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This year’s winner is a doozy, and David Guterson could have won for this line alone:
It didn’t take long for the beautiful and perfect Ed King to ejaculate for the fifth time in twelve hours, while looking like Roman public-bath statuary.
I guess Brandon Sullivan kind of looks like Roman statuary while finally, painfully reaching orgasm in Shame, maybe in a Laocoon-y kind of way, but that’s not a good thing.
I’m always sort of amused by the idea that the people who are having good sex look all suave and aesthetically appealing while it happens. This is a misconception that both writers and folks who make film and television seem to have. It’s an idea that’s debunked very effectively in Zack and Miri Make a Porno. When Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks’ characters finally have sex in the scene that they’re filming for their adult movie, we see the scene first from their perspective, where the sex is transformative and miraculous. Then, we see it from the perspective of the camera crew, who after weeks of ridiculous posing, are disconcerted by the image of two people huddled together somewhat lumpily on a coffee shop floor. In a more sophisticated way, the sex scenes in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (other than the ludicrous sex-up-a-stairway sequence, which would hurt SO MUCH) do the same thing. When people try to have sex on tables, they fall off. They get the giggles. They act kind of stupid and do things, like pour water on each other, that seem like a good idea in the moment but mostly seem sort of weird afterward.
Scenes like this are a lot more intimate than depictions that are about showing off how great a female lead’s hair look, or letting her keep her bra on to stay compliant with the clauses in her contract, or are about letting the male lead look like an awesome physical specimen, or a sensitive dude, or both at once. Good sex gets you beyond those concerns, which is why it’s hard to capture in art.
I’m no badass Milton scholar like John Rogers (whose lectures on his poetry are free, and awesome). But the things he taught me while I was in college have left me with a permanent interest in what it means when artists put compelling words in their villains’ mouths. And goodness is Christopher Nolan doing a lot of that in the first full-length trailer for The Dark Knight Rises:
I’m most interested in Selina Kyle’s dancefloor warning to Bruce Wayne that “You think you can last. There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you could ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” This is what’s at the heart of the most convincing critique of Batman, isn’t it? The idea that he needs Gotham’s corruption for self-gratification more than he needs to eliminate it in the name of justice, that he’s used his wealth to purchase the capacity to engage successfully in endless conflict. But are we supposed to believe her?
If there’s a hallmark of Nolan’s exploration of the Batman legend it’s this: Bruce Wayne squares off with an intelligent foe who articulates an opposing worldview so Batman can vanquish them both philosophically and physically. In Batman Begins, Ra’s al Ghul is repeatedly shown to be wrong that crisis will deliver a cathartic shock to Gotham, leading people to support a revolutionary upheaval of society. And he dies in a train crash, an act that both obscures his own death among a larger tragedy, and that fails to achieve the kind of effect he’d hoped for. In The Dark Knight, Gotham City’s convicts prove the Joker wrong more than Batman does, actually. But even though it’s at great cost, Wayne and Commissioner Gordon manage to create a set of perceptions that keep the city’s residents faith with the government. Here, I’ll be curious to see if Bruce Wayne proves his genuine fidelity to Gotham City’s 99 percent.
And I’m intrigued by Bane launching his campaign on the city with an attack of the closest thing America has to a national church, professional football. (And please tell me the Wayne family owns the team and the movie riffs on bad owners. Please, Santa, I have been SO GOOD.) Of all years, coming after the Penn State scandals, the Times’ move from reporting on football and concussions to the role of enforcers in hockey, to the allegations that the NBA fired a male employee who spoke up for his female colleagues who were being sexually harassed, this would be an interesting time to rigorously interrogate sport’s role in our national life. Of course we won’t, and the attack on the stadium will just be proof that Bane is another combination of brain and brawn with a strong sense of symbolism. But it would be interesting to see Bruce Wayne acknowledge that one of his opponents is a little bit right. God may have blown off Satan’s critique once his former antagonist was in the pit. And look where that got him.
At Netroots New York this weekend, I went to an interesting workshop by John Hlinko, the man behind Left Action (and, interestingly, the write-in campaign to get former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty reelected after he lost the Democratic primary) and Julianna Forlano, the Brooklyn College media professor and voice behind the Ironic News Report. They were discussing how to use comedy to recruit people for activist projects, which is, of course, different from comedy for comedy’s sake. But the presentation raised some interesting questions for me about how best to make arguments through comedy — and whether, as progressives, it makes more sense for us to be rallying the troops internally, or to be working on converting the unconvinced.
“What makes people laugh,” Julianna said, is “surprise and a feeling of superiority…this is one that can be used for good or evil. You can use it to create a feeling of solidarity with your people, or you can do that thing I mentioned, where Mexicans love gardening. What we want to do is turn our focus on those people who are in power.” Which I think is true, to a certain extent. But there’s always the danger that in cutting people down to size, you end up confirming your (and your audience’s) own biases in a way that disarms your ability to fight hypocrisy and damaging ideas. Take the idea that Republicans are stupid. John used, as an example, a campaign he used to attract followers to LeftAction, getting people to register Facebook likes for the concept: “Can this horse’s ass get more fans than Mitch McConnell?” “It was clearly tapping into the kind of community,” he told us. “It pre-sold them on the concept. And then I said if you like an edgy, creative approach to left activism, like LeftAction.”
I get the impulse, especially if you’re feeling beaten up, to take refuge in the idea that your opponents are stupid. But that’s not actually an argument that’s going to dislodge people who agree with the arguments you’re not actually addressing, a project towards which I am more temperamentally inclined. By contrast, there’s something like Hustler’s Jerry Falwell parody, which was both funny because it was obviously not true, and because it provoked him into a response that made Larry Flynt’s point for him: that Falwell was thin-skinned, brittle, and humorless. The parody ad worked precisely because Hustler was coming into it from a position of confidence, rather than insecurity. He didn’t scare them enough for Flynt and company to have to reassure themselves that they were better than Falwell was—in fact, the ad copy is written completely straight, and sets Falwell up as a figure of authority within the context of the joke. “The greater the prestige of the target, the greater desire of people to see them equalized,” Julianna said. “My theory is we all know this is an illusion…Some of us on the left have to get over saying we love everyone and go on the attack.” The question is, what’s the best way to expose that artificiality? Dismantling illusions takes more work than just stating that they’re mirages, but it’s probably more effective in the long term.
I brought this up in the session, and John and Julianna and I talked about it afterward, but I also think it’s important to remember that comedy can be an incredibly valuable tool for reframing debates. The funniest bit of Louis C.K.’s environmentalist riff on his current tour and in his special isn’t necessarily the bit about people who think the natural world is there for them to exploit. It’s him as an aggrieved, and slightly naive, God, asking, “What the fuck did you do to my duck? It had a green head and it was so awesome and you fucking killed it!” When our debates become about who is smarter, or cooler, we’re losing focus. Sometimes the most important thing about environmentalism is the wonder of the duck.
We’ve spent some time here talking about homophobia in professional sports, but my friend Benjy Sarlin has a new lens on the gay community’s relationship to sports in the form of a great piece about the rise of gay sports bars. The piece focuses on gay men (I’d be curious to know if there are lesbian sports bars out there), and takes on everything from the role of gay athletic leagues, to the charges that gay sports bars aren’t “gay” enough, to understandings of what counts as acceptable gender and political expression in various gay communities:
Not surprisingly, gay fans complain they’re often unfairly labeled as wannabe heteros.
“As gay men, it’s expected that we know nothing about sports,” Frank Anthony Polito, a Detroit Tigers fan who watches ballgames at nearby Gym Sportsbar, says. “And if we act like we do, we must be putting it on.”
Cyd Zeigler, an obsessive sports nut and intense competitor, says being teased as “butch” by other gays is one of his biggest frustrations.
“It’s kind of sad, but many gay people are as close-minded about sports as some high-profile athletes are close-minded about homosexuality,” he says. “Many gay people feel the need to compartmentalize people who aren’t like them. So if you’re politically conservative or you like sports, many gay people try to push you to the far corners of the community. They felt tormented by sports as children, so it’s payback time now that they’re adults.”
I’m always sort of fascinated by debates about communal purity, like this sort of conversation, and more substantively, a lawsuit Benjy alludes to about whether bisexual players count as gay or straight for the purposes of determining membership on a gay softball team. Obviously whether or not you’re super-into football isn’t actually determinative of who you like to have sex with. But it’s too bad that we’re still at a point where hollering at the television over insane managerial decisions during the playoffs could still be seen by anyone as culture treason. One of the benefits of an environment that makes it easier for folks to come out should be a sense that your community is bigger than you knew, big enough for everyone not to have to be invested in the same projects, and big enough to accommodate multiple gay cultures, and to accept solidarity when it’s offered. If gay men want a bar where they can hang out and watch football, it doesn’t mean the club that has Madonna dance nights is going to shut down. And bisexual people aren’t inherently infiltrators.
The bridge is yours.
-Louis C.K.: web innovator and skeptic.
-Ninja engagement photos. Zombies are so earlier this year.
-Apparently we get five more Daniel Craig-as-Bond movies.
-Restoring the credits of blacklisted screenwriters.
-More Azelia Banks:
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was never quite my jam: it’s over my personal comfort threshhold for depictions of sexual assault, and the early financial stuff is some seriously heavy furniture, so I never read the subsequent books. That said, I’ve always been half-amused, half-depressed by the idea that this novel, originally titled Men Who Hate Women, and directly connecting capitalism and the abuse of women, is a huge American hit. Who knows what it is about this particular package that got these ideas, which would be radioactive in another context or presentation, into circulation?
All of which is a long way of saying that, no matter what you think about the novels and how they depict violence against women and the way those women recover, I don’t think creating a clothing line inspired by Lisbeth Salander glamorizes either the terrible things that are done to her or the things she does in response to them. That’s what Natalie Karneef is arguing in a post that’s produced a moderate buzz, rising up to ABC News. She writes:
And now, H&M, you have created a line of clothing based on her character: a woman who has suffered a lifetime of abuse, who is violently raped, and who is hunting down a man who violently rapes and kills other women. Lisbeth has been through hell, and her clothing is her armor. That’s her choice, and it’s an understandable choice. But you glamorize it, putting a glossy, trendy finish on the face of sexual violence and the rage and fear it leaves behind.
I wonder if you’ve considered how a survivor of sexual violence chooses her or his fashion choices…When I dress in the spirit Lisbeth Salander, it’s because I want to send a message to men: to stay the fuck away.
Anna Norling, the Division Designer at H&M, says that she is “so proud” of this collection, because Lisbeth is the “very essence of an independent woman.” Lisbeth Salander is independent woman whose mother was abused by her father, who was violently raped by a man in charge of her well being, who is harassed and bullied by men in public, and who is severely emotionally scarred.
Stieg Larsson was inspired to write The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because he witnessed a girl getting gang raped when he was 15 years old. I’ve heard it said that being raped is like getting a tattoo – it never goes away. I hope your shoppers bear this in mind before they emulate Lisbeth Salander.
There’s a lot going on here, so I’m going to unpack it step by step. It’s pretty hard to tell from either Karneef’s post or her statements to ABC, in which she says she objects to the collection because it “glamorizing surviving rape” whether she thinks Lisbeth Salander is a role model or not. Again, having read only the first book, it’s not particularly clear to me that Lisbeth is an aspirational figure. She’s painfully thin, has difficulty emotionally connecting to people, works in a field that allows her to isolate herself from human contact, and the violence she herself commits is both offputting and logistically out of reach for most women. Neither her experience nor means by and extent to which she’s recovered seem particularly glamorous.
And are we really supposed to find “glamorizing surviving rape” so offensive? Sure, a narrative where someone is brutally attacked and rises from their hospital bed dewy and saintly would be offensive, but it also would be so emotionally implausible that it wouldn’t resonate with people. Stories on the other hand that emphasize that rape and sexual abuse are horrific and difficult to recover from but that still celebrate the strength of survivors seem appropriate. But whom am I or anyone else to tell survivors where to find their role models or how to interpret the stories they find meaningful?
It may just be that I’m already in Homeland withdrawal, but The Americans sounds pretty excellent:
The male-skewing cable network has given a pilot order to the KGB spy drama set in suburban Washington D.C. the early 1980s. The project, created by Joe Weisberg (Falling Skies, Damages), centers on the arranged marriage of Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, who have two children who know nothing about their parents’ true identity. Their relationship grows more passionate and genuine by the day, but is constantly tested by the escalation of the Cold War and the intimate, dangerous and darkly funny relationships they must maintain with a network of informants and spies under their control. Complicating it further is Phillip’s growing sense of affinity for the American way of life.
I’m fond in general of stories that are about tradecraft mechanics rather than the big boom, whether it’s the reporters chasing down the story in State of Play or the careful piecing together of information in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. And I’ve enjoyed Homeland precisely for its attention to the work you do while you’re waiting, and the waiting for things to shake out in your brain that are an inherent part of the work. So I’m excited for a project that ties the work of building a family to the work of espionage. I also think this is a smart way to amp up suburban angst narratives. If whether your husband sleeps with someone else, your child fits in well at school, your continuing ability to be happy as a housewife are all matters not just of the stability of your family but of your success in battle in a geopolitical and ideological war, it’s a nice way to create more dramatic stakes without having to bring in superheroes.
This post contains spoilers for the entire first season of Showtime’s Homeland. Be warned.
“I’m not.” -Sgt. Nicholas Brody
The war on terror has made America sick, and accepting a cure will kill us. The finale of the first season of Showtime was full of philosophical debates. And it ended with a Carrie, a patient driven mad by a basic and critical impossibility behind those debates — the dream that we can ever be completely safe from terrorism — wiping out her own brain, all the joy and love and agony, and crucial insights, of her last few weeks. Whatever you may think of how the show has handled Brody’s motivations, there’s no question that it’s successfully walked an exceedingly fine line in making a difficult point: that it’s insanity to let yourself be consumed by a fear of terrorism, but equally insane to refuse to see the risk. It’s a tragic madness to let terrorism convince you to give up who you are, whether you’re an American elected official or a captured Marine. And it’s equally devastating to cling rigidly to the past when you desperately need to change. The show hasn’t forged a compromise, and neither have we in the world beyond the screen. But Homeland is articulating that central dilemma, the one that’s governed so much of our politics for the last decade, in a critical and urgent way.
It’s also become a fantasy about assassinating or undermining Dick Cheney, who is the clear model for Vice President William Walden. “My action this day is against such domestic enemies,” Brody tells us in the suicide video that he records and that begins the episode in language that echoes charges lobbed at both Cheney and President Bush. “The Vice President and members of his national security team who I know to be liars and war criminals, responsible for atrocities they were never hold accountable for. This is about justice for 82 children whose deaths were never acknowledged and whose murder is a stain on the soul of this nation.” In the video of him working with David to order the drone strike, Walden declares that “If Abu Nazir is taking refuge among children, he’s putting them at risk, not us.” There are no innocents. In giving the order, he falls into obscurantist language, saying “It’s our collective opinion that the potential collateral damage falls within current matrix parameters.” Watching years later, Saul has the reaction that many of us would: “Good God. Someone actually came up with that language?” And that’s not all he’s done. In his sitdown with Walden, Saul reminds the Vice President that David may be willing to throw evidence down the memory for the sake of his career and clothe that decision in an ideological shift, but he is not. “I’m a sentimentalist,” Saul declares with controlled venom. “I like to hold on to things. For old times’ sake. Whoever told the American people these interrogation tapes had been destroyed is mistaken. Coercion. cruelty. Outright torture makes for a very unhappy human. You gave the orders, William.” When he survives Brody’s botched attack, Walden makes grotesque use of Elizabeth’s death to kickstart his presidential campaign. He’s easy to despise.
But while Cheney is out of power, the ideas he promoted persist, and Homeland focuses instead on what the real and fictional vice presidents have wrought. Brody and Nazir come to a collective conclusion that the man isn’t what’s important. “Why kill a man when you can kill an idea?” Nazir asks Brody, as they reach an uneasy truce over a new strategy.