Saturday, July 20, 2019

We Never Left

When people have nothing left to lose, they are more likely to fight for what they believe in. This is a thread which runs through every successful rebellion, revolution, or civil rights battle. It's one of life's great ironies: the more we strip a person of his or her freedoms, the less they have to weigh them down and stop them from revolting. I don't in any way mean to make light of the abomination of slavery but, if you enslave a people long enough, it's almost inevitable that a brand of emotional spiritual, and political freedom will emerge. In so many ways, the so-called "first world" is soft. We have so much STUFF, and no one wants to risk losing that stuff. By "stuff," I don't just mean material possessions and wealth, but also status, political power, comfort, convenience, safety, etc.

All the same "stuff" that The Haves love to deprive The Have-Nots of.

Puerto Rico has been colonized since the late 15th century. That's a long time for a people to have everything taken away from them. That's a long, long time for a people to build up their anger. It's a long time for a people to build their strength. It's a long time for a people to claim the brand of freedom that can only come with being oppressed. The people of Puerto Rico have been deprived of so much, for so long, that there is not a damned thing to be lost by rising up.

In telling a Puerto Rican from NYC to go back to where she came from, Trump makes it clear he understands nothing about what it means to be Puerto Rican. I don't just mean that he doesn't understand that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a US citizen (as are ALL Puerto Ricans) and that she was born and raised in NYC.

He has no idea what it means to actually be connected to one's origins.
He has no idea what it means to have love in one's heart for the birthplace of one's parents.
He has no idea what it means to have been raised to love and honor one's culture.
He has no idea what it means to be held high on the shoulders of one's ancestors and be both humbled and empowered by their examples of strength and perseverance.
He has no idea what it means to have pride in anything that is unrelated to making a quick buck.

There's no point telling a Puerto Rican who was born and raised in NYC to "go back." Not a one of us ever really left. Not really. This is true for me. It's true for AOC.

The beautiful thing about the concept of the USA is that we don't have to turn our backs on where we came from. It's why there is no official language in this country.

The actions on the part of the people of Puerto Rico in the last week serve as a humbling reminder of where I truly come from, and what my people are made of. I'm soft - I'm the first to admit it. I've lived a life of relative ease and convenience. I've certainly been afforded benefits and comforts having been born in NYC and living Stateside that my relatives in Guayanilla have not enjoyed. I'm connected to them, though. By blood. By history. By culture. I'm connected to every, single Puerto Rican living on the island. And that's an honor - an honor FOR ME.

Donald Trump - who is completely devoid of honor - can never understand this.



Saturday, June 29, 2019

Living Well


The big slogan for Stonewall's 50th anniversary merch is "The first Pride was a riot." McMann and Tate couldn't have done better - it's a nice piece of marketing. Of course, since that first year of the Stonewall riots, Pride has become more and more of a party. Even during the worst of times, when AIDS was killing off a generation of beautiful young men who hadn't even had a chance to really live, yet, Pride events always left lots of room for a party. I was thinking about this, last night, as I was wrestling with really severe pain, and convincing myself to just take all the damned painkillers in the morning, push past it, and get my ass to Pride. Because showing the fuck up for life can be a show of power.

We've all heard the saying, "living well is the best revenge." That saying has been lingering in the back of my mind, lately. It strikes me as the perfect slogan for Pride. I looked up the origin of that saying, expecting to find that someone like Dorothy Parker or Oscar Wilde had first said it. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the phrase is much older than that, and can be traced back as far as 1640, when it first appeared in print.

The concept of enjoying life in the face of adversity has been with us for a long, long time.

We see it in the African American community where an entire people who have had so much stolen from them not only survive, but thrive. The laundry list of what the institution of slavery took from Africa is too long to even start documenting in a little blog post but, while African Americans still struggle for all kinds of justice and equity, the truth cannot be denied: those enslaved in North America and the Caribbean found ways to achieve the truly audacious. They created - and their descendants continue to create - music, dance, literature, art, and food that looks adversity in the eye and says, "Fuck you, I'm here."

We see it in so many stories of immigrants and the colonized who land on the US mainland, work hard, contribute to society, face discrimination of all kinds, stand little chance of ever making it out of poverty, yet never let go of their ethnic pride or devotion to children and family, and hold on to their mother-tongues with all their might. "Fuck you: they're here."

While the first Pride was a riot, more recent Pride events are celebrations. And that's as it should be. Because the best way to respond to anyone who tells you that you have no right to exist, to express yourself, to feel good about who and what you are and how you live your life is to show the fuck up for life and dare to find joy. "Fuck you: I'm here."

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who we have to thank for the Stonewall riots, weren't just queers. Marsha was African American. Sylvia was Puerto Rican/Venezuelan. They were descended from slaves, colonized people, and immigrants. The business of living well as the best form of revenge was in their DNA. I never met these pioneers, but I know this about them: they knew how to have a good time. They knew that living well was the best revenge. They showed the fuck up for life.





Fuck you: they were here.


Monday, June 3, 2019

WE WERE HERE


Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake lived together for over 40 years in a relationship that was, for all intents and purposes, a marriage. Their community recognized it. Their relatives recognized it. They did not live in the shadows, have relationships with men to throw off the scent, or cower from public duty. They were considered to be good neighbors, trusted friends to members of the community, and a couple in whom local families placed a great deal of trust, when it came to educating young women in the seamstress/tailor trade. While they died years apart, they are buried in the same plot, and share a tombstone.



None of this sounds all that shocking: this could be a story about two women living in Park Slope, in 2019. It isn't. Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake lived in rural Vermont, in the first half of the 19th century.

Until very recently, erasure of gay lives has been the norm (and still is, in many places). The well-documented lives Charity and Sylvia led as a loving, devoted couple, however, makes me think of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We don't - we CAN'T - know the names of all of those who have been erased over the centuries, but we do know the names Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake. More than 200 years after they first got together, their names scream out:

 "WE WERE HERE, AND WE STILL ARE"

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Rich White Men, No Accessible Parking, Either

Make no mistake: the stuff going on in Alabama and Georgia is not just about misogyny, but about classism, racism, and ableism.


Wealth = Choice

It's a timeless concept: the richer you are, the more choices you have. If you live in Alabama or Georgia, you're just a little more than comfortable, financially, and you decide you want an abortion, you might discretely hop over a state or two. If you're doing well, financially, you might fly to NYC and make a vacation out of it. If money is no object, you can fly off to the Caribbean or Bermuda for your procedure. 


The poorer a woman is, the fewer choices she has. If a woman cannot afford to circumvent the law in Alabama or Georgia, she's screwed. This is by design.

The greatest impact these laws will have will specifically be on poor women.

Who Are These Poor Women?


21.2% of all African Americans in the USA live at or below the poverty level.
18.3% of Hispanics in this country live at or below the poverty level.
Only 8.7% of the white population in this country are at or below the poverty level.
(Kayla R. Fontenot, Jessica L. Semega, and Melissa A. Kollar for the U.S. Census Bureau, “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017," United States Department of Commerce, 2018)

One cannot attack the poor in this country, without attacking ethnic minorities.

Ableist? Isn't That A Stretch? 

20.9% of American adults who identify as having one or more disability live at or below the poverty level, as opposed to 13.1% of the population who do not have disabilities.
( Disability Statistics Annual Report 2017, Institute on Disability, University of New Hampshire, 2018.)

As is the case with minorities, one cannot attack the poor in this country without attacking the disability community.

Its plain to see that Alabama and Georgia deliberately set out to keep in bondage women, the poor, people of color, and "able-bodied" people. Who do you think that leaves to be in charge?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

To Be Fair....You're Part of the Problem

I've now encountered several people online who point out that HBO's series, Gentleman Jack, reminds them of Sarah Waters' novels, specifically Tipping the Velvet. I take serious issue with this comparison, as it is nothing more than an example of the fact that we live in a heteronormative society which demands - sometimes loudly, but sometimes very quietly - that queer people remain content with the status quo.

One person who noted the similarities between Gentleman Jack and Waters' novels even prefaced her impression with the phrase, "To be fair" As in, "To be fair, Sarah Waters books are what came to mind...."

To be fair? Fair about what? About heteronormative society's ongoing insistence that one narrative or aesthetic which doesn't conform to the status quo is exactly like any other?

Gentleman Jack is based on the diaries of a very real woman, named Anne Lister. Lister lived in the late 18th and first half of the 19th century. She was a wealthy landowner and businesswoman. She traveled the world. She often wore what were considered to be manly clothes because they suited her. She did this openly, without subterfuge. I do not believe there is a single account of Lister impersonating a man. If there is, the HBO show has not at all touched on it, and I see no indication that it will ever be the case. Gentleman Jack is a story about a homosexual, arguably cross-dressing woman who was wealthy enough to live life on her own terms, as early as 1820 or so. It is set in rural Halifax, England, where Lister's significant holdings  - including coal mines - were.

Sarah Waters has written several novels - most of them very, very good. Read them. They're worth the time. But they have nothing to do with Anne Lister, and they bear no resemblance to Gentleman Jack, except for the fact that most of them revolve around protagonists who are lesbians, or women who fall in love with other women (there IS a difference.) There are few enough of them that going over them is pretty simple.

Tipping the Velvet is a picaresque novel set in the 1890s, and revolves around a young, working class woman from, I believe, Cornwall. She becomes enamored of a celebrated singer/dancer whose schtick is performing in male garb, and impersonating a man. The protagonist, Nan, eventually ends up having a steamy love affair with this actress, and herself taking to the stage as a male impersonator. While the the two women perform in male garb, their act is NOT a lesbian act, per se. It is mainstream, family-friendly entertainment where the very idea of two pretty women dressed up as men is all a bit of a joke. The real joke, of course, is on the mainstream audience, who have no idea that the two women are lovers off stage. This is only a small portion of the novel. The bulk of the novel takes place in seedy London, where Nan has a series of adventures - and misadventures - which include: leading a secret life as rough trade: impersonating a young man and providing sexual favors to older men, in exchange for money...living in the lap of luxury, but also complete servitude, as the sex slave of a very wealthy lesbian...ending up homeless and starving...finding true love with a woman from her past...and finding a real home and family in the burgeoning socialist movement.

Fingersmith is a heist/double-cross novel set in 1800s England - no specific year is given, but I'd hazard to guess mid-century. Its plot revolves around a hardscrabble group of pickpockets and conmen and women, and a plan to carry out a major heist, in the way of cheating an heiress out of her fortune. There are two protagonists: Sue and Maud. Sue is an orphan and life-long criminal - a master thief. Maud is a seemingly innocent, naive young woman who has been cloistered in the home of her wealthy, tyrannical uncle. The two women, who each have plans to cheat and swindle the other, end up becoming sexually attracted to one another and, eventually, falling in love. The novel delves into the dark world of 19th century pornographic trade, and the entire story is built upon a series of secrets and lies: secrets and lies about people's identities, their sexual natures, their true intentions, their true feelings about one another.

Affinity is a gothic novel set in Victorian England, and revolves around the spiritualism fad which overtook the nation during this era. It involves an upper-class woman who volunteers her time as a visitor to convicted women who are serving their sentences at a local prison. Margaret is taken in by not only the sexual charms of one of the female inmates, but also by an elaborate plot which relies on her gullibility regarding the spiritualist movement, and messages from beyond. Like Fingersmith, it's a multi-layered story about a con job.

The Night Watch is a sweeping historical novel which chronicles the interconnected lives of a group of characters in London - including two lesbians - before, during and after WWII.

The Little Stranger is an old-fashioned, spooky yarn, set in the late 1940s. The backdrop is a once-grand country estate which is falling to ruin, and seems to be suffering from a sort of curse or haunting. This novel is best described as a ghost story where the real ghost is the past, itself. The main characters are  Dr. Faraday,  a country doctor, and Caroline Ayres, the spinster who runs the crumbling estate and tries to keep order for her rapidly deteriorating family. Themes in this novel include: post-war reconstruction, socialism, class distinction, and shell shock/PTSD. There is not a gay person in sight.

The Paying Guests is a sort of literary noir set in post WWI England which revolves around a boarding house, two women engaged in a lesbian affair, and a murder. Themes include class, post-war reconstruction and economic change, abortion, and the nature of love.

The ONLY thing Anne Lister's life and Gentleman Jack have in common with Sarah Waters' novels is that almost all of Waters' pieces revolve around women who exhibit romantic love for other women.

Not one of the novels is set in the same place and time as Lister.

Not a one of them has a plot even remotely like the life story of Anne Lister - either in history, or as portrayed thus far on HBO's series.


"To be fair," it's not reasonable or rational for anyone to equate one of these with the other, and such a thing can only happen when a person has it in their mind that one lesbian's story is just like any other lesbian's story. It's like saying that A Raisin in the Sun reminds one of The Wiz, because both involve black characters. It's THAT ridiculous.

If you're still not getting why this bothers me, and bothers me A LOT, and still think it's a perfectly reasonable comparison because, after all, Waters usually writes about lesbians and Anne Lister was a lesbian? Think about someone saying that Sophie's Choice reminds them of The Sting, because Robert Redford and Peter Macnicol both wore caps in their roles. That sounds incredibly stupid, doesn't it? Of course it does. Because it IS incredibly stupid. And, if I were to say, "To be fair, one reminds me of the other because of the caps," you'd think I was a pretty damned shallow person who based my ideas about film on fucking HATS, instead of actual content. And you'd be right.

To be fair: lesbians are pretty much just like other people in most respects, and lesbian stories are as varied as stories about heterosexual people are. If you really think it's ok to ask me to be "fair" and accept your assessment that one lesbian-themed story is just like any other, what you're asking me to do is get in line and accept the heteronormative code of nonsense. If you know me, you know that's just not going to happen.


Sunday, December 9, 2018

2018: Ten Movies From The Year That Felt Like Ten Years

Has it REALLY only been one year since I last did this? Why do I feel ten years older? It has been a year of escapism. I saw a lot of movies in 2018. Here are my picks for best, worst, most this, most that. 

Most Unlikely Heartbreak: 
Killmonger's Death, Black Panther

Black Panther was amazing. Most amazing to me was how gutted I was by Killmonger's death. Michael B. Jordan brought the anti-hero I'd been waiting for, made only more great by the grace with which he faced death. 

Most Stunning Career Turn-Around: 
Keira Knightley as Colette

To say I haven't been a fan of Keira Knightly would be putting it mildly. Prior to this film, she never ceased to bore me to pieces. This film was a pleasant surprise. A Keira Knightley performance I enjoyed, from the very opening scene. It's rare for an actor who has established herself in a safe, bankable niche to stretch her wings and try something completely different. Knightly did just that. Brava. 

Movie That Came Closest To Being Ruined By A Creepy Sex Scene: Disobedience


I loved this movie, but I did NOT love that weird thing in the sex scene. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. That weird thing that made every straight person in the theater ask, "Ewww...do lesbians DO that?" No. No, we don't. That was just weird and creepy, and it's a good thing the movie was so damned good, otherwise, because that scene would have killed it for me. If you haven't seen the movie, and want to know what I'm referring to - Google it. The clip is available online. I can't even bring myself to post it, here. This is quite a sweet movie about love, friendship, acceptance, and the complexities of cultural ties and familial duty. The scene I've linked captures all of that. 

You Really Can Go Home, Again: Halloween 


Forget every sequel. Go back to the first movie. Watch it, and then watch this. Those other ones don't count. Not only as good as the original, but better. Better because the thing to be afraid of isn't so much a murderous monster, but something way more dangerous. This is a horror movie where the monster isn't a man, but the past, itself. If you sat in a theater and watched the original as a kid, as I did, this is a must. 

Most Likely To Be Cheated Out of An Oscar Nomination: Toni Collette, Hereditary

No one has done scary as well as this since Rosemary's Baby, case closed. Toni Collette probably won't get nominated for an Oscar, because horror films rarely get taken seriously. It's a shame. She deserves mad props for her performance. Disturbing in ways one could never anticipate. This movie delivers, big time. 

Take The Money And Run: 
Helen Mirren, Winchester


I'm worried about Helen Mirren. She must be in serious debt, if she's accepting roles like this one. Ties with Gotti as the worst movie I saw all year, and might even be worse. I mean, I don't expect anything from John Travolta, except crap. But Helen Mirren? This was more than boring. Watching one of the most charismatic actors alive not even able to fake enthusiasm for a film script this terrible was depressing. 

Most Thought-Provoking Documentary: 
Seeing Allred



I thought I knew about this woman. I was wrong. So wrong. See this documentary, which too few people saw. It may well make you see this woman in a much different light than that which the media has shed on her, over the years. I went in thinking, "Money-grubbing opportunist." I finished thinking, "Feminist freedom fighter and friend of the LGBT community."

Best Old School Scare: The Little Stranger


A slow burn, this movie had me from the word GO. Ruth Wilson is a wonder, and should be a major film star. A good, chilling, old-fashioned ghost story where the ghost isn't who or what you probably think. Loved this movie.

Scarier Than Any Horror Movie of 2018: 
The Kindergarten Teacher


Gives Hereditary a run for its money, in terms of being among the most disturbing films I've ever seen, mostly because it's not at all implausible. This movie upset me, but I could not tear myself away from it. While Hereditary is about the supernatural, and Halloween is essentially about PTSD, The Kindergarten Teacher is about failure, hopelessness, the overwhelming desire to be more than mediocre, and how that desire can become a dark force. 

All-Around Best Film: The Favourite



Funny, wicked, bitchy, suspenseful and, oddly enough, tender, as well as a little sad. This is about as perfect as filmmaking gets. A razor-sharp script, which never takes itself too seriously, sumptuous sets and costumes, and brilliant performances by all three actors. If you have not seen this, yet, see it soon, on a big screen. It's a visual feast, and deserves to be seen in all its glory. Rachel Weisz is quickly becoming one of my top 5 favorite actors. This film only reinforced that. This now ranks a close second to Carol, in terms of my favorite lesbian-themed film. 




Saturday, December 1, 2018

On World AIDS Day: REMEMBER, REMIND, INFORM



Dec 1 is World AIDS Day. I've posted this every year, for a few years, now.

The way so many in this country seem to have already forgotten so much: about the Holocaust, about the civil rights movement of the 60s, about the fact this land was stolen from Natives and turned into a country of immigrants.....it seems more important than ever to keep reposting this.

Remember.

Remind those who have forgotten.

Inform those who were not yet around for the very worst days of this plague:


If you're roughly my age, or older, you lost someone to HIV/AIDS during the earliest and worst days of the plague. You may not even know it, because you think you lost them to pneumonia or cancer or the flu, or even suicide. Maybe they knew they had the virus, and were afraid to let anyone know. Maybe it was a gay man you lost - a gay man who you had no idea was gay, because that, too, was something it was not safe to share even with one's loved ones. Maybe it was a woman or a child or a heterosexual man. Maybe it was someone in your life who you had no idea had dabbled in the world of IV drugs, or who had received a blood transfusion. Maybe it was a very old person. But be sure of this: if you were alive and aware around 1984 or so, there is someone you knew, someone who was in your life, someone you maybe even loved, who is not here, anymore, because of this disease. Be sure, too, that you don't forget how shamefully the world responded to this disease during those earliest days, and for years after. Don't forget that people who were known to have this disease were treated like garbage. Don't forget we had a president who chose to ignore this plague, because gay men and drug addicts had lives which were considered to have no value. Don't forget that, when mainstream America did nothing, gay men and lesbians pooled their resources and did EVERYTHING. DON'T forget that mainstream America was largely part of the problem, while the LGBT community basically invented the idea that there could be solutions. It's World AIDS Day. Remember all of this and, if you have young people in your life, tell them all about it, in every ugly detail, because the ugly parts are the most important.


Monday, October 1, 2018

It's My Pleasure To Inform You That Little Women Is, In Fact, Feminist As All Get-Out. Or: 10 Reasons Louisa May Alcott's Classic Novel Is Loved By Rebellious Women The World Over.





1. It's a girl's world. Little Women is female-centric. I don't just mean it's about girls and women. I mean the entire novel is a picture of life where every male character is peripheral - yes, even Laurie - and every aspect of life is viewed through the lens of females. Alcott created a world of girls/women. Their hopes, dreams, failures, successes - even their vanities - are all their own, and not shaped by boys or men. There is never a moment in the narrative when we are inside the head of a boy or a man.

2. Sisterhood celebrated. Unlike so many other novels, Little Women is about females supporting one another, and holding each other up through the toughest of times. While sibling rivalry exists between two of the sisters, it's not about them being females, but about them being siblings with contrasting temperaments. At the end of the day, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy always have each other's backs, because sisterhood is a powerful force. In any other novel, sisters would fight over Laurie. Not the March sisters.

3. Marmee. Can we talk about marmee? Marmee is so badass that she tells her daughters she'd rather they remain spinsters than marry for money. Think this isn't some badass, feminist talk? Do some reading about what life was like in 1868, and what spinsterhood usually amounted to, for women who weren't heiresses. Marmee doesn't raise the March girls to plan on marrying for money and be supported by men. She raises her daughters to think for themselves, hold out for true love, and find ways to support themselves. You want radical feminism? A mother who is relieved when her daughter turns down the proposal of a rich, honorable young man, because she knows their love isn't truly of a romantic nature, and that they're not suited as life partners. A mother encouraging her daughter to leave the nest, move to a strange city on her own, and pursue writing, even when the window of opportunity for finding a financially secure husband is slowly closing. A mother who finds peace when confronted with the significantly older,  penniless pauper her daughter DOES love, because she wants her daughter to live life on her own terms. Keep in mind we're talking about a book written in 1868, not 1978.

4. Jo March selling her hair. This is no small thing. For a young woman from a decent family to even walk into a shop where hair is bought and sold would be scandalous, but our Jo doesn't give a damn about convention, or what "proper" ladies are expected to do. She sees family crisis and the need for fast cash, recognizes that she lives in a world where her "one beauty" has a dollar value, and she makes the sacrifice. Does she lament her decision, later? Yes, briefly. Who wouldn't? But she doesn't dwell on it. It's HER hair, and she'll chop it off and sell it, if she wants to.

5. Jo and Laurie's friendship. Unlike so many other examples in literature and film, Jo and Laurie's friendship really is friendship in its truest form. While Laurie imagines it to be more,  because he isn't as forward thinking as Jo, Jo always knows that what she has in Laurie is a best friend. Think the idea of girls and boys/men and women being best friends for life, with no romantic entanglements is old hat, and that the idea of true Platonic love between the opposite sexes is not at all a feminist idea? Find half a dozen examples of it in American literature prior to Little Women. I'll wait.

6. Self-determination. This is a theme which comes up in Little Women, again and again. We read, early on, about the March girls' and their castles in the air. Meg's castle is very traditional - and that's ok. It's OK to want a husband and children and to make a nice home life for one's family. There's nothing about that that isn't feminist, if it's what a girl or woman truly wants, and we know Meg well enough to know it's what she truly desires most. And why not? She has a wonderful, strong, resilient mother, and aspires to live up to her greatness. Beth's castle can be whittled down to peace: it's really all she wants out of life. No husband. No children. Just peace. And maybe a decent piano. It may not be exciting, but it's her life's wish, and she's allowed to have it, without anyone urging her to grow up and start looking for a husband. Jo and Amy have more nontraditional castles, both of which revolve around creativity and art. During an era when girls their age were expected to seek out respectable husbands who would offer them financial security, Jo and Amy both have dreams of achieving artistic greatness. When they each give up these dreams (or put them on hold) it's not because anyone forces them to, or the men in their lives have forbidden them to pursue them. Amy comes to the mature realization that she isn't much more than mediocre as an artist, and that hoping for genius is not enough. Jo puts her writing aside not because she has to, but because she makes a choice, eventually, to marry and have children. Die-hard Alcott fans know that, in the final book in this series, Jo's literary aspirations are not only revived, but with a vengeance. When we meet the much older Jo in Jo's Boys we're told that, when the Bhaers are facing dire poverty, Jo picks up her pen and not only saves the day by selling her writing, but she achieves a level of fame and fortune she'd never dreamt possible. Anyone who thinks Jo is forced to stop writing, or that she gives it up, entirely, isn't really reading the words on the page. They're certainly not reading through the entire March Family saga.

7. "A funny match." That's how Louisa May Alcott described her choice of husband for Jo. Alcott intended for Jo to remain unmarried, but the second part of Little Women never would have been published if she'd refused to give in and marry off all the surviving March sisters. An early feminist, herself, Alcott was the only significant breadwinner in her family, and she couldn't afford to lose a chance at a second novel being published. Put simply: she had mouths to feed. She did refuse, though, to marry Jo off to the handsome, charming, rich Laurie, even though it's what the public wanted so badly. That would have been too formulaic, and an insult to the girl Jo was, the woman she was to become. There are still people who lament this choice, but I maintain that, underneath the handsome face and substantial income, grown-up Laurie is really a bit of a bore. Put in more modern terms, Laurie is the wealthy guy who settles for a life in the family business - a business about which he doesn't really give a damn. How depressing. The idea that Jo holds out for true love, and finds it not in her young, handsome, wealthy neighbor, who fairly begs for her hand in marriage,  but in the form of a poor, middle-aged immigrant with a love of philosophy and literature has always been something I've found refreshing. Jo doesn't settle. She never settles. The "funny match" Louisa May Alcott writes, as she thumbs her nose at convention, represents Jo March's ongoing insistence on dancing to the beat of her own drummer, thank you very much. If a 19th century woman saying, "I don't want to be married to a man who's just convenient and available, I want to find love with someone who I decide is worthy" isn't a defiant act of feminism, I don't know what is.

8. Aunt March. Hear me out on this. No one who reads Little Women adores Aunt March, but it must be acknowledged that Alcott has not only written a book where the family patriarch is absent, but created a world where the only family money to speak of is controlled by a woman. A childless woman who lives alone and wields a certain amount of power and sway. Is she always nice? Not by a long shot. But she's always her own woman, and she takes orders from no one. Feminism isn't about being docile or likable. And when she dies? Her house and land don't go to her nephew, Robin (the March girls' father), but to Jo. Aunt March not only skips over an entire generation when deciding who her estate should go to, and she doesn't just leave it to a female, she leaves it to the most spirited female in the family...the female most likely to do with Plumfield things Aunt March would find distasteful or even scandalous. Aunt March knows Jo well enough to know this, and she leaves her Plainfield, anyhow. I have a quiet affection for Aunt March, who I suspect would have been a suffragette, had she been born later.

9. Separate, but equal. Some 20th and 21st century feminists could learn a lot from Alcott. While I've seen divisions among so-called feminists in my lifetime, who rage against women choosing to make home, children and spouse the center of their universe, Alcott did no such thing. If the March sisters all chose their own lives, it's true that their choices are very different. Where Jo chooses a somewhat unconventional life - first turning down a lucrative proposal of marriage, and then opting for a life full of raucous male energy, running a school for topsy-turvy boys, several of whom really have no other place to go - Meg chooses a life of very quiet, conventional domesticity. Her life revolves around her husband, her children, and making a home that is comfortable for them. If it seems like a letdown, it shouldn't. It's Meg's castle in the air come to fruition, and Alcott honors that. Film versions of Little Women skip over it (really the only section of the book consistently absent from the films), but Alcott devotes whole chapters to Meg's domestic foibles. Some of these foibles and their resolutions may seem cringeworthy to readers in 2018, but the fact remains that Alcott does something that had seldom if ever been done before: she elevates what many of us see as mundane, domestic life. The life she describes in these chapters is probably closer to the lives lived by most women in 1868 than anything else we're likely to read in fiction from that era, because the domestic lives of women were not deemed worthy of literature. Alcott holds no such opinion. To her, Meg's dilemmas about her household budget, botched attempts at cooking,  or entertaining her demanding children are just as worthy of being written about as Jo and Amy's far more exotic adventures in New York and abroad. Beth's journey, which is almost wholly internal, is also deemed worthy of exploration. When Alcott devotes time to and honors every kind of female life, she's truly the feminist we need in 2018 - the feminist who knows that feminism isn't about anyone telling women what they should or should not do, but about supporting women in the choices they make for themselves.

10. The sequels. Little Women does not exist in a vacuum. In point of fact, Alcott wrote four books about the March family: Little Women, Good Wives (in the USA, now published as the second half of Little women), Little Men, and Jo's Boys. Most people agree that Little Women is her true masterpiece. I think so. I also think the sequels are well worth exploring, for anyone who has an interest in the seeds planted in the first book. Little Men revolves around Plumfield, Jo and Fritz's school for boys. One of the oddities, of course, is that Jo sees fit to admit girls to the school, as well - Nan and Daisy, who are almost replacements for young Jo and and Meg. This, in itself, is pretty audacious. I highly doubt there were many co-ed boarding schools even in the most progressive corners of America at the time Little Men was written. What's more, when we get to the final book about the March family, we're treated to the vision Alcott had not only for Jo (who has become a successful and famous writer), but for her young counterpart, Nan, who becomes a physician and, we're told, never marries - not because she doesn't have the opportunity, but because she chooses a path in life that leaves no room for marriage. Nan is happy with and fulfilled by the path she has chosen. Daisy, for her part, chooses a path that is parallel to that of Meg (who is her mother) and, again, Alcott honors this choice as much as any other made by the girls and women in the March universe. Jo's Boys is not a great book. It's not even a very good book, but it's a must, if one is truly going to look at what Louisa May Alcott had to say about womanhood, the spaces women inhabit in the world, and the dreams girls and women have every right to dream.

Context is everything. One cannot fairly measure feminist content in a work written 150 years ago, without placing it in its proper social, political, or even spiritual context. Viewed through the lens tinted with 21st century values and norms, Little Women may seem mundane, boilerplate, or even at odds with modern feminist values. Viewed through the lens of 1868 - the year that Louisa May Alcott spent a mere 30 days writing the first half of this two-part book - it's clear that it gives voice to girls and women in a way no American novel really had, before, that it's daring and sometimes audacious. It's teeming with strong, positive female characters and relationships. Most of all, it gives us Jo March - a girl and a woman who dares dream her own, unique dream, and live life on her own terms, until the very end.


"I believe in the same pay for the same good work. Don't you? In future, let woman do whatever she can do: let men place no more impediments in the way; above all things let's have fair play, - let simple justice be done, say I. Let us hear no more of 'woman's sphere' either from our wise (?) legislators beneath the gilded dome, or from clergymen in their pulpits. I am tired, year after year, of hearing such twaddle about sturdy oaks and clinging vines and man's chivalric protection of woman. Let woman find out her own limitations, and if, as is so confidently asserted, nature has defined her sphere, she will be guided accordingly - but in heaven's name give her a chance! Let professions be open to her; let fifty years of college education be hers, and then we shall see what we shall see. Then, and not until then, shall we be able to say what woman can and what she cannot do, and coming generations will know and be able to define more clearly what is a 'woman's sphere' than these benighted men who try now to do it." - Louisa May Alcott


Sunday, December 31, 2017

When Shoney's Became The Oval Office

Nothing captured the spirit of the USA in 2017 quite like the Rick and Morty Mulan Szechuan Sauce phenomenon. Something that started out as a mildly amusing joke, and which was never meant to be anything more, spiraled out of control, took on a life of its own, attracted the unhealthy attention of the worst kinds of people, and became an embarrassing debacle.  


Friday, December 29, 2017

Best Movies of 2017

2017 was such a stellar year for film, I'm devoting an entire post to the ones I enjoyed the most, in no specific order.


For a while, now, Pedro Almodovar has been dishing out stories which focus on the relationship between mother and child. In my mind, All About My Mother and Volver were partner movies. With Julieta, we have a complete trilogy and, while the first two were great, Julieta is a masterpiece. Almodovar has never been as good, and his storytelling has never been so heartbreakingly real. Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte play the title role, each during different phases of her life, as Julieta's story unfolds. It's a story in which she is both a daughter, and a mother, and every other part of her life is somehow affected by one of these roles, or both. If Almodovar decides to hang it up and call it a day with this movie, no one could blame him. It's perfect. Watching Julieta feels less like seeing a movie than it does like reading a diary. 




Roger Mitchell's My Cousin Rachel presents Daphne du Maurier's vision as we've never seen it, before. Rachel Weisz's Rachel is uncompromising, unapologetic, and downright subversive. One doesn't usually think of du Maurier's women as empowered, or in any way feminist, but this film flips the traditional notion of her characterization of women on its ear. I find it cringeworthy that this film was promoted as a romance. It's not a romance. It's almost a protest film. If there's a love story here, it's the love story between a woman and the ownership she claims of her own body and sexuality. Don't tune in looking for neat, happy endings - you won't find any here. You also won't find a female lead who accepts without question what the men around her decide what her life should be like.



If you've heard that Logan is a great superhero movie, that's not quite true. Logan is a great movie, full stop. It's the movie that shows us just how good a movie based on characters from the world of comic books can be. It shows us that a movie with these origins can stand up next to the best movie of any kind, and more than hold its own. Forget about mutants and super powers and the X Men. This is a movie about fathers and their children. It's about taking care of our parents when they can't take care of themselves. It's about taking responsibility for those to whom we are leaving this mess of a world. It's about facing one's own mortality, wondering if one's life has even mattered, and finding ways to make one's last days count. Damn it - it's about carrying one's self with dignity and grace in a world where such concepts are no longer respected. Jackman and Stewart are miraculous. I've seen it several times. I've cried, every time. 


Angela Robinson's Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is one of those movies that was hardly promoted, at all. Which means if you didn't see in a theater the weekend it opened, you didn't get to see it, at all. What little promotion it did receive focused on the fact that the characters involved worked together to create the comic book superheroine, Wonder Woman. Thing is, this movie is about those three people, but this movie is not about Wonder Woman. Not really. It's about living life on one's own terms, bucking convention, not giving in to fear and hatred, and about welcoming love, even when it comes in an unconventional package. Deeply moving, this film stayed with me for days after I saw it. Rebecca Hall, who is always good, is downright mesmerizing. She should win all the awards. She won't, but she should. 


Jordan Peele's Get Out caught us all by surprise. Who the hell expected one of the most brilliant films to come along in years to 1) be a horror film and 2) be written and directed by a guy who is well known for sketch comedy? But that's not even a fair question, because this isn't a traditional horror movie, and it's not without its laughs. It's like nothing else we've seen, before. It's not just horror. It's biting social commentary. It's a tragedy. It's a thriller. It's gut-wrenching. Peele is quoted as having referred to it as a documentary. If you've seen it, chances are you know what he means. If you haven't seen it, no one should tell you; you should pay to see it, yourself. Jordan Peele is the filmmaker to watch out for. If this is how he starts out a career in writing and directing, I cannot imagine what he does for an encore. 



Another from the "if you blinked, you missed it" category: Aisling Walsh's Maudie, a film based on the life of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. Sally Hawkins, who has been one of filmdom's quiet treasures for a good ten years, now, is just great as the title character - a woman who, despite living in constant pain, and suffering all manner of hardship, viewed the world with wonder, and captured that sense of wonder in her art. Sherry White's screenplay is uncompromising. She doesn't sugarcoat the truly ugly, disturbing details of Maud Lewis's life and marriage. Instead, she does what Maud Lewis, herself was so good at; she shows us there are beauty and wonder to be experienced in the most unlikely places, under the most unlikely circumstances. Ethan Hawke, who is not my favorite actor, is great in this. Honorable mention to Kari Matchett, who makes the most of a small, but pivotal, role. She's an actor to watch out for. 


Since I'm singing the praises of Sally Hawkins, it makes for a great segue to Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water. The film borrows heavily from one of my favorite novels, Rachel Ingalls' Mrs. Caliban, (if you haven't read it, do so - you will not regret it) which worried me, at first. And then I saw it. I need not have worried. This is magical realism at its most accessible. So much more than a love story, this is a film about outsiders and those who would squash them out of fear of - and contempt for - that which is different. It's a celebration of anti-fascism. The good guys here aren't superheroes with other-worldly powers, though. In this world, The Man is, well...The Man. But the heroes? A woman who is mute. A lonely, aging homosexual. A working class black woman. A scientist who actually cares about doing the right thing. And, yes, a sea creature who, like so many people in the real world, just wants to be left alone to live his life, instead of being exploited and tortured. In a year full of great films, this one might be the most beautiful. 


We waited. And waited. And waited. When this film finally arrived, there was a collective sigh of relief from so many of us. Behind that sigh: it was worth the wait. Patty Jenkins brought us the Wonder Woman of our dreams: beautiful, strong, thoughtful, decent, brave, full of heart. Gal Gadot was perfectly cast. There's not much about this film that hasn't been said, but I'm not sure many men actually get how or why this movie is so important to so many women. Men have had dozens of superhero movies. Superman, Batman, Thor, Ironman, Wolverine, Spiderman.... Women? We really haven't had this on the big screen, before. Not like this. Diana Prince kicked ass, and it was gorgeous. A triumph for girls and women everywhere. More of this, please.