When Has Hollywood Sex Ever Looked Good or Healthy?

fifty-shades-of-grey-coverWith all the fuss about the “50 Shades of Grey” movie coming out this Valentine’s Day weekend, now seems like a good time to pause, take a deep breath, and remember that basically no sexual relationships, as portrayed on the big screen by Hollywood studios, resemble anything like a healthy real-life dynamic. (For that matter, most of the off-screen relationships in Tinseltown aren’t so great, either.)

So, sure. The movie, and the book before it, portray a hero who is by any sane definition abusive, and a troubled heroine who could really use some supportive friends (and better lovers) telling her to get the hell out.

But the same is probably true of your favorite rom-com. (Every year, the thing that sets my teeth most on edge during the holiday season is the number of otherwise intelligent friends who seem to like, without irony, the creepfest that is “Love Actually.”) Most Hollywood males, in romantic plots, are manipulators at the very least; most women somewhere between victims and “dating down” taken to its most extreme imbalance.

Nor is the sex itself, as portrayed on screen, anything to celebrate as an instruction in satisfying lovemaking. The clothes-tearing, blanket-mussing frenzy of dude-on-top, penis-in-vagina sex that somehow manages to never flash a breast here or a ballsack there isn’t much of a primer for how a couple of human beings can get one another off — although the 30-60ish seconds of screentime, followed by a fade to black or a cut, might not be the worst estimate of the average Hollywood-trained male’s endurance.

Which is fine. Movies are entertainment, not how-to guides, and the same is true of “50 Shades.” As the ever-so-talented Erika Moen said in her comic-review over at Oh Joy Sex Toy,

“I’m just not into policing what people are allowed to find arousing in their fantasy porn…I have faith in people to understand [sic] that the fictional book they are reading is just a trashy two-dimensional fantasy to get their juices flowing and not the blueprints by which to construct their actual relationships. But that’s just me.”

There are arguments to be made about how popular culture shapes social expectations (and vice versa), but those arguments are weakest when they lean on a single “bad example” document or text as a stand-in for all of culture. “50 Shades” is not going to start a sudden and heretofore nonexistent rash of bad relationships disguised as kink play. Those relationships were already out there. “50 Shades” is, if anything, a tolerable example of many extant dynamics in the proudly kinky and 50-Shades-hating community, although the men involved usually have less money and more facial hair.

Insofar as there are people who read “50 Shades” as their very first introduction to BDSM and run out looking for a guy to spank them even when they scream “no” — and those people do exist, to be sure — the solution is not less trashy porn. The solution is a better level of sexual literacy in our culture. People should have better options for learning about BDSM (and sex in general) that are as ubiquitous and easy to acquire as “50 Shades.”

So don’t boycott the movie or the book, any more than you were already planning to skip on a non-principled, literary-quality stance. (And in particular stay away from the “$50 Not 50 Shades” campaign, which is run by anti-porn, anti-sex worker activists — no friends to kink or healthy sexuality themselves.)

Instead, go out and buy something from your friendly neighborhood sex store. Have some sex that doesn’t look like any Hollywood movie at all, if you’ve got a partner or partners to do that with. Talk about sex with your friends. Be part of a culture that celebrates education and variety of expression, rather than clamping down reflexively on anything that’s not the “right way” to have sex.

“50 Shades” is a bad book that has been made into a (presumably) bad movie. But it’s not a societal problem — or rather, it’s one small part of a societal problem that, let’s face it, most people were less vocally upset about when it came dressed in artfully rumpled bedsheets rather than leather and chain.

Right-Wing Theft of Left-Leaning Music Teaches Us a Lot

Another day, another Republican politician caught using a popular rock anthem without the artist’s permission and to that artist’s great displeasure: Wisconsin governor Scott Walker entered this weekend’s Iowa Freedom Summit to the strains of The Dropkick Murphys’ Shipping up to Boston, prompting the Murphys to gently remind Walker that “we literally hate you.”

dropkick-murphys-scott-walker-tweet

This is not the first time a Republican candidate has been chastised for using a musician’s work without permission; it is not even the first time a Wisconsin Republican has been chastised for using The Dropkick Murphys’ Shipping up to Boston without permission. Way back in 2012, Republican Assemblyman Jeff Fitzgerald (a close Walker ally) used it for his walk-on at the Wisconsin Republican Convention, which the Murphys described as “like a white supremacist coming out to gangsta rap.”

It happens all the time, all over America, with responses in varying degrees of legal severity from the artists: Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen have fired off cease-and-desists, Survivor sued Newt Gingrich for his use of Eye of the Tiger; Jackson Browne took John McCain to court for using Running on Empty in an attack ad (the McCain campaign eventually settled).

Beyond the surface-level absurdity of anti-labor politicians using explicitly pro-labor music in their campaigns — which is, don’t get me wrong, entertaining, and makes for a good two-second clickbait — there’s actually a lot we can unpack from this frequent and ongoing phenomenon.

The first take-away is, obviously, that any bullshit coming out of the mouths of these assholes about private property, hard earned money, and free enterprise is so much smoke up your ass. Most of us knew that already, but for the few that didn’t, yeah: these are not people who are interested in paying a fair price for the labor of others. Left-leaning politicians who are already openly skeptical about intellectual property rights might be able to spin stealing a song as a gesture of principle; the capitalist blowhards of the right, never. They’re just hypocrites. Hopefully you already knew that.

But hey, while we’re talking capitalism, let’s look at the other big takeaway here, which is an issue of supply and demand. Why is it that it’s always Republicans ripping off music from aggressively pro-labor artists?

It’s because there aren’t any popular, inspiring anthems written from a right-wing perspective.

Sure, there’s openly jingoist shit like God Bless the USA, and that works fine for whipping up the base into a frenzy of red-meat-chumming landsharks, but it doesn’t exactly speak to the human condition. Music or lyrics that really get deep down into people’s souls require a certain degree of empathy to produce, and people with significant levels of empathy don’t, as a general rule, vote Republican.

We can argue about whether the popular works by Springsteen, Survivor, the Murphys, etc. are any good, musically, but no one can deny that they have a powerful and broad-based appeal. It’s hard to find someone in a crowd that can’t get something out of those songs.

People who are just in it for themselves — who think everyone should start life with a handgun and a kick in the ass and be told to go out there and get theirs, and fuck anyone who gets in the way, which is pretty much the Republican party platform these days — can’t write those songs. You have to think about the lives of other human beings to touch the lives of other human beings.

We’re never going to see the great Republican Bruce Springsteen because a Republican can’t write Bruce Springsteen’s songs. The closest thing the dedicated right wing has is Ted Nugent, and that’s probably enough said for all of us.

GOP on Immigration Reform: “No” in English-Language Broadcasts; “Si” in Spanish

The State of the Union address and the minority party’s response(s) are the apex of made-for-TV politics, and that’s not a compliment.

I avoid them most years, but the replies have been getting increasingly hilarious as the Republican party devolves further and further into leaderless anarchy. Witness this year’s five “response to the State of the Union address” speeches: an official Republican Party address by freshman Senator Joni Ernst, a Spanish-language address ostensibly following the same outline as Ernst’s (more on that in a moment) by freshman Representative Carlos Curbelo, a “Tea Party response” by Representative Curt Clawson, and personal, unsponsored reply speeches by Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

One could safely expect the non-party-sponsored speeches to be off-message, and to greater or lesser degrees they were, but in theory Ernst and Curbelo were giving the same official GOP response (which tells you a bit about how pre-scripted these things are, and how little flexibility they have to respond to what actually comes out of the President’s mouth).

Only trouble is, they didn’t give quite the same speech.

On most of the particulars, the message was the same, with the same not-particularly-relevant talking points delivered in the same order. But on immigration reform, Ernst’s English-language speech was silent — she never used the word “immigration” at all — while Curbelo’s Spanish-language speech called for Congress to

“…work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions for our immigration system, to secure our borders, modernize legal immigration, and strengthen our economy.”

Not exactly radical stuff, but the discrepancy is telling. Two GOP freshmen deliver ostensibly the same message in two different languages; in the Spanish-language version the GOP is suddenly the party of “permanent solutions for our immigration system,” while in the English-language version it doesn’t come up at all.

immigration_reform_rally

Pandering to different constituencies with contradictory messages and hoping no one notices is nothing new in politics — but it’s usually at least done with different speeches, rather than with differing translations of the same, party-approved message.

 

Let’s Leave “The Media Doesn’t Want You to Know!” to the Crazies, Please

Remember the good old days, back in late 2014 or so, when a tagline like “the media isn’t telling you…” guaranteed a news story about chemtrails, fluoridation, or possibly fluoridating chemtrails?

Apparently those days are over, and the hot new clickbait for 2015 is “The World Doesn’t Care,” “The Media Isn’t Covering It,” and similar phrasings previously left to the deepest of deep-end fishers:

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The problem being that, unlike chemtrails, these stories are being covered, often in depth and generally by the handful of major news outlets that still wield a budget capable of sending an experienced reporter or photographer to somewhere like Nigeria on short notice. (Websites like Mic.com, The Daily Dot, and Buzzfeed, being notoriously short on professional staff, have to rely on someone else to get the story before they can report that no one’s covering the story.)

If you wanted to read about, say, the all-out ground war currently going on in Nigeria, all you had to do in the last week or so was pick up a newspaper. It’s been on front page of pretty much every major daily, and it’s been covered inside in substantial articles. Ditto the NAACP bombing, which, again, the world had apparently not heard of until The Daily Dot got the story:

daily-dot-naacp-bombing-headline

(For what it’s worth, they cite the Los Angeles Times‘s coverage of the attack in the first paragraph of their story on the lack of mainstream media attention.)

This isn’t reporting. This isn’t even reporting on reporting, which, navel-gazing as it can be, is occasionally a valid and useful sort of journalism. This is marketing, thought up by the marketing team and focus-group tested to see if people closer to the center of the political spectrum would still fall for the Glenn Beck pitch that you, and only you, valued customer reader, can see past the flim-flam and lies to know the real truth. You special snowflake you.

Those stories, and many other stories, are already out there. If you’re not seeing them until they pop up on your Facebook feed with an alarming headline, it’s not because of a media coverup — it’s because you’re getting your news from your Facebook feed.

You special snowflake you.

#NotAllFaithful

Did you know that religions call for peace and understanding, not violence?

Except for the parts where they don’t, but those aren’t the parts good believers obey, at least according to the peaceful (or just hypocritical) practitioners that get cable news spots and write op-eds. So let’s not blame the whole bushel for a few bad apples here, or expect the good and peaceful practitioners of faith to apologize for the bad and violent, all right?

We have heard this a lot, from a lot of people, since the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, and I’m not sure everyone making that argument recognizes how aggressively and radically libertarian it really is.

hashtagI mean, think about it. We can basically boil this school of thought down to #NotAllFaithful — just as #NotAllMen are rapists, misogynists, harassers, whatever, #NotAllFaithful are judgmental, fundamental, dominionist, terrorist, or violent.

And that’s true. But just as, to continue borrowing the language of trend, #YesAllMen are part of and continuers of a systemized inequality, #YesAllFaithful belong to a culture that calls for the privileging of some beliefs and the oppression of others — and, in most countries, to one that has succeeded in achieving that goal with legal force.

As uncomfortable as it is for the faithful to recognize their oppressive presence, the existence of institutionalized religions really does harm people — and yes, kill them — whether #NotAllFaithful want it to or not. And affirming membership or belief in a religion really does mean being part of that system, whether you actively encourage the inequality, work from within to lessen its impact, or, like most people, don’t think about it much one way or the other.

That doesn’t make any individual practitioners of faith bad people, or even doing a bad thing by practicing their faith. But I think people who concern themselves with structural violence and systems of oppression need to realize — if you’re arguing #NotAllFaithful, you’re also arguing #NotAllMen, and #NotAllCapitalists, and whatever other opt-outs you want.

So maybe pause and think before reminding us that the vast majority of religious believers are good, peaceful people. Because they are, they really are. Just like the vast majority of men, of employers, of property owners, of politicians, of police…

U.S. Fails to Join Journalist-Imprisoning Nations in Display Celebrating Freedoms of Press; Expression

Shameful, shameful: As serious and reliable news outlets like The New York Daily News are reporting today, the United States failed to send any major representatives to join in a Paris march honoring the slain journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo yesterday.

daily-news-paris-marchIn doing so, our feckless, wimpy, mom-jeans-wearing President missed an opportunity to show solidarity with other defenders of the free press like Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Prince Abdullah Ben Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain.

All told, the United States failed to join with representatives of nations that have, collectively, 34 journalists currently imprisoned (to say nothing of those beaten, murdered, stolen from, censored, and otherwise oppressed) in a moving display honoring the right to free expression and a free press.

Thankfully, America’s own unfettered tabloid rags have the story, and they want you to know: we let the world down by refusing to show our solidarity with the oppressors of thousands of journalists who also presumably suis Charlie, but not right now, because that would be inconvenient.

The Uncomfortable Truth About Those Adorable Little Hand-Bound Notebooks

I am, for lack of a better word to describe my professional life, a writer.

That means I get a lot of writerly gifts, which is not as bad as it sounds. Could be worse, at any rate. What do doctors and lawyers even get? Neckties or earrings, I imagine, depending on where their presentation falls on the gender continuum, and then those books of lawyer/doctor jokes and various novelty desktop items. Grim stuff.

Writers at least get things of use. Notebooks and pens, mostly, or sometimes reference books (although those can feel a little pointed coming from someone who knows your prose), and of course from those who know us and love us, alcohol.

So I consider myself something of an expert when I break to you a piece of bad news about those gorgeous little hand-bound notebooks that crafters sell at art fairs and such: actually writing in them is an unbearable, unmanageable bitch of a time.

handbound-leather-notebooksNo, really. I mean it. They suck. I’m sure they were a luxury back when we didn’t have enough spare paper to even wipe our asses with, but this is the 21st century. We can do better than four lateral inches of paper bent savagely toward a crooked binding and tied up with a leather thong.

You can’t write much on one of those pages, you know. A college-ruled spiral notebook isn’t glamorous, but you can at least get a paragraph onto a single sheet in them. Cute little pocket-sized notebook with a celtic knot stamped on the leather binding? Not so much. Three, four sentences, max, and the half the page that’s closest to the spine is going to be illegible when you look back over it, because your knuckles were banging the other page the whole time. And that’s just for righties. Lefties have it even worse.

Now, I don’t say all this with any sense of emotional or intellectual superiority. I’m the same as the rest of you; I want to fucking love those little things. They’re great. You feel so writerly holding one. But you can’t write in it for shit, and that sort of defeats the purpose, unless the purpose is to feel writerly rather than to be writerly, and I do enough of the former and not enough of the latter as it is already.

Oh, and they don’t actually fit in pockets. Did I mention that yet? Fat spines and bulky bindings, characteristic of the craft fair breed of adorable little hand-bound notebooks, do not cram into pants or jacket pockets effectively. The big belly pocket on a hoodie can take some of the smaller ones, if you don’t mind looking like you’re pregnant with a LEGO person. But I suppose if you own adorable little writer notebooks you probably also own an appropriately grungy messenger bag (maybe with some buttons), so that one might be less of an inconvenience to the average user than it is to bagless me.

Anyway, I just thought you should all know. And don’t worry, I’ll still use the ones you give me. I will write my notes and my drafts and my scribbled thoughts for later and my secret yearnings and my World of Warcraft character’s in-game poetry in them, because I love the romance of longhand writing and the warmth of using writerly gifts that people gave to me, a writer, because they knew that I was one.

I just won’t be able to read any of it later.

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