Friday, May 29, 2015

Links & Bits: 5/29/15

Wonderful pictures of the 90s drag scene courtesy of photographer Michale James O'Brien

More on the backlash after that rape scene on Game of Thrones

Are we focusing too much on microaggressions?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Fear of dissent, redux

This is from Richard J. Ellis's The Dark Side of the Left, published in 1998, in case anyone thinks the rift between activists and more moderate liberals is a recent invention:
Systemic data from Wellesley college supports these alarming, if anecdotal reports from the disillusioned. In 1990 the women's studies program at Wellesley undertook a self-study that focused, among other things, on the question of whether students felt pressured to give "politically correct" answers. (This survey was carried out before the term "politically correct" became a political football in the mass media, which explains why the Wellesley program was willing to ask such a question.) The self-study found that 30 percent of students in women's studies courses said they "felt silenced or at risk expressing unpopular opinions," compared with less than half that number among those in non-women's studies courses. In one particularly egregious case, nineteen of the twenty-five students affirmed that they felt pressured to give politically correct answers.
The only thing new is the delivery system. Social media allows people who would have never been heard outside a classroom the possibility of a large platform. This is a great thing. It's also a bad thing because there's this unspoken rule on the left that says the less privilege a person has, the more taboo it is to criticize them, and many purported allies care more about not looking racist or sexist or homophobic than actually not being any of those things. In a lot of activist-friendly spaces, there's very little room in which to fuck up. (And I'm big believer in growth and learning from fuck-ups.) And when these interactions are happening exclusively online where you're given a limited amount of data in which to work, it's understandable.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


My WIP would be far more subversive, and dare I say, dangerous, if I change the main character from male to female. I'm almost tempted to scrap the whole thing and rewrite it with a female protagonist, but it feels like a cheap method of writing something "edgy." A male protagonist is always assumed to have agency, where a female one doesn't and I've write a lot of acclaimed, "edgy" literature where the female MC is merely vessel for which bad things happen.

On a semi-related note, I've been reading a lot of Edmund White lately. I read a quote (which I now can't find) that said his work was too vulgar for a mainstream (read straight) audience. I don't see his novels as vulgar but intimate, almost breathtakingly so. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Amy Winehouse documetary trailer

The trailer for the new Amy Winehouse documentary, Amy, is out now.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Fear of dissent

There is an ongoing conversation about liberals' fear of dissent, mostly coming from writers who already have a large platform and are in no real danger of losing it. For those who don't -- smaller bloggers or writers without the backing of media or academia, who lack the proper credentials -- it's incredibly risky. Someone like Jon Chait or Michelle Goldberg can criticize their tribe, and while the backlash might sting, neither has had to surrender their liberal credentials for it.

I try to avoid "privilege" arguments because it's too easy and too formulaic to plot people on a spectrum of have and have not But, a privilege argument is apt here,. I'm not trying to deny the importance of those things, but they aren't the only things that form one's worldview. There's also a huge misconception that all of the criticism that the left is too concerned with political correctness or social engineering is coming from people of relative social power afraid of losing their status as good allies, and those with little standing welcome a sort of Orwellian control. No, there isn't a mob of over-sensitive marginalized identities sorting the good allies from the bad, and the risk of apostasy is always greater from someone coming from a marginalized group. (Ayaan Hirsi Ali's contentious relationship to American liberalism, for example.) I think this is getting a little lost in the discussion.

(Edit: I hadn't seen it since the update, but this discussion on Medium better illustrates some of points I was trying to (rather clumsily) make. )

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Does TV need to change the way it portrays rape?

(Full disclosure: I don't watch Game of Thrones simply because I don't like fantasy, but I am always interested when something like this cause a huge ripple in the feminist blog world.)

Feminist geek blog, The Mary Sue is no longer promoting Game of Thrones following the rape of a key character. My own state senator, Clair McCaskill, claims she's "done with the show" after the scene, which she called "gratuitous and disgusting" in a tweet Tuesday. I'm all for making informed choices, even calling for boycotts when necessary, but I can't help but see this as another example of over-reaction and over-correction.

In a separate post from The Mary Sue the editors suggested ways TV should treat rape and sexual assault:
Rape isn’t (and shouldn’t) be some plot device that can be moved around to punctuate a sagging storyline. It reflects a very real, traumatic crime that has a long-term impact on the lives of survivors. And because of that, TV has a responsibility to also reflect the real terror, trauma, and recovery people go through when they choose to depict these events on screen.
I agree that rape shouldn't be used as a plot device to pump up sagging ratings -- that's just lazy writing and a lack of creativity -- but to imply that there's a correct way to show rape, in any medium, be it TV, movies, or literature, makes me extremely uncomfortable. It's great to talk about these things, but I don't a writer has a responsibility to anyone other than their own creative process. Don't get me wrong, it's fantastic when a writer can reflect that trauma with sensitivity, intelligence, and grace, but it's stifling to try to write within an accepted template.

Kate Polak from The Hooded Utilitarian asks:
What constitutes a “gratuitous” rape scene? Dividing rape scenes between “justified” and “unjustified” already seems to be treading into very hazy moral territory. While I’m talking about works of fiction, much of the fan resentment is centered around the fact that many women in the non-fictional universe are raped, and that when rape is depicted in film, television, or literature, it should be done in such a way that:
  • Does not make rape “sexy.”
  • Makes sense in terms of what came before in the plot
  • Focuses on the victim character.
I’m not entirely convinced that demanding that rape scenes adhere to a certain set of rules necessarily serves the audience’s best interests. Rape in real life is often as confusing as it is terrifying, and rape in fiction should better reflect the complexities of the crime. In Sapphire’s Push, the incestuous rape scene that opens the novel also includes the victim feeling sexual pleasure in spite of her fear, anger, and confusion. When I first read that scene, I was appalled. In retrospect, given what follows, this depiction makes sense in terms of carefully crafting the utter lack of clarity in the main character’s world. Of course, this was a novel that resisted identification at every turn.
I have an agenda in cherry picking a few quotes that illustrate my concerns with politicizing everything. As a writer and a fan of subversive writing, the idea that there is a proper way to write -- anything -- concerns me immensely. I love that Polak used Push as an example, because it shows a very complex reaction to sexual violence that doesn't fit an accepted narrative. (Note: I'm referring to the book Push, not the movie Precious, which I haven't seen.) Tv is a far less risky medium than literature, but I thin the same standards apply here.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


  • Cathy Young said something in a recent piece that highlights what's wrong with not just the hyper-focus on campus rape, but the reaction to critics of rape culture: "The problem is not female "wickedness"; it is a campus culture that fetishizes trauma and turns "survivorship" into a cult."Maybe if liberals and leftists stepped out of the shadows instead of leaving MRAs to provide the counterattack (blaming women for their own rapes, making erroneous claims of an epidemic of "wicked" women who lie about rape, etc) there could be an actual solution (like taking the onus off the campus to provide justice. for example). I agree that there's a culture of, if not exactly fetishizing trauma then valorizing it, but even suggesting that seems beyond the pale to most feminists. And as much as I recognize that this is a very sensitive issue, I can't help but see the inherent classism in the hyper-focus of campus rape to the exclusion of other groups of women who face sexual violence (sex workers, women who are incarcerated, trans women are especially vulnerable) who don't have the resources nor benefit of big-name feminists fighting for their rights.
  • Another thing that's been struggling with lately is the left reluctance to own the split between its more authoritarian, activist wing and more moderate members. The right does this. (Unfortunately, the right is also pretty good at getting their fringe players elected to office.) I've used activist left to refer to the far left or progressives as most of them travel in activist circles, or are sympathetic to that ideology. Ive heard illiberal left or authoritarian left, used mostly by those on the right which makes me hesitant to embrace either. The problem is that people use left and liberal interchangeably. I guess libertarian left works for the other half, if libertarianism wasn't associated with right-wing politics, as it is here in the US. I'm something of a left-libertarian I guess, in the Chomsky sense, but I understand the reluctance to adopt the label, even if you share many of the same views. I should stress that all this infighting occurs among fairly connected leftists, usually in media or academia. Most of the people I know in my Midwestern, working-class city who call themselves liberals or leftists would find what justice-focused blogs define as "the left" completely alien.
  • "I write because I hate. A lot. Hard" This William Gass quote has always resonated with me, but I've recently adopted it as my personal mantra. I'm very anger motivated, I've noticed. 
  • TV note: Showtime has been airing a great documentary on director Richard Linklater this month. (You can usually find it before or after one of its many viewings of Boyhood.)