On Gross Parasites of Masculinity

muddy grass

Muddy grass, bank of the Connecticut River. PC: me

I wonder if perhaps I spoke too soon in my last post. In the height of eclipse season, I did indeed experience the possibility of a bad job, and just how awful that might have been. By some miracle, that conflict is getting better (personally, I think it’s because Mercury was retrograde until this past Tuesday).

I digress. There is a green, spongy algae that blooms along sidewalks where standing water is not properly drained. It is an attractive, eukaryotic organism, sometimes appearing in variations of blue or yellow, and while algae are often depicted in mainstream media as indicators of death and decay, they are actually a sign of quite the opposite–of excessive fertility. Algae can cause many pond and water organisms to die because as algae deteriorates, it causes oxygen levels in the water to rise, making it a toxic environment to live in.

Why is this the topic I start with today? To be honest, I have no idea. Maybe you can draw the connections, instead of me.

My white boy has got to go. He has crossed too many lines, placed one too many straws on my back. In the course of knowing him, I have discovered he is the kind of person who surrounds himself with women who will cater to his needs. He doesn’t realize it because, as these women have only ever catered to his needs, he has never met a person who has told him to his face that he is a gross parasite of masculinity. Furthermore, he broke up with me and refuses to stop communicating. Granted, I haven’t yet either, but I didn’t want to break up. He did. I find this to be a suspicious way for a person to behave.

He has told me in no uncertain terms, without any thought to how it might make me feel when I am so attracted to him, that he is pining for another woman, one who is already with another man, and who is planning to move to Seattle for said man. My white boy wants to move to Seattle, too. Yes, he is that stupid. Did I mention, he has been pining for this woman for 5 years? Yes, he told me that as well. In fact, there was a period in the beginning when he wasn’t pining for her. In that period, he was pining for another woman, then this current woman got together with a man, and then my white boy “realized” he had missed out on her. Do I sense a pattern? Might my white boy realize, somewhere down the line, that he missed out on me the second I am with some other worthier, stronger, wiser person? My intuition tells me yes, and my intuition predicted that Trump would win the presidency in July of 2016 (there were at least 3 eyewitnesses to this testimony).

I suppose he thinks this is a grand, romantic gesture, moving from Florida to Seattle for her. I have dated a great many morons who think the same way. I even had one try to do that to me when I was starting graduate school in Massachusetts. Sadly, perhaps that is why I fell for my white boy, because when I am attracted to straight men, I have a bad habit of dating morons. I’m sure it doesn’t even occur to him that his white girl never asked him to do that for her, that she isn’t even thinking about whether or not he likes her, and just because he is present in her life, that doesn’t mean she will date him or even think of him in a romantic way even if her relationship does end. (Let me not get into how boringly monogamous and linear and heteronormative this behavior is either). Gross. Parasite. Masculinity.

This, this is what I fell in love with several months ago. What I gave my heart to and bled out for, what I made myself vulnerable for. These were the kinds of sad, pathetic people available to me in Tampa.

I will not attempt to convey the kind of shame I feel. I suspect you already know. Too familiar to me are the flaws of the human heart. I recall from high school a similar sort of shame, the kind I felt from having to hide from my mother, who conditioned me to think my romantic feelings were wrong, my seemingly endless propensity for attraction to human beings. I would have gladly forfeit my ability to feel romantic feelings at that age. Sometimes now, the idea still appeals to me.

I think sometimes, I moved back up North just to realize these things. Not that I’m a sad person for having fallen for this dude. But that I deserve better. I surround myself with people who I trust to tell me the truth. It took all of them to get me to this point, where I am capable of overcoming loneliness, capable of letting go when it is necessary. Because I trust them to tell the truth, I believe them when they tell me I am brilliant, kind, and good. If they leave me, I know it’ll be for a damn good reason, not to chase some stupid romantic notions all across the country. Some people go their whole lives without knowing stability like this.

 

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The Politics of Relationships

bogolis

Storks grazing in suburbs. I want to be a stork. Or perhaps I just don’t like my life right now.

CW: not for little kids

This is going to be some weird shit. I’m fucking a white boy, and you know shit is always weird when I’m fucking a white boy.

Probably not surprisingly, lately, I have been contemplating this question. Should I be with a person whom it makes sense to be with politically, or should I date a person who agrees with my politics? Ten times out of nine (Beyonce Carter Knowles, 2016), these two things do not occur simultaneously in the same person.

I’ll explain what I mean by that. I’m a woman of color, right? I try to praxis in a way that centers marginalized folks. However, I’m also educated and upper-middle class. If I was with a person who politically makes sense for me, I’d probably choose a man of color, probably also someone educated and raised upper-middle class, if we’re going with a traditional partnership which my family would find acceptable. If I’m thinking of personal satisfaction in my romantic and sexual partnerships, I could also see myself with an educated woman, most likely of color as well, though class background may vary (in my experience, I seem to get along with women of color across various class backgrounds).

In a strictly political sense, these categories of people make sense for me to partner with. In practice, partnering with people like this is a whole. Other. Experience. I firmly believe that our first experiences with people of a certain identity sort of “stick” in our brains. They create patterns that we fall into again and again, if we are observant enough to notice. The first men of color I ever dated were very abusive people. There was much behavior-monitoring and slut-shaming in those relationships. Since then, I’m not sure I have rationally been able to trust men of color. The ones I am attracted to seem like surprisingly sub-par people, and I suspect these attractions originate from those early abusive relationships, where my brain now has connections between men of color and abuse. Because that is a familiar dynamic, one which I even romanticized, my brain is wired to be romantically attracted to abusive men of color. This is probably a pattern I need to dismantle if I ever hope to be with a man of color.

With women, while the dynamics are certainly less problematic, they seem vastly more nebulous. There were three women in my life that I ever felt attracted to romantically. For the first, I was so puzzled by my feelings that I never told her. She was a kindly mentor sort of person who I greatly admired in high school. She promptly went off to Harvard, never to be heard from again. The second was quite friendly, though she had a boyfriend and I never told her as well. The third is now a good platonic friend of mine, for whom I do not feel romantic attraction any more. I am not certain what kinds of patterns this sets me up for, or if indeed, a pattern is even in place for women I am attracted to.

This brings us to the second part of the question: instead of a person who seems like my political counterpart, what about people who agree with my politics? Let’s examine that, shall we? First off, very few people seem to truly “agree” with how I see the world. The ones who really do are usually my good platonic friends. I keep those relationships platonic because these people are few and far between, and the relationships are more important to me than some fleeting romantic or sexual experience.

Thus, the options I am left with are varying levels of political compatibility with another person. Even there, the data is somewhat ambiguous, as I have not devised an actual method for measuring how closely my politics align with my romantic partners’. For some problematic reason (and I think this says a lot about how we are conditioned to feel about race in America, as well as how men of different races are conditioned to present themselves as masculine people), the partners I choose are more closely aligned with me around gender politics than around racial politics. This, too, could be inaccurate because I measure the alignment, at least initially, based on what men say, and not always what they do. (The latter usually presents itself later in a relationship, and I find myself disappointed more often than not). Perhaps not surprisingly (again), this means a lot of white men. I speak entirely from experience when I say, the white men I have dated are less defensive around topics of gender. Frequently, they will agree with me about the circumstances of women. Men of color, at least the ones I have been with, are surprisingly resistant to talking about gender. I don’t think this means that men of color cannot be trusted to talk about gender, but it certainly says a lot about intersections of race and gender. I think men of color are usually so targeted with racism that to have to admit they actually have a kind of power in gender structures is actually threatening. After all, it must be confusing to be both targeted and have power. Theorists like Kimberle Crenshaw, bell hooks, and Patricia Hill Collins do a much better job than I do talking about why this occurs. There are a great number of social and political factors that make men of color defensive. I don’t have much to say on the subject besides, it sucks that these systems take so long to dismantle. It really does.

Anyway, after being told in a rather roundabout fashion by said white boy who I’m fucking that he cares more about the white women in his life than he does about me, I promptly find myself running out of faith in romance once again. I feel I have been swindled again, as I always am, and I become progressively cynical, deadened, hopeless. Stubbornly unwilling. I suppose this wheel grinds rather slowly. Just as I gradually discover what I will not tolerate in a professional setting, and what I am willing to suffer for, it seems that my romantic life must follow the same path. Though, uh, I think in the professional sense, I am the more willing creature. I have discovered I would much rather be in a bad job than in a bad relationship. At least a bad job still pays. A bad relationship is just a lot of bad memories clogging the sacred inner world.

Wonder Woman: A Review

wonder womanDisclaimer: Contains spoilers.

So last week, Wonder Woman was released, and I watched it alone on Monday because my family is too annoying to take with me (which is material enough to fill another entire post). Quite frankly, I’m a little disappointed at the discourse surrounding this movie, which seems to boil down to women squabbling over whether or not Gal Gadot is a woman of color (in my opinion, she is not. She is a racially ambiguous white woman. Racial ambiguity is something that should receive more attention among racial justice advocates. Sadly, I think they have moved in a rather nonsensical direction *cough*monoracism?*cough*, but again, that is for another post).

There are so many more controversial and important things going on in this movie than whether or not Gal Gadot is a woman of color.

I’m going to say my first critique of the movie is that it definitely has pacing problems. I’ve never seen anything else that Patty Jenkins has directed, so I feel like I’m kind of missing a point of comparison, but it’s definitely something she could work on. I found the most interesting parts of the movie to be the beginning, when Diana (Gadot) lives among the Amazonians, and the end, when Diana faces Ares (David Thewlis). But then, there’s this strange and heteronormative middle section in which Diana is sort of coerced to behave like a “normal” woman, and it feels like that part drags on and on. I just didn’t give enough fucks. The beginning and end were far more interesting.

I do love that the beginning contains abundant shots of the Amazonians fighting. They’re, like, badass fight scenes, too. These women train like pros. The one thing I’m a little disappointed by is how skinny most of them are. There is literally one black woman among these Amazonians who actually looks like a healthy human being. The rest, if they actually trained that hard while being that skinny, would probably have premature osteoporosis.

I’m a little disappointed that, with the exception of the ice cream scene, there isn’t a single shot of Diana eating actual food. Wouldn’t that have been a powerful scene to add about a movie about a woman superhero? Think about it, right? She’s a badass warrior. She can swim hundreds of miles. Is really good at hand-to-hand combat. Is a skilled archer. Could run for days. Wouldn’t a person burning that many calories also EAT A TON?? How the hell did the director forget such an obvious part of being a human being?? Realistically, this woman probably ate, like, 10,000 calories a day to keep up her energy! How the hell did they not put a food shot in this movie? (Consider other action movies in which men portray gods/demigods are portrayed, e.g.: Thor (2011)).

Then we’ve got…*sigh*…the middle portion of the movie *cue Leonie’s most judgmental eye roll*. So Diana meets (through some pretty violent interference) Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and agrees to go with him to his world. Not gonna lie, that scene where Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells her the world doesn’t deserve her almost made me cry. In some ways, Diana reminds me a lot of myself. Her overprotective mother reminds me of my own; regardless of what she says, Diana will not believe her until she experiences life on her own terms.

But then we run into this weird, heternormative narrative. I don’t get it. If Diana purportedly has only known the female form all her life, and went through puberty on the island with the Amazons, why in the whole fuck would she have sexual feelings for a man?? Would that not be similar to meeting an alien from outer space for the first time and then developing sexual feelings for it? What are the chances of a human being falling for a form with which they are not already intimately familiar? I’m just going to leave it at that.

I’m also a little miffed at this narrative around Maru (Elena Anaya). I feel like making her a villain was a little too ableist and easy. First of all, if she was smart enough to be messing around with chemicals of that caliber in the 1940’s, she was probably a highly educated woman, which was a huge accomplishment for a woman living in the 1940s. Second, it just seemed a little lazy to make her a visibly disabled person. Like, I am pretty sure anybody who worked as a scientist at the time sustained injuries from their craft. It was just a fact of working in that field at the time. For example, Marie Curie sustained some kind of cancer or radiation sickness from her work with radioactive material. Furthermore, what was referred to as “madness” or “hysteria” at the time would today probably be called “depression” or “anxiety,” which are actually highly co-related with genius (can’t find a citation, but there are studies out there). So it seems to me that Dr. Maru is a very intelligent, strategic woman who is just doing a job that will keep her alive during the war (instead of trying to escape from Nazi forces, which was tantamount to treason and would probably get her killed). The “madness” bit seems to be a sad character oversight on the part of the writers.

Furthermore, one of my friends has pointed out (and I agree) that this movie had a decidedly Western exceptionalist sort of feel to it. The best example I can think of is the scene where The Chief and Diana are conversing at night around the fire. Throughout the movie, I felt that Gadot did a great job of portraying a character with very high emotional intelligence. Later in the movie, she feels deeply for a woman and child whom she comes across at the front. However, (and I feel this is more a weakness of the script than a weakness in Gadot’s acting) when The Chief explains that his people have basically undergone genocide at the hands of Trevor’s people, there is not nearly a visceral enough reaction for a character that believes so deeply in justice. Furthermore, why would Diana then sustain sexual feelings for Trevor, a descendant of colonizers? I feel like if the script was true to Diana’s character, that point would have been significantly elaborated upon. It was a good opportunity to start a dialogue around indigenous narratives, and of course, it was tossed to the wayside.

Ugh, I’m going to get shot one day for saying this, but I also thought it was a bit on the nose to cast an Israeli actress in this role and then center the plot entirely on World War II. Like, really DC? You needed the tables to turn so literally? It couldn’t just have been a plot about good and evil like all the other DC superheroes? I can’t.

What I do appreciate about this movie, and I’m not even gonna sugarcoat it y’all, is that the white guy dies. I think that was a wise decision because of the message it sends about real-life activism. I was talking to a friend (another woman of color) who recounted that seeing this in a movie reflects what white allies should be willing to put on the line in order for marginalized people’s lives to get better. The truth sucks, but there it is. Fighting for justice is just that–a fight. Sometimes with very physical violence. Sometimes people die in the violence. Considering the number of black, Asian, Native, and Latinx lives that have been taken needlessly and/or senselessly over the course of history, this is the asking price of being a white ally. Know what it takes. Furthermore, it’s a powerful moment of cinematic justice as well. Consider the hundreds of movies in which Black, Asian, Native, and Latinx people die in movies to further plot points. The cinematic deaths of people of color has happened across so many genres–drama, action, horror, comedy even. I’m impressed to see a white death in a major action film–and not just that of a minor character, but the male lead.

I think by far my favorite scene in the whole film is when Diana refuses to listen to Trevor and crosses the battlefield to the village. I swear, I cried. I felt like this scene could be interpreted in different ways, depending on the viewer. I think the danger is if we consider Diana to be representative of white women. If that is how we interpret her character, that sets a dangerous precedent of saviorism that white women are all too eager to follow. In addition, it was also a rather impulsive thing that Diana did, and white women already do enough impulsive things which frequently endanger the lives of people of color. White women should not be encouraged to be reckless. If we interpret Diana as racially ambiguous, however, this entire narrative changes. It becomes this beautiful act of feminine power. It takes a woman (of color) to empathize with the position of women and children in a war (Which country of the global majority has not experienced prolonged wars?), and to furthermore give so few fucks about what men want her to do that she walks into crossfire alone to solve a problem that hundreds of men couldn’t solve. I think that is the kind of world we could look forward to if more women were in positions of power and didn’t keep getting assassinated, undermined, or overthrown. (No, I am not talking about Hillary Clinton. Fuck off, ye meagre Beckies).

In short, Wonder Woman was a fascinating movie. I think, as always, the premise far exceeds the execution. I do think that for her first major role in a film, Gal Gadot did a spectacular job of portraying a stranger to the world, who is both more naive and more knowledgeable than anyone can reasonably guess. I relate to her so much, as a person who was raised around immigrants my whole life and had no idea what The Real America was actually like until I left home. I think that is the mark of a good actress, being able to make familiar the unfamiliar.

Self Affirmation

In the style of Chani Nicholas horoscopes, I am writing a self-affirmation today. I know there are a great number of things I need to let go of before I leave home. It feels like it’s taking forever to move and start at my new job. I think my greatest weakness is not actually transitions, but waiting. Waiting is awful. It fills me with restlessness, knowing that something different is about to begin, but having to go a month or so with nothing to do, waiting for the damn thing to start.

Someone who I trust once told me that in order to move forward, sometimes we must let go of things that weigh us down. Frequently, I find the things I have to leave behind are actually things I hold quite dear. Without further ado, though, I give myself permission to let go of them.

I give myself permission to not ask permission. I give myself permission to do whatever I damn well please and to not feel guilty for doing so. I take the wheel in the car of my life. I direct myself to where I need to go and what I need to do because I know myself better than anyone else. If this means I spend money and indulge myself, I permit it. If this means I give myself pleasure and feel good in my own body, I permit it. If this means I eat all the sweetest, the saltiest, and the most savory things I can find, I permit it. If this means I do nothing but watch shows on Netflix, listen to music, or read novels for hours on end, I permit it. I will not feel bad giving myself the things I want and need. I will not feel bad treating myself like a whole, complete, feeling, thinking human being, and this includes giving my body a rest, giving my mind a rest, and feeling worthy of the gifts I give myself.

I give myself permission to not meet other people’s expectations. How I measure up in other people’s eyes means nothing if I do not meet the expectations I set for myself. The only expectation I give myself is to live life fully, to enjoy every minute. I promise myself that I will pursue the things that give me peace. Money is meaningless, time is meaningless, admiration from others is meaningless if I do not fulfill myself. Thus, I promise myself that I will walk in green places, that I will admire every tree and flower I come across because this reminds me that I am alive. I will wear clothes that I am comfortable in to remind myself that I have never been more beautiful, more attractive, or sexier than I am at this very second. I will cultivate relationships with people that are meaningful to me, regardless of what others may think of the people I maintain those relationships with. I will give myself fully to their brilliance, have faith in their judgment, and give them my utmost loyalty because they have done the same for me, and because society does not always deem worthy the people who deserve the most. I will go to places that feed my sense of adventure, places that intrigue me and fill me with a sense of wonder. I will go to the places that feed my soul. I will go where I can see the stars at night, where I can find the histories that are not told, where I can find artists like me, where I can hear the rain and feel the sun, and not just in 30-minute, pre-determined break periods.

I give myself permission to let some relationships lapse so that newer, healthier ones can grow. I give myself permission to let some relationships change. I will let go of the people who do not listen to me, who are not aware of my intelligence, and who are not capable of understanding how their actions impact me. I will let go of the judgment people throw at me for being so willing to let go of harmful relationships. Other people do not know me the way I do; they do not know what is good for me the way I do. It is not my responsibility to change people who are toxic. It is also not my responsibility to maintain relationships where there are obvious inequalities in feelings or investment in the relationship. Furthermore, I will learn to navigate the changes that come in relationships. I will learn to accept the things people I love do to survive, even though I think they deserve better. Just as they have no right to tell me what to do, I have no right to tell them how to live their lives. I will learn to accept that people I love might keep secrets from me. When they want to, they will tell me in due course. I will learn to accept that people I love may feel joy in different things than I do. It is not my place to judge them for what brings them joy. I will learn to accept that people I love may receive things that I myself want. It is not my place to covet them because I have so much to celebrate myself, and my time will come in due course.

I give myself permission to change my narrative. I give myself permission to ask for what I want from people. I give myself permission to change my environment to suit my needs. I give myself permission to feel the things I feel fully and without conditions because no one should feel shame for having feelings. I ground myself in the things that make me feel sure of myself, so that I may reach for things I never dreamed could be mine.

 

The Phantom, Heart-Draining Menace

bc

*This post is shaped by my ace cis femme brown woman lens

As I’m writing this blog post, I’m looking next to me at (among the rest of the detritus on my desk) a pack of birth control pills. There are two sugar pills left in this month, and then I’m supposed to start a new pack, but most likely, I will not. The new box of pills is small, green and unopened, and sits next to the current pack. My logic is that it will come in handy later if I find occasion to use it before July 2018, when it expires. Fat chance of that happening, though.

A good friend of mine recently told me about this really good sexual experience she had. It sounded to me like it was good because the two people involved actually asked each other what they like, and they did things with each other that they both enjoyed. I was happy for her because this friend hasn’t always had great experiences where sex is involved, and I was glad that this experience went well.

But sometimes, being happy for someone else doesn’t always mean you are happy yourself.

I think, to my great embarrassment, I have to admit that I’m jealous. Which, for me, is shocking because I actually don’t experience being jealous too frequently. Stupid people I know think they can tell when I’m jealous, but they are usually just misinterpreting my anger or sadness. I am jealous so infrequently that I think I can actually remember every single time I have ever been jealous and why I felt the way I did.

It’s not that I’m jealous of my friend, or of the person she had sex with. No, I’m jealous because they got to have that conversation that I have been waiting to have for what feels like eons–the one where someone asks me what I want. You know, without expecting anything in return.

God, it feels good to admit that.

Because now that I have, it’s pretty obvious that the problem is not between me and my friend, but has everything to do with patriarchy.

If I am being honest, at the age of 25, I have never had a sexual interaction in which I did not feel as though I was shortchanged. As I have only ever had sex with heterosexual, cisgender men, this may come as no surprise (at least, it doesn’t to me). Even when sex was consensual (because there are times when I did not consent, but I’m not talking about those), I found myself going through the motions more so to please my partner than out of enjoyment. And I do not think I ever felt as though my partners wanted to give me pleasure. The things my heterosexual, cisgender partners would claim they “gave” me were always conditional; I was expected to give what felt like far more than what I was given in return.

At this point, I have to admit, that sounds, uh, sad. It does, it sounds rather sad, even to me, which I don’t like to admit because I don’t like to think of my life as “sad”. I think it is hard sometimes, and certainly not perfect, but definitely not “sad”. And if this is what all of my sexual experiences amount to, well, clearly something needs to change.

Maybe the sadness comes from shame, which is not logical. This is not an uncommon narrative. I know because other women have written about this same experience again and again. What is it about a patriarchal society that forces women to have to accept really sad sexual experiences? Isn’t that pathetic? We live in a world where, if you are a cisgender, heterosexual woman, you can more or less expect to feel emotionally drained, empty, and hollow after sex.

To preface this next statement, I have nothing against women who have sex with no emotional attachment. If I was capable of doing that, I would. It would make my life so much easier, not to have to think of my past relationships feeling, at best, like I was used as a sex object, and at worst, like I would like to do some really vindictive things to get back at these men. I think it’s really problematic that I have always given both physical and emotional affection in a relationship, and I have only ever received one of the two when I have always wanted both.

This realization has suddenly forced me to contend with how much I value my own heart. How many times has RuPaul told us that if we can’t love ourselves, how in the hell are we going to love somebody else? How many times did Professor Harris say that if there are too many people draining our love, there will be none for ourselves? How could I have forgotten the first rule of being an empath? Everything I do comes with a side of emotional investment. Every person in my life gets emotional nourishment from me without asking. That is the benefit of being friends with someone like me, and also, that is the thing I have to be most careful of. All of my good friends know this about me, and they also know not to take advantage of me.

So you never know, maybe I will start that second pack of birth control pills. But I feel like the better choice would be to hold myself accountable so that I don’t need them in the first place. I’m a little sad that I live in a world where I have to be this cautious. I wish I could have had a great experience with every partner I had sex with. But the fact is, straight men aren’t expected to be like me at all, and thus are usually incapable of giving me what I need unless I explicitly tell them. I’m waiting for that person who asks, and not just because they want to get into my pants. I’m waiting for the person who is willing to take responsibility for this tender and giving heart that is drained all too easily by careless, unfeeling people.

 

Thoughts on Arrival (2016)

arrivalI have been on a bit of a sci-fi kick these days. I think my escapism is acting up because work is so unfulfilling. Hopefully, that will change soon. I actually plan on moving back to Massachusetts in August, though if I am lucky, that process might happen sooner! I never thought I would be happy about going back north, but I miss my friends there, and in my life these days, friends are few and far between.

This week, in addition to Passengers (2016), I also watched Arrival (2016). The latter is rather conflicting. On the one hand, I think there is a lot, A LOT, of racism, colonialism, and xenophobia going on in this film. It was very distracting. On the other hand, there is this beautiful message somewhat nestled in with all the racism and xenophobia, and the fact of the matter is, I do think it would have been a more believable message if it had been two people of color playing the lead. But with two white leads, it just seemed like an appropriation (yet again) of Eastern religions.

First, it was incredibly frustrating to watch so much colonialist propaganda come out of a black man’s mouth. My best example is at 40:36, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) literally says, “And remember what happened to the Aborigines [of Australia]. A more advanced race nearly wiped them out.”

I don’t know about y’all, but internally, I was screaming when I heard this line. Bravo, white supremacy. Your strategy is truly formidable. Whichever asshole put this line into the script made sure to hide the white colonizer behind the black man in a military uniform. If we dissect this scene, we’ll see the truth of it, no? First off, this movie was directed by some white Canadian liberal (Denis Villeneuve), so the military in this movie is a projection of what white liberals think they are doing (I’m not pro-military when I say these things, but I do believe white liberals frequently blame the military for problems that they themselves cause). You can tell by the over-the-top chauvinism, sexism and, well, militarism of these men who represent “military”. It reminded me somewhat of the military in Avatar (2009), and also the honest trailer of Avatar created by Screen Junkies on Youtube, where you will recall the iconic line “military bad…trees good”.

Personally, I have no connections to the military, besides a very small number of acquaintances, so I have neither the knowledge nor experience to comment directly on their operations. However, in this particular case, I do kind of chafe for more nuance. Just a little bit.

Furthermore, I think the fact that this specific line is said by a black character is an indicator of how frequently black men are used to uphold white supremacy. (If you want more examples of how the hell this happens, read Ain’t I A Woman by bell hooks). Frankly, I think it’s really unfair that Colonel Weber is portrayed as a sort of brainwashed simpleton. As though black men, or men in the army, aren’t capable of independent thought? (I know that’s probably a much more complicated concept than what I just wrote there) I probably don’t need to mention how harmful it is that this is now one of the representatives of black men in film. I don’t, right? Okay, well I mentioned it, so now y’all know.

Sadly, this is not the only example of racism in the film. I think one of the ironies of this movie is that China is portrayed exactly the way America actually is. Let me list the ways: hairpin trigger militarism, stark aggression toward the unknown and/or alien life forms (symbol for immigrants much?), distrust of every other political entity in existence, refusal to listen to reason, unreasonable masculine leadership, somehow more powerful than every other country on earth (for some reason when they militarize, all other countries do as well?). Does this seem a little inaccurate to you? Don’t we know a country that seems kinda like that? Hm, I wonder where it is…

Furthermore, (UGH) I’m frustrated by the paternalism of Louise Banks (Amy Adams) when discussing how the Chinese communicate with the aliens. (I also think it’s really interesting that this line was planned for a character who, in many other scenes, is interrupted or talked down to. She is the only woman working on this operation and was the person designated to say this line. I’m very confused sometimes by the scripting of this movie). At some point, one of the characters reports that General Shang (Tzi Ma) has been using a mahjong set to communicate with the aliens. Dr. Banks implies that the Chinese will only view the aliens as competitors because they are using a game to communicate with them.

Let’s dissect the myriad assumptions made in this scene. (That too, I feel like it’s somewhat disloyal to the character to have given her this line.) First, I think it can be reasonably said that mahjong tiles can have more than one purpose. There are 136 tiles to a set (usually), and they are a bit like Western playing cards. There are 4 “suits” so to speak and 9 numbers in each suit. You can represent a lot with a game that has 36 possible symbols.

The statement seems to reek of American ethnocentrism. By that I mean, the ubiquitous my-way-is-better-than-yours mentality that a lot of people in America have. But here’s the catch–Dr. Banks is a professor of linguistics, a person purportedly capable of deciphering complex messages in languages like Farsi and Mandarin Chinese. Why would a person with that kind of depth say something so shallow? I swear, Eric Heisserer. From one writer to another, GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER.

If we want to extend the metaphor of the movie to beings here on earth, I feel like this is Hollywood’s idealized version of how Americans interact with foreigners. Except in real life, it goes nothing like this. Immigrants are not greeted with kind, understanding linguistics and physics professors who want to understand how they communicate. They’re usually greeted with hostility, ignorance, and frequently, military force. So while I feel like maybe the military part is not wrong, I also feel like it’s highly implausible and unrealistic to act as though Americans would treat unknown entities as anything other than creatures in a zoo.

In addition, there is a very interesting commentary being made in the film about the relationship between military and the academy. I noted that the reason why Banks is involved in this whole scheme is because of her past work with the military. Is this the role people want academics to play in society?

I do think Adams is fitting in her role. Unlike Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers (2016), I felt like Adams’ personality works to her advantage in this role. She is frequently cast as a soft-spoken person, and it seems to work as, in this movie, she is frequently the voice of reason amidst a gang of unqualified hotheads. I’m also glad she didn’t turn into Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) from King Kong (2005), though she did at times seem to suffer from the same special snowflake syndrome as Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) in Twilight (2008) or Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in Hunger Games (2012). By that, I mean that I’m glad she didn’t turn into Dr. Louise Banks, Brave White Woman and Protector of Aliens. She played a realistic role in which life continued on earth after her encounter with the heptapods. I suppose I’m still not convinced about why she was “chosen” by the heptapods. Yes, she was the only person who made a realistic effort to communicate with them (and all the men including Donnelly were too pig-headed to be capable of this). Still though. White woman. Fantasy/sci-fi movie. “Chosen One” role. Seems like a trope.

Lastly, I do think there is actually this lovely, subtle point being made in the movie about language. Banks is able to see the future by learning the language of the heptapods. I also like that the future and the past are not entirely clear in the movie. I know it probably infuriates people who need a more obvious plot, but I like the open-endedness and the possibilities of interpretation. I also like the implications of knowing the future. It seems as though it brings people a sort of serenity, as opposed to the anxiety of needing to change what will happen. It seems as though clairvoyance brings Louise implacable tranquility. She does not care about competing, changing herself, avoiding what is to come, being something else–experiences that I think American capitalism necessitates. It doesn’t matter what she does because the future is unyielding in its certainty.

I don’t think I have done this movie much justice in this review, but then again, I think this movie grapples with a lot of complex things (and also does not grapple with some things it really should have). I haven’t even touched the linguistics piece (these coffee-mug-stain sentences that the heptapods write–I do wonder where those came from), or how language affects memory (huge implications). I will say, though, I appreciate how provocative it was, in spite of its shortcomings.

 

Thoughts on Passengers (2016)

passengersPassengers (2016) was released about four months ago and was marketed as a sci-fi adventure. Upon watching it, I think the marketing was wildly inaccurate; it should have been labeled as a sort of romantic drama kind of thing. It focused much more on human relationships than it did on the fact that the humans were in space. Space seemed to have been a background in this movie for the things going on between characters. In spite of the contradiction, and the really bad Rotten Tomatoes review (31 percent. Folks have gotten rather harsh these days with sci-fi things, no?), I actually enjoyed it. I’m hoping that’s not my mushier, more romantic side talking, but I actually think it has a few strengths, even though there also some obvious weaknesses.

The screenwriter, Jon Spaihts (is that like, the stylish way to spell the name “John” these days? People seem to have done away with the “h”. Apologies, I’m distracting) is also known for Prometheus (2012) and Doctor Strange (2016). I have not seen Doctor Strange yet, but Prometheus left quite the impression on me (that horrifying scene where the female lead does a C-section on herself–the thought still makes me cringe and want to vomit). To me, Prometheus seemed to be a cautionary tale about how not to be an idiot in space. If I remember correctly, I thought all the characters in that movie were incredibly stupid, though I can’t recall why. Though, it does seem as though Spaihts has a pattern of laying human relationships bare against the barrenness of outer space.

What I like about Passengers is that Spaihts seems to tell a prosaic story in an original way. By that, I do not mean that it is a particularly deep story. Two people fall in love. Then they fight. Then they get back together. The typical rom-com. But I like that Spaihts doesn’t try to imply that the story is more than that. (Maybe he does, but that’s all I got from it in its totality). It’s not like Christopher Nolan’s try-hard attempt at being deep in Interstellar. God, could Nolan have gone for lower hanging fruit? “Our memories make time meaningful” or whatever that shit was. I feel like there’s a point at which a movie is great, and Nolan always goes just a smidge beyond that point and ruins a good thing (see Inception).

In terms of cinematography, this spaceship design is definitely in my top 5, but I kind of resent it as well. Whoever designed the interior of this vessel is quite the architect. I loved the very Zaha-Hadid inspired atrium, the wings-resembling-flippers that rotate around this gargantuan energy source (also more elegant than the one in Interstellar, might I add), the curved hallways, the way the control room is located in this sort of gravitated ring thing…It’s a beautiful ship, somewhat like a giant, lovely space fish. I resent it because the vessel, named Avalon (to inspire bourgeois sensitivities), is actually a sort of luxury space cruise in which passengers are supposed have a good old cock-sucking time in their last four months of a 120-year journey (they’re in hypersleep until then). The flaw in this plan is–you guessed it, if you wake up too early, it’s terrifying.

There’s definitely a commentary being made in this film about automated technology and capitalism. I can’t decide personally if it is a technophobic commentary or not. My reason for saying so is that I didn’t object to it, and I usually object to technophobia, though I’m also not the authority on the matter. When Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), a mechanic from Colorado, is woken up by a number of meteorites hitting the ship, the recorded, automated responses are so seamless that it actually takes him a while to realize he is not supposed to be awake (that, and the hibernation sickness). He discovers that in addition to being alone 90 years from his destination, his ID card only gives him access to very basic foods, and a very basic cabin, because he purchased a pretty cheap ticket. A year goes by, and in that time, he discovers he cannot enter the command rooms because his ID does not allow him access. He finds out a message to Earth would take 30 years to get there, and it would take 55 years to receive a response. He enjoys everything his miniature paradise has to offer, but he is utterly alone. Thus he wakes up Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), sentencing them both to life on house arrest in a spaceship. Aurora, a writer from New York, has clearly purchased a better ticket, and she promptly treats Jim to all the food he’s been missing out on.

It was at that point that I began to question, why is this construct a familiar one? I’ll explain what I mean. A lot of recent movies about heterosexual couples start off with the masculine protagonist at some sort of disadvantage. In movies that are not about space, we see this to be true in Beauty and the Beast (2017) and Me Before You (2016). In the former, the masculine protagonist is kind of an animal thing, and in the latter, the masculine protagonist is quadriplegic. In Passengers, the masculine protagonist is clearly a social human who is suffering from loneliness and wants company.

Now if we flipped the script, would the movie even have been made? If Belle had actually been the ugly one under a curse, would the prince even look at her, let alone fall in love? If it had been Louisa and not Will who was quadriplegic, would anyone have been sympathetic to her? And if Aurora was the one who was woken up by a meteorite, would people have had sympathy for her for waking up another human on board? Why are stories constructed this way? Why is it assumed that a woman will always give her emotional and physical labor for a man’s well-being, but the same is never expected of men? Why are movies perpetuating this narrative? I felt like it’s a pattern I’ve seen a lot recently, and the role it casts women in viscerally bothers me.

There was symbolism that was done rather nicely, if not somewhat simply, in the film. For example, Jim and Aurora pass by a rather bright, warm star just as they begin to fall in love. In addition, the ship begins to fall apart right after Aurora finds out Jim lied to her about how she woke up. Admittedly, while I don’t mind Jennifer Lawrence, I do think she basically plays herself in this movie, a trait that I think Lawrence suffers from as an actress in general. I think it worked very well in American Hustle (2013), where she plays a neglected New York housewife. Her over-the-top style worked for her in that film. It also worked in Joy (2015), when she was this larger-than-life inventor who cares a lot about her family. In Passengers, I’m not sure that I buy her romantic interest in Pratt’s character. Though, I’m also not sure how to sell romance as the only two people arguably alive on a ship, either.

As far as Chris Pratt’s acting, I actually prefer him in a comedy. His style works better in kicky funny things like Guardians of the Galaxy and Parks and Rec. In this role, he doesn’t particularly stand out. It felt as though he and Lawrence’s character were really friends moreso than romantic partners; whereas I felt like this film called for epic, dramatic romance. Like, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher in Star Wars tier romance. Omar Shariff and Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic. You get my point. They weren’t selling it. It wasn’t hot enough for me.

By far my favorite moment in this film is when Gus (Laurence Fishburn) wakes up, finds out what Jim has done (at that point, Aurora already knows) and gives us one of the most savage scenes of all time. After realizing Jim woke up Aurora, he asks Jim how long he was alone. Jim admits it was a year. At this point, Gus says, “still…damn.”

The man has a point, though. Didn’t Mark Watney (Matt Damon) in The Martian spend something like 5 fucking years alone on Mars before his crew rescued him?? Then again, I guess he wasn’t supposed to be asleep for 120 years on a ship that assured him he would stay asleep. I am a little miffed, though, that the One Black Character dies within days of waking up because of some silly excuse about how his sleep pod was fucked up and left most of his internal organs necrotic. It seemed like he was literally used as a plot device just so the two protagonists could finally have access to the command room and the inner workings of the ship. Do better, directors.

I think the film does a great job of forcing us to contend with the “should be”s and “could have”s. There is a lot in this film about time, especially since the two protagonists are going to be dead before they reach their final destination. It makes for very interesting time references. They frequently say things like “I would have built a house” or “I would have written a book”. In fact, they will never see the generation they leave behind again (because time moves forward 120 years), and the people on the colony planet may be from a different generation (because they took 120 years to get there). The protagonists’ lives become one huge in-between. It really fucks with the social construct of time. Like, what if in the future, there are human beings whose purpose it is to literally just keep a ship running from one end of a galaxy to another? What if that takes longer than a lifetime? What if there are routine tasks like traveling that last longer than a human life?

I wonder if they ever forget that they are on a ship (you learn that they find ways to change the ship to fit their needs). I also wonder what kind of nasty co-dependencies develop between two straight people who know they are alone together.

I did also think it was a little sinister that the planet they are headed to, Homestead II, is referred to as a “colony”. I don’t know if y’all remember when America was a bunch of colonies, but it really didn’t bode well for Native people. I picture this future in which a bunch of rich white people launch themselves off to various planet-colonies. Then they realize how much work it is living in outer space, and they either bribe or kidnap all the poor people of color left on earth to do all the dirty work for them in outer space, just like Americans did to slaves from Africa, Asia, and in the modern world, South America.

In short, this film was kinda weird, and it also kinda worked. Maybe I just have weird taste, who knows. At the end of the day, I think I have always been a sucker for great ideas, even if they aren’t fleshed out so well. I think the idea for Passengers can carry stories even larger and more provocative than this one. I’d be interested to see a writer take on that challenge.

 

 

Thoughts on Me Before You

me before youY’all remember the movie Me Before You (2016), right? It came out the summer of 2016 and every women’s fashion magazine was talking about it. I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing it at that point. It was later critiqued by the #StarringJohnCho campaign for being a super-white film (a valid critique, if you ask me). I then became somewhat more interested, but I guess the thought slipped my mind until recent days.

Well I finally watched it over the weekend. I remember the main controversy surrounding the movie had to do with the commentary on disability, and how the movie seemed to imply that it’s better to die than to live with a disability. I feel like that critique is also valid; while watching, it did feel as though this rich white boy was whining about missing things about his “old life” that, on average, almost no one gets to experience anyway (water skiing? Working a job that manages companies?? Being engaged to a manic pixie dream girl??? Living in an apartment of that size in fucking London????).

I think what bothered me the most about the film actually had to do with the emotional labor of the feminine protagonist, Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke). In the movie, she is hired by Will Traynor’s (Sam Claflin) mother, presumably to be a sort of day nurse for her son, who is quadriplegic after an accident. It should be noted, Louisa just lost her job at the cafe where she used to work, and she lives with her family in her home town. She was basically desperate for a job, and this one happened to come along (a feeling I relate to a little too well). The family that hires her, the Traynors, are unimaginably wealthy people who own a castle. Yes, a castle.

Louisa, who goes by Lou, finds out Will is planning to go through with physician-assisted suicide and believes it is her responsibility to keep him from doing so. At this point, I was like…wait, what? Why would you take on that responsibility?? Literally no one asks her to do this. Mr. Traynor alludes briefly to the fact that Mrs. Traynor may have hired Lou to fulfill some of Will’s emotional needs, which Mrs. Traynor does not deny, but at no point do either of the parents explicitly say that Lou is expected to keep their son from killing himself. (I felt it was also problematic that they hire Lou to fulfill emotional needs, but I can’t put my finger on why. At least she was getting paid for the labor, but it is labor that I feel like the family specifically hired a woman to do. Why wasn’t Nathan (Stephen Peacocke) enough to keep Will happy?). In this sense, I feel like Louisa is fulfilling some sort of weird white-savior complex/feminine gender role in which she believes it is her duty to interfere where, in reality, she doesn’t have to. In some ways, I felt like this was tied to class as well. As a poor, young woman, she had little control over other factors of her life, so she projects her own worth onto whether or not she can keep this man alive. If she was a smart employee, she wouldn’t. And if her employers weren’t manipulative assholes, they would maybe make the distinction between their expectations of her and their hopes for their son clear to her from the beginning. I felt like portraying her this way is egregious because of the kind of unrealistic expectations it puts on feminine labor. (Is it not a well-known abuse tactic for men to say they will kill themselves if a woman leaves?)

I felt like the movie also suffers from a general category that I refer to as “pacing problems”. I find that a lot of romantic comedies suffer from this problem; I just wish movies in general were more realistic about human communication (or maybe I’m just picky and I like people to be direct with me?). I don’t remember either character explicitly say anything about their feelings to each other. It is just assumed at some point (After Will attends Louisa’s birthday party? After they go to Will’s ex’s wedding?) that the two like each other. Maybe. Kinda. And that Louisa is doing all this fancy stuff for someone she is romantically interested in (taking him to horse races! Concert! Fancy vacation!), and no longer just because she is employed to do this. Like, sure, Will and Lou say some romantic shit to each other, and maybe I’m just being hella asexual, but they could just be saying these things as friends? I know people who say very intimate, romantic things to each other as friends? It is a possibility?

Because of this lack of directness and super-heterosexual assumption-projection, it felt to me as though most of the action doesn’t happen until the movie is nearly over. That’s when Lou and Will kiss for the first time (I guess confirming what has still never actually been said–that they have feelings for each other?), they kiss for the second time, they kind of break up, and then right before Will dies, they make up, all within about 30 minutes in a movie that’s 110 minutes long. It was strangely noncommittal. Instead of talking about their purported raging boners for each other and not doing anything about it (the way they do in the Twilight series), Will and Lou were more inclined to wax philosophical about life before and after Will’s accident. Rather one-sided, considering Lou probably has a lot to worry about as a 26-year-old who has only worked one job before she started working for the Traynors.

I digress. I do think Emilia Clarke deserves some recognition for being a moderately talented actress. In Game of Thrones, she’s a terrifying Daenerys Targaryen, and for this role, she becomes a slightly anxious, chirpy, naive woman in her mid-twenties whose entire closet seems to come from Modcloth. It’s quite the about-face, and I think Clarke pulls it off gracefully, despite the shortcomings of the role itself, which I blame the writers for more than the actors. I wish I could see Sam Claflin in a more fleshed out role. I’ve only seen him in The Hunger Games, in which he plays a small role as Finnick Odair, and now Me Before You, in which I still think he doesn’t have much of a role. He’s a grumpy dude, and then he’s an in-love dude. With the exception of the disability, this is basically how dudes always are and in no way showcases acting. I feel like I can’t comment on Claflin’s potential because I haven’t actually seen it yet.

 

In short, Me Before You is somewhat entertaining as a collection of scenic shots of small-town England. To me, an accurate description of the plot would be “Two people have a fling while doing rather indulgent things together, and then one dies and the other has to move on.” The film did not convey anything deep or even particularly romantic in my opinion. I’m even somewhat let down by this film poster. Emilia’s character is supposed to wear this gorgeous, low-cut sleeveless red dress. In the film, this dress never appears; Lou wears a knee-length red dress with sleeves to the concert and a low-cut, sleeveless blue floral print dress to the wedding. Perhaps I’m petty, but it was such a let down! I was so waiting for that sexy red dress and it never showed, not unlike the spunk in this movie.

The Waiting Women

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A photograph I took at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It had a courtyard in the center that I liked.

The Waiting Women

The movement has no name, but she has pronouns.
She walks between the living and the dead,
a spectre, hand outstretched to catch the rain.
She is waiting in the corner of a courtyard.
The bottom of her skirt is drenched with mud.

The movement has no age but she has grace,
the messenger between spirit and flesh.
Her life is spent remembering past lives:
lovers’ names forgotten long ago
and children who have died in her arms.

Ancestors, like oceans, stretch before her.
“The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair.”
The people, all of them, they want to take her,
Change her, meet her, love her, and worship her.
They assume they know, but never ask.

She wants much more than what they want for her.
Her bruises and her scars are so apparent,
people must think she will never die.
The last being on this earth was not a man,
and when he left, she found some sense of peace.

~*~

It must be your lucky month. Two poems in two weeks. To be honest, there may be more on their way. I’ve been in a very poem sort of mood lately. I’ve been thinking about ancestors a lot, their constant presence and absence, that dichotomy.

I wrote this one while I was thinking of all the women I love, all the truth I know about them, that they know about me, and how often we seem to be waiting.

Rant on “IndoWestern” Fashion

I usually don’t like categorizing things as a rant. However, today’s post is going to be exactly that: a rant.

There is this horrible disease going around, mostly among Indians, but also sometimes among hippie-bohemian people of the white variety who like to appropriate things. It is called “IndoWestern” fashion.

I don’t know which idiot thought these two things could be combined to still look beautiful. I think Indian fashion on its own has an elegance that is rarely paralleled. Western fashion can be cryptic, but it also has its perks as it is usually more utilitarian. But why, WHY would you put these two things together??

Examples of how bad Indowestern fashion sucks: fusion outfits. First off, I feel like fusion has always been the bottom of the barrel in terms of Indian dance teams, though perhaps that’s not their fault. Bhangra, garba, and raas teams showcase dances and outfits that are specific to a region and are usually narrowly defined. Fusion, on the other hand, can be everything and anything–usually confined to Hindi pop (though I’d love to see teams challenge that norm).

The first mistake they usually make is to take 8 songs and turn them into one mix like it’s cute (hint: it’s not. Stick to like 2 songs per mix, okay, y’all?). Also, instead of trying to find folks who have the potential for leadership and organization, fusion teams usually just attract people who are already friends of people on the team, leading to a clusterfuck that loosely resembles a sorority (except sororities actually have a point sometimes). I will spare these folks the embarrassment of being sourced.

fusionoutfitno

Scarves tied around butts are always so attractive.

fusionoutfitno2

This one is called the Victoria’s Secret-wannabe-sportswear look.

fusionoutfitno3

Can’t be an Indian fusion team unless you’re wearing over-the-top, fluffy pink pants, a belly dancing belt, and a top that doesn’t cover your midriff.

(The exception to this rule is Gator Adaa from the years of 2011-2013. That team had everything: leadership, organization, and class. Shoutout to you women. Y’all were fierce.)

adaa height

Source: Gator Adaa: Fusion Dance Team Facebook Page

To be self-critical, I understand that on first glance, it might seem like I’m slut-shaming. Look, maybe I am, but here’s the thing, right? I’ve seen classy hoes, okay? Remember Rani Mukherjee in Saawariya (2007)?

rani saawariya

Source: India-forums.com

I’d love to see a fusion team showcase a look that is about having fun as a woman in whatever role she is performing, not the “WE HAVE TO LOOK BROWN AND EXOTIC BECAUSE WE ARE DANCERS” look. Other examples of truly heinous Indowestern things:

truly heinous

Source: utsavfashion.com, Clockwise from top left: a green that even your visually impaired grandmother would not wear, royal blue mummu with pink trim for when you want to look like a fish??, a thing trying to be both a dress and a top, WHY WOULD YOU PUT LIME GREEN AND CORAL TOGETHER IN THE SAME OUTFIT THEY ARE SO BEAUTIFUL SEPARATELY, what is this cut, what is this print.

no2

Source: utsavfashion.com, Clockwise from top left: Dafuq is this print, actually kinda cute but I could get from Forever21 for 6 bucks, assflap?, what is THIS print?, for the 7-year-old in you, mushroom-high-psychedelic print.

Right. So what did we learn today, y’all? Indowestern “fashion” is NOT FASHION. Brown women, I suppose you are the ultimate arbiter of what you put on your body. But I do feel like the amount of grace I find (at least in ready-to-wear shit) in the mixing of these styles is little and far between.

indian1

YES! Source: utsavfashion.com. 

indian2

YES! Source: utsavfashion.com

western 1

YES! Source: Target.com

western 2

YES! Source: pinterest search “pants”

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