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Let The Games Begin

photo by Lefteris Pitarakis

photo by Lefteris Pitarakis

When people join forces & lift up their voices attention is often paid. The volume of the outcry has a direct correlation to the media coverage, and that is how it should be. For the past few weeks people have begun to rise up in response to Russia’s propaganda law (enacted in June 2013.) This law is meant to curb public talk of homosexuality. The fact that Russia has a propaganda law is not only not surprising, it almost seems intuitive; for those of us of a certain Boris and Natasha age. The other 50% of the population is a bit gob smacked, and why not? The last few years have been a freight train of gay rights momentum. We are living through one of the most radical civil and human rights transitions this country has ever had. It’s little wonder that we expect Russia to get on board.

The timing of all this is a delicious; direct to film, perfect storm of brouhaha. What exactly were the conversations Mr. Putin had with his advisors? “How do we put our Olympic hosting on the map? You know, Mr. Putin, the Queen parachuted into the London Olympic stadium. What can you do?” It’s a very odd choice to make for a country that repealed it’s law against “gay” sex in 1993 (the U.S. did not abolished sodomy laws until 2003.) It’s a bizarre law in its nature and its timing; but a great windfall for a movement. Calling for a boycott of an international event is a great way to make some noise. Actually boycotting the event is a horse of a different color.

Politics and/or human rights records are not a factor in participating in the Olympics. It is not an event designed to bring like-minded countries together, but to bridge those gaps through shared interests. Where the Olympics are hosted seems to create an unavoidable focus on the misdeeds of a country. The United States participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics(!) and boycotted the 1980 Moscow (summer) Olympics. But the host country is such a minor concern to the athletes and all participants. Thousands of people (of all backgrounds and orientations) have worked their entire lives for these games. A boycott will mean that they, and the necessary attention to this issue, will not appear at the games and on televisions across the world.

Calling for a boycott may put sufficient pressure on Mr. Putin to repeal his shiny new anti-gay propaganda law. If not, let the noise reach a fevered frenzied pitch! Encourage athletes to visibly show their solidarity. Show up to the games in droves and wave the rainbow flag, the whole world will be watching. Plan colorful protests in cities across the land to coincide with the opening ceremonies; attention will be paid. Making a collective noise is the most powerful of civic endeavors. We can capture the eyes and ears of the world without breaking the hearts of the athletes.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Modern Family

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“De Blasio Takes His Modern Family On The Campaign Trail” blares the headline. My heart skipped as I searched for the photo (or at least mention) of Rosie the Robot. After a sip of coffee I came to my senses and instead sought mention of adult children living at home, or surrogate, biological and adoptive parents living as one big happy family. Finding none of these, I briefly considered that perhaps the newspaper was sensationalizing a large family filled with triplets, quadruplets or more! Blurry eyed but caffeine fueled, I found none of these.

It would seem that the newspaper of record considers a family of more than one race/ethnicity to be “modern”. In 2013. Mr. De Blasio appears to be of European descent (with a name that backs up that theory) and his wife appears to be African-American. His son, featured in a recent ad, sports (brace yourself) an old school, pick in the back pocket, Afro. How terribly terribly modern! In 1963.

This is a New York City political season (and race) filled with more marital horror stories than ever. On a local level we’ve transcended Gary Hart and Bill Clinton, in the lying, adultery and arrogance. And there are the wives, one of them a protege (in apparently every sense of the word) of Mrs. Clinton. They stand by their husbands (at least while the cameras are rolling) and sport huge bubbles of balance sheets (of what’s most important to them,) over their heads.

Perhaps this is what makes the De Blasio family so modern? Look a married couple in which the wife hasn’t endured public humiliation! Perhaps De Blasio’s family is modern compared to his strongest competitor; Christine Quinn? Ms. Quinn’s wife is a lawyer (snore.) They were married by a judge in the most traditional of ceremonies (yawn.)

This headline is not unfortunately just the result of some “old white guy” on the editor’s desk. Other major and generally liberal, media have remarked on De Blasio’s son’s hairstyle. A more optimistic person would think these comments stem from enjoying the throwback of a fluffy symmetrical Afro. It would be nice if newsreaders were flashing back to The Mod Squad and the uber coolness of Link. But even if that was the case, why don’t we look at women with their ubiquitous stick straight blown-out hair and flashback to Julie? And why don’t shaggy haired Caucasian young men remind us of Pete? It is much more likely that these newsreaders view the Afro as some sort of statement.

This is New York City not Sweden (which by the way is not entirely made up of pale blondes.) Every color, size, shape, religion and orientation resides here. For decades this city has, if not welcomed, than sheltered, people and families who did not fit their hometown mold. This is one of the places racially mixed couples flocked to in the early days (when it was still illegal in some places.) So how in the world could there be anything modern about an interracial couple in NYC in 2013?

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Eyes On The Prize

Joey

Most people don’t have lengthy attention spans or an endless capacity or thirst for data. There’s an awful lot of information to process on a daily if not momentary basis. So we can be forgiven for grasping at headlines as if they were articles (or “reading book reviews like they was books,” to quote Madame Rose.) Quite frankly a lot of what’s buzzing around us doesn’t warrant more than a cursory glance; quinoa’s in, bulgar’s out, cycling to nowhere is in, aerobics is out, and so on and so on. But then there are those big & important things that may be too large to ponder or tackle on a regular basis; issues that mercifully may not affect us on a daily basis.

Until your life and home are threatened by nature you might not get too riled about climate change. And even then, quite frankly, the most pressing (and perhaps only) issue is reclaiming your equilibrium. If you don’t experience prejudice and/or marginalization on any kind of regular basis you might not give biases all that much thought. When a story reaches media blitz proportion you may find more school gate/dinner party conversation about racism/sexism/bigotry than you would ordinarily. But when the headlines ebb and the talking heads shift their focus to another bright and shiny topic, the volume of those conversations probably lowers. It’s tempting (and completely understandable) to look at our biracial president, our recent strides in gay rights, and think “right, well I’m glad all that’s done with.” And that would be wrong.

There is far more danger in assuming things are okay and consequently turning our attention elsewhere than there is in not recognizing a social ill as a problem. Thirty or forty years ago mainstream America was (generally speaking) accepting that perceptions needed to change. In the 1970s civil rights began to find its mainstream footing. It no longer was acceptable to use certain words in public (at least in the Northeast.) This is hardly the hallmark of equality but it is a very strong indication of the public’s embarrassment at their overt bigotry. It would be another couple of decades before a similar semantics change occurred in regards to the gay community. One need only pour through some pop culture to confirm that “gay minstrel” was alive and well during the Reagan years. You’d be hard pressed in the 21st century to see African Americans or gay men and women as punchlines. Rest assure however, there are still plenty of ethnicities, religions and orientations that are ridiculed or “minstrelled”.

When it comes to the black or gay experience you might just think that all is mostly well. That is, if you weren’t affiliated with either of those groups. Most of us, no matter where our head is in proximity to our rear end, suspect that racism is alive and if not exactly well, at least on some form of life support. You can’t live anywhere (except perhaps off the grid) and not know (or at least suspect) that the color of one’s skin affects the perceptions of others. Simply turning on the television or picking up a magazine will confirm this. You may (that’s may) see male celebrities with a rich dark skin tone, but you rarely will see a woman with anything darker than a mocha skin tone. Pop culture may not be good for much, but it does paint a picture of our collective taste/desires.

You might also think that all is great on the gay front. People are marrying; coming out all over the place and letting kids know it gets better. But they’re also getting arrested in Louisiana for agreeing to have sex with undercover police officers. And the California federal appeals court is deciding if gays can be barred from a jury. This issue has come up because a drug company (defending a drug used in the treatment of AIDS) wanted to bar a juror who seemed gay. Clearly a gay man could not be neutral about drug companies, corruption, unethical medical practices or corporate greed. After all, are such “gay” issues. The assumption that a gay man (versus anyone with an ounce of compassion or a shred of decency) would feel strongly about AIDS and our storied history with the disease is absurd. But there you have it. Our legal system (that system we rely upon more and more to make very important decisions for our society) can view people as nothing more than their most visible characteristic.

We have come a long way baby, no one can reasonably argue that. But there is a danger in letting our guard down now. Things have changed enough on the surface that we can slip into a complacency that hinders progress and may in fact turn time back. We are so close to what we can be. Just consider how far we’ve come in only forty+ years. In 1967 interracial marriage was so rare as to be the entire story line of a Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn movie. It was a serious and moving message movie. There was a little bit of levity of course; like when the “Negro” groom offers proof of the naivety of the Caucasian bride: “she feels that all our children will be president of the United States!” A laugh line has become a wonderful reality. But we must be very careful to not see that and other equal rights strides as an end point. Our work is not done here.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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What Comes After DOMA?

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On June 26th, seventeen years of national legalized bigotry ended. The United Sates Supreme Court ruled the Defense Of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, unconstitutional. This is a monumental development on both a political and personal level. Politically, we haven’t had a President (in any living person’s memory) who legalized discrimination. On a personal level, the repeal of DOMA means that it is no longer legal for only some people to have the full rights and privileges afforded to all Americans. Nationally, that is. It is still very legal for states to discriminate against an entire group of people.

Currently only 13 states* allow equal marriage. A couple who have married in these states and remain in these states for their entire lives have their marriages recognized on both a federal and state level. For anyone living or moving to any of the other states their rights are still greatly reduced. It is pretty clear by now that the SCOTUS and administration are happy to have the states figure this all out on their own. While there is no doubt that momentum is building across the country, and the numbers of states abolishing discrimination will continue to grow; this is no time to rest on our laurels. We know that there are many regions in this country that are not going to embrace this civil right. We know that there are states that have a very conservative and/or religious political agenda. We also know that money talks.

Boycotting states with legalized discrimination will fast track this movement. We can do this individually at varying levels of personal sacrifice. We can choose not to vacation in these states (perhaps the easiest form of boycott), we can choose not to move to or live in these states (perhaps the more challenging form of boycott) and we can do many things in between. We can refuse to do business with companies that choose to have their headquarters in these states. We can boycott corporations who donate money to politicians in these states. Companies can do more than issue press releases about their support of equality. They too can boycott these states; refusing to open offices, retail outlets or hold events. Once cleansing themselves of these affiliations, they can launch campaigns in which they brand themselves as ethical partners (it’s like being “green” but with many more colors of the rainbow.)

We know from experience that money is as powerful an influencer as public sentiment. When we shine the spotlight on these states, and (fairly) equate their stance to that of Jim Crow, we will make a difference. It’s Pride Week and there’s much to celebrate. It’s okay to bask in this victory for a bit. But when social media users switch back to their profile pics, relegating the red marriage equality symbol to a pop-art fixture, it’s time to put our money where are mouths (or avatars) are. It is a wonderful time to be living in these 13 states, but what of our brothers and sisters and our own sense of pride? Yes, many of us identify ourselves (geographically) by our state, but the world does not. The world sees us as Americans and rightly so. We are only as free as the next guy or gal. If there is anywhere in this country in which people are not treated equally under the law, we are all tainted. Think of this country as a meringue; one drop of egg yolk and we all fold.

*California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington (and the District of Columbia)

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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The City Of Love

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The news that France passed ‘marriage for all’ was delivered with jubilant footage. Members of Parliament cheering and tearing; there was hugging. It’s tempting to see France becoming the 14th country to legalize equal marriage as inevitable. Mais bien sûr! This is a country known for being far less rigid and puritanical than America. From a vantage point of 3,000+ miles France appears to be a more vivre et laisser vivre kinda place. This perception is distilled in mental images of Josephine Baker, James Baldwin (and just about every other writer found in any decent home library) finding a more agreeable way of life in France. The French, Parisians in particular, seem impervious to race and fluid when it came to sexuality. Sexual behavior and couplings seemed more akin to the pleasures of fine dining than a naughty or shameful undertaking. But is this live and let live kinda place actually for real? Have we, from 3,000+ miles, taken bits and pieces and formed an attractive if not entirely accurate picture?

Those hugging tearing politicians are just one image among many. Have you seen the violent protests and ugly worded signs? Have you heard the (translated) rhetoric? Much of the ‘anti’ argument (that has made the journey across the Atlantic) has centered on ‘the children.’ Almost without exception anytime ‘the children’ are invoked in an argument it is code for ‘no, look over here at this bright shiny thing.’ The children. That’s right, gay and lesbian French are fighting for their equality because of ‘the children.’ Opponents of equal marriage have declared that children need a mother and a father. That certainly makes for a nice sentimental placard but what does it mean? Are there no single parents in France (she says while spitting out her latte?) That’s pretty hard to fathom in a country known for being more lax about relationships outside of marriage. Are there currently no gay and lesbian households that include children? Doubtful, as some people come to relationships having already lived a bit. Without a law protecting equal marriage and the ability for both spouses to adopt a child, gays and lesbians will still parent. The children however will have less protection. It is remarkable in this day and age, when people are regularly parenting without benefit of marriage, that anyone would even attempt to wave the ‘one mother one father’ flag. No one, not any child expert, psychologist, sociologist or anyone would ever posit that a child is better served by fewer caring adults or instability. What children need most is a secure, stable environment in which the adults are focused on the care of the child. Denying their parents the right to marry or preventing the children from being adopted is simply not in the best interest of ‘the children’. That this or any argument is being made by a country known (to us) as being far more lax seems uncharacteristic.

It’s tempting to view an entire people as being cooler, thinner and far more adept at walking in heels on cobblestones than us. We’d like to imagine an entire country that sits down when drinking coffee, and not dressing their children in cartoon festooned garb. Knowing that there’s a place in which one greets the shopkeeper and ends every request with ‘if you please’ gives us hope. But there are manners (real or perceived) and then there’s real life. In real life the French aren’t that much different than us. Yes, they can do that scarf thing, and yes there’s the accent that can turn even a craggy old fisherman into Yves Montand, but when it comes to social issues, are they really that different? It is true that people of color, particularly artists, found an accepting home in France. But was that so much about French color-blindness as it was an appreciation for the arts or dare we say, Americans? When people of color moved into France in significant numbers troubles began to simmer. The 2005 riots were the result of a people of color feeling marginalized for quite some time.

Discovering that the land in which so much seems better, where the wine and bonhomie flow all day and into the night, is really not that much different than us is jarring but incredibly inspiring. It is a sign that Americans, with our baseball cap, sippy cup toting selves, with our puritanical views of sex and our discomfort with race, we too can pass a law that states that all people are created equal.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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