Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Beefcake

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

That Christian Side Hug

Could "Gimme That Christian Side Hug" sound the death knell for frottage as we know it?  Keep yourselves pure, kids, and don't hug from the front.  Catchy.  Another sign that some evangelical Christians would like to take us all back to the Dark Ages.

via TFHVideos

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sex, Deal with It

I missed the Adam Lambert mock fellatio on the American Music Awards.  I don't believe I have ever seen an animated image of Lambert or even heard his voice, since I have never watched three consecutive seconds of American Idol or, apparently, anything else he's been on.

I understand that he's gay, so the stunt is considerably less astounding to me than if John Mayer had done the same thing.  I understand also that he performed the simulation on a stage, where a good many things are simulated but not actually done, and it's not my understanding that Lambert intends to take this act to the school playground or Chuck E Cheese's.

I also understand that the outrage over the stunt (1,500 complaints, sheesh) is less than that over Elvis Presley's hip thrusting on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 or Janet Jackson's Superbowl XXXVIII wardrobe malfunction in 2004.

What I don't understand is why it (any of it) matters.

Elizabeth Hasselbeck says, so goes a report I just read the headlines to, that Lambert is "sexually aggressive."  I know vaguely who Hasselbeck is.  My point is that any rock or pop performer worth half of his or her salt is sexually aggressive, even Miley Cyrus did a pole dance on this summer's Teen Choice Awards, and to make a fuss about it simply puts one into the category of losers who have made stars out of a few lucky entertainers by getting their panties in a knot over something that says less about the so-called erosion of values in our nation than underpaying hourly-wage workers does.

Of course, for people like Hasselbeck, I suspect the bad word here is "sexually."  "Religiously aggressive," "economically aggressive," "politically aggressive," or "athletically aggressive" would not be as stinging to their sensitive scruples.  Just like "sexual abuse" counts for more than the "abuse of the jobless," unless of course "sexual" is silently implied here.

For instance, "child abuse" only riles people up when "sex" is directly mentioned or strongly implied.  Teaching a child that he or she may be at risk of losing his or her soul and spending eternity in unquenchable flames with the devil and all his minions is, somehow, not really child abuse.  Even hitting a child is not necessarily child abuse, unless of course the child is being struck by a dildo or a rolled-up issue of the A+F Quarterly.  I suppose subjecting children to two and a half hours of the Ice Capades would not qualify either.

Sexuality is distasteful for a lot of people, particularly Americans, in ways that war, poverty, injustice, privilege, greed, and intolerance are not.  This is why a blowjob in the Oval Office can get a President impeached while lying about small potatoes, like the threat of renewed terrorist attacks with weapons of mass destruction, cannot.

You would think that the devil himself invented sex, and I don't doubt there are some simpletons who believe just that.  Almost certainly the devil invented masturbation and homosexuality, which would be reason enough to make him at long last a saint, given the millions whose lives have been enriched by hot sweaty man-on-man action over the course of human history.

Why are Americans so finicky over the question of sex?  Puritans, some people say.  But that doesn't explain why people in the nineteenth century (the goddamned "Victorian Era," for fuck's sake) were comparably more open about such things, with legal brothels in every town of any size across the whole USA, North, South, East, and West.  Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass is far racier than Allen Ginsberg's Howl, which was banned and tried in court as porn.  Whitman's poems did stir up a little bit of controversy back when they first appeared, but nothing compared to what they would have stirred had they debuted in the 1950s or, I'd wager, in the 2000s.

Besides, Andrew Marvell, a Puritan, wrote "To His Coy Mistress," in which he complains to his lady friend about her reluctance to do the nasty with him, during or just before the Interregnum, when Puritans controlled England and banned Christmas and sports on Sunday as too worldly, never dreaming that sex was anything but a gift from God.

I see the twentieth century's preoccupation with and condemnation of sex as an attempt to control people not through overt slavery or despotism but through guilt over their bodies.  It's an attack on the so-called pleasure principle, which works against the enforced workaholism of the factory system and the obsessive consumerism of our media- and credit-saturated society.

Sex is free, usually.  Even poor people can entertain themselves with sex.  But no corporation is enriched through sex, and sex is a distraction to keeping one's nose to the grindstone and shoulder to the wheel in order to fatten stockholders' portfolios.  Keep workers busy, not randy.

So Adam Lambert pretending to do something sexual on a stage is a bad bad thing, in a way that charging a $40 overdraft fee or denying coverage for pre-existing illnesses is not a bad thing at all.

So much for American values.

Monday, November 23, 2009


I'm wholly prepared to admit I'm a kook.  Maybe I'm a kook because I am (or was) an only child of loving but negligent (or clueless) parents, and thus I lacked the periodic reality checks that come with having brothers and sisters.  Maybe I'm a kook because I was raised to believe in the literal truth of the bible and Jesus and the devil and did so ardently for years upon years before deciding what's the point? ... assuming "what's the point?" can be construed as a decision and more particularly a decision to choose Penguin Classics and Hollywood over an eternity with Jesus.  Maybe kookiness is due to a chemical imbalance of some sort, like so many other things.  Or maybe I'm a kook because I calculatingly chose to be a kook, choosing the perverse road every single fucking time "two roads diverged in a yellow wood."

Today I listened for two hours as students discussed their life philosophies and religious beliefs in English 111.  I continue to be amazed (pleased but still amazed) that so many of my students freely profess to be agnostics and atheists.  Roughly one out of every seven do so, approximately ten times the number in my classes twenty years ago.  This amazes me all the more because I live in what technically is still the Bible Belt.  But even more amazing to me are the number of students who identify themselves as Southern Baptists (the denomination in which I was mostly brought up) and yet claim to believe that hell does not exist, or that earthly life is the only hell there is, or that some form of reincarnation is a strong possibility after death.  W.A. Criswell must be rolling in his grave!

So the kids of today's America (to borrow one of their wordy locutions) don't know much about church doctrine ... or church history, since three of them in three separate classes did not know that Catholics were Christians.  I've long known that they didn't know much about the bible, because when forced to offer chapter-and-verse to support their contention that the bible condemns abortion, almost all of them have been left speechless (especially when Exodus 21:22-25 gets thrown into the mix).  What they do know, however, is (and not much has changed here) that God condemns homosexuality, that He supports monogamy (contra the Old Testament) and a free-market system (contra the Sermon on the Mount), and, in some circles, that going to Hollywood movies is worldly and immoral.  All in all, this suggests to me that Baptist preachers (of today's America) are preaching conservative social and political values, and almost no doctrine.

I say I'm a kook because last week, apropos our present reading unit on religion and philosophy, I mentioned, offhandedly and to nobody's surprise, that I'm an atheist, that I lack any faith at all to speak of, and that I don't believe in life after death.  My point at the time was that I still have values, top of the list being that I value life itself.  Even further, I sometimes have the kooky idea of pitying myself for all the good books and good movies I will miss when I am no longer alive to enjoy them, books and movies being two of the material benefits of life on earth, i.e. on today's earth, which I treasure, among others I would not delve into with eighteen year olds.

Even more, I will see a movie, a movie I love, and feel more than just a tinge of sadness that friends who are no longer among the living are not around to see it with me, certain that they would have really gotten a kick out of it.  I will even mourn the fact that Proust never lived long enough to see Vertigo, or that Hitchcock never lived to watch The Sopranos on HBO.  These ideas raised eyebrows in the class, and I was certain that I had just come out of the closet as a fully certified kook.

So be it, then.  Of the many, many things I will have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day is that I lived long enough to see and own DVDs.  You have to remember that I grew up a movie-loving gay kid (it was my only respite from a strict religious upbringing) in an era when movies could be seen at the theaters for a limited release time or, years and years later, on one of three television networks on Saturday night.  Getting to see a movie, almost any movie ever made, whenever I wanted to was unheard of, and in my youth this was a large part of my idea of Heaven.  So what I feel kookily thankful for is the fact that I have lived long enough to have my childish concept of Heaven mostly realized.

Now, God willing (the God of today's heaven and today's earth), I will live long enough to see NinePrince of Persia: The Sands of Time, A Single Man, and the remake of Clash of the Titans ... and read the novel The Original of Laura, whose author, Vladimir Nabokov, sadly did not live long enough to see it in print, and the first-ever complete and scholarly researched English translation of The Thousand and One Nights.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Beefcake: Ben Godfre

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Serious Man (Movie Review)

I didn't have high expectations of the Coen brothers' latest film, A Serious Man, in part because I have come to expect their work to be hit and miss, though always interesting, in part because I read a blurb that referred to it as a relatively minor work in the Coens' careers, even more a movie that lacks a certain quality:  human sympathy perhaps (a charge often leveled against Joel and Ethan Coen).

I would disagree that the movie is a minor work or that it lacks humanity.  I can speak only for myself, my tastes, and my frame of mind upon seeing the film after finishing a tiring week at Wake Tech, but after one viewing it strikes me as the brothers' finest film to date.

Here I should list the Coen movies that I most like:  Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and most of O Brother Where Art Thou?  Movies I have admired without taking much of a deep liking to are Blood Simple, Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn't There, No Country for Old Men, and Burn After Reading.  Of these, A Serious Man most resembles The Man Who Wasn't There in its glum ironies, period details, and sense of moral authority and metaphysical ambiguity, but the new Man moved me in ways the old Man did only intermittently.

A Serious Man strikes me as reverent, and as such it may appeal to moviegoers who, like me, appreciate the not altogether bleak austerity of the films of Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman, and, more recently, Arnaud Desplechin, who, unlike Bresson and Bergman, shares some of the Coens' sly, dry humor.

Other reviewers have seen the movie as the Coens' take on the Book of Job.  It certainly contains several allusions to the symbolism and themes of Job.  But its relation to the work is not similar to O Brother Where Art Thou?'s adaptation of Homer's Odyssey.  Its relation to Job is more like Burn After Reading's relation to No Country for Old Men:  oblique, wry, and dialectic.

I'm going to have to admit right now that I don't think I'm going to be able to summarize the message or impact of the latest film.  As I was saying to Kirsten, the friend with whom I saw it, it is, like poetry and great art, not reducible to summary.  It has to be experienced and felt.

Sure, the plot can be summed up, as it has been in other reviews, but the tone (which reminds me of the works of Franz Kafka, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Bernard Malamud) is harder to pin down.  I'd call it profoundly pessimistic yet transcendent, in this way very much like the Book of Job, and like The Brothers Karamazov, The Metamorphosis, and Miss Lonelyhearts.

I'd go even further and call it holy.

Keep in mind, though, that holy is not the milquetoast feel-goody praisiness of modern American religion, whether in Protestantism or New Ageism.  Holy is not about a certainty and knowingness that comes from faith or daily devotional bible readings; it is about mystery, the cloud of unknowing, and awe.

Sure, its principal association is with God, or Hashem.  But a sense of the holy can also be an atheist's sensitive response to nature or life or the human condition or great art, so that Robert Bresson, director of delicate yet sublime films like A Man Escaped, Pickpocket, Au Hasard Balthazar, and L'Argent, could think of himself as, as I do too sometimes, a "Christian atheist."

So now I reach the impasse that I knew I would hit soon enough.  I can no more review A Serious Man as review the panoply of stars on a clear night.  I'm not altogether sure that my feelings for this film will be analogous to other people's feelings for it.  I doubt that they will be, not that they would be unique to me either.

It's possible that my feelings read more into the film than draw out of it.

But in a year of several films that have affected me deeply in a variety of ways (Brüno, Away We Go, Where the Wild Things Are), the impact of A Serious Man has been the most profound of all.

Aganjú (Bebel Gilberto)

via Kracher70

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday's Child Has Far to Go

Proud of my pagan Germanic ancestry, I do whatever I can to put Thor, god of thunder, back into Thursday.

Of course, I am shocked and appalled at the way Americans today pretty much treat the day as if it were just any other day.  The Quakers even refer to the day as "Fifth Day" in an attempt to rob the day of its religious significance.  But at least it hasn't been commercialized like Friday.

Every seven days, I try to think about the true meaning of Thursday.

Basically, though, today was not a good day for it.  We had drizzly rain for much of the day, not much thunder at all.  None, now that I think about it.

I thought about going to work today in a cart pulled by two goats, with a short-handled hammer slung over my shoulder.  But I decided that Thor would be all right with my taking my father's old Chevy instead.  It has windshield wipers.

Saint Eligius (588-660), patron saint of blacksmiths, chastised his parishioners in Flanders for continuing naively to celebrate Thursday as a holy day.  In the year 723 the Christians tore down one of the most sacred sites of pagan Germans, Thor's mighty oak tree near the village of Geismar.  This is pretty much as bad as Target putting up signs that say "Seasons Greetings."

It makes me mad and also a little bit sad to think of how little thought people give to Thursday these days.  It's shocking how many people will say outright that they do not believe in Thor.  It's almost as if people have declared war on Thursday.

Tomorrow, though, is Freyja's day.  Freyja is the Norse goddess of beauty and love, comparable to the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Roman goddess Venus.  Friday, though, gets a bit more respect.  People say, "Thank God it's Friday" and seem to mean it deep in their hearts.

Homos for Palin

Former Alaska governor and former Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is out hawking her book and stuff.  Apparently she's attracting the same sort of yahoos that made her 2008 campaign such a festival of civility and clear reason, but that's because she's such a "rogue," I guess.  Yeah, right, I look at that Plasticine face and think "rogue" every time.

One guy at a recent appearance praised her for being the sort of politician who can put the "homos back in the closet." Besides the blatant hatefulness of the remark, I'm struck by a mindset that thinks that what America needs right now is MORE hypocrisy.  Hell, maybe even I can bring myself to lock away my muscle mags, enroll in a six-week ex-gay spa getaway, and take a wife, who can then dose herself on alcohol and antidepressants to cope with a loveless marriage and a husband who urges her to wear thicker shoulder pads.

I'm puzzled by the same mentality that a few years ago called for teachers (even atheists like me, I guess) to lead students in prayer at the beginning of every class.  And this is something the religious right would want, why?

Then, as if on cue, a young man showed up at the book-signing in a T-shirt that reads "Homos for Palin," and mall security turned the guy away.  The woman's not even in elective office, and she's already got one poor soul clutching his knees together under a stack of cashmere sweaters and a black pinstripe Dolce e Gabbana martini suit.

One person who might take some solace in this development is Utah State Senator Chris Buttars, who recently declared a heretofore unseen tolerance towards gays when he said he doesn't mind gays; he just doesn't "want 'em stuffing it down my throat all the time."

Senator, sweetheart, you won't see mine within a mile of your throat.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christians Can't Even Get Arrested in This Coliseum

A group of anti-gay conservative Christian ministers gathered in Washington, DC, yesterday with the express intention of being  either  persecuted by piety-intolerant gays and lesbians or arrested for violating a new "hate crimes" law.

Try as they might, the wannabe persecutees failed to attract the cops' attention, apparently discovering it's more difficult to stir up hate and violence towards gays in the open air in broad daylight than from the greenhouse comforts of their own pulpits and radio talk shows, where just a bible verse or two is enough to send faithful bullies into mouth-foaming frenzies and out into the dark streets to hector and bash.

They pulled out the big guns.  Homosexuality is an "abomination" before God!  You could have heard a pin drop.  Homosexuality causes AIDS!  Crickets chirping.  Is this mike working?

As for the twenty or so vicious Christ-hating gays who chose to show up to counter-demonstrate at the haters' rally, the ministers faced only rainbow flags and signs reading "I Am a Love Warrior."  The first century Roman martyrs should have had it so nice.  You would have thought some pervert would have thought ahead and brought a hungry lion.  But no dice.

Adding insult to injury, the ministers' sound man donated his paycheck to the gays, more concerned about bad karma than the hellfire and brimstone the bible-thumpers were hawking.

See the full pathetic story here.

On another front, the anti-gay American Family Association has, over the years, boycotted corporations like Ford Motors, Disney, and most recently The Gap for the gay friendliness of their ad campaigns, yet according to a recent report, AFA boycotts tend actually to increase their targets' profitability.  Ouch!

Righteous indignation appears equally ineffective at helping one suffer for Christ and showing the wicked the error of their ways.

A bit more effective, apparently, are old-time bigotry and violence, based on news of the nineteen-year-old gay boy who was murdered and decapitated in Puerto Rico last week (with the alleged perpetrator trying out the old "gay panic" self-defense plea) or the report on the tenth-grade teacher in Georgia who put out a hit on a student he perceived to be gay.

Looks like the gays are getting all the "blessings" for being persecuted for righteousness' sake (Matt. 5:10-12).  Christians are getting bupkis.

Three or four years ago my uncle, a retired Southern Baptist minister, said to me, "Years ago I sincerely felt we Christians were being persecuted, but it turns out we were the ones doing the persecuting."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Beefcake

Saturday, November 14, 2009

2012 (Movie Review)

I saw 2012 yesterday, partly in celebration of Friday the 13th.  Swell movie, despite all the negative attention from movie reviewers and IMDb members.  I was encouraged, though, by the fact that Roger Ebert gave it three-and-a-half stars.  Ebert is a smart reviewer and a true student of film, but he's no snob.

I can see what everybody is complaining about.  I could see it, that is, if the movie had been titled The Seventh Seal or An Inconvenient Truth.  But to my knowledge nobody went into the theater expecting profundity or credible instruction on plate tectonics.   It's a fucking disaster movie, people.  It follows all the conventions of the genre, going back at least as far as War of the Worlds (the first one) and When Worlds Collide, from which 2012 borrows heavily.  Criticizing the movie for plot holes and weak character development is like criticizing a Three Stooges movie for lack of nuance and the failure to include a fourth stooge.  Schmaltzy sentiment, improbable coincidences, and liberties with scientific fact are to be expected and enjoyed.  And how can you fault a movie about the end of the world for predictability?

And it's totally a red herring to concern yourself about whether 2012 is an accurate prediction of the future.  Was 1984?  Was 2001?

But, as Ebert points out, 2012 raises the bar for the disaster movie genre.  For one thing, the special effects are astounding.  They require a large screen to appreciate the moviemakers' attention to detail.  The collapse of Los Angeles into the Pacific Ocean (not really a spoiler since you can see part of it in the movie's trailer) brought tears to my eyes ... partly because I usually tear up in disaster movies (for their "O the humanity!" moments), partly because the technicians who created the scene have created something magnificent, rather like the amassed details on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which (a spoiler here, OK?) crumbles down on the Pope and attendant cardinals about an hour later.

Religion, by the way, is rather central to this movie.  Besides seeing the Pope get squished, we see a Tibetan lama get buried under a tsunami, which sweeps across the Himalayas as if they were Florida.  We also see the arms fall off the art-deco O Cristo Redentor above Rio de Janeiro.  (So much for the fun for us atheists; the bible thumpers get to see the final destruction of sin cities like L.A. and Vegas.)  We have a main character, who may or may not redeem the world, whose initials are JC (get it?), played by an actor whose initials are JC (John Cusack), and he (the character, not the actor) has a son named Noah.  Pay attention now.  And his mission begins at the feet of a ragged mad-eyed pirate deejay (Woody Harrelson), whose voice is literally "crying in the wilderness."

We also get a bad guy griping that the fanatic religious doom-mongers (think: Tim LaHaye) have finally been proved right (even the word "rapture' is used ... but incorrectly ... to refer to the bizarre geothermal events).  Of course, the title of the movie and its premise refer to a Mayan prophecy, or at least Mayan fatigability, in that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012.  But the movie takes on religion in more subtle, interesting ways, too.  The US President (Danny Glover) seeks solitude for prayer.  A young Buddhist monk (Osric Chau) becomes (at least temporarily) a savior for two families.  "Faith" is spoken of on several occasions ... sometimes with the usual associations with faith in a god or gods, sometimes with associations with faith in human nature or even faith in science.

We also get, for perhaps the first time since the Cold War, a scientist as a hero.  Scientists from Frankenstein to Strangelove have usually been depicted in Hollywood as mad egoists, their minds darkened by curiosity about taboo subjects and knowledge of befuddling statistics.  But in this movie, the scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a dashing hero, driven by reason and humanistic compassion for his fellow man.

The movie also does a good job of blunting the most probable criticisms of it.  Partly it does this through fine acting, as in a scene when Ejiofor says what he believes to be his final farewell to his father (Blu Mankuma).  The scene could be as sappy as they come, but the two actors carry it off ... an amazing feat.

It also mimics the probable criticisms and puts them in a bad light.  The John Cusack character is a science-fiction writer, whose one book Farewell Atlantis (2012's working title) was a commercial failure.  The title, by the way, seems to allude to Pat Frank's 1959 post-apocalypic novel Alas Babylon.  What's interesting is that this book (pure sentimental entertainment, even by the author's estimate) bears the seeds by which human civilization may somehow endure post-2012, having something to do with acknowledging the brotherhood of all human beings and respecting the planet.  I won't say any more about that.

My point here is the movie justifies itself by analogy.  Silly idealistic drivel can inspire human greatness. Whether the drivel is God's inspired word, a sci-fi novel that flops but nevertheless inspires one person who may be able to save (some) humanity,  or a big-bang summer blockbuster opening in November.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Forbidden Fruit

According to a recent survey, which doesn't even pretend to be scientific, owners of Apple's iPhone admit to loving gadgets, consuming "adult material," and being willing to end a significant relationship using text messaging somewhat more than owners of other cell phones.

I've owned an iPhone for six months now, and I too love gadgets (especially cameras, bicycles, DVDs, bubblewrap, colanders, MacBooks, and iPhones), consume "adult material" (everything from Proust to porn to pilsener to voting rights), and would rather end a relationship via text messaging than, say, to do it on a reality TV show.

What caught my eye is this bit of information:   "Compared with other cell phone users, iPhone owners are more likely to see themselves as media buffs, extroverts, and intellectuals."  Some 40% of iPhone users called themselves "intellectual," compared to 36% of users of Blackberry.

I find it difficult to believe that 40% of Americans in any consumer bracket would call themselves "intellectual."  If this survey is even roundly accurate, I am encouraged.  By all accounts, though, Americans distrust the word "intellectual."  It's apparently tantamount to calling themselves "European."  Or "adult."  Even some of the press this survey received sees the statement above as a damning indictment of iPhone owners.

What is an intellectual, and why is calling oneself "intellectual" worse than calling oneself "athletic" or "spiritual" or "conservative"?  Are my Apple products some sort of forbidden fruit, enticing me to untoward or illicit knowledge?

My understanding of intellectuality is that it involves using analysis and facts in the process of reaching an opinion, as opposed to ... just guessing.  Or flying off on a whim, such as "Obama is a socialist" or "The free market is inherently good and American," easily memorized and befitting a bumper sticker.  Or falling back on de facto special pleading like "Well, that's just the way I was brought up" or "I know this to be true because my heart tells me so."  Or slavishly submitting to authority.

Being an intellectual does not require haughtiness, wealth, or even an auspicious education.  It simply means you respect thoughts at least as much as feelings and instincts.  Despite a long history of disrepute (chronicled in Richard Hofstadter's 1966 Anti-Intellectualism in American Life), intellectuality used to be as American as John Adams, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Jonas Salk, Gore Vidal, Woody Allen, and Susan Sontag.

Now many Americans (especially in the media, which value heart, decisiveness, and action over brain-work) pooh-pooh intellectuality.  It's somehow undemocratic, and while it is true that intellect (like beauty, athleticism, and charisma) is not egalitarian in its gifts, intellectuals (like aesthetes, sports enthusiasts, and moviegoers everywhere) can still appreciate and respect gifts they sometimes find somewhat deficient in themselves.

The fact that President Obama is smart is clearly a problem for a sizable number of Americans.  Being smart does not mean he's always right, of course, but it doesn't mean he's necessarily wrong.   Intellectuals are interested in Obama's ideas; non-intellectuals are interested in his choice of a pet and his wife's biceps.

To see oneself as an intellectual (or a media buff or an extrovert) is not at all a bad thing.  To put much stock in a 4 percent difference in self-esteem between owners of iPhone and Blackberry is dumb.  To gain self-esteem because you own a "smart" phone is dumb and assholish.

But, no, nothing wrong in seeing yourself as a lover of ideas and clear reason.  Nothing at all.

Sunday Beefcake: Andre Bolourchi

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mainly Maine

What's my response to the anti-gay-marriage vote in Maine?

Not much.

I suspect that African Americans would still not have equal rights in the United States had the decision been left in the hands of the electorate.  Am I saying that Americans in general are racist and homophobic? Yes, I guess I am, though that situation is changing slowly, thanks in some part to the Supreme Court and certain white Democratic leaders sympathetic to the cause of civil rights back in the 1960s.  A government that recognizes the equality of its citizens contributes significantly to move people's attitudes towards equality and fair play.

Did not Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists do a lot towards that change?  Most definitely, yes, mainly in drawing national attention to the plight of black Americans, especially in the South.  But attention has been drawn to the situation of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals for some time now (in the media, in marches on Washington, in everyday contact with openly gay friends and relatives, on the blogosphere).

But attention is not enough, apparently.  The importance of "image" and protection of that "image" as central to the welfare and tolerance of a diverse society has obviously been exaggerated.  I'm now convinced that however many Dr Kings, Cosbys, and Obamas the gay movement, such as it is, can accrue, will never be enough to make up for the absence of legal, enforced Constitutional equality and liberty for all Americans, regardless of their sexual makeups.

On a positive note, even in the dark years of W, the Supreme Court ruled against state sodomy laws, establishing an important precedent in defending gays and lesbians from unjust criminalizing legislation.

Still, with the current composition of the the US Supreme Court and the trepidation of Democrats who have as much power and public support now as they have ever had in my lifetime, it seems unlikely that a change comparable to what blacks achieved in the 1960s is going to happen for gays and lesbians soon.  Not for a long, long time.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wonderful Guys

Director Bartlett Sher's revival of South Pacific is in Raleigh this week, and Dave and Tim "kidnapped" me for dinner at the Irregardless and the show last night.

I love those guys.

With front row seats to gratuitous male nudity (a brief shower scene, but plenty of other semi-nude pulchritude), no shit I was pleased ... no, ecstatic from beginning to end.

South Pacific is my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein musical (tied closely with Carousel).  The revival focuses on atmosphere (a beautiful fluid set evocative of the 1940s, without overdoing the kitsch, and lovely, sometimes eerie lighting) and somewhat more authentic casting choices than the 1958 film production, namely the casting of a Polynesian actor as Bloody Mary and a lead with a real Southern accent (sorry, Mitzi).

This is, of course, not the Broadway cast ... but it's hard for me to imagine anyone better in the role of Nellie Forbush than Texas-born Carmen Cusack.  I'd never heard of her, and she was mesmerizing.  Her voice and delivery, like everyone else's in the cast, were perfect, and close up we were able to see every nuance of emotion on her face.  She was like a younger, more lyric version of Patricia Clarkson.

She plays the blindly optimistic and naively racist military nurse with the right mix of sympathy (she commands the stage like no one I've ever seen!) and inner turmoil.  How much of her subtle performance is lost past the fifth row is (luckily) something I can't comment on, but she was spot on from our seats!

Having never seen the show before, I can compare it only to the Joshua Logan movie version with Mitzi Gaynor.  This version is much better than that ... and I love the film version.  Sher has "de-camped" it, playing the sentiments sweetly but realistically, showing the outsized characters for the living breathing human beings they are, playing up the sexiness of the setting and the situation, and driving home the theme of racism: the song "You Have to Be Carefully Taught" (explaining that hate is learned, not natural--listen up, Maine!) is as applicable today as it was sixty years ago ... bummer.

This is an old-fashioned musical ... with songs you can remember and hum.  And they just keep rolling out:  "Bali Hai," "Some Enchanted Evening," "There Is Nothin Like a Dame," "A Cockeyed Optimist," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair," "Younger Than Springtime," "A Wonderful Guy," "Honey Bun," and "Happy Talk."  Each song is performed without embellishment but with a purity that makes you believe you never really heard that song before.  The dreadful blindness of "Cockeyed Optimist" is unexpected, not at all what I remembered, and "Happy Talk," catchy, sweet, and romantic, seems as coercive and manipulative as indeed it should.

If I could, I'd be at the theater this instant to see the show again.  And again and again every night it's town.

Yes, it's true, I am that gay!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

My Type

My friend Luis used to say "YT" (your type) every time we passed a tall, Bruce Weberish all-American and blank-faced guy, especially if he had high, prominent cheekbones, a definite jawline, small tight earlobes, and an aquiline nose.  Nowadays I'm not so sure I ever really had a type, or at least it seems that sexual "types" change over time in response to the series of men I have found myself unaccountably attracted to.

Tallness, for instance.  When I was young, I would get dizzy for men taller than six feet.  Frankly, height still catches my attention.  But now I'm just as drawn to men my height (just six feet) and shorter.  The idea of having a posse of 5'7" stud boys I can easily overtake in oil wrestling matches would drive my fantasy life if I were as avid a daydreaming masturbator as I was thirty years ago, when I was still fixating on some sort of "big brother" who could show me the ropes.  With friends, I joke that I'm now open to guys in economy sizes:  carry-on boyfriends, for easy portability.

I like guys who are athletic or just athletic-looking.  I'm not drawn to zero-percent body fat and ripped muscle as much as to guys with an earthy, sensuous weightiness, not chubby, but with enough adipose to make a tussle or a snuggle interesting.

A man with perfect, symmetrical features, defined muscle, and impeccable behavior might impress me aesthetically, without once making me think about what he'd be like in the sack. I can recognize and appreciate beauty objectively and intellectually, but what turns me on sexually is subjective and individual, springing from instincts and memories of past adventures.

In general, I'm attracted to men with flat chests and slightly convex bellies, wide shoulders, hard biceps, and sinewy forearms.  Smooth or hairy makes no difference.  I like hair cropped close to the skull, but I can just as easily appreciate long hair.  I've learned to appreciate the artful tattoo over the past fifteen years.  A piercing can be all right, but it's never been a selling point.  I like blonds and brunets equally.  I'm rarely attracted to red-haired or African-American men.  I particularly like Irish, Italian, Israeli, Arab, and mixed-race guys.  My roots are German, but I'm not particularly my type.  Circumcised is nice, even desirable, though uncircumcised suggests a wild, uncurbed nature, definitely something I like.  Dick size is unimportant; my sex drive is more holistic, responding to overall impressions men make, not isolated body parts.

Just as I do not fetishize abstracted body parts, a guy's total attractiveness offsets any physical drawbacks he may have:  back hair, birthmarks, scars, acne, pallor, effeminacy, thinness.  In fact, features like these that I once found disagreeable have become turn-ons (or at any rate no impediments to my being turned on) after a special relationship with somebody with one or more of these traits.

I like strong, silent types and cocky narcissists.  Nothing in between will do, say, good-old-boy business types with flashy smiles and false aw-shucks modesty, not really my style at all.  It's important to me that strength (of body and character) underlies a personality that's retiring by nature.  More typically, I'm attracted to arrogance, so long as the man has something (anything: beauty, muscle, brains, talent) to back it up.

I like military guys, rebels, guys who like wrestling and mixed martial arts; maybe being an Aries (after the Greek god of war) cosmically predisposes me towards men with a warrior spirit.  More generally, though, I'm drawn to guys who feel a passion for doing something, almost anything, spelunking to writing sonnets; it doesn't matter what, as long as it involves really doing something.

I am generally not drawn to guys who like to shop or watch a lot of TV.  I don't care for passive, wishy-washy people, not even on a social level, much less a romantic one.  However,  highly ambitious, obsessed, and competitive men are less appealing to me than men exuding an easy, assured virility that doesn't involve trying too hard.

I like guys who laugh without inhibitions, guys who don't wait to see how others respond before reacting.  They don't have to be comedians, but they do need a sense of fun, the more rambunctious and mischievous, the better.  I like guys who are politically idealistic, without being actually political.  I used to say I could never fuck a committed conservative.  That's probably still true, but I realize now that I can take only so much of committed liberals as well.

I'm not usually attracted to eighteen year olds, so I have no problem, as a college teacher, drawing a clear line in my personal relationships with students.  Since the age of thirteen or fourteen I have preferred men in their thirties, perhaps because of early crushes on Sean Connery and Robert Conrad, who were in their thirties in the 1960s, right when my sexual nature was beginning to assert itself.

When I got into my thirties, it was easier for me to bed men in my preferred age group.  Now that I'm in my fifties, though, I'm back in the wistful mode of my teen years, again yearning for the ideal 33 year old, Jesus and Alexander the Great when they died and my father when I was born.  (By contrast, my friend Dave, about my age, has always been attracted to men a few years older than he is and is now happily in love with a man in his mid-sixties.)

As a mature adult, I can now see that my father, particularly the youthful image of him I saw in old photographs (he was exquisitely handsome in his twenties) was probably the first imprint on my sexual nature.  Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that my mother had a paralyzed right arm and was unable to hold me as a baby, so when my father (an Air Force man and a classic American man's man) returned home in his oily-smelling fatigues, it was he who held me in two hands upon his knees.

I see myself as a Kinsey 6, 100% homo, but in principle I think Freud was right in thinking that everybody is bisexual and, in early childhood, polymorphously perverse, i.e. able to find erotic pleasure in anything and everything, a sexuality not even limited to genitalia or secondary sexual features like tits and Adam's apples.

Experience conditioned me to like some people and things more than others, and some people and things not at all.  I learned the parts of the body I was supposed to find attractive and the parts I was supposed to be ashamed of or even repulsed by.  The conditioning comes from ideas and standards I was exposed to through family, peers, and the media, as well as my life experiences, erotic and affectionate.  I am drawn to people who resemble past loves in some ways and turned off by those who resemble people who caused me to think less of myself.

Ideally, I would have no "type" at all.  I would prefer to be unlimited sexually, as polymorphously perverse as a baby.  Open for anything, and open to anyone.

It does not seem impossible that I could one day fall in love with a woman.  Unlikely, yes, but as long as I breathe I'm capable of change.  This particular change is not one I'd look forward to, however.  I don't dream of eventually becoming straight.  Once I came to accept my attraction to men, I have never once craved the proverbial "pill" that would turn me straight ... or even bisexual, though I think bisexuals are the most in tune with nature and, as Woody Allen once noted, they have twice the options on a Friday night.

Sunday Beefcake


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