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You May Find Yourself In Another Part Of The World*

Judy&Mickey

We are all creatures of our environment, often to a degree not realized until we step out of that environment. It is tempting and predictable to assume that one’s small sliver of the world is an accurate sample of a larger reality. It is only when we step away, even briefly that we have a “Yowza!” moment. If you’ve ever spent time in Times Square you’ve seen the “Yowza” expression synchronized on hundreds of faces. Many of those people have never seen anything so brash, so bright and so ludicrous in one place. They will go home & tell their friends how overwhelming New York City is. And they’d be right; for them NYC is overwhelming. For a New Yorker the equivalent experience would be traveling anywhere that is not NYC.

For many the disorientation starts with food. We all know that seafood should not be eaten in landlocked areas, and that Chinese food is best prepared by those who’ve eaten it. A decent bagel or thin crust slice of pizza can be challenging to find between coasts. However seeking something as mundane as skim or soy milk for a good cup of coffee can also take on mythic proportions. (The holy grail of morning beverage can become all-consuming and sometimes it’s best to just switch to tea for the duration.) Familiar foods are very important to people; it’s why there are McDonald’s and TGIFridays in Times Square. But eventually a traveler adjusts (an average adult can go for three weeks without food) and can take a good long look around.

Much of what we know about the mood of the nation is through what we read or watch. We might be tempted to cherry pick stories and developments that suit our own political agenda. We might be lulled into thinking that people think as we do (a dangerous and narcissistic assumption if there ever was one.) It is by traveling out of our comfort zone that we discover how discomforting the world really is. It is embarrassing to discover how ignorant we really can be about our fellow Americans. There are few issues in America that are as topical a gauge as race and gay rights. It is tempting to assume that we’re rounding a corner and headed towards a finish line of sorts. Popular culture and media would have us believe that gay is the new, well, the new black. And black? Well black has been beautiful for almost fifty years, no? No.

One person’s experience in a Midwestern area (right outside of a major city) is hardly scientific, but it is illuminating nonetheless. Walking through downtown areas, socializing at large events, dining out and taking in culture, I was struck by the racial divide. Beyond the staff & entertainment there were few if any faces of color. I saw only heterosexual couples (which is barely anecdotal let alone scientific.) Far more telling were the conversations I overheard. If any reference was made to homosexuality it was in regards to entertainment. (Some readers might recall a time when African Americans were often only discussed in terms of entertainment.) I overheard an educated woman discuss attending a Halloween party in black face. It was so popular amongst the party guests that she did it again the following year. Twenty years ago Ted Danson, at the very height of his popularity, almost lost his entire career because of a similar antic. Twenty years ago.

I’ve no doubt that many of the people I encountered would find my way of life confusing if not abhorrent. Without question people are entitled to live the way they wish. It is imperative however that we all realize there is a larger world. We may choose to live amongst people who are like us (i.e., of like mind, religion or skin color) but we must stay conscious of the bigger picture. We cannot lose sight of the fact that not everyone views human rights as progress. We cannot discount what may very well be the majority sentiments of this country. It is far too tempting to look around our mini universes and slide towards complacency. Yes, it’s comforting to be surrounded by what seems “right” to us. But it’s important to keep in mind the larger reality. Taking that decaf cap with skim for granted is one thing (we can always get tea) but we should never take progress for granted.

*Once In A Lifetime (1981) – Talking Heads

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Travel

 

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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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School Scandal’s Sexist Subtext

It is a national pastime to second guess the handling of situations we couldn’t possibly imagine.  In that vain, I find myself asking, if the child (allegedly) being violated (in a university locker room shower) had been a girl, would this story have a different ending?

Would an adult, regardless of professional status or age, hesitate even for a moment before dragging a girl child to safety?  Would anyone, anywhere, doubt for a moment that the child was in serious jeopardy and needed rescue?  But substitute a boy child and our impulses become a bit more restrained.  Our sexist view of sex knows no age limits.  Our reaction to an adult male authority figure having sex with an adolescent girl is that of revulsion.  We wouldn’t dream of nudging and winking as we do when hearing about a teenage boy having sex with his female teacher.  Somewhere down deep we feel that boys, once physically able, are always delighted to have the opportunity to have sex.  Girls, however need to be protected.

I do wonder (indulging hindsight) what would have happened if a young female staffer had come across the boy (allegedly) being violated.  Would a woman had seen two males being sexual, or would she have seen a child being attacked?  Would a woman have gathered up the boy while screaming rabidly at the perpetrator?  This is of course is a gross generalization of gender proclivities, but it does feel accurate.

I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that despite political strides (equal marriage) and representation in popular culture, as a country we are woefully uncomfortable with homosexuality.  (The fact that men incorporate (simulated) lesbian intimacies into their heterosexual fantasies is not proof of enlightenment but of viewing women sexuality existing only to please men.)  Despite the fact that adults having sexual contact with children, has nothing to do with being attracted to members of the same gender and everything to do with a sexual attraction to children, it is conceivable that the shower violation was interpreted as homosexual.  I find it repugnant to consider that anyone would view a child being accosted as a sexual act, period, but I can’t help come to this conclusion after playing the hindsight game.  I fervently hope I am wrong.

Perhaps if any good can come of this scandal, it is a reexamining of childhood and our (adult) role in children’s lives.  All adults have a moral obligation to protect children.  In the extreme, we concur.  Most of us would drag a child out of the path of oncoming traffic.  Danger really is not always that black and white however.  If we are confused about what we are witnessing, ask questions.  Asking a child if they are okay will almost always tell you what you need to know.  Even if you are not certain about anyone’s age of consent, a simple “Whoa, what are you guys doing?” will yield information.  Silence really is complicity.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2011 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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Unnatural Acts – Review

I have been meaning to see The Classic Stage Company’s production of Unnatural Acts, (based on the true story of Harvard University’s persecution of homosexual students) since the play opened.  That I chose to see it on the eve of New York State issuing the first marriage licenses to gay couples, is somewhat poetic.

Unnatural Acts takes place at Harvard University in 1920.  It is based on actual records which were uncovered at the end of 2002 by a Harvard student.  The records, of a tribunal and subsequent persecution of 38 students, is compelling for its layers of inhumanity.  The university’s rather flaccid response and comment to the discovery of the records, only compound the impact of the story.

The play was conceived by its director, Tony Speciale and written by the members of the Plastic Theatre (who comprise most of the cast.)  This is a true ensemble piece as demonstrated by the absolute fluidity of story, staging and character.  The actors are so perfectly cast as their characters, it is difficult to imagine anyone else embodying the roles.  The thrust stage transforms into various Harvard locales, and once, through a genius use of lights above the fly, a train station.  The story is told in a riveting dramatic manner, never resorting to sentiment.  From the moment the stage lights come up, we know it is 1920 and can feel all that that implies.   We watch the young men perform their toilette while discussing their friend’s recent death (he was found dressed in a suit, in his childhood bedroom, gassed to death.)  Their varying reactions and relationship to one another tells us so very much about the pressure to conform.  The subtlety in the layers of social class in the ivy league setting are timeless and lend a very modern feel to this very period piece (the actors even have 1920’s haircuts.)

So much could be said about the story itself, about the implications of institutionalized bigotry and the absence of reparation.  However, space and attention span, sway me to discuss the production itself.  Unnatural Acts is the closest thing to a musical, without music, you will ever see.  Exquisitely choreographed, the actors are positively fluid.  The second scene actually has 8 men on stage moving in slow motion at a party.  Couples transition into real time as we hear their conversation.  It is a real party, but slowed down.  Every detail and facial nuance is entirely authentic.  Every piece of this production is up to the scrutiny of slow motion.  Even set changes are beautiful to watch. 

The final scene is the most musical of them all.  I was reminded of the power of Bill T. Jones’ Spring Awakening classroom scene.  The sounds and movement were so incredibly powerful.  I regretted sitting in the first row of a thrust theatre, as there really is no way to hide the hiccuping sobs.

I simply cannot remember having seen something this flawless and powerful.  This play has been extended (for the third time) only through July 31st.  I urge you to have this experience.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Theatre

 

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