Obama: Part I

Jacob Weisberg posted an interesting summary judgment of Obama’s qualities today on Slate. It is an early attempt to break down what kind of president he is.

It’s worth taking a look at, even if we are all/have been sick to death of analyzing this man’s character. In the age of the Internetz, we don’t wait for history “to write itself” (as the saying goes), we write it and debate it and revise it while the events are still going on. I for one think this is a good thing, even if it gives us a headache. By the time history gets canonized for future generations, there will be lots and lots of information to draw from, and the old adage of “the winners write history” will perhaps by then be untrue.

–anna out

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?! Catholics Go Un-American

I spent the majority of my formative years in South Bend, IN. I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school all my life until college. My high school was located across the street from Notre Dame and it would be safe to say that *most* of my teachers attended that institution of higher learning. In other words, I am familiar with Notre Dame, and I am deeply disappointed with all the bullshit that has been going on there since Obama was asked to be the commencement speaker.

Behold, Catholicism gets hip to youtube and ushers Fr. Corapi, a man with a resonant and authoritative voice, to blather their nonsense.

He claims the Church has “dishonored itself” by inviting Obama to be Notre Dame’s commencement speaker. HELLO, HE IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Normally, as a liberal, I wouldn’t invoke the label of president to elicit a reverent stance towards anyone. Fight the power, right? But in the past 5 months, the label and institution of the presidency has been restored as a respectful one, as it is no longer inhabited by a village idiot who unbalanced the world with cruel and thoughtless policies. Never did American political life (among other things) tip so dangerously toward chaos than during the 8 years of GWB. But now at the helm of our still teetering realm, we have AN INTELLIGENT, COMPASSIONATE, THOUGHTFUL PRESIDENT.

But apparently Obama doesn’t just disrespect life, Fr. Copari says he is the first president to have an “obviously public and pernicious anti-life and anti-Catholic Christian bias.” What the hell is an anti-Catholic Christian bias? What does that mean? Copari and the Newman Center must have added the word “Christian” in there just to throw us all off balance.

That is clearly going too far. I can understand that Catholics might object to some of Obama’s positions, but wtf, Catholics, I always thought you (we!) had better sense than this! LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE.

But maybe I am getting carried away, and the people at ND protesting the O man are just the fringe. After all, Obama received 7 more percentage points from the Catholics than fellow-papist Kerry did in 04. Catholics like Obama. We voted for him.

President Bush gave the commencement speech in May of 2001. Those were simpler times; he may have stolen the election, but it was another two years until he invaded a country and signified his ‘respect’ for life everywhere.

We are still in the midst of a torture scandal, in which our nation’s leadership (on both the right and left) failed to be forthcoming about interrogation policy in our terrorist prisons. This isn’t really big news as we’ve known that torture was going on for a while. But I can’t help but be scandalized that the Catholic Church is wasting its breathe dishonoring and making a fool of themselves by protesting Obama’s commencement speech, when they should be re-examining what it means to respect life, and where the Church’s priorities should lay. Like Bush, the Catholic Church has started to rely on culture wars to define Catholic culture. But if we want to foster a world where compassion, tolerance, and Christ’s love reigns, then we can all agree that torture, unjust war (to use the Catholic term!), and poverty degrade life in noticeable, impactful ways. I am pro-choice (though I have a nuanced view of abortion’s morality), and it is preposterous to devote so much energy to one wedge issue when there is so much more meaningful evil going on out there.

Catholics have a strong reputation for being crusaders for social justice, and I know that some Catholics believe that all injustice stems from abortion (the argument goes: if we cannot protect the innocent, who can we protect?!??!)

WELL WE CAN PROTECT THE PEOPLE WHO ARE ALREADY ALIVE. PLEASE DIVERT YOUR VITRIOL AWAY FROM OUR PRESIDENT AND TOWARD MORE LEGITIMATE CAUSES.

[end rant]

by anna

Pitchfork Continually Surprised by Talented Women

pretty, pretty princess who you might be sorta interested in, i mean, if you like chick singers, dude

by anna

Like many music enthusiasts in the world, I have a love/hate relationship with Pitchfork. My most exhilarating encounters with music criticism occurred while reading Brent DiCrescenzo’s outrageous (yet emotionally stirring!!!) reviews while I was still in high school. Pitchfork has informed the way I conceptualize music; it created the first paradigm for richly informed, detailed, obsessive music criticism, thereby driving the blurb-driven snark machines of Rolling Stone and Spin into the bitter, bitter dirt of irrelevance.  Also, Pitchfork has contributed to my vision for a blog like this one, in which I deconstruct a Beyonce single in like 1000 words.

Back in 2005, DiCrescenzo wrote a column chronicling various indie prototypes created in Pfork’s reviews, among them an intellectual female artist known as “The Stef,” and the freak-man-boy known as “The Sloth.” In it, he describes Pitchfork writer’s analyses (both underlying and upfront) of women musicians:

Specifically, writers paint Fiona Apple and Cat Power’s Chan Marshall as hormonally capricious victim-savants and read all their lyrics like Psy.D parents unlocking a daughter’s pink diary, while Devendra Banhart’s jabberwocky skews as fecund genius.

and later…

When convenient, male songwriters slip into omniscient skin to amuse and illuminate, while female songwriters meddle in their first-person emotions, unable to escape the black hole of their romantic astrology. Naturally, emotional analysis always overshadows technical musicianship in Stef reviews.

In other words, reviewers focus on the emotional qualities of women artists’ work, while they are more generous with men, granting them agency over their identity.

Too bad no one ever heeded his words over at the magazine. Despite Pfork’s “Best New Music” section featuring a larger proportion of women-led acts than perhaps ever before, the language of the reviews stirs in me a reaction similar to that of feminist bloggersresponses to The New Republic’s recent profile of Sonya Sotomayor. (That’s a whole ‘nother controversy, but one that revolves around the reading of a female subject through a lens of motherhood and unhinged emotionality.) Do a close, or fuck, a distant reading of some of these reviews, and all the acceptable feminine identities are neatly rolled out in a matter of four goddamn sentences, then the woman artist in question will be shoved into each and every niche, until she is a sex symbol, a princess (!!), a mother, and an earth-goddess.

So, czech out the latest example, from the review of St. Vincent’s Actor.

Annie Clark, the musician otherwise known as St. Vincent, projects an aura of eerie perfection– beautiful, poised, good-humored, and well-adjusted to a degree uncommon for rock performers, let alone ordinary people. She’s clearly not oblivious to her disarming qualities. On the covers of both her albums, her wide eyes and porcelain features give her the appearance of a cartoon princess come to life, and in the songs contained therein, she sings with the measured, patient tones of a benevolent, maternal authority figure. The thing that separates Clark from any number of earth mother Lilith Fair types, however, is her eagerness to subvert that effect. Her album covers may showcase her pretty face, but her blank expression and the tight framing leave the images feeling uncomfortably ambiguous. Her voice and arrangements are often mellow and soothing, but those sounds mainly serve as context as she exposes undercurrents of anxiety and discomfort hidden just beneath a gorgeous façade.

Clearly, St. Vincent has an authoritative presence; but the critic here qualifies her assertive vocal tendencies as “maternal,” for no reason I can tell other than Ms. Clark has a woman’s voice. And, Lilith Fair? I don’t hear much 90’s lesbian music going on here; St. Vincent is more akin to those indie musicians pushing the classical envelope. Again, the only thing I imagine would conjure such a comparison would be her womanly voice.

Also, she’s a pretty pretty princess.

If Dicrescenzo is arguing that critics assume an insulting lack of agency on the behalf of women artists’ identities, this review pats St. Vincent on the back for being shifty; she has stealthily avoided all the traps pfork has set up for her.

Behold:

With that in mind, the album is perfectly titled, as Actor proves St. Vincent as an artist capable of crafting believable, complicated characters with compassion, insight, and exacting skill.

“Thanks, guys! I am capable!” I’m certain that’s what Ms. Clark was thinking when she read that.

You know who else is capable? Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan. Check out the last sentence of the recent review of Two Suns:

Not only does Khan hold her own, there are moments when she holds his, too [on the song The Big Sleep]. That she’s capable of doing so is evidence enough that we should be paying attention.

Apparently Pfork needs a lot of proof from the women artists they review. I find it uncanny, not to mention lazy, that these two reviews end almost identically. Furthermore, the fact that Khan “holds her own” with a man is supposed to prove to us we can pay attention now? Thanks for the permission.

Then again, I am relieved that the critic even came to that conclusion, given his best efforts to totally undermine the seriousness or aesthetic worth of Bat For Lashes in his opening sentence:

Natasha Khan likes pretty things: fur, gold, melody, the moon, feathers, things that sparkle, chords that resolve.

The thing I am most shocked about is the weird lack of awareness running through these articles. Aren’t these music critic dudes at all sensitive to the potentially cringe-inducing usage of words like, “capable” or “pretty” or “maternal?” Didn’t these hip young men ever take a gender studies class? Don’t their girlfriends get annoyed with them? Have they ever talked to a woman?

I am not proposing censorship, I am proposing a little sensitivity. I am delighted that women artists are being reviewed favorably by Pfork, but I won’t be satisfied until they apply the language they use in reviews of dude bands/acts to the womenfolk.

Hillary Clinton Is Still a Badass

Hillary Clinton is pretty great. It’s sort of hard to remember, given the ugly primaries. I was mad at her and other second wavers for playing the victim card when it was convenient, and I was mad at her for dirty tactics that occurred early on in her campaign.
But as Secretary of State, this woman pretty much rocks. I still have a hard time making the mental shift and accepting that our country, though in dire straights, is no longer run by crazy people.

Check this out:

-Anna

A GOOD BLOG COMIN YOUR WAY!

Here in Chicago, there is a team of us starting a website and quarterly magazine called “Wisecrack: Feminism & Comedy.” Already we’re on the first page of google when you type “feminism & comedy” into the search engine, which shows the kind of void we are filling here.

Our website is currently under construction but should be up by next Wednesday. It is:

wisecrackmagazine.com

For now, you should check out our blog, which features articles by me and Indira along with numerous posts about things relating to feminism & comedy:

wisecrackzine.blogspot.com

Check them out and please keep your eye on us! We’re up and coming!

-anna

ps, we also have a twitter.

Observe, Report, Condemn

by anna

The feminist blogosphere is all a-buzz with the date-rape scene in Observe and Report. I know I am coming to this a little late, but let me just chime in: Fuck Seth Rogen, and Fuck Jody Hill, director of this movie.

Seth Rogen, on the one hand, seems to realize the shocking nature of the scene, saying in an interview:

When we’re having sex and she’s unconscious like you can literally feel the audience thinking, like, how the fuck are they going to make this okay? Like, what can possibly be said or done that I’m not going to walk out of the movie theater in the next thirty seconds? . . . And then she says, like, the one thing that makes it all okay: BRANDI: “Why are you stopping, motherfucker?”

Though what Brandi says certainly does not make it okay, he seems to find the scene funny based on the dramatic tension between audience’s moral judgments and the films weak efforts to resolve it. Fair enough.

Jody Hill thinks portraying this date-rape scene is artistically daring. Read his inarticulate pompousness here, courtesy of the Onion’s A.V. Club:

AVC: In the Times piece, they describe the scene you’re talking about as Seth Rogen’s character forcing himself on Anna Faris. Is that how you perceived that scene?

JH: [Pause.] I dunno. I’ve always kind of liked scenes that you talk about how fucked-up they are. I would have been happy without any dialogue in that scene. I wanted to show them just having sex and her passed out, and I thought that would have been funnier. But I think I have a darker sense of humor than most people. So at the end, [Faris’ character] is okay with it. [Laughs.] And that was like, “I’ll shoot it both ways.” So I actually shot it both ways. I just kept the camera rolling. There’s like a line that’s “We’re okay laughing, and you’re pushing the envelope.” But you’re not really pushing the envelope until you cross that line where a lot of people don’t go along with you. I tried to do it in a few scenes in this movie, where a lot of people aren’t going to go along with the film or with what we’re trying to do. Hopefully that means we’re actually pushing the envelope. [Laughs.] You know what I mean by that? I think if you’re really pushing the envelope, you have to not include everybody, if that makes sense. Or else it’s not really pushing the envelope.

DID YOU SEE THAT? I think Jody needs to learn the difference between exploitation/politically irresponsible provocateuring AND ART. Just because something is daring and shocking does not mean it is “pushing the envelope.” And if “pushing the envelope” is your only vocabulary for artistic experimentation, then you need to go back to film school and learn how to be legitimately interesting.

Sadly, though, I must also throw in a heavy-hearted chide against Anna Faris. Anna, I really really really want to believe in you. You’re so funny and delightful. But you keep being in crappy movies that are sexist. WHY????????!

It could be because there aren’t many opportunities for a cutie-blond such as Anna to be taken seriously in a movie. Women like her are not leads, they are objects of our scorn or our pitying laughter. Anna has played either a superficial bimbo (Lost in Translation) or, when she had a lead of her own (The House Bunny), she plays a good-hearted by empty-headed bimbo. Remember when Katherine Heigl spoke up about her Knocked Up filming experience? That was refreshing. I’m not asking Anna F to always represent; that would be unfair. I just want to see her in some good movies, where her goofiness is on full display, and she does not play petty, bitchy sidekick to a Seth Rogen character.

Finally, I admit, I haven’t seen the movie. I plan to, because I want to see the context of this scene as wedged between other scenes of cruelty. Not all portrayals of rape in movies are inherently wrong; but when rape is made light or the object of laughter, that is indeed a problem.

Feminism and the Philosophy of Relativity

by anna

Not too long ago I read Katha Pollitt’s “Learning to Drive,” a collection of essays and memoirs by The Nation columnist and prominent feminist.

I was particularly struck by a few lines, something I have consistently mulled over during my past years as a feminist activist, and something I believe worthy of all feminists’ consideration:

“These days anything is feminist as long as you ‘choose’ it … no matter how dangerous or silly or servile or self-destructive it is.”

This was quoted last week in Linda Hirshman’s article for Slate,  “Crazy Love, Crazy Choices.” Hirshman, in her characteristically assertive manner, took the hard-line on how women should act when they find themselves in abusive relationships. She was responding to Leslie Morgan Steiner’s new book Crazy Love, which chronicle’s the author’s experiences with an abusive husband.

To be precise, Hirshman says, “The current love affair with understanding stops feminists from calling victims on taking responsibility for their own well-being.”

I know Hirshman is very controversial and comes across as a tad intolerant (especially when it comes to her commentary on women’s career issues). But what I admire about her is her willingness to take a strong, unequivocal position on certain issues. However, her ideas can sometimes look like Stalinism to feminism’s current “anything goes” policy.

But what both Pollitt and Hirshman have responded to in some form or another is the relativity of popular feminist thought. To rephrase both Hirshman and Pollitt, I think what they are objecting to is the idea that “if a woman makes a choice, it’s right because a woman made that choice.” This idea is intellectually lazy, a tautology, an emptiness at the hole of feminist thought.

Feminism no longer is a united ideology; feminists can hardly agree on common goals, much less a common system of thought that might guide us to a better philosophy. We don’t need angry judgment against women from feminism, but we do need more dramatic guidelines to help us figure out where we’re going. We are becoming an umbrella party for all liberal causes; I would like us to remain potent and strong, with focused, marked criticisms and policy proposals for our society.

As Hirshman’s utterances were pretty much a condemnation and judgment of one woman’s actions in regards to her abusive husband, let me just distance myself and say I still don’t know how to approach that topic. I do think the victim has a responsibility to take care of him/herself, but I also don’t think we can universally declare that the abused party is wrong and stupid when they do not to leave their abusers.

I know feminism has distanced itself from the world of black and white moral thinking, and for good reason. Certain types of old logic are contrary to feminism and women’s progress. But in our efforts to destroy old categories, it seems we have destroyed a lot of other things too, among them the ability to come up with a coherent ideology. More on this later.