Sunday, May 16, 2010

How White Men Do Humor That Isn't Oppressive: Andy Samberg's "Great Day"

[I actually have no idea what Andy Samberg's sexual orientation is, in part because I've not read this interview with him from Out magazine. I'm assuming he's het, because I'd probably have heard about it if he was gay. Regardless, the cover image is from here.]

I am currently reading the book Dry, by Augusten Burroughs. He wrote the very successful Running With Scissors. RWS is about his mother's decision to give him to her male psychiatrist, to live in that man's home with his own family and a few of his patients. This is a memoir, a true story, written with the kind of humor people need to survive really traumatic experiences that aren't shared with a whole community. Writing has saved Augusten's life, I would imagine, but this white not-poor gay man almost didn't make it, as he was drinking so much that many don't live to discuss it, let alone remember it sufficiently to write a memoir about it. Dry is that memoir, that chapter of his early adult life, when he recognises how his drinking was impacting him, getting help, and figuring out how to live without alcohol.

To me, it is a classic Western white man's story. Because it is so centered on one person's life only tangentially about other people's lives. White men often live this way, I think. And the ubiquitous drinking and drugging that white men do does nothing to ensure they will have meaningful connections to others, but they will, no matter what, have their race and gender privileges. I find Augusten to be racist and misogynistic, and of course I am not at all surprised at either. I am only surprised when a white man isn't overtly racist and actively sexist. I am utterly shocked when I find out a white het man is accountable, really, truly, to the women in his life.

It is said, by those who do not know or do not have a sense of humor, that radical feminists don't have one either. Every radical feminist I know has a robust sense of humor that is rarely used to put other people down. I personally like women's humor about men, such as Rosanne Barr's early work, but the radical feminists I know are not prone to find other people's pain hilarious. Very generally speaking, men, it seems to me, find other people's pain hilarious. Men laugh when men get hurt, not women. Men laugh when frightened; women, not so much. Men make jokes about prison rape, not women. I've never heard a feminist woman laugh about prison rape. I've heard many antifeminist men laugh too many times about it to count. Who, then, is callous to men's pain? I'd argue it is men, not women, again, very generally speaking.

So many forms of suffering are abstract to men, that men can be extremely and normally callous. But some men get how some suffering has potential for humor, without exactly making fun of the person who is, really, in trouble.

Andy Samberg is a U.S. white, early thirtysomething LA/NYC kind of guy. Raised on the comically extreme antics of Mel Brooks, Andy is best known for his short films made for a program that needs all the help it can get, Saturday Night Live. What the show needs is non-white, non-male writers, and to stop their ridiculously racist skits. And to have female actors write their own comedy that is not just about wacky women or sidekicks for men's misogyny to bounce off of, or bluntly hit.

Andy does something else, often enough to catch my attention and warrant this post. Andy observes white het men and white het male culture with a keen eye for what's tragic, pathetic, and humorous about it. And there's PLENTY that's rife with pathos and humor, with atrocious undertones. Beneath white men's lives, however comical or tragic, is the river or sea of blood of all the people our people beaten, whipped, raped, tortured, and killed in generations past. Well, some of my people. Not so many of Andy's, actually, as he's Ashkenazic, so his family's history is probably escaping pogroms, as is part of mine. Well, unless some of our European Jewish family have gone to Israel and have behaved as white het male supremacists do, trying to control or succeeding in killing people of color, usually Palestinian, and by being misogynistic in all the horribly usual ways to women of several ethnicities.

But his family and mine don't come from Israel, and no one in my family has ever lived there. Which is no reason to not oppose Israel's racist apartheid policies. I do oppose them. Not much because I've never been there and don't know anyone who is Israeli or Palestinian. Well, that's not entirely true. I have met and had some deep conversation with one guy whose dad is U.S.-Palestinian (his mom is white/european). He is a DEVOUT Christian, in a really oppressive way--a basically white missionary preacher of The Truth of The Gospel According to him. He's recognised the utter arrogance of his ways, actually, and has stopped being so preachy. Thank G-d. (I've written all about that talk, here.)

Andy's humor has distinctly U.S. Jewish male elements; self-deprecation, never taking oneself seriously, mocking one's own life or the lives of those with similar privileges and social status. Which brings us to something that I think is both highly disturbing and very funny. What I often find funny about people's humor is  imagining them coming up with the material. The details, the building of little moments to tell one small story in a skit lasting only a couple of minutes or so. His humor has a certain quality that might also be termed "post-modern". I know too much about postmodernist philosophy and make a point to virtually never write about it, because its terminology is so annoying and boring to me. I don't think I've used "bodies" to mean people, or "discursive" to mean talking about something on this blog. I hope I haven't, anyway. What makes Samberg's humor quite different than what stand-ups do is that he's telling stories using so many elements--temporal and visual ones especially, that are as revealing as the words that accompany them. It's this fusion of words and images through an imaged period of time that strikes me in a piece like the borderline-sardonic "Great Day". Feel free to let me know what you like and don't like about this. In a later comment, if I remember to, I'll tell you what I see him saying about white het men. The video that follows is from here.

To All Men's Rights Activists: I DARE YOU to read this post and to QUOTE THIS: "People can find eroticism in relations with people whom they respect and whom they see as equals." -- Catharine MacKinnon

[image of Catharine MacKinnon is from here]

There is incontrovertible evidence online (see below for a few of the links) that Men's Rights Activists have been pathetically, flaccidly waging a misinformation campaign, blurting out the same old lies enough times for it to ring in the ears of the gullible as Truth. This is their aim: to get people to believe THEM rather than believe what Radical Feminists Actually Say and Do in their Activist Work. To report what radical feminists accurately and complexly write--in their nonfiction--and say--in accurately quoted speeches--would turn the foundation of their antifeminist hatred to rubble beneath their toes. So they keep telling their pernicious lies and, with them--their bag of tricks, as it were--they get to claim something like "misandry" is epidemic among us. Try again, boys. Next time with the Truth. Ready to be all exposed?

Here are some of the places their dirty, gravelly lies are being spread, and below that, a pitcher of truth to wash it away with. I'm expecting MRAssholes to come complaining, "Sorry, we're allergic to the truth."
Here's more truth, fellas:

One of the most quoted lines by Marilyn French is one from her novel, The Women's Room. It reads, "all men are rapists, and that's all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws and their codes." 
Marilyn French, quoted in 2007, not from her fictional characters:
"Most men are on our side. They like their lives better than their fathers' lives. They like being involved with their children. They like having a better relationship with their women." -- Marilyn French
"I believe that all human beings are equal. I believe that no one has the right to authority over anyone else." -- Marilyn French
Here's where some of the MRA's most ignorant members reproduce the same CRAPload of misquotes,  quotes presented as unfiction, and outright lies. And the smarter ones among them, like John Dias, won't speak out against them and tell the truth because he's a dick-whipped coward.

A Bitter Scornful Father's Diatribe of Quotes:

A virulent antifeminist, who, even though he acknowledges feminists state "not all men are rapists", goes on to claim they aren't representing feminists:

And another of the same:

And of course over to, we have the same list (surprise!) where fiction is presented as non-fiction, because they're too damned cowardly to tell each other the fucking truth:

"All men are rapists and that's all they are"

-- Marilyn French, Authoress; (later, advisoress to Al Gore's Presidential Campaign.) 

From the Urban Dictionary:

dworkin28 up6 down
Any feminist so devoted to her cause that she thinks all heterosexualsex is rape by its very nature. Taken from the feminist writer, AndreaDworkin.
That Dworkin nearly ripped his junk off when he asked her out!
by Magi Jul 31, 2005 share this
A well-researched response, never cited by Men's Rights Assholes, is this:

From, the truth about that lie said neither by Andrea Dworkin or Catharine MacKinnon, but this site explains how the lie got going--starting in Playboy magazine!!:

What follows is from *here* @

Sun, May 16, 2010 Sivan 3, 5770

Man as the `standard,' woman as the `other'
A ground-breaking force in determining international legal attitudes toward sexual harassment and rape, Prof. Catharine MacKinnon agrees that she has been less successful in fighting pornography.

By Orna Coussin

In at least one area - pornography - Catharine MacKinnon has failed spectacularly. Ever since she began writing about women in the pornography industry and to advocate for them, at the start of the 1980s, nothing in their situation has changed. Her criticism of the damage caused by pornography has achieved nothing.
"On the contrary," she says. "During the past 20 years the situation has only deteriorated. Today pornography is accessible and available everywhere. It is possible to obtain it with a few keystrokes, it comes in through Internet to every home where there is a computer and the women who work in the industry, in the thousands, are weak and exploited and have no options."

MacKinnon, 60, a professor of law at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, is without a doubt the most influential feminist legal expert in the world today. Her failure in the area of pornography is not a trivial matter and it merits consideration. On a one-day visit to Israel last week, she came to lecture about a certain area in which she has recently been impressively successful: the attitude in international law toward the rape of women during wartime. MacKinnon represented, pro bono, victims of rape in the Serbian-Croatian war. In 2000 she won in the famous Kadic vs. Karadzic case and obtained for the women - victims of the Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic - compensation totaling $745 million. More importantly, she advanced the awareness of rape during wartime as an act whose aim is genocide.

However, MacKinnon's influence is evident primarily in other areas, which have to do with the mainstream of society. All of the basic terms accepted today in the United States, and also in the cultural and legal system in Israel, regarding sexual harassment in the work place as a prohibited form of discrimination against women, as well as rape and violence within the family, and the criticism of the idea of "consensuality" in rape (the fact that forced sex is considered rape even if the woman who was raped said "yes"), that is, the very fact that women today have the possibility of obtaining legal aid in cases in which they have been injured in a gender-related context - all of these are the fruit of MacKinnon's theoretical and activist work.

An eye-opening collection of articles by MacKinnon in these areas, "Legal Feminism in Theory and Practice," was recently published in Hebrew by Resling Publishing in a translation by Idit Shorer. A basic article of hers on pornography will also appear in the book entitled "Studying Feminism: A Reader: Articles and Basic Documents in Feminist Thought," forthcoming in the "Genders" series at Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House. Thus, for the first time, Mackinnon's ideas are being made accessible to readers of Hebrew. It is not surprising, then, that the hall where her lecture was held last Wednesday at the law faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was too small to hold the hundreds of people who flocked to the doors. Indeed, many had to remain outside.

No change in the power structure

A few hours before her lecture at the Hebrew University, MacKinnon spoke with Haaretz about her successes and her abject failures, and about her substantive ideas that provoke thought and controversy. From what she says and from the way she analyzes the power relations between men and women, great pessimism emerges. MacKinnon's basic idea is that gender - that is, the concepts of "man" and "woman" - is not about difference, but rather about dominance. By virtue of their definition, she argues, the man is dominant and the woman is dominated, subordinated to his needs. And in any case, the male, as Simone de Beauvoir saw before her, is the standard, is "man" - the pattern on which everything is based and from which everything is derived - whereas the woman is the "other," who is defined relative to him. Just as in anatomy the human body is studied and the model is usually the male body, whereas the female body is shunted into the study of gynecology, as a special case - the same holds true in culture: Woman is not part of the human standard.

MacKinnon stresses: "De Beauvoir showed the problem: that the woman is the `other,' and the man is the standard. I am showing something else: that the things that have been depicted as a solution to the problem - that is, the feminist struggle for equality, for the equalization of the rights of women to the rights of men - are in fact part of the problem."

MacKinnon makes it clear that the very fact of wanting to be equal to men perpetuates the assumption that men and masculinity are the model that determines what is worthy and what is desirable. "If we want to achieve equality in such conditions of inequality, our way will become endless," she comments.

Has anything changed since you began to write about this state of affairs more than 20 years ago? Is the male less of an exclusive standard, and has the image of women changed so that it is more influential?

MacKinnon: "The social structure that I describe is challenged, but it is not changing. The changes that are occurring have to do with the way we deal with this structure. The fact that women now have human rights - is a change. The fact that violence toward women is revealed to the public and is being challenged - is a change. More and more women are seeing that their lives are restricted in an artificial way and are becoming small and limited because they are women. And in a certain sense young men are also beginning to see that maleness, which affords them superiority, is not giving them everything they need. Though it is better to be dominant than dominated, nevertheless this is not necessarily a good deal, even for men."

In recent years, in the Western countries, because of the flourishing of the consumer culture, the impression has in fact been created that women are becoming the standard. That men are becoming feminized, in order to adapt themselves to a culture in which the consumer is at the center - not the worker, the manufacturer or the artist, not the builder or the warrior. What is your opinion? Do you think that a fundamental change, problematic though it might be, is occurring in the gender structure that you describe?

"Women as consumers are not the standard of the consumer society. They buy things that men want them to buy, in order to serve the men's needs. Make no mistake: The fact that many women are doing something does not mean that they are doing it from a position of control and choice."

But hasn't something changed in men and masculinity? Aren't the marketing industry, the malls and consumerism subordinating men and transforming them into the new women?

"No. When men choose to consume cosmetics and fashion - this is a lifestyle choice and not a life choice. The power structure is not changing."

Equality and eroticism

It sometimes seems as though MacKinnon's radical feminism does not respect women. If a woman is by definition subordinate to a man's authority, and is defined by him and in relation to him - it is difficult to imagine a totally free and independent woman. This is especially difficult with respect to sex and pornography. MacKinnon assumes that heterosexual sexual relations are defined and shaped by the male point of view. Sex is penetration and subordination, she says, only from the male perspective. She argues that unequal sexual relations - relations of conquest and forced submission - became eroticized in order to perpetuate the inequality between the sexes.

In your opinion, can equality be erotic? Isn't the power game an inalienable part of the erotic experience?

"Yes, definitely, people can find eroticism in relations with people whom they respect and whom they see as equals. This is the real political dissent. This is the greatest challenge of the social struggle. To make equality erotic. I don't believe that a power game is necessary to put life into erotic relations. We have been taught that this is what is exciting, but it is not essential to the erotic."

Doesn't the lesbian and homosexual experience refute your assumption that apparently sexual relations construct the relations between the sexes and a woman is always subordinated and submissive, against her will?

"Definitely. Women with women and men with men - these relationships create something interesting within the paradigm. These sexual relations are not necessarily hierarchical and there is more of a possibility in them for equality. When women choose women sexually, this is a very powerful challenge to male dominance. This is a choice that symbolizes the fact that men are not essential to life and to sex. But one of the strategies of male dominance to subvert this power is to make lesbians sexy and thus take possession of them for themselves, as an instrument for their pleasure."

However, with respect to pornography, you don't agree with the criticism by a number of feminist theorists who assume that it is possible to produce pornography that is not demeaning to women and that does not cause violence toward them? That it is possible to display stimulating sex between women, and stimulating sex between men and women, with the camera viewing it from a woman's perspective, or at least from a perspective that is not violent and exploitative?

"First of all, if the film does not explicitly show sex that subordinates and exploits women, it is not a pornographic film - according to my and [the late American feminist writer and anti-pornography activist] Andrea Dworkin's definition of pornography. And secondly, I am very familiar with this criticism, and with the argument in support of non-pornographic pornography, but in general this is only hypothetical. They always say that they can make pornography of this kind, but they do not succeed in doing so. The male gaze is not necessarily the male's gaze. A woman can also be an exploitative onlooker. As long as one person relates to another person in a demeaning way like that, the principle of forcing sex on someone who is less powerful than you remains in effect. And it makes no difference whether the person is a child, or a feminine man or a masculine man, or a woman - the principle is that sex is control."

Confused media

It would appear that of all the areas in which you have dealt and have been influential, pornography is the one area in which you have not succeeded in wielding influence. How do you explain this? Is the problem in the argument or in the listeners?

"The pornography industry has burgeoned and flourished with the Internet and has entered deeply into private life. It has undergone huge normalization. And this is terrible for women in general and to women who have no options, who are the ones who are harmed by the industry, in particular."

Why have you failed? Why have your proposals for legislation in the area of pornography failed and in all other areas - sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault and so forth - you have succeeded in bringing about real change?

"It's very simple: Power and money win. There is not a sexual harassment industry. There aren't people who are making millions out of sexual harassment the way people are making millions from pornography. The moment we succeed in advancing legislation against pornography in one of the states in the United States, or in the world, someone in the international lobby of pimps hears that this is getting under way and they organize and exercise tremendous power to prevent change. They hire huge public relations firms and they invest lots of money and make sure that this does not succeed.

"And not only that. The problem is that the printed and electronic media support pornography, on the mistaken assumption that a prohibition on pornography threatens them and their power. They confuse obscenity laws and the pornography laws that Andrea Dworkin and I have proposed, and they think that they are publishing pornography and their freedom of expression will be limited. But in fact we have made a clear distinction between pornography and all the rest. What there is in advertisements for Hollywood films is not pornography."

But the non-pornographic eroticism in advertising and mainstream films is also likely to contribute to the demeaning and harming of women. And it is consumed by everyone.

"Ordinary advertisements and films do not lead to violence and rape. Pornography does do this. Studies show this clearly. And pornography is what influences the mainstream, and not the other way around. The struggle has to focus on pornography."

Do you miss Andrea Dworkin, your partner in the fight against pornography, who died last year? Do you accept the way she was described in the eulogies: "the last radical feminist"?

"Yes, I miss her very much. We were very close. In recent years we worked together less, because Andrea was very ill and it was hard for her to work. This was very difficult for her - that she couldn't work. But we were in touch and I miss her. But, no. Andrea is not the last radical feminist. Nor am I. There are others like us. Not all of them are as famous as I am, but there is definitely still a large group, alive and kicking, that is continuing to do the work."

Women's Day in Australia: Malalai Joya Announces that Sec. of State Hillary Clinton Lied to Afghan Women in Order to Continue Pres. Obama's Military Massacres in and Occupation of Afghanistan. Girls as Young as 11 are Being Raped by U.S. and NATO Men: WHERE'S THE OUTRAGE??!!

[image of Hillary Clinton is from here]

What follows is from here]

Hillary lies again to Afghan women

Posted on 15 May 2010
Secretary of State Mrs. Hillary Rodham-Clinton has once again lied to Afghan women. She said that America will not abandon Afghan women. It already has. America has not kept its promises to the women of Afghanistan.
The youngest woman in the Afghan parliament has used International Women’s Day to slam the “disastrous conditions” for women in her country and ask Australians to help bring change.
Afghanistan’s Bravest Woman Malalai Joya:
Malalai Joya, 28, told a conference at Sydney’s Darling Harbour today there has been “no fundamental change in the plight of Afghan people” since the US removed the Taliban five years ago.
“Afghan women and men are not ‘liberated’ at all,” Joya said. “When the entire nation is living under the shadow of gun and warlordism, how can its women enjoy very basic freedoms?”
Joya said the women’s rights situation was as “catastrophic” as it was under the Taliban.
She gave the death of 18-year-old Samiya, who hanged herself before she was to be sold to a 60-year-old man, and the rape of children as young as 11 by the US and international troops as examples.
“No nation can donate liberation to another nation,” Joya said. “If Australian policy makers really want to help Afghan people and bring positive changes, they must allign their policies according to the aspirations and wishes of Afghan people, rather than becoming a tool to implement the wrong policies of the US government.”
Joya, who survived an assassination attempt after speaking out againgst Afghan warlords, said the suicide rate of Afghan women was at an all-time high. As many as 1.9 per cent of women die during childbirth.
To celebrate International Women’s Day in Sydney, festivals are underway in Liverpool and Cabramatta to mark the day. Female MP tells of rights ‘catastrophe’. Email Print Normal font Large font Yuko Narushima. March 8, 2007 – 1:04PM

Afghanistan’s Bravest Woman Malalai Joya: “Taliban are logistically & militarily growing stronger as each day dawns.” “Afghan women and men are not ‘liberated’ at all”

Malalai Joya is an angry woman. She’s angry about the war being carried out by the international coalition in her country, Afghanistan, angry about the UN bombs that are killing civilians in their villages, angry about calls for reconciliation with the Taliban and the war lords. “Stop the massacres in my country. Withdraw your foreign troops so we can stop Talibanization,” is what the young Afghan deputy tells Western public opinion.
WASHINGTON: Women’s rights will not be sacrificed in any settlement between the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Taliban militants, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said late on Thursday.
Clinton ruled out US support, or at least her own, for negotiations with anyone who would roll back advances for Afghan women achieved since the militant Islamic Taliban movement was ousted from power in 2001.
“There are certain conditions that have to be met,” to hold talks with insurgents about laying down arms, Clinton said during an appearance with Karzai. Karzai and a large delegation of government ministers and advisers, including several women, were finishing four days of talks in Washington.
Among the conditions for peace talks, midlevel Taliban leaders would have to renounce violence, cut ties with al-Qaeda and its affiliates and abide by Afghanistan’s laws and constitution, Clinton said.
“And on a personal note they must respect women’s rights.” Karzai nodded beside her but did not mention the women’s rights aspect of possible talks with the Taliban. The other conditions apply, he said.
The Taliban regime forced women to wear a traditional head-to-toe covering called a Burqa, forbade school for girls and beat women seen walking without being accompanied by a man. The Taliban has surged back over the past several years to become a persistent insurgency seeking Karzai’s overthrow. Insurgents and their sympathisers routinely intimidate or attack women who work outside the home, wear Western dress or try to attend school.
Clinton, whose bid for president in 2008 got further than any American woman before her, made a similar point when she met with Afghan women earlier Thursday at the State Department.
“We will not abandon you; we will stand with you always,” Clinton told three senior female Afghan officials who were part of Karzai’s delegation. The trip ends on Friday with Karzai’s visit to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division that is deploying en masse to Afghanistan.
Clinton said it was “essential that women’s rights and women’s opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled on in the reconciliation process.”
Karzai sought US blessing this week for wider talks with the Taliban when the time comes. President Barack Obama seemed noncommittal during a White House news conference with Karzai on Wednesday. Saturday, May 15, 2010
Here’s how Joya sums it up in her own words:
“The people of Afghanistan are fed up with the occupation of their country and with the corrupt, Mafia-state of Hamid Karzai and the warlords and drug lords backed by NATO…. It is clear now that the real motive of the U.S. and its allies, hidden behind the so-called “war on terror,” was to convert Afghanistan into a military base in Central Asia and the capital of the world’s opium drug trade. Ordinary Afghan people are being used in this chess game, and western taxpayers’ money and the blood of soldiers is being wasted on this agenda that will only further destabilize the region….Afghan and American lives are being needlessly lost.
“Afghans live under the shadow of the gun with the most corrupt government in the world.”– Malalai Joya
JOYA’S SOLUTION: “Withdraw All Foreign Troops”
Malalai Joya: “Some people say that when the troops withdraw, a civil war will break out. Often this prospect is raised by people who ignore the vicious conflict and humanitarian disaster that is already occurring in Afghanistan. The longer the foreign troops stay in Afghanistan, the worse the eventual civil war will be for the Afghan people. The terrible civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal certainly could never justify… the destruction and death caused by that decade-long occupation.” (p 217)…Today we live under the shadow of the gun with the most corrupt and unpopular government in the world. (p 211)

This Just In, no, OUT, From The Atlantic: On Gay Actors Playing It Straight

[image of not the current cover of The Atlantic magazine offline is from here]

Okay, A.R.P. peeps. Here's the latest analysis on dominant culture and "gay" stuff. My comment is at the bottom. Why is it ALWAYS last?! Well, better last than "DNF"... Get used to it. Sites like the one you're about to see love the abbreviations. (SYTYCD = So You Think You Can Dance. That's the only one I'm giving ya.)

But before we get to that, I'll try and answer some of the pressing questions raised on that past cover above.

SHOULD WOMEN RULE THE WORLD? Yes. (Why can't all questions be this easy to answer?)

WILL BLOGS KILL WRITING? No, video games already did writing in. Anyway, blogging is to writing what reality tv is to reality. Only much more varied and therefore better. And without commercials including infomercials.

SHOULD CHILDREN HAVE SEX CHANGES? If the change is to not having to be one or the other that's assigned and enforced? Definitely. But not with knives. Just with radical ideological and institutional change.

CAN CANADA SAVE AN AMERICAN FOOTBALL TEAM? "America" includes Canada. Whether Canadian football = soccer, I can't say. Can Canada save a U.S. football team? Is THAT what they're asking? The answer is: who cares? Canadians care about hockey, and the U.S. cares about baseball and basketball... OH, and warfare, racism, and sex tourism, of course.

IS CREDIT DEBT A GOOD THING? Only if by "a good thing" you mean "not a good thing".

I can't make out the other questions, but I see the whitest, most conservative "liberal" gay man's name listed there on the "far left". (Funny that.) It's "Andrew Sullivan". Don't get me started on him or we'll be here until a week from Thursday. His idea of "gay politics"... please. I told you: DON'T get me started!!

But this DOES makes for a lovely segue, or shall I say, "segay"? Okay, okay. Segue. Geesh. You readers are so persnickety sometimes. Not as persnickety as moi, of course.

Of Course Gay Actors Can Play Straight
MAY 15 2010, 8:00 AM ET

Derek Thompson
Derek Thompson is a staff editor at Atlantic Business, where he writes about economics, business and technology. Derek has also written for BusinessWeek and Slate.
Newsweek's Ramin Setoodeh wrote an article a few weeks ago arguing that gay actors had a hard time playing straight people, and the outcry basically broke the Internet. Blogs ripped Setoodeh into confetti. Actress Kristin Chenoweth called him "horrendously homophobic." Glee creator Ryan Murphy called for his fans to boycott Newsweek.

Setoodeh's argument was silly. The response was silly, too. Setoodeh saw a play called Promises, Promises starring Sean Hayes (the best friend from Will & Grace) and didn't think Hayes was a convincing straight guy. Also, he watched an episode of Glee and thought another gay actor playing straight came off like a "theater queen." In the real world, two unconvincing performances in a week is, you know, two unconvincing performances in a week. For Setoodeh, it was part of a larger trend: gay actors can't play straight!

He probably should have kept the thought to himself. Or rented Return of the King. Gay actors play straight all the time: Neil Patrick Harris in How I Met Your Mother; David Hyde Pierce in Frasier; Ian McKellen in Lord of the Rings, and X-Men, and everything.

Gay actors face serious challenges in film and television. The last thing they need is Newsweek knocking their chops because a couple of them weren't sufficiently macho in musicals some guy saw last week.

But the response to Setoodeh's article has veered into weird territory, too. West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin, in an articulate piece, challenged the idea that "playing gay" is even a thing.

An actor, no matter which sex they're attracted to, can't "play" gay or "play" straight. Gay and straight aren't actable things. You can act effeminate and you can act macho (though macho usually ends up reading as gay), but an actor can't play gay or straight anymore than they can play Catholic. The most disturbing thing to me about this episode is that the theater critic for Newsweek didn't know that.

Oh, come on. You can't say gay isn't actable in the same sentence you say overly macho acting reads as gay. Either there exists a certain set of characteristics, expressions, and vocal modulations that can indicate sexual orientation to an audience or there aren't. And it's pretty clear that there are.

When Ricky Martin told the world he was gay, the Internet's collective reaction was some variation of: "duh." We didn't know Ricky. Why were we so certain he was gay? Well, we just ... knew! It was the way he ... danced? ... sang? ...shook his bon bon? Who knows. But it turns out there's a science behind what some folks call gaydar. One study found that 75 percent of gay men sounded gay to a general audience over tape-recordings. The biological and cultural implications of that finding deserve a fuller treatment, but for the purposes of our discussion, suffice it to say that it is a finding. Gaydar detects some sort of gendermap of characteristics that can indicate homosexuality. And actors draw on this "gendermap" of characteristics to play gay -- or straight. Is it terribly homophobic to point that out?

At the heart of Setoodeh's piece is idea that gay and straight people act a certain way, and that actors who are well-known to be gay might have a higher bar to clear to be persuasively hetero. I don't disagree.

Julian Real's comment:
The whole matter doesn't only rest on what characteristics the viewer [read "presumed straight person"] is deciding is or isn't gay. Does [the straight] audience accept Jodie Foster as heterosexual--or not--in The Accused or Contact? Were Cher and Meryl Streep believable as a lesbian couple in Silkwood? (And why do straight men want ALL women to PLAY lesbian and no het man to BE gay? Hmmm. Answers may follow.)

The undercurrent, not quite spoken out loud, is that being gay ruins it for an audience who wants to believe het performances are for het actors--because heterosexuality in men is valued more. Hollywood doesn't have to give a..consider whether het actors playing lesbian and gay ruin it for us--lesbian and gay people. Reverse the sexual orientations of the entire discussion above this comment and see what gets revealed.

"The problem" is being gay, again. Why, through most of my life, has the only problem for straight actors playing lesbian or gay been how it would negatively impact their careers? Why did Ricky Martin have to wait so long to come out, and why do only white folks seem to reply "duh", while the rest of humanity gets the significance of a Latino performer coming out? Why aren't we as concerned with how unbelievable it is that out het actors just can't transcend our knowledge of them being THAT way for us to buy them in a role where they are not? If being gay wasn't stigmatised (and socially despised), we wouldn't care one way or the other. And if being a straight man wasn't naturalised (and socially adored), we would care more about the reverse happening.

This discussion could play out with regard to race in the U.S.: "we" (pssst: usually meaning whites) don't mind if non-Black actors play Black (think Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart) but when "we" (meaning Black people) do care, it's our problem, not whites'. And "we're" seen as irrationally complaining. (See this as an example: Little white boys in the middle of the last century played "cowboys and Indians", without complaint from whites. But objecting to the objectionable Cleveland Indians logo and name is, well, really going too far. (You're seeing the pattern, I hope?) Non-Indigenous and non-Latina/o actors play American Indian and what the U.S. government calls "Hispanic". (Think Natalie Wood in West Side Story.) The audience is always presumed to be white and heterosexual, and too often, also male. And good luck to Taylor Lautner if he's typecast as "The Indian", because he'll be working on TV and major motion pictures once every decade.

And then there's the little matter of dominants getting almost all the damn acting jobs, so it's a little annoying, as well as economically impoverishing, when the dominants to be able to play it all and the socially subordinated are only allowed to play what they are seen to be by dominants (read: only gay/lesbian/Black/American Indian, never "just human").

All the whites are "we" again, unless otherwise indicated--just like in U.S. history books and the way whites tell stories... "So there were like five people shopping at the 7/11 and then this Black guy comes in... ". We couldn't possibly buy it if a Black actor wants to play a, you know, just plain ol' All American human. Because this is the point: het (and/or white and/or male) = the All American human, so the straight white U.S. male actor is believable, or hilarious, all the time as whatever kind of human he plays, but gay (and/or non-white and/or female) = that kind of human, who, once identified as that way cannot be unseen as that because that is them and they aren't "we". What we're all being told is that being "that way" isn't quite as human as being het/white/male. And, alarmingly, being Black truly isn't "as human" in the U.S. white imagination, as is being white. So whites, yes, can allow one another to play Black; and when and if they do so so stereotypically, whites don't complain: it wasn't primarily white opposition that stopped minstrel shows; it was the presence of African Americans as human beings who got to have a voice* that mattered almost as much as the white voices impacting white audiences bigotr..tastes. (*Just the one voice usually, maybe two: you know, Doc Martin and the Malcolm who wasn't in the middle.)

We're not supposed to negatively stereotype the dominants in any social hierarchy (like, say, as "always complaining about something", uppity, dirty, diseased, or terroristic), and if we do, we'll hear about it from the them who militantly refuse to be identified as a them. (If one more straight white guy tells me how negatively stereotyped he is on TV "all the darned time"... not realising exactly how many times The Greatest American Hero is on TV, doing everything, like reporting the evening news, selling trucks, judging singers, sportscasting, and getting honored for killing people of color... well, I won't scream, to spare you the reinforcement of a negative stereotype.) We're only supposed to negatively stereotype the socially subordinated in any hierarchy. Male contestants on SYTYCD are never told they're dancing it too straight. And what does *that* mean?! Ask me. I'm gay. I'll tell you. You het guys are most hilarious--or is it dangerous?--when you don't even know how friggin' straight you're acting.)

So men [straight or gay] who PLAY women don't play diversely human people--like say, women--but that's what we say the fellas are doing, without complaint by men. And WhiteStraightMale God-forbid if women complain about that, or, well, anything at all really. (Because that'd make her a [rhymes with kitsch]!) We say Robin Williams is hilarious when he "plays gay" but when he's hilarious when not playing gay, he's never hilarious *because* he's playing straight.

Being socially subordinated is an endless source of humor for social dominants. Just watch practically any SNL skit since the 1970s. Watch Bill Hader play the oh-so-gay kinky Manhattan club reviewer sitting next to *normal* Seth Meyers. Is Seth funny because he's not gay? Betty White as sort-of-Black = funny [to whites, who are the majority demographic who even watch that very racist program, without ever "complaining" about the racism]. But Betty White playing white? Wait, what does that even mean? How does a white person play white? Ask people who aren't white. Whiteness is, actually, utterly hilarious. I laugh all the time about it with my friends--the ones who are "non-white", that is. (The white ones just look all confused and irritated.)

The issue is who is socially statused and who is stigmatised, and we can't have stigmatised socially subordinated people play statused dominant ones, believably.