Wednesday, September 29, 2004

BNP Blues 

I don't think this particular googlebomb will work, given the low result, but here's an interesting piece of information about the British National Party.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Laptop Question 

Just a quick one - I'm going to buy a laptop (finally) in the next couple of days, and I'm finding all the possible specifications baffling. Does anyone have any recommendations as to what models are good? I need it to be Windows unfortunately, as I won't have the time to get used to a new interface, so I guess that limits it to 'least bad'...

UPDATE: Bought. Against advice (see comments), I went for the cheapest I could find, as there's been a financial mess-up. So Windows it is, and we'll see how long that lasts me. Thanks to all.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Leaving again 

And, having only briefly returned, I'm away now for a week on holiday in Devon. Supposedly a chance for me to read large amounts of Hegel and Marx; in reality a chance to pretend I can surf while avoiding jellyfish the size of Milton Keynes and trying not to tan.

Then it's back to Oxford, where boredom should keep me updating regularly until things get back into full swing.


John B points us in the direction of a newer Devil's Dictionary, 'YouWhat?', which is so far aiming its attacks at corporate speak and trades unions for the main part. From there:

"Flat corporate structure: An excuse for management to pay themselves an obscene amount of money whilst leaving everybody else at the level of toilet cleaner with no prospect of ever raising themselves up "

And on a political note:

"Aristocracy: A dwindling number of bitter individuals who haven't yet come to terms with the fact that they stopped exisiting the moment universal suffrage was introduced"

Not much there yet, but it looks like it could be quite fun, and invites contributors with things to rant about.

Battering the senses 

Michael Brooke links to an Independent piece about the increasingly hardcore nature of French cinema. Whether, as he argues, it's a recent phenomenon or not, the openmindedness towards portraying great and often sexual violence is something I've noticed too. Yet the audiences for these films are usually pretty self-selective, anyway. The only place you can see pieces like A Ma Soeur, Seul Contre Tous or Dans Ma Peau is in an independent cinema, where if you go regularly you go almost expecting to see large amounts of violence and films that no one but the most pretentious could pretend to understand anyway.

I once went to a film at the Edinburgh festival where two of the reels had got swapped by mistake, so we saw it in the order '1, 4, 3, 2' . Yet not a single person walked out and we all happily clapped the (admittedly very boring) film at the end before the Festival's director came onstage to apologise. Independent film audiences can't be going to the cinema to get a story, since as often as not the films are non-linear flashes of blurred memories and waking dreams, so something else has to go in its place, and increasingly directors seem to be opting for 'violence = message/psyche exploration' tactics, which frequently don't work, when the only point to the violence is to test whether the audience can handle it.

A Ma Soeur, for example, has been advertised as a study in child sexuality, but is in reality mostly an exercise in boredom until the final baseball-bat murder and rape scene, where a stranger comes from out of the blue to put a gruesome end to their mundanely awful holiday. But who cares? Pointless violence may often enter unexpectedly into our private lives, but in a film I'd still (perhaps naively) expect it to be related in some way to some sort of purpose.

The Independent article quotes Noé, the director of Seul Contre Tous (genuinely worthwhile, and reviewed at more length by Michael here) saying: "I'm happy some people walk out during my film. It makes the ones who stay feel strong." Well, not so much strong as completely desensitised. I was more amused than anything else when half the audience progressively walked out of the Film Festival showing of Dans Ma Peau, since the film happily advertises itself as a graphic study in self-harm, so really you get what you came in for. There's nothing big or moral in leaving something like that, yet these people held their heads up as if they were trying to make a statement by their exit. The only statement I could make about this film, though, is that it's unrealistic and sensationalist, something which you have to sit out the whole film to understand, since the woman involved goes from an accidental gash on her leg to eating slices of her own skin within the space of three days. The speed of this tests any idea that the film is investigating the mentality of the self-harmer, as sensationalism overtakes everything else.

Eventually these violent films just become another notch under the belt. "You're not a proper indie film goer if you haven't added incestual rape, flesh mutilation and increasingly bizarre methods of murder to your list of ones to watch!" Sometimes I wonder if it's really worth sitting through all the rubbish just for a few good moments where you find something truly worthwhile. But then, what else would I do with a Sunday afternoon in the rain?

Monday, September 13, 2004

Oregon marriage statistics 

[From 365gay.com]

Statistics released by the state of Oregon show that same-sex couples who married earlier this year in Portland are older and better educated than most newlyweds... The Oregon Center for Health Statistics studied the 2,968 same-sex marriages and compared them with the 11,004 marriages between a man and a woman that took place between January and June, when gay marriages were stopped.

The age thing isn't particularly interesting, since as a new phenomenon, gay marriage will naturally attract older people who could not marry before (or strange marrying fanatics who thought they'd make do with a straight partner in the meantime, by the look of the statistics).

But is gay marriage purely for the educated establishment types? If so, it perhaps supports the more general idea that marriage is for the most part based on cold economic calculation – the more educated tend to be wealthier and have more property to protect through marriage than others - while its greater predominance among the straight population can be put down to mere cultural pressure.

So if gay marriage is allowed in more places and this trend continues, it might lead more people to question why they want to get married, and whether they could achieve the economic aims of marriage by other means. It might even undermine the idea that financial benefits should ever be attached to any sort of romantic relationship. This in turn would help us achieve the aim only liberals (of any sexuality) have ever denied we had; that is, the total destruction of the institution of marriage. Excellent.

Men For Skin 

[Via Pansexual Sodomite] A group in America is trying to introduce a bill which would make male circumcision a crime:

“We have a blatantly discriminatory circumcision policy in this country,” said Hess. “Doctors and mohels who circumcise girls are thrown into prison, but if those same doctors and mohels circumcise boys, they are rewarded with a paycheck – even though circumcision impairs sexual function in both genders.”

There seems to be plenty of evidence to suggest that circumcised men aren't generally hindered in their sexual functioning, and it seems quite strange to argue, as the group's FAQ does, that circumcised men regularly suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Also, while in most respects female and male circumcision are very similar, the key difference has to be that female circumcision is usually very damaging, while male circumcision is only sometimes so.

However, none of this has ever come directly within my experience. I don't know what proportion of the men I know are circumcised, nor how it affects them. If it is generally harmless and the reasons for performing it are mostly cultural, there seem to be no obvious reasons to argue against it, since to ban it would be to eliminate certain group rights for those to whom it is an important cultural or religious symbol. If sufficient information is provided, then people can make their own choices.

What I would be in favour of is just that, though - allowing men, not parents, to make their own choice. I doubt a bill banning male circumcision until the age of 16 or so would be ridiculed in quite the same way this one has been. In this country you can't get a tattoo until you're 18, and since circumcision is similarly permanent, it should probably have similar restrictions. That is, unless we remove all body modification restrictions, which could be quite fun.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Stage Beauty 

Keeping with the queer posts, as I've decided to do pretty much uniformly from now on (though I may not keep to that), Stage Beauty is a rather good new film out dealing with seventeenth century gender-bending. Claire Danes is always one to watch because, though she's not a great actress in her own right, she's great at picking interesting films to perform in. In this she's the dresser to a famous actor/actress, played by Billy Crudup, and a wannabe star, slightly hampered by the fact that women are forbidden on stage.

Events turn, to the extent that female impersonators become entirely forbidden. Unfortunately, not being trained into it, and all too tempted to copy the 'femininity' of the impersonators rather than portray their own, the new actresses are mostly awful. So we see Danes develop into an actress in her own right, able to die realistically because she knows what it is to be a true woman, which Crudup cannot. And we see Crudup come to terms with no longer being onstage as his former self, and being jilted by his gay lover, who was only interested in him as a woman. Slightly disappointingly, he's somewhat forced back into heteronormativity by playing Othello towards the end - having previously objected to it because 'men aren't beautiful' - but the queerness is kept up by his generally questionable gender and the spectacularly sexy (if you like that sort of thing) scene where he and Danes swap gender roles while in bed together.

Crudup is wonderful, partly because he makes a very beautiful and believable woman except when on stage, where he becomes a very OTT drag queen. But then so does everyone else, women included. Danes makes as good a drag queen as anyone when trying to play a woman onstage. And there's the heart of it. The whole film is about gender-questioning, not just the character played by Crudup, and the fact that the directors have managed to make a relatively mainstream romantic comedy about that is quite an achievement. They've done it at the expense of digging as deeply into these issues as I would like, but it's enough to keep me very happy, and for me to feel able to recommend it to my more boring friends too.

Interestingly, the trailer for the US release is quite different from the UK release. The first thing the US trailer tells you is that the leading lady of the day 'wasn't really a lady at all', something which the film itself leaves ambiguous. In addition, it features very little of Crudup dragged up, and a lot about the struggles of women to get on the stage. The UK version, by contrast, is much camper, with lots of drag and the decision to let women perform seeming to be a momentary whim of a silly King (Rupert Everett). Whether this is because the UK public/promoter is more open-minded, or simply because we're only able to digest this sort of film if it's presented as a Carry On-style romp, I don't know. But the film itself is quite unlike either trailer, and really very good.

The L Word 

For those who don't know yet, and haven't been over-exposed to articles about it in newspapers and TV listings, The L Word is the new 'controversial' drama about lesbians showing on Living TV every Wednesday - "Same sex, different city". It centres around a group of LA café-culture lesbians going about their lives being gay, and recruiting others along the way.

I'm hooked and watching every episode, but then I'd have done that whether or not it was any good. After all, I kept watching Bad Girls long after any realistic lesbian content had disappeared, in the hope that it would return, and happily exposed myself to three awful hours with Tipping The Velvet in 2002. Yet this show is actually quite good, and will really raise lesbian visibility, which is still way behind gay male visibility, though that's perhaps to our advantage (given the representations of gay men on TV).

I recently re-watched the coming out episode of Ellen, and I vividly remember the importance of that 'event' not just to me, as a lonely and closeted 13 year old, but to the whole gay community (it was watched by 42 million people in the US, some congregated in theatres because their state - Alabama - had refused to air it on TV). It was the first time a gay person had been at the centre of a mainstream programme, and not just in it for sideline amusement. But then Ellen was cancelled due to poor ratings, resulting from ABC's refusal to advertise it in the fifth series and a boycott by the religious right. Ellen Degeneres had huge amounts of hate mail, as did everyone involved with the programme. Mainstream culture could still outlaw positive gay representation.

One problem with Ellen post-outing was that it was almost entirely about her coming to terms with herself as a lesbian and finding/revelling in her true identity. This obsession with coming out has been highlighted by Daniel Harris, in his book The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture, as 'the adolesence of the entire subculture', focussing on a single emotional moment and falling into a 'yawning intellectual rut'. So it could be argued that The L Word, whose characters do not (all) live lives centred around coming to terms with themselves, is the subculture climbing out of that rut and entering maturity.

Admittedly, that's a very 'LA' sort of maturity, with lives lived in Bohemian cafés and apartments, as professional tennis players and museum directors. And it suffers in other ways, too. There are too many characters to get to grips with at first and there are several plot lines which trail off into nowhere. The straight sex scenes last longer than the gay ones - though at least there are gay ones (and very nice they are too) - and one can't help feeling that the producers aren't exactly trying to push away any straight men watching for their own amusement. Avoiding stereotypes is one thing, but to have no butch women and an awful lot of hetero-conventionally attractive ones is a bit suspicious.

It's also a shame that there aren't more gay actresses in it. There's only one open lesbian and she, ironically, plays a bisexual. This could be positive too: One article highlights the fact that actresses are now more willing to play lesbians than they once were. But while I'm glad it won't ruin anyone's career to hop into bed with a woman onscreen, I'd much rather it was done by a lesbian, or at least a bisexual. We may not have reached full representation onscreen, but surely we're beyond The Black and White Minstrels.

All this aside, though, it's generally very well done, very sexy and usually gripping. I'm pretty sure it will be influential and generally important for a long time to come, too. So it's worth watching for anyone with cable or digital, and worth waiting for for anyone without.

Gay and Lesbian Kingdom 

The Pink Paper's main feature this week is about a group of dissatisfied Australians who left the mainland in June to set up their own state, the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands. A constitutional monarchy (in the great British tradition), its anthem is 'I Am What I Am' and its flag the rainbow flag.

Here's the Declaration of Independence (which contains an unfortunate typo: 'Prime Minister Howard and the Liberal & Labour parties are supporting legislation to forever ban gay and lesbian people from marring and adopting children' - my emphasis). It combines the US Declaration of Independence with Theodor Herzl's essay calling for a Jewish state. Where the Americans listed grievances against King George III, we have here a list of sufferings which include movements by several governments against gay marriage, gay-friendly taxation and inheritance laws, general gay-bashing and killing.

This is almost certainly a stunt, or at least poorly planned. I'd love it if a real queer state were established, but I just don't think one could survive on a small set of hurricane-prone islands outside Australia. Nevertheless, they've drawn on interesting sources. The comparison of the situation of gays with that of Jews is quite fair, since both have been targets in all spheres, economic, social and political, and both were victims msot obviously of the Nazis. And like the Puritans, this group has left native soil (on a boat called the 'Gayflower') to avoid persecution and put into practice an idea, or several ideas.

It's certainly the most interesting political protest/stunt I've heard of, and is based on some real grievances which I share. I'd prefer it if it were less obviously male-dominated, and more queer than gay, but I'm still quite impressed by it and hope the community there can continue for a while longer and gain more attention at any rate.

Pink Elephants 

I'm a couple of days behind on this, but then I'm months behind on posting...

The Log Cabin Republicans (the main US Republican gay group) have voted against endorsing Bush for re-election. Executive Director Patrick Guerriero:

"Certain moments in history require that a belief in fairness and equality not be sacrificed in the name of partisan politics; this is one of those moments".

Apparently 1,000,000 gays and lesbians voted for Bush last time. No idea why. But hopefully that will be at least a few hundred thousand votes gone this time, if others follow Log Cabin's lead.

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