MTV still sucks

Yes, I know it’s become trite to point out how MTV sucks. Still, bear with me here. Since we have a million cable channels and at least six of them are MTV substations, and since I was home all weekend “reveling” in my womanhood (no, I wouldn’t recommend beer and Pamprin, but I’m not saying it doesn’t work), I had a lot of time to watch all of the MTVs.

Here’s what I learned. There is no way that anyone who doesn’t OWN a lot of rap albums can form any opinion of rap music based solely on what they see/hear on MTV Jams or MTV Hits or MTV Soul or whatever because, it seems, MTV has some rule that states that they must blank out at least 1/3 of every rap song they air. How am I supposed to form any opinion on whether I think a song is good or the word play amusing or whatever if I can’t hear all the words?

Dear Sensitive Parents, here’s the deal. Music, for better or for worse, is an art form. One of art’s most basic tasks is to provoke a response. If you are afraid that your little chicks will be forever tainted by the complete lyrics to a song, then take a couple of pro-active steps: don’t give your kid his own TV in his room to watch unsupervised and v-chip the main TV so that he can’t watch videos all day. Or do what my parents did and send him to the Oldies station where all the songs are safe and sanitized for your protection.

[I especially love to hear the Killer do “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” which is only barely covered in the most transparent metaphors. Chicken in the barn, indeed.]

Oh, that’s right. All 20th century popular music has been one long, drawn out reference to sex. There is no asexual music that won’t taint your children. So, let’s just get over the idea that music has to be “safe” and let me hear the whole god damned song.

I swear, if I were a rap artist and the record company came to me and was like, listen, whatever your single is, we need to make sure there’s an MTV-friendly version with all the provocative parts muted. And then I’d do some song about how The Man depends on poor people being uneducated and racially and ethnically divided and blaming each other for their problems instead of turning on Him, and in the second verse I’d be all like how you should always spread the peanut butter first and then the jelly because if the peanut butter gets in the jelly and goes in the fridge, no problem, but if the jelly gets in the peanut butter and goes in the cabinet, all that sugar and fruit could go bad and taint your whole jar of peanut butter. And the third verse would be all about the shit I have now that I’m rich and all the bitches and hos and thugs and gs that wander around my house waiting for their chance to service me, and I’d mute the first two verses and leave the third one as it is.

Also, I’d have a killer oboe hook.

I thought, early on in the weekend, that Jennifer Lopez had a killer oboe hook in her new single, and it was almost enough to make me break my first rule of Jennifer–which is, don’t get too attached to any of her songs because they will eventually be run into the ground by MTV and you will hate them, and then she’ll remix them and you’ll forget how the version you liked so much in the first place even went–but upon repeated listens, I think it’s just a soprano sax.

That’s too bad, because the oboe does not get the attention it deserves. It’s such a weird sounding instrument, but in that funky way that makes you think that, if only some imaginative producer could get hold of one, there’d be some really cool possibilities.

Hell, if Pharrell and Snoop can make clicking your tongue sound hot, someone can make the oboe rock.

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Something weird about me

At pretty regular intervals, I’m sometimes burdened with an acute sense of smell. If it weren’t also accompanied by terrible gut pain, it might be more amusing. Folks at work have even accused me of having a psychic sense of smell. So, maybe the pain is the trade-off for my “gift.”

Once, when my boss walked into my office, I could smell the yellow roses he’d bought for his house on him. When I asked him about it, he got very freaked out. Right now, my office is filled with the almost overwhelming smell of the handsoap from the bathroom. This is a marked improvement over the general smell of earwax that seems to be permeating the floor. And, the woman down the hall had some kind of warm fast food for breakfast. Worse is, at the moment, everything in the house smells like the dog. Everything on my bed smells like the dog and even my clean clothes smell like the detergent and the dog.

I saw an interesting show on the Discovery Channel about how cats recognize members of their “pride” (if one can call the groups domestic cats live in “prides”) by how they smell, and that they spend a great deal of time making sure they all smell like each other. One scientist was hypothesizing that this may be why cats seem to cuddle up to the very people who are most allergic to cats–by virtue of their allergies, they are the least likely to smell like any cat group, and thus, might appear to be ripe for adoption.

It makes me wonder about smell, though. Scientists say that smell is the sense most closely linked to memory, and, though I usually am not aware of the ambient smells of the world, they must always be there, and I wonder if my nose and brain are just chugging away, bringing me bits of information that I usually ignore, like the scroll at the bottom of the news cast.

Proto Indo European

You know, I was just thinking how hard it is to tell a story of history if you’re attempting to leave open possibilities. Like, say I wanted to tell you a story about the Proto Indo European people (or PIEs), but didn’t want to presume too much about a group of people we know little about or your own feelings about various Neolithic cultures in what is now Europe.

I might say something like, after we started walking upright, we spread out over Africa, into central Asia, across Europe, into the Americas, and over to Australia. After some time, a group of us came out of some place–southern Russia, central Asia, northern India–and spread out over a lot of other places, carrying with us ancient versions of many of the words we now use.

The existence of the PIE people has not been verified, but it’s a theory that seems to fit the evidence we have–that many of our modern languages evolved from one now lost proto language, and thus, someone must have spoken that language. This is why languages as seemingly diverse as Sanskrit, Greek, and English all have similar words for father, brother, foot, etc.

So, being a big nerd, I enjoy poking around in the dusty corners of words (ha, as you may have noticed) and, thus, spend a lot of time thinking about the language of the PIE people. Here’s something that has recently amused me: PIE might have a word (there’s definitely a root, but whether it was a whole word, we don’t know) like “gher” which connotes liking or wanting. You can see it in modern words like greedy or yearn or even charisma. Bruce Lincoln thinks “gher” in the PIE world probably meant something closer to greedy or ravenous and that the sound of the word was the sound of the dogs who would scavenge the battlefields for things or dead folks to eat. Gher and grr.

Tee hee. I love words that mean what they sound like or sound like what they mean. Not an onomatopoeia… well, kind of… but grr, the sound the greedy dog makes and gher the greed itself.

Oh, or take barbarian, which is just a person who makes noises that sound like “bar bar,” the Greeks’ way of pointing out that the folks to the north talked funny–maybe like sheep.

Oh, no, Bill, no

[To fully understand this post, you will need two things–access to an October 31, 2004 New York Times and access to the January 20th online version of The Nashville Scene. I’m not linking to either of them because you have to pay for access to back issues of the Times and they’ll move the link to the Scene article soon and you won’t be able to find it through any link I might give it.]

In the late edition of the Nashville Scene, Bill Friskics-Warren schools Liz Garrigan about the insidiousness of “rockism” and the inherent “rockist” bias in her desire to deride Ashlee Simpson for playing a show at the Ryman Auditorium. Garrigan thinks it’s outrageous that Simpson, who barely sings her own songs, would perform at the most holy shrine of country music, a place, supposedly, steeped in authenticity.

As you know, I’m not sold on notions of authenticity. I’m well aware of the market forces pushing at all forms of popular music and I think the tension between artistry and money making is usually, at least, interesting.

But I’m bothered by this “rockist” thing. There’s clearly a difference between putting one certain type of music up on a pedestal (in this case, guys with guitars) at the expense of other types of music–rap, pop, whatever–and recognizing Simpson for the failure she is.

Here’s what Kelefah Sanneh says about it in the New York Times:

“Rockism isn’t unrelated to older, more familiar prejudices — that’s part of why it’s so powerful, and so worth arguing about. The pop star, the disco diva, the lip-syncher, the ”awesomely bad” hit maker: could it really be a coincidence that rockist complaints often pit straight white men against the rest of the world? Like the anti-disco backlash of 25 years ago, the current rockist consensus seems to reflect not just an idea of how music should be made but also an idea about who should be making it.”

I’m going to get back to this in a second, but let’s just let that stand for now.

On to what Bill Friskics-Warren’s rebuke of Liz Garrigan’s impulse to ridicule Ashlee Simpson:

“I definitely think we should do something, Liz, but I don’t consider the Simpson thing an outrage at all, just as I don’t care if producers cut-and-paste records in the studio without the “artist” being present (or ever showing up). The belief that the “authenticity” of a musical performance depends upon it being “real”–that is, “actually” performed by the person in the spotlight–is, I think, a case of rockism. That is, a privileging of the old model of the solitary, “for the ages” artist (usually a guy) with a guitar pouring out the “authentic” (that word again) stirrings in his heart over the “disposable, fabricated” pop star lip-synching on MTV (as if Springsteen and Dylan aren’t social constructs in their own right).”

[Give me a second to take the cheap shot at Friskics-Warren, before I get on to my main point: Isn’t is that interesting that it’s a man educating a woman about the ways in which her desire to critique falls short?]

There are a couple of things going on here that I find stunning.

By setting up rock music against all other forms of music, both Friskics-Warren and Sanneh have to, by virtue of the dialectic they’ve set up, lump all other forms of music into the same category. What the fuck?

Am I supposed to understand that Ashlee Simpson has the same “artistic” value as Tweet as Mos Def as Britney Spears as Led Zeppelin? That one cannot use one’s faculties to make a judgment about the artistic merit of each of those… what? What do we even call them in Friskics-Warren’s framework… people with whom the production of certain kinds of music is inadvertently associated? It makes music making seem like a disease, like my kid might bring home a bad case of hip-hop from school, and the next thing you know, everyone in my house is a million-selling artist signed with Def Jam.

You can argue that judging all music by the standards of rock and roll is stupid and biased and, perhaps, even sexist and racist. I, folks, am even willing to buy that argument.

But Sanneh and Friskics-Warren ought to watch a little more Animal Planet and study how things are done at dog shows. Within the breed, all dogs are compared to each other, but for best in show, no one judges the German Shepard against the American Staffordshire. Each is judged against the breed standard.

So, let’s say that the “group” Ashlee Simpson is a part of is the “teen pop tart who combines sex and innocence with catchy tunes she lip-synchs along to” crowd. When judged against the standard of that group, can’t we say that she sucks? I mean, look at her compared to Britney Spears. Simpson isn’t fit to wash Spears’s sweaty thong. My god, isn’t that clear?

But aside from personal preference–you might like rap better than heavy metal–you can’t fairly compare someone from one genre to another.

And, if that’s what the critics of “rockism” are trying to say, in their own clumsy way, fair enough. But criticizing other critics for holding everyone to some set of standards is amazing to me. If you can’t hold people, the people you do or don’t consider artists, to your standards of what good music is, you can’t be a rock critic. What would you do if you couldn’t talk about why something, to you, was good? How does music criticism, in general, to move beyond rock criticism, survive an attack that negates aesthetic judgment?

But there’s something else insidious going on here that really bothers me, and that’s the way all white men get lumped together–both rich artist, privileged “rockist” critic, and poor consumer–so that the inherent class criticism is camouflaged. Follow me? No?

Watch how Sanneh does it:

“Maybe because rockist critics love it when hip-hop acts impersonate rock ‘n’ roll bands.”
Read: The problem is the critics who hold hip-hop to rock & roll standards.

“From punk-rock rags to handsomely illustrated journals, rockism permeates the way we think about music.”
Read: Look at the way this attitude is codified in the literature.

“Rock ‘n’ roll is the unmarked section in the record store, a vague pop-music category that swallows all the others.”
Note the use of “record store.”

So, right now, his argument is that this “rockist” attitude is linked to privilege (specifically, white privilege). Critics, themselves, have a kind of privileged position because what they write has influence. You have to have access to these rags and “handsomely illustrated journals” and the ability to spend a lot of time in the record stores. You have to have some money to really fully participate in this “rockist” culture, apparently.

But what is the zenith of this “rockism”? Sanneh says it’s “the ugly anti-disco backlash of the late 1970’s, which culminated in a full-blown anti-disco rally and the burning of thousands of disco records at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1979.”

And, look how Friskics-Warren shifts the blame away from Simpson’s failure as an artist: “Loads of country stars that come out of the hit mill here are no different, right down to the nepotism/family motif.”

Ah, see now where the secret trouble lies: it’s those poor people–the working class Chicagoans and the rural Southerners. Those folks who want their artists to be “authentic,” who don’t read the New York Times or the online version of the Nashville Scene in order to wrestle with the big ideas of music criticism, who aren’t even trying to be open to “the music critic’s” enlightened and expanded notions of what is good music or even what constitutes a music artist.

Listen, it’s any music consumer’s right to like rock better than country or country better than rap. And it’s the truth that, for some people, liking rock better than rap is a choice either steeped in racism or just out and out racist. It’s also true that preferring Led Zeppelin to Madonna might be a choice steeped in misogyny. Hell, I might hate Ashlee Simpson because, as a member of the he-man woman-hater’s club, I’m sworn to.

And music critics have a right, and I think, a responsibility to weed out the ways in which they, themselves, and other music critics have ingrained and perpetuated racist and sexist (lumping homophobia and misogyny in the same category) ideas within their criticism.

But, if you are angry at rock critics, be angry at rock critics. It wasn’t rock critics who swarmed the field in Chicago and so, if you’re angry at the ways in which racism, sexism, and homophobia seem to pervade poor rock fans’ sensibilities, come out and say it. But, to paraphrase my favorite socialist, one might want to remove the log from his own eye before worrying about the sliver in someone else’s. Rap, hip-hop, country, pop–all these forms are just as rife with those things as rock music is because our culture is rife with them.

And the position Sanneh and Friskics-Warren take, that there’s something brave or new about finding value in all kinds of “music” no matter how bad it is and not questioning the absurdity of putting a girl who can’t sing on a stage that requires almost no amplification (egad, especially Friskics-Warren’s avant garde take on the whole “death of the author” debate), feels to me very, very elitist, as if only racist, homophobic misogynist, “rockist” low class no-accounts would stoop so low as to prefer Pink Floyd to Pink.

Did I kiss all the cowboys? Did I shoot out the lights?

When you wake up on a Sunday morning singing Shelly West’s “Jose Cuervo” and laughing about it, I guess you’ve had a good night.

My Conduit was in fine form all evening, and I’m satisfied that I could not have picked a better man to minister to the needs of my followers. (However, if his recent behavior is any indication, my followers are all single lawyers with dogs.) He was wearing a jaunty scarf and explaining how he’s decided to become a libertine. I’ve never met a jaunty-scarf wearing libertine before, so I’m hugely excited that I now know one.

Sadly, I must report that my cute neighbor offered to make out with me only after I’d been smoking a big cigar (provided by a delightfully attractive tall blond man who knows more about Arnold Schwarzenegger than necessary) and doing shots of something foul from the kitchen with some non-discript guy with beautiful eyes, and so, I had to decline politely, because, when one has to see someone all the time, the last thing one wants that person to think every time he sees one is “Egad, that woman’s mouth tasted like a used ass.”

Happily, Dr. Watson came to dinner with us and then on to the party afterwards. He has this disconcerting way of standing a little apart from the group and staring somewhat behind you, as if Moriarty has unleashed a deadly cat or large orangutan that he must keep an eye on, but I laced my hand through his arm and pulled him in tight so that he would feel safe every time I saw that he was distracted by some unimaginable concern that weighed heavily on him. I kissed him as I left, just to startle him. I think it worked.

The Libertine (my conduit) has this friend who taught me the most fun game ever, in which you look around a room and each try to describe someone. However, you have to set up your answer in this form: “He is something/something.” For instance, the cute blond with the cigar was clearly an action hero/singing telegram. I kept hoping the friend (lumberjack/gay playwrite, according to him) I was playing the game with and the blond with the cigar would start making out, but they never did. Maybe next time!

There was some dancing, though I wish there would have been more, but for some reason, after a good song to dance to, something impossible would come on and there was only one girl at the whole party who could dance to anything. It was pretty amazing, really, because she looked so ordinary that when she and her friends were sitting on the couch, she was utterly unnoticable, but when she danced, wow, she was so beautiful that you just wanted to watch her. It didn’t matter what kind of song it was, with what kind of un-dancable rhythm, she had this innate sense of how to match her body to some part of the song none of the rest of us could hear.

The most amazing thing, though, was the Professor. I kept thinking that, if she’d been Buchanan’s niece, things would have been very different in that administration. She is a little live wire, sizzling in and out of rooms and conversations and situations. Everyone in the whole house seemed constantly aware of where she was, hoping that she’d come by and zap them just a smidge.

She arranged our dinner before hand–her, me, my conduit, Dr. Watson, and her friend and his girlfriend–and we went to this fabulous Turkish restaurant and were having such a good time that our waitress kept trying to join in. The Professor decided that Dr. Watson ought to have a puppy dog calendar in his new bachelor pad, in order to balance it somehow, her own version of feng shui. I decided she needed her own show on the Home and Garden Network. They all laughed, but I’m right.

Judging from the ways that crowds organize around her, people would watch her.

Miss J and Ms. B ruin movies for me

Okay, so I sit down to watch The Gift yesterday and I’m trying to get into it, but not quite settling in because of the pinging banjo that seems slapped on to the soundtrack in order to give that poor kid from Deliverance something to do in his old age.

And then the folks start talking.

Okay, it’s not just the sisters Ms. that have done it. Part of it is living here and over yonder for seven years and spending my free time driving around and listening to folks. But everyone in that movie appears to have done their dialog training with Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel from The Simpsons instead of with anyone who’s from the area the movie is set in.

There is not one “southern accent.” Folks in Tennessee alone tend to have three or four different accents. The sisters Ms.’s dad has a west Tennessee accent that kind of sounds like Elvis’s. Not the corny Elvis that lives on in every “Thank you, thank you very much” but that way of starting a word, letting it fill up with the sound of the first vowel, and then gently closing the word off after that. (But their grandpa shuts his words off tight, so I could be wrong.)

Folks in middle Tennessee tend to sound a lot like people from Southern Illinois, that kind of rural, slow, lilt. And folks in east Tennessee still sound like they are, people who’s ancestors came from Scotland and Ireland and settled in isolated spots.

My nephew from rural west Georgia has a very distinct accent, but not near as thick as his great grandma and great grandpa, who I can barely understand. It takes me a good couple of hours to acclimate. They have the same trouble with us, but are good-natured about it. For one Christmas, they put “To: Bun” on all of my recalcitrant brother’s presents to ease his homesickness, reckoning that it would sound more like how we say his name than either of the ways they say it “Bin” or “Bi-en.”

My two neighbors, the guy who gets laid and the cute one, are both from the coast of Alabama, the Real South, as they remind me, and though both of them have an accent, it’s not one people outside of the South would place as Southern. They also stretch their words out, but unlike the sisters Ms.’s dad, they don’t let the words inflate, there’s not that same kind of fullness.

The folks in Louisiana about knocked my socks off with their accents. The people in New Orleans had a very urban accent, they sounded almost like New Yorkers, and the folks out in the countryside that we met all had Cajun accents.

There are still a couple of old professors here at Vanderbilt who were educated in the South and they speak with that Old Southern Accent that gets instilled in places like Sewanee. There is no sing-song to this accent, it’s as if every word is formed while your mouth is shaped like you’re going to say the letter “a”–“Ah laik mah chances.” When you hear it, you know that’s someone who’s over 65 and got a PhD.

The closest any place comes to having that sing-song Southern accent is Texas.

So, my point is that the movie was ruined for me. I just couldn’t get into it because none of the accents sounded the same and none of them sounded like they were from anywhere I recognized. J.K. Simmons did it the best, I think, opting for an accent that wasn’t really an accent. He just spoke more slowly and seemed to listen and like the sound of each word before he went on to the next.

The inauguration

So, the Butcher and I are watching snippits of the repeat of the inauguration on CSPAN last night (we are also flipping to CSPAN-2 to watch snippits of Kennedy’s inauguration, but that’s neither here nor there except to point out that my Politics Bar is indeed a genius idea.) and we ended up watching the benediction given by Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Pastor Caldwell’s words, and I’m still struck by how profoundly funny the whole thing was. His prayer, and then the whooping and clapping afterwards, as if no one had really heard one thing he said. So, it’s funny because it’s so tacky to clap and whoop at a prayer, and, for a group like that to not understand that you end a prayer in a quiet “amen” or “me, too, Lord” or some other respectful gesture, and not as if you’ve just heard a paean to your team’s mascot, shows you a lot about their “nuanced” religious beliefs. And it’s funny because, if the things Pastor Caldwell prayed for were to come to pass, this country would be a whole lot different in ways that would leave a lot of folks confused and outraged.

Which got me thinking about the separation of church and state. Really, this is for the benefit of both parties, but both parties refuse to see that. The state wants Christians to feel as if their will is being done in the government because Christianity is the majority religion and, if Christians were to decide that they didn’t like how things were going, they could radically change things. The Christians, afraid of the ways they see secular culture degrading (though we could have a nice long talk about whether that was true), see wielding influence in Washington as the way to stave off or turn back the effects of the secular world.

But here’s what most Christians don’t get: capitalism and our military-industrial-lobbyist-rich people republican (and I mean republican in the sense that we are a republic) way of being in the world are utterly incompatible with the teachings of Christ.

The main way powerful church leaders keep their flock oblivious to this (in order to keep enjoying the power and privilege that they have) is two-fold. One is to promote the “you can be rich as the result of being a good Christian” two-level pyramid scheme that keeps them wealthy. If you don’t go to a church like this, you can see it with the televangelists, who have this marketing gimmick down to an art. It is just what it sounds like, the promise that, if you put this god first and truly love him (and give generously to the church), he’ll give you prosperity. The other goes hand in hand with the first, and that is to promote a “literal” interpretation of the Bible–to preach that everything in the Bible is true and that you can’t pick and choose which things you’re going to follow.

[As an aside, I’m just going to point you to section five of this website for a kind-hearted refutation of the nonsense that anyone in America takes the whole Bible literally. Every single Christian is picking and choosing what he or she thinks is right, and everyone is basing his or her beliefs on his or her interpretation of what the Bible means, not what it says.]

So, these church leaders (obviously, I’m not talking about all church leaders, or I’d be revealing these secrets to you from the yacht I got from my dad.) promote a way of living, this Prosperous Christianity, that seems to be in direct contradiction with the teaching of Jesus and they justify it by arguing that you can’t pick and choose which things in the Bible you’re going to believe, so if the Old Testament says that giving your first fruits to your god will mean that your god will make you wealthy, then, somehow, that’s as true as Jesus saying that it’d be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it would be for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Of course, though, once you call yourself a Christian, you’re indicating that you’ve chosen a specific way to interpret the Bible. You’ve chosen to believe that everything you read in the Old Testament is pointing to and leading up to the arrival of Jesus and that Jesus, as the son of your god, is the culmination and fulfillment of your god’s promise to his chosen people, of which you are one.

Though it doesn’t always work in practice, what it means is that you believe that Jesus trumps everything else in the Bible. If there’s a Psalm that might lead you to believe that personal wealth indicates that your god loves you especially, you need to check that against what Jesus says, who doesn’t seem to be so keen on incorporating moneymaking and religious living (check out the money changers in the Temple and his advice on rendering unto Caesar).

This, for some reason, is a radical notion–checking everything else you read in the Bible against what Jesus says and the example he sets–but there it is, a relatively straightforward way to judge when you should follow the other stuff in the Bible and when you can ignore it as historical detritus. I mean, my god, Jesus spends the vast majority of his ministry lambasting the Pharisees for their slavish devotion to the letter of the law and their utter neglect of the people around them (see Luke 11:37-53 for one of Jesus’ more cutting rants.).

And yet, how many Christians do we know who justify their treatment of their spouses and children, their bigotry against homosexuals, or their screwed up attitudes towards “race mixing” (Bob Jones University!!!), or their vast personal fortunes, or whatever through pointing us to the relevant passages in the Bible?

So, I have to ask myself, who benefits from Christians placing as much, or more, importance on, say, the rules in Leviticus or Paul’s personal hangups, than on Jesus’ own words and actions? Is it the government, who by throwing Christians a bone by discriminating against homosexuals, gives them the illusion that they have real influence in Washington? (You argue that Christians do have real influence in Washington? Then ask yourself this: Jesus says you should take all you have and give it to the poor. Could you get your representatives or senators to even sponsor a bill that would take everyone’s wealth and evenly distribute it? I thought not.)

Or is it the powerstructure of the Church who benefits from it by showing parishioners that they have more influence in society than they actually do?

It’s weird, but clearly both the Church and the State benefit a great deal from playing up the importance and influence of “Christianity,” while downplaying and defusing the importance and influence of their Christ.

You’d think Christians wouldn’t stand for that. You’d think Christians might, perhaps, be deeply offended when a bunch of obscenely wealthy bureaucrats who had little regard for the meek and the poor in their own country hauled Jesus out at every opportunity and cheered–cheered, people–as his name was used to invoke their (the Christians’) god into blessing them (the government types); that they might see it as akin to the Satanists who read the Lord’s Prayer backwards and design their whole proceedings around twisting the Catholic Mass into a form they find most perverse.

But no, rather than eyeing any government use of religion suspiciously, as would be wise, instead of really asking themselves “What would Jesus Do?,” they seem to be glad that so many clergy are asked to show up to things like this.

It boggles the mind.

Not the ghosts of the Civil War

One problem with jokingly blaming all the ordinary strange things that come with living some place–losing one’s can opener, finding a five in one’s purse, etc.–on the ghosts of the Civil War is that, even if you don’t really believe that the ghosts of the Civil War haunt your house, you’ve planted the possibility in your mind.

Which brings us to last night. I arrived home a little later than usual, after having been thoroughly kicked around by my day, let the cats in and the dog out, found nothing to eat in the kitchen but rice and raisins, and so sat down to eat my sad meal on my couch while reading AnaLouise Keating.

All is silent and then, from the kitchen, there’s this voice. It sounded like a small child yelling something, possibly “I want you” but, as loud as the voice was–and it was loud–the words sounded muffled, as if they were traveling from some great distance and I could not quite make them out.

Over and over, there’s this “I want you”-type noise, coming from my kitchen. I lean forward and peer in, but I don’t see anything. Still, the voice.

I’m ready to run over to the neighbors’ when I notice that Mrs. Wigglebottom is utterly unafraid. Now, this is the dog that hid under the end table downstairs with the orange cat from the hermit crab that fell out of my pajamas in the upstairs bathroom, and regularly hides in the upstairs bathroom from hideously scary things like rain. So, if she’s not afraid, the source of the noise must be something she’s used to.

Have the ghosts of the Civil War befriended my dog while I’m at work?

I go into the kitchen. And there, sitting on floor in front of a large hairball/food mixture is the little cat. She looks at the puke, looks at me, and opens her mouth and a very human-sounding noise comes out.

If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would have never believed it. If she’d just left the hairball sitting in the middle of the kitchen and gone upstairs to sleep, I would be writing you right now about my freaky ghostly encounter. I would have never suspected the cat of that noise.

It was the weirdest thing.

The Dog and Me in Hell

So, everyone who comes to visit us eventually ends up bitching about how long Mrs. Wigglebottom’s nails are.

It’s true. They are long enough to make her sound like maracas as she runs across the kitchen floor. But, as god as my witness, I am never cutting her nails again (with two exceptions).

Here are the reasons:

1. She doesn’t like it.
2. I don’t like it.
3. I’m never sure how short to cut them.

and

4. Dear God, the blood!!!!! There’s always one nail that bleeds like a fucking oil gusher no matter how little actual nail material you cut off. You could take a sliver so thin the vet would need a microscope to see it, so thin that physicists would come to examine the particles making up the atoms that make up the cells that would all be visible, and that nail would bleed like crazy. And it’s not like it’s the same nail every time so that you could just say “Well, won’t cut the right front pinky nail.”

Here are the things that were blood-splattered:

1. The Butcher’s pants.
2. Most of the dog.
3. The new couch of sleepiness
4. The carpet
5. Me.
6. Various tissues I used to stop the bleeding
7. The cat who had to come over to see what was going on.
8. The kitchen floor

Here are the two exceptions:

Her thumbnails. I don’t want them to curl around and stab her in the paw.

But the other eight I’m done with.

Syncretic History

So, last night I’m doing what I usually do when I don’t have anything to do, which is sit around with the neighborhood gang and enforce my “no stinky things on the couch” rule. The kid up the street who’s always out practicing his fire-twirling asked us if we had today off.

Neither of us did.

But get this. He does. Not for Martin Luther King’s birthday, though, but for Robert E. Lee’s birthday. Yes, you read that right. His employer specifically gives them today off for Robert E. Lee’s birthday.

So, this morning I do a little web research and see some website that claims that many Southern states still recognize Lee’s birthday on the Monday of the week on which it falls. They even claim that it’s a state holiday in Tennessee. Unbelievable.

I look up Tennessee’s state holidays, though, and it’s not listed.

But now, I’m compelled to check out the rest of the briefly-lived Confederacy:

Texas–Celebrates MLK’s birthday on the 3rd Monday and Confederate Heroes day (specifically including Robert E. Lee on the 19th.
Louisiana–Celebrates MLK’s birthday
Mississippi–REL and MLK share the 3rd Monday of January as a state holiday
Alabama–Same as Mississippi
Georgia–Holy shit! Look at the sly way they do this. The 3rd Monday is for MLK and REL’s birthday is observed on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
South Carolina–Celebrates MLK’s birthday
North Carolina–Celebrates MLK’s birthday
Virginia–Lee/Jackson day on the 16th and MLK day on the 3rd Monday
Tennessee–Celebrates MLK’s birthday
Arkansas–REL and MLK share the 3rd Monday
Florida–Celebrates MLK’s birthday

and the states that didn’t quite make the cut

Missouri–Celebrates MLK’s birthday
Kentucky–Celebrates MLK’s birthday

So, anyway, my first thought upon realizing this was utter shock, but now, it’s kind of morphed into morbid curiosity.

The other day, the Professor and I were talking about my favorite topic–syncretic religions–and I was wondering why it was that when the Catholic church said to European folks during the conversion, “This mountain that used to be sacred to Odin is now sacred to St. Michael,” there didn’t develop syncretic beliefs (in other words, why didn’t people use the iconography of the new religion to refer to the old religion in order to keep practicing the old religion?).

And she said that she thought that, even if there were initially some syncretism, that it’s just too hard to maintain disparate belief systems without some structure to reinforce the hidden belief system.

So, now I’m thinking about how one reincorporates half a country in which many of the citizens who have power would rather not be reincorporated. (I recently read an article, which I can’t find now, that said that there is a way in which it’s very deeply true that the fetishization of symbols of the Confederacy is not as much about race as it is about a big “Fuck You” to the Federal government. I don’t buy that–that it’s more about sticking it to the Federal government (and outsiders) and than it is about racism–but I do believe that both of those strains are there and that they compliment each other.)

And I’m thinking about the ways in which the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday captures all of these strands.

There’s the obvious movement away from celebrating the life of a white Confederate general to a black Civil Rights leader, the substituting of one holiday for another. And there’s the problem each state government has trying to keep all its constituents happy. Some attempt to compromise by celebrating both lives, as if, one suspects, they hope the two will cancel each other out and result in the state appearing to take NO position one way or another on the importance of either man’s life.

It seems to me to vividly capture the essence of Georgia’s plight as a state that contains both the largest city in the South–a city that has become so metropolitan that I hear people all the time talk about how it’s not really a Southern city any more–and many poor rural white folks who still haven’t forgiven Stone Mountain for electing Chuck Burris. Have the MLK holiday at the same time as everyone else, and slip the REL day in there right after Thanksgiving where no one will notice.

But I wonder, if everyone else in the country celebrates MLK day and many people in the South celebrate MLK day, how long will it be before the folks for whom REL is so important, forget that the state used to celebrate his birthday as a holiday?

If anything, it reminds me how large this country used to be and how much smaller it is now. I sat next to a guy while we were waiting for a plane to take us to St. Louis and he was telling me how, growing up in rural Mississippi, he didn’t have electricity and how they’d be sure to save the batteries on the radio so that they could listen to WSM on Saturday nights for the Opry.

This guy, who I’d guess was in his 70s (he fought in Korea, where they also used to listen to the Opry, despite the rough time the other soldiers would give them, complaining about having to listen to that hillbilly shit; the Southerners’ response? “You go to your church; we’ll go to ours.”), can remember a time when he only heard directly from the outside world once a week. I hear from the outside world every time I pull up Yahoo, at least 20 times a day, and all evening with the TV on in the background.

He’d never left Mississippi until he went to war. My family didn’t know the meaning of the word “stay home.” We got in our car every weekend and drove someplace and to Michigan at least twice a year and every summer we’d load up the kids and the dog in the back seat and hook up the trailer and go see America, whatever that means. (I think we went to see what “America” means.)

We used to be a lot farther apart. And so, it makes sense that different states (and regions) could do things that other parts of the country didn’t or couldn’t do because who’d really notice?

But then, down here, the TVA comes through and pretty soon everyone has a radio and knows someone with a television and paved roads go in (and then interstates) and soon the country becomes a lot smaller, and people become more aware of what’s going on in the rest of the nation.

And how shocking that must have been, to find yourself and your ways suddenly under scrutiny by the whole country, as if the whole country had some say (it ought to go without saying that the happy flip side of this coin is that, if you are being oppressed, you now have the ability to reach out, not just with words in print, but voice and images, in order to rally sympathetic people to your cause).

The coincidence of all of these things–the end of segregation in the armed forced, the interstate system, electricity, television, rock-n-roll, the civil rights movement–caused such a paradigm shift in our culture that we’re still dealing with the reverberations.

And so, it disturbs me that people are still getting days off in honor of Lee, who both comes to symbolize that toxic nostalgia for the Confederacy and makes such a poor representative of it, with his deep ambivalence towards the war. But I’m hopeful that, as a holiday, for most people, it’s just a strange anachronism and not some political statement.

How easy is it to become tainted?

Okay, so Kid Rock had previously been tossed off my “good guy” list for attempting to teach Russell Simmons that seeing “Fahrenheit 911” is disrespectful to our troops, or some such shit.

But he may have inadvertently made his way back onto my “good guy” list with his amazing ability to taint people merely with his words.

He was supposed to play at the inauguration but the Christian fundamentalists had a fit and he was dis-invited (or, as the White House is now claiming, not invited at all).

But the best part of all of this is listening to the fundamentalists get their knickers in a twist about this.

I quote:

*****

After reading some of Kid Rock’s lyrics, Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families, was outraged the rapper would be a part of the president’s festivities.

“I just read Kid Rock’s sexually explicit lyrics and feel ashamed and dirty for even looking at his songs,” he told WND. “If this sex-crazed animal, whose favorite word is the F-word, is allowed to sing at Bush’s inauguration this will send a clear message to pro-family Americans that the Republican Party has taken them for a ride and ditched them in the gutter.”

*****

Isn’t that wild? Reading something provokes feelings of shame and dirtiness. Not participating, not even listening to and appreciating, but just looking at his lyrics is that provocative. And, egad, Kid Rock kind of sucks.

Imagine if he’d been left alone with Al Green or, dare I suggest, Led Zeppelin lyrics?

Obviously, I don’t agree with Ole Randy’s belief that merely looking at crappy lyrics can taint someone or that having to listen to Kid Rock sing… hmm… I wonder what he’d sing at the inauguration anyway? “Cowboy?” “American Bad Ass?”… but anyway, having to listen to Kid Rock sing is some indication that the Republican party hates fundamentalists.

I do wonder how Bob Ritchie reconciles the populist lyrics of “Bawitdaba” (“the grits when there ain’t enough eggs to cook” is my favorite line) with his Republican-ness. Does he now think his “homies in the county in cell block six” deserve to be there? Is this a part of his conversion to country music icon? It makes me think.

Okay, but back to my point, one favor fundamentalists do for us is to remind us of the power of words. I think those of us who can and do read regularly (more than just the Bible) sometimes forget the magic inherent in the wiggles of ink on page or, in the case of these words in front of you, the dance of light across a screen. We come to see words just as tools, little wheelbarrows we fill up with meaning and push around from one place to another. Just the things that carry ideas from one person to another.

Yes, there are nerdy folks who pour through the OED because we believe in that words carry around not only the meanings they now have, but traces of the things they meant before. But even I, lover of looking things up in the OED, don’t really believe that when I tell you that I’m happy, that such a declaration automatically resonates with good fortune, chance, blessedness, luck, as well as feeling positive about my current circumstances.

But fundamentalists remind us that words are more than tiny meaning carriers, or that, if they are tiny meaning carriers, that it’s a more powerful job than we normally acknowledge. Of course words can change you, of course they can.

Even stupid old Kid Rock can string together some words that make Randy Thomasson feel dirty. It makes me laugh, but I’m glad to be reminded of it–not the feeling in Randy’s loins, but that words do evoke feelings, stretch your mind, and carry you along with them.

You put something out there, like Kid Rock did, and years after you were done with it, someone else picks it up and the words work their way on him.

Am I becoming a libertarian? Probably not.

Every once in a while, I hear from my old college chum, the Libertarian. Under normal circumstances, we have more of an uneasy truce than a friendship, but under the current administration, we’ve bonded over our shared loathing of said government officials. That’s been nice and eye-opening.

Here are the ways in which my beliefs align with his, though divergences are noted:

  • It’s kind of bullshit that I have to pay your medical bills if you don’t wear a helmet and crash your motorcycle without insurance. On the other hand, if you’ve taken necessary safety precautions, but still crash your motorcycle without insurance, I don’t mind.
  • Drugs ought to be legal and well-regulated. Not just because it’s not the government’s business what I do with my body (because, obviously, what I do with my body has effects on the broader community), but also because the war on drugs is futile, overburdening the prison system, and depriving the government of a great deal of tax revenue.
  • Prostitution ought to be legal and well-regulated. Again, not just because it’s not the government’s business what I do with my body, but because it would lessen the prostitute’s reliance on a broker, allow some kinds of healthcare initiatives that would keep everyone safer, and provide a safety net for these people so that when serial killers or other assorted thugs prey on them, someone notices and cares.
  • We ought not to mistake Hollywoodish cowboy bravado for acceptable foreign policy.

We mostly differ in that I believe that we, as human beings have obligations to each other and that the government can be a more effective tool for fulfilling those obligations than individuals can. I have ideals and it hurts me when those ideals are not met.

But today, I see that the federal government is urging people to lose weight and exercise more. Yes, the republican government home of the “smaller government” mindset is wasting valuable federal dollars to tell me and the rest of us fat-asses to lose weight. Yes, this man, with the double chin, is using his last days in office to tell the rest of America to lose weight.

“Do you want to look better? Do you want to feel better?” he asks, like some kind of sleazy dope dealer. But, as if he’s anticipating my recognizing him for the pusher he is, he reminds us that “people should not assume that researchers at the National Institute of Health are going to come up with a miracle diet pill. ‘Every American is waiting for NIH to come up with that pill,’ he said. ‘It’s not going to happen.'”

Rats.

Listen, I’m not going to go into all of the reasons that the government has no business trying to dictate what we do with our bodies. I’m going to even attempt to refrain from pointing out how funny it is that we don’t think it’s weird that our government wants to tell us what we ought to weigh, but we think it’s hilarious that Kim Jong Il wants all North Koreans to get their hair cut every 15 days.

Oh, yeah, I know that this is all about “feeling better” and “being healthier” and how we all ought to throw up our hands at the way we are getting fatter and fatter because it means that we’re getting less and less healthy. Well, except that we’re living longer now than we ever have and we all have to die of something and, frankly, though I’d prefer to live to be 95, I’d rather die at 70 from being too fat, than to die at 20 because my dress got caught up in the machine I was running 14 hours a day or at 35 after my 10th pregnancy or at 5 because I starved to death.

But really, it’s about aesthetics, and even Thompson inadvertently admits it as he asks, first, if you want to look better and only second if you want to feel better.

I understand this from the Democrats. They’re supposed to be the party of big, intrusive government and Hollywood (in all it’s fucked up body image glory) and sleeping with whomever is handy.

But the Republicans are the party of the FAT cats. Shouldn’t they be encouraging all of us to flaunt our wealth and power through our girth, like a whole nation of modern-day robber barons?

The Long-Standing Joke

The Butcher and I have this long-standing joke between us about how, even though he’s the one that participates in memory-fading activities, I’m the one who can never remember stuff. If the Butcher tells me it happened, I just have to take his word for it, because lord knows I don’t know.

[We also have this new funniness between us whenever one or the other of us is about to do something that is potentially stupid. For instance, if it is obvious that, if I climb on the stove to get the Dutch Oven down from above the cabinets, that I’m going to fall down and hurt myself because I have no balance, he is allowed to laugh at me before I get up on the stove, so that he’ll be able to help me once I’ve broken myself all over the floor.]

Anyway, I don’t normally think about not being able to remember things. Except for the fact that I can’t remember people’s names to save my life, which is annoying, I’ve never really had that good a memory, so I don’t notice it. Except when compared to the Butcher, who can recall, word for word, conversations that happened years ago. Then I feel slightly inadequate.

But sometimes, I’m suddenly made very aware that it’s not that I don’t have memories, it’s just that they lay securely tucked away in my head in ways that they don’t for the Butcher, who seems to have them draped all over his interior landscape, always available.

Sometimes, for some reason, a memory will knock loose and come back at me so hard it about knocks me down. The other day, for no reason, I remembered sitting in Shug’s parents’ back bedroom watching “The Swamp Thing” on the television back there and it was like I was there again, the sound of her mom and dad yelling back and forth, something cooking in the kitchen, waiting for the back screen door to open to see if either of her cousins was going to stop by.

I can especially remember the way my grandparents’ pool table felt under my fingers, that line where the felt met the wood and I always expected the wood to be sharp there, but it wasn’t, just unyielding in a way the felt wasn’t.

I can remember when the Butcher was born, because my babysitter came to get me from school and she said, “You have to come and stay with me because your dad has taken your mom to the hospital so that you can have a brother.” And I thought for sure that my dad had traded my mom in for a new baby boy. I was really furious at him.

Led Zeppelin

Once, I sent a long email to the Legal Eagle talking about how I think the opening to Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” may be the quintessential guitar moment in the last half of the 20th century. He sent me back a polite email about how he had no idea what song I was talking about.

The Redheaded Kid loathes Led Zeppelin and I mean loathes them to such an extent that we can’t even talk about them because he gets angry and I get angry and I start sounding like some old fogey talking about “kids today” and he starts talking about how the best thing Jimmy Page ever did was record with David Coverdale, which causes me to about die, and that pretty much ends the conversation.

It’s weird. I mean, I’m no first-generation Led Zeppelin fan. I was a baby when their stuff came out, and if not for a t-shirt my mom had, I’d probably not have been curious about them at all (in all fairness, I’m not sure my mom knew who they were. Being a science major, she probably thought the concept of a lead zeppelin was pretty funny.) and, after hearing “Stairway to Heaven” at one too many middle school dance after someone had gotten run over by a train (that or “Dream On”), I wasn’t exactly primed to be a Led Zeppelin fan.

But it seemed like you couldn’t really get into music without having to contend with Zeppelin. Were they Satanic? Were they over-rated? Were they immoral for stealing old blues songs and not giving credit where credit was due? Was John Bonham really a man or some kind of god incarnate straining against the confines of his uncomfortable mortal body? Could folks really spontaniously orgasm while listening to Plant?

To my way of thinking, they are everything a rock band should be: talented, good-looking, immoral, steeped in history, and self-mythologizing.

Yes, it really bothers me that they stole from old blues singers. And it bothers me that I know that and listen anyway–listen and love. Sure, one can come to some kind of esoteric understanding of American music by pondering the verse “The girl I loved, I stole her from a friend, joker got lucky, stole her back again” (as it appears in Alan Jackson’s song) right next to the Robert Johnson version, “The woman I love, took from my best friend, some joker got lucky, stole her back again.” But the gain of occult knowledge doesn’t excuse such blatent theivery, does it?

I steal from you, you steal from me, is only fair if we both make money or both stay broke. Though maybe it’s a blues verse because it’s not fair.

Anyway, Led Zeppelin…

I hope they haven’t faded into obscurity.

Destiny’s Child

I’m still bothered by this new Destiny’s Child video–“Soldier”–and it pisses me off. Usually, I’m ready to argue that Beyonce Knowles is some kind of super genius whose songs seem stupid on the surface, but are good, infectious fun. If not for the Butcher’s superb money-management skills, I’d own her solo album, chock full of catchy shit I can’t get out of my head. But this song is so dumb and the only thing that’s catching about it is the “where they at?” part which is more interrogation than chorus, and the video–arlgh–it makes me stupider just to watch it.

And this weekend, as I was sitting around with the Butcher because neither of us can afford to do anything thanks to his superb money-management skills (no, I’m not bitter, why?), I realized why I hate the video.

I don’t for a second believe these women would have anything to do with those men.

I guess that’s my problem with a lot of videos Beyonce is associated with. There’s always that one thing in the video that the director means for me to just accept that I just can’t get past. Take “Crazy in Love,” for example. Jay-Z appears to be setting a car on fire at the same time that Beyonce is writhing around in the back seat of a car. How am I not supposed to assume that Jay-Z is setting the car with Beyonce in it on fire? That’s how editing works. You show an outside of a car and an inside of a car and your viewer then assumes that those two things belong to the same car. Or “Naughty Girl” which contains shots from a camera down low, looking up at Beyonce and Usher, which has a different filter on it than every other camera in the video, making it look like we’re occasionally cutting to the home movie of the making of the video instead of the video itself.

Not to mention having Sean Paul in “Baby Boy,” which leads to the obvious question. How did the Evan Seinfeld impersonator become more famous than the man himself?

The Butcher’s Guide to Money management

Spend until they shut off your internet connection. Spend until Irma from Bank of America knows you by first name. Spend until your dad calls to ask why State Farm is kicking you off his insurance. Then spend some more.

Soon, you will have no money to manage.

No money, no worries about managing it.

Grr.

The Cubs, revisited

As most of you know, the Cubs are dead to me. If they ever make it back to the World Series, I’ll be the one lone person in America tearing up everything blue in my closet just so folks don’t mistake me for a fan. I loathe them.

And here’s why: If you’re going to be a baseball team, you have two choices: (hmm, I don’t know if I’ve ever written a sentence with two colons in it before…) you either put out the money and develop the ruthlessness to be a great baseball team(emphasis on team, not circus side show–“Right this way, folks, see the man hit a bunch of home runs and then have your season-end hopes dashed yet again!”), or you decide, fuck it, we have crowds and tv contracts and are raking in the dough even though we suck, so let’s let folks play out their careers here.

Yes, my love reached its half-life when Andre Dawson did not retire a Cub* and it died, festered, and rose from the dead like a vampire when I watched my beloved Mark Grace in a World Series for Arizona, feeding on his success even as it killed what it used to be.

[Egad, Arizona. First you take the Cardinals** and then you take Mark Grace. Can’t you leave anything in Illinois?]

The Cubs refuse to be either loyal to their players or a real baseball team. I could forgive one or the other lapse, but I can’t forgive both.

And yet, here goes Ryno into the Hall of Fame…

I can remember watching him and Mark play, the Shawon-o meter, the singing, the friendly confines. It was mythic.

And I can remember being in Mr. Halloran’s class in middle school (or maybe it was freshman year) arguing with Suzanne about which one of us was going to marry Ryne and which one of us was going to marry Mark. I settled on the golden boy, Achilles, and Suzanne opted for the steady Odysseus, though I continued to wear a Ryne Sandberg button on my jean jacket until I lost it at Great America.

As anyone who knows anything about Greek mythology knows, Odysseus was the better bet.

So, I’m delighted to see Ryne go in, waiting to see Dawson (I mean, please, that has to happen, right?), and holding out hope that there will some day be enough girls like me voting on who goes into Cooperstown, and we will think back to those glorious days when Mark jogged onto the field all young and blonde and shining, and remember what it was like to notice that those were men out there, for the first time, and vote him in, not on baseball merit, but on mythic necessity.

*This was not enough to kill it entirely, because he didn’t start out a Cub.
**This is true on two levels. First, there’s the way that downstate Illinois depends on St. Louis for its sports teams and then there’s the way they used to be in Chicago.

Gazing at Navel Gazing

Though I loathe the thought of this blog becoming too culturally relevant (“More Dogs, Less Thought, Tiny Cat Pants for Everyone” being my motto), this morning I had the unfortunate displeasure of reading Laura Kipnis’s article on fat and feminism over at Slate, and I feel compelled to work through my frustration here.

The premise, for those of you who don’t have the free time or the will power to read the article, is basically that there is an unbridgeable contradiction between feminism and feminity, “two largely incompatible strategies women have adopted over the years to try to level the playing field with men.”

It’s taken me all morning to figure out what irritates me about this article and I think the problems are two-fold. Let’s start with the big one: She keeps switching her definition of feminism to suit her argument.

She defines feminism as being “dedicated to abolishing the myth of female inadequacy. It strives to smash beauty norms, [sic on the comma] it demands female equality in all spheres, [sic again] it rejects sexual market value as the measure of female worth.”

The problem is that there are a number of feminisms, many of them contradictory, and to lump them all together under the umbrella of FEMINISM is pretty much meaningless. Well, that’s the second problem. The first problem is that feminism(s) are schools of thought or political stances; they cannot do things like be dedicated, strive, demand, or reject. For someone who wants to portray herself as being hip to the lingo of feminism, she makes the dreadfully funny mistake of denying women with feminist leanings their own agency, instead ascribing the action to an ideology instead of the people holding it.

But back to the main thrust of her mistake: yes, there are feminists dedicated to abolishing the myth of female inadequacy… I guess… but inadequacy in what? She never says. There are also plenty of feminists who’d like to dismantle our destructive notions of beauty norms, but there are plenty of feminists who love the end result of a good wax job or who love their long, luxurious hair, but still want to play ball in college or make the same money as their colleagues for the same experience and expertise. And there are plenty of feminists who think that women being able to put a fair market value on her sexuality is empowering, hence their support of pornography and prostitution.

Then she defines feminists as narcissistic navel-gazers who travel all over the world in order to assure themselves that other women are suffering in the same ways they are. Of course, she then takes us on a whirl-wind tour of women around the world who are, just as she, not hung up about feminist notions of destructive body images. So, feminists’ personal experiences don’t count, but her reading other folks’ books does? Feminists can’t use their take on others’ experiences in order to understand their own plight, but she can? What the fuck?

Her definition of feminism is just a strawman (or woman, in this case) she gets to set up and knock down to prove her point.

But alas, what is her point? It seems to be that we (unspoken, but implied “we, Americans”) loathe fat because American men find it unattractive in American women and “perhaps it’s because heterosexuality requires asymmetry between the sexes. Heterosexuality always was the Achilles heel of feminism because the asymmetries involved usually took the form of adequacy for one sex, inadequacy for the other.” Women, of course, being the inadequate ones that must strive to change to meet the approval of men.

Again, we are faced with the problem of her conflating a current state of being–in this case, heterosexuality–with something that can have agency. Heterosexuality can require NOTHING other than, I suppose, what all words require–definition. Heterosexuals can require things; they can even require that others participate in those things in order to be included in the definition of heterosexuality.

And, for a professor at Northwestern (the other smart-kids’ school in Illinois) to be making the easy and obvious mistake of conflating white, middle-aged, middle-class notions of heterosexuality for the norm is appalling. Granted, I have no idea if “media studies” is even a real department or just part of a title they gave her to have someone with a mainstream media presence on faculty, but if I were her department chair, if she has a department, I’d be very concerned.

But it is interesting the ways she does this. First, it’s the way she off-handedly rejects reality tv, the purview of the lower class, and hones in on Neil LaBute and Eve Ensler–two theater folks. Who goes to the theater? Then, who does she use to refute LaBute and Ensler? The Scholarly Collection of Essays, of course. “Women increasingly achieve economic independence from men”? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Oh, right, women who have graduated from college, not those other women. And check this passage out:

“Yet for all feminism’s social achievements, what it never managed to accomplish was the eradication of the heterosexual beauty culture, meaning the time-consuming and expensive potions and procedures–the pedicures, highlights, wax jobs on sensitive areas, ‘aesthetic surgery,’ and so on. For some reason, the majority of women simply would not give up the pursuit of beautification, even those armed with feminist theory. (And even those clearly destined to fail.)”

Who has the money for pedicures, trips to the salon, time under the surgeon’s knife? And look how she does it. She lists all these expensive things that most women don’t have the time for, as if those activities and the women who engage in them define femininity and the pursuit of beauty and then, in her next sentence–“For some reason, the majority of women simply would not give up the pursuit of beautification”–she just lets go of all relationship to reality. The majority of women? Only if your idea of who women are is sufficiently narrow.

Which brings me to the real reason this article pisses me off. Kipnis is daintily prattling around like it’s 1851 and she’s the only woman brave enough to tut-tut the goings-on in Akron. Puh-lease.

Laura, I’m sure you’re smart or Northwestern wouldn’t have you, and I’m sure you’re sufficiently something because you have some books and a column, but you are so late to the argument. You want to talk about femininity as if it is one of only two ways women have to self-actualization, but as Elizabeth Cady Stanton pointed out: “The manner in which all courage and self-reliance is early educated out of the girl…is melancholy indeed…[a] girl must be allowed to romp and play, climb, skate and swim, — her clothing must be more like that of a boy; strong, loose-fitting garments…Let the girl be thoroughly developed in body and soul, –not molded like a piece of clay…with a body after some plate in Godey’s book of fashion.” In other words, even 150 years ago, we knew that being overly-devoted to ideals of femininity killed our souls.

And, just to put a finer point on it, I’m not the first person to point out that your definition of femininity really only applies to white, educated, middle class women. Sojourner Truth told it to the folks at the Women’s Convention in Akron: “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”

Laura, please join us in the 21st century. Let’s argue about new things and leave the old fights in the past, resolved as they have been, by folks smarter than either of us. In the future, I hope only to point out that the next time you write an article that claims to be about America’s relationship to fat, it might actually be about America’s relationship to fat.

Back to work

Happily, I’m back to work. I’ve gotten a lot done and discovered that it is not me that smells like rotting cookie dough, but something out in the hallway. But the thing that brings me here is a long, rambling holiday e-newsletter that was waiting for me when I returned.

Enough has already been written about the strange holiday letters that seem to contain too much information of interest to too few people. But this one was remarkable for the fact that it also contained a reckoning of all the famous people the writer (or her relatives) knows.

This is strange to me. Who wants to know famous people? Vince Neil’s housekeeper knows Vince Neil, and she’s still got a job that involves cleaning toilets.

No, if I have to have some relationship to fame, I want to be the famous person.

If any of y’all get famous, I don’t want to be the kind of person that name-drops. I want future holiday letters from me to read something like “My year has been fun. I swam naked with the sharks and Miss J off the coast of South Africa and, except for the drunken spanking incident in which the Sheik and I were banned from Applebee’s, that was the most exciting thing that happened to me.”

Let my flunkies be the ones that have to point out that Miss J is that famous scholar who writes the opinion column for the New York Times and that the Sheik I so casually mention is indeed THE Sheik who was on the cover of Fortune after his hostile take-over of USBank.

….I wonder how one goes about getting some flunkies….

Remake Me!

Today, for the first time in a long time, I caught David Frizzel’s song, “I’m Going to Hire a Wino (to Decorate Our Home)” which is, quite frankly, the country song most in need of a good remake. In fact, though I can sing along with the whole song, it’d been so long since I’d heard it that I’d forgotten how bad Frizzel’s version is.

Mostly, it’s not his fault, I don’t think. It sounds over-produced and a little too slick in that way that lets you know he’s singing it with his shirt a little too tight and unbuttoned just a little too far. It’s a product of the time. The lyrics, though, beg for a simple arrangement and a raucous delivery.

It’s the kind of song that everyone in the bar should be singing, but Frizzel’s version is straight out of the front parlor. Plus, it’s the kind of song that Tanya Tucker does so well, with the witty verses you can’t help but listen to and the chorus you can’t help but sing along with, but it lacks all of her gruff bravado.

And it really needs someone like Tucker, a woman who can capture the kind of frustration that results in someone suggesting that she’s going to let her husband’s friends slap her ass until they’re broke.

Maybe Gretchen Wilson could do it. They’re certainly positioning her as the next Tanya Tucker, but there’s something about Wilson’s perceived relationship to men that differs so greatly from Tucker’s, I just don’t know if it would work. Wilson would sing it like she was sitting on the couch, beer in hand herself, only halfway serious. Tucker’d be moving the couch to make way for the pool table.

I suppose I could do it, since I’m obviously fond of my own version. But my version only works in the shower, and my shower’s not big enough to have folks come over to hear it and not mobile enough for me to take it to Tootsie’s.

Walking the Bottoms

For as long as Mrs. Wigglebottom and I have been exploring various parks all over town, I’ve wanted to walk all of the Shelby Bottoms Greenway. The only problem was that I had no idea how long it was and I didn’t want to get to one end and discover that I couldn’t get back.

So, today, the Professor parked at one end and I parked at the other end and we walked from her car to my car.

It was awesome. We saw these vibrant blue birds and lots of mud puddles and it was raining, but only slightly. Of course, there were crows.

The whole thing took us about an hour and forty five minutes, which means, if the trail really is five miles, that we were walking a twenty minute mile. This means that if you are ever being chased by a bear, you probably want the Professor and me walking along that same path, because our only hope would be that we’re resourceful and would probably either devise a sophisticated kind of camouflaged or throw food at you to make it worth the bear’s while to keep chasing you instead of eating us.

Philadelpha

In order to enjoy Philadelphia, one only needs two things, a friend to take you out to dinner every night in order to make sure that you haven’t lost your mind, and a couple of guys you haven’t seen in a couple of years to tell you that you’re looking good and are fabulous.

Liberty

You have to go through a metal detector to see the Liberty Bell.

I’m sure there’s a book in there about the things communities think are potential terrorist targets. I think it says a lot about the things we feel vulnerable about or attending.

Isn’t it weird that no one’s worried about the safety of NASCAR fans, even though that’s the most well-attended sport in the U.S., but we all expect the Liberty Bell to be surrounded by its exact opposite?

Hanukkah

I was going to get my luggage at the Philadelphia airport and the little girl in front of me said, “I only see Christmas decorations. They’ll have Hanukkah decorations in New York, won’t they?”