Club Sauce

On Theoretical Physics

Ceremony
I will tell you something about stories,
[he said]
They aren’t just for entertainment.
Don’t be fooled
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.
Their evil is mighty
but it can’t stand up to our stories.
So they try to destroy the stories
let the stories be confused or forgotten
They would like that
They would be happy
Because we would be defenseless then.

-Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony

A week — to the day — after the world tipped off its axis and went bouncing down the knotty dirt road, turned a sharp corner and careened off a cliff, I was having many glasses of wine with some lady friends. Over the course of the evening, we were all trying to put words to what we had been feeling all week…beyond and beneath panic and rage and terror. I mentioned that I, a person who lives life in the murky grays, had been feeling locked at two binary poles: Part of me wanted to live fully in the visceral world; I just wanted to scream and kick and drink and snort and fuck. The other part of me wanted to dwell solely in the sublime; I had returned to an old place of cozy intellectualism, and literature and art and music and film and theoretical physics were the only things that made sense to me (okay, theoretical physics doesn’t make actual sense to me…but it does make theoretical sense). One of these fabulous women noted that these two poles actually dwell right next to each other — if you curve the line, they are where the circle meets. The visceral and the sublime fold back on each other just like the hero’s journey ends where it begins.

monomyth
This led to half-drunk talk of Wilde, and eventually of Locke and Aristotle and the dueling (and yet inseparably linked) philosophies of the American experiment. At any rate, I’m not sure I have yet left these poles. Many weeks on, and I’m not sure there is solace to be taken beyond the basely physical or that there is sense to be made of any of it.

I do know that there’s a link between the Big Questions and the desire to engage in stories. In the weeks since the election — those high-stress, high-hopes, holy-fucking-what-the-fuck weeks — I’ve been trapped in a strange inclination to fill holes in other people’s narratives. People I know. Friends going through breakups or family issues…things like that. I walk the dog and fill in holes in conversations that should be had, acknowledgements of wrong-doing that should be offered, feelings of love and pain that should be addressed. I’m trapped in a desire to fix stories, other people’s stories, with truth and with specificity (humans can be so vague sometimes). The parts of my brain that once pondered words said in a debate or the details of a particularly wonky article (I pretty much only read the really wonky ones) are now devoted wholly to the minutiae of real lives. I am diving deep into what’s real. Or maybe I’m finding something real — tangible, at least — in what is thus far incomplete. In part, I think that I’m stuffing the holes in unfinished tales because I want to know how this all ends.

Theater has taught us much about how these things go — the symbolic props of the staged life. In the simplest of theatrical truisms, if you see a gun in the first act, it will certainly go off before the end of the play. Hedda Gabler is our most sobering example of this: the titular character’s eerily fetishized mention of her father’s pistols at the end of Act I should serve a warning that one of those pistols will be used by Hedda at the play’s end. And yet readers/viewers often don’t see it coming. We underestimate women (always), but we also underestimate human capacity for the stupidly melodramatic. We think a singular logic and formal reason and social norms can be applied — that if we name and catalog and measure everything, we can telegraph the correct outcome. But literature has taught us — for centuries upon centuries (see re: Medea) — that this is not how humans behave.

Hedda Gabler shoots herself in the temple under the looming portrait of her father. The final line of the play, spoken by her ineffectual blackmailer, is “But God pity us — such things simply are not done.” I mean, swap out the specter of General Gabler for George Washington — or maybe Alexander Hamilton as we’re going Big Time Literary and timeliness is key — and of course America just shot itself in the head because it couldn’t find a better way out of its boring, tedious existence. And the rest of us, like Mr. Brack in the play, are dumbfounded as if we couldn’t see the action building throughout four acts in which an unspooling character repeatedly and recklessly waved around loaded pistols. The data didn’t show us that outcome…but Ibsen sure did.

This much I do feel is certain: the time of polling, data, evaluation, measured outcomes, and quantifiable impact is over. It has brought us nothing but distraction. With now nearly two decades of constant talk of measuring and thinking about measuring and what we’re measuring…we’ve lost a bit of humanity and a whole lot of truth. Specifically, some of us (myself included, having forgotten my roots) mollified ourselves with data; we were convinced that the impossible couldn’t happen because the data told us that it wouldn’t. And, in our defense, it is true that “no one expects the Spanish Inquisition.” And yet we should.

A few weeks after the election, with a head full of dread and images and passages and a slew of untethered semiotics, I repeatedly conjured the image of Maya Deren’s sandaled feet in “Meshes of the Afternoon.” Of being a woman in the world. Of embodying a space of madness and of masculinity. Upon re-watching the film, I realized how much I didn’t fully remember — the duplication of women-as-same, the threat of these same-women to each other, the threat of man, the man-as-mirror-for-self; I had, however, internalized in my overall sense of it a tether to my nagging thoughts about women who look like me, are white like me, in the days after the election. This horrifying betrayal of the mirror-self that I knew was there all along. I’ve read about it, I’ve seen it, I’ve absorbed it into my subconscious through feminist theory and Shakespeare and Mulholland Drive. And yet the data told me that what I knew to be true — what was as much as part of me as my own breath — was not true, and I believed the data. I have learned my lesson: always believe the art. The data are lies piled into simulated sculptures — beautiful in their own way, and capable of stunning parlor tricks and sleight of hand, but not capable of real truth. And that’s because they are absent of humanity, and we, at this moment, profoundly require humanity.

We are gearing up for a historical moment during which we will redefine what it means to fight. But I also suspect that we are likely to spend a heaping shitpile of time determining what it means to be and to be human. For my part, I feel like I’m exploding with stories. And they are deeply personal. And I have to take care not to burden my people with detailed imagined narratives of their own lives — the wormholes through which I travel to re-organize and make sense of my own very small pocket of this world, to organize their lives into endings that feel right and just and good. And yet, thanks to some dark twisting within me, I cannot write. Not anything coherent. I am only a storyteller within my flailing mind — the page has remained empty. And I think this is where this year, this moment, all this death (of people I knew personally, of people I only admired, of — not hyperbolically — the American experiment…which has been limping towards its own slaughter for quite some time) has delivered us: we are “unstuck in time,” “growing grim about the mouth,” “turning in the widening gyre.” We must continue to create, to work through our madness in ways that put order to it. But we must also return to those existing stories that show us the way beyond this moment.

This unloading is my somewhat unbounded effort at trying to bend the page to my will. I’m also rededicating myself to the study of those things that are deeply meaningful to me. It’s not healthy nor helpful to give in fully to the physical, base urges that seek a structure for their wrecking ball. So I’m attempting to settle in with the sublime. And in this world of literature and art and film and wit and music, I hope to quiet and order the stories in my mind, to find a little peace, and, probably of most value, to sharpen my weapons.

Splenetic Vapors

The Hobby Lobby decision is just the last straw. It’s not even the biggest one. Given the high watermark of rampant misogyny that infiltrates our daily existence, the Hobby Lobby idiocy is kind of expected. It simply is the thing that I can pinpoint as the moment my brain filled with too much of it and overflowed — crashing into my shelf of just-reflecting-the-world-don’t-blame-us movies; slamming into my television’s CSI-land of trussed up object-women, all dead and useless and showing at least some skin; slithering out of my fingers onto the keyboard and out to that great social media frontier where…uch. Whatever.

I should be grading my students’ work accompanied by a bowl of popcorn and bottle of wine because that’s how I roll. Instead, I am here. Typing as ferociously as if Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers were to jump from their tree and into the jungle, rampaging at all the beasts — even the bigger ones, the king-of-the-jungle ones and the nice slovenly ones and certainly the doe-eyed “harmless” ones. They’re no longer pacing, her tigers — they’re scratching out eyes and tearing at intestines and ripping off tails.

Between slut shaming and rape culture (those are things — words we are forced to use and know and think about and ponder) and beauty-norming and breastfeeding-norming (do it or you’re the world’s worst mom…just don’t do it in public) and unnecessary vaginal ultrasounds and all of it, I’m exhausted from the whiplash, contorting and craning from one form of misogyny to another. I need to breathe, but the air is owned by someone else.

I think the reason why Hobby Lobby is that straw is because core elements of the argument for this decision are intertwined with the whole of it all. The men that defend this decision (in that social media world, “friends” of “friends” whose comments I can’t help reading even as I’d rather chew glass than to do so) use what they condescendingly insist on as “logic”: “women can just buy health coverage or birth control elsewhere, so how does it strip them of their rights?”; “don’t businesses have the right to their own religious beliefs?”; “it’s a narrow decision that won’t affect that many companies or women, so what’s the big deal?”

There are more, but let’s pause here and tear these idiots a new blow hole using our tiger teeth, shall we?

-There is no logic. This court majority’s decision is illogical at its base — mainstream science is pretty clear: the forms of birth control cited in the case are not abortifacients (and abortion is legal, anyway, so there’s that). So the idea that mere beliefs, fringe ones at that, trump the personal and private healthcare choices of individuals? Nope. But also fuck your new blow hole with your logic. Women are the only people affected by this decision, and so we get to feel attacked. Directly. Violently. Attacked. In the 18th century (give or take a hundred years on either end), everyone from poets to actual medical professionals believed that the spleen (and the weakness of it in women as opposed to the stronger, manlier man-spleen) was the organ that caused women to suffer “the vapors” — a flaw both of character and of the tainted female soul (to misquote Pope). That belief was also fucking stupid, socially constructed and tainted by biased male bullshit and thoroughly distanced from actual anatomy, science, reality, and logic. And women suffered — real physical consequences due to misdiagnosed medical conditions.

-The idea that women can get coverage elsewhere is not only ridiculous, it completely misses the point. Companies dictating medical access is similar to them dictating how people can spend their salaries. Health coverage is part of an earned compensation package — it is not a gift for doing some unpaid chore; a person earns it as agreed-upon payment for her work. The court’s decision re-categorizes “payment”  as “allowance” — that which is given with strings attached, not that which is earned and therefore free of paternalistic dictates.

Another way to combat this line of thinking is to just flip the logic: a company doesn’t want to invest in women who may eventually get pregnant and take maternity leave, so they monetarily incentivize all sexually active women to take birth control (they’re not forced to, but…). Some women’s beliefs won’t allow them to do so, and so they just willingly miss out on this monetary incentive. Logical, right? No. There are many obvious reasons why this is a preposterous idea, but I suspect the court majority’s logic would be this: women’s bodies are intended for making babies — why would anyone want to “shut that whole thing down”?

-No.

-How is the narrowness of the decision a defense? I keep tripping over memes (on the correct side of the debate and even loosely based on RBG’s brilliant dissent) about how the decision could impact blood transfusions and AIDS meds and other elements of care, but this is possibly a dead-end line of thinking. This decision is narrow because it only impacts women. It’s narrowness is the point — people are comfortable with the sincere conviction (as, according to the decision, the beliefs of these closely held businesses’ owners must merely be sincere — and our society is sincerely misogynist, so test = met) that it’s okay to tell women what to do with their bodies. It would never cross the minds of these five (male) justices to impede any rights that would impact the individual religious freedom of men, who are subjects, not objects, and are therefore not subject to the whimsical beliefs of others. There is a familiarity to these particular beliefs — the adage that “father knows best” is perfectly logical, and so the leap to dehumanize women (who just wish to have lots of slutty sex) and humanize entities (which just sincerely believe that they don’t want to pay for any shit they can weasel their way out of paying for based on arbitrarily decided religious beliefs)? Not a leap at all.

This whole thing is fucked up and complicit in perpetuating the sincerely held belief that women’s bodies are the property of others. And this is where it all ties together, all comes bubbling to the top, unleashing the tigers and causing the bloody, furious rampage. The assumption is always that women’s bodies are property. They are subject to men’s beliefs, men’s gazes, men’s friend zones and The Games, men’s advances, men’s desires, men’s attacks, men’s fucking everything.

#YesAllWomen was the most powerful act of mass feminism to have happened in a long time. It both provided women an opportunity to share experiences with each other and a collective opportunity to put men (and their #notallmen bullshit) in their fucking place. And a great number of men did the right thing, touted their feminism, thoughtfully considered how even their mere bodies enable the subjugation of women, acknowledged their privilege, ate their masculine pride, and illustrated that they were ready to learn about our lives and experiences. #YesAllWomen was brilliant, but it is unsustainable.

We need real-world action. We need a hashtag-unbound Yes All Women. The opportunity to go beyond a particular moment — a murderous rampage or a filibuster in the Texas House or the assault of an inebriated Ohio girl or a stupid fucking Supreme Court decision (I hope Scalia gives Alito drug-resistant gonorrhea) or a Twitter handle — and really bring it all back home. We need a new active, in the streets, marching on Washington, boycotting and fist-pumping and shouting and tweeting feminist movement. Because this shit is fucking fucked the fuck up.

The Gender Shaming of Jenny McCarthy

First, I think it’s necessary to get this out up front, lest tomatoes come flying at me through my MacBook: I think that, when it comes to her anti-vaccination stance, Jenny McCarthy is wrong wrong wrong, shamefully ignorant, and wrong. Just…it’s important to make that clear.

Since the announcement was made months ago that McCarthy would be replacing the previous ignorant and wrong host on the talk show The View, the concern that McCarthy would spread her ignorance to impressionable parents everywhere has hit a fever-pitch. I get it — I do. This person who already had a celebrity bullhorn now has a daily platform from which to spew her bad ideas. It IS scary. Also, The View is scary, so there’s that.

It’s not the concern that concerns me. It’s the gender shaming of McCarthy that so often accompanies it. Time after time (including in Time), McCarthy is referred to as a “Playboy Playmate,” “Former Playboy Playmate,” “Former Playmate of the Year,” “Playboy Centerfold,” and, inexplicably, “starlet” in articles and blog posts in legitimate news sources like The L.A. Times, National Geographic, The L.A. Times again, USA Today (okay, not really a legitimate news source), and others.

Let’s deal with the Playboy Playmate issue first:

1) McCarthy was Playmate of the Year 20 years ago;
2) she has had numerous television shows of her own, has appeared on tons of other shows, has comedy specials of her own, and on and on — all post her Playmate stint;
3) she was Playmate of the Year 20 years ago.

Next, those articles that refer to her as a “starlet” are baffling because:

1) starlets are usually young, up-and-comers in film; McCarthy is not young (she’s a month older than I am…which is not so young), nor is she particularly known as a film star — she’s much more a TV personality;
2) starlets are historically tied to the studio system, which…not really applicable here;
3) starlets are not yet famous; rather, they seek to become famous in the future. Look at all the people freaking out about the things coming out of Jenny McCarthy’s mouth. Yeah, she’s already pretty famous.

Just as many articles in legitimate sources (The Nation, The New Yorker, and others) choose objective terms like “celebrity,” “personality,” or “mother.” These terms are far better suited to who McCarthy is today professionally and/or the context in which her anti-vaccination activism occurs. So why choose terms that simply do not fit?

I can’t help but believe that these judgement-laden terms, despite being out-dated or simply incorrect, intend to shame and demoralize McCarthy as a) a tramp who should not be trusted (because it is largely accepted in our collective American consciousness that women who bare their bodies are bereft of brains), or b) a small little thing not worthy of note (“starlet” is tantamount to calling her “girl”). Interestingly, debunked and disgraced MMR-tied-to-autism doctor Andrew Wakefield appears in nearly all of these articles, as well; however, the language with which he’s described is objective. The words are not gendered. What’s more, they speak to his professional position (or current lack of it), not of gendered positions within his profession. Perhaps this is because we lack a gendered language for male doctors — “doctor” is coded male by assumption. Not so of “star,” which erroneously becomes “starlet” in some effed-up attempt to feminize the term — actual meaning be damned. “Playmate” goes one step further by objectifying McCarthy, both as a centerfold and as a linguistic object, before berating her for her bad ideas. Because women who are objects are always easier to discredit than those who are not.

But McCarthy doesn’t need to be objectified in order to be wrong. She’s wrong because there is no science that backs her ideas and because she admits to learning everything she knows via Google, which, if anyone missed the memo, is not an actual source. All attempts to shame her based at least in part on her gender or the ways in which she’s exercised her sexuality are also erroneous, and they undermine the very real public health threat posed by the ideas she and other misinformed parents share about vaccination. So stop gender-shaming her and idea-shame her, instead. It’s just a lot more effective and does not tarnish the legitimacy of the argument itself.

The Fall’s Feminist Agenda (is awesome)

I’ve never been able to sit through an entire episode of a CSI or a Law & Order, in any of their myriad incarnations. I’ve caught both from the opening, however, given that they are ubiquitous and so often follow whatever it is that I am watching. More often than not, these shows open on some dead woman (in an alley! splayed out on a table! mostly naked! covered in rose petals that are indistinguishable from blood!) with cops and forensic experts and Dexter-types trolling around, taking pictures, making her the object of more objectification, as if being murdered and who-knows-what-else weren’t objectification enough. I typically shy away from any whodunnit at all, actually. Exploring why and how humans (women) end up brutally murdered is not nearly as interesting as, say, a bunch of fascinating women surviving/not surviving prison.

But a dear friend of mine with whom I’ve back-and-forthed about television for 20 years told me that I must see The Fall, and, since I trust him and since it stars Gillian Anderson, I figured what-the-hey? He also noted that the show is all kinds of feminist, regardless of whether women get brutally murdered in it (this topic is well-covered in Salon). Intriguing. And it’s not a whodunnit. We know whodunnit. ohthankgod.

So this week Chereth and I watched all five episodes of series one of this BBC hit (available on Netflix) in two nights, and I really, really can’t stop thinking about it. What makes it so extraordinary — beyond the awesomeness of Anderson and mega-creepitude of Jamie Dornan — is that it’s not just a feminist show; it’s a show with a feminist thesis. Few shows since Buffy (because…yes) have really stepped it up to this level. Of course, there are shows with feminist themes, through-lines, stories, and characters, but the thesis often sidesteps an overtly feminist claim.

Here, the claim is straightforward — so much so, that it’s been written about a bunch and doesn’t need me to sing it out.

What I do wish to discuss, however, is how often and overtly the show states its thesis, and how necessary this is. When some shows say what they mean outright, they simply lack complexity or depth. Not so here where the purpose runs as deep as the problem — misogyny in both its passive, judgmental forms and violent, deadly ones — it addresses. The inter-cutting between Anderson’s top cop and Dornan’s serial killer implies similitude only to under-cut it and turn our expectations back on ourselves. Dornan’s Paul is distant and focused on his goal because he’s a serial killer. Anderson’s Stella is distant and focused on her goal because she’s devoted to her job and she realizes that catching a serial killer is tough and deeply important work — it requires her attention. The parallels that are drawn between the two on the surface serve as a way for us, the viewers, to deconstruct our own assumptions about gender roles; they do not blandly illustrate that these two people are a whole lot alike. What the main characters do share, however, is an air of mystery: we do not spend time inside their heads as omniscient viewers with access to their deepest thoughts; we are outside, merely voyeurs. In this role, we are implicated in the societal misogyny that the show explores. And, as viewers of yet another man-stalks-and-murders-women television show, we should be.

The key to deconstructing what on the surface could be perceived as yet another murdered women show is Stella. What makes Stella super compelling is that — unlike Paul whose motives are mundane, despite his above average intelligence, looks, and physical fitness — she is both complex and simple. On the one hand, we cannot penetrate (double entendre intended) her inner life, but her outer self is pretty damn straight-forward. She is honest, which could be read as coldness (this Stella would most certainly call a “value judgment”) rather than what it is — the desire to be direct. She states what she wants, like when she gives a younger detective of lower rank her room number, and she admits when she’s wrong. She also articulates her feminism directly, like in this scene where she challenges an AI cop’s gendered assumptions about sex:

She’s also loyal to her sisters and brothers in arms (like when she compassionately pulls the above AI cop back from an unsettling situation), and she recognizes loyalty in others (like when she makes a young female cop her right hand after said cop displayed both honesty — even at her own possible detriment — and protectiveness of Stella’s privacy). She is present, so much so that she sleeps at work. Loyalty and presence are foreign to Paul. He shows moments of warmth with his children and sort of with his wife, but he undermines these impulses by leaving his young kids alone in the house at night to stalk his victim, shrugging off his wife’s work-related grief despite his being a grief counselor, and using his daughter as a beard on his stalking missions. Ultimately, he is a one-dimensional sociopath. Viewers who feel that Stella is too distant and cold or that Paul is a loving husband and father on any level are implicated in the same social assumptions that Stella strikes down in her colleagues and in the media: a man is not a good father simply because he spends time with his kids and doesn’t beat them any more than a woman is a cold fish or man-hater simply because she prioritizes work, enjoys casual sex, and doesn’t dote on everyone she meets while on an important assignment on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Speaking of Ireland…Belfast is an emerging character in the show, a place divided in two seemingly diametrically opposed halves, similar to how social and media narratives would have us believe women are divided into that same old virgin/whore dichotomy. The Fall keeps blurring the lines of understanding: both the Falls and Shankill roads are mentioned, though it’s not fully clear which minor characters are on what side of the peace lines, and the seedy underbelly that keeps creeping up — the corrupt son of a politician, the impotent chief of police, the death of a child and the subsequent abuse of that child’s mother perpetrated by his father, the murder of a cop — is kept purposely vague and universal across class lines; this violence and corruption may be related to the two sides of Northern Irish political tension, or they may simply be about drugs, power, misogyny, and other such mundane pursuits of stupidity. The Fall reminds us that binaries are a trap. While Paul is fundamentally horrible and Stella is fundamentally good, the spaces in between are full of traps and assumptions, and we had best be careful of investing in moral absolutes based on gender role assumptions, lest we find ourselves blaming a victim of murder (and possibly rape) for the crime against her simply because she has illustrated a past penchant for rough sex. As Stella reminds us in a simple stating of one of the show’s simple themes, men love to divide women into categories of virgin and whore, and referring to one women as an “innocent victim” merely opens the door for the next victim to be less innocent, and thereby somehow less a victim. There is a world of difference between consent and non-consent — keep on the look out for any fucked up rhetoric that would have us believe any differently. In this way, the show provides an object lesson.

And the word “object” is the lesson.

Stella remains somewhat inscrutable not because she’s flawed (I mean she’s human, so she’s flawed, but her flaws are beside the point) but because she is her own agent. A subject. She eschews objectification, and so we have to wait for her to reveal what she wishes to reveal. Paul’s victims are never revealed to us as victims autonomous of his objectifying lens. They are never splayed out on a table, covered in rose petals, the victim of a passive voice sentence: she was murdered. Instead, we are always acutely aware, through the camera and through Paul’s eye, that these women are forced to be victims by his actions. They are subjects that are turned into objects by a violation of the natural order, and such violations, whether they are violent or linguistic, have monstrous consequences.

Feeling Feminitchy

A few weeks back, Chereth and I celebrated our anniversary by seeing The Heat. There were half a dozen reasons I wanted to see it. Chereth and I have followed Paul Feig’s career since his Freaks and Geeks days. And we love a good laugh. And we’re long-time Melissa McCarthy fans (who doesn’t love Sookie St. James?). And I have a meteor-sized soft spot for Sandra Bullock. And it was our anniversary, so doing something fun seemed like “the thing to do.”

But most pressing was my desire to see a buddy cop movie with two women at the helm (written by Katie Dippold — a woman!).

See, I’ve been pretty feminitchy lately.

Feminitchy (adj.): the realization that male supremacy is perpetuated in both subtle and anvil-like ways in media, politics, culture, and society, and the often prominent feeling that this generally blows.

What with all the rape (Steubenville, Occidental College) and draconian legislation (Texas, North Carolina, North Dakota — do you really need links?) and generally baffling shit going on surrounding women and their bodies, it’s no wonder the feminist hackles are up. But I’ll stick to media for a moment.

The conventional wisdom has always been that women can’t headline blockbusters, that movies like Sex in the Shitty are anomalies because of their built-in fan bases. Despite little change in the Hollywood landscape, Feig’s Bridesmaids drove a wrench into this idiotic narrative, and The Heat’s blockbuster opening weekend really drives it home: conventional wisdom is full of shit.

The Heat is not quite perfect, but it’s a good platform for a pair of great performances, and it completely avoids the Hollywood trope dictating that women in films must be shoe-horned into heteronormative romances — the movie’s only romance is the one between two wildly different women who become sisters (it’s a buddy cop joint, after all). What I like about it most, however, is its absolute lack of any “post-feminist world” bullshit. Instead, Feig and Dippold presume (rightfully, duh) that the world, particularly in the arenas of both law enforcement and crime, is not just patriarchal but straight up misogynist — that there are both silent and cacophonous ways in which women’s second class position permeates our daily lives. It also assumes this in such a way that brushes harsh reality off as a mild challenge and moves forward, illustrating that women’s bodies, brains, and, yes, weapons, are powerful machines.

Feig and Dippold are careful not to pit the two women against each other, either. They are initially at odds — the brash local versus the uptight fed — but these differences are more in style than substance, and are mostly played for “getting to know ya” laughs. Ultimately, they are a team, a united front against the men around them who are making stupid choices or harmful choices or no choices or are just dicks. There’s never doubt that the two stars must find ways to subvert a male system — right from the opening scene when Bullock’s fed schools a room full of men on their sub-par investigatory skills, and, naturally, becomes the object of their inadequacy-fueled derision. For a smart, ambitious woman, this is just another day at work at the FBI…or, you know, anywhere.

This is neither a review nor an academic tome, so I don’t feel it necessary to pull apart all the bits and pieces of this fun-but-light comedy. There are complicating factors — there always are — but the movie is, on a macro level, a bit of feminist heaven without being leaden. The leads are vibrant, they’re funny, and they’re fucking tough ass women, which I just couldn’t be more thankful for given the bullshit women have had flung at them in recent months.

The day after Wendy Davis stood her ground on the floor of the Texas legislature, the news media — including the New York Times, that bastion of reportage — concentrated as much on her pink shoes as on her historical filibuster. When the Texas legislature reconvened in the days following, supporters of the bill wore blue ribbons to counter the pink ones warn by the anti-bill legions. Seems appropriate enough: the supporters of women’s rights, of choice, wear the color that signifies “girl” while those who think they know what’s best for women wear blue, sending the message, ultimately, that those who really know what’s best for women are…men (and this includes those women who just internalize patriarchal maleness). Wendy’s shoes were great — they looked comfortable, functional, capable of allowing a woman to stand on her feet for a dozen hours. But it was her words that mattered, and it was her words, the “germaneness” of them, that was hotly debated by the Texas Republican majority that wished so badly to silence her. Please, stupid idiot news media, stop talking about her damn shoes.

I hate guns. I have no functional use for them, and I have no actual interest in them. Fucked up things happen when guns are around in real life. But in the movies, where things are symbols as much as they are things, guns sometimes have their place. In The Heat, Melissa McCarthy’s cop has a refrigerator full of firearms, and she and Bullock’s agent bond over their favorite lethal toys. This is not a subtle image. It’s not a sly subversion of the dominant paradigm perpetuated by male buddy cop movies. It’s right out there — two chicks and a fridge full of really large, phallic guns. These guns are imbued (by virtue of their gun-ness) with power, but they are monitored, controlled, contained (in a fridge — such a great way to re-purpose traditionally feminine space!) by women.

Now that, from the standpoint of legislation but not of spirit, Wendy Davis and her legions have (at least temporarily) “lost” in Texas and other draconian legislation against women has popped up elsewhere even in the short weeks since her historic stand, we need symbols, we need to laugh and to have heroes who are women and to be feminists. What The Heat implies is correct: we ain’t post-nothin’, friends. We can look at pink shoes as a symbol of power, but it’s our mouths, brains, and bodies that need to be power. And if a (giant hit!) summer comedy teaches us anything, it’s that women are better prepared to blow shit up when we lock arms, turn heal on the cadre of cackling men lobbing insults our way, and disobey some orders.

sandra-bullock-melissa-mccarthy-the-heat

When Is a Meme Just a Meme…And When Does It Have Meaning?

Look. I’m just as bitter and disaffected as the next chick. And when, at some point in the recent-forever, a bunch of people on Facebook changed their photos to some non-specific cartoon on a non-specific day that supported not molesting children (duh) or some such thing, I was on the side of the “what the fuck will that do?” naysayers.

But this:

Image

Is different.

Of course the snarkier-than-though are going apeshit to tell people that their feelings of solidarity are useless, that we are all ” just sitting there at [our desks] thinking that something [we] did on social media is freeing the oppressed” (does anyone really think this? does anyone hate humans enough to think anyone really thinks this?), but this completely overlooks some of the most salient reasons to participate in even things that seem small and meaningless (it also presumes that people who use this symbol are not also participating in some more tangible way).

A couple of things.

1) As Scott McCloud so simply illustrates in his must-have book “Understanding Comics,” there are icons, and then there are icons that are also symbols. In a semiotic sense, some icons (a drawing of a hamburger) are pretty meaningless; however, some are undeniably laden with messages, narratives, experiences, frustrations, nostalgias (the McDonald’s Golden Arches). To simply toss aside the above icon is to dismiss the impact that the blue-and-yellow equal sign of the Human Rights Campaign has had over time. And for people who are new to this symbol, good. Perhaps they will click, learn, give, and begin to participate on a deeper level. The simple point is that images do matter when employed in an organized and meaningful way for a clear and definable purpose.

2) This isn’t happening on some random Tuesday. This is a historical day. It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will create a clear path to marriage equality with either the Prop 8 or the DOMA case, it’s true. But this day will be remembered as the first recognition of this issue by the high court, and it will be remembered, too, as a day when people showed solidarity for equality it an iconographic way. The element of organization is significant. We are doing what we are able to show a conscious awareness that some days are fundamentally meaningful in a participatory democracy, regardless of whether or not Antonin Scalia is a total asshat (he is).

3) The problem re: particpation is, our judicial branch is the one in which we do not directly participate in this democracy. I would love to have flown my ass to Washington DC to wear red on the steps of the court because I think that this high level of participation is what’s warranted, but I also know that it wouldn’t have made a damn difference. The Court is not persuaded by our participation (and this is actually a good thing). But there is great value, I think, in illustrating to one another that we are aware that this is a significant week. Whether there is the sort of victory we want (unlikely on a grand scale, but the Supremes could kick Prop 8 back down, which would mean the previous court’s decision stands and we get marriage equality in California — that is actually a pretty possible outcome) or some horrible deconstructing of equal protection and the 14th Amendment, we are — collectively and in our communities, including our online communities — showing that we are aware that this is happening. Given the sad level of participation in our democracy in most circumstances, I think that this mere show of “Hey, we know what’s going on in our nation’s highest court today!” is no small feat.

4) There is an assumption that the symbol alone is arbitrarily assigned and that’s where the story ends. But in my anecdotal experience (limited to my Facebook friends, who are, yes, overwhelmingly progressive), the symbol creates conversation. Participate or not, people are talking about this case, and they’ll talk about the DOMA case tomorrow. People are sharing the transcripts of today’s oral arguments, they are discussing the Constitution, they are discussing a world in which they, themselves, their friends, and strangers have their unalienable rights officially recognized by their government.

5) I do understand the argument that this symbol creates sameness, not difference or queerness or even egalitarianism (which is perhaps the most important as we study this issue in relation to other instances of oppression). It does. We all look like reddish pinkish blobs today. But let’s be clear: the courts do not and will not decide upon queerness. The equal protection clause is about sameness. It’s about the “indices of suspectedness.” The court does not decide whether humans are different enough from each other; rather, it decides whether they are being treated equally. Then we go out and push…we push for more. We push for the government to stay the fuck out of marriage altogether, institutionalize civil unions as the norm, and really move toward a separation of the religious institution of marriage and the civil institution that has to do with taxes and hospital rights and all these very real issues in which the government has both an economic and ethical stake. We redefine and reshape what a family is an can be, taking marriage, sexual relationships, and “traditional” definitions out of the equation altogether. We can queer it up real good. But this IS a watershed moment, a moment when what was once coded only as LGBTQ activism is now merely human rights advocacy. There are crucial historical junctures when civil rights need to be recognized, codified, and accepted as unassailably same in order to continue to push the conversation to the level of difference. We need these moments of shared meaning, of community, of acknowledgement that we are part of something that can and does create conversation; we need to realize that our desire to participate on whatever level we are able is not done in a vacuum, and, yes, perhaps take steps to push forward in new and profound ways, regardless of what The Nine determine in June.

Rex Reed Is Puny and Irrelevant

I rarely read movie reviews anymore — who has the time? But a string of accidental clicks brought me to Rex Reed’s review of the Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman vehicle “Identity Thief.” Also, I’m not one to do a personal-rant-shout out. It’s so…bloggery. But this shit is pretty pathetic, and I’d love to add my (puny and irrelevant) voice to the chorus who is currently out there inquiring about how this guy still has a job.

I haven’t seen the movie, which is completely beside the point given the tenor of Reed’s cruel review. What’s astounding about this review is how bold the misogyny is. Even the use of “female hippo” belies a separate category for women: are hippos male by default?

Regardless of his take on the film itself, which is insignificant at this point, his observation of McCarthy as a “gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success” proves that he has actually seen precisely two performances of this versatile comedian’s long career. Clearly, Reed was watching his balls shrivel during the seven years of Sookie St. James. Oh yeah, cinema critics need not bother themselves with TV.

And yes, I just personally insulted Reed’s man parts. What of it? Clearly, the rise of an overweight comedian — one who is a woman, which seems particularly odious — is some form of personal assault on Reed’s bad taste. In his attempt to remain quippy and relevant, he proves that he has been paying about as much attention to pop culture as it has paid to him.

But the deeper issue — the more insidious one — is how a certain generation of men (and perhaps all generations of men who run in certain circles and perhaps a whole ton of women, too) think it’s fine to turn an assault on a woman’s work into a personal assault on her looks. The implication here is that McCarthy gets her talent from her body, and her body is unattractive to Reed and so is her talent. Ergo these things are the same. The two seconds of Googling it would take to learn more about this actress isn’t worth it — to look at her in one type of role is to know her completely just as to SEE her is to know her completely.

It’s beyond incredible how okay it is to tear women down physically, how long this conversation goes on and how little it changes.