The Flag of the city state of Singapore was designed by committee. It had to satisfy the Muslim population, so there's a crescent moon in it. It also had to satisfy the Chinese population, so it is both red and has stars. As flags, and compromises go, it's not bad. But recently the swim team from Singapore, competing in the Asia Games unconsciouly made clear the connection between nationalism and phallocentrism when they used the design of the flag for their swim trunks.
The always conservative and rather Victorian government has expressed outrage at the design, calling it inappropriate and lacking dignity. Some have called it obscene. Of course, I can only recall the motto of the Order of the Garter: Honi soit qui mal y pense, which means "the evil belongs to him who thinks it is evil." Sort of a medieval understanding of the psychological law of projection.
Certainly these swim suits say something about projection, but just what is projecting, well, I leave that up to you. I think the crescent moon looks like a horn, among other things, which also has phallic implications.
As a fashion statement, if the government of Singapore were smarter, they'd recognize they have a hot new export on their hands, and instead of calling out the team, they should be thanking them — and gearing up to sell these swim suits in stores worldwide. Or at least in Chelsea and Hells Kitchen.
Tomorrow night in New York there will be a rare screening of the 1968 British film If... as part of the Queer/Art/Film series so ably put together by Ira Sachs and Adam Baran. This film helped me get through my hellish high school experience — because even though I did not go to a British boy's boarding school and was never caned (or had my nipples twisted by a priest) I felt a complete identification with the students suffering in the stultifying atmosphere of the school in the film. And as a teen struggling with coming out one year pre-Stonewall the sub-plot in the film of a homosexual romance between two of the boys, presented without judgement — in fact presented romantically, I found the film transgressively thrilling.
Of course, the heroes of the film fight back against the school in a climax of bloody violence that makes Columbine look like a picnic — it was made at a time when revolt was in the air and student protests were taking place across the U.S. and Europe. But in the U.S. it was the students who were dying at the hands of the National Guard. In this film, Malcolm McDowell as Mick and his buddies take up arms and open fire on graduation ceremonies. For me, this was divine sublimation. I was that angry, but I certainly wasn't going to act out any of my fantasies of revenge. Today however, in a country where it's easy to get a gun, we actually have scenes like that in If... And they are not dramatically satisfying. They are tragic.
And everyone weeps for the fallen. But in the last few months, looking at the young suicides - those who killed themselves because they were tormented for their sexuality, real or percieved - I know that a suicide is rage turned inward, rage turned at a target where it will be effective since rage against bullies, schools, adults seems hopeless to these young people we have lost.
If... gave me courage to survive my high school years. And showed me an image of gay love that was casual, no big deal, just something that was simply right. More revolutionary that shooting prefects from a rooftop.
I haven't seen If... since the late 60s. In the last few years issues like Columbine and other acts like it have made me wonder if it were even more relevant today. Not because it made heroes of the boys who fought back, but it made it clear why they felt the need to do so. And with the recent increased coverage of lgbt youth suicide (I won't say increased suicide, because it's always been there, quiet and not covered by media with the serious it has always deserved) I find If... even more important to see and talk about in the lgbt community even here in the U.S.
Consider the case of Andrew Shrivell — a cyber-bully in a position of power. He might have been able to continue his insane attacks had not the recent events helped shine an light on his ugly little mind. But this is the tip of the iceberg, and like most icebergs, the vast majority of nastiness is below the radar screen and not covered by media. It is the living hell kids go through every day.
"It Gets Better" videos are a good thing. They give hope to those who have resources enough to find them. But it doesn't change day to day reality. And when you can members of Congress, and institutionalized religion on the side of bullies, it's no wonder teachers look the other way and our schools become our local version of Lord of the Flies.
The truth is that children are not comfortable with ambiguity at certain ages. They like certainty, categories, clarity, definition. And lgbt people upset those categories. Hell, there are adults who never grew out of the this childish need to see the world in black and white. Those of us who've been over the rainbow know there are all different shades in between and a whole universe of colors to play with. And that's nothing to be scared of — rather it is to be celebrated.
The problem with If... is that Columbine happened. And while I had revenge fantasies, I have no desire at all to shoot down the student body of Pat Robertson's Liberty University. I just want to shatter their color blinders.
There are hundreds of Facebook groups organized around political principles and action. I belong to some of them. A couple of weeks ago there was another Facebook firestorm when the Boycott BP page lost admin privileges. Facebook said it was a glitch and the page privileges were restored. Not so for the Target boycott page — and the paper with the business scoop behind it is Washington D.C.’s MetroWeekly: Facebook will be selling gift cards in Target stores this fall holiday season, so enabling a boycott through their platform directly goes against their business interests. And lets not forget that Facebook is a business.
The details were reported in USA Today:
The social-network giant is getting into the gift card business, starting Sunday, with Facebook Credits cards. The new Facebook gift cards will be available in values of $15, $25 and $50 at all of Target's 1,750 retail stores and at Target.com. Two or three more national retailers will start selling the cards in coming months. This will be the first time Facebook has had any presence in a retail store. Facebook already has an arrangement with online-payment services PayPal and MOL to purchase Facebook Credits.
How big a business is this? In today's New York Times, it is estimated that this year alone the market in Facebook credits will reach $835 million.
So it’s no surprise Facebook has disabled the administrative functions of groups that are organizing a boycott of Target in response to Target’s contributions to anti-gay politicians.
The Internet is a friend of the corporate oligarchy.
Facebook isn’t some non-profit service to the world community. Like Google, it is an advertising platform. Their value is in the private information they collect and use to help advertisers target prospects and customers.
In the world of advertising, when an advertiser asks for personal information from a prospect or customer there is always something called a value exchange. The customer gives up some personal information in return for an offer, a discount, something useful. Think of it as a trade.
Facebook is just such a trade — it has enabled half a billion people around the world to communicate in groups in ways that have never been possible. Of course, along the way, Facebook has collected enough personal information on all these people to make the secret police in any state quiver with desire. The Stasi would be envious of their info gathering ability.
Even without giving up specific information an MIT study last year demonstrated that Facebook friend connections could be used to determine with a strong degree of accuracy whether a man is gay even if he is in the closet.
An Unprecedented Level of Personal Information Given Freely Can Lead To Less Freedom
I am under no illusions when I use Facebook. Or Google for that matter. Just as I have given out information on this blog that could be used by a totalitarian government as evidence to imprison me for thought crimes and/or political beliefs, sexual practices, etc., my actions on Facebook and Google give corporations the information they need to imprison me in the net of the corporate oligarchy.
Remember, I’m an advertising executive. I like advertising. I believe it has a positive social role. I think the internet makes finding stuff I want amazingly easy — just last week I bought a book of Nepalese folktales from a publisher half a world away from their site. But search engines, or Facebook for that matter, like any tool, it can be used for ill. A hammer can be used to build a house or bash a head. And when you hold a hammer, you understand it’s possibility to do both those things.
When you use Facebook, you may not think about how it can be used against you. Many young people have learned already that posting photos of drunken student antics have ruined employment possibilities. That’s because today, human resources departments don’t need to seek references — they can simply Google your name and see whatever might be online. This is not news. What was news the other weeks was when Google head Eric Schmidt joked about it suggesting people change their names legally if they wanted to hide their past internet indiscretions.
Facebook as a public utility rather than a business — First Amendment rights should apply.
So Facebook has an economic interest in making sure Facebook users shop at Target. And they have an interest in making sure no one can use their service to spread information about a Target boycott.
However, when a service like Facebook becomes so ubiquitous as to have taken on the role as public square, we have to claim our role as citizens — not consumers. Facebook in fact is denying the right of free speech. Not unlike a shopping mall tries to deny political speech in mall common areas.
The public square, and the streets, as public property are protected by the First Amendment. Facebook however, is a corporation, and users give up their rights to use the service. This is the creeping danger of corporate media and the web.
Broadcasters, because they are licensed by the state to use the airwaves (how quaint a thought, airwaves) which belong to the public, must abide by certain rules — from providing community and educational programming as well as free advertising time for public service messages.
Webcasters like Facebook do not seem to have these restrictions — even though the infrastructure for the Internet was developed by the federal government. And while it has evolved far beyond that original infrastructure, the internet, like the airwaves, are a public trust. And corporate webcasters like Facebook should be subject to fairness doctrines just as broadcasters were — I saw were because if there were still a fairness doctrine Fox news would not exist. And while I don’t believe in censorship, I do believe that since Fox news is really propaganda and nothing else their license to broadcast should be revoked. The fairness doctrine must be restored to broadcasting.
The internet, since it was developed by the government, is a public trust, and net neutrality must be maintained.
The internet, as a public trust, is also a place where the rights around public speech must hold.
These are bedrock principles we as citizens (and lets remember our role and responsibility as citizens instead of the role we have been assigned by the corporate oligarchy as mere consumers) must demand are enforced by our elected officials before they are completely bought out.
These brave citizens speak candidly about difficult circumstances that some service people have found more stressful than battle.
As DADT lumbers slowly towards repeal, you might think this film will be just another bit of history — documenting the past. However, what makes this film a moving portrait of LGBT Americans is how it captures the strong bond they feel towards the Naval Academy. And how it shows the many positive ways the Naval Academy shaped their character.
will be shown with Silent Partners, documenting how DADT affects the lives of
the partners of 3 deployed service
members and the screening is sponsored the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
If you don't check in regularly at Mark Fiore's site to see his weekly animated political cartoons, you're really missing something. Like this for example:
Let's start with a sentence in the first paragraph of this week's New Yorker's Talk of the Town:
"On January 19th, a Republican won the Massachusetts seat that had been held for nearly half a century by Edward M. Kennedy, thereby depriving the Senate Democrats of the sixtieth vote they need to pass legislation."
Have I fallen down a rabbit hole? What the hell is wrong with the media on this subject? The Democrats need 60 votes to shut down debate or a filibuster. They only need 51 votes to pass legislation. HELLO?!?
The problem is that the Democrats are too spineless to let the Republicans filibuster. Please, let them argue against what the majority of Americans want. Let them make fools of themselves in public. Set them up. Go ahead.
But no. Obama said he wanted change. He wanted a bipartisan solution.
This isn't change. It's the usual Republican roadblock and the usual wimpy Democratric response.
The only thing that has changed is Obama's agenda, which also gets wimpier all the time.
I can't even watch Jon Stewart anymore because the whole thing disgusts me so much I can't laugh at it. Meanwhile, the DNC continues to call me for money and I continue to tell them that I've gone along with Don't Ask, Don't Give. Holding hearings don't cut it. The president could issue a stop loss order today while the debate moves forward. He hasn't. And so my wallet is closed.
Mind you, the wallet isn't very full, given that I haven't had full time employment in two years. I'm paying for my own health insurance, and not a small amount. I live tight. But I opened that wallet for Obama and the Dems in the 08 election. Results?
The change Obama promised happened: he changed from a populist economic policy to one that favored the bankers. He made deals with big pharma. And he ignored the base that put him in office.
His one flash of fire last week was to comment on Republicans calling his citizenship into question. Does he seriously think that's going to stop? Does he seriously think a party the party of Richard Nixon (and Roger Ailes' Willie Horton commercial) is going to be civil and play fair? What kind of drugs did the pharma people give him anyway?
Imagine a movie about two men who live in an extremely homophobic, yet highly male-identified community. These two men are deeply involved in their community — a group that gives them an identity, a place in the world, a way to understand everything. Yet these men find themselves so powerfully attracted to each other that they are willing to risk their position, their friends, family, their deepest beliefs and even their lives to be together. Have you seen this movie before? Yes and no.
Two new movies explore this rapidly growing new cinema motif. Because while this paradigm could well describe the plot of Brokeback Mountain, it also describes one movie that takes place in an enclave of ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem and a second that follows a relationship that unfolds between to members of a band of neo-Nazis in Denmark.
Yes, where the ultra-orthodox Jews and neo-Nazis find common ground is in hatred of queer people. So oddly enough in the last year we saw two movies released that tell stories as parallel as the photographs of couples in these such outwardly different groups.
The Brotherhood, which won the top prize at last year’s Rome Film Festival, follows the story of Lars and Jimmy, two young, angry and rootless young men in Denmark whose passionate hatred of immigrants (and gay men — the film begins with a disturbingly real gay bashing scene) turns to passion for each other. Eyes Wide Open, which can be seen in New York City at the Jewish Film Festival on January 19th at the Manhattan JCC, tells the story of Aaron and Ezri, two ultra-orthodox Jewish men caught in the claustrophobic world of the Haredi in Israel. The parallels between the stories are unsettling, but at this point should not be a surprise.
These parallels are simply be the sign that there is a pattern to this kind of story that, like the films of an earlier generation, will be revealed as a kind of forbidden romance motif. And of course, the father of this new generation of gay forbidden romance films is Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, which also takes place in the male-dominated community of cowboys.
Like Brokeback, in both of these films one man is the experienced initiator — the Tempter template if you will. And like Brokeback, they follow a very similar trajectory. In some ways, all these films are like Harlequin Romances in their strict adherence to a form. Of course, you know a Harlequin Romance, with all its twists and turns will end happily. But following the Brokeback pattern (and considering the communities these stories take place in) I won’t be spoiling anything to tell you not to expect a happy ending in either of these films.
This is not to say the movies aren’t good. Both of them are quite good in fact. And this isn’t to suggest you won’t be surprised or left with questions at the end of both these movies — because the endings are not quite as clear as all that. They are both well worth seeing, and you’ll have the chance to see Eyes Wide Open (which was an Official Selection at Cannes) in New York this month.
Another reason to see Eyes Wide Open is Ran Danker, the Israeli pop star who plays Ezri, a homeless youth who has been expelled from his yeshiva for obvious reasons. He has a hit song in Israel called “I am Fire” and I believe it. Yes, he plays the tempter Ezri in Eyes Wide Open, a young man expelled from his yeshiva and cut off by his former fellow student and lover.
Ezri, sleeping on the streets, is taken in by Aaron, a 30-something butcher who has a longing in his life that he feels is connected to the fact that he couldn’t devote his life to Torah study. Ezri shows him that this longing is for something else.
The beauty of this movie is that it shows both the goodness of the orthodox community and its dark side without judgment. We meet the hooligans of the “Purity Police” who are nothing but Taliban with tzitzit. We feel an increasing hostility, claustrophobia and danger as a community that was once embracing and filled with caring and charity turns on one of its own.
For those who aren’t familiar with the intense male bonding in orthodox communities, this movie captures the spiritual intimacy between men that can be the result of this bonding. And who doesn’t long for spiritual intimacy, gay or straight?
Unlike the Brokeback template, when Aaron and Ezri’s relationship begins, Aaron is already married with several children. His wife’s pain in this situation is played exquisitely by Ravit Rozen.
The relationship between the men does not survive this pressure cooker environment — but the ending is more ambiguous in what becomes of Aaron. And will inspire conversations as to the intent of the filmmaker and its ultimate meaning.
In The Brotherhood, Lars is an outsider — a young man whose military career is shut down because as an officer he is accused of sexually harassing his subordinates, he finds himself shut out of the male community he joined. Rootless, and angry, he turns to a neo-Nazi group, where he meets Jimmy. Another interesting parallel between the films is that the ostensibly straight man discovers his passion for the other in the water — Aaron and Ezri at the mikvah, a ritual bath, and Lars and Jimmy in the ocean. Both films capture all the fear, tentativeness, shame, vulnerability and passion that can be so much part of a first male/male relationship.
Lars knows he is gay — and joins the neo-Nazis anyway, and tests the limits by talking about Ernst Röhm, the homosexual leader of Hitler’s Brownshirts, and who was murdered by the Nazis in a party purge. He openly courts disaster. This is also true of the couple in Eyes Wide Open, though of course, not by praising Nazis.
It would have been easy to make a film about sex between men and Nazis a sexploitation film — just putting the words Nazis and gay sex in the same sentence creates a kinky quiver for some. But just as Tabakman, the director of Eyes Wide Open, treats the orthodox with a sense of balance, Nicolo Donato doesn’t go for cheap titillation here, but uses the subject for a deeper exploration of the fear and desire that exists in masculine camaraderie.
It won’t be easy for reviewers to avoid sensationalizing the subject matter of these films, regardless of how hard the directors have worked to make deep statements about human nature, longing for God, longing to be part of something larger than the self, longing for tenderness and vulnerability in a world where expressing that need is dangerous. But it would be a disservice to the filmmakers and their audience.
I had an odd sensation towards the end of Brotherhood that was exactly like the feeling I had watching Birth of A Nation for the first time in a theater. Griffith manipulates his audience so that it’s hard not feel like cheering the Klan at the end of the film. And in Brotherhood, while you won’t feel like cheering the Nazis, you will want to see Lars and Jimmy escape the prison they’ve walked into eyes wide open to live happily ever after. The cruel twist that prevents this happy ending will leave a gay audience gasping in a whirlwind of confusing emotions. This is a powerful film.
Both films, as foreign productions, move at a speed that may not be comfortable for American audiences more interested in characters rendered in 3D but that have no more reality than the bytes on this screen. And while not a display of modern computer graphics, both of these films are beautifully shot. For those who are willing to experience difficult emotions these are richly rewarding films that should be seen. Eyes Wide Open is about to open for limited showings at two local NYC festivals. No telling yet if Brotherhood will find a U.S. distributor when it plays at the Palm Springs Festival this month. If it does, don’t miss it.
Trailers for both films follow...
In the Wall Street Journal, the woman who put pretty words in the mealy mouth of a man who ignored tens of thousands of Americans dying in the 1980s (she was Reagan's speechwriter for those who don't remember), Peggy Noonan, has just written:
But increasingly people feel at the mercy of the Adam Lamberts, who of course view themselves, when criticized, as victims of prudery and closed-mindedness. America is not prudish or closed-minded, it is exhausted. It cannot be exaggerated, how much Americans feel besieged by the culture of their own country, and to what lengths they have to go to protect their children from it.
I am sorry Ms. Noonan if you feel besieged. I would agree that there is much in the media that is crass, disgusting and hateful. Like Glenn Beck's racism for example. I don't notice you wasting any ink on him.
If you want to talk about feeling besieged, ask all the lgbt people who were victims of hate crimes this last year.
Please, spare me your mock outrage.
I don't disagree that we could use more civility. Start on your side of the fence please. Thank you, and excuse me.
According the the L.A. Times:
A federal judge today ordered compensation for a Los Angeles couple denied spousal benefits by the federal government because they are gay men.
U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt deemed the denial of healthcare and other benefits to the spouse of federal public defender Brad Levenson to be a violation of the Constitution's guarantee of due process and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which is prohibited by California state law.
Levenson married his longtime partner, Tony Sears, on July 12, 2008, during the five-month period when same-sex marriage was legal in California. A ballot measure, Proposition 8, was passed a year ago defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Reinhardt, who is the federal judge responsible for resolving employee disputes in the Federal Public Defenders office within the 9th Circuit, had earlier ordered the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to process Levenson's application for spousal benefits for Sears. The federal government's Office of Personnel Management stepped in to derail the enrollment, however, citing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriage for the purpose of federal benefits or programs.
Levenson appealed, seeking either an independently contracted benefits package for his spouse or payment of the equivalent value of the coverage denied. Reinhardt ordered the latter, based on a "back pay" provision in the law covering federal defense lawyers' employment.
"Considering that the federal government won't give Tony the equal benefits package of other spouses, we are very pleased with this decision," said Levenson. "Is it equal treatment? No. Is it a good remedy? Yes. And we are appreciative of the judge's order."
Levenson said he and Sears have been keeping track of the costs of insuring Sears independently and estimate the back pay and future compensation will amount to thousands of dollars each year.
The judge's order is expected to resolve the injustice Reinhardt has cited in previous orders in Levenson's case. But it also recognizes the status quo of federal government rejection of gay marriage under the Defense of Marriage Act. Several other challenges by those denied federal benefits, like filing joint tax returns, are making their way slowly through the federal courts.
The Obama administration has spoken out against what it sees as a discriminatory policy toward gay spouses of federal employees but Atty. Gen. Eric Holder has also said his office is obliged to defend the practice as long as the Defense of Marriage Act remains law.