Thursday, August 17, 2017

CNN's "The Nineties" buries our gays

As someone fascinated by history, I got really into CNN's decade series.  I saw "The Sixties," "The Seventies," and "The Eighties," and looked forward to "The Nineties," if for no other reason than it was the first decade I could really remember.  The Soviet government fell when I was on winter break in fifth grade.  I saw the troops marching off to Iraq to battle Saddam Hussein in Operation Desert Shield, and we had yellow ribbons in our classroom to support the troops.  I was glued to Law & Order and identified with Daria.  I was in ninth grade when the Alfred P. Murrah building was bombed and O.J. Simpson was acquitted.  I remember Waco, Bosnia, and Rwanda on the news.  My first year of college (don't try to do the math, it won't work), Bill Clinton was impeached.  I voted for the first time in the Democratic primary that nominated Al Gore.  And, yes, I probably danced the Macarena about a hundred times during the summer of 1996.
Which is why I found "The Nineties" so disappointing, mostly for what it left out.  Specifically, our country's extremely dynamic relationship with the gay community.  It was a time of great progress, but also a time of violence and hate crimes driven by homophobia.
By the early 1990s, the status of gays in America was changing.  People felt more comfortable "coming out," and no longer was AIDS the grisly threat it had been.  1994's pop psychology book Reviving Ophelia featured at least one lesbian teenager coming to terms with her identity.  Gay Americans were fighting in court for legal recognition of their partnerships and custody of their children.  Gay characters were shown in media, and the musical RENT featured a gay man, a lesbian, a bisexual woman, and Angel, whose identity (transgender or genderqueer) is still being debated by fans.  And Angel and Collins (the gay man) had the most loving, stable relationship of all the characters!  By the end of the decade, a few states had legalized same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships.
Unfortunately, progress is never linear.  Two well-publicized murders occurred during the 1990s in America's heartland.  Brandon Teena, a transgender man, was killed in 1993.  And, of course, Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in a hate crime in 1998 because he was gay.
None of this gets even a nod.  Sure, the television episode mentions Ellen DeGeneres coming out, and the show Will and Grace.  But nothing else gets a nod.  The episode on civil rights focuses on the O.J. Simpson trial (which wasn't really about civil rights) but neglects to mention Matthew Shepard.  Nothing was mentioned about the changing legal or cultural status of the gay community.  However, it was one of the features of the decade that I remember the most vividly.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Charlottesville and the government we deserve

Like so many Americans, I was horrified at the events that unfolded in Charlottesville over the weekend.  Less than a century after World War II, Nazi flags are flying in the United States.  A woman was killed by a white supremacist for the simple crime of disagreeing with him.
How did we get here?
After the end of Reconstruction, the Republican Party rallied around pro-business sentiments likely to be popular with the moneyed capitalists of the Northeast.  This was the world of the "Robber Barons," and they created a tale of two Americas.  Except that when the conditions of the working poor became impossible to ignore, they had to offer a token support of Progressivist ideas, or they would find themselves in homemade guillotines.  Through a confluence of events that we had little control over, including a world war that wiped out most of the world's infrastructure while leaving ours intact, and fifteen years of austerity driving demand for new goods, the United States enjoyed a couple of decades of prosperity.  The problem is that you can't run a country on rhetoric alone, and this was also a time when we were paranoid.  So instead of spreading the wealth, Eisenhower-style, we poured all our energies into an unwinnable war.  Enter Richard Nixon, who was about as far from Eisenhower as you could get.  This brought the economy into a slow slide starting in the 1970s.  However, the GOP can't just openly say, "give to the rich and screw the poor."  Look how well that "47%" remark worked for Mitt Romney.  So instead, the GOP played a long game of distraction.  It's not OUR fault that there are no jobs, rents are rising and healthcare and college are practically inaccessible.  Look over there!  It's those darn Millennials, with their lattes and avocado toast!  Or those baby boomers, who won't retire and are hoarding all the plum jobs!  Or the "welfare queens," those evil people with dark skin and funny accents who mooch off the government, steal jobs, and live likes royalty while you scrape by!  And we can't fund social programs, because if we cut military spending, all those bad people overseas who don't accept Jesus Christ and their lord and savior will bomb us back to the stone age and indoctrinate our children to hate Christmas!  And we CAN'T HAVE THAT!
Well, look where that thinking has gotten us.  A president with no political experience who is a genius at the art of the distraction, a Boy Scout jamboree straight out of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, and now a KKK/Nazi rally in Virginia, complete with torches.
However, I don't really blame the GOP for this.  They may have profited from hatred, but they didn't create it.  Hatred and fear have been there since before the settlers at Jamestown.  I blame the James Andrew Fields, Jr.'s and Cole Whites.  The Peter Cvjetanovics.  I blame every person who thought that marching in a city with a torch in one hand and a swastika in the other was a good idea.  And every person who chose not to condemn them (including you, Mr. President!)  Because, yes, you are that angry racist.  And since you keep talking about how your guy won the election, you have to figure out how to clean up the board without throwing the game away.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reproduction issues--again

At the end of this month, a law will go into effect in Arkansas that will disallow abortion unless the person who provided the other half of the fetus's DNA (otherwise known as the "father") consents.  And reproductive rights take a big step backwards.
Many people claim that since the child belongs to the father 50%, he should get a say in whether or not the fetus is brought to term.  But what is a man's contribution, really?  Men provide 23 chromosomes, so half of the child's DNA.  Women provide 23 chromosomes, plus an environment where the gametes fuse into a blastocyst, an incubation chamber for the developing fetus for 36-40 weeks, all of the developing fetus's nourishment, labor and delivery services during the baby's birth, and in many cases, nourishment in the form of breast milk for six months or longer.  Not exactly an even distribution of labor here, is it? 
Some men would argue that if the woman doesn't want the child, she should hand it off to the father.  But this discounts two factors.  The first, as mentioned above, is that there is no "child" to hand off without the pregnancy, labor and delivery all provided by the woman.  And let's not kid ourselves, pregnancy is not without risks.  Prior to the 19th century, complications during pregnancy and childbirth were the leading cause of death for women around the world.  Even now, pregnancy complications can include morning sickness, sciatica, gestational diabetes, ectopic pregnancy and pre-eclampsia (the latter two can be life threatening, even today).  One little gamete is nowhere near a 50% contribution.
The second is that pregnancy is often used as a means of control.  While there are many good men, good husbands and good fathers out there (if you're one of them, I should not have to explain that I'm Not Talking About You), there are also men who use both sex and pregnancy as a weapon.  It's called "reproductive coercion" and it's classified as a legitimate form of domestic violence.  In seven states, rapists can sue for visitation of any children conceived by their crime.  Even in long-term relationships, abusers have been known to sabotage birth control, prevent their partners from accessing it, and force them to carry children to term.  This puts women in a bind because the law now ties them to their abusers until the children reach the age of 18.  Abusers are granted visitation with their children (or in some cases, full custody--yes, it happens), and the former partner must continue to deal with the abusive partner during visitations, give the abuser say in the child's upbringing, live near the abuser to facilitate visitation, or even in some cases, pay child support to the abuser.  Or the victims stay with their partners, reasoning that the abuse only happens to them, and at least they are there to protect their children from the abusive parent.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Misogynistic dillweeds--a field guide

Recently, I heard about a breed of males called "Incels," or involuntary celibates.  In other words, a group of unpleasant man-children who couldn't get a woman to have sex with them if their lives depended on it.  They chalk up their unpopularity to women going for looks or money, not noticing that it's their attitude and unwillingness to own their behavior that women find off-putting.  (Not to mention the double standard--these men are also the first ones to insult a woman based on her appearance or weight.)
There are so many groups now of men like these, it's hard to keep track.  So, I've taken the liberty of preparing a field guide, based on my own experience and research on Reddit and We Hunted the Mammoth:
"Nice Guy": This man dates occasionally, but not often enough to suit his tastes.  The women he dates tend to lose interest quickly, and start to agree with him that he's not good enough.  Popularized the term "friendzone," and has fallen hard for the idea that if he just acts "Nice," the object of his desire will fall madly in love with him.  Frequently calls coupled men "assholes," as opposed to himself, as in the following: "Women just want to date assholes.  Why don't they ever go out with me?  I'm a Nice Guy."  (This same Nice Guy will castigate the object of his attention as a "bitch" or "slut" when she turns him down.)  Annoying, but relatively harmless.
Pick-Up Artist (PUA): To this man, women are objects to be won by charm.  If that doesn't work, there's always persuasion.  To these men, "no" means "I'm just being shy; keep trying."  Best not to deal with this one without backup.
Red Piller: This man is the Pick-Up Artist on 'roids.  Popularized the term "pump 'n dump."  Spends much time trying to establish himself as an Alpha, dominant over women.  Castigates men who treat women with respect as "betas" and "fuckboys."  To take the red pill means to treat feminism as a destructive force in society.  Avoid. 
Men's Rights Activist (MRA): This chap has either been through a divorce or knows someone who has.  Swears up and down that he treated his wife like a queen, but she may see it differently.  His ex-wife got tired of his bullshit and hired a competent divorce attorney, winning a greater than 50-50 share of time with the children (whom he didn't really pay any attention to until now because parenting is a woman's job, amirite?) plus child support and whatever maintenance the law allows.  Because he feels he owes his ex-wife nothing, he grouses about paying to anyone who will listen.  He will probably avoid women at this juncture, since in his mind, they're only after money.
Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW): These boys don't have a girlfriend, and often don't have a job, either.  This is of course, due to Teh Evul Feminists, who insist that women can do anything men can.  Believe MRA and Red Pill statements about women, often due to an inability to relate to women as people.  Have chosen to remove themselves from the dating game altogether because they aren't Fortune 500 CEOs with a hot trophy wife.  What they fail to understand is that they aren't really missed.
Incels: From "involuntary celibacy."  Incels are manchildren who, again, can't get a date (do I detect a running theme here?).  So, to make up for it, they want to put all the "sluts" (read, women who don't have sex with them) into a subservient role.  Loudly deride women for not staying in their "place," and espouse a hatred of women.  Idolize Elliot Rodgers, the guy who shot six women.  Handle with caution.

Monday, June 19, 2017

In praise of pickiness

Whether you call it "single" or "between relationships," I am at that fun little place called Not In A Relationship.  Kind of sucks.
What's even worse is the advice from the "smug marrieds."  Those people who have gone through life with a grand total of five minutes between relationships their entire lives.  They always trot out that trite line about "every pot has a cover" (what if you're a griddle?).  Or else they hand out the same three pieces of advice: "You need to get out more." (I'm in a male dominated field.  How much more "out" should I get?)  "Have you tried online dating?"  (Yes, I have.  Do you know how many online dating profiles are complete fabrications?)  And, my all time favorite: "You're too picky."
You're damn right I am.
Here's what "not picky" got me.  When I came to Brooklyn, I was 24 years old.  In other words, I was already staring down the barrel of spinsterhood.  Also, I was a BT, which meant that I was already getting "redd" to people deemed undesirable--not that anyone actually made these introductions.  So, I navigated the "single scene" knowing I had two advantages: 1. I was the youngest person in the room by about a decade and 2. I was the novelty.  I attracted attention, mostly from divorced men pushing Social Security eligibility.  If I dated even one man under 40, I would be surprised.  But hey, don't be picky.  Besides, I knew that within a year the novelty would wear off and I would lose the edge I had.
It was in this environment that I met Mr. X.  Sure, he was 55 to my 24.  Sure, he was overweight and not the most attractive specimen.  But hey, he had to have a kind heart to be giving rides to people and feeding stray cats.  And kindness was all that matters.  Besides, I shouldn't be picky.  After all, I wasn't particularly pretty either.  So we started dating.  And when he lost his temper and screamed at me, I overlooked it.  It was probably my fault anyway.  When I found out that he had been arrested for possession of a controlled substance, I overlooked it.  My past wasn't exactly spotless either, and past is past right?  When he tried to sodomize me during our engagement, I wrote it off as a misunderstanding.  I mean, he did stop when I called him on it.
Guess what?  My marriage to Mr. X was marked by his alcoholism, frequent emotional abuse, and eventually rape.  But hey, I made it down the aisle, and that was all that mattered, right?  I hadn't been picky.
I deserve so much better than that.  So do all singles who get that line thrown at their heads.  It doesn't matter why I reject someone's advances.  I'm allowed to set standards for myself.    There are far worse things than being single.  And being in a bad marriage is numbers 1-100 on that list.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Summer blockbuster season--survival of the tritest

Recently, I had the opportunity to see an incredible film about a woman who is a true American hero.  I am speaking, of course, about the biopic Megan Leavey. 
If you haven't seen this movie, I suggest you do.  Like right now.  It probably won't be in theaters much longer.  It opened eighth at the box office, despite an 82% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  One week after opening, it's down to a single screening per day.  The theater had less than 20 people in it.  But what do you expect for a film that was barely promoted and nobody's even heard about?  (I wouldn't have seen it either, but Thing 1 loves dogs.  And since the story was about a Marine and her bomb-sniffing dog--it was kind of required viewing.)
Why do certain movies end up in theaters for ages and others fade out or never even make it?  Why was a film based on the Roald Dahl classic The BFG only in theaters for a few weeks while Boss Baby lasts for months?  Why did the recent release of The Little Prince, an English dub of a French film based on the Saint Exupery story (one of my favorites, incidentally) not even make it to theaters at all?  One week before it was to open, Paramount pulled it, and sent it straight to Netflix.
My guess is we live in the land of the focus group.  Movie companies, competing with streaming services in a pinched economy (going to the movies for a family of four can easily cost $100 between tickets and concessions) will only put their marketing and distribution efforts into films with massive returns.  And right now, that seems to be mostly in big-budget action movies based on the interests of Gen-X and early Millennial males.  TransformersFast and Furious car chase films.  DC and Marvel superheroes (not my brand of geekery, to be honest.)  Most of the previews and theater screens seem to betaken up with some variation on one of these themes. 
But at least there is some hope.  I eagerly anticipated the release of The Great Gilly Hopkins, a film that should have made it (cast included Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Octavia Spencer and Julia Stiles--not exactly names to sneeze at.)  Other than a few sneak previews, the movie never saw the theaters.  However, to my delight, it turned up on Netflix.  So did The Little Prince.  So will a hundred other films you never heard of or paid much attention to when they were in theaters, but start to look better after you binge-watched the newest season of Orange is the New Black and are wondering what else is on.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Breaking Anne--A Review

*Spoilers ahead!
One of my favorite book series growing up was Anne of Green Gables.  I loved the imaginative, ebullient, intelligent redhaired heroine and the other characters that populated her world: shy Matthew, practical Marilla, gossipy, generous Rachel Lynde, Anne's friends, including the loyal Diana Barry, and of course the cocksure Gilbert Blythe, enemy turned rival turned friend turned love interest (spoiler alert--she marries him.  They have six kids together.)  I read all the books and own the Kevin Sullivan miniseries.  So, naturally, when Anne with an E came to Netflix, I had to watch it.  Especially since it was created by Breaking Bad creator Moira Walley-Beckett.
BIIIIG mistake.  They took my favorite character and put her in Bizarro World.
Walley-Beckett wanted to focus on Anne (played by Amybeth McNulty) as the abused orphan, delving into her backstory to create trauma.  Fans of the book will know that Anne was orphaned in infancy and passed around to two different foster homes.  In the first, her foster father was a violent alcoholic.  In the second, her foster mother had twins three times in succession.  Both foster parents used Anne as childcare, even though she was a child herself.  After her second foster father died, Anne spent a few months in an orphanage until she was placed with the Cuthberts, who originally wanted a boy.  As a result of this level of neglect, Walley-Beckett wrote Anne as a broken character.  Rather than being the dreamer of dreams who must express ideas that are too big and beautiful to hold in, Anne talks and imagines to escape frequent flashbacks of abuse.  In this world, Mr. Hammond keels over from a heart attack while beating Anne.  In this world, the town of Avonlea shuns Anne for her orphan status.  Anne herself is no help in this regard.  Her energy is frenzied, as if she is afraid to stop talking or moving out of fear.  She comes off as less eccentric and more unhinged, collapsing to the ground in agony upon hearing that the Cuthberts wanted a boy.  While McNulty is a competent actress, she still struggles with the bad writing.
Aside from taking liberties with Anne's character, the writers also took many liberties with the story, making it as bleak as the iron-cold settings it was filmed against.  The main conflict of the novel was resolved within the first eight chapters, and the rest of the novel is a coming of age stories filled with many charming vignettes of Anne's growth.  Few of them survived the writing process of the series.  There was no playing the lily maid.  No walking the ridgepole of the roof.  No dive-bombing Aunt Josephine.  No liniment cake.  No accidentally dyeing hair green.  Instead, we are treated to the following:
  • Anne begging pennies in a train station (just to drive home that she was unwanted--we got that!)
  • Lifelong conservative Marilla Cuthbert attending a suffrage meeting (more up Rachel Lynde's alley)
  • Anne antagonizing the Cuthbert's hired farmhand (great way to make a first impression on potential foster parents)
  • Anne telling her classmates about Mrs. Hammond repeatedly trying to escape her husband's "pet mouse," who lived in his front pocket and got her pregnant with all those twins.  (Because what children's book is complete without marital rape?)
  • Gilbert becoming an orphan (It wasn't bleak enough already?)
  • Matthew attempting suicide (Completely out of character.  Matthew was not only a religious man, he was the sort of person who would work to his last breath.)
  • Aunt Josephine going from acerbic-tongued spinster to lesbian in mourning (While I don't mind the representation, I rather like the acerbic-tongued old lady.  Besides, why can't we have asexual characters if we're going to represent?)
  • Anne's first period.  (At least Marilla didn't go Margaret White on her.)
If Moira Walley-Beckett wanted to create a series highlighting the fate of orphans, home children and foster children in the late 19th century, fine.  I'm all for it.  Many of them did suffer abuse and neglect, and even under the best of circumstances were forced to be servants and farmhands while still children.  Just leave my favorite book out of it.