Tuesday, June 30, 2009

King of Rock, King of Pop...

Two oddly similar "facts" that I stumbled upon in the last 6 hours from completely unrelated sources:
  1. The Michael Jackson Fan Club reports that, as of today, 12 people have committed suicide in response to the death of The Gloved One.
  2. As of 1991, about 100 times as many miraculous healings had been attributed to Elvis as had been attributed to the average Catholic saint.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Liars and monsters: part 2

While not nearly as bombastic as the Letterman-Palin mess, Canada had a far less banal crisis of misinterpretation involving politicians this past week. Aside from how the ideological positions are reversed in this example - rather than the liberal Letterman being taken to task for something he didn't say by the conservative Palin, it's a Conservative being burned at the stake by Liberals - there are eerie similarities.

The controversy surrounds newish MP Lisa Raitt, the Natural Resources minister, who is recorded - on a private tape that was left in a washroom - saying that she would love to have the Health minister's job. The problem, it seems, is that she's heard to say that the Health portfolio's issue-of-the-moment, a shortage of nuclear-istopes used in cancer treatments, is "sexy".

Like the Letterman joke, I'd like to believe that only someone who is incredibly dense would think that Raitt was literally calling cancer "sexy". And yet that's exactly how NGOs, cancer survivors, and Raitt's political opponents are choosing to interpret it. As someone who generally despises the Conservative government, I'd love to see Raitt resign and the party go down in shame. As someone who would like to pretend that representative democracies can work, I'd rather they admit that it's just not that big a deal.

The thing is, cancer is a sexy topic - in the same, desexualized way that terrorism is sexy - by virtue of its ubiquity and importance within Canadians' popular consciousness, and the same politicians castigating Raitt know this better than most. (I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't occur to many of them that a political gaffe of this sort presents a particularly sexy opening for some opportunistic attacks.) If Raitt made a mistake, it was not unlike Letterman's - her choice of words could be too easily misappropriated. (Which is not to say that the phantasmic meaning of sexy=sexual isn't implicit or subtextual, even when the word is being used in a particularly desexualized way as it is here. But, again, that's a different blog entry right there...)

Sarah Palin is either a liar or a monster (or both? why not?)

So David Letterman made a joke a few days ago about the Palin family attending a Yankees game and Alex Rodriguez impregnating one of Sarah's daughters. Sarah Palin immediately fired back, pointing out that the only daughter at the game was the 14-year old, Willow, and so Letterman was joking about "the statutory rape of my daughter".

And if he were joking about statutory rape, I'd actually share her indignance. But he wasn't - to all but the least discerning of people, it should be clear that he was making a joke about the older daughter, Bristol, who is already a teenager mother. (And given that Bristol's out-of-wedlock baby problematizes Sarah Palin's 'family values' schtick, also taking an indirect shot at Sarah.)

What amazes me about the entire exchange, though, are these three things:

1. The number of people (dozens, hundreds) who have the basic intelligence necessary to blog but are nonetheless convinced that a) Letterman actually knew which daughter(s) were present at the game, and b) that he would knowingly make a sex joke about a 14-year old. Sarah Palin herself called Matt Lauer "naive" for suggesting that Letterman was making a joke about Bristol (because Bristol has never been the butt of a joke, right?). When Lauer asked whether, in a press release, she was sincerely suggesting that Letterman couldn't be trusted around a teenaged girl (it's implied - and I'm willing to give Palin's people some credit and call it a joke, but a bad one - that he's a pedophile) she stumbled through her response and couldn't actually bring herself to tease out what was being implied. Because, at best, she's being completely disingenuous. At worst, she's being totally malicious.

2. Ironically, in refusing to admit the possibility that Letterman was making a joke at Bristol's expense, Palin actually endorses Dave's intended joke and its implied meaning - that, to put it plainly, Bristol is a slut. Palin has made it clear that she will rain down on Dave with hellfire for insulting her family and women in general, so one has to wonder why she uses no fraction of her outrage in support of Bristol. It's as if mom thinks that only one of her daughters is actually deserving of a defense - hence the title of this blog, because only a monster could behave that way.

3. No one seems to care that at least half of Letterman's joke was directed at A-Rod. In fact, if Palin is right, then the entire joke was at A-Rod's expense. That said, we should point out that the reason a joke about A-Rod impregnating anyone is at all funny is because he's infamous for being something of a (purported? confirmed? i don't follow him closely enough) serial adulterer. That level works if the joke is about Bristol but not if it's about Willow. If it's about Willow, then suddenly the joke is about A-Rod being a pedophile, an accusation that's never been raised against him. It seems to escape Palin entirely that her favored interpretation of the joke casts A-Rod as a pedophile, and that this is equally problematic. That she hasn't addressed this element of the joke whatsoever is probably worth thinking about - and I'd suggest that it's also an implicit endorsement of it. (One has to wonder whether A-Rod's ambivalent relationship to his American-ness and his race have some role to play in the ostensible obviousness of the joke's appropriateness, but that would be an entire post in and of itself.)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Batman and Robin #1

(Please forgive the awfulness of the image quality - my Photoshop has been glitchy, so I resorted to a hack job in *ugh* MSPaint. Forgive me, Burt Ward and Frank Quitely.)

I wasn't the only person who found Robin's pose on the cover of Batman and Robin #1 really familiar, right? I've been told that Morrison and Quitely are going for a 60s TV show feel, and I have to say that I'm pretty impressed with how they've managed to the incorporate elements from it without either a) importing the cheese-factor, or b) appearing to mock it.

I doubt I'm adding anything new, but I wanted to reiterate how awesome it is that Quitely pays homage to the visualized sound-effects of the show by actually working them into his drawings (what's the opposite of onomatopeoia, anyway?), how the text and images of the preview recall its cliffhangers, or how Pyg is a sort of grotesque twist on the sorts of lame, circus-like villains of the show. Pyg's henchmen, though, also manage to bridge a gap between the show and Morrison's own ouvre - not only are they a hideous take on the uniform henchman gangs on the TV series, but they also call to mind the Stepford Cuckoo's from Morrison's New X-Men. (Though exactly how far that link runs remains to be seen.)

Friday, June 05, 2009

Feminist fatherhood (and motherhood)

[I haven't written much on here about how I became a dad a little over four months ago. That's not to say that I haven't been writing - I've been keeping a diary for more than ten months, addressed to the baby herself - but that I haven't known how to write about it for more than an audience of two or three. But maybe I should try?]

Victoria, who's reviewing some books on motherhood, tells me that there's an assumption among those who write about (and attempt to enact) feminist motherhood that the mother should put herself first and not sacrifice everything for the baby. So I can only suppose that there's an assumption of a feminist partner (either another mother or a father) who is able to take on a co-primary caregiver role. (Though, as I understand it, the other partner's role often isn't emphasized at all.) The ironic thing is that many of the same people who write about feminist mothering admit that they don't know how to actually do that.

As for feminist fatherhood, it seems implicit that my goal should be the reverse – that dads need to learn how to put themselves second if not third, to the baby if not the mother. But I'm generalizing to a great degree when I say this - the practice of "feminist fathering" is far more amorphous and phantasmatic than feminist mothering. Amazon lists some 900+ books on the latter topic and about 125 on the former, but even this comparison is misleading - the "feminist fathering" search results includes many of the books that are more properly about feminist mothering, and the only result from among the first half dozen pages that is actually about feminist fathering addresses it in such a way that it calls the very existence of a practice into question: "Do Men Mother?" (What does it mean to "mother" anyway? And what sorts of limits does that place on fathering?)

But if I'm right to draw out this distinction, then it's also true that things rarely work out this way - and that, in fact, it's still often the opposite. Feminist moms can't fully extricate themselves from the mostly conservative models of motherhood they've inherited and the same seems true of feminist dads and fatherhood. (This might be why the book title above asks if dad can "mother", presuming that they need to cross-identify in order to find something worth imitating.) And while there are people in our lives that assert the need for Victoria to find me-time or for me to act more like a full-time dad, these are still largely exceptional moments. For the most part, our casual friends, colleagues, and co-workers will (uncritically and unconsciously, I'm sure) question Victoria whenever she goes anywhere without the baby and, conversely, assume that I should be free and flexible to drop things at a moment's notice. (Less often, there's an assumption that I can/should want to work more and make more money; Victoria is often challenged for not taking a leave from school and work.)

It’s hard enough to negotiate these ideals of feminist mothering and fathering when it seems as if no one knows how to negotiate them. But it's even harder when those people who should, you would think, be most supportive of these goals don’t realize that they’re constantly undermining them.