Wednesday, October 31, 2007

american psycho

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'i seriously believe we have to start asking questions about his mental health. there's something wrong. he does not seem to understand his words have real impact.'
--dennis kucinich 10/30/07

'i was really very unsettled by him + i started watching everything he did + reading what he wrote, + watching him on videotape. i felt he was disturbed ... fits the profile of a former drinker whose alcoholism has been arrested but not treated.'
--justin frank, m.d., psychoanalyst 08/20/04

'i trust god speaks through me. without that, i couldn't do my job.'
--george w. bush 07/09/04

'some among bush's trusted white house staff fear what they are seeing + where bush is taking us. his state of mind hauntingly reminds them of richard nixon's final days. they fear bush is becoming nixonesque . . . or worse. although bush lacks nixon's paranoia, he may entertain even more dangerous notions.'
--mike hersh 09/12/02

'all i have in common with the uncontrollable + the insane, the vicious + the evil, all the mayhem i have caused + my utter indifference toward it i have now surpassed. my pain is constant + sharp + i do not hope for a better world for anyone, in fact i want my pain to be inflicted on others. i want no one to escape, but even after admitting this there is no catharsis, my punishment continues to elude me + i gain no deeper knowledge of myself; no new knowledge can be extracted from my telling.'
--patrick bateman, american psycho (2000)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

no pitt for obama

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according to the huffington post, barack obama's people have rejected offers by brad pitt's people for the actor to assist in the would-be democratic nominee's campaign.

why? i wonder.

not homophobic enough?

after all, brad + angelina went on record that they have no intent to marry until american gays + lesbians can marry.

that's a far cry for obama's s.c. 'gospel' tour, which always closed, from what i heard, with singer/preacher donnie mcclurkin's thanking jesus for delivering him from homosexuality (i suspect we all have something to be thankful about on this point).

(kathy griffin not thanking jesus for her emmy was called 'hate speech' some time back, + soft-minded liberals concurred that perhaps the comic had gone 'too far.' in response to objections to obama's use of mcclurkin to court religious homophobes, gay + black supporters of obama tsk-tsked the critics for being 'divisive.')

+ even though i agree with obama that civil rights for gays are more important than marriage, i can't help but believe the senator is equivocating, since the marriage initiative would not compel churches to marry anyone they don't want to--it would simply bar the government from affirming + perpetuating religious intolerance.

a year ago obama practically had my vote in his pocket (provided dennis kucinich didn't get it first). his recent shilly-shallying, though, makes him look less + less like the candidate for me.

why doesn't brad run instead?

Monday, October 29, 2007

sleepy hollow

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tim burton's 1999 film version of washington irving's the legend of sleepy hollow is fast becoming my favorite halloween film.

starring johnny depp, christina ricci, miranda richardson, + michael gambon, the film features a decapitation roughly every five minutes, each one more cinematically elaborate +, well, 'fun,' for lack of a better word, than the last.

when i first saw the movie in a theatre, i enjoyed it but was mildly disappointed with it. parts of the movie drag, none more than the multiple confrontations that follow the revelation of the headless horseman's 'secret.'

but the movie has grown in my estimation with each subsequent viewing. it is startlingly beautiful entertainment. the recreation of the 18th-c. new england town of sleepy hollow, suggests carpenter's gothic + the color illustrations of howard pyle. the film visually cites disney, currier + ives, hitchcock, + bava ... not to mention burton himself, as elements of the movie deliberately recall beetlejuice + the nightmare before christmas.

depp gives his expected charming performance, as usual a pastiche of other actors' performances, most noticeably (for me) several nods to roddy mcdowall--particularly as he was in disney's the adventures of bullwhip griffin.

ricci has less to do, in a role obviously conceived for a more conventional (+ passive) beauty (someone, say, like winona ryder), but she is lovely + convincing as an aloof blonde with undertones of witchiness.

but the star of the movie is the 18 on-screen decapitations. hardly gruesome at all, certainly nothing compared to se7en or csi post-mortems, + filmed with energy + imagination. the ones that don't make you smile leave you with an enduring chill, but more heart-wrenching than gut-wrenching (like the best hitchcock).

reviewing this fine film on dvd--twice in the last two or three weeks--has only whet my appetite for what burton-depp do with sweeney todd: the demon barber of fleet street, due in theaters this christmas. hopefully, sweeney will spin burton back into true form (after disappointments like planet of the apes + big fish, less so charlie + the chocolate factory).

Sunday, October 28, 2007


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in a society conditioned to fear, fear becomes an entertainment.

that's one explanation for the popularity of horror films.

of course, horror has a long + distinguished history, its modern forms dating back to late 18th-c. romanticism--as europeans recoiled from the reign of terror (or simply 'the terror') in france, + english gothicism emerged as a distinct literary genre for several decades.

polidori's suave vampire (modeled on his friend lord byron) + later stoker's cultivated count dracula radically changed the image of the vampire from hairy, supernatural vermin to cosmopolitan gent, suggesting that horror could inhabit the most civilized exterior (stevenson makes a similar point in dr. jekyll + mr. hyde).

in film, horror emerged mainly in germany following the first world war--caligari, the golem, nosferatu.

it attracted a larger american audience during the 1930s. if nothing else, horror films convinced americans that, however bad their lot in the depression, things were worse elsewhere. fascism, nazism, + stalinism reared their heads in europe just as dracula, frankenstein's monster, + the wolfman reared theirs in hollywood's 'european' backlots.

the 1940s offered little beyond val lewton's meditative, psychological b-picture horrors, perhaps because americans were caught up with can-do optimism, buying war bonds, planting their 'victory gardens,' + fighting the 'good war.'

the cold war + the atomic bomb emerged as threats at the end of the '40s, inducing anxiety under the surface in decades of hollywood films, + their presence is most felt in a series of movies portraying invaders who look just! like! your! neighbors! + giant monsters released by nuclear testing.

hannah arendt's phrase 'the banality of evil' (an expression used to describe nazi bureaucrats accused of heinous war crimes) can be seen in hitchock's psycho ('wouldn't even hurt a fly'), frankenheimer's manchurian candidate, kubrick's 2001 (the insanely soft-spoken hal 9000), + clockwork orange (the ludovico technique).

vietnam + a series of political assassinations in the 1960s brought the horror closer to the home--demon-possessed family members + inbred cretins with axes + chainsaws ruled the new multiplexes of the 1970s.

aids + other venereal diseases, along with a born-again sex-phobia reacting to perceived excesses of feminism + 'free love,' gave us sexually aggressive female psychos (fatal attraction, basic instinct) + monsters spawned through viral infection (the blob, virus).

of course, sex + fear of sex thread through the whole history of horror (part of the reason 'sex + violence' can be paired without much protest)--from vampires sucking the blood of beautiful english virgins to horny teenage camp counselors unable to meet or survive for more than 10 minutes their midnight assignations.

it's not hard to see the shadows of 9-11 + the iraq war upon recent horror films, like spielberg's remake of war of the worlds, the british zombie films 28 days later + 28 weeks later, or even the saw series, with its brutal 'improvised explosive devices' + excruciating scenes of 'alternative interrogation procedures.'

horror became mainstream in the 20th century--who spoke of genocide or serial killers much in the 19th century? (with apologies to jack the ripper, whose disease had not yet been named.)

now we consume terror like breakfast cereal. it's a part of the games we play as kids. it has shed most of its fantastic, supernatural trappings + become a normalized fact of life.

we laugh at horror--not just the old, quaint spiderwebs + dry-ice fog in the campy hollywood classics. the new horror films expect us to laugh--to 'get the joke' whose punchline is an expoding head or a drawn+quartered body.

still, there are some films, old + new, that capture the macabre sense of dread that defines horror at its most interesting--not necessarily shocking, not even necessarily scary, but horror that haunts your dreams + perceptibly chills your waking life.

here are 13 of my personal favorites (i know, it's a pretty conservative list, but i have a taste for the 'classic' in horror movies):

1. the bride of frankenstein (1935)

2. cat people (1942)

3. psycho (1960)

4. the birds (1963)

5. rosemary's baby (1968)

6. the exorcist (1973)

7. carrie (1976)

8. halloween (1978)

9. the shining (1980)

10. the hunger (1983)

11. the silence of the lambs (1991)

12. the sixth sense (1999)

13. irreversible (2001)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

letting myself go

in her essay i worked hard for that furrowed brow, anna quindlen talks herself out of botox treatments to remove the lines on her face.

her argument is basically a two parter--one, those lines represent who she has been + what she has survived, +, two, botox treatment would limit her ability to convey present emotions with any nuance or personality.

in the course of her essay, she states that, when she was younger, she heard people say of older women that they had 'let themselves go.' it's a phrase quindlen secretly admires + has aspired to.

letting yourself go, although obviously meant as negative criticism, also conveys acceptance of self, liberation of that part of your self that's long been repressed, + permission to be yourself now.

depending on your point of view, it's either caving in to time + nature, or embracing time + nature.

it's either laziness or resistance to vanity.

i'm fine with other people's getting facelifts, tummy tucks, hair implants, + cosmetically enhanced pecs. but it's never been my style to do much to resist the course of nature, specifically human nature, more specifically my own nature.

i stay clean. i try to eat reasonably healthy meals without being a purist about diet. i should exercise more than i do, + i'm a bit ashamed for not trying harder.

but i've never seriously considered resisting the male-pattern baldness + graying i inherited. my teeth are crooked, chipped, + far from youthful white. i admire athletes + male models, but i've never been prone to measure myself against them.

men are becoming a larger share of the consumers of facelifts, liposuction, + facial peeling. we live in an age of 'image' + people habitually judge us by our looks. we are under considerable pressure (at work as much as in the clubs) to keep up appearances, to appear more youthful than we are, + to conform to media models of perfect masculine beauty.

i'm of two minds. i admire beauty (even youth) as a virtue. i think one should look as good as he's able. on the other hand, like quindlen, i think it's most important to look like oneself, to treasure the body as it ages as a museum of sorts of all one ever was in the past.

to feel comfortable in one's own skin, it seems to me, is the unique + true path to achieving beauty.

Friday, October 26, 2007

open the pod bay door, hal

i am watching the psychedelic sequence from kubrick's 2001, feeling beat up after a hard week that culminated with my car's experiencing ignition problems when i was ready to leave work for home this afternoon.

as i write this, the car is at the dealer's service center, almost certain to take a huge chomp out of next week's paycheck, but i have no idea what's wrong with the car, so the dealer was the only option.

this morning its electronics behaved erratically, the left turn signal beating arhythmically + the clock + odometer lights remaining on after the ignition was turned off.

i was scared it might break down on the highway, in the early morning darkness, with a cold rainstorm all about.

i hate automobiles.

i specifically hate dependency on automobiles.

i'm not a guy who takes pride in his wheels. i don't think cars are sexy. all i ask is that they operate as intended.

luckily, the breakdown occurred while i was still at work.

it took aaa an hour and a half to reach me--nice guy, an ex-marine, with a tow truck.

i spent over $1500 two years ago at this dealership getting a super-duper maintenance package that was supposed to solve an earlier electronics problem that i still drove home with, three times (the mechanics were never able to detect the problem).

all my friends are out of town, except for one, who may need be my ride back to the dealer's tomorrow.

anyway i'm feeling particularly sympathetic with astronauts bowman + poole, cocooned in a mechanized reality, totally at the mercy of a supposedly 'foolproof' technology.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

under obama's big tent

i like obama. i think he'd make a good democratic candidate for '08. but i can't quite swallow the balancing act he's currently performing to court homosexuals on the one hand + homophobic evangelicals on the other.

a coalition of black clergymen + glbt activists issued the following statement in defense of obama's south carolina 'gospel' tour, which prominently includes ex-gay anti-homosexualist minister/performer donnie mcclurkin:

"as representatives of barack obama supporters from the african american religious community + the gay community, we are issuing a statement together for the first time. our letter addresses the recent issue of pastor donnie mcclurkin singing at senator obama’s `embrace the change' concert series. in the midst of division, we hope + believe that this is a moment to bring together communities that have been divided for far too long.

"a few things are clear.

"first, pastor mcclurkin believes + has stated things about sexual orientation that are deeply hurtful + offensive to many americans, most especially to gay americans. this cannot + should not be denied.

"at the same time, a great many african americans share pastor mcclurkin’s beliefs. this also cannot be ignored.

"finally, we believe that the only way for these two sides to find common ground is to do so together.

"not at arms length. not in a war of words with press + pundits. only together.

"it is clear that barack obama is the only candidate who has made bringing these two often disparate groups together a goal. in gatherings of lgbt americans + african americans of faith, obama has stated that all individuals should be afforded full civil rights regardless of their sexual orientation, + that homophobia must be eradicated in every corner of our nation. if we are to end homophobia + secure full civil rights for gay americans, then we need an advocate within the black community like barack obama.

"at the same time, while obama has said that he 'strongly disagrees' with pastor mcclurkin's comments, he will not exclude from his campaign the many americans including many in the african american community who believe the same as pastor mcclurkin.

"we believe that barack obama is constructing a tent big enough for lgbt americans who know that their sexual orientation is an innate + treasured part of their being, and for african american ministers + citizens who believe that their religion prevents them from fully embracing their gay brothers + sisters. + if we are to confront our shared challenges we have to join together, build on common ground, + engage in a civil dialogue even when we disagree.

"we also ask senator obama’s critics to consider the alternatives. would we prefer a candidate who ignores the realities in the african american community + cuts off millions of blacks who believe things offensive to many americans? or a panderer who tells african americans what they want to hear, at the expense of our gay brothers + sisters? or would we rather stand with barack obama, who speaks truth in love to both sides, pulling no punches but foreclosing no opportunities to engage?

"we stand with senator obama. we stand with him because of the solutions he is proposing for our nation. we stand with him because of his character + his judgment. but the most important reason we stand with him is because today, as he has done all along, barack obama is causing us to stand together.

"that's the kind of president we need, + we are proud to support him."

fine words, in spite of dignifying intolerance + hate speech in the name of un-ignorable 'belief.'

moreover, obama has invited the 'openly' gay rev. andy sidden, pastor of the garden of grace ucc church in columbia, sc, to join the tour. a move made, without doubt, in response to the outspoken glbt 'pundits' who criticized obama for cozying up to mccormack. a gesture of token inclusion that obama would likely not have thought to make had it not been for these pundits, now being politely asked to shut up.

i, too, believe in civil dialogue. but dialogue suggests a level playing field on at least two sides.

i'm fine with mccormack as someone who earns his bread by preaching hate + calling it god's grace. he's just making the gig work for him. it's capitalism + for many it's christianity. i don't like it, but as a homosexual lefty american atheist, i've had to stomach worse.

i'm fine with obama including mccormack in his s.c. 'gospel' show, as he wraps himself + jesus together in the american flag to win southern evangelical votes. it's politics, + i'm unaware of any of the front runners who are not doing much the same or wishing they had thought to do so first. hell, it's probably why they're allowed to be front runners in the first place.

what pisses me off is it's the gays (again) who are being asked to play nice for the good-hearted democrats, who find it never hurts to urge the gays to shut their yaps, even while the democrats provide a platform for homophobes to open theirs.

so i'm fine, especially, with those glbt pundits who exercised their rights of free speech to criticize an 'electable' golden-boy candidate, so full of 'love' for us all, + managed to get a gay african-american minister on the stage with obama + the homophobe.

it's not right that, if we yelp when somebody hits us, it's our yelps that are called divisive + counter-productive, not the homophobe spewing bile.

it's also an insult to black americans to assume that the majority of them cannot see their own clear interests in supporting civil rights for all, including the liberty to pursue happiness in ways the bible disapproves. (the same bible, i might add, that has been used to support slavery + segregation in the past.)

or that they can't likewise be reasoned with to lay down their divisive + counter-productive (let alone non-'embracing') anti-gay bigotry.

it's a particular insult to the legacies of coretta scott king, jesse jackson, + others who saw, decades ago, a common bond between their christian faith + the struggles of gay americans of all races.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

cirque eloize

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went to see cirque eloize this evening at memorial auditorium in chapel hill. the company, founded about 15 years ago, hails from canada.

like cirque du soleil, which clearly inspired it, this circus mainly won me over with its hunky acrobats + jugglers. eloize tones down soleil's sexualized romance a bit + tends to overdo the simpering european clowning.

two guys balancing on each other's shoulders (arms folded across their chests, no hands for support) + a guy spinning carefree in a large hoop were about the only stunts new to me

the artists also sang + played instruments ... to original songs that suggest european gypsy music, none of it memorable, evocative of drunken carousing more than anything else. the clowning wasn't all bad + it didn't last long even when it was lame.

i enjoyed the show more than this posting suggests, but little about the production was transcendant--it reminded me of a student production, whose participants have admirable talents to show off but little vision or strategy to amaze or create wonder.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


'follow the fun, create the fun, be all about having fun.'
perez hilton, quoted in rolling stone, 1 nov. 2007, p. 66

besides having fun, i'm not sure what perez hilton is about.

if memory serves me, he once called sean penn 'evil' for meeting with venezuelan president hugo chávez, a remark i interpreted as an unfortunate vestige, if not total endorsement of miami cuban anti-communism. he also once joked that chávez' friend fidel castro was dead.

ok, so a radical idealist he is not.

erik hedegaard's short article on perez in the latest rolling stone portrays the blogger as self-loathing + undersexed, with a sad enough childhood to make right now probably the happiest time of his life, even as he holes up at home with his laptop + lots of trans-fat treats.

but his commitment to having fun is something i get behind. even if it's sexless + merely virtual. when you can't follow it readymade, make some up on the spot. amen to all that.

the people he drools over, well-scrubbed goody two-shoes like zac efron + emmy rossum, i can't find particularly interesting.

he goes after minor peccadilloes of those he hates with a vengeance (parking violations become proof of deep moral rot in perez's universe) that suggests a personal fantasy life that sees material for high tragedy in the lives of quasi-celebrities who wouldn't even make the cutting-room floor of e! true hollywood story.

but i can't make myself hate a guy who adores brad pitt + kathy griffin almost as much as i do.

Monday, October 22, 2007

into the wild

into the wild is a beautiful film adaptation (by sean penn) of jon krakauer's popular nonfiction book, of which i read only an excerpt in rolling stone or esquire or gq, years + years ago.

the film offers a dispassionate (which is not to say 'grim') look at a number of themes + issues, which are usually used to generate sentimental responses--family, idealism, freedom, nature.

what is interesting in this film is its lack of moralizing about any of these issues. its point of view is dispassionate because largely its point is that ...

--family is a more impersonal arrangement than anyone likes to admit, yet it is deeply seeded in our personal identities;

--idealism saves nobody--the higher, purer stratosphere of values + ideals (perhaps one of the symbolisms of the images of jets flying high overhead, which occur as a refrain throughout the movie) are as cold + oxygenless as the earth's actual stratosphere--+ yet a life without idealism is a life without character of any kind;

--freedom is isolating + not necessarily conducive to human happiness, though it is necessary to human authenticity + self-knowledge; +

--we can love nature, but nature is indifferent to us--our proper response to the natural world should not be condescending sentiment or custodial pride, but abject awe.

brilliant natural performances by all the actors (especially emile hirsch in the lead), a lovely screenplay written by penn, + imagery that in turn startles, troubles, + uplifts.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

something to believe in

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every now + then, actually fairly often, i hear people say that you gotta believe in something.

usually the statement is brought up in the context of a belief in god or religion.

it's usually followed up with another statement along the lines of 'life is meaningless without some sort of faith in something.'

i wonder how true these statements are.

i suspect that there's little to them, frankly.

on the other hand, i wonder how much of life's meaning depends on trust + blind faith.

i heard a preacher once say that every time you sit in a chair, you are exhibiting faith--faith that the chair will hold your weight.

but wait a minute.

i may be making an assumption when i sit in a chair, but is that assumption faith?

won't the chair hold my weight even if i don't have faith in its sturdiness, in which case how does my faith affect the outcome at all?

+ isn't my assumption based on the experience of having seen similar chairs bear the weight of similar bodies?

in short, isn't my assumption based at least in part on evidence + the so-called law of averages?

is that a belief?

+ what if the chair doesn't hold my weight + i fall to the floor?

is the collapsible chair proof that i had too little belief? or that it was a lousy chair? or that i'm putting on way too much weight?

the latter two opinions seem more commonsense than the first.

take another example: i'm intuitive by nature. i'm not scientifically minded, + i'm more oblivious to my surroundings than is normal or healthy.

is my intuition a form of belief?

not necessarily.

i have intuitions, quite often good intuitions, good instincts too, but i try not to place unqualified confidence in them.

i operate by intuition in the absence of evidence or in the presence of equivocal contradicting evidence. i'd hardly call this form of decision- or judgment-making a belief system.

+ do my intuitions give my life meaning? perhaps, to the extent that i follow them, they do, in part.

on the other hand, so do forces i am entirely unaware of, over which i have no control, in which my belief + my unbelief weigh exactly the same.

pretty much the meaning of my life derives from the circumstances life tosses me by chance, the decisions i make about those circumstances, + my evaluation of those decisions later in life.

you play the hand that's dealt you. to a certain extent, but only to a certain extent, how you play the hand determines the meaning of your life.

i am not a nihilist. i believe in meaning. i believe it's something we create for ourselves, not find readymade. we create meaning out of necessity, but necessity itself is indifferent to us.

i am not a particularly good rationalist--though given a choice between being reasonable + being trusting, i would prefer to be reasonable.

i suspect, though, that i'm too trusting in spite of myself.

no, i'm not convinced that belief is necessary to me, to humanity.

the course my life takes seems little altered by my optimism or my pessimism.

at this point in my life, optimism + pessimism have had similar rates of success.

it's been 50-50, so far, something you become deeply aware of when you turn 50.

as a rule, i am happier the less i believe.

belief or hope may be comforting in the face of an indifferent universe, but comforting words hardly change the reality.

self-delusion through belief may block out the thunderstorm, temporarily, but in time it blocks out the fresh air too.

unbelief takes my eyes off abstract, unfulfillable ideals + lets me take in my life, unadorned, for what it is, making it possible for me to make smarter decisions that affect my future life + see what may be actually experienced, perhaps less wonderful than what may be hoped for, but there, really there, for me to savor + build upon.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

body worship, body horror

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chad white, model

in several of my writing classes this past week, we discussed the issues of body image, body horror, + body worship, as they reveal themselves in, say, advertising, movies, popular attitudes, + fads.

body image has to do with what we learn to perceive as a 'normal' human body. it's said that however skinny people with bulemia become, the images they see of themselves in the mirror still look flabby + out of shape.

body image is also a cultural phenomenon of the last fifty years (not to say that body consciousness is altogether a new thing, but body obsession arguably is).

plastic surgery, once reserved for rich older women in show business, has become more universal, affecting the middle classes now + drawing no distinctions in age or gender.

what other era of human existence could have produced a michael jackson, for instance?

body horror is simply the other, darker side of this obsession. horror films once dealt with the spiritual (ghosts, evil spirits), then they turned towards the psychological (psychos, serial killers), + now the focus is almost entirely on the bodily (eviscerations, decapitations, decay).

the saw + hostel franchises are the most obvious examples, but consider, also, the evolution of zombie movies, once based on voodoo religious practices, now the horror is portrayed as a viral epidemic causing disfiguration (planet terror, 28 days later).

but horror movies are too obvious examples of body horror. we also find it in commericals ('raise you hand, if you're sure' + 'ring around the collar') which aggravate, if not instill, shame over perspiration, body odor, + skin ageing.

comedies like borat, south park, + jackass also capitalize on audiences' queasiness over body mass + body functions, not to mention the brutalization of bodies, making commonplace the kinds of shocking images satirists like rabelais + swift once used periodically for shock value.

the fascination of extreme sports, ufc, + the fear factor is that they often explore exactly how much abuse the human body can withstand.

+ you would have to go to the middle ages to find religious art comparable to mel gibson's the passion of the christ.

i detect body horror also in the typical comments americans make about nudism--"the 'wrong people' get naked"--which suggests not just the ancient admiration for beautiful + athletic bodies, but pronounced disgust at normal + everyday bodies.

opposite to horror is body worship, which we witness in beauty pageants + bodybuilding competitions, but also in the ritualized display of bodies in pro wrestling, abercrombie + fitch catalogs, or, in recent olympics telecasts, male gymnasts' orchestrated removal of shirts for the audience following an event.

the fetishization of body parts (thighs, abs, pecs, navels, glutes, feet), too, is a form of worship.

i think much of the fixation on children in our culture is a form of body worship, too--'ten little fingers + ten little toes,' 'soft perfect skin,' the relative absence of distinctive body odor--+ now beauty pageants for kids, + false teeth to conceal the (shameful?) loss of baby teeth.

the classes also considered the proliferation of tattooing, piercing, + body painting, as perhaps a sign that, for the creative + nonconformist, the body is more + more a canvas, or a medium for expressing one's individuality + eccentricity, instead of actions, behavior, speech, or 'life style'--the out-of-fashion, now rather quaint tools of existentialists, beats, + hippies.

time permitting, we might have gone further into gender reassignment, which embraces + transcends all four categories of image, horror, worship, + art.

as a class, we tried to avoid judgment + mainly look at the roles media, religion, + economics have played in this surge of body-consciousness.

it isn't that we are the first generation to concern ourselves with appearances, revile the body for its unruliness, admire the strong + the beautiful, or decorate our skin, but i can't think of any previous generation that has been quite as abjectly mesmerized by the human form as ours has been.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

across the universe

"images of broken light which / dance before me like a million eyes / that call me on + on across the universe / thoughts meander like a / restless wind inside a letter box / they tumble blindly as / they make their way across the universe."

julie taymor's across the universe is a good movie, not just not bad, or worth the price of the ticket, but good. really good. but not great.

it's a refreshing musical, raiding the beatles catalog just in the nick of time to save it from the maws of sports shoes commercials.

the movie's weakest points are that it plays like an it's a small world for the sixties decade + spots of it drag a bit.

the movie's next weakest point is that the concept forces actors to dress up like 1960s icon lookalikes, so we get a virtual janis hooking up with a virtual jimi, + a virtual kesey hauling across the u.s. to visit a virtual leary. this happens just enough to evoke a certain predictability about the narrative, albeit scrambled, like visiting the stations of the cross out of order.

the movie's strongest point is that the actors, who sang almost all the songs live on set, infuse some life into some of the most frayed of the lennon-mccartney masterpieces in the same way that good actors can infuse life into shakespeare's works.

they make you hear the songs as if for the first time.

they sing the songs straight, without trying to make the songs their 'own,' not aiming for a 'high concept,' yet they give the songs a new + much needed pulse.

the movie's next strongest point is jim sturgess as jude, a cross between jake gyllenhaal + the young paul mccartney, with occasional glimmers of ryan gosling's wounded soul. maybe you never heard of him, but he is the center of this film.

he's got a lovely voice, speaking + singing, + eyes that could melt a spark plug. he's hard not to watch.

the rest of the cast is good, too. evan rachel wood is in new full bloom. joe anderson is birdlike, like clay aiken, yet lively + debauched enough to look like he, unlike clay, could be some fun. even the big shots in cameos (bono, salma hayek, eddie izzard) are fun to watch, but none hum the way joe cocker does, singing 'come together.'

across the universe is a good little movie that was maybe meant to be big. but it's still a terrific way to spend a couple of hours--"jai guru deva om."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

planet terror

i missed grindouse when it was in theaters this spring, so i'm having to catch up watching the separately released expanded + unrated parts of the 'double feature' on dvd: quentin tarantino's death proof + robert rodriquez's planet terror.

when it came out about a month ago, i liked the first half of death proof well enough, talky + self-conscious yet still entertaining.

but i felt the second half of the film (the girls' exacting vengeance) was neither as fun as i wanted it to be nor as socially redeeming as the filmmakers thought it would be.

the stuntwork at the end managed to both impress + bore, sort of what i'd imagine a nascar event to do.

i was braced for vague disappointment again when planet terror came out on dvd earlier this week.

boy, was i surprised.

this half of the grindhouse bill was everything i hoped for--witty, sick, fast paced, + sexy--a real treat.

i won't give away too much of the plot, such as it is, but the story focuses on a group of people in texas caught in the middle of a zombie attack, unleashed by a military mission gone wrong.

mostly what happens can be summed up in one word: eviscerations. maybe two words: eviscerations galore.

the fun of the movie, for those like me who can enjoy this sort of thing, is that the bloodletting is entirely gratuitous, morally unredeeming, + counter-conventional.

after a while, it loses its shock value, but the script is stronger than most zombie-slasher films, with neat reversals of fortune + witty dialogue that is self-aware without descending into direct airplane- or scream-like parody. in this respect, it's a bit like shaun of the dead, another favorite of mine.

unlike death proof, planet terror has a strong + assured cast, including old pros like bruce willis (king of past guilty pleasures like the last boy scout + the fifth element), michael biehn (his youthful cuteness aging nicely into craggy sexiness in his 50s), michael parks (ditto, in his 60s), + quentin tarantino in the best role of his career as actor.

marley shelton is awesome in this film (playing the same character she plays in death proof), a morally + sexually ambiguous doctor, who has the funniest + most darkly disturbing scenes in the movie.

i've been enamored with rose mcgowan since the doom generation (she's the only reason to watch jawbreaker, apart from ethan erickson, whose bedroom scene with mcgowan is that movie's only bright spot). i haven't followed her t.v. work at all, + only casually, her long engagement to marilyn manson (now she's with rodriguez, her planet terror director).

her performance in planet terror is iconic, obvious even in the previews for grindhouse, which had me chomping at the bit to see it, but unable to convince my friends to see it with me (i need new friends). when she spins firing her machine-gun prosthetic leg, i recognized something akin to marilyn monroe's skirt billowing over the subway vent.

planet terror is also a good showing for director rodriguez, who's managed to make at last the movie he must have had in mind when he directed from dusk till dawn.

now, i'm glad i missed grindhouse in the theaters. death proof would have been painful to sit through following the dazzling ride of planet terror, + had death proof opened the double bill, i might have been tempted to leave during the break.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

the strange case of dr. jack + mr. ernest

in class today, my students + i tried to compare the strange case of dr. jekyll + mr. hyde + the importance of being earnest, two late victorian works on the duality of human nature.

in jekyll/hyde, it's the psychological + ethical natures of man that are divided: spirit + brute, angel + fiend.

in earnest, it's man's nature as a social animal that causes the divide that algernon dubs 'bunburyism,' a self-invented -ism for the modern man.

algernon concocts a topsy-turvy moral system that innocently excuses him from unwanted social engagements, a fictitious friend bunbury, whose ailments conveniently make algernon unavailable at times (virtually the opposite direction of jekyll's quest for a scientifically authentic self-knowledge, a quest that ultimately annihilates him).

but in wilde's comedy, all the characters have fictionalized versions of themselves, to some degree--not just algernon. jack invents a dissolute brother 'ernest,' whose shameless life in london jack narrates for his appalled country neighbors, unware that ernest's vices are (it is implied) jack's.

cecily cardew, jack's precocious ward in the country, keeps a diary recounting a fictitious romance with jack's worldly alter ego, for whom she mistakes algernon, when he follows jack into the country, + on her first meeting with algernon/'ernest' she announces that, according to her diary, they have been engaged to be married already for months.

even the conventional characters fancy themselves authors--gwendolen, jack's fiancee, keeps a diary that she never travels without, since one should always have something sensational to read on the train. prim + proper miss prism has written a 3-volume novel, whose misplacement triggers the play's central dilemma, unraveled in the final act.

so instead of the angel/brute natures of jekyll/hyde, wilde's play gives us man dichotomized to divert prudish + inquisitorial eyes: one self labeled + catalogued by victorian society (the respectable, moral, dutiful self) + another self self-created + subject only to the whims of imagination (the playful, carefree, pleasure-seeking self).

algernon is the true artist in the play, much like wilde, who boasted, 'i am my own masterpiece!' + whose works often build on the theme that life imitates art much more often than art imitates life.

unlike jack, who has hypocritically invented a self to preserve a conventional, respectable image in society, algernon cares nothing for convention or respectability, + instead of inventing a self, invents an entire world, or, at any rate, an -ism.

Monday, October 15, 2007

i like what he says

"i have to say that i don't think 'gay' is the most attractive word; if i were art-directing the creation of a word that would describe homosexuals, i think i might have tried to find another one. 'gay' makes us sound silly + frivolous, which is probably where it came from originally--it was first used in a cole porter song in the '30s--+ i think it was probably a bit derogatory, + so it's not a word i necessarily like, but it's what i am, whatever."
--tom ford, out, november 2007


when asked about religion, i tell people i am an atheist, an agnostic, or a christian.

it depends on my frame of mind.

i haven’t believed in the christian tenets since i turned 29.

but i was raised as a fundamentalist baptist, the kind whose asses politicians started kissing just as my membership expired.

at age 25, i was no longer a baptist, having been offended by a preacher’s sneering joke about the recent death of pope paul vi.

i then taste-tested a number of other christian brand names, notably presbyterian (most like baptists, i was told, but smarter) + episcopalian (progressive in politics + tolerant of gays, i was told, nicer than the other groups).

in the end, stripped of the class differences, they seemed the same.

now i’m an atheist or an agnostic. but one who likes some of what jesus had to say—a good bit of it, in fact— + wishes, like tolstoy, that more christians focused on his teachings, instead of his gruesome execution + return from the dead.

i can also be nostalgic for some of the hymns—still moved to tears over ‘just as i am’ + ‘amazing grace’; still wowed by stained glass windows; still touched by eucharist as a symbol of brotherhood + community, by the simple elegance of the pilgrim’s progress + pasolini’s the gospel according to st. matthew, + by the nativity story, especially when the air is fragrant with evergreen, snickerdoodles, + wax candles.

the correct word for me is ‘agnostic,’ i suppose, but ‘atheist’ sounds more assertive + discourages hardy soulwinners, who hear ‘agnostic’ + think ‘somebody who needs our literature,’ but who back off, crossing themselves, at the word ‘atheist.’

i'm okay with other people being ‘of faith.’ for about half my life, so was i.

i am not trying to attack anyone—nor can i disprove god’s existence or deconstruct the suspect history + infrastructure of monotheism—there are plenty of better-informed writers who can, though.

i am not now a christian because

… most of the true believers i've met are uptight assholes, though presumably they are ‘born again’ ‘new creatures,’ with a spiritual makeover by the holy ghost himself.

… i can’t imagine a plausible heaven i would want to go to—sure, if the sky’s the limit, i might be coaxed to spend eternity at a nonstop gay beach party, with everyone cute, built, + perpetually age 33, bottomless margaritas, evening book chats on proust, all-night orgies, group showers + horseplay in the morning, but that’s not really an option … er, is it?

… i don’t want to spend eternity with jerry falwell, pat robertson, james dobson, george w. bush, etc., not even if we are placed on separate stars.

… the argument that heaven will be ‘whatever we can imagine it to be’ doesn’t wash with me because, in my mind, that’s tantamount to admitting it is just an illusion (anyone else see the matrix?)

… i am not reassured by the argument that my resurrected self will be so transformed that i won’t want to fuck men anymore, won’t snicker at dirty jokes, won’t think most of the devout are sad or creepy or mean, + won’t be bored singing hallelujahs in a city made of gold + semi-precious gemstones. who would i be then? certainly not me, so what would ‘eternal life’ matter? not that i resist change, ordinarily, but it doesn’t sound like there would be any of ‘my’ life left.

… i really + truly wasn’t thinking these matters well enough through, back when i used to believe in noah’s ark, god’s asking abraham to slay his own son as a test of faith, god’s making the sun ‘stand still’ in the sky so the israelites could kill more enemies, jesus’ virgin birth, jesus’ raising the dead, jesus’ feeding 5,000 people on a few loaves + fishes, etc.

… christian righteousness never did me or people like me any favors—despite some eloquent pleading by jesus in his day, the church, the mosque, + the synagogue have never been kind to the poor, the nonconformist, the unclean, the wiseass, or the weak in faith.

… my post-christian life seems more meaningful + serene than anything i experienced during my days of faith.

… i can’t speak for what the major world religions used to be, perhaps they were lovely + beneficial movements in their heyday, but, really, they all look pretty crass now—resembling nothing so much as trekkers, door-to-door salesmen, country clubbers, or, at their most endearingly pathetic, schizophrenics.

oh, i know the comebacks too—‘you can’t pick + choose what is true + what is not true’ (oh, yeah? but i’m not the one insisting on belief in the absence of compelling evidence). ‘religion is justified because it changes people’s lives’ (e.g., the crusades, the inquisition, the witch trials, the mass suicides, 9-11?) ‘christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven’ (no shit, but shouldn’t the forgiven at least compare favorably with a control group?) ‘you must never have truly believed’ (you’re wrong there, buddy, +, besides, you’re in no position to judge that).

also, the religious should not go on + on about how the world of nature is fallen + depraved. for me, it would do their religion a world of good if they started teaching that dogs + cats are god’s elect, + that televangelists don’t have souls.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

the barberini faun

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the first record of this sculpture of a drunken faun or satyr, created perhaps as early as the 3rd century b.c.e., is a 1628 bill, stating it belonged to cardinal francesco barberini.

barberini had earlier supported galileo, who was interrogated for subscribing to copernican astronomy, + later entertained the english puritan poet john milton.

both actions suggest the cardinal’s liberal humanism + willingness to distinguish secular from church interests, as does his role in founding the vatican library + encouraging the translation + study of non-christian asian + african texts.

the statue had been found in the early 1620s, missing parts of the head, both hands, + the right leg.

according to tradition, barberini’s uncle, pope urban viii, assigned the task of restoration to the artist bernini, who sculpted the baroque masterpiece the ecstasy of st. theresa + designed three famous roman fountains.

but no evidence corroborates this tradition.

there is evidence to support the theory that the statue was one of several statues removed from the emperor hadrian’s mausoleum + hurled down upon invading goths in the 6th century c.e., thus accounting for the extensive damages.

the faun’s face resembles the face of antinous, hadrian’s lover for six years, whose drowning at age 19 or 20 prompted hadrian to immortalize the handsome youth in statuary + coins throughout the roman empire.

roman sculptors depicted antinous in various roles + dress—as a priest, as bacchus, even as osiris—the image as common + versatile as barbie in 20th-century america.

that the faun’s face may be antinous’ would support a theory that the statue is roman, not greek, in origin.

some people think the 17th-century restorers of the statue may have enhanced its homoeroticism, as the pose is not typical of ancient greek or roman statuary.

not shy about admiring the nude male form, the greeks, nevertheless, probably would not have approved of the body’s unheroic slackness or its long penis, appropriate to a satyr, perhaps, but qualities greeks ridiculed, rather than idealized.

but nothing in the statue intrinsically invites ridicule.

critics have noted the obvious, that the pose accentuates the faun’s cock, but also, more subtly, the cock points downward, past a prominent testicle, to draw attention to the just detectable butt crack + the receding space’s insinuation of a receptive anus.

the upturned face, relaxed jaw, curly + disheveled hair, exposed armpits, + attractive pouch framing the navel also hint at sexual submissiveness + immediate availability.

these features are somewhat offset by the figure’s long toes, the hint of an adam’s apple, the prominent testicle, + protuberant veins on the hands + feet, all signs of a potential, if not immediately assertive virility.

the statue now resides in the glyptothek in munich.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

lord, spare me

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lord, spare me from

ann coulter

bluetooth technology

chain letters

chicken soup for the soul

chris crocker

collectors of thomas kinkade, painter of light

dane cook

a course in miracles

d-listers who tell me how + under what precise circumstances i’m allowed to invite them to be my friends

domino’s oreos dessert pizza

gay, straight or taken?

hip-hop gear on guys over age 19

log cabin republicans

mannheim steamroller

npr’s the story (yesterday’s ‘story’ delved into the ‘check engine’ lights on automobile dashboards)

panhandlers with signs that say ‘smile’

rosie o’donnell’s cruise for gay families

studio 60 on the sunset strip: the complete series on dvd

tyler perry

ultimate christian wrestling

Friday, October 12, 2007

trick of the mind

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who’s your favorite michael bergin?

is it the calvin klein bergin? the baywatch bergin? the blink-or-you-miss-him bergin of the broken hearts club? or is it michael bergin, author of a cheesy kiss-+-tell 2004 memoir?

there once was a time, not too many years ago, when michael bergin’s all too perfect body + chiseled ken carson face haunted every third sex fantasy i had.

odd fantasies they were, too. they had to be.

bergin is way too pretty, by half, to fit into my bed … even on my best night + even in my most feverish, overwrought fancies.

touching his body, in my ‘mind’s eye,’ as they say, was like touching rubberized vinyl slick with hawaiian tropic. his pepsodent smile flickered close to my face, on the brink of vanishing entirely into abstract pixilation. nothing sweaty, nothing grunting, nothing even warm.

i mean no disrespect to mr. bergin’s actual personality or sex appeal.

countless times, bergin’s blemishless + imperturbable apparition made me hard, stay hard, + cum hot, feeling as if an angel, wings thrashing, had been ripped from my body.

but my feeble imagination failed to imbue the model-actor-author’s photogenic perfection with a pulse, an odor, + body heat.

it was like humping a computer-generated effect, to be added in post-production.

i haven’t seen a recent photo, but i imagine now at age 38 bergin still glows like a disney prince charming.

+, if in the unlikely event he reads my blog +, even unlikelier, it makes him go gay, + if, unlikeliest of all, he would like to personally persuade this 54-year-old doubting thomas that he’s in fact 3-D, hard as bone, hairy-chested, + smells of scotch + old spice, all i can say is i won’t mind playing the other man, this time.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

fig leaf

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20-inch fig leaf that was used to cover david's crotch from queen victoria's view

tomorrow in london a new exhibit opens, titled 'seduced: art + sex from antiquity to now.'

the exhibit features, along with andy warhol's 41-minute film 'blow job' + artifacts from the kinsey institute, the plaster fig leaf that once shielded queen victoria's 'not-amused' eyes from the sight of the modestly endowed crotch of michelangelo's 14-foot statue of david.

i propose that this plaster fig leaf be adopted by the u.s. congress as the official symbol of the united states, a nation most modest about the human body when it's not being slashed or humiliated in horror films or p.o.w. camps.

the leaf could replace the eagle or the eyeball atop the pyramid on paper currency.

as a people, we easily out-victoria queen victoria (as well as out-herod king herod) in almost all categories of possible comparison.

for those who are interested, the statue's johnson is uncircumcised, unlike jewish king david's historical putz.

the explanation i've heard is that sculptors in michelangelo's italy imitated the ancient greek ideal of beauty.

the greeks felt that circumcision was an irrational + brutal mutilation of masculinity.

the tiny pecker, too, owes something to greek aesthetics.

greeks idealized youth, particularly the point in life when mature masculinity, symbolized by the statue's rock-hard pecs + glutes, overlaps with boyish innocence, symbolized by the diminuitive dick.

greeks viewed large cocks as essentially comic--long, hard priapus is a figure of fun in greek art + the large phalli on display in aristophanes' comedy lysistrata were viewed by contemporary audiences as slapstick (pun intended), not erotica.

thus, david's modest, yet comely little thing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

written all over my face

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my brit lit class is reading dr. jekyll + mr. hyde, so i'm online looking for general, rather basic info on physiognomy for tomorrow’s class.

i'm using stevenson’s story as a pretext for examining victorian ideas about the human soul—linking christian moral thinking with the not-yet-developed science of psychology.

physiognomy, or the practice of ‘reading’ a person’s face + skull formation as indicators of the person’s character, is an ancient practice, dating back to the greeks, 5th c. b.c.e.

by the 14th century, in chaucer’s england, certain ‘findings’ in physiognomy were well known, so the poet could be certain his readers recognized the wife of bath’s gap-teeth + her ‘mark of venus’ (visible birthmark) as sure signs of her lewdness.

as a pseudo-science, physiognomy capitalizes on our prejudices even today—+ stevenson uses it as moral shorthand in his mystery story—good-looking jekyll personifies goodness + innocence, ugly hyde personifies evil + vice.

in the nineteenth century, physiognomy had two areas of importance: to help police ‘identify’ criminal types in the rounding up of suspects + to support racist notions that white anglo-saxon protestants were morally + intellectually superior to africans, jews, + the irish.

(if you saw the film europa, europa, you probably remember the schoolteacher who proudly confirms the aryan superiority exemplified in a student’s nose, brow, + ears, though, unbeknownst to him, the student is jewish.)

charles dickens, too, relied on physiognomy to ‘flesh out’ (literally) the eccentricities of some of his characters, though sometimes he worked against these physical stereotypes. +, later, oscar wilde used it, albeit with some irony, as the basis for his novel the picture of dorian gray.

here are some of the ‘signs’ of criminality a good nineteenth-century physiognomist could detect (many of which figure into stevenson’s descriptions of mr. hyde):

--narrow, receding forehead
--small but protruding ears
--thin eyebrows
--mongoloid eyefolds
--small, icy eyes
--hawklike or flat nose
--prominent cheekbones
--jutting jaw
--well-defined philtrum (between the nose + upper lip)
--patchy beard + baldness
--thick, dark skin
--scars, freckles, pockmarks

obviously, some of this typology survived well into the twentieth century (witness the dick tracy comics, for example) + even today (in the identification of desirable racial traits + in hollywood typecasting).

later, eugenicists proposed that selective human breeding, based on such physical characteristics, could eventually rid society of all vestiges of poverty, vice, + crime. hitler's scientists sought breakthroughs in this very area of science, in order to perfect + preserve law + order.

this dubious history, associated with quackery + racism, overshadows current research into the bioengineering of 'designer babies,' beautiful, intelligent, disease-free infants, + no doubt 'straight' in all respects, for the discriminating parent.

‘hyde was pale + dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity + boldness, + he spoke with a husky, whispering + somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing + fear with which mr. utterson regarded him. … “…god bless me, the man seems hardly human! something troglodytic, shall we say? …. is it the mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through, + transfigures, its clay continent? the last, i think; for, o my poor old henry jekyll, if ever i read satan’s signature upon a face, it is on that of your new friend.”’
--robert louis stevenson, the strange case of dr. jekyll + mr. hyde, 1886

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

lessons from ripley

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on thursday my dog, tom ripley, will turn eleven years old, a fine old age for a dog, about seventy-seven dog years old, according to a common if unscientific calculation.

i got him as an eight-week-old puppy, + so we have history + a bond that goes beyond what i have with many of my human friends.

from me, he has learned to sit, to lie down, to come when called, + to go away when he’s not wanted.

he also knows approximately seventeen english words: ‘ripley,’ ‘come,’ ‘sit,’ ‘down,’ ‘go,’ ‘treat,’ ‘home,’ ‘stay,’ ‘jump,’ ‘cuddle,’ ‘play,’ ‘toy,’ ‘ride,’ ‘good-dog,’ ‘okay’ (i.e. ‘at ease’), + ‘no,’ as well as its synonyms, ‘shit’ + ‘fuck.’

he does not apparently recognize my name, proof that anonymity is probably no obstacle to lifelong intimacy.

dog ownership, like any significant relationship, affects both parties, so here is a quick list of things my dog taught me over the years, in no particular order:

(1) faithfulness deserves recognition.

(2) no good comes from containing enthusiasm.

(3) sleep heals.

(4) forgiveness is a matter of survival, not a virtue.

(5) good things should happen to those who are near you.

(6) if you need to speak, but cannot, stare intently.

(7) just being there is 98% of love + friendship.

(8) things smell like what they are.

(9) television is less interesting than a squirrel.

(10) motion + warmth + scent = life

(11) distraction may lead to discovery

Monday, October 8, 2007

monday's word: zen

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pursuit of unmediated self-knowledge through heightened consciousness in one’s daily experiences + the practice of meditation (‘zazen’)

zen rejects the intercession of theory, analysis, judgment, or scripture.

it focuses instead on mindfulness (‘sati’) + concentration (‘samadhi’).

mindfulness is awareness of one’s thoughts or actions in the present moment.

concentration is consciousness intensified + focused on + in an observable event--such as a breath, a color, or a memory.

one develops these practices through direct human contact with a teacher or master.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

sunday's word: young

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peter johnson in chop suey, bruce weber, 2001


inexperienced, unseasoned, untested

flexible, full of energy + vitality, vigorous

newly adult—of an age between childhood + full maturity

usually between 14 + 25—‘young’ is a relative term, depending on the age + mindset of the speaker

‘young turk’ – besides being a national identity, ‘turk’ in persian means ‘strength’ + ‘beautiful youth’ + ‘outlaw’

‘ydfc’—‘young, dumb, full of cum’

why do we value youth?

maybe because it represents life itself, the lifeforce, or maybe because we resent the lesson that age teaches us—the fact of our limited possibilities.

also, we value rare things, + youth constitutes a short chapter in the totality of our lives—the twilight between childhood’s ineffectuality + adulthood’s cares, duties, + habits.

for just the ten to twelve years of youth, we invent who we will be for the rest of our lives. then we become slaves to what we made of ourselves—through our youthful choices + indecisiveness + acquisition of routines we once hoped would save us from loneliness, boredom, vulnerability, + loss of meaning.

when youth is past, then, the allure of youth may be the hope of renewal, the chance, however remote, to fix whatever we find lacking in our present selves.

old english ‘geong,’ from proto-indo-european ‘juwngkos,’ from ‘yeu-‘ = ‘vital force, vigor’

‘the young are perpetually in a state resembling intoxication.’

‘the soul is born old but grows young. that is the comedy of life. + the body is born young + grows old. that is life’s tragedy.’
--oscar wilde

‘no man knows he is young while he is young.’
--g.k. chesterton

‘it takes a long time to become young.’
--pablo picasso

‘i’m not young. what’s wrong with that?’
--vivien leigh

‘you’re only as young as the last time you changed your mind.’
--timothy leary

‘may you grow up to be righteous, / may you grow up to be true. / may you always know the truth / + see the lights surrounding you. / may you always be courageous, / stand upright + be strong. / may you stay forever young.’
--bob dylan

Saturday, October 6, 2007

saturday's word: x-rating

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peter berlin, star + co-director of nights in black leather

eks ray ting

from 1968 to 1990, both an official but un-trademarked film certification by the motion picture association of america + a label self-applied by non-hollywood film industry (e.g., porn) denoting content suitable for adults only.

to compete with foreign + independent filmmakers, whose films dealt more frankly with sex + violence, attracting larger + larger audiences in the u.s. + abroad, hollywood studios introduced the rating system in 1968 as a self-policing alternative to government or religious censorship.

in america, the ‘x’ was almost exclusively assigned to films with ‘disturbing’ sexual content—usually meaning some reference to homosexuality, if only in characterization or dialogue—but seldom to violent films, unless, like sonny chiba's the street fighter, the film was foreign, or, like melvin van peebles' sweet sweetback’s baadasssss song, implicitly threatening to the white mainstream.

the first film to receive an x-rating was greetings (1968), directed by brian de palma.

the only x-rated film to win the academy award for best picture was midnight cowboy (1969), directed by john schlesinger.

both films were subsequently re-rated ‘r’ (restricted) with no changes in content.

big studio releases like satyricon (1969), the killing of sister george (1969), myra breckinridge (1970), clockwork orange (1971), + last tango in paris (1972), all x-rated, paved the way for the golden era of american porn films in the 1970s, encouraging ‘respectable’ yet ‘adventurous’ patrons to see more hardcore (‘xxx’) productions like ‘deep throat’ + “behind the green door.’

1970’s the boys in the band, directed by william friedkin, received an r-rating, thus breaking the trend of rating all gay-themed films ‘x.’

however, there were a number of culturally important x-rated gay films after 1970:

--boys in the sand (1971)
--nights in black leather (1973)
--kansas city trucking co. (1976)
--el paso wrecking corp. (1977)
--the bigger the better (1984)
--powertool (1986)
--big guns (1988)

since 1990, with the mpaa adoption of the nc-rating, the x-rating has existed only as a self-applied label.

in general, the rating system has favored certain films by assigning them more benign, thus more marketable, ratings.

the rating board habitually prefers american-made films over foreign-made, hollywood studio productions over independent, the 'apolitical' or conservative over the politically subversive, straight or 'gay lite' over queer, + reverence (the passion of the christ, rated 'r') over irreverence (happiness, rated 'nc-17,' then released unrated).

Friday, October 5, 2007

friday's word: wrestle

ignatius borg vs mike bennett
iggy borg vs. mike bennett, 1960s british pro wrestling

res ‘l

to compete in an unarmed physical contest of strength, flexibility, balance, + strategy, in an attempt to subdue or throw an opponent

figuratively, to debate or to struggle mentally

foreplay—roughhouse can arouse sex partners through skin-on-skin contact, pulse-quickening exertion, + mutual muscle worship—usually such play only approximates the sport of wrestling, + sometimes it follows a prepared scenario of posing, taunting, mock aggression, mock suffering, +, less commonly, a mock rape.

fetish—when roughhouse takes the place of traditional sex acts, it is called a fetish—fixation on certain actions, like bear hugs, headscissors, + sleeper holds; certain gear, like singlets, jockstraps, + wrestling masks; or certain situations + role-playing, like pro-wrestling, ‘grudge matches,’ + wrestling in jello, mud, oil, or other highly tactile substance, distinguishes a fetish when guys need it for not only arousal but also climax—or, for true fetishists, as a substitute for arousal + climax.

“we stripped naked + wrestled on the plank floor, rain coming in on us, roof tarpaper flapping above us like a sail. i think that was the day we discovered sixty-nine, though here i am probably editing memory shamelessly.”
--paul monette, becoming a man, 1992

“professional wrestling appears to violate basic principles of masculine performance in a number of ways. first, it relies on the display of male bodies that are presented alternately in extravagant costumes + almost naked. second, these male bodies in performance are seen to touch + embrace, to make a show but not a reality of hurting another man, to dominate + to submit to one another in ways that resemble nothing so much as clichés of sexual engagement. fiercely heterosexual + heterosexist in its discourse, professional wrestling thus converges on the homoerotic in its semiotics. on the surface, professional wrestling may be profoundly conservative, representing truth, justice, + the dream of the ideal american man. at the same time, however, it is highly transgressive, offering its spectators ways of reading + engaging that extend well beyond the surface.”
--sharon mazer, professional wrestling: sport + spectacle, 1998

“although scantily clad men grabbing, throwing, + attempting to mount each other in spectacles of dominance resounds with obvious homoerotic overtones, pro wrestling has a long history of playing + preying upon gay themes + stereotypes. homosexuality + pro wrestling first flirted with one another back in the ‘50s, when gorgeous george emerged as televised wrestling’s first major star. regaled in a sequined robe, sporting artificially shaped blond curls laced with gold bobby pins, +, as announcers put it, ‘powdered to perfection,’ gorgeous george started his matches only after a valet had sprayed his opponents with disinfecting perfume. his prissy behavior would set the standard for decades to come for the rousing of fans’ homophobic jeers.”
--vadim, the village voice, 3-9 may 2000

“many homosexuals like to wrestle before or during sex—for some it’s a virtual substitute for sex. whereas some men like to know from the outset the role they will play during a particular sexual encounter, others are only truly excited when there’s a struggle to determine who will be ‘top man,’ which is tantamount to saying who will do the fucking + who will get fucked…, while winning may be thrilling, in wrestling, defeat can be pleasurable.
“the pleasure is not only one of vying for position. it comes also from the sensuality of two strong male bodies engaging in strenuous physical exertion. back muscles flare, biceps bulge, sweat flows, buttocks become rigid with strain….
“for more than a few, this interest in wrestling may have evolved out of their adolescence when, for many gay youths, the closest they could come—or allow themselves to come—to physical contact with another youth was through wrestling, in either its spontaneous sense of ‘just fooling around’ with another guy on the grass, or more formally in school gyms….
“….climax is sometimes achieved through fucking + sucking, though some wrestlers like to end up in a clench—jerking off.”
--dr. charles silverstein + felice picano, the new! joy of gay sex, 2003

“the gay/straight lists of things thread through our culture, forming the yin + yang of american society. tennis is gay; golf is straight. wrestling is gay; football is straight.”
--cathy crimmins, how the homosexuals saved civilization, 2005

“’your average fan wants to express all those homophobic feelings because … well, just think about it,’ the wrestler john chavez explained. ‘here you have two guys in their underwear holding each other in locks, all sweaty + everything. even the real manly man looks kind of gay grabbing some guy’s crotch. + the fan, instead of being out with a girl on a saturday night, is there with a whole bunch of guys, watching other guys. + when he thinks about that, like, unconsciously, it makes him feel a little weird. so he’s thinking, “if I beat up a gay guy—that proves i'm not gay.” since he’s not supposed to do that, it’s just as satisfying watching someone else do it.’
“chavez went by the name angel, which took advantage of his mexican heritage but also of a certain softness + delicacy in his demeanor. though not actually gay, chavez worked the clichés of fey boy-toy homosexuality for all they were worth, becoming known as ‘the hardcore homo.’
“why, then, did fans cheer + not jeer him?
“’i don’t know,’ said chavez. ‘they’re supposed to hate me, but they don’t. i’m getting a shine.’
“’a shine?’
“’a pop, a rise out of the crowd.’
“’so to speak.’
“’and,’ he said, ‘I'm always getting hit on after shows.’
“’as a joke?”
“’for real!’”
--thomas hackett, slaphappy: pride, prejudice, + professional wrestling, 2006

old english ‘wræstlion’ from ‘wræstan’ = ‘to twist, shove, pull’

Thursday, October 4, 2007

thursday's word: violence

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dylan fergus in hellbent, 2004

vie uh luhns

act of aggression and abuse, meant to cause an injury, a loss of liberty, or death

any form of fighting, conflict, or domination

any ferocious, wild, or turbulent event

a significant development in post-freud twentieth-century popular culture was a conflation of the terms 'sex' + 'violence,' a pairing now as common as 'salt + pepper' or 'moist + hot.'

today, in most americans’ minds, the terms 'assault' + 'harassment' automatically connote 'sexual assault' + 'sexual harassment,’ without the modifier.

the eroticization of violence is evident in hollywood thrillers like dracula, cat people, kiss me deadly, psycho, halloween, cruising, + the silence of the lambs.

by the 1970s there was a thriving, vocal s+m counterculture, promoting consensual use of domination + pain in sexual fantasies + ritualized or fetishized sex acts.

at the other end of the spectrum, some feminists label sexual penetration of any kind as violent. aids + a revival of traditional masculine ideology, favoring frottage over 'violation' of the anus, solidified a sense of danger in penetrative sex among homosexual men.

somewhat less radical were the redefinition of 'rape' in terms of violence, not sex, + a new variety of rape, 'date rape,' which, according to some critics, emphasizes the importance of consent in sexual relations, but, according to others, ignores the importance of role-playing in flirtation + seduction.

also, public consciousness of partner abuse has led to greater legal protection of victims + greater media vilification (most notably in films like fatal attraction) of violent + obsessive behavior within relationships--i.e. stalking, jealousy, threats, corporal punishment, crimes of passion. in the past, such violent + potentially violent behavior had been viewed through lenses of privacy or ethnicity, if not always with benign indifference.

through the latter half of the century, there was a growing critique of representations of violence, as americans began to cite violence in fairy tales, comic books, action + horror movies, rap music, + video games as potentially harmful to children.

sports like boxing, wrestling, + football came to be associated as 'blood sports,' typifying (for some) masculine aggressiveness in general.

any form of fighting competition, including children’s roughhousing + the game of tag, was labeled by some people as ‘violent,’ even in the absence of an intent to harm, coerce, or subjugate others.

latin 'violentia' = 'vehemence, impetuosity,' probably from 'violare' = 'to violate'

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

wednesday's word: utopia

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pierre et gilles, la tentation d’adam, 1996

yoo toh pi uh

perfect society, a place of ideal beauty, harmony, justice, + pleasure

place where all the citizens are godlike, intelligent, strong, + wise; where excellence is rewarded + frequently attained; where pleasures come free of conditions, remorse, or exhaustion; where all labor is pleasurable + purposeful; where pain, debt, loneliness, fear, + boredom are forever banished

greek ‘ou’ = ‘not’ + ‘topos’ = ‘place,’ i.e. ‘nowhere,’ coined by thomas more 1551

“imagine there’s no heaven
it’s easy if you try
no hell below us
above us only sky
imagine all the people
living for today

“imagine there’s no countries
it isn’t hard to do
nothing to kill or die for
+ no religion too
imagine all the people
living life in peace

“you may say i'm a dreamer
but i'm not the only one
i hope someday you’ll join us
+ the world will be as one

“imagine no possessions
i wonder if you can
no need for greed or hunger
a brotherhood of man
imagine all the people
sharing all the world

“you may say i'm a dreamer
but i'm not the only one
i hope someday you’ll join us
+ the world will be as one”

--john lennon, imagine, 1971

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

tuesday's word: tongue

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andy warhol, querelle poster, 1982


mobile muscular tissue, covered with mucous membrane, located in the mouth, facilitating taste, mastication, +, in humans, speech

language, speech (‘lingua,’ literally ‘tongue’)

flap of material under shoe laces

clapper; metal pendulum inside a bell that sounds by beating against the bell’s sides

‘to tongue’ = to lick or explore with the tongue

old english ‘tunge’ from proto-germanic ‘tungon’ from proto-indo-european ‘dnghwa-,’ all meaning ‘tongue, speech, language’

“just me + george + billie holiday dancing slow + close.

“i see it coming from a long way off. his head is so still, his eyes on my lips. his lips stick together as they come apart. such a slow + graceful descent, the way his lips land just right on my lips, round + firm soft too.

“whisker rub. his tongue in my mouth, a perfect french inhale. it is a kind of swoon. something in george collapses too. or we both do. who knows, at that moment, you can’t really tell us apart.

“in everything’s that light + gay, i'll always think of you that way.

“it is the longest kiss i'd ever kissed.”

--tom spanbauer, now is the hour, 2006

Monday, October 1, 2007

monday's word: sodomy

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balboa executing indians for sodomy

sah duh mee

all forms of sex for pleasure, not procreation, particularly anal penetration, often used as a synonym for homosexuality

the term derives from the story of lot in the book of genesis (19.1-26). in the story, angels visit lot in sodom to warn him to move his family away from the city because god has decided to destroy the city with fire from heaven.

the men of sodom ask lot to bring his angelic guests outside so they can ‘know’ them.

lot offers his daughters to the citizens instead, but they push against him, almost breaking down his door, until the angels rescue lot + strike the men of sodom blind.

lot leaves the city with his wife + daughters, whom the angels have warned not to look back upon the city’s destruction.

lot’s wife looks back + turns into a pillar of salt.

the passage is the first of several in the bible, both old + new testaments, that seem to condemn men who have sex with men.

some liberal commentators have questioned the degree to which the bible condemns homosexuality, but clearly the bible does condemn all forms of non-procreative sex, including masturbation + sex during menstruation, but singles out same-gender sex for special, often heinous punishment.

it is, however, worth noting that the word ‘know’ is a literal translation of the hebrew word ‘yadha,’ which means both ‘to have sex with’ + ‘to get acquainted with,’ the latter actually being the more common ‘biblical sense’ of the word.

the name of the city ‘sodom’ literally means ‘burnt,’ so if there was a historical sodom, the name appears to have come after its destruction.

translators use ‘sodomite’ for the hebrew word ‘qadesh’ (which is alternately translated as ‘unclean’ in the king james version of the bible).

‘qadesh’ literally means ‘holy one,’ but the writers of the bible use it to mean specifically ‘temple prostitute,’ prostitution being a pagan sacrament in mesopotamia—sex being one form of communion with the gods.

there is no hebrew word in the bible for ‘homosexual,’ + the sodomites so frequently condemned in jewish scriptures, then, are condemned for the worship of ‘false’ gods, perhaps more than for their sexual practices.

‘sodomy law’ refers to a law condemning consensual sex crimes or ‘crimes against nature’—any sex acts deemed illegal by the state, usually based on christian concepts of sexual purity. many american states passed sodomy laws during the nineteenth century, often singling out homosexuality for prosecution.

in the twentieth century, 37 of the 50 states struck down their sodomy laws, usually on the bases of unenforceability + invasion of privacy. another 10 states retained sodomy laws, but reworded them so as not to discriminate between heterosexual + homosexual acts.

in 2003, the u.s. supreme court invalidated anti-homosexual sodomy laws in all 50 states, the district of columbia, + puerto rico (lawrence v. texas).

today, muslim countries have the severest penalties for people convicted of homosexual acts, up to the death penalty in iran, mauritania, nigeria, saudi arabia, somalia, sudan, united arab emirates, + yemen, + life imprisonment in bangladesh, guyana, india, myanmar, pakistan, sierra leone, + uganda.


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