Wednesday, August 27, 2008

High on a mountain top: putting 'those' people in their place.

Do the police target stings at heterosexual couples in popular make-out spots? And if they did, would those arrested be subjected to having their names and photos displayed by the local news station?

Monte Sano park in Huntsville is a beautiful place from my memory of it. As a kid, I went there with my cousins when visiting them in Huntsville. There was a pretty cool playground, but I liked it mostly because there were cliffs and rocks to climb, geographical features missing from the landscape around my house. When we were teenagers, we would sneak off up the cliffs so they could smoke or make out with girlfriends. They would tell me scary stories of how it was dangerous to go there at night because satan worshipers gathered there, but we mostly laughed at these accounts. We were no longer spooked by the drug users that we had been warned frequented the park when we were kids, since at this point someone with us was usually smoking pot. It is always funny to find that you have become the bogey man you were so strenuously warned against.

Again, it seems that I'm the bogey man that haunts that park, though not the pot smoking teenagers. I never knew about the cruising areas, probably because the public spaces that gay men frequent for cruising are usually those at the edges where other people rarely go. Guys trying to find someone for casual sex usually don't go places that are filled with kids and families; they don't want to be seen by anyone who isn't looking for the same.

Honestly, who fucking cares if someone has sex in a corner of a park. The guys positioned themselves in a place so they could see the parking lot and avoid being seen by outsiders, and the police and tv station go to extreme lengths to voyeurize the activity and take it from the fringes of the community and force it into every home via the nightly news. Why is the activity of consenting adults so news worthy? Because the people involved are gay (different) and refuse to submit to the desires of the authorities. And why is it ok for the the police and the tv station to subject these people, consenting adults, to public humiliation and extra-legal punishment? Because gay people matter less under the law.

This is what the gay marriage battle is about. This is what ENDA is about. This is what the fight to allow gays in the military is about. The fight is about having or not having laws that say, "You don't matter as much because you are gay. The law will not protect you. We do not have to treat you like you are fully human."

These men were consensual adults, participating in a non-violent, victimless crime. That the police find it necessary to go out of their way to harass and target these men with stings is offensive enough in and of itself, but to bring in the local news crew and work to exact an extra-legal punishment is disgusting. Why bring in the news, why publish faces and names? To shame them. To go beyond the law and exact punishment above and beyond that called for under the law. They feel emboldened to do this because the limits of the law are not the limits of the public's jurisdiction over the queer amongst us. Those people don't matter as much to the law, and because of this, the law is not seen as the boundary around how gay people should be treated. The law is for the real people, the good citizens, not the faggots.

This is why it is ok for the local news station to act as a branch of enforcement, to act as police and judges in this case. Gay people shouldn't be able to get married because law shouldn't treat them as real people or full citizens. Gay people shouldn't be able to serve in the military because the law shouldn't treat them as real people or full citizens. Gay people shouldn't have the same protections in the workplace because the law shouldn't treat them as real people or full citizens. This is the message.

These are hot button issues for the right wings because they do not want to be bound by the law in how they respond to the gay community. They do not want to be limited by the law in how they exact punishment on these 'others', we the bogey men.

Towleroad's article on this is full of comments about how the men got what they deserved or how they shouldn't expect to be exempt from laws. I'll forget for a moment that personally I don't think that having sex in public should be illegal unless it is some kind of disturbance of the peace. My argument here isn't that these guys should expect special treatment under the law. Instead the fight is about equal protection under the law, and limiting the jurisdiction for punishment to the legal system. The frequent, targeted stings were specifically enacted because the targets were engaging in homosexual behavior. For the police to go by and issue tickets wasn't enough, because the law was not the limit to the enforcement the police and others in the community felt entitled to. This was not a situation of "Do the crime, do the time." This was, "Get in your place, boy (or in this case, 'faggot'), or someone might put you there." It was meant to be intimidating and it was meant to exact a punishment for more than just the crime. It was meant to remind the public that gay people should not expect their rights to be the same under the law.

We can't fight for the right to marry and then turn our back on the rights of everyone to be treated the same under the law. The ability of the police and media outlets to participate in intimidation and demonization like this emboldens our opponents to treat all gay people like we aren't full citizens and aren't deserving of full protection under the law. Get out of the best-little-boy-in-the-world trap: "If we just act good enough, show them how like them we can be, then they'll treat us like we are real people too!" Bullshit. Capitulating to and encouraging the belief that individuals should be subject to punishment (legal and otherwise) for not conforming to majority approved roles and that personal expression and identity should be subject to public control only emboldens these fucktards to further try to mistreat anyone who is different.

This sting isn't just about some old closet cases fucking in a park; it is about me and every other gay person in this country. This is about me because I want to be able to expect the same treatment under the law as everyone else, because I don't want to have to worry that my behavior is subject to extra scrutiny and extra-legal judgement and punishment because I am gay.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Psychopsis papilio

(update: looked at the tag with my orchid, which identifies it as "Onc. Mendehall 'Hildos'". Let's ignore the capitalization of the species name, "mendehall". The genus was originally lumped in with Oncidium, but most recent sources I've seen concider Psychopsis a separate genus. I don't have access to a good guide to the different species of Psychopsis but will discuss it in more depth as I find out more about this lovely genus.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fine, lovely, brilliant folks (and for contrast, one gargantuan douchebaggy dissappointment)

You may notice that I've added to a few new links to my side bar. In all honesty I think I'm the only person who uses my links. It collects a few of the sites I like visiting in one place, but let's pretend my massive public following also uses it as their portal to the internet. This adoring following would have noticed most recently that I finally added Kung Fu Monkey, on whom I've long had the biggest blog crush in the world. Honestly, if I got to pick one web site that I'd feel honored to be amongst their links, this is probably it.

Enough fanboy bullshit (actually I am just getting started), the second one you would notice is a link to Charles Stross's blog. I found it because Kung Fu Monkey links to him. I cared and recognized the name because I read Singularity Sky earlier this year.

In Hawaii, in the office, there were books that were free for anyone to grab to read while out at sea. A significant portion of our job was simply not going batshit crazy while cut off from society, so taking lots of books out on trips is more than encouraged. I picked up Singularity Sky by Mr. Stross on a whim. In the last couple of years, with all the time away at sea trapped in various floating prisons under the pretexts of 'science' and 'employment', I've plowed through a shit-ton of books; and out of those books, Singularity Sky would easily be in the top three and probably number one if asked off the top of my head to make a recommendation for a fun and compelling read. It is perhaps one of those few great sci-fi adventures which stretches plausability in a challenging but believable way, forcing you to wrap your head in different ways than you are used to. All science fiction writer like to believe this is what they do, but few of them fully succeed. I've only read the one of his books so far, but I'd put him in a catagory with William Gibson. And like Mr. Gibson, his online writing show him to be a nimble thinker, playfully tinkering about with various problems our world presents us with and our imaginations can conjur.

The polar opposite to the two of them is orson scott card. This hurts to acknowledge, as Ender's Game was brilliant, also a compelling and fun read, even if you'd have to be dense as a brick not to figure out the ending well in advance. I read it and wanted more, but while Speaker For the Dead was well written, it wasn't as enjoyable. I actually found it outright irritating. Part of this will be because I'm a biologist and much of the plot of the book depends on him butchering science beyond the edge of plausibility. I'm fine for playing fast and loose with the limits of the material world, but make it somehow believable. Beyond the irritation of not being able to believe in the story or much about the characters, there was an obvious and irritating preachiness to the book that pissed me off. Again, a compelling and kind of fun read, but also nagging to the point that I was thankful when I finished reading it and passed on picking up any of his other books. I can't say that it is exactly surprising to find that he is a right-wing batshit crazy douche-bag. Dissappointing, but I'm completely willing to divorce beautiful works of art from their creators. I'd still recommend Ender's Game to friends, but I'd also recommend they borrow a copy rather than buy it new.

And also notice Mr. Gibson's blog also now residing in the side bar. This is long belated, particularly as I have linked to him before in specific posts. His blog posts don't tend to be so lengthy, but there are gems of insight and guidance to be found within. I just finished Pattern Recognition(absolutely fucking brilliant); now I've got to get my hands on more of his books before I cast out to sea again.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Manhunt: a week in the politics of and a refusal to be a victim, a rejection of the desire to blame.

(A warning: sometimes I ramble on forever. This is one of those times.)

Sometimes I write simply as an attempt to put my finger on some little nagging feeling that won't stop bugging me. This is one of those times.

Last week, it was pointed out that one of the founders of Manhunt gave the maximun allowed personal donation to john mccain. This seemed to set off a weird little shit-storm that has been interesting to watch. That first little note on Towleroad about him being a republican and supporting mccain spread like wildfire. I like Towleroad, but really don't go there that often, so if word-of-mouth hadn't kicked in, I probably wouldn't have been aware of it at all. As it stands, every one of my gay friends that I have spoken to this week had already heard the news. These are pretty plugged in folks, but none the less, I overheard multiple conversations about it and this bit of news seems to have struck a cord in a way that I haven't seen in a while.

Who cares about a bunch of faggots griping about politics? Apparently, the shareholders at Manhunt. This isn't a mom-and-pop operation, but apparently this caused enough of a backlash that the co-founder and chairman of the board of the second stickiest site on the internet that rakes in around 30 million/year (not counting ad revenue) was asked step down! Really though, that isn't all that surprising. Our political clout as gay men and women comes from our economic clout. Asshole republicans might still enjoy bashing us to try and get a few extra votes, but corporate entities think twice about really pissing us off. By and large, we are vindictive consumers and we have enough cash to reject a company who rejects us. We aren't going to shut someone down, but a gay boycott can put a dent that hurts in a company's profit margin. Coors has been fighting for 20+ years to get back a chunk of the gay market. The religious right likes to scream and wave their hands around and call boycotts, but they just don't seem to vote with their dollars quite like we do. Just ask .McDonald's.

So I can't say that I was surprised to hear person after person voicing their decision to cancel their Manhunt account. All things being fair, I'll say that the response of the shareholders and the statement by the other cofounder Larry Basile seemed to readily acknowledge how toxic support of our enemies is in the gay community, so I'll give them a little nod of appreciation. Granted, I'll also not renew my subscription and amongst the people I've talked to or heard discussing it, the general gist seemed to be that this wasn't enough to get them back on board anytime soon. I'll guess that this moral stand is all the firmer because however effective Manhunt is, it is also irritating (all online searching becomes irritating after a while), so having a little bit of an excuse to stay away is all many people need.

All this discussion of Manhunt was made all the more potent and volatile by a recent article on by Michael Gross titled "Has Manhunt Destroyed Gay Culture?" Ok, I'll forgive the lofty hyperbole in the title, after all, I like hyperbole. And I'll agree that the article is interesting and damn if this article wasn't perfectly timed for maximum impact. How ever congradulatory I might be towards it's targeting and timing, my feelings about it are the ones that I've come here to sort out in text. Despite finding the article interesting, something in it really irritated the fuck out of me.

Let's leave aside for a second any of the back politics of Manhunt discussed earlier. Like I said, for me, it kind of came out at a draw and this article makes no claims about any intentional attempts by manhunt to steer gay politics other than using ad space to rally its members to fight attempts to require proof of age for people to post naked pictures online. Actually, I'd argue that Manhunt is successful precisely because it stays so on task. It is easy to use and has a minimum of bells and whistles, and changes to its user interface are rare and minimal. So this isn't about intentional attempts by Manhunt trying to destroy gay culture but rather what consequences are we seeing because of how we utilize it.

Says Mr. Gross about how we're using the internet:

"'Post-gay' social life grew mixed, and the physical drive that defines us as gay -- the drive to have sex with each other -- increasingly found vent online. This aspect of our lives became more private, and even secret, than ever. In 1993, 2.3% of gay men found their first male sexual partner online. In 2003 the number was 61.2%. (These figures come from the United Kingdom, and there’s been no parallel study in the United States, but sociologists believe the findings here would be similar.)"

and how our community is changing in response to this:

"'The implications of that trend are enormous,' says Jeffrey Klausner of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. 'It means that gay men who were once socialized in brick-and-mortar establishments, surrounded by other people, are now being socialized online.' Gay men still go out as well, but our nightlife habits are very different than they were 12 years ago. Jeffrey Parsons, professor of psychology at New York’s Hunter College, says his unpublished research confirms the common sense that 'when guys go to bars, they’re going to be with their friends, not to meet new people.'"

These statements I don't really disagree with (I'll not split hairs about it not being our physical drives so much as our emotional ones which define us as gay), but I do think they are mistaking the symptoms for the cause. Bars have shifted somewhat away from being cruisy hook-up spots towards places to go with and meet friends not because all the people wanting to get laid have run off to the internets to hid their ho-bagness but rather because being gay is more widely accepted and can more easily be integrated into a person's public social identity and so isn't as often restricted to being simply indicative of who you sleep with. That I sleep with men isn't what I'm communicating when I tell someone I'm gay these days. To some people that may be all they see, but more and more we are able to expand what it means to include how we interact with the world. It isn't just about fucking, though I'm sure I'm going to contradict myself about this in a moment. My point is that it wasn't the creation of Manhunt or any other online cruising site that destroyed the cruisiness of gay bars.

The visibilty of gay people in popular culture and politics has had a multitude of benefits for us, but with that visibility and acceptance into the community at large has left us more at the mercy of public opinion and in the irritating position of having to either assimilate and find ways to project an adoption of roles acceptable to the wider community or hide our gayness or at least the less palpable habits more deeply. This fuels Manhunt more than Manhunt facilitates its progression. We find ourselves having to accept these roles or more aggressively challenge them.

For those of us in major urban centers with large gay populations, we aren't as pressured to accomodate as those in smaller communities might be. I can surround myself with mostly gay friends and still be social with straight friends, and most of both groups think little of blending together. It is no big deal to take a straight friend to a gay bar. And our demographic seems more than comfortable with discussing sex and dating in pretty blunt and open terms. Even still, there are things about gay culture that I'm likely to either gloss over or not describe terribly graphically, but this isn't out of shame so much as manners. You don't bring up things which you think might make someone else uncomfortable.

This isn't significantly different than some of what is said in the Out article, but I hope that there is a difference in tone. His tone in the article seemed to be reinforcing gay shame, to validate the idea that these things are inherently shameful. This tone is enhanced by making the contradictory claim that while the sex has been disappearing from gay clubs and public places, Manhunt is causing more anonymous and unsafe sex.

Bullshit. I'll argue that casual, anonymous sex is more difficult to find now than it has been at any other time in the last 40 years. I'm stretching since that goes back further than my personal sexual experience, but I've spent enough time talking to the old guys I can find in whatever gay bar I've ever been to to at least have an anecdotal feel for gay life in this period. And the significant changes that have driven to less public cruising and sex are 1) public awareness via pop culture leading to closer scrutiny and sometimes public backlash (as with most public rest areas in South Carolina being closed in reaction to a few conservative public officials being upset by the depiction of SC as a hotbed of gay sex in There's Something About Mary), 2) attempts to clean up public areas and enforce smaller crimes to discourage larger crimes in communities, as described by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point (so, glory holes and bathroom graffitti get covered over, the health department shuts down cruisy theaters, more police patrol parks), 3)a loss of much a generation above us and particularly those who participated most actively in cruising prior to the identification of how to protect ourselves during sex, and perhaps most significantly, 4)the afore mentioned awareness of the general public of the ubiquity of gay people and less willful ignorance amongst the public, so cruisy behavior is more likely to be identified as such so the chances of getting caught are higher for those folks still in the closet. Going to a gaybar is more fraught with danger of being caught (even if perhaps the danger of being assaulted is somewhat less) for the closeted individual as people are more likely to be aware of gay bars or hangouts in their communities, these days you might even to run into girls from the office out dancing at the gay club.

You've got to be pretty ready to be known of as gay if you are going to participate in any kind of gay community things. It is no longer just between you and the people you sleep with or see at the bar. This was driven home to me when I visited home during college and ran into several girls I went to highschool with out at the gay bar some 50 miles away from my house. They were just out dancing, but suddenly, ready or not(I was ready), I was outed to everyone my age who I had known in rural Alabama (not that they hadn't thought I was gay all along...). These weren't fag hags or there with their gay best friends; going to a gay bar no longer involves an initiation or chaperone.

This isn't a complaint.

But this drives the movement of more illicit behaviour, particularly for those less comfortable with their sexuality, out of bars and public cruising spots and onto the internet. Manhunt didn't create this phenomena even if it does facilitate it remarkably well.

Hidden in this question, "Has Manhunt destroyed gay culture?" is the suggestion that gay culture has been destroyed and if it has been, there is a desire to have a scapegoat to blame. What exactly are we suggesting has been destroyed? The gay community is more visible than ever; we have more widespread acceptance, legal protection, and political clout. What has been destroyed? What is the damage, exactly, inflicted by Manhunt or people spending more time online? As said earlier, in some places, gay bars are struggling to maintain clientel, but again I argue that the retreat from gay bars is in response to outside pressure and bars no longer being the only place that gay folks can find others like them more than people abandoning bars because they can now find fellows to fuck online.

So where have we gone wrong? Says Mr. Gross:

"Beyond a certain point, though, perpetually settling for Mr. Right Now becomes a failure of hope. When you came out, you did it because you wanted something. Part of what you wanted was sex, but part of what you hoped for was the possibility of being loved as your true self. And when, as often happens while cruising online, we diminish the hopes that drew us out of the closet, we reduce sexy to a purely physical act.

"When we do these things we lie to ourselves -- and worse, we tell the same lies that our enemies tell about us. The fundamentalist canard about loving the sinner but hating the sin draws a nonsensical distinction between person and act. Cruising online, by encouraging us to separate sex from the rest of our lives, does exactly the same thing. These are falsehoods about human nature and about the place of love in our lives, and they undermine the belief that sex can be anything more than a pastime."

I don't buy that cruising online 'encourages' us to separate sex from the rest of our life; it can allow us to make this separation, but ultimately it is a tool and we choose how we use it. If we put up non representative profiles of ourselves online, WE have done that, not someone else, not Manhunt, not gay culture at large.

This irritates the fuck out of me when people so often take the ability to do something as an endorsement to do it. I'll agree that we as a community need to encourage and support certain boundaries. We should fight like cats and dogs to get decent sex ed back in schools, and we should work back to stigmatizing casual barebacking or at least keep bugging people to know their status and ask the same of their partners before participating in risky behavior, but we've also got to be real about personal responsibility in all this. This article seemed to want too much to have someone outside of ourselves doing the objectifying, the time wasting, the separation; and sadly enough, it isn't a website or anyone else. We each individually are going on these sites and looking for what we want. We make our representations ourselves and we post those dick pics. And if that is what you are wanting to do, do it. Enjoy it and fuck anyone who tells you to be ashamed about it. If you are ashamed and feel dirty about it, that's you. That is your baggage, not the website's. Don't do it if it makes you feel bad, but don't wish it all away to preserve you from the dark temptations. The sad truth is that on some level, we are all in real life something of the person we pretend to be online. If you have an online profile asking for hot sex now, that is part of who you are and what you desire, not something the devil or Manhunt made you do. Sure we can lie online about who we are, but what lies are told say something about who we are.

This was a defense of the article that friends made when I said it irritated me; they agreed with this statement that cruising online causes "us to separate sex from the rest of our lives". And? I'm not going about whether severing your sexual self from you personal identity can be traumatizing; that is exactly why the closet is so damaging: disowning pieces of yourself while deifying and mythologizing a carefully maintained exterior is how monsters are made. What I would argue is that online cruising isn't any more inherently dehumanizing than old school cruising in person; if anything, it demands more disclosure and accurate representation. Sure, if your online profile is a cock shot or a headless torso, it feeds into objectification of our bodies, but is this some how more objectifying that a dick stuck through a glory hole or under a bathroom stall?

Why do I keep coming back to anonymous public cruising? Because that is the real world niche that Manhunt is there to fill online. It is a built as a place for online cruising; it is there to facilitate finding someone to fuck, not someone to marry. Ignore that plenty of people search through it more for amusement or just to see who they can recognise or as a way to connect with other gay people when they more to a new town. Simply by force of size and ubiquity it has become something of a community center, but it was built to be a cruising ground.

It is the tone in the article that plays to the assumption that what we do, what we desire how we attempt to realize those desires is inherently shameful that I feel is so damaging. It is an extension of best-little-boy-in-the-world syndrome: if I'm good enough, if I show them that I'm just like they are, then they'll accept me. Fuck no! I'm not just like everyone else; I'm not interested in normal; I'm not waiting for the normal people, the real people to accept me or my desires. I'm also not interested in pretending like the 'normal' people are particularly normal.

Am I saying that no one should have to think about how their behavior affects their life or those around them? Hell no, but we also shouldn't be taking our cues on how to measure our worth from the standards set by our enemies. I'm fine with the thesis that online cruising can be an enormous time waster that the time could be better spent doing other things or that how we divide and sublimate portions of our identities can have detrimental affects, but I'm not interested in the complaint that big, bad Manhunt has created this new phenomena of dangerous anonymous sex that is destroying our once vibrant gay culture. It positions us as both victim and predator, helpless against this scourge and yet also the amoral sex fiends feeding off one another. If only it hadn't done this to us, if only we weren't such sluts and whores. If anything, it is this accomodationist guilt-trip attitude that prevents our progress in political arena's that Mr. Gross's friend suggests jokingly that we might have been able to accomplish if only we didn't "spend so many hours of so many days online, doing things that make us feel ashamed of ourselves.” We are going to accomplish these things when we quit spending so much time feeling ashamed of the things we do and instead of demonizing and repressing urges find constructive ways of channeling them and accepting ourselves. Part of this is looking long and hard at how promiscuous we are (and aren't) and what we will do with what we find, but this is an inward journey and a conversation with each other, not something to pretend has been thrust upon us. As we accept ourselves and our desires and our identities, we seem to be more able to find satisfaction and peace, and even, as I'm finding now, more enjoyment from a domestic existence and partnership, but this isn't the only way and it isn't a place I ever would have gotten if I still felt guilty for and controlled by my desires.

So let's ask the questions about what stands in the way of accomplishing our desired political goals. Let's ask ourselves what we want out of things like Manhunt and if we are getting it and if not, how we could. Let's talk about how our time is wasted or well spent. Let's talk about why gay bars are struggling (or in other cases, thriving) and how to counter it. But can we please get a little more real and dig a little deeper. We need discussions and analysis, not snake oil treatments and someone to blame.

Monday, August 11, 2008

White-bread vs. white trash: let's call a spade a spade (alternate title: "cokie roberts complains that Obama ain't acting white enough.")

The kind and talented folks over at Talking Points Memo have noted the asinine statements by cokie roberts suggesting that Hawaii is too foreign and exotic for Barack Obama to chose as a vacation destination. She thought Myrtle Beach would have been a better choice.

They sort of dismiss it with casual, bemused derision; asking for suggestions of better, more 'white-bread' destinations he might vacation at to please the pundinistas. Casual derision is all her stupid-ass comments deserve, but I think it ends up glossing over a couple of things illuminated by her statements.

Let's ignore how retardedly patronizing cokie is being in suggesting that she knows better than he where he should vacation. Actually, maybe we shouldn't ignore that. Would she have said that Hawaii was too exotic a locale for mccain to visit? No, of course not. And why not? Because he is white. For Barack Obama, with his brown skin and non-European name to be considered for president, folks like cokie roberts want him to jump through extra hoops to prove to them that he is American enough, white-acting enough, un-ethnic enough for them to dein to grace him with their votes.

This is the quiet, irritating racism which threatens to derail this race. I would bet a dollar that cokie roberts doesn't think of herself as racist. I'd even bet a second dollar that she thinks she is quite progressive. And in the larger sense of the world, she probably isn't an outright racist. Most of us, most Americans aren't. But it is the little, sometimes subconscious things which get sticky and can really get so irritating. Honestly, sometimes it is easier to deal with someone who will come right out and say, "I'm not going to vote for a nigger," than someone who says, "There is just something about him I just don't trust."

Is cokie saying she doesn't trust him? Not per se when she's positing that he is vacationing somewhere too exotic. Why is it too exotic for him to vacation there while it wouldn't be too exotic a place for john mccain to vacation? Because for a person of color, the general damns the individual. For Obama to vacation somewhere ostensibly 'exotic' is to be in danger of being seen as 'exotic'. If mccain visited an exotic locale, its otherness wouldn't become associated with him the individual. I'm ignoring of course that Hawaii is an American state and Obama's family is there, but again, if mccain had been born in Hawaii, his association with an exotic locale would be considered something that gave him extra dimension rather than a way to dismiss him as different. Because he is white, for all appearances fully of European decent. This is also why Barack's preacher was more of an issue than mccain's crazy preachers: with those in a different group than us, the sins of an individual become the sins of the race while the sins of someone in our same category are their own, not so easily contaminating those around them. So the actions/beliefs/statements of one black man, Rev. Wright, are considered indicative of the actions/beliefs/statements of another black man, Barack Obama, above and beyond their relationship and what either has said to the contrary. mccain's preachers shamed themselves, and only considerable flogging made the public conflate their actions with the candidate and so now are mostly forgotten to anyone who doesn't watch the campaign obsessively.

I don't mean to sound high and mighty in all this, like I'd never make such subconscious judgements. We all do. It is the nature of in group and out group relations. You are going to more readily identify with someone in your in group, with whom you recognize shared traits and so more accurately read between the lines with them and catch nuances. With people with whom you identify similarities, you are less likely to conflate negative aspects of an individual with the entire group because it also damns you and if it truly isn't a trait of the group you can recognize the lack of said trait in yourself. What makes this sticky and a bit nauseating while discussing this presidential race is how we are drawing the lines around 'Us' and 'Them'. This is part and parcel for the republican party to try to make their opponent into 'Them'. Their whole shtick is whining about how those people are ruining or threatening to ruin the country, and puffing out their chest and saying, "but we won't let them get away with it!" If mitt romney had been a viable candidate outside of just having a shit-ton of money to throw away on a vanity project, mccain et al would have hit him harder and done all manner of insidious thing to remind people that he was a Mormon, that he was different, that he was one of them. In the last election Kerry was a Northeast liberal elitist, and bush needed to be elected again to protect Us from all those scary brown people who hate our freedom and the gays that want to destroy the institution of marriage and corrupt the children. And now, mccain and friends are going to hit Barack Obama with everything they've got to suggest as subtly but clearly as possible that he isn't one of Us. They've already succeeded as painting him as Muslim for the seriously xenophobic folks and they're doing their damnedest to facilitate the belief that he might be the fucking antichrist (literally), so I'm not really going to hold my breath for them to be more sensitive in their message. They should be if they didn't want to be douchebags, but I don't think it is high on their list of concerns. This is why I don't vote for republicans or even very often capitalize their names. Willingness to try to win this way is also why I lost respect for the Clinton campaign.

Members of the press feeding this smear of otherness, however, do get me pissed off. How are they drawing the lines of 'Us' and 'Them'? For a presidential race, the in group is the entire country. The people following the race, the people who can vote for the president, the people who are to be represented by the president are every last American citizen. Not just white people, not just east coast folks, not just stuck-up, spoiled pundits. The treatment of a presidential candidate as 'other'(i.e. 'not really American') is pretty disgusting. The message in the message that ms. roberts was sending is that Barack Obama needs to prove himself as one of Us, as an American. And implicit in this suggestion that he isn't one of Us is also the suggestion that black people aren't really Us either, aren't really Americans at least until they've proven themselves.

I've gone in a different direction that this was originally going to go, as you might have guessed from the title. What originally got me going was TMP's call for more white-bread destinations than Myrtle Beach. cokie roberts wasn't suggesting that Barack should have chosen somewhere more 'white-bread', she meant that he should go somewhere more white trash. She didn't suggest Cape Cod or the Hamptons, she chose Myrtle Beach, the "Redneck Riviera". Why do I suggest that this more telling than choosing another equally or perhaps more 'white' vacation destination? Because it means that the press isn't finished with their stupefying grovelling to the fictionally monolithic Nascar demographic. There has been a sort of deifying of the redneck as this uniquely American beast (which it isn't), and the national press corps goes on and on ad nauseum about how these 'true' Americans will respond to this or that in the national press, as if these strange, otherwise cut-off country folks control the direction of the country and must be appeased before anything can go on. They are simple and should be spoken to like children and only given information in the broadest strokes so the message can't get lost in the nuance. Well, I find it pretty damn patronizing and insulting. Perhaps all the more so because to a certain extent it is true: their are plenty of people who are willing to believe anything they are told by an authority and are all too happy to view the world dichromatically. But I'd start with the press who ate the administration's bullshit on Iraq hook, line, and sinker if we really want to start naming whose shown themselves to be a crucially manipulable demographic.

In the same way that the press both trash and simultaneously idolize this idea of a culturally less sophisticated but somehow more genuine demographic in 'middle America', they also project onto them their own prejudices, using communication with this group as an excuse for airing their own biases. When ms. roberts suggested that Hawaii might be too exotic, to whom is it that she is suggesting it would be too exotic? To those down home folks in middle America of course! Her choice of the Red-Neck Rivera for his family vacation belies who she thinks might not be able to relate to his exotic Hawaiian gallivanting. Perhaps I am reading too much into her choice of vacation destination, maybe it is really a place she loves to visit herself and she is personally afraid of how international Hawaii is, but growing up in the South, Myrtle Beach was always synonymous with a fairly trashy vacation destination. Not that it can't be fun, but it is the kind of place that you go for spring break or graduation trips or possibly for family reunions if you live near there, not really a vacation spot for senators (except perhaps ones from SC, but get real, unless its for a fundraiser they're going to be vacationing on Hilton Head or Kiawah). I'm getting off track. The original point was that in choosing this location, suggesting who it is that might, in cokie roberts's mind, have issue with a black presidential candidate going somewhere that seems too exotic, reinforcing assumptions that he is too exotic(read: "not really American"), she is projecting her prejudices onto this middle America true grit demographic.

I'll stop flogging this for now. Ben asked me to put down the computer so he could sleep and proceeded to admit that he has new found love for nancy grace. I'm flabbergasted and appalled, but can't help giggling as he imitates her ridiculous hyperbole. He does perhaps have a point, "They could take any segment from her show to use as a Saturday Night Live skit and not have to change one word."

I hope that the Obamas are enjoying their Hawaiian vacation.

Friday, August 08, 2008


I realize that anyone reading this who doesn't know me personally might think that the man doing the writing is an angry, bitter grump. I'll freely admit that I am something of a grouch at times, but a joyous one.

Because I use writing as a cathartic release to drain away the venom, perhaps I don't use it often enough as a celebration. I drank too much last night, and have felt hungover all day, but I'm finding that I can't stop smiling. Today I can't stop thinking about how blessed I've been to be surrounded by the people who've found themselves skiping through the years with me.

If I grump and grouch it is because I see the rough edges all the more clearly for how beautiful I find the world.

Years ago I decided to let go of the spiritual turmoil that weighed me down as I tried to make sense of it all and deal with the baggage left from intense adolescent religiosity and the burning blinding flash that confronts eye kept wide open. I reduced all my fervent prayers to the only two that I felt qualified to direct toward the universe: "wow." and "thank you."

Hiding from the rain under an awning, I ate my chili cheese dog and talked on the phone to the most beautiful boy in the world.

Mason finished tuning his mandolin and we sang "Wheels" as he played, until we heard Kat's bus blasting out musical honks to announce its arrival.

The parking meter was broken where Mason and I helped Kat park her beautiful bus.

An old lady with big round hair, dyed black but showing an inch of white at the roots, sat on her stoop and smiled at me. I smiled back.

I watered my moonvine, then it began to rain.


thank you.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Back the fuck off and leave Toby Keith alone...

This morning I've been texting back and forth with Kearney, whose job is apparently more boring than usual today or maybe he is just feeling chatty. Inbetween laughing at jerry falwell's fortune being squandered by him before he left this world to reap his eternal reward and feeling slightly gross for finding ourselves kind of totally loving Paris Hilton, we found time to comment on the election. He comments on the latest polls, saying it is going to be an uphill battle. I say duh, all the boomers are about to face the deep down racism that they like to believe they don't have when they find themselves choosing between a pathetic candidate and a black candidate.

Why in the hell am I sharing my boring text conversation with you? Because it is a funny backdrop for the rant that is about to follow. I think plenty of people are way more racist than they would like to believe. I think there is sub-conscious racism scattered all throughout this campaign and people are uncomfortable having to confront it. Nobody (except perhaps my father who read mccain's book 8 years ago and has refrained from updating his opinion of him since) actually wants to vote for john mccain. In Alabama this last weekend, my crazily conservative uncle confided that he and his internet political buddies all feel like they will have to hold their noses to vote for him. To say that the republican base is the opposite of energized is an understatement. So why will this be an uphill battle? Because the energizing rock star candidate is a black man and this makes an awful lot of Americans seriously uncomfortable. I'll happily argue that in general, America is more progressive about racial issues than almost anywhere on the planet. That said, I'm more saying that most people on the planet are more bigoted than they'd like to admit than that we are all roses and sunshine. We've got our racial issues in spades, and we are being confronted with that in an unignorable way now.

But, as the title suggest, despite having wanting to chew on these issues in text for a while now, it isn't what I've sat down to tangle with today. Or maybe that is exactly what I'm sitting down to talk about. Let's dive right in...

I followed a link to an article on Huffington Post, and in the side bar I saw a link to another Huffpo piece: max blumenthal griping about Toby Keith saying some black people might say that Obama acts white. Seems mr. blumenthal already had his panties in a wad over Toby Keith's song/upcoming movie "Beer For My Horses". Why, after reflecting that this election, despite having the strongest Democratic candidate in many years, is going to be a hard one to win because that candidate happens to be black, am I going to slam someone else for crying "RACISM!!!!"? Because he is being an idiotic dumb ass.

I thought I had written a similar diatribe in the past, but looking back through my archive, I can't find it, so here goes nothing. mr. blumenthal is the unfortunate victim of built up vitriol over people ignorantly stereotyping Toby Keith. So sure, he is the human equivalent of a bright yellow, double-axle, extended cab, monster truck, but he isn't the right wing moron that some people assume he is. Yes, he wrote that 'boot-in-the-ass' song that was played every three minutes for the year following 9/11. He wrote that song originally just for an audience of enlisted men heading off to Afghanistan, but it was catchy and it made it on his album and on the radio and won the hearts of right wing chickenhawk douchetards from sea to shining sea. And it became an anthem for blood thirsty furor that bush and friends rode us off to Iraq on. So I understand getting tired of that song, of the radios playing it all the time, of the assholes it ended up bolstering. Because it went from being a song for the troops to a song for people who wanted the excitement of war without any sacrifice, but it wasn't Mr. Keith who took it there.

He supported the assault in Afghanistan, but not the invasion of Iraq. He's not perfect but when you listen to him discuss things, he doesn't come across as an ignorant idiot. Country and a little crude at time, but then again, so am I, and I still get the feeling that he thinks about things before he comments and isn't just pushing anyone else's talking points or echoing whatever ignorant things some other doofus comes up with.

So having thought this for a long while as I watch lazy blogger after lazy blogger rant about how right wing Toby Keith is over the last few years, today I stumble across max b. screaming bloody murder over him saying that some black people might comment that Barack Obama is able to be in the position he is in because he acts white. Why in the hell is that a controversial statement? Plenty of black people do complain that he acts white. And he is a viable national candidate because he comes across, if not white, at least somewhat racially neutral. Ignoring all this doesn't mean you aren't racist, it means you aren't willing to look clearly in the face of racial issues. That people would rather not have to deal with racial issues doesn't make them go away, doesn't mean they aren't there. Which is exactly the point Toby Keith makes in that radio segment that got blumenthal all itchy:

GLENN: Today, the house hasn't been working on you know like finding energy or oil or anything else. Yesterday they decided and debated and finally passed a resolution to apologize for slavery.

TOBY: You know what? It's if it's never been done before, then I think everybody apologizes for that.

GLENN: I mean, why, but isn't that common sense?

TOBY: Yeah, it is.

GLENN: I don't know a single soul that is, like, oh, slavery. If we just had a few slaves. I don't know anybody that's like that.

TOBY: Yeah.

GLENN: And anybody who would be like that, we can, you know, take care of them by just saying, hey, talk a little louder because you're a freak.

TOBY: Well, we definitely need to move past it, because it's something that I see that never changes. It racial issues just never ever seem to change. We can't get past them. And so I really don't know what the answer is.

GLENN: Wait a minute. Hang on a second. Haven't we gotten past it. Isn't Barack Obama possibly the next president of the United States and you don't see people, you know, saying, oh, he's black. I don't know any of those people. I'm sure they exist, but I don't know those people. Don't you think that shows that, I mean, look at the great distance we've come in just the last 20 years.

TOBY: Okay, but, also, I think that the black people would say, he don't talk, act, or care railway himself as a black person.

GLENN: What does that even mean?

TOBY: I don't know what that means, I'm saying that's what I think that they would say. Even though the the black society would pull for him, I still think that they think in the back of their mind that the only reason that he is in is because he talks, acts and carries himself as a Caucasian, but I think he's got a I think him and McCain are the two best choices, in my opinion, that we've had in years.

Saying that we need to move past racial issues is not the same thing as trying to ignore them or pretend that they are all solved. They aren't and kudos to Mr. Keith for refusing to play along with beck's attempt to brush them under the rug.

"Nobody likes slavery and a black man can run for high public office. See? We aren't racist anymore." This is the kind of dumbassed rose colored shit that gets useful public debate about race stuck in the muck. It is the silencing of discussion of it that helps keep it alive and kicking more than people who aren't delicate about how they talk about it. This goes hand in hand with what max blumenthal is doing here: reducing racism to a list of verboten subjects that make you racist if you don't approach them in the approved way so if you avoid those, then you aren't racist. "You sing about lynching, so it is obviously about lynching black people, you racist!" Is lynching a loaded subject in America? Hell fucking yes! Last year when a friend who works for a music label was talking to me about them considering trying to bring a song across the pond from England that was basically a fuck-em-all drinking song referencing all manner of omnipresent pop cultural/political crap then suggesting to "string 'em up", I pointed out that the song might not translate so well over here because of the unavoidable racial connotations.

I don't mind people saying that "Beer For My Horses" should raise some eyebrows or trying to discuss what nerves it hits. Discuss it, argue about it, but don't try and use it as an excuse to whack a singer over the head with a blunt object for having a song about it. Our country has long celebrated vigilante justice and half of our movies are about those who slip between the fingers of the law getting their just desserts in the end from someone who steps outside the restrictions that the law puts on our police and judicial system. Right now the biggest blockbuster of all times is selling out across the country with exactly that story, so don't get all high and mighty about someone singing the same damn thing in a song.

It is funny and in ways thereputic for me to be writing this now. When I first heard the song(it has been out for a long time now), I cringed. Exactly because lynching has racial connotations in American, particularly in the South. And a little bit because I didn't think it is really one of his best songs and I'd rather hear Willie Nelson duet with him on a better song. I don't like mythologizing the good-old-days and have no illusions about how people's bigotries find ways to seep out between the words that they say. God knows I've written about it before. But also listening to the song, I found that the racial baggage that I found there was what I brought with me, and came away feeling that if we wanted to place his song about stringing people up in its appropriate context that it comes from our treasured American Wild West cowboy mythology. How ever much it may conjure up our wounds from racially driven lynchings I don't think that is the intent behind it, so it is irritating to see the suggestion that Toby Keith is a racist for singing this song beaten into the ground. I'll argue that such revenge fantasies have been particularly appealing to certain breed of whiney-ass-titty-baby types whose perpetual fear of discomfort keep rush limbaugh and sean hannity and bill o'reilly in business and that stoking these flames was useful for bush et al, but don't try to act like this one is particularly potent or dangerous.

max's whining was particularly irritating because of his dumb swipes at Toby's musical prowess and real country cred. I'll be the first to gripe that much of 'Today's Hottest Country' is vapid as shit and worthless, but Toby Keith? He is easily one of the best song writers in Nashville and has one of the most powerful and beautiful voices of any male country artist alive. Sure, he most often pumps out fun honkey tonk anthems with catchy hooks, but even these songs are usually beautifully written. The argument that he isn't country is just stupid and gratutitous. And the "At his best, Keith is Merle Haggard with a lobotomy," comment... do a detect a little side swipe at Mr. Haggard? You better step back! Swing around your country music realness with with your hyperlinks for some country icons and alt-country darlings and have a shout out for your friend if it makes you feel more legit, but don't try to slam the man who penned and sang "I Should Have Been a Cowboy" and "A Little Less Talk and Alot More Action" as not country and think you don't come across as a country music tourist at best. Some of his songs are dumb and annoying, but the man's plenty fucking talented and 'country'.

Anyway, can we discuss touchy subjects like race openly with eyes wide open and not either try to declare it all fixed and hunky-dory or squeal like a stuck pig anytime anyone does anything which reminds us that we've got racial baggage in this country? Please?