1960s.

    Did you vote, New Yorkers?

    If you didn't and don't plan to, I'm not about to chastise you. This is a dud of a primary (unless you live in Major Owens's district).

    Cuomo, ew, here we come.

    Saturday, September 09, 2006

    Why Protest Politics Will Stay Dead

    It's old hat these days to joke about the freak shows that constitute left-leaning political marches or rallies. Whether you're on the right or left, the chaotic morass of unleashed pet causes is a sad sight to behold. It's rarely been, to me, as frustrating as now, with the rise of the immigration rights movement, through which protest politics is experiencing its only chance of rebirth. I could go on and on and I have at other times, but tonight I must give Shawn Macomber props for getting specific and dirty on this topic in the American Spectator.

    Some favorite moments:

    Like a movie star whose Hollywood cachet you can track by the ebb and flow of his entourage, the number of political hangers-on at the San Francisco march clearly demonstrated the ascendancy of the immigration rights movement. As with any other hangers-on, the people trying to cop a ride on the immigrant rights movement's coattails have their own agendas -- agendas that are not necessarily a boon to the cause.

    literature castigating the Zionist Entity outnumbered amnesty/immigration rights pamphlets by at least ten to one. A man peddling Mexican flags had few takers. There was one booth dedicated to registering recent immigrants. The first question on the lips of nearly every other booth table jockey was some variation of, "So do you have any interest in the wider movement?"

    The starkest example I saw of how disconnected the activists attempting to co-opt immigration for their own ends were from those they were ostensibly there to help was a middle-aged white woman standing in the midst of arriving Hispanic marchers waving mostly American flags -- although some Mexican and El Salvadoran flags fluttered in the breeze as well -- with a sign hoisted above her head reading, "Sensenbrenner, You Are an Extremist Jew!"

    Gerald Lenoir from the Black Alliance for Just Immigration followed this up, exclaiming, "We are fighting against the same racist system. We are fighting against the same corporate power. We are fighting the same right-wing conspiracy in the United States." And still more muddle from yet another speaker: "We are all members of families of the world against globalization fighting for a better life for grassroots communities."

    Globalization? Corporate power? The IMF? When did a freshman sociology class take over the march?


    Allowing a march to devolve into a circus where immigrant rights become inextricably entangled with pet issues of the far left, however, only serves to further convince those with conflicted feelings about immigration that this categorically is not their struggle.

    As it stands now it has more to fear from those desperate to associate attach themselves as "friends" of the movement than it does from Pat Buchanan.

    Having been involved in "on-the-ground" political activism in my more naive days, I can actually recall discussions:

    "There's going to be an anti-death penalty march. We should bring our feminist group flyers to hand out!"

    "Yeah, that's a great idea!"

    I look back and shake my head.

    I'm It, You're It

    The lovely antiprincess tagged me. ::blushes::

    Why do you blog?

    I started blogging because I had a job wherein I spent lots of hours with little to do but surf the internet. As such, I began to have a lot of opinions about everything that was going on. So, I started My Amusement Park. I keep doing it basically because it is a thing I do. I don't do it to change the world, which I know some folks would think is sad. It really is just sort of a hobby.

    How long have you been blogging?

    A year.

    Self-Portrait:

    Um, no, thank you.

    Why do readers read your blog?

    I think mainly people read my blog because they stumbled on some contrarian post at some point or because we're sort of friendly in the blog universe. I also seem to attract a lot of people who want advice on coming out, which is kind of sad because I don't really offer that.

    What was the last search phrase someone used to get to your site?

    "is kate moennig straight"

    Which of your entries unjustly gets too little attention?

    I did a pretty kickass series on the local NYC races last year, but to little acclaim. I know I'm supposed to be modest here, but ...

    Your current favorite blog?

    An impossible question.

    What blog did you read most recently?

    Is There No Sin In It?

    Which feeds do you subscribe to?

    I really dislike feeds for some reason.

    What blogs are you tagging with this meme and why?

    Omnipotent Poobah, Brownfemipower, Corrine, Luke, and Dustdaughter because I love them all dearly and they don't seem to be tagged yet.

    Weekend Homework

    1. Fredric Jameson reviews Slavoj Zizek's new book. Come and get your geek treat!

    2. Cheryl Miller discusses class, race, and fertility treatments in
    Babies for Sale.

    3. Are you concerned about the state of American higher education? So are Donald Kagan, Peter Schmidt, and Diane Schemo (and her readers), but not Robert Samuelson. Blogland responds: History and Education, The Quick and the Ed, Vox Baby, My Secret Public Blog, Web Diary of a Boston Grad Student, and Not in Kansas Anymore have lots of interesting stuff to say.

    (Also interesting is Alvin Sanoff's piece from March which incorporates the Chronicle's survey of high school teachers vs. college faculty.)

    4. Stanley Crouch reviews "Will You Die With Me?": My Life and the Black Panther Party, Flores Alexander Forbes's new memoir.

    Enjoy your weekend!

    Thursday, September 07, 2006

    What Do Y'all Think About This?

    Kim Ficera's new column:

    If you were a tomboy in the '70s or early '80s, trying to make sense of life's challenges that were offered in prime time on your TV, you knew that something was amiss. You weren't satisfied. You might not have been able to articulate it well, but you knew on an emotional level that the “strong woman by day; weak woman by night” plots were insulting, and that the “girl meets boy, falls in love with boy” story lines were for someone else. Perhaps you thought, as I did, Jan Brady doesn't need a boyfriend, because I don't need a boyfriend! ...

    Today, queer and questioning kids aren't frustrated by an absence of gay characters or sexuality on TV. If young viewers want to see lesbians and gay men having same-sex sex, all they have to do is find a cable box that isn't locked or steal their parents' Blockbuster cards. And it's been that way for quite a few years. Hell, if they want to see kids of their own age declare, “I'm gay!” on a major network, they can tune into ABC's Desperate Housewives.

    What young media consumers are exposed to in the 2000s make their parents and grandparents long for the days when Lucy and Ricky Ricardo weren't allowed to sleep in the same bed. And to be completely honest, although I'm a parent to no one, current programming sometimes makes me question the means to the end.

    While I believe we have to be honest with kids and show them that sex is natural, healthy and fun, not dirty or sick, I wonder if in our efforts to provide them with accurate information about sex and sexuality we're inadvertently depriving them of something even more valuable: wonder.


    Read the whole thing and let me know.

    Old New Yorkers, Newer New Yorkers, Emotion, Territory, and Distance

    There's an incredible snobbiness about New Yorkers that often manifests in a who-was-here-first, the-best-hole-in-the-wall-to-get-gelato-is-..., you-know-you're-a-real-New-Yorker-when-..., if-you-can-make-it-here-..., attitude. (Just to be on the up-and-up, I'll admit having indulged in such snobbery from time to time.) The longer I live here, the more I realize that I'm not a "real New Yorker" and probably never will be because I'm not a real, authentic, unadulterated anything or anyone, though, postmodernist critique aside for the moment, I sort of think there may be some real, authentic, unadulterated _______s out there. But it's hard not to identify pretty strongly with being a New Yorker when I think back to 9/11.

    But let me be clear: I did not know anyone killed. I was not in Lower Manhattan. I did not see it happen. I am not, in any real way, an "owner" of the experience. However, one thing I will never forget as long as I live was watching the city I love fall limp around me with grief and shock. The liveliest, most energetic thing I'd ever met dulled like a light flipped off. That to me, far more than any particular image of the towers, is Sept 11. And the fact is that, though one could see the Trade Centers topple from any television in the world, one could not feel the whole of New York City waste away in the blink of an eye. Only someone who had lived there and loved it, who felt it was her home, could feel that particular loss. There are losses I didn't feel and couldn't begin to understand. But what I felt was something particularly New Yorker and I think my love for this city, that began long before that day, has since developed out of it.

    In today's New York Times, there's an article on the divide between New Yorkers who lived here on Sept. 11, 2001 and those who didn't.

    It reminded me of a day last year in a grad school class where the professor asked if anyone in the classroom had been here for Sept 11 besides himself. I was the only one. And I suddenly felt afraid. And I have no idea, no idea, no idea why that would be the emotion that came to me in that moment.

    I am always surprised to meet people who moved to NYC after 9/11. It seems strange to me that they would have done so, but, of course, why not? Living elsewhere in the country and the world, one is often told how very very dangerous it is here, so one who chooses to move here has obviously come to terms with that before making the decision. Somehow though, I am still taken aback.

    It's hard to know what effect it had on my fears about terrorism. I don't know if I'm more afraid than other New Yorkers who moved here after 9/11. I doubt it. I think it might actually just be being in the City itself, rather than the firsthand memory. But there's no doubt that I am far more afraid of another terrorist attack than people I know who live in other places. When I'm not in NYC (or DC) and I get my usual heart-clench at the sound of a low-flying plane, I always breathe a sigh of relief when I remember I'm not in NY, so it's unlikely that it's a terrorist attack.

    One quote in the second article caught my attention:

    Nearly a third of New Yorkers said they thought about Sept. 11 every day.

    I can't imagine that being accurate. I can't believe that there's any New Yorker who doesn't think about every day. Not that it crosses their mind, but that they think about it. I don't think I'm oversensitive here.

    I'd like to know how many times, in an average week, other New Yorkers fear a terrorist attack. Despite my survey research background, I have no clue how to formulate that question: "When you see someone put down their briefcase on the train, what percentage of the time do you feel a panic?" or "When you feel your building moving and settling, what percentage of the time is your first thought that there's been another terrorist attack?" or "When you see someone open their compact and powder their nose vigorously on the train, do you wonder if she's got anthrax ... all of the time, most of the time, some of the time, a little of the time, or none of the time?"

    I am a big Gothamist fan these days, so here's what they say. In the comments section, people start to discuss the smell. Which actually made me feel sick with memory. And, like I said, I wasn't even in Lower Manhattan.

    I am also fascinated by the experiences others shared in comments: the particular feeling of having been born and raised in NYC, but not being there on 9/11, the particular feeling of being in the suburbs of NYC and having so many of your loved ones there and not knowing where they were, the particular bold, fearless solidarity shared by those who moved here afterward.

    I think what Dave H. says makes most sense:

    I'd like to say this is a stupid debate, but it reminds me of the episode of "Rescue Me" in which a NYFD firefighter in a grief counseling group berated its other members when he found out that they were nowhere near the WTC on 9/11. He had a legit point. There are differing levels of trauma associated with horrific events.

    This is true even for the person who was with me the entire day, my partner, A, upon whom the event made far less of an impact at the time, though we both have come to realize how it affected us in different ways over time.

    This is strange, but I think there's a defensiveness and territorialism over any pain. As someone who was not born and raised here, I became a sort of 9/11 ambassador to the states of Colorado and Kansas, where all my family live. And my defensiveness came, I think, from having had the memory evoked against my will by sometimes innocent and truly caring questions from innocent and truly caring people that weren't there and wanted to know how it felt. I didn't want to be caught off guard with, "What was it like? How did it feel?" and be taken back to that time. I was also offended by people who didn't seem to care enough. My sister never once, never one time, asked me what it was like around 9/11. She didn't call me or speak with me at that time because she was mad that she thought I'd stolen a bra of hers on my last visit. (Seriously.) And she never apologized for that, she never said, "I wish I'd been there for you. What was it like?" and that's something I don't know if I'll ever get over, though she's one of the closest people in the world to me.

    There's a way in which I don't want to ever have to tell anyone how anything feels. I am always annoyed and offended when someone says, "Wow, what was it like to move from little ole Colorado to New York City?" Instead of saying, "It was a profoundly beautiful experience of liberation I can't describe, at the same time as it was fraught with difficulties I didn't even realize until it was over and blah, blah, blah," I want to say, "Ummm. Hmmm. Fuck you." Or, as a gentleman asked me the other day, "What's it like to be a beautiful woman and get shouted at on the street?" Well, sir, none of your beeswax. All because words cannot express something that's mine and I am, in some sense, comforted by that distance.

    But I have no idea how to handle it when I'm the one on the other side of that distance. For example, the other day I met a woman who just moved here from Louisiana and, before I knew it, I was talking about Katrina. Because, though the pain I feel is drastically different from the pain she feels about Katrina, I feel pain about Katrina. Just like my unassuming aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmothers and family friends felt pain about 9/11 from hundreds of miles away. And, though it is perhaps a strange comparison, the born-and-bred-on-the-coasts people who ask me about what it's like to come from Colorado are asking because they are part of the rift, they are on one side of a national tear and they feel it, though ever-so-differently; and men who see women harassed on the street probably feel their own frustration, though frustration of another kind.

    I wish our language allowed a certain space around these emotions, a way to express that the pain we feel about things and the pain we feel from things is different, and even that one specific experience collides with so many other factors, often unknown, to compound or diminish or simply reconfigure our reactions and our relationships to one event or structure or another. It's why identity politics, without anything other analytical mechanism, never works to explain how things feel, whether identity is gender or identity is pre-9/11 New Yorker. Emotion is intersectional, personal, and relies on being internalized, in pieces, and shared, in other pieces.

    Wednesday, September 06, 2006

    NY Election Stuff

    I'm rolling my eyes that Charlie King endorsed Cuomo. I'm rolling my eyes that the New York Post endorsed Cuomo. And I'm rolling my eyes at the debate, though it sounds like Green brought it.

    This election wears me out.

    Overcooked


    One of the painful things that comes with living a totally different life from everyone else in one's family is that, inevitably, one mostly disagrees with them when it comes to matters of taste. Rarely is this more clear than in the comparison between me and my sister. My sister's favorite movie in high school was Charlie's Angels, and not in some sort of riot grrl way. She has been known to listen to Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals by choice.

    So, it should come as no surprise that, despite some funny moments, I've always been rubbed the wrong way by Dane Cook. I find that, even when he is funny, he's funny in a way that is thoroughly unmemorable and, well, disappointing. Mostly, I just know he's the kind of person I most definitely would not want to know, and not in that genius-asshole sort of way that makes me still sorta want to meet, say, Ernest Hemingway or John Lennon.

    Dane Cook is the "funny guy" and always has been. There's something about the really funny people like, say, Chris Rock or Stephen Colbert - you know they weren't the "funny guy", even if they were really funny, when they were, like, 15.

    The other thing is that I'm really sick of hearing how "hot" he is. Frankly, I can't tell.

    All that is a preamble to say that, yea, I really liked what my Heather Havrikesky (also known as Bitch With My Job) wrote.

    Saturday, September 02, 2006

    Weekend Homework: Late for the Holiday Edition

    Some lucky few of us will enjoy Monday off. I am amongst those who will be basking in the brand new autumn. That's my excuse (the extra day) for lateness on Weekend Homework.

    1. Evelyn Nieves writes about the rise in hate crimes against Navajos.

    2. Ethan Miller says that Other Economies Are Possible!

    3. John Cloud tells us What's Good About the New SAT?

    4. Belledame says This is what intellectual honesty looks like responding to, inspired by antiprincess's "I shame the matriarchy". Both are must-reads, whether you agree a lot, some, a little, or not at all. I want to give mad props to both for their level of psychic engagement, emotional investment, and personal commitment to struggling, analyzing, critiquing, and soul-searching through the serious issues of feminism, solidarity, relationship, femininity, sexuality, vulnerability, and the connections and disconnections between the personal and the political.

    Then, when you're done with those, check out Bitch's fresh poststructuralist response.

    The "Epidemic" of Oral Sex

    Usually, we reserve use of the word "epidemic" to refer to something both horrible and widespread. Like, you know, a disease. But the other way we use "epidemic", it seems, is to make something sound horrible and widespread. To arouse hysteria. To make people feel that it could be in the food they drink, the air they breathe, the water they drink. Beneath the beds of their children. Lurking in their own closets. Everywhere and anywhere. Watch out!

    For example, the "obesity epidemic". Or, the example at hand: "the oral sex epidemic".

    Tim Harford tells us about it in his recent piece, "A Cock and Bull Story":

    "Parents, brace yourselves." With those words, Oprah Winfrey introduced news of a teenage oral-sex craze in the United States. In the Atlantic Monthly, Caitlin Flanagan wrote, "The moms in my set are convinced—they're certain; they know for a fact—that all over the city, in the very best schools, in the nicest families, in the leafiest neighborhoods, 12- and 13-year-old girls are performing oral sex on as many boys as they can."

    Are they right? National statistics on teen fellatio have only recently been collected, but the trend seems to be real. Johns Hopkins University Professor Jonathan Zenilman, an expert in sexually transmitted infections (and father of former Slate intern Avi Zenilman), reports that both the adults and the teenagers who come to his clinic are engaging in much more oral sex than in 1990. For men and boys as recipients it's up from about half to 75 to 80 percent; for women and girls, it's risen from about 25 percent to 75 to 80 percent. ...

    ... even as the oral-sex epidemic rages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the percentage of teenage virgins has risen by more than 15 percent since the beginning of the 1990s.


    To my eye, there are a few things to be happy about:

    1. Female equality. Girls are 3 times as likely to be recipients of oral sex as they were in 1990. Boys' chances have gone up too, but only to the point where both genders are getting head at a similar rate.

    2. If Caitlin Flanagan is right (which would be a rarity, but let's give the benefit of the doubt), "putting out" is no longer the province of the poor, but a cross-class phenomenon.

    3. Teens, because of their changing sexual behaviors, are less at risk for disease!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    4. Teens, because of their changing sexual behaviors, are less at risk for unwanted pregnancy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    5. Repeat 3 and 4 without end.

    It seems to me that there's some serious prudery underlying the use of the word "epidemic". What else could explain the objection to increasing oral sex? I personally don't understand why a parent would be particularly disturbed by their children's being engaged in oral sex, unless it's a general concern with sex or a more specific concern about their child being engaged in a sex act that's still seen, especially by older folks, as "dirty". Yes, they could get emotionally involved and then hurt. They could be used. But, frankly, no one gets out of adolescence unscathed by either of the above. Maybe not sexually, but maybe socially, maybe academically.

    Here are the circumstances wherein I object to oral sex:

    1. Obviously any time it is not consensual.

    2. Any time where one partner isn't getting it and wants it, but the other is.

    3. If it hurts and those involve don't want it to hurt.

    If your kid is smart enough to be avoiding unsafe sex in favor of oral sex, applaud her/him. Feel proud of your parenting skills. Pat yourself, and your kid, on the back. Thank his/her sex ed teacher. Thank MTV.

    I mean, WHAT'S THE PROBLEM? Oprah, why is this so scary?

    One more thing: our culture supports parental fear of sex for their children. It is considered normal and even positive to be a father who does his best to terrify anyone his daughter dates, to be a mother who cautions her daughter about the danger of expressing desire, the damage they could do to their reputation. It goes for boys too: boys who want to have sex with girls are told that they are not "respecting" them. Parents are expected to shame their children into avoiding sex. These actions are considered good parenting. Damn near everyone thinks that telling kids to WAIT WAIT WAIT is the best thing to do; some might say to mention condoms too, but very few will say, "Hey, if there's little to no risk, tell them to do what they want!" That won't be having sex for everyone because some will still want to wait and that's cool.

    Kids: if you're out there and want sex, do it, just do it safely. Oral sex is definitely safer for everyone, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. If oral and manual aren't for you, try a condom for vaginal or anal sex. And advocate for your school to offer comprehensive sex ed, starting young.

    Parents: kill the shame. Your kids will only try harder to hide it from you; they won't stay celibate forever just to get your pat on the back. Be honest about the dangers of oral sex versus vaginal or anal sex. Be honest about the options for protection from STDs and unwanted pregnancy. And advocate for your children's schools to offer comprehensive sex ed, starting young.

    Media: start covering this rise in oral sex as a success story. STOP CALLING IT AN EPIDEMIC!