new theatre review: this beautiful city

Sometimes, things just happen at the right time. I was trying to figure out how to write my review of This Beautiful City currently on stage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre when I came across a letter to the editor at TFPO. It was one of those expressions of religious condescension towards atheists, the ol 'atheists-have-nothing-on-which-to-build-meaning in-life schtick. Since This Beautiful City is all about Evangelical Christianity in the larger context of American society, that letter to the editor gave me just what I needed to get at the heart of the play.
...I lumped faith and ignorance together. Without all the necessary philosophical and theological qualifications that would normally accompany that kind of statement, this particular lumping could come across as insulting. That’s how atheists feel when people like Danny Bental presumes to tell them they can’t really find meaning in their lives without God, beauty, or anything worthwhile... ...The disconnect I illustrated above arises from a simple letter to the editor, yet it hints at a greater disconnect like the one that exists between Evangelical Christianity and not only atheism, but other religions as well. This Beautiful City, based on actual interviews conducted by theatrical production group The Civilians, looks at the Evangelical movement through an exploration of Colorado Springs prior to the 2006 mid-term elections...It is arguably the best production put on by the Kirk Douglas in recent memory.
Read the rest in Take an Impassioned Stroll...in This Beautiful City


new column: indigestion '08 - the importance of vision

Let the peeves continue...

Moving on with other election-season peeves, next on the list is the tendency to genuflect at a candidate’s feet — and Obama isn’t the only one to receive this treatment. Hillary Clinton got it, and Sarah Palin did before her interviews with the press showed even the faithful that is she is woefully unprepared and unqualified to run her own state let alone the country. McCain? Maybe not so much – it took Palin to fire up the base – although he does have his own herd of worshipful lemmings cheered on by Sen. Joe Lieberman. The point is that people – voters, reporters, Big Talking Heads – treat politicians, our fearless “leaders,” like messiahs instead of, well, politicians.

Read the rest of Indigestion 'o8: The Important of Vision.


new film review: hell's gate

The railroad bridge in New York called Hell’s Gate got its name, we’re told, on account of lurking above the shipwrecking intersection of two waterways. It’s an ideal place to dispose of inconvenient corpses – divers never find anything dumped there – and a good title for the familiar morality play of a down-on-his-luck felon forced to make difficult choices in a situation that spirals far outside his control.

Read the rest of Hell's Gate is More Like Heck's Gate at The Front Page Online or ink [and] ashes


Busting Paradigms (Among Other Things): A Conversation with Ellie Lumpesse - 3 of 3

Frédérik: Let’s take a different tack and discuss happier associations with sex, like music. In episode 6 of Bedroom Radio, you have a great interview with Mr. Melvis of Comfort Stand, a non-commercial, non-profit net label dedicated to distributing music to the interested masses free of charge. You specifically talk about the wildly popular and widely downloaded album, Wakka Chikka Wakka Chikka, Porn Music for the Masses Volume 1, a fascinating project that asked musicians to submit their interpretation of what music for a porn movie (or a sexual fantasy) sounds like. It would actually be interesting to see what people would come up with if asked to create a soundtrack for sex without filtering it through perceptions of porn movies. Then again, your Bedroom Radio podcasts might very well fit the bill. What prompted you to bring music and sex together the way you did? What do you put into Bedroom Radio? What do you want listeners to take away from it?

Ellie: I wish that I could say I had some grand motivation or goal but that all came together later. The podcast actually started when I offered to help Sam Sugar find musical segments for his now defunct Podnography podcast and he turned his nose up at what I sent him. So, I decided to make my own podcast. That was episode one. From there things grew, and for me sex and music are a natural fit. See, music is deeply sexy and emotional and sex is all about rhythm and tempo and melodies interacting. Bedroom Radio has been many things at many times - a vanity tool, an outlet for exhibitionism, a place to share deeply held convictions, an excuse to flirt with the people I am interviewing, and something that I still get nagged about on an almost daily basis. (For the record, I am trying to find my muse for new episodes, perhaps I'll interview you?). As for what I want my listeners to take away - I don't have an agenda like that although I know what many of them take away. First, a surprising number are really into the music and love that I introduce them to new bands. Plenty take away an orgasm or two because they decided to join in the fun when I get down to business. I think that at least a few take away a new respect for sexuality and the variety of ways it is manifested in this world.

Frédérik: In going through the comments to your blog posts, I notice the occasional response along the lines of “if you give someone an inch, they’ll take a mile.” Describe a sexual encounter, someone will ask for pictures. Show a picture and someone will ask to see more. Do you ever feel that reader or listener expectations defy your own expectations of the kind of relationship you have with your audience?

Ellie: I think it is a natural response. Sometimes my lack of elaboration or supporting materials is an intentional tease, sometimes it is an oversight, often it is a practical reality - there is no picture or I don't have time to take one, etc. I take these sorts of request in stride and only get annoyed by them when they seem demanding. My relationship with my audience has evolved through the years and has changed most since I started doing phone work with some of them. I would be a liar if I didn't say that those readers that are clients get more access to me and perhaps more of their requests fulfilled. At the end of the day, though, I'm doing this for myself. If my podcast or blog happen to help you get off - awesome, I get off so why not you? But they aren't there for that purpose so I won't alter them to accomplish that sort of bottom line.

Frédérik: In the first post on your blog, back in March 2005, you wrote: “I am a 23 year old female in a committed relationship with a wonderful boyfriend. I have been with him for 2 and a half years and we have had some amazing sex. He has taught me everything I know at this point and I am becoming increasingly adventurous.” Since then, you’ve certainly had a many positive experiences with group sex, spankings, bondage, and so on. But you’ve also bumped into a few potentially thorny situations, like your encounter with the Professor “conspiring to cheat on his wife” through Adult Friend Finder. There has also been the plain creepy, like that guy who kept insisting he isn’t a pedophile. In other words, you’ve met many different people under varying circumstances, good and bad. How have your experiences changed your outlook on sex since that first post, (or since even before that first post)? How would you describe your journey?

Ellie: I would say that most of those examples you have mentioned are rather mild or comical. In general I haven't written about the more difficult consequences of my actions because they have been either painful or embarrassing or both. The exception to that is the breakup I went through with that boyfriend I wrote about in the intro post. We were experimenting with an open relationship and I met Jay during that time, Jay fell in love, C couldn't handle it and it was a huge mess. I chose the chance for exploring the world of truly open relationships over the man that I was madly and completely in love with. I didn't leave C for Jay but because we had reached an impasse. I knew, quite clearly and quite irrefutably that I was capable of love with more than one man because I was doing it. C knew that he couldn't share me that way because it was hurting him too much. Ironically, the end result of a year or so of experimenting with Jay was trying to excise feelings from any extracurricular activities we might engage in because I was just that afraid of what had happened before. C and I are still dear friends, and our relationship now has peaks and valleys because, well, we're still sad and there is still pain even after almost two years. When I look back on my journey that is the biggest challenge I have faced and the only time I really questioned if I was doing the right thing. I have asked myself the standard questions, am I doing this to get attention? Do I respect myself? Yes. Absolutely, but relationships are still hard especially when other people get involved. The discovery of myself as a sexual being over the last 5 years (when I first lost my virginity) has been a pleasure for me. The fact that I have gotten to share some of that with others has really influenced the way that path has taken me. And it has probably gotten me laid more often. ;)

(That's all, folks. Many, many thanks to Ellie for sharing her time and insight.)

Back to Part 2
Return to Introduction

Busting Paradigms (Among Other Things): A Conversation with Ellie Lumpesse - 2 of 3

Frédérik: How we talk about sex, of course, is vital in considering sex within the politics of culture. In one of your posts, you bring up Michel Foucault to question “standards of sexual misconduct and expectations of men and boys to be always already sexualized.” But there’s more to the issue of seeing women as too demure and subject to victimhood to be capable of sexual predation – an assumption criticized by individualist feminists like Wendy McElroy – namely, how sexual identity is constructed (manufactured?) through language. Here’s where we drag in America’s famous paradoxical Puritanism. Just the other day, I noticed the cover of Cosmopolitan proclaiming, in bold letters, articles explaining dazzling new sex techniques and exposés of men’s secret sexual desires. There are plenty of books and magazines and other gab-fests filled with words about sex. To abuse Foucault a bit, we have sex as seen through the discursive lenses of sin (religion), pathology (medicine), and women’s bodies (culture), to which we can add sex as an object of self-help. Is it possible that sex has become too logocentric, too bound up in words? If we consider Senator Larry Craig’s unfortunate situation, or Bill Clinton and the world’s most famous blowjob, or even the fact that sex toys are banned/ restricted in states like Texas and Alabama, doesn’t it seem like where sex talk is tolerated or encouraged, it’s a heresy to actually have sex?

Ellie: I think I understand what you're getting at but as a writer and a talker primarily, I guess I bristle at the idea. I also don't think that talking about sex and having sex are particularly different things. But there are safe ways to talk about it (heterosexual, monogamous) and dangerous ways (everything that isn't that). I see sex and sexuality themselves as texts - along with every other experience in the world. There are subversive forms of this text and trite pap. That is without even mentioning that the jabber about sex clearly cuts both ways and the conservative tidal wave of repression is lowering the quality of discourse for those that are interested in really discussing sex and sexuality.

Frédérik: To delve into that paradox a bit more, we live in a culture where Janet Jackson’s nipple causes an uproar, but except for occasional mutters, it’s okay for sex to be used in another way: advertising. Sex isn’t just sex, but a means to sell. Interestingly, while it’s culturally acceptable for sex to persuade people to buy things like magazines (or cars, or clothes, or etc), a line is drawn when the sexual act itself is a commercial transaction. Provided that there’s no harm done and consent is given, what people do should, in principle, be no one’s business but their own – even if it includes an exchange of money. Logically, that would include – much to many people’s discomfort – phone sex, pornography, even prostitution. Given that you’re recently added phone sex among your many endeavors, getting paid to do something you enjoy, what’s your take on the how sex and business intersect?

Ellie: Sex and money are two things dear to my heart. Why not combine them, eh? I think what we are seeing in the phenomena of sex being used to sell is that it is capitalizing on the transference of desire. If an advertiser can inspire lust in the audience, a lust that will not be fulfilled (and perhaps the audience does not even want it to be fulfilled) then they can use that energy and momentum to sell you anything. Of course I think that audiences are getting smarter than this and in turn, advertisers are becoming more self-reflexive in their use of sex as a marketing tactic. Still, unfulfilled desire - or desire re-deployed down a variety of rabbit holes has been a mainstay of advertising forever. Selling sex is a completely different question because that allows the desire to be fulfilled. Where sex work fits in here is tricky. In my mind sex work is a monolith and I don't draw philosophical, ethical, or social distinctions between phone sex, prostitution, and pornography (although they each comprise of unique job hazards and practical considerations.) Of course among these, prostitution is legal while the other two categories are not. Again, it comes down to the fulfillment (in a physical and bodily sense) of a desire. I find that one of the primary arguments against sex work (once you get past the mumbo jumbo about social ills, etc.) is that it deligitimizes a beautiful expression of love. Sex certainly can be a beautiful expression. It can also be completely mechanical. And it can also fall somewhere in between. Many people feel that if they pay for sex they are admitting that they *have* to pay for sex and that is a deeply humiliating thing (this is why phone domination is such a bigger market than vanilla phone work - subs are more willing to admit it because they get off on the domination). My opinion on selling sexual services is straight-forward. If you are talented and passionate about any other career, no one would dream of saying "If you really cared about this, you would do it for free." Sex work is no different. It is work and passion and it deserves compensation (not to mention better political and economic recognition and protections.)

(to be continued...)

On to Part 3
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a shoe without sole - silly or sublime?

Take a look at this shoe, if it can be called that. (Note: the image was taken from a Huffington Post article and is here displayed under Fair Use principles. If this is nonetheless objectionable to whomever holds the copyright, I will remove it.)

It evokes, at first impression, total disbelief. Ridicule, even. There’s nothing practical about the “shoe.” It leaves toes exposed to stubbing and soles exposed to dirt (and other substances). It’s nonsensical. But in an example of the art of criticism, in which a gut reaction isn’t enough to properly appreciate something – whether positively or negatively – a little bit of consideration can bring about a change of perspective.

For one thing, the shoe is clearly not designed for practical wear and day-to-day use. It’s a question of form as it relates to function, and to condemn the shoe for being impractical is asking the form to function in a way that counters its design. What we’re left with, then, is the shoe as an aesthetic and conceptual experience. The sole-less heel is a concept, a gamble, a toy; this is the basis on which the shoe is best judged. And on this level, the shoe’s designers Aminaka and Wilmont should be credited for their imagination.

Take a look again. Notice how the heel block conforms to the heel of the foot. Notice how the straps not only anchor the heel in place, but give the shoes a gladiatorial look softened by the choice of material. The shoe’s engineering is masterful as it serves a concept of risk: exposing the foot, elevating it off the ground. It’s ultimately clever in its audacity – could it even be sexy? It does possess an idealized fetishism that brings, inevitably, sex into the design. When seen in the context of Aminaka and Wilmont’s 2009 spring/summer collection (see here and here), the sole-less heel is, not a folly, but an artistic expression of fashion perfectly suited, not for the real world, but for the universe of the catwalk and, perhaps, the private home where sharp objects and dirty substances aren’t a threat.
What seemed silly at first has become, amazingly, sublime.

So when Ebert addresses the role of (film) critics in light of people’s hostility to criticism…

I believe a good critic is a teacher. He doesn't have the answers, but he can be an example of the process of finding your own answers. He can notice things, explain them, place them in any number of contexts, ponder why some "work" and others never could. He can urge you toward older movies to expand your context for newer ones. He can examine how movies touch upon individual lives, and can be healing, or damaging. He can defend them, and regard them as important in the face of those who are "just looking for a good time." He can argue that you will have a better time at a better movie. We are all allotted an unknown but finite number of hours of consciousness. Maybe a critic can help you spend them more meaningfully.
…I offer my own pennies in adding that the art of criticism – regardless of what the object of that criticism is, whether film, shoes, or whatever – is the art of appreciation, of looking more deeply into things. In other words, it is a reflection of the view that the examined life - both the good and the bad - is a life worth living.

Busting Paradigms (Among Other Things): A Conversation with Ellie Lumpesse - 1 of 3

Frédérik: Some time ago I submitted a story to a notable online erotica magazine and it was accepted. As the story went through the editing/publishing process, I considered how several contributors, past and present, chose to have their stories published under a pseudonym. Ultimately, I decided to use my own name, but I find it interesting when people decide that anonymity is better than being out in the open. Of course, stories in a magazine are relatively uncontroversial today; reading erotica seems to have regained a certain hipness. But you go beyond fiction. From blogging about the sex you’ve had, which includes threesomes and group sex, to bedroom radio, in which you podcast a blend of groovy off-the-beaten-track music and recordings of yourself masturbating or having sex with your boyfriend, you share considerably more of your sexuality than most people. Given general attitudes towards sexual expression, it doesn’t come as a surprise that you neither publish personally identifiable information about yourself nor show your face in pictures. But what does it say about our culture that we require a mask of anonymity for something as fundamental as sex? Do you ever feel restricted by having to remain anonymous to some degree? At what point, if ever, does the personal, meaning the sexual, cross over into something political?

Ellie: I desperately want to show my face and be forthright about who I am (given the confines of safety considerations, of course) but unfortunately, I'm not at a place in my life where I think that is a good decision. Nonetheless, I have grappled with these issues because I am very proud of my writing, podcasting, and sex work - as proud as I am of any of my academic accomplishments. It has been important to me to always express to my audience that shame does not cause me to obscure my identity but rather practical considerations of job security. I hope to one day create the type of career for myself that will allow me to be open with my readers and open with the other people in my life about my online activities. I have broken this boundary on several occasions by meeting people I've met through my blog and telling friends and loved ones about my writing.

As for what this says about our culture, I find it hard to draw a conclusion that broad. Certainly I could echo the pro-sex shrieking that we are still neo-Puritans and we are afraid of sex and especially afraid of women that are open and forthright about sex. However, I think the issue is more complex than that. Personally, I have a career in education and considerations of acceptable conduct for a teacher are important to me. I don't think it needs to be a secret that I have a sex life and I am open about this with my students. In fact, I've taught Melissa Gira's statements about fake women when discussing sex work with my freshman comp students. But, it would make me pretty uncomfortable to teach a classroom full of students that had read my blog or listened to my podcast. While the mask of anonymity is repressive, I don't regard it as forced upon me but rather a personal decision that is correct for me at this time. There are certainly a number of women in adult entertainment and well-known cultural critics and writers that do not keep this mask and do quite well. I guess the long and short of it is that if I ever feel I can be as successful as some of my role modes (Rachel Kramer Bussel, Tristan Taormino, Violet Blue, Melissa Gira) I will be lucky enough to be as open as them as well. The sexual is always already political - it is an expression and a text produced by each of us that can be interpreted and translated as we each see fit. I feel honored to be a small voice contributing to openess with sexuality and changing opinions one at a time. In my work as a phone sex operator especially, I feel that I am performing a political and educational function. That sounds disgustingly preachy but by that I mean that I have encountered so many men that are shocked by me and have to re-evaluate their own ideas about what is sexy and what is intelligent to accommodate me. To put it in the most crass terms, I bust a paradigm while they bust a nut.

(to be continued...)

On to Part 2
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Busting Paradigms (Among Other Things): A Conversation with Ellie Lumpesse - Introduction

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batman returns revisited

I have no intention of adding to the autopsies – or vivisections, depending on your point of view – being performed on The Dark Knight in forums like Jim Emerson’s blog. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the discussions, even when they remind me of a snake biting its own tail and trying to swallow itself (minus the deep metaphysical significance), but that there comes a point where analysis turns into mere wanking. Does The Dark Knight embody the zeitgeist? Is it making a political statement? Is there too much telling and not enough showing? How about this: The Dark Knight is a movie, not a doctoral dissertation. It just happens to be rather more sophisticated and multi-faceted than your average film – a quality borne out by the fact that even critics who are less than gobsmacked by the film, like Emerson, can find meaningful, insightful things to say about it.

Yet all this talk – whether overwhelming praise or defensive dissent – leads me to reinforce my appreciation for Tim Burton’s Batman films. Anton Furst’s gorgeous set design – Gotham as a character in itself – and a phantasmogorial/psychological take on the Batman legend stands out even more in comparison to Nolan’s ultra-gritty take. A few key points:

  • However exciting and grand Ledger’s performance is, Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker not only stands on its own but is just as true to the source material; the Joker as a prankster, remorseless killer and mass murderer, and beholden to a superficial insanity that coexists with criminal genius. And think of the great lines Nicholson gets to say, like “Never rub another man’s rhubarb.” It’s delish in a movie that has quite a few tasty lines of dialogue.
  • Bruce Wayne. I like Christian Bale’s take; simmering, secretive, with a studied insincerity that masks his inner turmoil. But Michael Keaton’s turn doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves. Keaton plays Wayne, not so much as the charmingly insincere playboy with a secret, but as a haunted man, a man adrift in the melancholy haze of memory. This Wayne is absent-minded, distant, struggling for a human connection – only truly coming alive as Batman, but keenly aware of this as Bruce Wayne. In other words, Keaton polarizes the Wayne/Batman duality while Bale is very much the Batman who puts on a Wayne mask to go about the real world, his love of Rachel Dawes notwithstanding.

But while Batman felt a little rough in some ways – the story was straightforward comic-book stuff, the sets felt a bit to constructed, some of the performances were a bit chewy – Tim Burton really soared with the technically superior Batman Returns. This was not only a Batman film, but a Tim Burton film, and the intersection between two visionary worlds clicked surprisingly well. While I initially thought, like many, that the film suffered from too many villains and not enough screentime for Batman, I’ve come to change my opinion. To some extent, many Batman stories focus on the trauma resulting from the death of Wayne’s parents – naturally enough. The typical next step, like The Dark Knight took following Batman Begins, is to focus on the challenges of being Batman. Without the need to reinvent the wheel, Batman Returns turned inward to the psychology of having a duel identity, taking the theme from Batman and expanding in richly metaphorical, introspective fantasia. Batman Returns, with all its villains, offers a kaleidoscopic view of the Wayne/Batman duality. Catwoman is the anti-heroic Wayne/Batman, suppressed by misogyny and influenced by a strained mother-daughter relationship, the rebel chafing against social rules. The Penguin is the evil Batman, a freakish outcast, the outward manifestation of how Wayne/Batman feels in a city that doesn’t know whether to cheer or jeer him.

And just as Tim Burton creates an insular world of lavish gothic cityscapes, an iconic Gotham, we are treated to iconic performances within this world. Danny DeVito is terrifically weird and menacing, every bit the grotesque of Jack Nicholson’s joker but with weightier pathology. Michelle Pfeiffer imbues Selina Kyle/Catwoman with every bit of nuance that Keaton does with Wayne/Batman, with the result being a powerful, erotically-charged, and highly sympathetic and edgy Catwoman.

Batman Returns is notable for giving us a visually tantalizing cinematic experience in which hero and villains stand in analogy to one another, playing off of each other, and adding a layer of psychological complexity that can easily be dismissed when the focus is solely on the plot. The Dark Knight stands proudly, yes, but Nolan’s achievement also reveals gaps filled in masterfully by Burton’s contrasting approach. In other words, Batman Returns, however underrated, is a masterpiece in its own way.



new column: Indigestion ’08: What Presidents Are Made of

There's a lot to be peeved about in this year's election. This is part 1 of 2 (only 2?), freshly posted at the Front Page Online

The genesis of my nickname for this year’s election began with the media’s “Decision ’08,” parodied on the Daily Show as “Indecision ‘08,” and filtered through the sick feeling I have in my stomach to become “Indigestion ’08.” Yes, it’s a super-critical election, with a lot at stake. But when even Karl Rove thinks (http://www.crooksandliars.com/) that “McCain has gone in some of his ads similarly gone one step too far in sort of attributing to Obama things that are, you know…beyond, beyond, beyond the, the 100% truth test,” it’s no surprise that nausea at this absurdly brutal election campaign has been the norm. Read more...


new film review: burn after reading


new theatre review: the house of blue leaves

After a year of renovation, the distinctively circular Mark Taper Forum re-opened to the public with an excellent performance of John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves. Read all about it at the Front Page Online:

A Bravura Performance in a Renewed Taper Forum


the trials and tribulations of bifurcated garments

In the headlines today, a judge on the Florida Supreme Court ruled that banning underwear-exposing – and imposing fines and/or community service on offenders – is unconstitutional. I’d toast the outcome, except I can’t quite get over the fact that any city would even think of banning pants – pants! – let alone actually do it. Pants! I’m with a lot of people in thinking that exposed underwear and ill-fitting clothes isn’t stylish, but still, as with anything, if no one gets hurts, it’s not an issue for ethics and laws. So if people want to wear pants badly, looking as if they’re going to trip any second (or go potty – I can never figure out which), let them. Pants! For [expletive deleted]’s sake.

But while we’re on the topic of pants, this little tidbit caught my attention a while ago: US Letter-Carrier Going Full Kilt Ahead. As the Associated Press puts it, “A 6-foot-tall (1.83-meter-tall), 250-pound (113-kilogram) letter carrier is campaigning for the right to take off his pants.”

But before you start picturing your letter carrier delivering your mail in a glorious full monty, happily flip-flopping away as he places your precious missives in the box, here’s the next sentence: “Dean Peterson wants the U.S. Postal Service to add kilts as a uniform option for men.”

Kilts! Crazy? Loony? Consider this: ziiiiiiiiiip – yipes!!! Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow!!!!

Or, as Mr. Petersen put it in a letter to various Postal Unions around the country, “Unbifurcated Garments are far more comfortable and suitable to male anatomy than trousers or shorts because they don't confine the legs or cramp the male genitals the way that trousers or shorts do."

He has a point there, even if he does indulge the penchant for men who struggle against the tyranny of pants to call kilts unbifurcated garments. I suppose that’s a more manly word than kilt or – eek! – skirt. (Nothing says manly man like unbifurcated garment. As in, I’m too manly for bifurcation. What is bifurcation, anyway? Some sort of two-way kinkyness? Kidding. I know that bifurcation is the process of fabricating double-headed forks.)

Seriously, though. Petersen has a point. Granted, utilikilts has gone from pricey to you want HOW much for one of those?, but the idea of not keeping the equipment confined, at risk of zippers or, much more common (I’ve never zippered myself) just feeling the squeeze that comes with putting a body part at the constricting intersection of multiple pieces of fabric, is appealing. The rest is just cultural acclimation.

So good luck, Petersen. I can’t speak for all guys, but this guy is with ya.


new column: cry me a river, rich man

Trying to find someone who knows something about the economy in today's political climate is a lot like living in the land of the blind and trying to find a one-eyed man. With headline after headline of increasingly disastrous economic news - global in scope with Wall Street at the epicentre -it's become obvious that the dominant economic model that more or less began with Ronald Reagan, and continued on even through the Clinton administration, is severely flawed. Deregulation, creative financial maneouvres - it just goes on.

But the problem isn't simply with specific elements of the economy, but how the economy functions as a whole, starting with bedrock principles. Critically, there seems to be two parallel economies: one based on labour, and one based on money itself. The former, of course, is the easy-to-understand economy, based on concrete economic transactions that everyone participates in. But the money economy is arcane and cryptic, filled with such strange beasts as hedge funds and securitized mortgages. This is an economy based on numbers and abstract calculations - and when it fails, it takes everything else down with it.

Into this comes the myth of Republican fiscal conservatism, that is, fiscal responsibility. Why the Republican party still has any credibility on economic matters is a mystery to me. The budget for the Iraq war was kept separate from the national budget, a strange way to do accounting. Tax cuts for the rich have never trickled down, acting instead to shrink the middle class and polarize the rich-poor divide. Deregulation of financial markets made possible Enron and the like. It just goes on. For a more primal example of how Republicans are out-of-touch with economic reality, one doesn't necessarily need to get into the highly technical aspects of modern economics. We can return to a discussion of first principles, such as: what is wealth? Without necessarily saying that Democrats are shiny beacons of hope, in comparison to the aristocratic, let-the-eat-cake mindset of Republicans, it's at least clear that in the game of Lesser Evil, Republicans are not the ones to get us out of this mess. And so, in answer to the charge that non-Republicans are jealous of the rich folk's success - jealous enough to steal their money - I say:

Cry Me A River, Rich Man


what's the feminist equivalent of an uncle tom?

If there's a word to capture my outrage, I'm at a loss for it...and if I factor in the fact that a lot of people out there, women included, have been willingly hoodwinked by the Sarah Palin spin, my head will, quite simply, explode. Charging rape victims for the cost of their post-rape exams and tests? Three words: Un. Fucking. Believable.

Read about it here.


capsule review: a history of violence

In the film’s press conference at Cannes, David Cronenberg expressed his intention to make viewers of A History of Violence complicit in the film’s violence, to make them question the entertainment value of morally repugnant acts. Yet it’s a gambit that fails precisely because Cronenberg never succeeds in letting viewers know they’re being played. The film, a self-described commercial feature based on a graphic novel, is a fairly standard tale of a man trying to escape a history of violence only for that history to catch up with him. A more existential take would have examined the bad faith Tom Stall, played by Viggo Mortensen with his typical intensity, exhibits by attempting to erase his past, but Cronenberg ultimately indulges the very violence he hopes to condemn. It’s telling that, while the innocent are merely threatened with horrible death, it’s only the bad guys who actually die brutally. It’s the old exploitation flick stand-by; give a moral imprimatur on immorality by presenting “deserving” victims, people easily cheered to their death. Violence solves, or at least provides closure, to the characters’ problems, emptying Tom Stall’s desire to reform of meaning. At the very least, the lesson is that it’s very easy to be a pacifist after the war’s been fought.

Cronenberg certainly displays some of the directorial brilliance that makes Eastern Promises such a gem – a willingness to take his time, to let the camera linger long enough for audiences to pick out important details for themselves – although he often goes further than is necessary. The sex scenes, rather obvious in their aim to contrast Tom the peaceful man with his original (true?) identity as a frighteningly efficient killer, are potent and raw without being overdone. (But as with the film’s superficial analysis of violence, the addition of sex in the mix – the relationship between sexual arousal and killing is left unexamined. Sex and violence go together like “bacon and eggs,” Cronenberg said at that press conference. I say: Really? Why?) For all the film’s technical accomplishment, especially in the shots establishing the cast’s chemistry, interpretive complexity ultimately comes from outside the film. Sure, you can go Rober Ebert’s way and read all manner of things in the film, but it’s all meta-level stuff that stems from viewers who care to ask questions. The film just sets the pins up, without even bothering with throwing a bowling ball down the lane to knock them down. Unforgiven handled identical themes with greater depth and acumen.


quick update

I was on vacation for the past week and a bit. I'll be getting back up to speed within the next few days. Judging from friends' reactions to the RNC convention - outright shock and unmitigated fury - I can safely say I'm glad I had a news blackout. As news of McCain's VP choice slowly seeps into my info-sphere, the old gloom is setting back in too. I mean, c'mon, a right-wing extremist? Most laughable: Republicans went after Obama for being an inexperienced unknown, even though the "inexperienced" part stems from a willful distortion of Obama's record. (See here.) And what do they do? They trot out an unimpressively experienced unknown, a predictably regressive candidate who appeals to the very people who gave the US, and the world, George W. Bush. Ugh.

I miss that news blackout.