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The S*** I’m Not Fixing

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Department Of Now Who Can Argue With That?

 

 

 

“You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.”
(Jim, aka The Waco Kid, Blazing Saddles)

 

 

Happy (belated) birthday to Mel Brooks. He shares a birthday with my nephew, BPV, who turned 26 on Tuesday while Mel is…can it be…90?

In Mel’s honor, I had to watch a certain movie Tuesday evening. I have three of his films in my DVD collection; Blazing Saddles won out.

I am ever so fond of Brook’s boisterous Western spoof for many reasons, [1] including that it has come to remind me of my offspring.

 

 

explain

 

 

Gladly, Neil. The weeks preceding each of K’s and Belle’s births, I had an après-diner DVD (or video rental) film fest – two movies per night, screening my then-current or all-time favorite comedies. I was trying to laugh ’em out.

While watching Blazing, I wondered yet again: if the movie were made today, how likely is it that the film’s dialogue would include such copious usage of the N-word?  [2]

Brooks was an equal opportunity offender and master genre satirist. Blazing includes some of my favorite movie dialogue, including the authentic frontier gibberish speech opening this post. One line from the movie (can you guess which?) was nominated for the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Greatest Movie Quotes. [3]

 

 

And, of course, there is the scene which altered the art of the western cinematic genre. For decades after the release of Blazing Saddles, directors complained that they could no longer include any incident involving a campfire, due to Brooks’ lampooning of that iconic Western setting.

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of This Is Going To Make For Interesting Dinner Table Conversation

It’s been a movie-watching week at dinner time. MH was late getting home on Monday, and I settled into one of our comfy chairs and put in a Netflix video: the documentary, “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.”  A few minutes past the title sequence MH returned home. He began watching the documentary, which included having to watch me squeal with delightful recognition as one of my college professors, journalist and historian Ruth Rosen, made an onscreen appearance.

MH asked me a few questions about the documentary’s subject matter – the resurgence of what historians call 2nd wave feminism (circa 1960-1972). This prompted me to ask him if he’d ever read The Feminine Mystique, or Sexual Politics, or The Feminist Papers, or….I gestured toward the shelf on our family room’s ceiling-to-floor bookcase where those books, and other seminal (so to speak) writings of the feminist movement may be found. Uh…no?

Alright then, what about Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice? Nope?  Okay, not even (I did not use those words) Black Like Me?

MH said something about one disadvantages of not going to a liberal arts college (he attended Caltech) was not having those books on his reading list.

 

 

REALLY

 

 

And I was flummoxed.

I sat there thinking…stuff I mostly didn’t say. Once again I indicated our bookshelf by the fireplace. I read those books, and not because I attended a “liberal arts college” where they were required reading. I attended UC Davis, a public research university with (at the time) a mostly science/agricultural bent and reputation. Some of those books I read were mentioned in a couple of the classes I took, in the classes’ supplemental/extra reading syllabi, but were not “required” reading. All of them (and many other titles) should, in my opinion, be required reading for every citizen, regardless of their academic interests. Because of THE PROFOUND SOCIAL, CULTURAL, AND ECONOMIC CHANGES both documented and/or foreshadowed in them; because….  Oy vey.

 

Consider yourself warned.

Consider yourself warned.

 

 

Equality of opportunity for all people, regardless of any ism, is something MH and so many Good Men ® like him espouse and practice…and also, in some ways, IMHO, take for granted, often times because of how they were raised. But MH is no historical ignoramus; thus, I sat…and wondered. I wondered why so many men of his age, class and ethnicity who are (considered to be) well-educated, seemingly display little curiosity about why those books were written and the historical context in which such manuscripts and manifestos could be – had to be – produced?

People who have a science- or evidence- or reality-based view of the world (I consider both MH and I to be in that category) want to know how the world works. That is one of the strongest incentives MH and I had for eschewing the religious indoctrination of our respective childhoods and families: “It” (religion) is not a rational explanation for How Things Work. ® .

I am puzzled by people who hold a reality-based worldview and yet seem to lack the curiosity to understand the many other ways in which the world “works.” Perhaps it’s simply because those other ways are just too damn complicated. Even as complex as understanding the biology, chemistry and physics of life is trying to understand and dissect the pesky, messy, human political and cultural processes…including how a person may be an unwitting beneficiary of systems he did not design but by which he profits and therefore has no vested interest in dismantling…or even fully recognizing.

 

 

yeahright

 

 

Our brief exchange on the matter made me think of a term which makes many people defensively (unfortunately) cringe. It’s in the category of those terms which can be seen as cultural yellow alerts – ala “microagressions” or  “heteronormative” –  terms which cause a certain number of people to close their ears, minds and hearts the moment you use them.

I intuitively understood “privilege,” the first time I heard the word used to frame matters of social inequalty, [4]  because it was a concept I’d previously defined to myself as “luxury.”

Many men – including MH and our son, K – are decent folk who would never (consciously) think of oppressing, limiting or defining someone because of race or gender or sexual orientation or economic or social class.  Nonetheless, MH and K and manparts-people like them, as people born into this country’s dominant/normative gender/race/class, have the luxury of not having to think about their dominant or privileged status, simply because it isn’t part of their daily experience (unless it is “required reading” in some academic or theoretical setting).

The thing about privilege is that it’s invisible to we who have it. The ultimate privilege is the fact of not having to think about privilege, or to even notice that it exists.

Oh, and this privilege, luxury, or whatever you want to call it – it’s not inherently a bad thing. As scientist and atheist/feminist writer and activist Jen McCreight has pointed out, we all have some kind of privilege over somebody. What matters is whether we’re aware of it, how we use it, and that we not dismiss the concerns of the people who don’t share our particular form of it.

 

Young man, if you honestly think this country doesn’t care about religion or race, then you are privileged. You have grown up in an America that has enabled you to not know otherwise.
And I don’t need to you to be sorry about it, because you didn’t create that. I’d just love for you to someday understand it.

(Mary Elizabeth Williams, We Don’t Need Your Apology, Princeton Kid written in response to an essay published by a Princeton student who claimed he’d “checked his privilege” and decided he need “apologize for nothing.”)

 

Okay; deep, cleansing breath. Writing this makes me feel…old. Like I’ve failed my kids. Wasn’t my generation supposed to fix this shit?

 

 

Yep – totally your job!

Yep – totally your job!

 

 

*   *   *

Speaking of generational shit:

Department Of Saving Time And Heartache And Maybe An STD Or Three

“Booze gave me permission to do and be whatever I wanted.”
(Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank To Forget,  by Sarah Hepola)

 

I wish I could get all teens through twenty-somethings to listen to author Sarah Hepola‘s interview on the June 21st  edition of Fresh Air, in which she discusses her participation in the “hook up” culture of college and the reality of sex without the “liquid courage” of alcohol. It would be wonderful if young men and women could have the insights at age 19 that Hepola didn’t recognize until age 35.

 

*   *   *

May you feel responsible for fixing a modicum of shit attributable to any generation;
May you appreciate the well-written campfire scene;
May you remember the insights at age 35 when you’re way older than that;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Not the least of which is singing along to the marvelous title song. I still can’t believe Brooks got the singer of so many iconic Westerns, Frankie Laine, to do it with a straight face…or straight vocal cords.

[2] According to an interview with Brooks I read many years ago, co-screenwriter Richard Pryor is to thank for that.

[3] Yes, it’s now official – there is a list of Best 100… for everything.

[4] E.g., white privilege or male privilege.

The Orthodox Eyes I’m Not Polluting

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We now pause for a moment of rejoicing before the rants.

new kayak

The new kayak is here! The new kayak is here!

We now return to our station’s previously scheduled programming.

*   *   *

Department of WTF
Aka, One of the Saddest Things I’ve Read During the Past Week.

Yes, the terrorist attack in Paris was sadder.  And then, there was the article in the NY Times: Newspaper in Israel Scrubs Women From a Photo of Paris Unity Rally .

Angela Merkel and other world leaders and dignitaries were removed from the picture by the Israeli newspaper’s editors because the image of female forms are a temptation and presumed pollutant to an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man’s eyes.

Got that? An Ultra Orthodox Jew’s eyes must remain “pure” – eyes that, because they belong to a Jew, would have been removed from history just a generation ago, if another group of orthodox fanatics had had their way.

So. Your Ultra-Orthodox (men’s) eyes will be “pure” – whatever the superstitious fuck that means – while your minds will remain ignorant, closed and prejudiced.  Pray on, brothers.

Does my bigotry make my butt look fat?

Does my bigotry make my butt look fat?

*   *   *

“The role of a cartoon is in fact to insult and ridicule and to attack and to defend against the overreach of people and institutions who, in the name of God or in the name of government or the name of whatever the particular institution it is, threaten the right and security of people to freely express their own ideas and live their lives.”

( Steve Benson, Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for The Arizona Republic,
Ex-Mormon, eldest grandchild of LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson,
interviewed on Freethought Radio, 1-10-15 )

Je suis Charlie.

Except that, of course, I’m not.

Last week I did not comment on the murders at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.  I held my tongue [1] for a variety of reasons, from the principled to the pedestrian. The former would include my disdain for the instant analysis (read: lack of introspection) that seems to be inspired by the plethora of internet social media outlets. The latter includes the fact that I just hadn’t the stomach for it.

One week later, now I can claim distance, wisdom, and introspection?  Maybe just a steadier gut.

The following is not one of my legendary digressions.

You'll find the segue. I know you will, boys and girls.

You’ll find the segue. I know you will, boys and girls.

I’ve previously mentioned how fiction writers’ guidelines for certain literary publications [2] have made me both laugh aloud and cringe. Literary journals often flatter (read: embarrass) themselves by the pretentious, self-important and bombastic claims they make for the kinds of work they seek and publish.  What particularly frosts my butt are statements from journals that claim to seek work that is “brave” and or “risk-taking.”

Brave?

REALLY

I always make it a point to look at sample issues of journals whose guidelines make such claims, and have yet to find any story or article in them makes me admire – or even think of – the “courage” it must have taken to write it. A journal says it seeks stories that are “brave” and “risk-taking” – brave, how? I wonder, and risking…what…for what?

Ah, you dared to use non-standard grammar and punctuation; you had the courage to ignore standard plot conventions?  [3] You bold, heroic risk-taker – you penned  (yet another) another titty-ass nihilistic sex scene, that you wouldn’t have dared to do in your creative writing class or community arts center “memoir-ring your life” workshop?

We flatter (read: embarrass) ourselves for the most part – we North American writers – by even daring to think that we take risks that in any way require strength of character or some form of ethical bravery.

When I was submitting The Mighty Quinn manuscript I received feedback from several editors and publishers who directly or obliquely implied that the book would be a hard sell because:

* it featured non-religious, free-thinking children (and adults) as protagonists
*  although it had sympathetic religious characters, Quinn’s antagonist was a religious bully (and the son of an abusive preacher man)
*  without “toning down” the freethought- related themes, a publisher would risk negative reviews (or reviewer and bookseller boycotts) when word spread in the religious community.

Poor me.  How brave of me to keep submitting the manuscript.  Except, not.  Not at all.

burning book

Despite veiled intimations of boycott, TMQ eventually found a publisher. TMQ’s publisher’s (then) publicity director alerted me to one of the reviews of TMQ, written by a reviewer using the title Rev. _____. [4]  The review was generally positive, and also revealed the reviewer’s ambivalence for liking the book  (“…I was a little concerned with the handling of religion and the fact that the boy with the biggest problems was the son of a family that was religious. This could potentially open up lots of questions that should be primarily handled by parents…”).

Who knows what happened (or is still happening) re TMQ‘s reviewing and distribution status.  Silent boycotts and other kinds of subversion can be organized (e.g. a refusal to stock or review a title) without fanfare and opportunity to counter-protest. The book, while hardly biting satire, contains several thematic elements involving characters openly joking about/raise questions about religion. No one (to my knowledge) threatened editors or bookstore owners with vandalism or assassination if they considered publishing or stocking The Mighty Quinn.  But, if you are a European editorial cartoonist who satirizes religious fanaticism, you and your colleagues are at risk of attack and murder, as we’ve seen too many times in the past and now, in Paris.

Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement.
Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon and as a tool to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society.

(Wikpedia definition for “Satire”)

I assert that the right to hold all ideas up to scrutiny, the right – some of us say, the obligation – to mock that which is mock-worthy is as crucial to a functioning democracy as the right to peaceably assembly or cast a ballot.

“The only way to get even with anybody is to ridicule them.”
“After all the people that (Hitler) was responsible for killing and after utterly destroying half the world, I just thought the only weapon I’ve really got is comedy. And if I can make this guy ludicrous, if I can make you laugh at him, then it’s a victory of sorts. You can’t get on a soapbox with these orators, because they’re very good at convincing the masses that they’re right. But if you can make them look ridiculous, you can win over the people.”
(Mel Brooks)

Hitler

*   *   *

Speaking of the two hallmarks of democracy – freedom of the press, and the obligation to mock that which needs or deserves mocking – just as I collect (or, used to collect [5] ) pretentious and overblown writers guidelines, fellow writer/attorney friend SCM and I alert each other when we come across a really juicy Author’s Bio. I recently received this email from her:

I was interested in reading one of this woman’s novels…until I read her bio.

The best (read, of course: worst) author’s bios are always/obviously penned by the writer, and usually corroborate the dictum that the less professional and self-confident the writer, the longer the bio (in some cases, like the one SCM cited, they approach novella length).

I had to follow the link, and was so taken with the sheer self-aggrandizing, TMI, verbal diarrhea-osity of it I had to meet SCM for lunch to celebrate her find.  Also, I wanted to encourage SCM to follow up on her brilliant idea, to start a blog: Bad Author Bios. This blog will consist solely of links to…can you guess?  We discussed the possibility that, after a few weeks, she will be receiving so many links from readers the blog will practically write itself – except for the part where she will have to include screen shots as well as links. [6]

To past, present and future composers of authors bios: here’s what readers need to know. What is relevant about a writer is what you write and what you’ve written. Your mommy and daddy and your former grade school teachers may be interested in your lifelong love of hamsters, your current triathlon training and your name-dropping of Celebrity D list activists you brushed shoulders with in college.  The rest of us, not so much.

highhorse

Behold the Contributor Notes section of The New Yorker.  These writers are published in The New Yorker, FFS. They get one or two lines about their story or latest book.  Concise, and classy.

I understand that certain publishers or editors want more, and will sometimes ask their authors and contributors to “flesh out” a bio because…because it’s their policy, or whatever. I’ve been there. [7] But it’s unlikely they asked you to list the literary equivalent of your high school sports awards, the location of the births of your children, your academic scholarships and your devotion to your superstition religion.  When it is your choice, keep it short.

Speaking of which, in next week’s blog, I’m going to be recommending a book by an author who lists himself as First Name Last Name.  That’s it.  He is a physician, a highly educated and skilled and respected medical doctor, but does not bill himself as First Name Last Name, M.D.  So. If this accomplished person, who has written three best-selling books and articles for the New York Times and directs a center for health systems innovations and chairs a nonprofit organization which works to make surgery safe globally – if this person can be humble, you, who are just a writer and not also a doctor and a writer, [8] can cut the 90 paragraph bio, okay?

*   *   *

Don’t be humble. You’re not that great.

Golda Meir

*   *   *

 

May you be successful enough to have strangers enjoy (and critique) your bio notes,
and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

[1] “I held my typing fingers” just doesn’t do it, for me.

[2] Primarily located in the USA or Canada.

[3] “Speculative” fiction; i.e., you haven’t the talent to write a story that makes sense.

[4] Which indicates the reviewer wants you to know he’s an ordained Christian minister.

[5] It got so depressing I deleted the file one day…much to my regret. There were some gems in there.

[6] Writers who find out they’ve been shamed on the blog can, of course, edit their bios and attempt to cover their ego tracks.

[7] And made up silly stuff in an effort to be entertaining, if not personally revealing.

[8] Yeah, yeah, the petty part of me hates him for that.