Sunday, August 30, 2009

last Night

My partner John's play opened last night, David Henry Hwang's Yellow Face . Exploring racial identity and identity politics. Really good –– made me think a lot: about straight actors playing gay roles and going on late night talk shows to say how grossed out they were on learning they had to kiss another guy while Jay goes yuck and the tall, black, basketball star guest makes a point of making some distance between himself and the straight actor playing gay on the couch, how my history of the US west textbook describes the Plains Indian Culture as "flowering" only after european contact, how my teacher tells us that the "historical period" for Native Americans begins only with European contact because "that's when written records begin."

If you get to Mountain View, go see Yellow Face at the Center for the Performing Arts.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Some thoughts on Brüno

So I went to see Brüno. Hearing all of the controversy swirling around it, how could I not? For instance, GLAAD is saying the Sacha Baron Cohen’s film Brüno reinforces "damaging, hurtful stereotypes" and “decreases the public’s comfort with gay people,” while HRC (a group that has been less than satisfactory at doing its job and protecting civil rights) is claiming that Cohen should do a better job at reminding his audience that the movie is not homophobic. In addition, a parade of gay men have been telling me that the film is once again using gay stereotypes as a way to laugh at gay people, men I would add who either did not see the film or walked out after the first few minutes.

So I went to see Brüno, and I loved it. I thought it was shear genius. Not only did I see it once, I went to see it again and I will be seeing it for a third time at the Castro theater next Thursday the 20th. It should be clear to everyone that the point of Brüno is not to make fun of gay people but rather to point out homophobia and ridicule it, and in that Brüno succeeds brilliantly. If that were all Brüno did, that would be plenty. But Brüno has so much more going on. While Cohen is using over the top gay stereotypes to highlight American's homophobia he is also commenting on the cult of celebrity: how it is defined, who has access, and how it manages to disillusion itself, and managing to do it in a truly hysterical manner. I especially enjoyed the two blond vapid 'charity PR consultants' Brüno hires to help him pick, you know, the next 'Dar-five.' Are these people real?

And that was the big question I asked leaving the film, the same question Borat aroused. Who much of Cohen's films are staged, how much of the audience is manipulated? In the end, I don't believe it really matters. This is not journalism per se. It is staged and the audience is manipulated. The staging and manipulation are a device Cohen uses to highlight intolerance and bigotry, intolerance and bigotry which is continually denied and ignored in this country. That is what is all too real.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Civic Nudity

A group of fellow nudists have regularly been exercising their right to practice civic nudity here in San Francisco where I live. On occasion I have joined them. In San Francisco there is no law regulating what one must wear in public, which means we then come under the purview of state law. According to the California Penal Code, Section 314: Every person who willfully and lewdly, either: Exposes his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed thereby ... is guilty of a misdemeanor. However, in 1972 nude beachgoer Chad Merrill, irate at the prospect of having to pay a $100 fine and register as a sex offender for sunning himself on a remote stretch of sand, took his case all the way to the California Supreme Court. In Smith on Habeas Corpus that august entity eventually very generously declared that there was nothing inherently lewd, or even particularly sexual, about just having no clothes on. Despite the beach-centric nature of that case, redoubtable Berkeley lawyer Bill Simpich – who has done pro bono defense work for Debbie Moore and Marty Kent of Berkeley activist theater troupe the X-plicit Players – says that Section 314 plus the 1972 ruling make it possible to scamper around California like a little naked pixie, scattering naked dust hither and yon.

This does not mean that you will not be stopped, harassed, and arrested by over zealous police officers who either do not understand the law or insist on taking an activist interpretation of the law. In recent memory every case of arrest has been dismissed by the SF D. A.'s office. So we continually push to exercise our freedoms which can be an interesting study in sociology,

Today, for instance, as I was leaving work some of my nudists buddies were sunning in the pedestrian mall at Seventeenth and Castro Streets. It being a very warm day, I decided the only logical thing to do would be to join them. Soon, and older self-identified gay neighborhood resident came over to inform us that we were "disgusting, idiotic, and why didn't we put some god-damn clothes on." He then ran away. We continued to sun ourselves and people continued to walk by, some looking at us, some not. About ten minutes later he reappeared to repeat his tirade. It was clear to us that he was visibly shaken and very, very angry. I find it amazing that the site of a naked human body can generate such hostility and anger in someone. Obviously we were not threatening him, nor were we causing him any harm. His reaction must be one whose genesis is socially learned; a conditioned reflect which he accepts as natural without giving anymore thought to its origins or logic. It is similar to a reaction of prejudice or hatred towards someone because of the color of their skin, their sex, their gender, or their sexual preference; in other words, a learned behavior which serves no useful purpose what so ever.

Eventually he reappeared for a third time, so angry this time that he was spitting. Two younger men walking by told him to "just leave them alone, they aren't hurting anyone." The man continued his rant. We invited him to come sit with us a talk about it, but he refused, saying that he didn't care. Obviously, he cared very much.

Monday, August 3, 2009

"Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances" ~ Walt Whitman

Band of Thebes reports J.K. Rowling has selected as her all-time favourite poem, Walt Whitman's "Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances," from Leaves of Grass. In his typically direct and unambiguous style, Whitman says that when the all the things he doesn't know or can't be certain of stress him out, his male lovers calm him down. Those many doubts no longer matter because " he ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me." Watch how the rhythms build, climax, and relax.

Of the terrible doubt of appearances,
Of the uncertainty after all—that we may be deluded,
That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations
after all,
That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful
fable only,
May-be the things I perceive—the animals, plants, men,
hills, shining and flowing waters,
The skies of day and night—colors, densities, forms—
May-be these are, (as doubtless they are,) only
apparitions, and the real something has yet to be
(How often they dart out of themselves, as if to con-
found me and mock me!
How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows,
aught of them;)
May-be seeming to me what they are, (as doubtless
they indeed but seem,) as from my present point
of view—And might prove, (as of course they
would,) naught of what they appear, or naught
anyhow, from entirely changed points of view;
—To me, these, and the like of these, are curiously
answer'd by my lovers, my dear friends;
When he whom I love travels with me, or sits a long
while holding me by the hand,
When the subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that
words and reason hold not, surround us and
pervade us,
Then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom
—I am silent—I require nothing further,
I cannot answer the question of appearances, or that
of identity beyond the grave;
But I walk or sit indifferent—I am satisfied,
He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.