Micro Aggression and the Cancer Metaphor

Let me start by talking about micro aggression. I’m sure a bunch of you are way smarter than me, and have been familiar with this terminology for a long time. It’s new to me, and it’s made me think a lot about racism. So I want to talk with you about it, and that starts with me defining the term as I understand it.

(The ground covered in this blog could probably apply fairly equally to misogyny. I don’t think it applies as much to LGBTQIA, as there is still a lot of overt bigotry aimed at that community.)

Micro aggressions, in short, are the tiny little informally bigoted actions we experience (and yes, enact) on a daily basis.

A white woman watches the elevator door open, thinking the elevator is empty. When she sees a black man inside she unconsciously clutches her purse. She isn’t trying to deny him the right to vote. She isn’t attempting to keep him from marrying a white person. She isn’t engaging in the formal and overt racism that plagued our society up until the middle of the last century.* But it was a racist act, and act that was most likely seen and felt by the man on the elevator. Racially based micro aggression.

Waiters handing me the check, even though my wife asked him to bring it. Gender based micro aggression.

I could go on. All these little things. And it’s not like any of us are shocked, because almost all of us have an intersectionallity of our own, that has at some point been effected and influenced by these actions.

I want to point out that we are discussing actions that are mostly unconscious. I think it’s important.

I personally believe that many or most of the everyday actions that cause emotional and mental harm happen on this unconscious level. Addressing and redressing these actions is difficult because one must first convince the aggressor in any given situation that they have done something wrong, that they are capable of bigoted action. Only if the aggressor is capable of admitting that they could do something wrong is any movement forward possible.

As a society we make that admission nearly impossible due to the particular way in which we stigmatize bigoted actions.

Now, don’t go get your torches just yet. Bigotry is wrong. We shouldn’t say it’s right. But we have created a false dichotomy in our society where each person either IS or ISN’T bigoted, and if the person is bigoted, they are evil, wrong, bad, and stupid.

So anytime we try to discuss a racial motivation for someone’s actions, we are in effect calling them a whole bunch of really awful names. We are telling them they are a bad person. Not surprisingly, they react poorly. They don’t want to admit to a racial motivation, because to do so is to admit that they are a bad person, and they do not see themselves that way. To see their actions in a racial perspective they must fundamentally realign their view of themselves as a human being, a task that is almost impossible, and at the very least takes years of introspection, or a truly undefinable life changing experience.

Now if we apply this on an institutional level, the possibility for change goes form unlikely to impossible. Is the prison system racist? Is the justice system racist? The educational system?

For thousands if not millions of people working in those systems, their personal answer has to be “No.” For the answer to be “yes” these people have to accept their own implicit racism and bigotry. So instead of working to change those systems, they support their harmful and destructive aspects.** For change in those systems to occur in a large enough way for it to be societally meaningful, each and every person involved in that system would need to simultaneously accomplish an incredibly difficult personal realignment.

Or, we could change the way we look at racism.

Walking to buy bananas yesterday contemplating race and micro aggression, I thought “what if we treated racism like a medical problem?”

The thought bounced around my head all day. (and yes blonde lady with too much perfume, that’s why your latte wasn’t made with skim milk, I was solving racism.) I’m not gonna lie, the thought felt huge.

What if bigotry was treated like cancer?

What causes cancer? We’re still not absolutely sure, but doctors think it’s a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Dangerous, yes. Treatable? Yes, especially if you catch it early, and stay vigilant for signs of recurrence.

What causes racism? We’re not exactly sure, but probably a combination of environmental, historical, economic and (the hotly debated) genetic factors. Is it dangerous? Hell yes. It’s a killer. Is it treatable? Yes. Especially if you catch it early and stay vigilant for signs of recurrence.

But we don’t yell at people with cancer. We don’t tell them with a thousand movies and books and images that having cancer is evil. If you noticed a scary looking mole on a friend, and pointed it out, they’d thank you. We encourage people to self check, and many people do. It saves lives. We outlaw institutional use of substances that are shown to be carcinogenic. We label other products as possibly dangerous. We make people smoke outside, so that their carcinogens don’t harm the rest of us. We outlaw the sale of carcinogenic substances to minors.

Of course treating racism like cancer won’t always be love and puppy dogs. Try going up to a smoker while they are freezing their ass off on their fifteen minute break, and mention to them they might be giving themselves cancer. It’s probably not going to be a fun conversation. But still, they probably won’t deny that it’s a risky behavior.

Now I’m talking about micro aggression, and the more subtle forms of racism. If you are burning crosses in people’s yards, or talking about how no black person is smart enough to be president, you don’t have cancer, you have the plague. It’s dangerous, and highly contagious. Stay away from children.

But I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that our inability to talk in a non divisive way about smaller scale racism creates an environment where the big violent racism or bigotry can thrive. The small bigotries can simmer until they explode, and change into stunning and violent acts that leave our nation mourning, leaving us more entrenched in our ideological lines, and ever more ready to point the finger and cry “Racist!”

Often, micro aggression remains untreated because we can’t talk about it in a non stigmatizing way, but it creates a huge well of pent up emotion that can explode. George Zimmerman might not be an overtly racist guy.*** He may well honestly and deeply believe that African Americans deserve every right and privilege that white people have. But I bet you dollars to doughnuts he has probably also perpetrated many acts of micro aggression. If we lived in a society where his friends and coworkers could comfortably say “hey dude, check that micro ag,” without risking a friendship or a stable working relationship, maybe he would have known he had a little racism. Maybe knowing that, he would have waited two extra seconds before he opened fire. Maybe Trayvon would be alive.

Of course, the more violent and vitriolic examples of Racism (and just how loathsome they are) are part of the reason why all of us casual everyday bigots have a hard time admitting it to ourselves.

Let me clarify this cancer metaphor for a second. I’m not saying racism should be treated by doctors. I’m saying our attitudes should shift so that they are treated socially in a similar matter.

Also, I realize that this metaphor may be deeply offensive to cancer survivors. Please understand that I’m not trying to stigmatize your struggles, and I absolutely realize that there is a world of difference between racism and cancer. I also realize that my saying “Cancer has no stigma” probably doesn’t jive with a lot of your experiences. The sad truth is that there is still a lot wrong with the way our society talks to about about survivors.

But I believe creating a healthier social context for discussing micro aggression would be greatly beneficial to our countries ongoing and terrifying racial issues.

* Or later. Depending on how you define it.

**Of course I have to recognize that many people in these institutions do recognize the systems existent bigotry, and they are working hard from within those systems to change them. Keep up the good work people.

*** He also may be a frothing scumbag. I don’t know. When a media firestorm hits a circumstance that like it becomes very hard to ascertain truth. My thoughts and feelings go out to Trayvon’s family, and every other person who has suffered because of racially motivated violence, which still happens in our country on a daily basis.


Didja Hear That One About the Kid with ADD?

Hey, I read your facebook update about how your ADD is keeping you from getting your homework done, or cleaning out the garage, or ironing out the kinks in your new budget proposal and I wanted to ask….

When were you diagnosed with ADD? Or ADHD? (When I was diagnosed they hadn’t added the H yet.)

Was it when you were a kid, or did you suffer through high school without knowing you had a learning difference? Do you have a secondary diagnosis? Did you have to take ritalin, or cylert, or adderall? Did the the other kids in class whisper stuff about you when you had to go down to the office every day to take your meds? Where your parents supportive, or did they just wish they had a normal kid? Has it kept you from achieving important goals? Or sticking with a job? Did it single you out for verbal or physical abuse from elementary school teachers because you were a “bad kid” who didn’t “want to learn?”

I find that even as an adult it’s really nice to talk to other people who grew up with this, it’s good to share stories and experiences and.

What? You don’t actually have ADD?

Oh. Oh I see. You were doing like, a funny thing. About your “ADD.”

Ummmm. Could you maybe not do that anymore?

Could you maybe also not tell ADD jokes anymore. Or at least come up with some new ones. Ones with actual punch lines instead of you just interrupting the joke to say “look! puppies!” or “let’s go ride bikes.” Or even worse “squirrel.”

To be completely honest, I kinda knew you didn’t have ADHD, cause you know who almost NEVER blames shit on their ADHD? People who grew up with ADHD. You know why? Because nobody gives you a free pass for having ADHD, so telling people (like teachers, or bosses) is kinda pointless. You just keep your head down (as much as you can) and try not to fuck up. Try to stay focused. Make lists of things you need to do.

We have to work just as hard, if not harder to accomplish the same stuff you do. Personally, I have to block out whole days for homework, because I start, then lose focus, restart, lose focus again. I’m growds up enough now that I can manage to get it done, but only because I’ve spent twenty seven years developing coping mechanisms.

And look I don’t, I don’t want to be a dick here. This isn’t me being all holier than thou, and all “oh look at me, my life is soooo hard.” All things considered, I could have gotten something a lot more difficult to deal with. As an adult I’ve mostly learned to overcome my problems.

But it bothers me sometimes to be the butt of your jokes. And I know that when you’re making the jokes, it’s just an abstract concept, you’re not thinking about the people who have this. I don’t think you’re trying to hurt my feelings, it’s just one of those funny things right? I get it.

Some estimates suggest ADHD affects about 3% of American school age kids, or about 2.7 million. Newer research puts that percentage closer to 7%, so that’s almost ten million kids in America alone. I was gonna look up the adult statistics, but I have ADHD, so I lost focus. See. Thats was me making an ADD joke.

But seriously folks. ADHD is a real thing, that hurts people. Kids with ADHD are more likely to be disconnected socially, more likely to be bullied, less likely to achieve academically, less likely to graduate from high school or college. As adults we’re more likely to have substance abuse problems. (Of course, no one knows for sure if that’s because of the chemistry or because of how much we were bullied and socially disconnected as kids.)

I’m not asking for a big pity party or anything. I’ve got a job I like. I’m finally back in school (for some reason I was unable to graduate college my first time through. Maybe because of my *actual* ADD) and I’ve got a really wonderful relationship.

Just take a second before you make a joke about it next time. That’s all I’m asking.

Clueless White Guy Style

Hey, I just realized I don’t have to work today. Turns out, reading a schedule is harder than it looks.

So, should I work on homework? Write a blog about something DEEP? I’m working on a little thing about shame and acceptance where I pull in everything from Gay culture to White Power to Nazi’s to feminism to body shame.

Nah. Fuck all that, let’s talk about Bill O’Reilly and Gangam Style

(a screw it. someday i’ll have the time and the patience to teach myself to embed videos. you know how to google. bill o’reilly + gangam style.)

Why? Because it’s fun, and because it’s a short enough segment that we can break it down and get a little deep with it without writing five thousand words.

First, can I point out that this segment just cements O’Reilly’s place in our country, that of the Racist Grandfather. I kind of love him at times, but I wince when I bring friends over and they hear his bizarre ideas. Then I realize that younger generations may be taking his words as “wisdom” and I start thinking about hiding him in the attic and feeding him through a small hole in the door (I’m from the south, that’s how we do it. Group home are for Yankee’s and fancy folk.)

But let’s break it down, and highlight some of the actual statements that were actually really said.

Grandpa Bill: Remember the Pony? He’s just doing the pony.

Gpaw starts out with the mindblowing observation that some dance trends crib from each other and recycle earlier dance moves. Wow Billy, thanks for pointing that out. There are dance moves, and more ever dance rhythms that have been coming into and going out of style since before words were written down. Combining these moves and rhythms in new ways is what has driven pop music and teen culture since mass media began, and even before. Yes, there is a bit of the pony in there, but the fact that you can only see the pony says more about your sad lack of dance skillz and knowledge than it does about Psy’s choreography. I for one can point out (off the top of my head) the Pony, some Michael Jackson moves, a bit from Van Halen’s Gigalo, and that’s without having seen the video in a few months. And those moves were probably also cribed from someone else before the last time they were popular. To paraphrase Picasso “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

Grandpa Bill: What’s going on?

Oh Billy Boy, what a simple cogent example of how I think it must feel to look out at the world from your aged clueless eyes. “A Korean song is popular, a black dude is president, women apparently vote and know how to read, and what in the samhill is a ‘honey boo boo’?” I’m sure it’s a confusing world Bill, and I applaud the courage you show everyday by getting out of bed and soldiering on. Bravo good sir. Bravo.

Thankfully, someone is here to help Gpaw make sense of it. Let’s welcome frequent guest and shiny talking head Keith Ablow.

Ablow(hard): There will be those who dismiss this… I won’t be one… because when you approach a billion hits on Youtube, perhaps you’re tapping into something.

Oh Reeeeeeaaaaly? All sarcasm aside, sitting with a learned group of people and discussing the cultural and sociological ramifications of Gangnam Style sounds like the best afternoon ever. But I’m a huge nerd.

Ablow(hard): “I think what this fellow is tapping into…. the fact that people don’t want meaning right now.”

Dangit. Now I have to (somewhat) defend this guy. It’s going to make me very uncomfortable. Some people have attacked this particular statement by pointing out that the words DO have meaning, and they suggest that Grandpa Bill and Ablow(hard) don’t understand that the words do have meaning even though they are in a foreign language. And dangit, that’s silly. These guys are deeply misguided and in many ways close minded, but they don’t literally think these words have no meaning. They think that a whole lot of the people who love this song don’t know what the words mean, and therefore to those people the song has no meaning. And TO BE FAIR, I think it’s possible that they are correct that many people don’t know what the words *literally* mean.

And he’s right that people don’t want meaning right now. Let’s compare and contrast Psy’s lyrics with some of the popular music from bygone days, in order to see how far pop music has fallen. Let’s start with the somewhat populist poetry of Louie Louie, and from there branch into the more philosophical ponderings of Wooly Bully.

No, I’m not actually going to do that. But I would. Cause I’m a huge nerd.

But I do want to point out that they say it has “no meaning” when it clearly means a great deal to a lot of people. What they are actually saying is “I reject the meaning that this song has, because it’s not stated in the fashion that I am accustomed to.” They are discounting thoughts and feelings, not because the thoughts are bad or dangerous, but because they don’t like the means of communication.

I’ll mostly skip over Ablow(hard)’s statement that the music tries to “take you to a distant place, beat wise” and just say that it’s probably the most in touch not clueless moment of the entire segment. So let’s move straight to one of the most telling and clueless moments.

Ablow(hard) It doesn’t try to raise your emotions.

This is at the end of “it has no meaning” and just before “it’s like drugs,” and at this point I quit chuckling and start to feel sputterings of incoherent rage boiling up.

What the fuck? Have you seen any one watch this video, sing this song, or do this dance? It elicits a whole host of emotions in it’s participants, chiefly a goofy and wondrous sort of joy. It’s a goofy song, and you can’t help but know it’s goofy, and the same is true of the dance. But the goofyness is embraced so wholeheartedly that everyone is in on the joke, and laughing and sweating together. It absolutely raises emotions. Healthy, joyful emotions.

So what you mean sir, is that it raises emotions that you either don’t understand or don’t approve of, and therefore they don’t exist. This single moment so perfectly encapsulates the head in the sand attitude of the right wing in American that it makes me want to cry. Damnit. This was supposed to be lighthearted.

Ablow(hard) then doubles down and expands on this idea saying “It’s sort of like a drug, and that seems to be what people want right now, not reality, not feeling, not meaning.”

First. No, it’s not “like a drug.” Dancing IS a drug in that it releases powerful chemicals into the bloodstream, chemicals that produce what some people might call Joy, and what others might call Happiness. So let me again call shenanigans on his saying it doesn’t create “feelings.” It has a measurable effect in the body and the mind. And shouldn’t we celebrate that? Sure, a ton of kids (and young adults) will listen/dance to this song while using actual drugs and alcohol to heighten the effect, but instead of condemning, shouldn’t we give songs like this mad up’s for providing people with these strong awesome feelings possibly without needed outside chemical enhancement? To paraphrase a PSI from a few years back “Gangnam Style is my anti-drug.”

But before I froth at the mouth over that, let’s touch on that “right now” again. I shrugged off an earlier “right now” statement with a Wooly Bully joke, but Ablowhard brought it up again, so let’s dive in. Is Ablowhard discussing this specific moment in time, and how the cyclical nature of music has again moved past a relatively wordy and introspective moment to once again focus on the less literal but still as transcendent aspects of music and dance culture?

No, like a cranky Grandpa, Ablowhard is invoking the tired refrain of “kids these days don’t think.”

I could say “Kids never want to think” and continue to site silly sounding songs from the last hundred years, but that’s unfair. A better statement would be kids will always need moments to not think. They will need times when they can turn off the literal parts of the brain, the math side of the brain, and the history side of the brain. And for that matter, Adults need that too. This is an important part of human experience, as can be easily understood by even the most cursory glance at the history of art and music. It may blow minds, but there was a time when the Waltz was a shocking new dance that clearly signaled the end of society. You actually touch your partners body in that dance. And it excites the humors!

At this point, Ablowhard and Grandpa Bill reiterate some of the same crap, casually insulting the young people who love the song (and not incidentally just beat their candidate in an election), but then they move on to some more really great stuff. And by ‘really great stuff” I mean crazy stuff that inadvertently reveals just how awful Fox News is.

Grandpa Bill: I don’t see anything wrong with this, if you wanna waste your time looking at this, bouncing around like a pony. Is there something wrong with this?

Now come on Billster, you didn’t book this “expert” on your show so he could say that it’s a harmless dance craze and fairly indicative of youth culture. No, no. This is Fox News. Sooooooooo……

Ablowhard: Yeah there’s something wrong with it… It’s the same as getting high…”

Now. Apart from my earlier statement that essentially agrees with the fact that it’s the same as getting high, let’s take this apart a bit. Fox News is pretty squarely against the use of drugs. So when the expert they book says that something is the same as getting high, that’s a BAD thing. After all, we put people in prison for getting high.

What kills me more, is that “Yeah there is something wrong with it.” That’s always the answer at Fox. There is something wrong. Be afraid. This world is crazy now.

This is a short segment folks. It’s clearly a puff piece. These guys are undoubtably playing it somewhat for the comedy, and they are undoubtably playing to their audience. But that’s what makes all the more upsetting and frustrating, because the way the cover Gangnam Style is exactly the way they cover all the honest to god important shit in the country, and the world.

So let’s recap their approach.

An ignorance of history and the subject at hand. Whether it’s feigned or genuine doesn’t matter. They can’t or won’t put their subject in it’s proper historical and cultural perspective.
Ignoring the words of people from the rest of the world. Are the actual lyrics of Gangnam style important to it’s success? Probably not so much, but it’s telling that these guys don’t even bother trying, and don’t use a single word of translation to illustrate their points. Amazing, when at least one participant is claiming to not understand, and need help understanding. Maybe read a translation if you’re looking for answers. I mean glance at it. it’s like 200 hundred words, and some of them repeat.
A denigration and lack of representation of points of view that differ from their own. Did they get someone who loves Gangnam Style to come on and explain it? No. Did they get a singer, a dancer, a record exec or (gasp) a teenager to talk about it? No. Old white men talking about stuff they don’t know about and excluding/ignoring any other points of view. Fox News.
The fear factor. Whether it’s the “kids these days don’t care” or the “it’s like DRUGS” this segment appeals to the fears of it’s viewers. It says Man, the world sure is a scary scary place.” It’s easy to laugh it off when the subject is something goofy like Gangam Style, but the constant fear mongering creates an atmosphere where people panic whenever they are confronted with something different. Panic and fear become the viewers default reaction to new things, and then they beat people who are different to death, and murder them at stoplights.

So is this video an example of everything that’s wrong with America? Kinda. To be fair, I’ve cherry picked the shit out of the statements. Grandpa Bill and Ablowhard use a lot of softening language in the actual clip, and O’Rielly also disagrees with Ablowhard that it’s “like drugs.” I still think they’re statements when taken in context illustrate the same points I made above. But hey. Watch the clip yourself.

My final thought:

The thing that absolutely slays me, is right at 1:46 in the clip. For a second, Bill is bouncing, and Keith is laughing and these two guys are connecting and I want to stop and yell “don’t you see?”

Don’t you see that embracing different things brings us joy and connection and happiness? If you guys would just lay your fear and judgment aside for a minute. Just quit being assholes and do the pony. Good things could happen.

Bob/Not Bob

Let’s talk a little about honesty, memory, and misrepresentation.

And let’s use my most recent blog post as a for instance.

There are a lot of ways to change a story. The most simple and straight forward is to change a name. “The story is true, but the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

I’ll do that with no shame, and most likely not even mention it. It’s so commonplace it’s not worth pointing out, unless it does something for the rhythm or tone of a piece.

There are also a lot of other little ways to tweak the truth. And a lot of different reasons to do it.

While I was sitting in the mall, thinking about rape and abuse, the way I remembered the facts of the story of Karen and Bob were actually pretty close to the way I reported it to you guys. But a month later, when I sat down to write the story I realized I was wrong about some of the details.

So let’s talk memory.

Karen wasn’t my partner during Westside Story. I’m not sure what show she was my partner on. I was a guy who always got cast, so I was in production pretty much constantly from seventh grade until the end of college, often on multiple productions at a time. That’s a lot of shows, and a lot of partners. Karen and Bob both worked on WSS that year, and I think that was the first time I worked with both of them. Maybe the only time I worked with Bob outside of class work. But given what I later learned about Bob and Karens relationship, and how it made me feel, I amalgamized my memory to put all the important characters into a distinct bit of story so my brain could handle it better, could draw themes or ideas from it, or simply hold on to the information.

The way I told it to you was the way I remembered it for many years, up until the point I tried to write it down, until I dusted those memories off and tried to get specific with them. Then I realized some mistakes. Karen wasn’t my partner on that show, it was a young woman named Alison.

I presented it to you as I had (for so long) remembered it, even though by the time I wrote it up I had come to recognize that some of it was factually inaccurate. I don’t feel like I was lying. I was being emotionally honest as it applied to the way my memories work.

Let’s talk a little about writing.

For me to quote the axiom “show, don’t tell” might be kinda silly, as I constantly tell. It’s a weak point in my writing, I’m working on it. So instead let me say that a single concrete detail can do much more work that a larger number of generalities.

Bob isn’t the guy who fixed that mic problem. I know this, I have always known this. I didn’t misremember, I purposefully used something that was flat out untrue. Bob did other things. None of them were actually memorable enough to stick in my head. There is no Bobcentric concrete detail that I remember to show how people onstage together (and let’s be honest, specifically men) come to rely on each other, and then become blind to each others faults.

But if I stop in the middle of a sentence and explain particular fact, it slows down the narrative and distracts form the points I’m trying to make. For the purpose of a story, it makes more sense to pick a concrete example and go with it.

So in at least three respects, I have been dishonest.

What are we working on here? Thats the question. I think I’ve been up front about the fact that I’m not a pro. I’ve written a lot in my life, but I’m not a polished professional earning a buck, with his voice nailed down, and an SOP.

I want to talk issues, but I also want to have an emotionally aware slant to them. To do so I feel like I need to include my own personal details.

I also want to write well, and in an approachable manner.

I do want to be honest.

These are all things I’m trying to juggle, and I’m sure I drop balls on a consistent basis.

But if I’m gonna get tricky with the truth, I have to at the very least be honest with you about it. So Imma say this here and now, and then afterwards, I’m going to just go about my business.

I will always be concerned with the truth of the broad strokes and major events I discuss. I will try not edit out emit things simply because they don’t support my point. I will do my best to be honest with myself as well.

But I will play fast and loose with facts. I will amalgamize and twist them about a bit. I will shift details from column A to column B. I will sometimes flat out misremember. I will change names (and details) to protect the people in my past.

But I’ll try to be as honest a liar as possible.

How I Finally Realized Rape Jokes Aren’t Funny

(Trigger warning. Discussing of sexual abuse humor.But from the title, I think you already now that.)

“Eli, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“I’m, I’m, okay…”

“You look awful. What’s wrong?”

“I think just realized rape jokes aren’t funny.”

At this point, my wife gives me the look that basically says “I love you very much, and you are a wonderful person, but sometimes you are deeply, deeply stupid.”

We went back to eating our Kung Pow chicken.

I’d like to pretend this conversation happened years ago, but it was actually in September.

Why does humor exist? My opinion has always been that it is a mechanism for coping with pain. So pain=funny. Therefore, the more pain there is,the funnier it is. Child abuse, Funny. Dead babies, laugh riot. Rape? Hilarious. Genocide? Funniest thing ever.

I feel that the more painful something is, the more we need to laugh at it, just to keep from losing our minds. I have a have midnight dark sense of humor.

I’m not militant about it. I know humor is subjective. If you tell me something isn’t funny to you, I won’t tell those jokes around you. I honestly don’t want to hurt people.

But there is a feeling of ease that seeps into me when I know I’m around people who “get it,” that is people who feel the same way about humor that I do. I don’t have to edit, or weigh others feelings, I can be my authentic, super dark, occasional bubbly, self.

I hate locker room humor. Probably because I always felt out of place in the locker room. But I love dressing room humor.

Whats the difference? A locker room is where you change clothes to do sports, a dressing room is where you change clothes to do theatre. And dressing room humor is smarter, cause everybody knows that people who do theatre are smarter than people do sports? Right? RIGHT? I may be biased.

In the dressing room at my performing arts highschool we practiced the high intensity, sex obsessed one up type of humor that I’m sure many jocks would have recognized just fine.

We bragged about sexual, physical, and artistic prowess. We claimed to have had forcible carnal knowledge of each others mothers, grandmothers, girlfriends, boyfriends, and sisters. We threatened each other with sexual abuse. We also traded tidbits about Phillip Glass, Alvin Ailey, Bob Fosse, David Mamet, and Shakespeare. We talked about our audition monologues, our scene work, our scene partners, our dance partners, what show we were doing next, why a director did or didn’t suck.

In the social hierarchy at my school, the top dogs weren’t the starting line up, they were the people who always got cast. I always got cast. I also had a quick mind and a dirty mouth. I won’t say I ruled the dressing room, but I was certainly one of it’s top dogs, and a main arbiter of taste. The more seniority I attained, the more it became true.

So let’s meet Bob. Bob, as you may have guessed, is not named Bob. Bob is several years younger than me, and a tall guy who could sorta sing and sorta dance. More than anything he was dependable. He always showed up on time, whether it was for rehearsal, or his Act II entrance.

Bob was inducted into dressing room society quickly. He fit in just fine, he shit talked as well as he acted and danced.

Let’s meet another guy now. We’ll call him Francis. Because, thats why. Francis works with me. In fact I just worked a shift with him this morning.

Francis slings coffee (like me!) is majoring in English (like me!), and most importantly, has a midnight black sense of humor. When I go in to work a shift, and see that he is there, a little knot in my belly uncurls. He makes me happy.

He also tells rape jokes.

Let’s meet one last person, we’ll call her Karen.

Karen also went to my performing arts highschool, and for a time, Karen was my dance partner.

It’s hard to really describe to non dancers what the relationship between partners is like, but start with the fact that often your safety is literally in their hands. If they do the wrong thing with their hands, you will get hurt. And their safety is in your hands. See Karen for a second now, young and beautiful, full of hope, passion, and dreams. She’s flying through the air trusting that I will catch her. Trusting me. She was my partner.

Let’s leave her there for now, in the air, but let me also mention that during my senior year, about the time that she was my dance partner, about the time that Bob was being inducted into the society of the dressing room, Bob and Karen started dating.

After my wife and I finished our Kung Pow chicken we went to Old Navy to buy pants. Mundane stuff. I ended up buying a sweater, but my heart wasn’t really in it. She shopped longer than I did, and I ended up sitting on a couch in a kushy waiting area. I was dazed and felt like crying. I couldn’t stop thinking about Karen.

A couple of years after I graduated highschool, I mentioned Bob in passing to a another female friend of mine with whom I went to highschool. She is a loving wonderful polite person, but she ripped into Bob, talking about what a piece of shit he is.

I was pretty confused. Bob’s a goood guy, he fixed that mic problem I had in that scene in the second act of West Side Story. (Which scene? The one where the Jets try to rape Anita.)

But my friend was nice enough to slow down, and break down the facts for me as she knew them, the upshot being that throughout Bob and Karen’s relationship, he abused her, and forced her to have sex with him. It wasn’t “rape rape” or “legitimate rape” but he wanted to have sex, and she didn’t, and he and he pushed and cajoled and threatened her until she gave in.

I was pretty upset.

How could this guy, this guy I thought was a good guy, act this way? How could he think it was okay?

(and this next part, I’ll straight up crib from a great website called Shakesville, thank you so much to the writer who took time to write these really approachable, understandable 101 guides to feminism)

“(It is shown consistently in studies)Virtually all rapists genuinely believe that all men rape, and other men just keep it hushed up better. And more, these people who really are rapists are constantly reaffirmed in their belief about the rest of mankind being rapists like them by things like rape jokes, that dismiss and normalize the idea of rape.

If one in twenty guys (or more) is a real and true rapist, and you have any amount of social activity with other guys like yourself, then it is almost a statistical certainty that one time hanging out with friends and their friends, playing Halo with a bunch of guys online, in a WoW guild, in a pick-up game of basketball, at a bar, or elsewhere, you were talking to a rapist. Not your fault. You can’t tell a rapist apart any better than anyone else can. It’s not like they announce themselves.”

(heres the entire article.)


That’s what I was reading while my wife and I ate Chinese. That’s what I was thinking about while I sat on that black leather couch in the middle of the Oxmoor Mall concourse and tried not to completely lose my shit in front of a bunch of strangers.

Why did Bob think it was okay to abuse Karen? Why did he think that forcing a girl to have sex with you is the normal way dudes lose their virginity?

Cause I told him so.

Every week day when we all changed clothes and got ready for class, or prepped for performance, with every joke and cocky remark, I said “Bob, feel free to abuse some women. I know you look up to me, cause I’m tall, good looking, sexually active, and I got that big solo in the Fosse number. So go ahead and rape my partner Karen.”

This person that trusted me. This person that put her safety in my hands.

I’ve been increasingly uneasy around Francis.

Do I think he’s actually literally a rapist?

No? I don’t, I don’t…. I don’t know.

I know that something that would have so recently made me feel loved, (sharing my dark sense of humor) now scares me.

It scares me because he might be a rapist, it scares me cause maybe he’s not a rapist yet but if I laugh at his rape jokes I worry he might start, it scares me cause he’s probably just a really nice guy who has a dark sense of humor who will feel alienated and rejected if I start lecturing him.

It scares me to think of losing a friend. Some people kind of gloss over that part when they talk about educating on issues, but for me it’s really fucking scary.

The people in this world that are truly close to me, that I can fully and completely be myself around are certainly fewer than ten, and maybe as few as five. To maybe find another one is a huge thing. To find one at work? Who is also good at his job? And then to risk losing that? That’s huge.

But in a way, I’m lucky. I don’t really get much of an option on these things. My stomach gives me the option of doing what I know is right, or throwing up. Seriously. That day in the mall, the only way I could keep from throwing up was to chart out in my mind, how I was going to start talking with people about this. What I was going to do. One of those things is write this blog.

Another one of those things was talking to Francis about rape jokes.

Now, a rape joke isn’t always a rape joke. It’s not always 1)rape setup 2)rape punchline.

It can be an offhand comment, it can be a domestic abuse joke. It can be the statement that a female coming through the drive through line wouldn’t complain about her latte with a dick her mouth. But they are all comments that involve women (or children, or gay men, or anyone really) as objects having something done to them. These people are not participants. They are objects.

And to keep my conscious clean, I have to admit I haven’t gone cold turkey. I’ve got decades of habit to override and reprogram. My sense of humor hasn’t changed, just my feelings of it’s possible effects, and my responsibility as a human being. So when I decided to talk to Francis about rape jokes, it wasn’t because he had just made one, but because I had. In fact, it was the above comment about lattes and blow jobs. I made that joke out of habit, but then immediately felt sick.

“Hey man. I need to talk to you about something.”

“Oh, uh. okay.”

He could clearly tell that this was an “important” conversation, and he got pretty visibly frightened, pretty quick. He did not know what crazy shit was about to come out of my mouth, but he clearly shares the feeling that any conversation that starts with “i need to talk to you” is rife with danger.

So I tried to lighten the mood “it’s not about a Jesus.”

He smiled, “Oh, okay.”

Then the drive through bell dinged and we made a bunch of large mochas. No whip cream.

“it’s about, uh… rape jokes.”

“Oh.” The scared look came back a little. This is a man that has been lectured before.

I started by admitting my own guilt, and saying that I’ve been trying to remove the rape jokes from my own repertoire.

“Cause across the board all actual rapist believe that all men are rapists….” I outlined the same arguments that I shared above.

Did it make a difference?

As I said it seemed like he’d gotten a lecture on the subject before. And God knows, I’ve gotten lectured before. But for some reason it didn’t stick for me, it didn’t sink in. I’d like to think it’s because the writer of Shakesville had a access to these new surveys that show the inside of a rapists worldview, and because she made an especially elegant and well worded argument. I’d like to think if I had read the same post fifteen years ago, it would have changed my mind then.

But maybe not. Maybe I had to be in the right place in my life to finally listen to someone else. Maybe Francis won’t listen till he’s in the right place. Maybe I didn’t do anything but expiate my own sense of guilt about sexually violence that happened twelve years ago, to a young woman I haven’t even spoken to since the late nineties.

Or maybe he did listen.

I worked with Francis this morning. He didn’t make any rape jokes, and neither did I. He didn’t treat me like a nutjob weirdo Andrea Dworkin feminist. We talked literature and npr podcasts.

It was a good day.

So who is this post for?

I’ll be honest and say that there is surely some part of me that wants pats on the head and feminist cookies. I’m a wavin my hands and saying “loook! LOOOOOOOK! i’m not telling rape jokes anymore!” The feminists (male and female) in my life will hopefully respond to this the way my wife did, which is to wonder how it possibly took me this long to figure this out, and they will all continue eating their figurative Kung Pow. Hopefully they won’t yell at me and call me an idiot. Cause surely, I have been an idiot and a self satisfied ass about the issue for a long time. “Comedy is pain therefore blahdy blahdy blah.”

This post is for the men in my life, and in my readership. For those of you grappling with these issues still. I know you are out there. This post is also for those of you who have stopped thinking about it. For those of you who have put rape and rape statistics and the statistical certainty that you know some rapists in a box far far far away in the back of your mind, for the sheer purpose of remaining sane.

We can talk about these issues. We can think about these issues. I won’t lie, and I won’t discount your feelings. It’s going to be really hard. If we talk about it we might lose some friends. Not everybody will respond as well as Francis did. It may at some point lead to you sitting somewhere and suddenly feeling like your world and your life is falling apart. That the guy sitting next to you is about to go rape someone you love, and there is nothing you can do about it. But the first thing we can do, and the most important thing we can do, is start talking about it with each other. And not be embarrassed. Not be afraid.

My Thoughtson “Sexy” Costumes

Happy Halloween!

It’s my favorite Holliday, for a lot of reasons. Candy and shenanigans. No homework back when I was a kid. Haunted houses, scary movies. Cider. Fall is also my favorite season, so all the great Fall stuff comes with Halloween. It’s wonderful on so many levels. For me, the single greatest thing about Halloween is costumes.

Now let’s get right out there and say that I agree with the basics points other feminist and female friendly writers have made about “sexy costumes.” “Sexy costumes” are the current zeitgeist as expressed at every Halloween store, Target, Wallmart and K-mart. They indicate that any Halloween costume for a female should include as little fabric as possible, a mere nod to some character or theme, and some uncomfortable shoes. It seems impossible for you to have missed this, but if you don’t know what I’m talking about, google sexy _______costume. Fill that blank with anything. Fairytale. Pirate. Batman. Elmo. Bacon*.

The highlights: the male gaze dominates, Rape culture is upheld, women are objectified. All the oh so familiar aspects of the the unbridled patriarchy. I won’t go into it, because others have already, and many have done it better.

I would like to add some thoughts.

First, can we remember to always put the quotation marks around “sexy costumes?” Can we make sure that it’s understood that many of us reject this idea that these costumes are sexy? While some skimpy outfits are sexy (cause hey, I do in fact enjoy nudity) when everything that is labeled “sexy” involves skin and also more skin, and only that, we are limiting ourselves by accepting that this is the only way to be sexy.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you guys and gals, but there are a shit ton more ways to be sexy.

It’s sexy when someone is smart. Or funny. Or creative. It’s sexy when they like the same things you do. It’s sexy when they know lots of stuff about something you don’t know about but find interesting. It’s sexy when they’re confident, it’s sexy when they’re shy. Ect. I could fill a whole column with the different things that are sexy. But the biggest and most important thing here is that sexy is different things to different people. Sexy isn’t just skimpy clothing. Sexy is what is sexy to you, as the person wearing the costume, and as the person viewing the costume.

And the awesome thing for the sex positive and the single is that ALL of these different sexies can be reflected in a costume. It’s the only Holiday that encourages people to essentially walk around with a sign that lets you know what they think of sexy, and what they think of the world. And if you are out there trying to meet that special someone, thats pretty awesome.

Of course, that same logic can easily be applied to anyone trying to make friends. I’m at the point in my life where I already found my special someone, so when I go to a party I’m looking for stimulating conversations, interesting world views, and people who like the same nerdy things I like. All of which can be exclaimed with wit and vigor by a good costume.

Now, sex is a big part of Halloween, and it would be silly to ignore the patriarchs role in that. Personally I think there would still be plenty of sex in Halloween even in a more female friendly, less male gazey world. (And of course everybody should also be able to have a non sexy Halloween if they so choose.)

In a purer, less creepy sense, I think the sex in Halloween comes from our eagerness to try on different personalities. The “sexy” halloween costumes had a seed in all the people who don’t dress “sexy” regularly, and need the excuse of a Holiday to act crazy and uninhibited.

People should have the ability and the safe space to try out some sexy. But when we focus on the sexy, we ignore all the other ways that identity is fluid. We create a mindset where sexy and not sexy are a binary state, and all other aspects of human identity are back seat issues.

Do you think of yourself as a funny person? Maybe you don’t. Maybe Halloween is a great time to wear a funny costume, or a funny outfit. Try out being the funny one for one night.

Are you a dude who wants to wear a dress? I’m not talking someone who is trans, or even wants to be a cross dresser on the regular. Just for one night. Just to see what it’s like. Do you want to wear lipstick and heels and a ball gown? On Halloween you can. You can be Dorothy, or Belle. (Of course even on Halloween men often feel the need to claim a woman’s outfit is a “joke” and they are just wearing it for laughs, which is too bad. In my time on this planet I have seen so many men and boys JUMP at the chance to cross dress so often that it seems obvious to me that many of us cismen would really like the opportunity to drag it up from time to time. Drag it up cismen. Drag it up with no shame.)

Do you normally keep your weird hobby or fandom a little closer to the chest? Halloween is your night to shine a light on it, without it having to consume your whole identity.

Be powerful instead of weak. Be weak instead if powerful. be into sports. be into Math. Whatever. Identity is fluid. Go nuts.

In the course of our everyday lives new ideas of identity can be challenging. We fear social stigma, and people just plain not getting it. Trying out something as simple as a new haircut can be very frightening.

On Halloween, all bets are off. And this is a beautiful thing. In a culture with rigidly defined roles and mores, a night to step away from everything that has come to define you can be completely liberating.

In a perfect world we would always recognize and honor the fluidity of identity. A man wearing a dress to school would raise no comment other than whether or not that particular shade of violet did anything for his eyes. Wearing a Hermione Granger outfit to school would only cause someone to ask you what you thought of the last Harry Potter book (it sucked). And dressing like a giant piece of Bacon would encourage culinary discussions.

But until then, can we at least step away from the “sexy” and let identity be completely fluid on the one night it’s allowed? Or if sexyland is where we want to be on October 31st, can we love and venerate all the different kinds of sexy? Cause honestly, the bigger your definition of sexy is, the better your chances are of having enjoyable healthy sex.

*I have mixed feelings on the “sexy” bacon outfit. I sort of love how completely oblivious to it’s own irony it is.I would LOVE it if a brainy lady wore this “sexy” bacon outfit and spent the entire evening lecturing men about how she isn’t just a piece of meat. it would be epic.

A Belated Feminist Reading of Cabin in the Woods

(Welcome! Hopefully this is a lot of peoples first time here. I’ve been trying to “perfect” my blog and get it ready for human interaction, and it nearly drove me crazy. So instead of explaining that process in excruciating detail, or illustrating my feelings about everything in the whole world, or choking on my delusions of grandeur, I’m just going to do a feminist perspective breakdown of The Cabin in the Woods. Massive Spoilers to follow.)

Let me start by saying I loved this movie. I loved it without thinking about it, and it hit just about every joy center I have in my brain. It made me giddy. When it finished I felt light headed and had butterflies in my stomach. But it made me want to sit down and break it into little pieces and dissect what worked and what didn’t, and given recent life experiences as well as my standard way of looking at film, I couldn’t help but do so with a strongly feminist perspective.

I also recognize that I’m probably way behind the curve here. I’m sure a bunch of feminist readings of Cabin in the Woods (CitW) came out at the same time the movie did. Joss and feminism have a long history. He has his detractors and supporters, and I’m not (quite) arrogant enough to think I’m the only person to notice the complex rhetorical messages imbedded in this film. (As soon as I’m done writing this, I’m go to go read those.) So some of my thoughts may be in direct opposition to statements made by Joss and Drew, or may have been pointed out by other writers. But what can I say? I just saw it, and I write about whats on my mind.

Cabin in the Woods is a a meta contemplation of the cliches of the horror genre. A self awareness has been a part of mainstream horror in a big way since Scream killed at the box office in 1996. But the awareness has generally only taken the form of characters in said films having seen horror films, and knowing “the rules” (ie tropes and cliches)and literally commenting on them in their dialogue within the context of the film. Fun stuff if you are into horror, but the characters generally act out the same tired horror cliches, with little real variation. (My horror film knowledge is not encyclopedic, so I’m sure there is an/are some exceptions. Feel free to share them in the comments.) CitW goes one step further and shows us concrete in-world reasons for the weird and counter intuitive (and downright stupid) behavior we see in these films. In short, the only reason (according to CitW) anyone would act this way is if they are being acted upon by an outside force. The outside force in this case is a complex of highly trained professionals. Their job is to manipulate five college kids into acting out horror cliches, eventually leading to their slaughter. They do so through a complex process involving technology, psychology, secret doses of drugs, hormones, and pheromones, and a little magic. At first we suspect as an audience that it is for the purpose of entertainment or reality TV, a easy supposition given the success of Hunger Games at the box office. But it turns out that the reason these kids must die is to appease Evil Death Gods who slumber under the earth, but will only continue to do so if they are fed by arcane, highly ritualized blood sacrifices.

Cool stuff. And the fact that Joss (and co writer director Drew Goddard) manage this meta critique while also displaying a obvious love for the horror genre, and a wonderful sense of fun, translates into a movie going experience that has resonated with audiences.

But as one of my favorite authors (Neil Gaimen) said “There is room for things to mean more than they actually mean.” Inside the fun tricky metaness of CitW there are critiques. They may be critiques of Hollywood, or loving critiques of the horror genre, but in my opinion the also pretty directly address Male Gaze and the Patriarchy.

So for the sake of argument, lets just accept that horror movies in general are pretty misogynist. I’m sure reams and reams have been written on it, if you need or want convincing, go seek it out. I don’t need convincing. But lets hit some of the highlights.

1)Women who are sexually active are “whores” and have to be punished with death.

2)Only virgins deserve to live, and sometimes their virginal boyfriends too. Except of course when everyone dies.

Those are only the top two story oriented tropes. They show up again and again and again. With regularity, and variety. Some savy film makers attempt to turn these tropes on their heads, reverse them, and introduce (with varying levels of success) strong female characters. But by and large, the vast majority of horror films return to this framework. For every Ellen Ripley, there are ten Sandras.

Horror misogyny is perhaps best stated by Hitchcocks reiteration of Sardou’s statement that the best way to engage an audience is to “torture the women.” This modus operendi stretches from the earliest onscreen horror, to “groundbreaking” (exploitive filth) works like The Last House on the Left, it’s in nearly every frame of the so called Torture Porn school, and pops it’s ugly head up in CitW as well (although CiTW’s best use of women torture absolutely comments on itself, and does so in a great way.)

So I don’t think it’s possible for a film maker to comment on these tropes in a meta way without addressing the underlying misogyny, even if only by accident. And when the artist involved is often praised for and speaks out about the role of women in films, it becomes obvious that he intended to do so. I think Whedon wanted this film to be Feminist.

So let’s hit some high points and visit the spots where CitW gets it right.

1) Of course the most obvious is the fact CitW tells us REAL women don’t act the way women in horror movies act. For the victims in CitW to act the way normal horror girls (and guys) act takes an entire team, nay an entire complex full of highly trained people (HTP) manipulating them. We’re shown that even with the HTP in control, these sacrifices still goes wrong often enough that there are several complexes like this around the world, because the victims will defy all expectations and act like people. Women acting like people instead of the automatons they are “supposed” to be is the most pervasive feminist idea of this film. It’s the idea the whole movie hangs off from. When gender roles in our society are as rigid and as fiercely protected as they are, telling a women it’s okay to act like a human being is a revolutionary act.

2) Watching (or implicitly participating in, allowing) violence towards people (and women) dehumanizes us all. This is best shown in the scene where the Virgin of our victim group,Dana is being beaten (presumably to death) on the dock. Consider, the film has established that most of the victims HAD to die, otherwise our entire world would perish. Therefore the people dying are a noble (if unwilling) sacrifice. They are saving us all. BUT. After every one of the victims except The Virgin are (presumed) dead, and the sacrifice is fulfilled, the entire complex is celebrating while a woman is beaten to death. If her death was needed (which it isn’t) the people watching could save her. Even if the form of the ritual requires that the observers don’t intervene (plausible, but unlikely I think) the human response should be to venerate the passing of the last victim. But no, instead they are celebrating. They are desensitized to her death by all the deaths that have come before it. This could be construed as a general idea about right and wrong, but when the violence is pointed at a woman, the comment the film makers are making becomes about violence towards women. It becomes a comment that violence towards women is treated as necessary or acceptable in actual society, and it’s being condemned.

3) The male gaze doesn’t naturally exist. It must be created, controlled and reinforced. Again I point to the HTP. There are women involved, and in subordinate positions, but the two guys that run the show are men, controlling and crafting what the victims see and hear, and doing so with an agenda. In CitW, the agenda is protecting us from Death Gods, in real life, it’s just perpetuating business as usual. The HTP represent the male gaze on a level that is often literal, as they are males gazing at women, and they are shown to be enjoying it despite the seriousness (apocalypse staving off) of their endeavor.

4)If protecting us from death gods justifies all these behaviors, (which given the end of the film is debatable,) CitW suggests that any reason less than staving off global apocalypse is an unacceptable justification for the male gaze, and female abuse. We shouldn’t abuse women for money, or cheap labor, or comfort, or plastic shit at wal mart, or our sexual wants, and certainly not because it challenges your masculinity, not because it makes you uncomfortable, not because it kills your awesome domestic abuse joke. The END OF THE WORLD makes it okay to treat women crappy. Everything else (including the myriad of excuses the audience members {including me} no doubt give themselves on a daily basis) is bullshit. END OF THE WORLD or GTFO.

5) My absolute favorite feminist implication in this film is that the Patriarchy is in fact a evil death god that demands blood sacrifice. It’s so simple and so awesome.

Consider, in reality the reason these horror tropes exist has everything to do with the male gaze and social expectation. The male fan is serviced by the sex and nudity. We love those titties. But since a “nice girl” doesn’t have sex outside of marriage the role of gratuitous boob shot must fall to a fallen women. We can’t just throw in some healthy consensual sex, because that would send the message that it’s okay for women to be sexual creatures. Thats a problem, cause we “need” to see breasts, but we have to reinforce our dominant values. Hmmm. Oh, I know, punish the offending free spirit by killing her. Often right after sex, often in the middle of it. This gives the men folk the boobs they deserve to see, but doesn’t send any mixed messages. (except of course, to women who enjoy sex.)

In the movie, women must get nude and act like tramps because the EDG demand it, and will only stay appeased if we give it to them. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is explicitly stated that its the will of something malevolent, something fould and beyond our comprehension.

So, in reality,the behavior appeases the Patriarchy; in the movie the behavior appeases the EDG. Therefore Patriarchy=Evil Death Gods.

Thats fuckin chutzpah.

6) The rejection of the Male Gaze and the Patriarchy is the end of the world. To reject the sacrifice, and leave it uncompleted leads to end of the world. This message is a little trickier, because in the film the Patriarchy has two surrogates. The EDG are the Patriarchy, and the complex of highly trained professionals are also the Patriarchy, in the form of the Male Gaze. So strictly speaking, in the film, rejecting the merely bad patriarchy means freeing the worse patriarchy. One could argue that the film is suggesting that the Male Gaze keeps us in line with the threat of a worse external factor, some kind of supposed violent world ender. And the threat of other cultures is certainly used to keep the Male Gaze in place in the real world. This is a really interesting line of thought, but it muddles the metaphor of the end of the movie. But to interpret broadly, the end of the film tells us that rejecting the Patriarchy means the end of the world. On one level it speaks to the fears of many who consciously or unconsciously cling to the current world order. For them, allowing change is terrifying and may feel like the end of the world. It’s why so many will vociferously supports facets of the misogynist culture, even when those ills directly harm them. On another level it suggest that a complete societal rejection of the patriarchal norm would be a tremendous upheaval. It would change the world so much that our society (our world) would end. But as our surviving main characters show, there are worse things than the end of the world.

Thats as far as I’m going to take the stuff they got right. I feel like a really close read and break down with citations and secondary sources could easily fill a masters thesis, and I ain’t got that kind of time.

Like I said, love this fucking movie.

But let’s start in with the bad now.

For all it’s success, of which there are many, this movie falls down hard in a couple of places, and while it didn’t undermine my enjoyment of the film, it may undermine the films success as a countercultural artifact.

The first and most obvious FAIL is Lin, i.e. Amy Acker. This isn’t an attack on Ackers performance. She did a great job, and brings some wonderful moments of humanity to the general dickishness of the HTP. I enjoy her work, and it’s nice to see her on screen. I wish her the best. But it’s a damn shame that the film makers hired a socially normative “beautiful” woman to play her role. Now, the victim females were soc. norm hot. That makes total sense. They are “hot” one could presume, according to the rules set down by the EDG. I mean hey, they’re EVIL, one can’t really expect them to have a healthy idea of the myriad ways in which a woman can be beautiful, now can they? It’s problematic to be sure, but it plays by the rules the film makers have set up, and by that yardstick it’s a successful case of cakeandeatism. But Lin exists in the non altered, non controlled “real world” of the HTP. The fact that she looks the way she looks can’t be blamed on malignant supernatural forces, just on the film makers conception of beauty. We should have seen a large beautiful woman, or a large black beautiful woman, or any of the others combinations and iterations of beautiful that exists outside of skinny white girls with perky breasts (SWGPB). It says (to me at least) that on some level, Joss and Drew think feminism is awesome, as long as it’s practiced by pretty ladies. Equality is for everyone guys. Not just ladies the male audience wants to bone. Lin’s oh so by the numbers hotness is only accentuated by the three males she spends her time with. Now, I think all three of those guys (Richard Jenkins, Brian White, Bradley Whitford) are very attractive. (They also all turn in great performances in this film) They are good looking guys, but they are three different and distinctive types. One is older, one is African American, and one is Josh Lyman. The message here is that men can have variety of age, skin color and indescribable quirk, but ladies can have variety of Blonde, Brunette, and Redhead, with the additional option of B, or C cup. And yes geeks, Sigourney Weaver shows up at the end in a great bit of stunt casting, and she no longer fits into the young and beautiful type Hollywood has as it’s norm setting. (She’s pretty gorgeous though, amirite? She’s got tons of presence and gravitas. I absolutely buy her as someone strong enough to murder countless victims in service of “the greater good”) It’s great that she is in the film, and it gives a woman a power role, and implies that without the complicity of many women the patriarchy would fall, an interesting message. But she’s in the movie for about five minutes, and she’s the villian. Villians are allowed to be different types. So doesn’t make up for standard pretty girl casting responsible Lin’s visual appearance.

(And yes, I realize that a big factor in her casting is that she worked on Dollhouse, and that Joss is pretty loyal to actors who work for him. I can respect that, and it indicates that he may be a pretty swell human, but I still think casting her was a mistake.)
Another big problem is the male savior. In complete compliance with horror film tropes, the helpless female is saved by a man. Dana is saved by Marty physically, she is also saved morally. One could argue that since Whedon and Goddard have come correct with their fidelity to horror tropes this turn of events is warranted, but that’s crap. The moment that Marty saves Dana is the moment that the tropes (the reality of the victims) and their subversion (the real world of the HTP) begin to collide, with disastrous effect. This would have been a perfect moment to subvert one of the most pernicious and omnipresent (throughout all film) tropes, i.e. women need saving. In the previously mentioned dock scene, Dana the Final Survivor is being beaten to death by one of the redneck torture zombies. Marty (who was presumed dead) appears as if if by magic, and saves her. Physical saving. Then, after Dana and Marty twig to the unreality of their environment, sneak into the complex, and threaten existence by continuing to exist, Dana decides it’s Okay to shoot Marty in order to perpetuate the cycle. She briefly becomes a bag guy. And Marty saves her from that as well. She then apologizes to him for thinking about killing him. The moral saviorness is even more offensive than the physical saving. The physical saving was nearly (I say NEARLY because I think J & D could have worked around it) excusable because it is heavily tied to the plot structure (although it would have been just as easy to have Jules i.e. the “whore” be plot twistingly not dead.) But the moralizing of the Marty is twice as bad. Poor little woman doesn’t know right from wrong. Good thing the MAN can set her straight. Of course as a geek part of me loved that Thor died, and the nerd lived. I get that Marty living is subverting another trope, and a HUGE shout out out to the geeks AND the stoners, a very important part of the audience base of this movie. But it comes at the cost of undermining a lot of the other messages in the film.

The last and most problematic thing I’m going to cover, is the boobs. This is the absolute worst example of J & G trying to have their cake and eat it two, and absolutely failing. I’m focusing on the boobs, but the Jules sexy dance and wolf making out are examples of the same problem.

The boobs needed to (theoretically) be there. Totally. It’s set up, it’s implied, it’s the most tangible example of everything that is wrong with the horror genre that this film is critiquing. The HTP needed to see the boobs (they are the male gaze) and the EDG needed to see the boobs (they are the Patriarchy). But the audience, us, we the film viewers, didn’t need to see the boobs. There are a hundred ways the uber talented film makers could have gotten around actually showing them to us while while still showing that they were being seen by the HTP and EDG. We didn’t need to see the boobs, but we (the majority of the horror audience) wanted to see the boobs. And big Daddy Joss didn’t disappoint. He chided us for objectify women, reprimanded us for loving breast at the expense of the person, and then he showed us the goddamned breasts. Moments before she was murdered. In case I didn’t mention it earlier, this is the most disgusting part of the trope. Once the whore has showed her breasts, she has no more value as a story telling device, as a plot point, or as a character (i.e. a human.) Tits then death. Show me your boobs then fuck off and die. (Brutally.) It’s awful.

And yes. I’ll fully twig to loving breasts. I fully admit that I enjoyed seeing the actresses breast, in that scene. But it made me feel crappy, and it dragged me out of the action, because even in the midst of boobs and blood and horror and adrenaline that we love these movies for, I could feel the hypocrisy as a palpable thing.

Given J & D’s earlier suggestion that anything less than global apocalypse is a cheap reason to exploit a woman, it makes me wonder what unimaginable monster of doom was threatening them.

It’s pretty easy to see why the social normative beauty, the male saviorness, and the boobs all made it into the film. They are all playing to an aspect of the viewing audience that helped make the movie a success. It’s male fan service, and geek fan service, and studio head appeasement. It is often also expedient for the plot development, and for needed for the aping of tropes.

Structurally I believe that J & D could have absolutely found another way. With them with being as good as they are at everything else in the movie, I just don’t believe that the structural problems were unavoidable.

Then, we look at the studio heads. This movie was delayed for two years. This indicates that someone up high really thought that it wouldn’t work. It’s not a crazy thought, especially given the “failure” of Dollhouse and Firefly, the middleling success of Serenity, and the sleeper hitness of Dr Horrible. Now Joss seems like an unstoppable hit machine, two years ago, not so much.

Would this movie have gotten made without it gender role problems and hypocrisy? The boobs, the male/geek savior, the pretty girls? Could this movie have been a success without it?

For the sake of argument, lets say no. Lets pretend that those breasts (or the sexy dancing scene), or Amy Acker being hot, are the things that made the studio go, “sure, why not.”

Is it worth it? I don’t know.

Is the balance of rhetoric in this film moving gender relations forward or just treading water? I don’t know.

My hope is that it got people talking, and maybe led a few less enlightened horror fans to think a little bit about the entertainment they watch.

But heres my challenge. Joss, you made good money with this movie, and you took all the money in the world with the Avengers. That makes you very powerful. You are not in the same place you were when this movie got made. Use your power to make sure your future projects don’t get caught up in this same bullshit. Double down on your feminism and apply it to all kinds of women. I’m guessing you can pretty much call your shots with the Shield TV show and the next Avengers.

Do so. And do better.