Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mid-Week Grab Bag

Flying Chihuahua Edition

My typist has an early morning meeting tomorrow -- one of those really wacko meetings that could only happen in the academy: the salary committee will meet to award merit points for a non-existent pool of merit money (call it Excellence Without Money: Keeping It [Un]Real!) -- so this will be quick. We know many of you count on us to be your eyes and ears on the culture, and, though that knowledge humbles and unnerves us, we feel an obligation to let you know what's on our radar screens even when we don't have time to blog it properly. We don't want you to embarrass yourselves by not knowing what all the other kids are talking about at the lunch table, so here you go. Here is what matters, right now, in Roxie's World:

1. Watch this heartwarming vid of a Detroit couple whose 6-pound Chihuahua, Tinker Bell, was picked up in a 70-mph wind gust and blown nearly a mile away during a sudden storm. The miraculous tale involves a flea market, a pet psychic, and two dog lovers named Dorothy and Lavern Utley. You know we don't make this stuff up. Watch the vid:

2. Too busy to pay careful attention to all the Holy Crap, He Really IS the President! assessments of Obama's first 100 days in office? Newsweek does it quick and dirty in a 5-minute highlight reel. There really has been a lot going on, and we give the dude credit for staying cool as a cucumber. I'm pretty sure we would have melted down the moment Roberts screwed up the oath of office right there on Moment One of Day One, so paws up to the Big Guy with the Tall Wife and the Frisky Dog.

3. From the Office of Burning the Village in Order to Save It (Higher Ed. Division): You've probably seen the Times Op-Ed piece by Mark C. Taylor, chair of the religion department at Columbia, which proposes that "If American higher education is to thrive in the 21st century, colleges and universities, like Wall Street and Detroit, must be rigorously regulated and completely restructured." Among Taylor's suggestions -- and sing along if you've heard this song before -- are the abolition of tenure and the abolition of departments, which would be replaced by "problem-focused programs." By "problem-focused programs," Taylor means, um, well, for example, "Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water."

Moose's favorite line in the column was,"Consider, for example, a Water program," which set her mind spinning out a fantasy MLA interview in which the Water Program at Big Coastal Ag School seeks to add a lit critter to its crack team of H2O specialists. She imagined an interview committee comprised of an engineer, an economist, a meteorologist, and a microbiologist feigning interest as a desperate young job seeker tried valiantly to connect her dissertation on transatlantic modernism to the program's goals and foci. "Water is at the heart of the project," she gamely essays. "Transatlantic Modernism -- Get it?" Historiann offers a more substantive critique of Taylor's column here.

4. Further evidence that the term "post-feminist" may be premature, indeed, delusional: The MLA has released a study, aptly titled "Standing Still," which shows that English and foreign language departments "promote male associate professors to full professors on average at least a year -- and in some cases, depending on type of institutions, several years -- more speedily than they promote women," according to a summary of the report on Inside Higher Ed. In doctoral-granting English departments, men spend an average of 7.5 years as associate professors, while women spend an average of 9.8 years. The gap is even bigger in doctoral-granting foreign language departments, where men spend an average of 6.7 years as associate profs, while women average 10.2 years in the rank. I would spend time delving into the hows, whats, and whys of this gap, but my typist, who has been an associate professor for, um, awhile now, would like to move on to other topics. Go read the Inside Higher Ed analysis. It's really good, if sobering.

5. From the Office of You Say "Potato," I Say "Queer Studies," But I Wish You Would Just Stop Talking: If you haven't seen it, you really must go read Larry Kramer's petty, narcissistic, and wrong on a thousand levels speech to the Yale Gay and Lesbian Association, which bestowed its first Lifetime Achievement Award on the writer and activist. The speech is an attack not only on Yale, with whom Kramer has had a famously contentious relationship over his efforts to fund gay-related things at his alma mater, but on the projects of queer theory and gender studies and on versions of LGBT history that are, in Kramer's anything but humble opinion, overly influenced by those fields of inquiry and thus insufficiently committed to producing what Historiann wittily describes as The Big Book of Transhistorical Gayness. (Great discussion going on in the comments on this post, by the way. Don't skip 'em, or Historiann will catch you in her lasso!) Tenured Radical, herself a Yale alum, takes on Kramer, too, and Inside Higher Ed has a report with comments from several prominent historians, including a very diplomatic and now at Yale George Chauncey (whom Kramer, in his speech, tried to co-opt as an ally).

Note to self: When somebody is kind enough to give you an award, the most important thing to say is thank you. Here is a list of ten tips for writing an effective thank-you speech, and nowhere on it do I see, "Attack the institution hosting the event and fill your remarks with mean-spirited invective that demonstrates how little you know about anything other than Your Self."

Chew on that one, darlings, as you lull your own lovely selves to sleep. Sweet dreams.

Monday, April 27, 2009

To Bea or Not to Bea

Sorry for all the death blogging lately, kids, but people we care about are dropping like flies, so what are we to do? Anyway, at least with Bea Arthur we get to put up knee-slapping vids that make you laugh while you contemplate mortality. Regrettably, we can't put up the full six minutes of Bea's killer (get it?) performance at a 2005 Comedy Central roast of Pamela Anderson (because the meanies of Viacom have had it taken down off the YouTubes over a copyright claim), but here are a couple of choice morsels that show Bea at her dead(get it?)pan best. My typist is particularly enamored of these bits because Arthur, in reading selections from Anderson's 2005 novel Star Struck, compellingly reminds us of why, in the biopic of Moose's life, the part of her dissertation director, a formidable founder of feminist literary criticism, was to have been played by Beatrice Arthur. Alas.

Here's Arthur, setting up her readings from Anderson's novel, in full-on professorial style:

And here she is on the subjects of intimate bargaining, the hydraulics and mechanics of sex, and, yes, anal eroticism:

Roast of Pamela Anderson
Bea Arthur Uncensored
Joke of the DayStand-Up ComedyFree Online Games

Yes, Bea Arthur was queerer than you are. And funnier, too, but that's all right. Need something a little less risqué to talk about around the water cooler tomorrow? Treat yourself to the full 7 minutes of this highlight reel from the first two seasons of Golden Girls. qta passed it along via Facebook, and we pass it along to you as a way of saying, you know, thank you for being a friend. Peace out.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

RIP Bea Arthur

With thanks from the tall girls who, instead of going out for the basketball team, auditioned for the choir and stood shoulder to shoulder on the back row, belting out the alto line of "The Impossible Dream" with visions of you dancing in their heads.

With admiration from the pretty boys who couldn't help loving a genetic woman who really ought to be played by Harvey Fierstein in the biopic.

With gratitude from every golden person who ever sat alone in front of the TV laughing with delight at the wit, wisdom, and deep kindness of Dorothy Zbornak and her feisty pals.

Thanks for walking tall, singing loud, speaking out, going gray, taking up space, and offering the world an advanced seminar in the semiotics of eyebrows. We needed it. We needed you. You will be missed.

New York Times obit is here. Money quote? In response to a reporter's suggestion that her character on Golden Girls bore more than a faint resemblance to her path-breaking title character on Maude, Arthur said:
Look -- I'm 5-feet-9, I have a deep voice and I have a way with a line. What can I do about it? I can't stay home waiting for something different. I think it's a total waste of energy worrying about typecasting.
In high school, according to the Times, she was shy about her height but overcame it "by winning over her classmates with wisecracks. She was elected the wittiest girl in her class."

Ms. Arthur, my typist loves you with all her big and tall and sometimes witty girl's heart. Dogspeed.

And because you always felt like something of a bosom buddy, we'll send you off with this song from Mame (for which you won a Tony). Here is Arthur with Angela Lansbury. Wait for the 3-minute mark, when the two golden gals of the theater shimmy across the stage together for the big finish:

Sentimental Bonus Track: Arthur as Dorothy on The Golden Girls, singing "What'll I Do?" It's lovely and a little bit funny, as only Arthur could be:

Friday, April 24, 2009


(Neighbors create a memorial to a Middletown, MD family wiped out in the murder-suicide of Christopher Wood. The bodies of Wood, his wife, Francie Billotti-Wood, and their three young children were discovered last Saturday morning. Photo Credit: Katherine Frey, Washington Post)

For White Guys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Remnants of Straight Male Privilege Are Not Enuf

You know it’s a weird news week when you see a headline about a business executive’s suicide and your first thought is, “Great – At least he didn’t take out the wife and kids, too!” (You know, like this guy and this guy did, just this week in Maryland alone.)

What’s going on out there, fellas? Is it the economy? The ready accessibility of guns? A little bit of a copy-cat thing? Or maybe a few of you missed the memo about post-patriarchal masculinity? Let me recap the highlights for you, slowly and simply.

1. Women and children are not your property, even if you married or fathered them. That means, among other things, that you don’t get to answer that basic “to be or not to be” question for them, ‘kay? They get to make that decision, and a whole lot of others, for themselves these days.

2. Dads are not, by and large, the sole breadwinners in a household nowadays, so you need to let go of this idea that if you can’t support your family you are a big fat loser who might as well be dead. A lot of the women-folk have jobs and so do many children. Heck, we hear tell that in some households even the dogs have been put to work – you know, on the show circuit, in the blogosphere. Our point is: the burden is not all on your shoulders. If the family is in financial trouble, perhaps the family can collectively figure out a way to address and manage the trouble.

3. On the other hand, you may or may not have noticed that the entire global economy is in the crapper right now, so perhaps a little perspective is in order. We are all big fat losers, sweet pea, so let’s just hunker down and suffer through it together rather than going all kamikaze.

4. Real men don’t solve problems through violence anymore. I know, I know – It was a lot more fun in the good old days when you could challenge someone to a duel or maybe go out and beat a slave or two to blow off steam, but the world just doesn’t work that way anymore. Now, men are expected to do crazy girlie things like communicate about their feelings – using actual, you know, words – and go to yoga classes to cultivate calmness and flexibility. Sure, it sucks, but so does being dead, when you think about it. You might want to consider some of these wacky alternatives to death and destruction.

Do we seem to make light of your suffering, underestimate the tragic dimensions of your difficulties, mock the terrors that fuel your murderous rage? Perhaps we do, big guy, but is that any worse than your grotesque overestimation of your rights and privileges vis-à-vis the people who are closest to you? We think not. Indeed, we think if you had a little more of our ability to make light of things perhaps you’d feel somewhat less inclined to make mayhem, but that’s just us, crazy bitches that we are. Peace out.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trans Justice

Newsflash: Colorado jury finds Allen Andrade guilty of murder and hate crime in the July 2008 killing of trans woman Angie Zapata. Andrade was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. It was the first case in the country in which a hate-crime statute had been used to prosecute the killing of a transgender person. Here is the report by the Denver ABC news affiliate. Here is the report in the Denver Post. Here is where you can learn more about Angie Zapata and what her loss means to the people who knew and loved her. Here is a CNN report, with links to videos of Andrade hearing the verdicts and the judge rendering the sentence.

And here, according to Denver channel 7, is what prosecutor Robb Miller had to say in his closing arguments about Andrade, who, in his jail cell, was taped referring to Zapata as an "it" and saying that it wasn't as if he had killed "a straight, law-abiding citizen":
His own statements in the jail call betray the way he values Angie's life, the way he thought of her as less than, less than us because of who she was. And he's counting on society and the jury to do the same in this case . . . . Everyone deserves equal protection under the law and no one deserves to die like this.
Exactly so. Congratulations to the prosecution and to the good citizens of Greeley, CO (who must all be reading and learning sex/gender politics from their neighbor Historiann) for recognizing that (alleged) trans panic is not a defense. Well done!

Note to US Congress and Obama administration: Pass and sign a trans-inclusive federal hate crime law now. Such laws may not be perfect (the free-speech issues actually do make us a little queasy), but the law now before Congress is careful to focus on the conduct (i.e., intentionally selecting a victim on the basis of his or her perceived race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability) of the defendant rather than on the beliefs of the defendant. The line may be fine, but it can be found and the message is well worth sending. What are you waiting for?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Further Regarding Sedgwick

Sorry for the light posting, kids. We are in rest and catch up mode, following the hugely successful Homopalooza held over at Queer the Turtle U this past weekend. The papers were top-notch, the discussions lively, the weather glorious, and the artichoke dip sublime. Both moms felt it was poignant and powerful to be gathered with a group of queer studies scholars just a few days after the death of one of the field's founding figures, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. For some in attendance, Sedgwick's passing was a devastating and deeply personal loss. For others, it was less personal but nonetheless profound. In some ways, the conference felt like the first tentative steps, on a local level, toward the fulfillment of a wish Sedgwick herself expressed in 1993, apropos of her use of the first-person singular:
"I have an intense wish to be assured that the people and communities I'm leaving behind can take care of themselves -- that they don't need 'me,' my thought, my labor of regenerating a first person to keep them going."

(Photo Credit: Carrie Boretz, New York Times)

Meanwhile, the tributes and stock-takings continue to roll in.
  • The best thing we've seen so far is this marvelous piece by NYU's Ann Pellegrini, just published in The Chronicle of Higher Ed (subscription-access only, sorry). Pellegrini does a beautiful job of capturing what she describes as Sedgwick's "luminous, path-clearing, and sometimes wickedly playful role in the imagination and formation of lesbian and gay studies."
  • Our buddy Katherine Franke was in Marrakech when Sedgwick died and muses eloquently, on Columbia's Gender and Sexuality Law blog, on how Sedgwick's relentless problematizations of the homo-hetero binary help to explain the lavish public displays of homosociality she observed in North Africa.
  • Here's an interesting bit by David Shankbone, the photographer who took the Wikipedia photo of Sedgwick that we and a lot of other folks have used in writings since her death. Of the shot of a relaxed, grinning Sedgwick, with a photo of the Dalai Lama over her shoulder, Shankbone remarks: "I took perhaps 30 portrait shots of Sedgwick, but the one [that has been so widely circulated] I felt best captured her essence. She was concerned that photographs of her tended to be in the extremes: a deathly serious face, or she was uproariously laughing. She wanted something to capture several aspects of her spirit, and the smirk you see [in that photo] I think did it." We agree, except that we'd call it a grin rather than a smirk. George Bush smirked. Eve Sedgwick emphatically did not.
  • Oh, and NYT did better in its second attempt at explaining the Cosmic Cultural Significance of Sedgwick than it did in its obituary. Read this, and see if you agree.
  • Tenured Radical has a thing or two to say about Sedgwick's importance to historians in a piece that linked back to Roxie's World. Many thanks, TR -- A few more shout-outs, and we may forgive your inexplicable devotion to a breed other than the Wire Fox Terrier.
That's all for now, kids. My typist has to get ready to teach tomorrow. (Insert eye-rolling icon here.) Peace out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Group Work

Singing Fat Lady Edition

My typist insists she is the Busiest Woman in (Anti-)Christendom this week, getting ready for the second annual Homopalooza being staged over at Queer the Turtle U on Friday and Saturday. (Local readers: Be there or be square. Attendance will be taken!) You know how nutty she gets when she's puttin' on a show, as she and her loyal sidekick qta put it, so we've decided to reduce some of the blogospheric pressure on her by designing a task our readers can work on together -- You know, just like teachers sometimes do when they don't have quite enough of a lesson plan to fill an entire class.

Here is your assignment. Run over to CBS News and watch this Mark Phillips story on Susan Boyle, the 47-year-old Scottish woman who wowed judges earlier this week on a show called Britain's Got Talent, which, we guess, is catchier sounding than Britain Used to Have an Empire But Now Just Has Cheesy TV Shows, but just barely. (Sorry to take you off-blog, but the vid is not embeddable.) Study it carefully. Take notes. Then come back here and identify five eye-poppingly revolting assumptions about women that figure into the story. (I know it will be hard, but limit yourself to five, please. You won't get extra credit for doing more than the assigned number.) Then, working in consultation with your peers in the class -- er, comments -- try to explain to us why people are always saying, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings," when it's perfectly clear that nobody actually believes that a woman of a certain size has the competence to perform on stage and really shouldn't be seen in public anyway unless she just enjoys being ridiculed for being fat and ugly and sexually unattractive, according to the sex and gender norms of heteropatriarchy.

Need some help on the assignment? Pretend you are Melissa McEwan off on one of her righteous rants about woman-hating and fat-hating. Better yet, pretend you are the recently deceased Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who is much on our hearts and minds right now and who, among her many other accomplishments, helped open the door to fat acceptance through works like this and this. Eve's gone, but her work goes on. Do it, beloveds.

Then run over to the YouTubes and watch the whole 7 minutes of Susan Boyle's appearance on Britain's Got Talent. Judge Simon Cowell will likely make you want to retch, but at least he isn't pretending to be a journalist. And Susan? Girl's got some pipes. Sing it, sister!

Your assignments are due on Sunday. Good luck!

[H/T to Hollis, who passed the CBS story along via Facebook.]

Monday, April 13, 2009


(Photo Credit: David Shankbone)

Roxie's World notes with sorrow the passing of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, critic, theorist, poet, and English prof whose transformative readings of same-sex eroticism in the canonical texts of Western fiction laid the groundwork for the broad, deep, and radical project of humanistic inquiry that came to be known as queer theory. Sedgwick died late last night in New York after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 58 years old. (Wikipedia bio is here.)

The English profs of Roxie's World knew Sedgwick from a distance, yet feel a profound gratitude for all that her generosity and perspicacity made possible. Goose first met Sedgwick in the mid-80s when she was a candidate for a position at Amherst College, where Sedgwick then taught. In the chilly winter of 1986, Goose was a freshly minted PhD and Between Men was just starting to shake up the discipline. What she recalls from that first encounter is that Sedgwick went out of her way to spend time with her and encouraged her to get to know a certain whiz-kid from the Hist Con program at Santa Cruz who was a candidate for the same position. As it turned out, both Goose and that whiz-kid, better known in these precincts as my Aunt Katie, ended up taking jobs at Queer the Turtle U and have been close friends and constant interlocutors for more than twenty years. Goose has always been grateful to Sedgwick for helping her learn early in her career that friendship and intellectual collaboration beat rivalry hands down.

Moose has no heart-warming personal story involving Sedgwick, but she has always felt inspired and emboldened by the stylistic audacity of Sedgwick's prose. By 1999, when Moose was publishing the all-important tenure book, she could feel reasonably confident that putting the word "queering" in the title would not sink her chances of lifetime job security in large part because Sedgwick had helped to put the word at the center of the discipline. Moose also knows there would be no LGBT Studies Program to direct if it hadn't been for the paradigm-shifting work of Sedgwick and others in the 1990s. As she noted in a message announcing Sedgwick's death to a queer studies listserv she manages, even those of us who didn't know her personally "benefited tangibly and intangibly from all Eve helped to make possible in humanities scholarship on sexuality and gender, from all she helped us to see, know, and express. It is almost impossible to imagine the incredibly rich, varied field we have today without Eve's brilliant work and her brave example."

Here are some early tributes to a kind, brilliant force gone much too soon:

Cathy Davidson, a former colleague and close friend from Duke University, breaks the news of Sedgwick's death.

Judith Butler, another major force in queer theory, comments on the importance of Sedgwick's work and its interactions with her own.

Richard Kim
pays tribute to and begins to assess the impact of her work.

Macy Halford notes that Sedgwick's visibility in the 90s placed her at the forefront of the culture wars, often resulting in crude caricatures of what she said and how she said it: "[C]riticism of her work seldom did justice to the subtlety and searing wit of her writing, nor to her sensitivity to the social and sexual bonds that tie us to each other and to the world."

The moms had a strange and moving experience of Sedgwick's dying in the form of a virtual vigil that took place in the last ten days or so as colleagues, friends, and students shared news and feelings on Facebook. It seemed fitting that a scholar who had written so eloquently of affect, attachment, distance, and intimacy should, as she slipped away, become the occasion for and the focus of so much deep feeling, so many expressions of love, gratitude, sadness, and consolation being sent out in the aching, overflowing void of cyberspace. When news of Sedgwick's death showed up on Facebook this morning, Goose posted a line from Dickinson on the death of her mother that seemed, somehow, to capture the collective sense of loss as well as the powerful intimacy and evanescence of having shared the experience through the tools of social networking:
She slipped from our fingers like a flake gathered by the wind, and is now part of the drift called "the infinite."
We sat at our keyboards, typing her name again and again and sending it out into the winds of cyberspace. She slipped from our fingers, and we use those same fingers to call her back, to reach her, to touch her, to touch our feelings of her. For now, it is all we can do.

Safe travels, sweet Eve. Safe home.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Rainbow Collision

Keep hop alive, beloveds. It's spring, even if it is a chilly gray day before Easter in your nation's capital. Whatever rite of spring you celebrate -- resurrection, liberation, 100% secular chocolate bunnies -- your pals in Roxie's World wish you greener grass and rising energy as the sun makes happy the skies of the northern hemisphere (to paraphrase Blake).

We've gathered a few treats for your Easter or non-Easter baskets, and we promise the treats are 100% porn-free. That's right, kids -- no Pirates jokes, no bawdy readings of Emily Dickinson, no lurid suggestions about how QTU administrators comport themselves at cabinet meetings. Today we leave cheesy hetero-porn behind and return to regular blogalicious programming and our usual stance of 100% homo-respectability. Until circumstances or whim force us to go all crude again in a pathetic effort to drive up hits by sprinkling words like pornography and golden showers throughout our posts.

Anyway, back to your treats.

Scrumptious as a Chocolate Bunny, With Far Fewer Calories: Because we love you, we tracked down the vid of Rachel Maddow's piece from Thursday night's show on the ridiculous new anti-same sex marriage commercial put out by a group calling itself the National Organization for Marriage. Butch PhD shows excerpts from the Night of the Living Dead-style commercial along with what are purported to be clips from auditions for the commercial somehow obtained by HRC. One of the hapless actors refers to "a rainbow collision of people" joining forces to stop the spooky scary sinful spread of same-sex marriage. We have no idea if the clips are actual auditions, but it's just too hilarious not to share. The stuff on the commercial starts at the 2:30 mark:

Things Go Better With Marshmallows: Wa Po has the results of its third annual Peeps Diorama Contest. We are crushed that the brilliantly talented blogger/peeps artist Clio Bluestocking didn't win for her inspiring National Museum of the American Peep, but there's still plenty of gooey and impressive stuff to look at in the Post's gallery of the forty finalists. Candy Man, because he knows us so very well, directed our attention to #25, "Peeps on the Run," a sugary homage to Thelma and Louise. Note to self: Don't let Moose get anywhere near the marshmallow aisle at the supermarket. If she starts peeping, she'll never type for me again.

Take That, Bi-Coastally Arrogant Dipsticks: Here's the piece Moose would have had us do this week if we hadn't gotten kidnapped by Pirates II. We are grateful to Chicago Tribune reporter Rex W. Huppke for explaining to residents of states that don't begin with an "I" that the Iowa Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decision was not some kind of freakish judicial accident that should be provoking an epidemic of raised eyebrows throughout the land. It was, in fact, perfectly in keeping with a long-established tradition of legal and political progressivism in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest that is misunderstood or generally ignored by those from outside the region. Historian Linda Kerber, who teaches at the University of Iowa, explains that tradition and gets off a couple of nice lines about the provincialism of New Yorkers who act like they need a passport to get across the Hudson River. Touché, says the French-speaking Official Midwesterner of Roxie's World.

Survival of the Nice Guys: We've had this Scientific American article taking up a tab in our browser so long that we'll have to get a crowbar to pry it out, but we pass it along today because the various holidays of spring seem like a good time to reflect upon the evolutionary benefits of kindness. It's an interview with Dacher Keltner, director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory, and author of a book called Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. We insist that you go read it, because it will make you feel good about your own basic inclination to be a nice, altruistic person. Of course, Moose's favorite nugget from the interview is a discussion of an article Keltner recently published titled "In Defense of Teasing." Listen to what Keltner has to say about one of my typist's favorite hobbies (emphasis ours):
Teasing is the art of playful provocation, of using our playful voices and bodies to provoke others to avoid inappropriate behaviors. Marc Bekoff, a biologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has found in remarkable work with coyotes that they sort out leaders from aggressive types in their rough-and-tumble biting. The coyotes that bite too hard in such provocative play are relegated to low status positions. We likewise accomplish so much with the right kind of teasing.

Teasing (in the right way, which is what most people do) offers so much. It is a way to play and express affection. It is a way of negotiating conflicts at work and in the family. Teasing exchanges teach children how to use their voices in innumerable ways—such an important medium of communication. In teasing, children learn boundaries between harm and play. And children learn empathy in teasing, and how to appreciate others’ feelings (for example, in going too far). And in teasing we have fun. All of this benefit is accomplished in this remarkable modality of play.
The art of playful provocation -- Hmmm, almost sounds like a blog name, doesn't it? Have fun, darlings, and remember not to bite too hard. Peace out.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Dirty Dickinson

Quotable Goose Edition

Newsflash: The “ubiquitous and influential” Goose is quoted in a Time magazine report on this week’s epic brouhaha at QTU over the screening of the cheesy hetero-porn flick, Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge! Here’s how Laura Fitzpatrick describes the teach-in that a group of smart, angry students organized to protest the university’s decision to cancel a planned screening of the film in response to a state senator’s threat to cut off all funding to any state institution that showed a film marketed as XXX outside the context of a class:
Before a 30-min. excerpt [of Pirates II] — which included two threesomes and copious shots of corset-clad blondes — students, professors, lawyers and ACLU representatives stood up to defend porn on principle. English professor Martha Nell Smith, who noted that literature from Shakespeare to Dickinson includes pornographic elements, said it's a student's choice whether to study erotica and "our job together to contextualize it."
Loyal readers will recall that the same passage from Goose’s remarks figured into The Diamondback’s (QTU campus paper) report on the teach-in Tuesday. The Diamondback noted that Goose also mentioned Christopher Marlowe, along with Shakespeare and Dickinson, as an esteemed writer whose work has significant sexual content.

Given the play this particular comment has gotten and the amount of time Goose has spent this week fielding media inquiries, it’s surprising that no intrepid reporter has followed up with what seems to us an obvious question:

Dickinson – "pornographic elements" – WTF????

Since nobody else has bothered, we decided to put that question to Goose ourselves over a glass of port and some cheese crackers in her ivy-covered office this afternoon. (She’s an English prof, right? You guys expect a certain level of refinement in the atmosphere, right? You don’t really want to know about the Dolly Parton trashcan, do you? Wouldn’t that spoil your image of her?) Anyway, in an effort to pinpoint the alleged “pornographic elements” in Dickinson’s work, I read out some of the Belle of Amherst’s famous lines, and Goose explained their alleged pornographic significance. It all sounds a little nutty to me, but I am a dog and she is a highly trained professional reader. As is Moose, so she chimes in here from time to time.

Here is the transcript of our conversation.

Roxie: Let’s start with “They shut me up in Prose --,” which is often read as an allegory of the woman writer’s struggle to break into the male-dominated genre of poetry. Do you see any pornographic elements there?

Goose: Oh, certainly! It’s a total B&D fantasy – the secret thrill of forced confinement, the deep pleasure of the effort to escape. She even compares herself to a slave! Dickinson makes a pretty convincing bottom, I’d say. Wouldn’t you, Moose?

Moose: Indubitably!

Roxie: Wow. Okay. Let’s move on then to “Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple.” Detect anything there?

Goose: (Over Moose’s laughter.) Yes, Rox. What we have here is a clear staging of a favorite porn plot device, the golden shower scene, also known as urolagnia.

Roxie: Really? Not a sunset? ‘Cause, you know, a lot of people say this poem is about a sunset.

Goose: That has been the traditional view, but I believe the evidence of the first line is clear. Gold equals –

Roxie: No, no, I get it. Let’s move along. I almost hate to bring this one up, because it seems too easy, but what about “I rose – because He sank?”

Moose: You’re right, Rox – way too easy. What Dickinson explores here is one of the occupational hazards of pornography, a hazard that was even more acute in her time than it is in ours. I’d say this poem is about a severe case of pre-Viagra OED, Orgy Endurance Disorder.

Goose: Very good, Moose. I concur with your reading entirely. No other way to read that “fainting Prince” propped up by the “straight,” “firm” speaker.

Roxie: Based on what you told me about the excerpt of Pirates II that you saw, I would guess that images of amply endowed women are a staple of pornographic fantasy. So --

Goose: (Interrupting.) I think I know where you’re going with this one, Rox. “Sweet Mountains – Ye tell Me no lie -- / Never deny Me – Never fly – "

Moose: No, no, she’s talking about, “Her breast is fit for pearls, / But I was not a ‘Diver’ –"

Goose: Or how about, “Unworthy of her Breast / Though by that scathing test / What Soul survive?”

Roxie: Guys, guys, come on, all right, enough already! You’ve convinced me: Emily Dickinson is a twisted sister, a vile pornographer every bit as disgusting as the tasteless purveyors of filth who brought us Pirates II. If Senator Harris were to get hold of this stuff and read it with the same deep scholarly attention you two do, he would ban Dickinson from campus, burn her books, and cover the ears of the children the next time someone starts quoting “A narrow Fellow in the Grass!” Isn’t that the logical conclusion to what you’ve been saying?

Goose: Well, “A narrow Fellow in the Grass” is a rather scandalous exploration of an unnerving encounter with phallic power –

Moose: But, no, Rox, we aren’t suggesting that Dickinson is pornographic in quite the same way that the makers of Pirates II are. And we’re certainly not trying to give Senator Harris an excuse to throw her off campus!

Roxie: You’re not?

Goose: Of course not, silly. Our point is that all literature, all cultural expression, good or bad, is shaped by fantasies and symbols that have their roots in sexuality – our desires, conscious and unconscious, our fears, the varied, complex roles we play in intimate relation to others. And so it is that we might find that great writers like Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Dickinson have some things in common with the makers of porn. They may from time to time draw upon similar themes, use similar tropes or devices, or guide their readers into spaces in the mind that might feel a little bit twisted. That doesn’t mean that Dickinson is a lesser artist or that the guys who brought us Pirates II are anything but hacks and misogynists. It just means that we need to keep our minds open and be willing to take a look at everything, to try to understand what fuels it and how it works. Using porn as a way to talk about Dickinson is admittedly provocative, but if it gets students to sit up and pay attention, to be willing to see her as something other than an uptight spinster who never left her father’s house, well, then it’s worth risking raising the hackles of someone like Senator Harris.

Roxie: Is that today’s lesson in porn?

Goose and Moose: (Laughing.) It is, Rox! It certainly is.

Class dismissed.

(Image Credit: Found it here.)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Learning from Porn

QTU Edition

(Updated: New links below video.)

Full Disclosure: It's tough for us to write on this issue in Roxie's World. The story has gone viral and global in the last few days, but for us it is painfully local. It's close to home on a number of different levels and it makes this blog's usual strategies of sophomoric humor and casual snarkiness seem woefully inadequate. We know, like, and admire the QTU administrators who made the decision to cancel a screening of Pirate's II: Stagnetti's Revenge this past weekend after a state senator threatened to cut off funding to the university if the screening went forward (at midnight, on a Saturday, prefaced by a Planned Parenthood presentation on safe sex). We also know, like, and have worked closely with a number of the students involved with the Student Power Party, which mobilized to screen the film within the context of a teach-in on free speech as a protest against State Senator Andrew P. Harris' effort to use the state's budgetary authority as a way to control the content of speech on campus. (It's important to understand that the Student Power Party was not a part of the original plan to screen the film. The group stepped in and made the film a cause only after the university capitulated to the senator's blackmail.)

The teach-in took place this evening in the building that houses the department of English. Goose was on the panel of four experts assembled to talk about freedom of speech, and Moose was in the audience (a packed house, by the way). By the time the panel convened, the university administration had issued a statement supporting the event for offering the type of discussion "characteristic of a vibrant educational community." Shortly before the show got underway, Moose was amused and pleased to see most of the president's senior staff enter the lecture hall and take seats in the back. They stayed throughout the entire program, which included the first thirty minutes of Pirates II as well as some pretty forceful criticism of the administration's actions. We're guessing that the short excerpt of the film, which felt rather excruciatingly long to us, was actually the more discomfiting part of the program. We also imagine it involved a good deal more frontal nudity than the president's staff sees in the average cabinet meeting, but that is sheer speculation.

The vid below is from the DC Fox station (and, yes, that's Goose you see in the end, invoking one of her favorite lines from Mr. Bruce Springsteen [via voting-rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer] -- "Nobody wins unless everybody wins"). It's a surprisingly even-handed story that treats the issue fairly and conveys the important point that the students were acting far more responsibly than many of the grown-ups involved in the controversy. The porno-obsessed Senator Harris is still determined to force the university's board of regents to devise a policy on the use of sexually explicit materials on campus -- because, golly, no one's ever thought about that before. Administrators are trying desperately to placate Harris and the herd of gutless wonders in Annapolis who are terrified of appearing to support pornography while at the same time battling to preserve academic freedom and the ideal of the university as a space for rational debate on controversial subjects. Good luck, guys -- and gals.

Bottom line? The students are, as the reporter in the story suggests, the real winners here. They were also, we are proud to say, the real leaders and the best teachers. They appreciated the serious nature of the threat posed by Senator Harris' attempt to use the power of the purse to regulate speech. They knew a bully when they saw it, and they refused to be intimidated. They stood up, they organized, and they fought back -- fairly, eloquently, reasonably, righteously.

And, mercifully, they only subjected their audience to thirty minutes of incredibly cheesy hetero-porn. For which everyone in Roxie's World offers a grateful, thank dog!

A.M. Link Update:

Wa Po has a good video up that makes time for all four of the speakers on last night's panel, including our in-house literary porn promoter, Goose. It's here.

Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher comes down pretty hard on QTU administrators for their initial handling of what Moose has started calling The Pirates of Porn-zance. That's here.

The report in the campus newspaper, The Diamondback, concludes with a pithy quote from Dr. Goose:

"Most of the literature I've taught has pornographic elements," said English professor Martha Nell Smith, citing Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson as authors of works with heavy sexual content. "I don't believe [sexual content] should be censored in my classroom. [The university's] job is to work together to contextualize it."

It's here. Yes, we are waiting for Hollywood to call and ask Goose to consult on the making of Pirates III: Emily DICKinson at Sea. Seriously, people. Call us. Those retirement accounts aren't getting any plumper.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Cherry Blossom Festival

Takoma Park Edition

When it comes to cherry blossoms, we side emphatically with Dorothy Gale in thinking, "There's no place like home." Why mess with the masses down on the Tidal Basin when you can stroll half a block and see a lovely canopy of blossoms? According to the experts, the blossoms are peaking right now, so I sent the moms out this afternoon with a camera and orders to bring back some delicious spring eye candy for my legions of loyal fans. Enjoy, darlings. And wherever you happen to be, here's hoping it's springtime in your heart. Peace out.

(Photo Credits: Moose)

Friday, April 03, 2009

Breaking News

Cultural Politics Edition

Iowa Supreme Court rules the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional!

Historiann demands that Roxie's World weigh in on a controversy at Queer the Turtle U over cancellation of a screening of Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge, a porn film that was to have been shown this weekend at the student union. The issue made news because a conservative state senator introduced an amendment to the state budget to "deny any funding to a higher education institution that allows a public screening of a film marketed as a XXX-rated adult film, unless it is part of an official academic course," according to a report in The Baltimore Sun. (A spokesperson for QTU claims the university had decided to cancel the screening before the budget amendment was introduced, according to the report on Inside Higher Ed, but who knows?)

We dutifully left a comment over at Historiann's, but the bottom line is this: Roxie's World thinks porn is icky and generally degrading to women, but the state senator our fem blog pal praises for having the guts and good sense to shut down the film is a right-wing, home-schoolin' homophobe who should not be encouraged to think he can use the power of the purse to intimidate the university into toeing his incredibly conservative party line. We don't necessarily think the film should have been shown, even with the pre-screening discussion by Planned Parenthood on safe sex, but it's unnerving, particularly in a moment of economic crisis, to see this kind of pressure brought to bear. We don't trust state legislators to be especially nuanced in recognizing the difference between so-called legitimate and illegitimate uses of porn (whatever that might be) on a college campus. If they feel emboldened by their (possible) success in getting Pirates II tossed out of the union, what's to stop them from thinking they ought to get Tongues Untied out of the LGBT lit classroom? Indeed, what's to stop them from thinking they ought to de-fund any university with an LGBT Studies Program? It's a slippery slope, Historiann, and we're not sure we want to slide down it with the likes of Senator Harris. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fifteen Candles

Yes, today is my birthday. Which means it's time once again to crank up the volume and sing along with Shiva the Singing Dog, who really ought to meet my groomer but still cracks me up every time:

How am I doing, you might wonder, as you ponder and celebrate the fact of my extraordinary longevity? Oh, it doesn't matter, kids. The embodied Roxie, as a loyal reader who knows me off-blog calls the "real" me, carries on, waging a dignified battle against the multiple indignities of old age, faithfully assisted by two cranky dykes who grow more diligent and creative every day in their efforts to accommodate my various infirmities. But you needn't trouble your happy selves with such unpleasant details. I eat, I poop, I blog -- and frequently vocalize into the gathering darkness with what a sleepy Moose has come to think of as "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik." I am here, my darlings, and as far as you're concerned I always will be. Let's blow out the candles and sing. Together, we can keep the darkness at bay. I swear to dog.