HBO’s “Phil Spector” Movie: Fail

By now (I admittedly assume), many of you have at the very least heard that HBO has made a movie called Phil Spector.  If you’ve been reading my blog at all you’ll also know that I was at some point legitimately interested in this movie, until they bewigged Al Pacino (who plays Phil Spector) so profoundly that he ended up bearing a striking resemblance to Bea Arthur.

And then came Phi-i-il!

It was on.  I watched it.  And it?  Was. Terrible. Though it was terrible in a weird way.

I mean, the acting is actually quite good.  Jeffrey Tambor, as always, turns in a solid supporting performance.  Helen Mirren is hard to not admire and Pacino has “googley-eyed, crazed, self-absorbed and possibly violent narcissist” down cold, though I’ve never quite forgiven him for casting Winona Ryder as Lady Anne in Looking for Richard.  But I digress.  So no, it’s not the acting. It’s everything else.

David Mamet produced, wrote, and directed this movie.  I kind of have a love/hate relationship with David Mamet.  On the one hand, he and I are worlds apart in our personal philosophy and politics, and I’m fairly sure that if I were to spend any time with him I’d end up wanting to staple things to his face.  On the other hand, his films include The Untouchables and Glengarry Glen Ross, both of which I will be grateful for forever.  I’m not completely dead-set against his filmmaking, as a rule, though to be fair the movies he’s done that I like are 20+ years old.

But.

Phil Spector has its own agenda.  According to the production team (including, of course, Mamet), it is an allegory, which means it’s “…a device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas and concepts.”  Allegory is a powerful tool that has generated significant social commentary.  Pink Floyd’s The Wall is an allegory.  So is The Matrix, and Animal Farm, and The Planet of the Apes, and The Lord of the Flies.  To name but a few.  There is, however, a common thread that runs through all these stories: they’re made up.  We haven’t REALLY landed on an ape planet, there isn’t REALLY a musician named Pink telling us that we don’t need no education, and we aren’t REALLY batteries inside a giant computer program (that we know of).

Allegories can, of course, have a factual basis or inspiration; Animal Farm, for example, was an allegory about the rise of Stalinism. But it’s not set in the Kremlin, featuring people instead of animals, with a mustachioed tyrant named Joseph in charge. p.s. That’s why, as an allegory, it works.

In an attempt to prove the movie Phil Spector is an existential allegory, HBO has included a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie that reads (verbatim):

This is a work of fiction. It’s not “based on a true story.” It is a drama inspired by actual persons in a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome.

They could have put the same kind of disclaimer at the beginning of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with equal validity. Look!

This is a work of fiction. It’s not “based on a true story”. It is a drama inspired by an actual person who occupied the American presidency, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the events of that person’s early life or his path to the presidency.

And that’s what pisses me off.  David Mamet, I’ll say it here.  You, sir, are a dirty, dirty liar.

It’s not based on a true story except that its storytelling employs:

  • Actual people (Phil Spector, lawyer Linda Kenney Baden, dead person Lana Clarkson)
  • An actual event (the murder of Lana Clarkson and subsequent trial of Phil Spector)
  • Actual witness testimony (i.e., the experts called in to testify, showing taped testimony from ex-wife Ronnie Spector as she recounted his history of violence with her)
  • Actual evidence that supported Spector’s claim (the lack of blood spatter on his coat)
  • Actual evidence the defense disputed (i.e., the chauffeur’s testimony, disputed because “he doesn’t understand English”)

And so on.  It’s not “based on a true story” except when it is.

So there we are, watching a movie about a guy that we know exists concerning an event that we know happened.  And the sets and costuming look right and the evidence is confusing and trying to get past Phil Spector’s (sorry, I mean Al Pacino’s, since this isn’t a movie about Phil Spector, amirite?) massive array of wigs is exhausting…  David Mamet is a smart guy.  If, and I mean only if, Mamet & Co. had written the same movie, with the same characters and the same script, and called it Schnil Schnector, then I wouldn’t care about it even a little.  I mean, there’s a perfectly fine, allegorical film about the perils of rock-stardom called The Rose that everyone knows is actually mostly about Janis Joplin but isn’t because the writers didn’t use that name.  But calling the movie something else wouldn’t allow him (or HBO) to capitalize on the public interest in a lurid trial.  Thus, he calls it Phil Spector and incorporates real evidence and creates the illusion of reality, while his bullshit disclaimer asks us all to ignore the man behind the curtain. It’s disingenuous (to put it kindly) for him to suggest that people wouldn’t see his movie as a biopic/docudrama.

The woman–the dead person–whose brains ended up on Phil Spector’s floor (for real) is barely a factor in this movie, and only then as a suicidally depressed failed actress with a streak of kink (they suggest she wanted the gun for foreplay).  They don’t mention that her blood was found on the staircase (don’t think she was doing much walking after the bullet severed her spine) or that it looked like Spector made a drunken attempt to clean up evidence (there was a diaper used to mop up her blood in the garbage can of a nearby bathroom) or that the gun that killed her was found in her left hand, even though she was a righty.  They don’t mention that she had her purse on her shoulder, which sounds less like “I’m going to kill myself” and more like, “I’m outta here!” Surely if I can access this sort of information from a cursory cruise through the internet, David Mamet’s research team could, as well.

One reviewer said this “allegory” was written to tell the story of the idealized, rational American (personified in the movie by lawyer Linda Kenney Baden) who takes the time to review evidence before making a decision.  I wonder if that reviewer will ever appreciate the irony that–even allegorically–there is no rational decision making when you’ve only got half the evidence, which is at most all this movie presents.  Their claim, using the Spector case as a basis, is that successful men are all targets for haters who want The Patriarchy taken down.  If what the Idiot Left wants to do is take down successful men, then why (God in Heaven, why?) is Donald Trump still freely roaming the world, generating money at will?

It’s not that I object to someone having a different opinion than I do.  I acknowledge that my opinion about Phil Spector’s guilt or innocence is based on what I kind-of know about this case + his alleged reputation for abuse.  I don’t know what I would have thought if I sat on his jury.  But twelve people who were presented with the entirety of the evidence found him guilty. Twisting Phil Spector’s already twisted, tragic story so that it is beholden to Mamet’s personal agenda is evidence only of Mamet’s self-aggrandizing stance as a beleaguered “Successful Man” still nursing a grudge from the flack he caught over Oleanna. Phil Spector, the real person, whose contributions to the world of rock & roll were groundbreaking, deserves more than to be a pawn for David Mamet’s personal crusades. Lana Clarkson, the dead woman at the center of this all, also did not die so she could be Mamet’s whipping post. What David Mamet does in Phil Spector is a disservice to the public discourse, to all the people whose lives have been directly impacted by this case, and the concept of “allegory”.  What I object to, in this movie, is Mamet’s shitty storytelling.

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DePotorLand: Where’s The Water?

Presenting….badabadabadabada (ersatz drum roll, what do you want from me?)….

My boyfriend’s band, DePotorLand, has just made a video of a song called “Where’s the Water?”  They wrote this song for the Frack Awareness Coalition concert held at the Central Oak Heights Tabernacle in West Milton, PA.  Song by them, all photos in the video by me.  :)

Please turn your volume to eleven and enjoy the show.

Dear Secessionists:

BARACK OBAMA HAS BEEN RE-ELECTED!  FIRE WILL RAIN FROM THE SKY!  TWO-HEADED CHICKENS WILL RUN IN THE STREETS!  ROVING PACKS OF FRENCH COMMUNISTS WILL ROAM OUR MALLS, CLOVE CIGARETTES CLENCHED IN THEIR TEETH!  AND THEY WILL SMOKE INDOORS, DESPITE THE NO-SMOKING SIGNS.

Heaven forfend.

Some of you, it seems, have worked yourself into a fine lather about the re-election of President Obama.  Now, I know what it feels like to have the guy you wanted booted out of office, not get booted out of office.  I know what it feels like to think, what the hell is the matter with the electorate?  Why don’t people see this guy has failed policies?  How could they pull that lever for a second term?

Yeah, I’m talking about Bush.  And while I did vote for Obama in this most recent election, frankly, I would have voted for Jill Stein if I thought a third party stood a ghost of a chance.  For those of you who want to froth about how I should have voted that way to show support for third parties so they can gain a foothold in the electoral machine, I have one word for you: Nader.  The entire system needs an overhaul, starting with a reversal of the Citizens United ruling.  But that’s a different blog for a different day.

Lately, there’s been some sort of crazy talk in the paper and the television machine and on the interwebs about secession, and about citizens petitioning the White House for the right for their states to secede.  Look, I’m all for the rights of protest, and I understand dissatisfaction with how your government manages money and time and people.  But secession, folks?  Shame on you.

What sort of spoiled, whiny, entitled, profoundly paranoid, closed mind generates such a response?  Instead of saying, “Hey, look at that.  Maybe I should measure the nation’s emotional climate and see what I don’t get,” these people say, “I’m taking my bat and my ball and I’m going home.”  Ooh, careful!  You might learn something.  That’s right.  I’m calling you paranoid.  I’m calling you entitled.  I’m calling you totally fucking whiny.  I’m also saying you need to get a better grip on things like “communism” and “fascism” and “entitlement“.  And to the people who do the whole “Obama is Hitler” thing: fuck you.  Get back to me once you’ve read a history book.

So first I’d like to know: is this what you think is in the future for Obama, Part 2?

Not gonna happen.

Seriously, people.  Worrying about whether or not people can get food on the table or can get affordable health care aren’t questions of the government trying to steal your money but rather, questions of basic human decency and legitimate public health concern.  I’d much rather feed people and maintain a decent standard of health then grapple with food riots or a cholera epidemic.  Think about how cranky you got the last time someone messed up your order at your local burger joint, and you had to wait while everyone else ate their dinners around you.  Now imagine you never get that food.  Grow the fuck up.  Shame on you.

Supporting a diversity of religion doesn’t directly correlate with hating Christianity, and freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.  Your bibles are safe, Christian population, and you’re welcome to use whatever words you want to use when wishing glad tidings this holiday season.  Do you get your knickers in a twist when the greeter at the big box discount shopeteria says “Happy holidays” to you instead of “Merry Christmas”?  Really?  Grow the fuck up.  Shame on you.

Not every immigrant is dirty, uneducated, and dying to have anchor babies in your back yard, despite what the odious, hateful, skeletal, shrieking head of Ann Coulter may say.  And not every brown person is an immigrant, despite Arizona’s stop-and-identify laws.  And before you start pointing out to me that it isn’t targeting specific races, let me ask you: how many people of Irish or Belgian descent do you think they ID’d?  Now, how many Mexicans and Native Americans do you think have been asked?  If you can’t accept that the US is getting browner around you all the time, then please, do us both a favor and grow the fuck up.  Shame on you.

And for the people who think this secession thing has legitimate legs, take a look at this:

This is a screen shot from the White House petition page.  In order to sign a petition you need to have an account so you can digitally sign, and all it requires is a name and email.  That’s it.  You don’t even need to provide a street address.  Do you honestly believe that all of those signatures are real?  I’ll wait while you think it over.

***

I’d be willing to bet money that the Koch brothers have installed an office full of wonks whose sole purpose is to generate fake signatures for these petitions.  Not because anything will come of it in the end, but because it will create a (falsely, I would argue) legitimized legal diversion that by law must be addressed.  Which is just like how them fancy high-falutin’ corporate lawyers file motion after motion that requires multiple court appearances, making it virtually impossible for an individual to win against a corporation.  It takes time away from the real business of running the country.

Bonus! If the Koch brothers were to win, in this scenario, then they could form their own country and call it Kochistan.  Kochistan.  Say it three times fast and get back to me.

Listen, the minute a federal officer shows up at your front door with an acetylene torch, demanding your bible, I will apologize, take back everything I say, and sign as many secession petitions as I can fake-generate before my kitten gets a punch.  But until then, people, please.  Relax.  Read a book, or go for a walk, or something.  Take some Zumba classes.  Work to understand the system, understand the demographic makeup of the country and what the most effective ways are to generate real, legitimate change, if that’s what you want.  And for God’s sake, please, get over yourselves.

Dear Donald Trump

Dear Donald Trump,

*cue slow, steady applause*

I’m about to write words I never imagined generating in my life, but thank you, Donald Trump.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

It’s not that I agree with anything you’ve ever done.  It’s not that I admire your business savvy or watch your television show.  But in the entirety of my life I couldn’t imagine anyone ever laying out in so naked and callous a manner the degree to which you—and by extension your party, with whom you are currently inextricably linked—think that charity and its recipients are pawns in your personal game.  I do enjoy how your political/media whoredom has turned you into the Republican version of Stuart from MadTV…

…though somehow, I suspect that might not be the effect you’re shooting for.

For those of us who don’t “get” exactly how Trump exudes callous putrescence, I give you his laughable bombshell of an announcement and latest smear campaign against the president.  I’ve copied his official press release and translated it into the New York metro area Palooka-ese in which he normally speaks.  My interpretation will be in bold letters.

Official -  STATEMENT FROM DONALD J. TRUMP

New York, October 24, 2012 – President Obama is the least transparent President in the history of this country. Sadly, we know very little about a large portion of our President’s life and, in fact, he has spent millions of dollars in legal fees to make sure that it stays that way. I am very honored to have gotten President Obama to release his long form birth certificate, or whatever it was that he released.

This fuckin’ guy…yeah, the state says, the state says.  Whatever he’s selling, I’m not buying.  My friend Louie from Coney Island could put together a form from Hawaii, too. 

This was something that neither John McCain nor Hilary Clinton were able to get him to do during their very long and bitter political campaigns despite the fact that they were strong in demanding it’s release (nobody knows why he would not do it). Many Americans have serious questions — questions that should not be part of the presidential dialogue.

Anyone else who went after him didn’t have the stones to press him hard enough.  McCain’s an old man and Hillary’s a woman, I think.  And sure, the American public is easy to dupe—they watch my show, after all–so you know what?  Fuck it, let’s make this stupid, pointless, paranoid, imaginary question a part of the dialogue anyways, even though I know it’s crap.

Over the course of the last year, millions of people have contacted me via my social media pages (Twitter.com/realDonaldTrump, Facebook.com/DonaldTrump) seeking my assistance to have this extremely important issue settled once and for all. While they may have the thought and concern, they feel that they lack the ability to get this done. Essentially, a large portion of American people are asking me to serve as their spokesperson.

I’ve found a real niche as a political gasbag and can’t stand the thought of you people not paying attention to me, so listen, I’m going to ride the coattails of whatever fucknut conspiracy theorist trolls my page and creates the biggest controversy.  Because I have money, and to a lot of youse out there, that is what legitimizes me.  So pay attention!

It is for this reason that I have a deal for the President — a deal that I do not believe he can refuse.

Yeah, I took a line from The Godfather.  So fuckin’ what?

If Barack Obama agrees (or has the universities and colleges agree) to give all of his college records and applications and if he provides all of his passport records and applications, I will give to a charity of his choice (inner city children in Chicago, American Cancer Society, AIDS research, etc.) a check for five million dollars. The check will be given immediately after he releases the records so stated, or causes said records to be released. If he chooses to do this, he will be doing a great service not only to the charity, but also a great service to the country and indeed, himself.

I would provide a great service to this country if I could extort his bleeding heart liberal pansy ass.  He gives me what I want, or fuck those cancer kids.  I’ll scream my face off if you want me to pay an extra dime for kids to have a hot breakfast at school with the HeadStart program, or let anyone get the same kind of health care I can get as a guarantee, but you’d better fuckin’ believe I will piss away five million bucks because it makes me feel powerful and gives me wood. 

If he releases these records it will end the question, and indeed the anger, of many Americans. Their President will become transparent like other Presidents. So all he has to do to collect five million dollars for a charity of his choice, is get his universities and colleges to immediately give his complete applications and records and also to release his passport information.

So all he has to do is put his Kenyan Communist passport and his faked college transcripts into an unmarked bag and then kiss his fuckin’ dignity goodbye.

When he does that to my satisfaction, and if it’s complete, the check will be delivered immediately. A lot of people will be very, very happy to see this happen.

To. My. Satisfaction.  For the record, that’s why I never released my tax returns after he put out his long-form birth certificate, even though I said I would.  Because I am NOT satisfied.  Ask Louie.

Frankly, it’s a check that I very much want to write. I absolutely would be the most happy of all if I did, in fact, make this contribution through the President to a charity of his choice. One caveat— the records must be given by October 31st at 5pm in the afternoon.

I’d dance like a fuckin’ girl if he gave me that shit, because that would mean I.  WIN.  The biggest pissing contest in the world.  Who’s the leader of the free world now, bitch?

So, Mr. President, not only will I be happy, and totally satisfied, but the American people will be happy and the selected charity will be very, very happy. Thank you, Mr. President!

And if he doesn’t I’ll go to a clinic and rip the medicine right out of those kidses mouths myself.  Because the president won’t let them get chemo.  Hey, look, his fault, not mine.

Cynical Soapbox: That “Rape” Thing

I’m a little hazy on this whole “legitimate/not legitimate rape” discussion.

I know this current dialogue has been going on for weeks and folks are probably a little tired of it by now.  But I’ve been turning this over and over in my head and I can’t stop thinking about it.  This is serious, folks, and ought not be forgotten about in the onslaught of the 24-hour news and social media cycle.

You see, just because Rep. Todd Akin, who famously said that women’s bodies have the means to shut down their baby-making potential when in the throes of a “legitimate” rape, is no longer in the forefront of the news doesn’t mean he has ceased to exist.  And public backlash may have caused Akin to claim he made a “misstatement“, but that doesn’t mean he thinks he misspoke at all.  It only means he’s sorry he said what he actually believes, out loud.

Let me take a moment to clarify. “Oh, I’m sorry, did I say you were 8?  What was I thinking?  I know you’re 9,” is a misstatement.  “I meant to say she went to Woodbridge High School, not Wood Ridge High School,” is a missatement.  “He had an appendectomy, not apoplexy, my mistake!” is a misstatement.  But “That sex you were forced to have was not legitimately rape,” is not a knee-slapping, aw-shucks misstatement.  It is a vile denigration of personhood and a reduction of the victim to a passive fuckhole who has no right to decide what is OK to do with her own body.  In the interests of full consideration, Akin and co. aren’t actively discussing male rape, since there’s no threat of pregnancy that can come about from that.  My guess is that he can’t even wrap his caveman brain around that question and can barely accept it as a real problem.  But as he hasn’t uttered a peep about male rape and the conversation has circled around rape and abortion, I’m going to focus on violence against women.

So much of the history of this sort of revolting attitude, I think, lies in the firmly entrenched notion in American society that women–and it pains me to say it this way–are indeed beholden to the decisions of men.  For those of you who don’t recognize the prevalence of male privilege, ask yourself: when was the last time the fear of sexual violation dictated where you walked?  Where you went at night?  What clothes you wore?  We don’t expect our rights to be bestowed upon us intact and by virtue of our existence; we ask for them, fight for them, and watch as they get bandied about like pawns in a chess game.  Yes, I know it’s worse in other places, but so?  That doesn’t make negating my rights OK.  And we’re inured to the idea that this is the way it is.  One of the saddest bits of commentary–and one of the ones that really got me thinking–was on a friend’s Facebook wall, in response to an article posted about Akin’s “legitmate rape” comment.  The commenter said, “I’m not even sure if I know what they mean when they say “rape“.  Apparently, everything that happened to me in junior high was rape.”

Apparently…yes it was, if that’s what you conclude thanks to the meaning imbued in the word.  Welcome to the heart of the problem.

So this woman, a fully adult woman, has been sexually taken advantage of since she was…what, 12, 13 years old?  And considers it normal.  “She was wearing revealing clothing, she was asking for it” is all too shamefully often a normalized and acceptable defense.  And Akin’s views are informed by an argument based off of old Nazi experimentation and he gets elected to office.  I am mortified.  Now the question of rape has been tied to the incidence of conception, which winkingly implies that if there IS a pregnancy that comes about as a result of rape, then it wasn’t really rape; she secretly wanted it.

Former Saturday Night Live comedienne turned professional twit Victoria Jackson recently attended the Republican National Convention and defended Akin and his stance, saying, “How many times do people get pregnant from rape? It’s point zero zero one percent…If I got raped, I would have the baby. And if I didn’t want to keep it because I had these [mocking tone] horrible nightmares, I would adopt it out. But I think that God can turn a bad thing into a good thing. And that, if I got raped and a beautiful baby who was innocent was born out of it, that would be a blessing.”

So. It’s a blessing. I suppose that’s one way of looking at it, once you got beyond the trauma and agony and fear of STDs and humiliation of filling out a police report.  Paul Ryan, Vice Presidential candidate, when asked about a woman’s right to an abortion as the result of rape, said “I’m very proud of my pro-life record; the means of conception doesn’t change the definition of life.”  Uh, OK. So yes, it’s a means of conception for sure (though an infrequent one, according to the likes of Rep. Akin and Victoria Jackson) and also the most debased means possible.  It would sort of be like saying patricide is just a means to accessing your inheritance.  Which, let’s face it, is also true, especially if the system is designed to think, “Well, Dad did have all that money, so he was sort of asking for it.”

For real, I totally could have gotten the Menendez brothers exonerated with that argument.

And really, conception by rape is not all that infrequent.  Studies show there are roughly 32,000 rape-induced pregnancies per year.  That’s pretty significant, especially when you consider that there are something like 19,000 incidences of salmonella each year.  Rape?  Salmonella?  How does that compare?

Everybody is aware and concerned about the public health concerns that surround salmonella, to the point where people are nearly ready to don hazmat suits before cutting into a piece of raw chicken.  Everybody knows about the 714 illnesses that resulted from tainted peanut butter in 2008 (make that 715; I had a bout with it as well, but once I realized what was going on I was already on the mend and so didn’t go to the doctor).  Everybody is aware that when there’s a food recall, they should take it seriously, and that’s true.  But I don’t see any official documents about pregnancy and rape coming down from the CDC.  I don’t see a rape-alert app.  I don’t see any Johnson & Johnson ad campaigns advocating against rape.  I don’t see any Lysol 30-second TV spots selling me a product by which I can wipe down my counters to prevent rape.  What I do see are the political forces that impact my life, and the lives of my 157,000,000 American sisters, determined to make me feel bad for having a body that can make a baby, and expecting me to resign said body to the forces that be.

Did you ever see the movie Pleasantville?  (If you haven’t, then what are you waiting for?)  Towards the end of the movie, David (Tobey Maguire) and Bill (Jeff Daniels) are in court because they painted a mural in non-acceptable colors.  Bill, the mild-mannered soda shop owner who just wants to please everyone, says:

Maybe if I painted something different.  Or maybe I could use less colors or something.  Or, you know, certain colors.  Or maybe I could–you could pick out the colors beforehand and then they wouldn’t bother anybody.

Pretend he’s a woman.  Pretend he says, “Maybe if I wore something different.  Or maybe I wore less makeup, or, you know, only neutrals.  Or maybe I could–you could pick out my clothes beforehand and then I wouldn’t draw unwanted attention.”

That’s what it’s like.  That’s what we’re expected to adhere to.  And we can’t let this mentality perpetuate.  Women, you know what rape is, and you don’t need a political party to define it.  Don’t accept it.  We can’t stand by and let our bodies and rights be further commodified for political chicanery.  This current public dialogue is tantamount to the medieval test for witchcraft: Tie her up and throw her in the lake; if she drowns, she was raped and if she’s pregnant, she lied.  There’s no amount of WTFery that can explain this logic.  Paul Ryan can’t even tolerate protesters violating the space at one of his town hall meetings; he had them thrown out, even arrested, for their interference.  One can only wonder what he’d feel like if those people–who came unbidden into his space–shoved their way into his babyhole.  Figuratively speaking, of course.

Men: do yourselves a tremendous favor and fight like hell against “She was asking for it/wearing provocative clothing/dancing suggestively/running naked through the yard” as a tacit excuse for rape.  It makes you all sound like you’re, at your most elemental level, rapists, and can only barely control your impulses.  You’re better than that.  I know you are.

I’m not concluding because this is far from over, but for the time being, I will leave you with some Samantha Bee.

(One of these days I’ll learn simple html and figure out how to embed video like this.  For now, just click on the link and go to the website, for Samantha Bee is awesome.)

Cynical Soapbox: Chick-Fil-A, Again

I’m sure most of us are sick of hearing about Chick-Fil-A by now, but I’ve been away and I’ve finally got the chance to throw my two cents in. For those of us who live under a rock, their company’s president, Dan Cathy, said he was “guilty as charged” when asked if he supported anti-gay groups, and went on to discuss his belief in the “biblical” definition of marriage, yata yata, yata yata. His statements, understandably, infuriated the LGBT & friends community and have created a political shitstorm.

The most recently sprouted head of the Hydra of Controversy involves the backlash–or support–that Chick-Fil-A is currently undergoing. Notable backlash comes from the likes of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who has very publicly told the company they have no business associating themselves with the Freedom Trail, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said Chick-Fil-A doesn’t “mesh” with Chicago values.  Considering Chicago’s (and Boston’s!) chequered past, I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

On the other side of the coin, conservative pundits have become the poster children for fast food. Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, in what looks like the failed-politician equivalent of Dancing With The Stars, have all offered their public support for the company or ventured into CFA storefronts for a bag o’ sammies and waffle fries. And in all of this, there’s been a wave of rhetoric about how this is about “free speech” and “family values” and First Amendment rights and…whatever.

Behold the bastion of civil rights!  Photo from chick-fil-a.com, because why not go straight to the horse’s mouth?

So where’s my problem, right? What’s my big complaint with the whole CFA controversy? Why should I care where Sarah Palin buys her lunch?

The thing is, I don’t. Sarah Palin could open up a string of CFA franchises and I couldn’t care less. Mike Huckabee could have a Chick-Fil-A daily hour of appreciation for the next year and I wouldn’t care.  And Santorum can feed his kids all the Chick-Fil-A sauce he can get his family values-laden hands on. Go for it. I don’t care.

What I do care about, though, is the way the issue of free speech keeps getting twisted back on itself.  There’s a lot of bandying about of the concept of the “thought police”, and that those who vocally, publicly disagree with the president of Chick-Fil-A and are boycotting or urging their friends to boycott, are being discriminatory in their actions, based on the notion that they don’t agree with said CFA president.  Said one Facebook commenter, “Seems like anyone who disagrees with you is a bigot [Ed. note: more on this later]. If you disagree with someone then their [sic] wrong and your [sic] right. who is the bigot???? mmmmm maybe its you thats the bigot. you only have room for your opinion. there are differences of opinion in both sides of the issue and there are bigots on both sides too.”

In some of the other-side comments I read, one woman who thinks the CFA president is in the wrong, said, “It is NOT about freedom of speech, as I keep seeing repeated. It is about not handing money over to an organization that puts that money towards actively persecuting someone for being gay. Christianity is not an excuse for hatred- and most Christians I know do not use it as so, which makes trying to tolerate those who do even more difficult. This is about so much more than chicken. It is about basic human decency and respect.”

*sigh* Sort of.  Yes.  But not really… No.

The real problem that lies at the controversy that surrounds Chick-Fil-A is precisely about freedom of speech.  The CFA president had every right to say what he believes, and to set his company’s policies as he feels appropriate to the conduct of his business.  But speaking freely involves an inherent risk and that is, when you say something, you must expect to be held accountable for it. We suffer from an accountability lack these days; students are not held accountable for failing grades in school, bankers are not held accountable when they crash a global economy. So it should come as no surprise to me, really, that there is a contingent circling their collective wagons around Dan Cathy in an effort to protect him from the words that actually came out of his mouth.

In an ironic-yet-clever linguistic twist as evidenced previously, those protectors are also calling the people who oppose the Chick-Fil-A stance “bigots”.  Interesting.  I’ve pointed out in other arguments that words have meanings, and in this case the good people of Merriam-Webster define “bigot” as such:

a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

Thus anyone who opposes Chick-Fil-A’s policies is accused of bigotry, of being intolerant to the company. Which, perhaps, is true, in that I am intolerant of a person or organization who engages in systematically disenfranchising another group and attacking their civil rights based on a personal dislike.  But I don’t try to disenfranchise them in turn, or strip them of their civil rights or the ability to live and love as they see fit. Calling my dislike “bigotry” is akin to saying that opposing racial segregation is “bigotry”, as opposed calling it what it is, which is “decency”.  See the difference in the meanings of the words I chose?  It’s nuanced, but it’s there.

And by “nuanced”, I mean “blatant”.

In the 1927 Whitney vs. California decision, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis initially defined the concept of “counterspeech“, claiming that more discussion about a topic, not enforced silence, was the route to enlightenment and would ensure the continuance of a democratic society. While counterspeech might not have had a formal definition, its principle has lived in the American psyche since Thomas Paine put pen to paper and wrote Common Sense in 1776.  Standing on a soapbox (ahem!) and stating your issues with a given situation is as American as a bald eagle carrying a flag made out of apple pie.  Calling someone who disagrees with you–solely on the fact that they disagree with you, without evaluating their argument–a bigot, is the adult equivalent of a second grade schoolkid calling someone else a poopoohead on the playground, because Sir Poopoohead likes the Mets instead of the Yankees.  Ad hominem rebuttals solve no problems, open no discussion, and reinforce the idea that the person who is legitimately involved in bigoted behavior has no real interest in reaching a mutually satisfactory conclusion. That person only wants to walk around, fingers in the ears, singing “La la can’t hear you la la.”

Dan Cathy is absolutely welcome to his opinions, and he is absolutely allowed to speak his mind.  And in no way am I obligated to quietly accept what he says.

No, Chick-Fil-A doesn’t discriminate against the LGBT community in that they are allowed to eat in their stores, and I’m sure at least one or two gay employees have manned their counters and have walked away relatively unscathed.  The bigotry comes in when you realize that in 2009, for example, CFA donated nearly $2 million to anti-gay groups (including one they founded themselves). And in the same way that Chick-Fil-A can set their own policies and run their own advertising and say what they want in public, people can set their own policies. I can choose–freely–not to go to Chick-Fil-A if I don’t want to. I can choose to dislike them, I can choose to tell my friends.  I can stand in the middle of Boston Common–like our forefathers did before us–to speechify about the civil injustice embraced by  Chick-Fil-A management, and I would be entirely within my rights.  I can write a blog. What I can’t do is spread vicious lies about them–if I said they made their food at the Soylent Green facility, it would be slanderous and I could get in trouble for it. But I’m only basing my words and action on what the president of the company has said in public, and the actions by which they express their values.

For those of you who object that a chicken sandwich has become politicized and the media and other people (like me) are making too much of a big deal about this issue, I’d like to remind you that the person who politicized this to begin with was the person who has donated millions of dollars in company money to further his political agenda. Not HIS money, mind you. If he’d just donated his money, then what sort of controversy would there be?  (Answer: None, because he can do what he wants with his money, and while I may disagree with his personal politics it’s not like I’m going to boycott his house.  See my previous statement about how people can set their own policies.) But no.  Dan Cathy donated an organization’s money–an organization that needs public patronage for its survival.  And he made his controversial statements while acting not as a private citizen but as a representative of that company. Isn’t part of the principle of the free market supposed to be that the buying public can choose to support a company (or not) as they see fit?  Individuals ruin companies all the time; why should Chick-Fil-A be exempted from facing the court of public opinion?

Geez.  If only we could work up this sort of public passion about the energy industry. Fast food? That’s what gets us going?  *sigh*

You Say Vageena, I Say Vagina

Last week in Michigan, State Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West) was barred from speaking on the floor of the State House–until further notice–after she said the word “vagina”.  Vagina.  The house speaker who  banned her claimed she violated decorum by her choice of words.  One of the most immediate—and correct—criticisms of this event is by Representative Brown herself, who said, “If they’re going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot say it.”  But the issues that surround the ban for saying “vagina” are more complex than just whether or not the word can be spoken civilly and with tact.  That answer is simple: Of course it can.  It’s not a slang term, it’s not a pejorative.  It’s the legitimate clinical name for a part of the female reproductive system, and it’s had to endure a lot lately.

Instinctively we recognize that we are all greater than the sum of our parts.  We know that there is more to being a man than having a penis, and that the vagina does not make the woman.  But the biological demarcation of gender is one of the primary ways in which we identify ourselves and each other in our society.  One of the first questions asked on forms we fill out is whether we are male or female.  One of the first ways we get divided in school is by gender.  Even our infant toys and clothes are gender-specific and highlight what we see as “normal” outward manifestations of our biological sex characteristics.  We may not think the actual phrase, “Oh, she’s a woman and therefore, she has a vagina,” but we know it, we understand it, and we base many of our interactions on our assumptions of gender identity.

And identity matters.

While Majority Floor leader Jim Stamas (R-Midland) said Brown violated “decorum” but has declined to elaborate further, Representative Mike Calton, another member of the House, said, “What she said was offensive,” and that “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”

*sigh*  Really?  Can someone please install a fainting couch in the Michigan State House?  Because it looks like the menfolk are fixin’ to have a swoon.

Here’s the problem: vaginas and their use (or misuse, as some may see it) are being legislated about all the time.  Abortion, premarital sex, the “age of consent”, access to birth control, condoms in the school, rape legislation, these all center around what goes on inside a vagina.  Representative Brown said “vagina” during a debate about abortion which, like it or not, inherently involves vaginas.  And no matter how you feel about abortion, you have to understand that it’s going to primarily affect women, and women are classified as women (legally, in a hospital, at birth, unless they’ve had gender reassignment surgery—which leads to a whole other host of legal concerns) because they have vaginas.  Saying the word isn’t going to hurt anyone.  It’s not like yelling “Vagina!” in a crowded movie theater will cause mass panic, possible property damage, or death, though it may cause some confusion.  And to think that you can’t say the word “vagina” in front of women is infantilizing for everyone involved.  What are these guys, eight years old?  Are ladies going to giggle and hide because you’re publicly talking about their ladyzones?  This is how you act on a playground, not in a legislative arena.

It’s this playground mentality that delegitimizes any poorly-balanced leg the anti-vagina contingent thinks they can stand on.  First and foremost, sticking your fingers in your ears and humming loudly does not dismiss the existence of vaginas or the very real needs of the people who have them, no matter how much you might hope otherwise.  Neither does bullying your adversary into silence.  And clutching your pearls and swooning because you’re incapable of saying the word “vagina” doesn’t change the social reality that this is a part of womanhood.  Ladies aren’t comprised of lacy collars and high heels and floral scented body lotion and an anatomically smooth and undefined nether region.  Remember, with their pants off, Barbie and Ken are practically identical.  But men and women?  We are not the same.  When you are sworn into office as a representative, you swear to represent the entirety of your constituency and unless you’re the representative from Barbie-and-Kenville, part of that constituency will involve vaginas and the people who sport them.

Consider the other ways we socially identify—consider race, for example, since that’s another cultural marker that’s present at birth.  If members of the Michigan State Legislature were to faint away should another member said, during a debate, “Look, my skin is black, and this thing we’re debating about profoundly effects me, and not in an abstract way,” we wouldn’t expect that member of the legislature to get banned.  We wouldn’t expect the Speaker to get all “I’m not hearing you!  Lalalalala!” by pointing out that there may be different perspectives held by people with other cultural backgrounds, which should be taken into consideration by the officials elected to represent said diverse members of the constituency.  And if he or she did, we would (rightly) expect the ground to open up and swallow the Speaker for his or her reprehensible behavior.  Yet the vagina warrants a muzzle on the basis of decorum.  Indeed.

What it boils down to is this: he didn’t like her argument, it made him uncomfortable.  Because she’s vagina-bearing and identified by said vagina, and the word is indecorous and therefore dismissable, she became dismissable.  This?  Is not acceptable.  Not for adults, not for debates, and certainly not for legislators who orchestrate bills that can effect…oh…the entire population of the state of Michigan which, according to census information, is somewhere around 9,876,187.  Roughly half of all Michiganders have vaginas.  Ladies, don’t let yourselves get overlooked.

Remember, this ultimately isn’t a debate about abortion, even though that’s what brought about the vagina talk in the first place.  This is a public statement on the nature of debate and the creation of policy.  If you’re OK with legislators being shut down because they try to have a dialogue that represents the reality of women’s issues, if you’re OK with being dismissed because you have a body part that is viewed as a shameful thing that can’t be discussed in mixed company, then please, stay seated and continue to do nothing.  But if you’re tired of having to apologize for your vagina and want it to be recognized as a legitimate and healthy thing that does not brook dismissal, then take action.  Support Representative Brown.  Find like-minded people and support them.  And never, ever, ever allow the bully in the room to shut down a conversation because it makes them uncomfortable.  When we step outside our comfort zones, growth happens.  So get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable, and repeat after me:

Vagina, vagina, vagina!

You can also find this post and others not-quite-like-it at http://sacredvillage.org/author/tpetersen/ (and yes, I know the web guy spelled my last name wrong, OK?)

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