26 February, 2007

The Next Time Someone Asks Me Why I "Make a Big Deal" Out of Things, I Now Have an Answer

Shakespeare's Sister has a fantastic post up about those "little" traces of sexism and misogyny that still plague us, and why well-directed anger about it is still important. I urge you to read the piece in its entirety, but here is a particular passage that really struck me (bold emphasis mine):

"The thing is, the real cost of sexism to women is not in our paying a single emotional penny here for this insult and a single emotional penny there for that disgrace, but in the cumulative negative balance it leaves inside each of us. Even if we let this thing or that thing roll off of the thickened skins of our backs, we pay another penny each time; letting it roll off your back is just another way of saying keep your complaints to yourself, but it doesn't change the reality that sexism takes its toll, whether one has the ill manners of mentioning the offense or not. . .I don't carry these memories with me because I want to. I carry them with me because they have left indelible prints upon me, affected my understanding of who I am to other people. I don't want to be bothered when I notice things like the treatment of women in "Odd News" features. But it doesn't matter what I want. To protect myself against this reaction is to deny my experience, to deny part of myself.

I sometimes hear people say things like, "Why are you complaining about x or y?," especially as a Women & Gender Studies major. I enjoy pointing out cultural "stuff" that I disagree or have issues with, often in the hopes of getting someone else to think, "Hey, maybe she's right!" There is a difference between complaining (being bitter just for the sake of being bitter) and trying to dicuss something, out in the open, in order to bring it to the attention of others. Of course, you have to pick your battles, but that's a whole other post. I am sure that if I wanted to bring various anti-feminist discursive forms to the attention of those around me, I could do it all day. Hell, I could turn such a thing into a full-time job (which would be sweet, especially if there was a paycheck involved). However, there are some things that, I feel, are so ingrained in our culture and our various behaviors that we do not question them, or our roles in perpetuating these things--many of which are, for a myriad of reasons, damaging to many people.

Let me give you an example. One thing that consistently bothers me is the idea that single people--in particular single women--have something "wrong" with them if they are not with a partner, and that being single is an error that MUST be corrected. [I'm sure that single men go through similar issues, but since I was born with x chromosomes and a vagina, I am probably not the best person to comment on male singlehood.]

Anyway, I have been single for my entire life. Guys my own age have, with little exception, never "gotten" me, or, as far as I know, found me very attractive. If my life were a film, I would probably be the Sidekick--the witty best friend (possibly played by Lauren Ambrose or Amy Sedaris) who helps the protagonist get the guy, but never gets the guy herself. (Plus, she's got the other best friend, Flamboyant Gay Man, to hang out with.) She is witty, not "classically" pretty and very, very asexual. (Yes, I am aware of the irony in this being my life in film form, and yet, I am the Sidekick.)

When people hear that I have never dated, they are (rather understandably) confused. "Are you a Jesus freak who's, like, abstinent?" No. "Circumstantially Celibate" is more like it. "Are you gay?" No, but would it matter if I were? Maybe to these people, but not to anyone who has a modicum of intelligence.

This mentality even seems to exist in people that I am close to--my younger brother, for example, told me about two years ago that, until very recently, he thought I was a lesbian, due to the fact that I never dated in high school. My response: "Do I need to show you my Wall of Colbert?" (Which is, I regret to say, not quite a wall yet. It's a large collection of photographs of Stephen Colbert on one of the walls over at HamShack--the Wall pretty much needs no explanation.)

Overall, however, I often get the feeling that I am being judged for being a person who's been single for their entire life, by circumstance only. Most people my age are perhaps going on dates, hooking up, or otherwise not being single. One response that I've gotten, from well-meaning dipshits whom I do not know very well, is the old "You just need to get out there and start dating!" chestnut. Is it so strange that I have made the decision to meet someone special (oh, here comes the cliche van!) instead of just dating anything with a penis that meanders into my field of vision? I would much rather wait for someone who is truly an upstanding, intelligent human being than suffer dating a bunch of neanderthals whose main hobbies include drinking, polishing off an entire bucket of chicken wings with a six-pack of Pabst in one sitting, and figuring out ways that they can pass all of their classes without actually going to class and learning the material.

So, yes, I carry a certain "history" with me--the history of a woman who does not know what actual romantic "love" is, who cannot recognize the signs of flirting (even the obvious ones), who cannot even believe, in some sense, that anyone would want to be with her in a romantic manner. The history of a person who has tried, due to various health issues for her entire life, get beyond what others see by writing, doing well in school (most of the time), and generally trying to bring the focus away from the exterior, an exterior which doesn't look like those of all the other girls. I carry a history of someone who has tried her damndest to "fit in," and has failed, time and time again. These disappointments, these expectations, these experiences--they add up. And, like Barney Gumble's bar tab, they are difficult to get beyond. Barney may never be able to pay his $2,000 bar tab at Moe's, just as AnnaHam may never be able to recognize the signs of flirting.

As for concluding remarks, I notice and point out these "little" things that bother me because not doing so would directly influence the quality of my life, whether I realize it now or not. "Little things," often times, are a big fucking deal.

25 February, 2007

Squee of Joy No. 2


I just bought tickets. I can barely believe that it's been nearly two and a half years since I've seen him:

Good lord, I am SUCH a fangirl.

And a squee of joy was heard across the land!

So, it appears that the distinguished Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu** will be running for President in Guatemala.

Someone is going to comment on the whole OMG-her-biography-may-have-been-fabricated dustup, but I can honestly say that I do not give a flying shit about that. The woman is frickin' phenomenal, any way you slice it.

Now, if only "furriners" could run for Prez here in the United States...

**I have no idea how to format the accent marks in her name, so, apologies.

23 February, 2007

Beyond Human: The Final Call

Remember this guy and his Away Team? I certainly do!

I like how he says, "Rather than give you any history," (around the two-minute mark) and then immediately follows it up with, "Well, I'm going to back up and give you some history." Also: Referring to yourself in 3rd person is a surefire way to make yourself look really, really strange. And don't get a haircut like that, for goodness sake!

I'm doing a research project on Heaven's Gate for my Feminist Inquiry class (I know, an odd match, right?), and a good friend of mine found this little gem for me. (Hat tip to Sabine for finding this for me when my unskilled self couldn't!)

Here are some fascinating tidbits on the cult that were not exactly covered by the mainstream media:

* The leaders' names for themselves (Marshall Applewhite was "Do" and Bonnie Lu Nettles was "Ti") were chosen from the musical scale, as Applewhite was a former music professor at a university in Texas.

*Applewhite was once a moderately sucessful opera singer (!)

*The cult ran a computer consulting and website design business in Southern California for a number of years, and were remembered by various clients as being very polite, obedient and helpful.

Fascinating, huh? Okay, not the fact that they all killed themselves, but some of the other stuff. I find this sort of thing so interesting!

22 February, 2007

"Today's sermon is taken from a magazine I found..."

Is it possible for me to love Eddie Izzard any more than I do already? Probably not.

21 February, 2007

How to Embrace Your Weirdness When You're in a Culture That Discourages It

Above: The author contemplates being an oddball at HHQ.

Over the past few days, I have heard at least three people say the following (or something very similar to it) to me:

"You have this odd quality about you..."

That's it. Even the trailing off has not varied depending upon who I am talking to. Now, the people who have said this do not know me very well, and all are people I have come into contact with thanks to school. The people that I do know well, obviously, recognize that I have this "oddness," and don't mind it. In fact, I would say that under many circumstances, my odd, perpetually switched-on brain is encouraged among my friends, if nothing else.

I am trying to figure out whether this statement is meant as a compliment, or if it's just a way of trying to make sense of traits or habits that I may have that may not fit the status quo. I am not trying to sound hipsterish (ie: "I am soooo cool, check me out! I'm a unique person, just like everyone else!" sort of thing)--the fact that I am odd is just that: a fact. However, I do not know why others think I am odd: Is it because I am odd-looking? Is it because my dress habits are a little less conventional than the average person? More questions than there are answers, really.

After a lifetime spent of trying to "fit" in with the general populace, I realized, sometime in my late teens, that I would never be able to fit in with other "average" janes or joes. I cannot explain in an objective manner why I am an oddball; I just am an oddball. I can see reasons why people categorize me as such, but I believe that there is no one reason as to why I have turned out the way I have--many reasons, habits, different scores of knowledge, beliefs, and cues (cultural, social, familial, et cetera) are all working together--not exactly in tandem or at the same speed, but the point is that they work together and make me the oddball that I am.

This is why I am so shocked when I see people trying to hide their inner oddball or their weirdness. My best friend in middle school, for example, spent much of her life being a freckled, creative and fabulous freak-girl who also happened to one of three or four Jewish kids in our grade in elementary school (the total enrollment was just under 400 students, and this was a public school in a very affluent neighborhood). Once we reached seventh grade, however, she decided to dedicate her entire existence to becoming one of Them--one of the "popular" kids. She made the transformation from future artiste to future Hot-Botoxed-Mom-in-a-Tennis-Outfit (sorry, that was horrible) in about a week--she began to wear a shit-ton of makeup (enough to cover her freckles, natch) every single day, dressed in clothes that sent a message that she would have recoiled at a mere few months before, and dropped drawing fabulous cartoons in favor of going shopping. [Context: We used to spend entire weekends together, drawing our cartoons that, we were convinced, would change the world of comics once we got mass exposure. After these went out of style for my friend, she dragged me along on many a shopping trip, during which she would spend hours trying on outfits to impress the guy she liked; the ironic kicker, of course, was that he would never notice.]

Coincidentally, this was around the same time that she told me that our friendship was becoming a liability for her--in her words, I was too "weird," too "bitchy and depressed,"** and didn't focus enough on trying to get people, especially the neanderthal boys who populated our school, to like me. In other words, I was not acceptable--not to anyone, according to her. We then had an extreme falling-out that lasted for a year and a half--eventually, we went our seperate ways, which was probably for the better, given what happened. So, this was my big lesson of my junior high school years: I was an oddball. And, unfortunately, it was not until many years later that I learned to stop hating this odd part of me--which, when you crunch the numbers, turns out to be about 95% of my personality--and accept it, whether other people like(d) it or not. Hilariously, embracing the very thing(s) that drove my former best friend away has allowed me to make better friends and to successfully evaluate the people who really do care and who will stick around (which are not people like her, ha ha).

So, what are we oddballs to do? Who can we turn to in dark times, when we need a bit of strength and conviction to get us through the day? Every time I hear someone say something such as "You are so strange," or "You're weird" in a derogatory manner (which is not often any more, but still), I automatically think of this brilliant woman

Remember her? Come on, how could you not? Here's another reminder. I believe that Bjork is one of the patron saints of oddballs (a few of the others being Willem Dafoe, Grace Jones, Amy Sedaris, Frank Zappa, and possibly Gary Busey, although he's more psychotic than odd). Bjork is just completely weird, and, fortunately for her and for us, this has translated into worldwide success with her bizarre, genius brand of crazy music. I had the pleasure of seeing her peform live a few years ago, and even when she did something utterly mundane and almost normal, you could feel her strangeness infecting everything she did. When she politely thanked the audience after every other song, it seemed odd, because it was odd. Bjork cannot do anything that we take for granted without it being affected by her total, all-encompassing weirdness. Neither can those of us who are oddballs--everything we do will, whether we know it or not, be affected by the fact that we are strange. Bjork has embraced her oddballness and has made an extraordinarily successful career out of it, but the important thing to remember is that she seems very comfortable with that part of herself and is willing to inhabit it, no matter what anyone else thinks.

I personally think we could learn quite a bit from such an example of uncompromising oddness.

**Still am, to a degree. The joke's on her.

20 February, 2007

Visual Culture and the Politics of Music Promotion (AKA: I Can Come Up With a More Pretentious Title Than Tori Amos!)

This morning, I logged onto my LiveJournal friends page and came across this photo--it is a promotional photo for Tori Amos's new album, which is due out in May of this year:

I posted the photo to my own journal along with the following comments:

I looked at this photo this morning and was confused--I thought this was because I had just woken up.

Now that I'm looking at it for the second time, I am still just as confused. I don't know whether to love it or loathe it.

Even her posture and the position of her arms says, "Uhh...I 'unno..."

The album's title, however, is utterly weird. [American Doll Posse, WTH? If she's going to try to do a title that doesn't make any sense, she could at least pull a Zappa and name it March of the Glass-Eyed American Doll Posse With Chalk Spines, Bit-O-Honeys and Fishbowls or something.]

A friend pointed out that she has heard gripes similar to mine out of the mouths of fellow Tori fans nearly every time Tori has released new material since 1996 (!), and, in addition, asked, "When did it stop being about the music?" In other words: Why is everyone (and I include myself in this category, unfortunately) so obsessed with what an entertainer such as Tori Amos looks like, how they choose to dress, and/or how they choose to present themselves in a visual manner?

Of course, since this is the sort of thing that is currently my life's work, I have to expand this into a larger comment. I contend that in our culture, it can never be exclusively about the music, due to our reliance on and obsession with image. This may seem like an obvious statement, but for some people, it may not be so obvious. I think quoting the cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan is appropos here: "I don't know who discovered water, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the fish!" Only by getting out of water and into some other substance can we actually begin to pick apart what it means, and what sort of effect it has on us.

I, personally, think it would be awesome (not to mention sort of weird) if all musicians one day started releasing albums with blank CD covers that show the artist, title of record and song names; but, obviously, no one is going to agree with me there, least of all the people who make their living from creating and peddling images for our increasingly visual culture.

I'd love to be able to ignore this sort of thing. I really, really would. However, as feminist philosopher Susan Bordo notes in her excellent Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images From Plato to O.J., "That we live in an image saturated culture has come to seem normal, routine, to us...Massive and dramatic cultural and technological changes have taken place in an extraordinarily brief period of historical time--and so recently that we have barely been able to begin to chart their effects on our perception, cognition, and most basic experience of the relation between reality and appearance. The images are much more ubiquitous in our lives today than they were just a decade ago (2)." And, as Bordo notes later while recounting an anecdote in which she describe being yelled at by a therapist during a presentation on the effects of media image on the body image of young people--the therapist, hilariously, chides her to simply "turn off the TV"--turning "off" these impulses, perceptions and habits is not easy. We have been taught by the dominant culture to value these things--in this case, to pay more attention to how a musician looks, or what she chooses to look like, than to how she sounds, her skills as a musician and lyricist, or what issues she addresses in her music. (If you're not convinced of this yet, consider Courtney Love for just a moment. As has been noted by some, she's got some great lyrics, and a gift for melody. Do you hear about any of that from many of the major media outlets or music magazines?)

You can certainly blame the advent of MTV and its ilk for making "image" more important than the actual music and its effect on those who listen to it, but something about music has always been visual, whether you consider live performances, dance, album covers, fanart, promotional materials, and a host of other things. Increasingly sophisticated marketing tactics have only increased this system. Before records come out, there is a whole lot of work to be done--promo shots to send out to magazines, interviews to grant to these same magazines, websites to put up, payola to distribute to DJs across the nation (kidding, sort of!) street teams to weigh down with stickers and posters and send into the sunset. So, what is the solution to making it about the music as opposed to the image?

Note: Since I have NO theoretical background in economics, I am not going to go into the capitalism thing. Yes, money does make at least part of our world go 'round, but I am not the best person to explain that in relation to the modern music industry in this post.

Important Announcement

My personal website is closing within the next two days. All of the commentary, fanlistings, et cetera will be moved here.

So, yeah, I'll still be around, but updating this blog instead of my website. No guarantees on how often I may update, however, as I am quite busy with school.

Also, I want to take a moment to thank Lilly, of Glamorous-Bitch.com, who tirelessly and kindly hosted my site for more than two years, and was the best hostess I could have possibly asked for. I will miss being one of her hostees.