Dear Santa,

I'm finding it difficult to decide what I want for Christmas this year.

So many things, and one doesn't want to be greedy and end up with coal.

Requires a lot of careful thought.

So much unrest in the world, so many things more important than my selfish wishes.

With that in mind, I have gotten my list down to just TWO choices. I would be equally happy with either. Please pick for me:


HAPPY SOLSTICE...and one more thing:

(aka Leafboy)


All Hail the Semicolon!

Ok, I was bored and tired of playing Text Twist on yahoogames. So I took the "Which Punctuation Mark Are You?" quiz. I found the idea compelling. And I'm fascinated that I am the most obscure and most often misunderstood of punctuation marks! How delightful!


You scored 30% Sociability and 76% Sophistication!

Congratulations! You are the semicolon! You are the highest expression of punctuation; no one has more of a right to be proud. In the hands of a master, you will purr, sneering at commas, dismissing periods as beneath your contempt. You separate and connect at the same time, and no one does it better. The novice will find you difficult to come to terms with, but you need no one. You are secure in your elegance, knowing that you, and only you, have the power to mark the skill or incompetence of the craftsman. You have no natural enemies; all fear you. And never, NEVER let anyone tell you that you cannot appear in dialogue!


The Gender Politics of Housework

It's been said before and in various ways (such as this great recent "Bitch Ph.D." blog post which includes commentary on the subject), the fact that housework is political and gendered should be reiterated on a regular basis for everyone of every gender and race and class. It is amazing how easily so many of us live out the patriarchal status quo in this aspect of our lives, even when we are otherwise progressive, feminist, even radical.

The Second Shift. One key concept to understanding how housework is political is to grasp the concept, developed by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, that housework is work. It is valuable yet undervalued labor because it is unpaid. And the bulk of this unpaid labor, even in dual-career marriages, is done by women, without recognition of this fact. In the 1960s, Hochschild found that women did 15 more hours more housework and childcare per week than their husbands. This results in what Hochschild calls a “leisure gap” between men and women in heterosexual married relationships: men get more time to rest and think (which can mean more happiness, more career success, more time for contemplating one’s place in the cosmos, for activism or even thinking about activism, etc.). And doing more housework and having less leisure time increases women’s anxiety, depression, and worry.

In 1997, Chloe E. Bird updated Hochschild’s findings. Using 1990 and 1994 National Opinion Research Council data, she found that: women who marry (heterosexually) gain 14 hours per week of additional household labor, while their husbands gain only 90 minutes per week; and women report doing at least 70% of household labor, while their husbands self-reported doing only 37%—whether their wives worked outside the home or not. In 2003, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted the “American Time Use Survey,” which reported that employed adult women (18 years and over) spent about an hour more per day than employed adult men doing household activities and caring for household members, and men spent more time doing leisure activities (5.4 hours) than women (4.8 hours). Though the gap may be seem to be narrowing, we want to keep in mind that the American Time Use Survey lumped financial and other household management tasks in with housework and that leisure time has been lessened over the years for both men and women in middle-class career tracks.

Though these statistics are based on heterosexual and otherwise traditional family relationships, it is important to note that imbalances in housework sharing occur in many varieties of relationship, from LGBT couples to communal homes to parent/child living arrangements to college roommate arrangements. The key is to recognize that housework is, indeed, political, and that who does what and how much is often gendered or otherwise imbalanced in the home.

The next step is to strategize for equality and justice. A central element of strategizing is education. As Pat Mainardi of the Redstockings argued in her 1970 article “The Politics of Housework”: “[W]e women have been brainwashed more than even we can imagine. Probably too many years of seeing television women in ecstasy over their shiny waxed floors or breaking down over their dirty shirt collars. Men have no such conditioning. They recognize the essential fact of housework right from the very beginning. Which is that it stinks.” To come to this kind of recognition, we need to learn to “desocialize” or “denaturalize” how we think, which means to think through the bases of our perspectives and actions rather than taking them for granted. We must ask, To what degree have we been conditioned to believe and act in certain ways and to consider these ways “normal” or “natural” without exploring or questioning them?

After careful thought, if you decide the way your household views and does housework needs some reworking, it’s time to move toward a participatory democracy. Everyone needs to be working toward the same goal: equality and fairness in the home. The specifics of how you work out who should do what and how often may vary from household to household (based upon work schedules, finances, skills, and personal preferences), but they need to be out in the open and a matter for discussion.

Some things to keep in mind as you work toward your democracy—especially if you find active resistance:

· It is not acceptable to presume that one’s biology determines who is better at housework or even given tasks. Do not base negotiations here.

· The one who is doing less and not analyzing is the one who will feel the change more: (s)he is losing some leisure and you’re gaining it.

· Watch out for red herrings. Do not be swayed by claims that discourage change, such as: “I’m not good/new at this; let’s do what we each do best”; “You’ll have to show me how to do it”; or “My career is more difficult/important than yours, so I need more ‘down time.’”

One useful approach for creating positive change is to make a list of all the regular (daily, weekly) housework chores that must be done for the household to function. Estimate how much time/effort each task takes. Separate these from chores you’d like to see done but are not vital, and leave space for additional now-and-then tasks. Then, share the list with your housemate(s). Often just looking at the list together can be a form of consciousness-raising. Next, review the list to consider who generally does what and how often. Work toward a shared understanding and agreement of how you currently share housework. (This may be easy or may take some time.) Finally, discuss each item on the list. Decide who prefers which tasks and whether tasks are permanently assigned or if you want to take on responsibilities on a schedule.

If the discussion gets tense, remember your ultimate goal: housework assignments that are reasonable and equitable to all. While negotiating, avoid defensiveness. When we feel attacked or threatened, we get defensive. Once defenses go up, it is difficult to process new information. Validate each other’s perspectives, allow for “cool down” time, and use praise.

Once you’ve accomplished the difficult task of toppling housework from its status as “women’s work,” you can begin to bring your new consciousness to your entire household. With a combination of assertiveness and patience that will vary in proportion to the resistance of those in your home, you may come to live in a household that sees housework as both political and negotiable. Such a change is a vital—if often unexplored—part of achieving feminist goals for empowerment, equality, and justice for all.


Anti-Death Penalty Season is Here

Today Governor Schwarzenegger said, "After studying the evidence, searching the history, listening to the arguments and wrestling with the profound consequences, I could find no justification for granting clemency" (AP article) for Stan "Tookie" Williams. How much more NOT in a holiday mood could we be? Love, forgiveness, and recognizing that people can change enough to deserve life in prison instead of legalized murder...is that SO hard?

For Mr. Williams, I don't know if he's innocent or guilty. I do have evidence of his trying to do good in the world, though others may decide he is insincere. I know that if you can spend most of your adult life atoning working to right grievous wrongs (and Williams claims not to have committed the murders of which he is accused), and you even get nominated for a Nobel peace prize...when the hell else IS clemency warranted?

Why don't we, as a culture, believe in penance, let alone forgiveness? There is public discourse about lack of faith in the fairness of our legal system -- entrenched racism for example, that results in a black man actually confessing to the murder of a pregnant white woman when it turns out her white husband was actually her killer. There is DNA evidence that now clears convicted "criminals" after they are legally murdered. Yet, while this kind of questioning and critical thinking is going on, Mr. Schwarzenegger, the President, and many many in this country still think the death penalty "works," is merited, and that clemency is for sissies.

With this in mind, I'd like to ask the handful of people who might read this to spend some of the last hours of "Tookie" Williams' life (or after he is gone...only a few hours from the moment I'm typing these words) by visiting some anti-death penalty sites and really thinking this thing through. And if you still approve the death penalty? Think it through until you change your mind.


Stop the Execution of Stan Tookie Williams Blog

Abolitionist Action Committee

Campaign to End the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Focus

Death Penalty Information Center

More links...


To Be Depressed or Not to Be Depressed, That is the Quiz Question

So my husband is leaving town for 10 days, starting tomorrow, and it’s right at the end of a long semester and I’m in a musical revue that is woefully underrehearsed and inadequately cast, and I have to take care of myself and my son for these 10 stressful days. Plus I stayed out too late last night (though I had a great time).

So I decided to try a little experiment. I wanted to see what would happen if I took an online psychological depression test right now. I took the 18-question
Goldberg Depression Test (has to be a good one, Jews are often depressed as an ethno-religious trait and Goldberg is a family name on my mother's side) via "Dr. John Grohol's Psych Central" (random Google hit) and was surprised by the obviousness of the questions, and also how hard it would actually be to come up with a "no depression" result. Check out the results table:

If you scored... You may have...
54 & up Severe depression
36 - 53 Moderate/severe depression
22 - 35 Mild to moderate depression
18 - 21 Borderline depression
10 - 17 Possible mild depression
0 - 9 No depression likely

(Below this table reads: “This is not meant as a diagnostic tool.” Well, then what the heck IS it meant for?)

I got a 15 on the quiz, and my depth-of-a-fortune-cookie response was this:

“You appear to be experiencing some depressive symptoms which are often common amongst the general population. It is unclear as to whether you suffer these problems severely enough to need to seek further diagnosis and treatment of them. You should not take your responses to this self-report questionnaire as a diagnosis or recommendation for treatment of any sort. Consult with a trained mental health professional if you are experiencing depressive feelings and/or difficulties in your daily functioning that you are worried about.”

I’m left wondering what the heck the point of the quiz is.

Certainly, I understand the importance of not making superficial diagnoses via website tests. It seems entirely meant to get you to that last line, which I'd restate as: "If you're taking online tests about depression, you're probably depressed. In any case, you're worried about depression, so go see a psychologist."

But this is a media studies blog, so let's check the rest of the page's rhetoric. If we look to the right of the quiz and results, we see ads for various psych-related websites, and we also see a little boxed ad that reads:

"Ad: Purchase medications onlineand help underwrite this resource:
Paxil Prozac Zoloft Celexa Viagra"

(all names of drugs in the ad are hyperlinks)

Ah. The pharmaceuticals may be in very plain font--there are no huge or flashing letters nor images of happy people giddily downing Zoloft--but I do wonder about who visits this site and what they get out of it.

As for me, I'll just get through the next 10 days without Dr. Grohol, Prozac, or any more depression quizzes. Maybe I'll blog some more about Xmas instead. That keeps me on my toes.


Xmas Rant, Part II

Have you heard about the “Friend or Foe Campaign” that Jerry “Just Begging for Karmic Justice” Falwell has established? Not only are he and his band of thugs—I mean Christian followers—going to stamp out all of this “Happy Holidays” stuff and get everyone saying “Merry Christmas” whether they want to or not, he’s got a nice stable of lawyers ready to litigate so all those poor frightened masses of Kindergarten teachers can put “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” back into the federally funded secular classroom where it belongs!

And, no longer allowing that heathen ACLU or a reasonable separation of church and state to decide who gets to define freedom, the conservative “Alliance Defense Fund” is ready to do battle with their “Christmas Project.” Its delightful slogan? “Merry Christmas: It’s OK to say it.”

Hallelujah and amen! How good and beautiful it is and how blessed we are to know that there are folks out there to make sure the rights of the majority are so well protected against the minority! After all, isn’t that what this country was founded on? Majority rules and let the minority go move somewhere else? Give the playground bully your lunch money and just be glad you’ll get dinner when you get home--that is, if your parents don’t take the bully's side!

Nay, but seriously, Brethren and Sistern... What is really astonishing to me in all of this is the cultural shift it suggests. No longer is the Christian Right peddling all that “Jesus is the reason for the season” gibberish. (Yes, it’s gibberish and always has been. Jesus was born in July and Christmas trees are a ridiculously obvious pagan symbol incorporated into Christianity long ago to lure the heathen masses to their spiritual doom—I mean salvation.) Instead, we’ve moved to boycotting Target for not posting the word “Christmas” all over their store like good little supporters of the “majority rules” doctrine.

In other words, as long as we see signs that suggest we are a Christian nation, then Christians need not behave in a Christian manner at all. We all know “Love thy neighbor” has never been given a fair chance. It seems humanity just isn’t capable of it--and the Christian Right never bothered to try, enjoying the "stone thy enemies" doctrine ever so much more. But now they're actually touting rabid consumerism as a virtue as long as there’s a sign above that Nintendo that says “Merry Christmas”! And I may be wrong—after all, I’m a Lefty feminist non-religious Jew who can’t be trusted to quote Holy Scripture--but didn’t Jesus say, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”? (Answer: Yes, he did, see Matthew 19.)

I can only hope
Mark Morford is correct when he asserts, “All the mad marketing and all the product gluttony, they're all merely further indicators that we are just about ready to burst, to grow up, to snap the hell out of it.” Though this is clearly willful optimism (for surely, as the best-selling, g(l)ory-to-godifying Left Behind series makes plain, the only “bursting” and “snapping” in the near future is going to be the bones of all us unbelievers--including you Catholics!), I do want to believe him. I want to think the increasing desperation and excess of the Right is its death throes, is evidence that karmic retribution is a-comin’.

Most days, though, all I can do is sigh, keep my faith in the slow and painful route of education, and shake my head at the irony that I’m actually living a more “Christian” life than a whole lot of Christians out there.


My Recent Publications

Haven't tooted my own nerdy scholarly horn lately, so here goes:

You'll find my chapter on gender in the sitcom Red Dwarf in the just-published anthology British Science Fiction Television: A Hitchhiker's Guide. It's an academic critical romp through shows from The Avengers and Blake's 7 to Dr. Who and Hitchhiker's Guide. I was happy to be invited to contribute, and studying masculine anxieties and queerness in popular culture is something I very much enjoy.

I also published an entry on feminism in Gary Westfahl's three-volume Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Feminist SF is a primary area of research for me, and it's nice to know I was chosen to write this entry and that the subject is valued enough to merit mention in the summary of themes on the publisher's webpage for the book.

In 2006, I'll be busy too: my article on feminism in 1975 as viewed through Laura Mulvey's theory of the "male gaze" and Brian Forbes' The Stepford Wives will appear in Feminist Media Studies and I'll be writing then shopping for publishers for a piece on queerness and romantic triangles in three films directed by George Cukor. And over the summer, I'll be writing my chapter for an edited collection called Critical Forces: Reading Star Wars and the Expanded Universe.

I love pop culture research!


Happy Non Religion to You!

I was thinking about how I’m already sick of Christmas decorations, Christmas music, Christmas movie previews, endless toy commercials for Christmas presents, and all the rest of it, and I wondered just what percentage of Americans actually are Christian…or of other religions. With the help of a website of Composite U.S. Demographics, here’s what I’ve learned:

Christians make up 76.5% of the U.S. population.
24.5% are Catholic.
12% are Baptist.
5.6% are Southern Baptist.
4.6% are Lutheran.
2.9% are Methodist (United Methodist Church).
2.7% are Presbeterian.
2.1% are Pentacostal.
1.93% are Mormon.
1.7% are Episcopalian.
.7% are Non-denominational.
.6% are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
.55% are Menonites.

Meanwhile, outside the Christian faith…
1.3% are Jewish.
.87% are Buddhist.

.5% are Muslim.
.5% are agnostic.
.4% are athiest
.36% are Hindu.
.3% are Unitarian.
.28% are Neo-pagan.
.05% are Baha’i.

This lets me know why we see so much Christmas everywhere, why the Religious Right can take up so much space without even people who disagree with their extremism objecting, and many other things about life in the U.S. of A.

Yet, there is another category I found on this site. Did you know that a whopping 13.2% of Americans identify as “non religious”? We don’t outnumber Catholics, but we do outnumber Baptists! (You’d never know that living here in the South, where Baptists have somehow convinced themselves they are the majority denomination in the country.)

The problem regarding Christmas is that we just get lumped together with everyone else who isn’t putting up Christmas decorations, and it's tough to find a way to put up “non religious” decorations that let people know you’re non religious and proud of it.

But hey, what about lights for windows that spell out “Non Religious Decoration”... or "Proud to Be Non Religious"... Think I could make an ebay business out of that?


Why I Am a Critic

I love being a critic. With particular emphasis on entertainment television and Hollywood film and their representations of gender, race, class and feminism(s), engaging in criticism gives me great pleasure on many levels.

“Wouldn’t it be more pleasant to just sit back and enjoy the show?” I am sometimes asked. Or, somewhat less kindly, “Don’t you ever turn your brain off?” I get the dismissive “I just can’t look at it that way” on occasion, as well as the “I hate to see you get so upset over TV.” Then there’s the guilt-inducing “You’re ruining it for me,” which is most true, of course, when a friend or family member makes the mistake of actually watching a movie with me and has to listen to me analyze and gripe the whole time.

Now, in my defense, I am capable of “turning off my brain” or at least actively choosing not to engage in overt critique as I watch a particularly favored program. Sure, I can give you a postcolonial critique of Doctor Who, a nuanced feminist reading of Katharine Hepburn or Angela Bassett, or a queer studies take on The Daily Show, but I reserve the right to opt not to at a given screening.

That said, I do pity the friend who catches me just after I’ve seen something that’s truly disturbed me (like those who had to hear me wax maniacal after seeing The Incredibles and wondering how the film earned 5 stars from every critic in the country despite the reactionary 50’s setting and message that white middle-class women’s disempowerment through return to suburban housewife drudgery is less worthy of attention than middle-class men’s midlife crises). It is sometimes difficult for me to assume that all is right with the world when I fear I’m the only one who makes counterhegemonic (resistant, oppositional) readings of certain popular texts.

Keeping all this in mind, I find it important to pause to note the importance of criticism, and of critics--particularly entertainment media critics.

First and foremost: I enjoy being a critic. While I may at times feel driven to critique for political reasons, I also get personal pleasure from it. There is downright masturbatory glee in delving into a text I thoroughly enjoy, in discovering clever and creative ways of reading the texts that others have not yet considered, in using language effectively to inspire challenges to mass-produced crap that invades our minds and makes it difficult for us to question the status quo. Plainly put, media criticism is intellectually satisfying and feels politically empowering.

This commentary has been partly inspired by rereading feminist media critic Bonnie Dow’s Prime-Time Feminism (U PA Press, 1996). Her comments on the critic via rhetorical studies are insightful and persuasive (despite the whiteness of her gaze throughout the book). For instance, Dow opines, “I view criticism as a species of argument rather than as a quest for truth” (Introduction, 3). Moreover, she reminds us that media criticism is “a kind of argument that, whatever its value to the reader, articulates the interests of the arguer first” (3). Good reminder there: you learn more about me than the music video we’re watching when I offer my critical take on it.

Criticism encourages the listener or reader to reevaluate a text, to see and evaluate it anew. Hence, says Dow, “criticism is not about discovering or reporting the meaning in texts. Rather, it becomes a performative activity, that is in some sense, dedicated to creating meaning” (3). When we do criticism best, we “persuade the audience that their knowledge of a text will be enriched if they choose to see a text as the critic does, while never assuming that that particular ‘way of seeing’ is the only or best way to see that text (or that all audiences do, in fact, see it that way” (4). And that is a real challenge: I must be persuasive yet remain humble, knowing I am offering but one of many possible readings.

And the feminist critic must be respected in her own terms, by “her own equivalent right to liberate new (and perhaps different) significance from […] texts: and, at the same time, her right to choose which features of a text she takes as relevant because she is, after all, asking new and different questions of it” (Annette Kolodny, qtd. in Dow 6).

Dow helps me stand proud as a media/cultural studies critic. In whatever arena (from after-movie chat to classroom teaching to academic scholarship to blogging), being a critic gives me personal-political pleasure and is a form of activism I esteem highly.


Odd Quiz I Took (Because Friends Did)

This Is My Life, Rated
Life: 7.5
Mind: 7.4
Body: 5.9
Spirit: 6.5
Friends/Family: 6.9
Love: 7.3
Finance: 9.4
Take the Rate My Life Quiz

Worth a gander, but if you take the quiz, also take the time to analyze what questions are asked and how. Many assumptions here about what makes for happiness and what doesn't (e.g., more friends = better life, what does "strong moral code" mean and do I really need one?, etc.).

In reviewing the quiz's commentary on my score, I got this, for example:

"Spirit: Your spirit rating seeks to capture in a number that elusive quality which is found in your faith, your attitude, and your philosophy on life. A higher score indicates a greater sense of inner peace and balance. Your spirit score leaves room for improvement. Consider making a concerted effort to redefine your attitudes and focus your beliefs. Boosting your spirit will lead to greater life satisfaction."

Ok, I do agree that in life in general I'd like to feel more at peace. But I think I got this fortune cookie comment because I did not put that I believe everything happens for a reason. And who is this stupid quiz to tell me otherwise! If my "moral code" were "stronger," would I get "You are super happy giddy girl" in response?

I think I prefer superficial quizzes like "What Kind of Dog are You?" They're inane so they don't piss me off.


RIP: Black Knight Black Moon

How do I feel about fish for pets? Don’t ask. Dogs are social animals, long domesticated, and picking up a dog or cat from a shelter or other rescue situation (then spay/neuter them), like all 6 of the cats and 2 of the dogs I and/or my family has had since I was a tot, works pretty well. Hate pet stores; loathe the whole breeder thang. Visit the Humane Society or SPCA for many good reasons why. Even when adopted in good ways, cats who are kept in miss the outdoors and those who are let out attack birds and lizards. Dogs are like having a kid in many ways and need a lot of attention. Plus, of course there’s a lot of mistreatment of dogs and cats out there, and I wish we made people pass tests and get licenses to own pets (like they do in England). Exotics? I also have a fairly pat answer, as you can guess. Leave the wildthings to the wild…if you can find any “wild” left on this planet. Birds? Need to fly. No cages in my house.

But wait…a fishtank is a cage, you say. Indeed it is. I cannot relate to the idea of pet-as-pretty-thing-to-look-at. Get a sculpture of a fish. Nor do I groove on the “Let’s see if I can keep them alive by manipulating habitat” science experiment approach. I don’t know what fish feel or don’t feel, but they sure do stare at me out of the tank, and I sure wish they were in a lovely pond or river or lake. But Chad does his best to make a good “home” for them, my son likes to look at them (he stopped his responsibility of feeding them long ago), and neither of us knew they’d get huge and creepy and deformed…and ill…and dead.

I guess that’s not entirely true. Our last tank, maybe ten years ago, featured the mother fish that had babies (in a nice separate little holder to keep the other fish from bothering them) and then ate them and pooped out 13 little baby fish skeletons. Eventually, the whole tank of them went belly-up. And we never knew why. Even the fish store (loathsome places that they are with their salt water tanks full of delicate lovely alien creatures that should NEVER been in a tank) couldn’t figure it out when they tested the water.

But we tried again a few years ago, and Chad worked diligently to keep the water at the right balance and temperature, got live plants, cool rocks to swim around and through, etc. We tried to pick “plain” goldfish that we could give a “decent” life to. They flourished and grew, we got a bigger tank…and then…grossness.

Goldfish of certain varieties bred for their “beauty” and for competitions (mostly by the Chinese and Japanese) develop those big blobby things on their heads/faces called the “wen.” Apparently, breeding for competition does not include breeding for viability. The wen can grow right over the whole head, the eyes, everything. So you get “beautiful” blind fish. And that began to happen to our fish that my son named Black Knight Black Moon (BKBM). He got blobbier and blobbier and his eyes got more and more covered til there was about ¼ visibility for the poor thing. It was hard to look at him. Meanwhile, a second fish, named RedCap, got blobby, too. But his wen didn’t cover his eyes, just got huge and bloblike, with little hangy pieces. He and BKBM and the third fish, Fishy, had absolutely gorgeous long tails, beautiful fins, sparkly scales, ate heartily, and seemed relatively healthy and content, given the limitations of tank life and breeders’ obsessions.

But then BKBM developed a swim bladder disorder. He lost the ability to control his direction in the tank, often floating up or standing on his nose, so to speak, at the bottom of the tank. We tried every suggestion we found online and by calling a fish vet in Knoxville. Nothing worked. And one day, just to have a little control over his body, BKBM wedged himself inside an animal skull we had in the tank that the fish could swim into and through. He got stuck while we were gone for the day, shredded his tail, and was bleeding. The charming plecostomus we also have in the tank (still unnamed) was being gracious enough to suck the blood off of him and helped shred him some more, I suspect. By the time we freed him and took the skull out, he was traumatized (trust me, you can tell) and even worse off.

So a month or two went by, and BKBM finally started to regrow a beautiful healthy tail. He always “stood on his head” at tank bottom, but he ate well and seemed to be coping with his wretched disabilities. When the accident happened, I really wanted to put him out of his misery, but Chad gave me the science lecture about fish brains and nerve systems, and expressed his sincere belief that BKBM wasn’t truly suffering…at least not enough to kill him. Sigh. I appreciated this lecture because there is, apparently, no confirmed humane way to put a fish to death.

Anyhow, BKBM regrew his tale and coped. Until this week, when something again happened and he reshredded his tail. He began to float at the top not bottom, though he was still alive. And his face was tinged with pink, blood. A few days later he finally died. And I was so glad he was out of whatever misery he might have felt, and I was out of my misery, watching him go through all this wretchedness.

So: we hope Fishy, RedCap and the pleco continue to thrive. And may BKBM be reincarnated into a lovely healthy fish, far far out at sea. Maybe a nice big shark that lives far from any trace of humanity. Whatever the case, know this: after these fish pass away, THERE WILL BE NO MORE FISHTANKS IN ANY HOME I CHOOSE TO LIVE IN. EVER.

Note: the fish pictures on this page are not our fish but pics I found online that look very similar to Fishy (top) and the late lamented Black Knight Black Moon.


Back Pain of Doom Leads to Binge on Bad Television

I won't belabor the point, but just want to say that I've spent the last 2 weeks in bed with the most severe back pain I can imagine. Makes labor pains laughable by comparison, and my labor pains were a 17 out of 10. This pain was well into the 20s.

Not sure what caused the "injury." I had no accident to speak of. Just was feeling pretty good one morning and went to hang up the phone and felt a muscle pull. My chiropractor believes I pulled or tore a tendon, then this caused a disk in my low back to get very out of place, in turn pinching a nerve. Whatever the case, I spent 2 days not being able to use my back at all, resulting in Chad dragging me around, including some horrific trips to the bathroom where he had to hold me up over the toilet so I could pee, in great pain, standing up. Too much information, I know, but it lets you know just how out of commission I truly was.

This led to days and days and days of bedrest, icepacks, and visits to the chiropractor as soon as I could haul myself into the car without so much pain I was howling or crying. And the result of that? I watched more bad television than any human being ever should. My commentary on what I saw follows...

The first few days consisted of gorging myself on the Food Network. I picked up some fabulous recipes and tips for modifying recipes I already enjoy. My dad and I discussed the "hotness" factor of the women of the cooking shows, as I lacked the energy for feminist debate. I like the smiling, nasal girl-next-door Rachael Ray, but the huge-faced glossy Giada De Laurentiis of Everyday Italian has a definite panache. But no, my dad says, they're nothing compared to Sandra Lee -- that bottle blond, raccoon-eyed temptress who always adds a healthy dose of hard liquor cocktails to each "semi-homemade" meal of pot roast and pudding cakes! Still, I can stomach watching any of them more easily than Martha Stewart. Martha's just too pretentiously faux down-to-earth, and too dull, even though I think hundreds of greasy white male CEOs should have been in prison before her.

But soon, hours and hours of cooking shows became repetitive and unwatchable. I flipped channels a lot, finding no movies I could stand, no reruns worth rerunning with, and little else to tolerate. (Eventually, I switched to reading Harry Potter, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

At some inexplicable point, I stopped on VH1's 100 Best Child Actors, or something like that. These countdown shows often leave me cold after watching 3 or 4 entries, but I kept watching this one. I didn't know half the stars, as they were in child roles during the 80s, when I was in college and not watching the likes of Blossom or Punky Brewster or Silver Spoons. But then a commercial came on for the show coming up after the countdown: My Fair Brady, an offshoot of The Surreal Life. Damn if I didn't get hooked after one episode, watching the uptight and self-important Christopher Knight (aka Peter Brady) try to live with the insanely trite and immature Adrianne Curry. I enjoyed the drunken parties, the spanking, and the grotesque efforts to communicate like adults. Well, perhaps "enjoy" is not the right verb. I got sucked in because I wanted to leap through the TV and give them relationship lessons! Mostly, I wanted to smack them both upside the head and tell them to "grow up!" But that, of course, does not really explain the power of "celebreality" shows. I only know I feel less guilty watching "celebrities" act like asses than average schmoes. I don't feel they're being as exploited.

But then there is the next level of celebreality car-crash ambulance-chasing show: Breaking Bonaduce. As Danny Bonaduce (ex-Danny Partridge) actively welcomes you into his televised nervous breakdown via alcohol, drugs, steroids, and ineffective communication skills, you just feel like this is the ultimate in where we've always been meant to arrive via reality tv. You're not watching anything he isn't showing you; he desperately wants you to watch; you learn more about ineffective coping and relationship skills than you could through a whole degree in clinical psychology. Again, for me, there's the "want to reach through the TV and throttle him" factor, and in this show I also want to throttle his wife (they married on their first date, the show boasts) and their smug git of a therapist who sides entirely with the wife and never helps them communicate at all.

Along the way, I also caught the last 3 episodes of Season 5 of The Surreal Life, but Omarosa and Janice's bitch goddess escapades can't compete with Bonaduce's self-destructive aggression. And it was hard to watch the sweet tears of bimbo Caprice while Bronson Pinchot made his desperate midlife-crisis bids for her affections. Amazingly, Jose Canseco emerged as the most sane and mature of the group, and that's pretty frightening. But, again, not as frightening as The Bonaduce, unwrapping his broken hand and popping Vicodin while swigging vodka and cranberry juice.

I feel like I've done some "good work" here for my teaching, as I know my students must be watching at least some of this crap. Still, it's us babyboomers that care about how Peter Brady and Danny Partridge and Balki have ended up...and with no way to get out of bed and nothing to do on my aching back but channel surf, I fell right into the VH1 trap.


Disagreeing with the Domestic Violence Center?

I’ve been thinking about stalkers the past few days. Let’s just say I’m helping someone I know deal with a stalker situation and I'm feeling deeply inadequate for the task.

Yes, I’ve told her to go to the local Domestic Violence Center. Yes, I’ve told her it’s not her fault. Yes, I’ve given her my cell phone number and told her to call me if she needs me. Yes, I’ve told her not to talk to the guy anymore, for any reason. Yes, I’ve told her not to be or live alone for awhile. I also told her not to get a restraining order.

“Say WHAT?!” you say. “A restraining order is the first thing you to do empower the stalking victim!”

Well, I was always taught that. And I’m no therapist or domestic violence expert, just a well informed feminist. Predictably, the very first thing the woman on the phone at the local Domestic Violence Center said when I called her for this person I know was that she needed to get into the Center and get a restraining order. Right there and then, I started debating with this woman on the phone. I was respectful, but I gave my two cents against restraining orders. She listened quietly, did not reply, and I quickly de-escalated. What was my point? Certainly, debating with the Domestic Violence Center receptionist won't help anyone. And the woman I’m trying to help did not need to hear me go on…but then, maybe she did.

A few years back, my husband and I read Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence. The author is a Los Angeles security consultant whose company protects celebrity clients from stalkers. The book, though, is more general, about how we’ve short-circuited our own “natural” ability to know when we’re really in danger (and should be afraid) and when we’re not, primarily because of media hype and bad information. He discusses issues including rape, mugging, stalking, and murder with amazing astuteness, with the plain and simple goal of keeping people alive.

He says there is more than enough evidence to prove that temporary restraining orders often fail. Some men may desire what they see as revenge more than they fear the law. And a restraining order may give a woman a false sense of security while further enraging the abusive man.

De Becker argues that, if there is a serious threat of violence, the woman must concentrate on making herself unavailable to the man stalking her. Period.

There can be a real conflict here if you’re a feminist. You want to empower the woman; you want to reassure her that this is what the police are here for; you want to tell her this is the abuser’s fault—and of course it is!

But, like de Becker, I have to feel the most important thing is that this woman stays alive. There’s no denying it: the stalker does have power over her life as long as he is either willing to or seems to be willing to stalk her, to threaten her, or to actually commit violence. Though it is wrong, offensive, disturbing, frustrating, aggravating, and horrifying, it is, as de Becker says, the woman herself, along with her friends and relatives, who must ensure her safety. She has to be protected, even if that means giving up some of her freedom and privacy for a while.

How long? That’s the worst of it. For as long as this guy is a threat. Until she isn’t worth stalking anymore as far as he’s concerned. Maybe he’s not really dangerous, just sexist and immature. Maybe he’ll get a whim to move on with his life. Maybe he’ll be arrested for something else and be taken out of her life. Maybe he’ll move to another city, state, country, planet, universe!

Why is this advice, which seems logical to me, in conflict with Domestic Violence Center discourse? I’m not sure, but the person I’m trying to help says she finds de Becker’s position persuasive, I’ve told her to read the book for herself, and I’ve also told her to talk to the Center and make sure she has as much information as possible. And then I reminded her to avoid him, feign calm around him if he shows up where she is, not be alone until this situation is resolved, document everything this guy does (every call, every email, every act against her or her property, etc.), and to treat herself with incredible patience and kindness—as she’d treat any friend of hers who came to her with the same problem.

Meanwhile, I’m going to make some phone calls soon to see if any Domestic Violence Centers have read de Becker and what they think about it. I wish whatever they say would make me feel better than I will--or can--knowing someone I know is being stalked and there's nothing I can do to fix it.

***9pm. Just spoke to her (the woman being stalked). The Center talked her into a restraining order when she went to see them. The police made clear they cannot "protect" her without it (e.g., if he harasses her verbally, for example, it's not a crime without the restraining order). She fears for people she hangs around with, especially other men, and the restraining order "protects" them. I told her there is no right or wrong answer and she must do what seems most wise to her. I hope this will work out.***


Meeting Susie Bright

I feel incredibly privileged to have spent the last two days with “sexpert” Susie Bright, learning from her and seeing validated in her words and wit many perspectives on feminism and sex that I share or have wanted to share but feared would render me politically unsound (a.k.a. hypocritical, self-serving, or “un-p.c.”).

Let me share a few things I learned (or had confirmed). Note: this is my paraphrase, so I may not get it quite right. You want to read Susie Bright in the original, to be sure, and I admit fully that these articulations are written to meet my own needs and according to my means of expression.

(1) We need to ask more directly and more often why violent speech so protected and sex speech so prohibited?

(2) Pornography vs. erotica as an artificial (and classist) distinction that should be replaced by good vs. bad or arousing vs. unarousing.

(3) We can reject the MacKinnon/Dworkin “porn makes rapists” type arguments because there is not only no causal evidence but also because the real issue is the larger culture: why focus on porn when even more overt representations of objectification and violence against women are featured at every multiple
x and playing on every X-box? Also, glorification of human sexuality in porn—for all its limitations (sexism, ageism, racism, classism, ableism, etc.) must be seen as in some ways radical and positive in our puritanical, anti-sex culture.

(4) The g-spot, that spongy tissue inside the front wall of the vagina, actually houses the “stalk” of the clitoris (like the “stalk” of the penis); the back of the tissue/stalk can be reached through anal stimulation.

(5) Every major study of human sexuality since Kinsey has been defunded or otherwise made impossible, so we have no reliable statistics whatsoever about any aspect of sexuality in this culture since the 50s. WHY?

Thanks, Susie, for coming to Middle Tennessee and spreading the gospel of sexual goodness!


Corpse Bride: Was That So Difficult?

I knew I wanted to see Corpse Bride as soon as I saw the first ad for it. I knew it despite my frustration with the mixed bag that was Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (see my entry within this blog for more). I knew it despite the sexism and racism of the otherwise delectable Nightmare Before Christmas (Sally and the Oogy-Boogy Man were such disappointing stereotypes!). I knew it even had Johnny Depp not been voicing the lead, had Joanna Lumley and Tracey Ullman, and Jane Horrocks, and Christopher Lee, and Richard Grant and company not been doing the other parts (Helena Bonham Carter doesn't do much for me...sorry).

How did I know? Because the plot looked sweet yet spooky and Tim Burton's cartoon stylings rendered into puppets were gorgeous to look at (close up and far away) and Danny Elfman's music always compliments Burton's work to a T. I didn't know until just before I saw it that the film is based upon a
19th-century Russian Jewish folktale, but that made it even better for this descendent of Russian Jewish immigrants.

And the film did not disappoint. It was sweet yet spooky. The animation was gorgeous. Danny Elfman's music was wonderful. And the story was compelling.

Am I compelled to analyze? Certainly, we can praise the larger number of active female characters compared to Nightmare, even if they aren't feminist role-models: from the Sally-like Victoria (helpful and active yet not able to conceive of life without a man) to the battle-ax mothers to the determined yet neurotic Corpse Bride herself. And, after all, she was murdered, so we're clearly dealing with raising consciousness about violence against women...even if in the form of a corpse that still can't get past marriage (from murderous first betrothed to fleeing and neurotic second)...

But I'm not compelled to analyze, truth be told. Just for a few damn minutes, I was enjoying myself, seeing a film that was Well Made, Fun, and Creative. In the end, what I want to say more than anything else is WAS THAT SO HARD?? Wake up, Hollywood! Stop giving us Big Budget Crap and give us more Small Delights like Corpse Bride. I won't find myself hiding from the big screen, watching my small DVD collection over and over, or wasting so much internet space on harsh movie reviews!


My Fair Lady Triumphs in Murfreesboro!

Though exhuasted, I'm having a fabulous time playing Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady. Making my eyebrows white with make-up and getting the wig just right takes more time and energy than playing the part, but it's a fun part, a great cast, and I do love theater. (But next time, I want another lead--or at least a younger role!)


My New Tattoo

Well, folks, here it is! It's been more than six years since I got a tattoo, and I decided that I knew what I wanted and no time like the present. It's the last two measures of Cole Porter's naughty 1927 hit "Let's Misbehave."

(My favorite lines: "They say that bears have love affairs and even camels / We're merely mammals / Let's misbehave!")

Interestingly, the pain wasn't nearly as bad as my others. I think having lived through 8 hours of drug-free labor pains that felt like I was going to die with each inhale might have something to do with it. And it's an open pattern, so no long digging fill-in.

The guy who did it is Ben at Icon in Murfreesboro. You can see the quality of his work, and he's a very nice young guy. I recommend him.



Rethinking My Fair Lady

In looking for some theater fun this summer, I auditioned for and was cast in a local production of My Fair Lady. Let me be plain: most musicals done by community theater groups are sexist (and often racist) drivel, and I sometimes cringe before, during, and after auditions. Once in the show, I go with the spirit of adventure, fun, and exhibitionism, but, as a feminist, I still do feel occasional moments of embarrassment or shame at being part of such status quo fare.

When I did Adelaide in Guys and Dolls in 2001, I relatively easily convinced myself that so much parody was going on that I need not worry. At worst, Adelaide is a “doll” of her time, strong and independent in spirit but desiring to be a married and “respectable” woman, too. And with a lead role and five songs in the show, I had a superb time with the entertaining cartoon that is Adelaide.

Last year I auditioned for South Pacific with great reservations. “Bali Hai” is a beautiful song, but reconciling myself to the racist mess that is Bloody Mary was not easy. When I auditioned and was asked by the director to heighten my sing-song pseudo-Asian accent, I cringed. That I did not get cast in the role was ultimately a blessing. Though I could find my way inside Bloody Mary to portray her as a woman working within the racist/sexist system of the U.S. military to do the best she could financially for herself and her daughter, I was glad not to have to deal with it (or convince the director to let me play it so). Yes, the show does deal overtly with bigotry enough to argue for tolerance, but the closest it gets is that the white woman’s white boyfriend had a former native lover (mother of his children). Our heroine need not sully herself by actually getting involved with a person of color. Heaven forbid! Just raise up the little colored young’uns. (I was offered the part of the Head Nurse, so that pleased my ego—but I ultimately decided I just didn’t want to be part of that show.)

Then, this summer, along comes My Fair Lady: the story of the flower “girl” who is molded by the stodgy professor into an upper-class lady. Even when he treats her shoddily, she ultimately comes back for more. Not exactly feminist fare. Nonetheless, I was cast as Mrs. Higgins, she who condemns her son’s coldness and cheers on Eliza Doolittle for helping her boy to truly feel something for someone else. Of course, that Henry turned out to be such a prick may be laid on his mother’s shoulders, especially if Freud has any say in our interpretation. Yet, I do enjoy several of my lines, including my quip that if I were Eliza I would not have thrown his slippers at him but the fire irons. I am playing the role with more than a touch of Aunt Agatha from the Jeeves and Wooster stories, and the accent is delightful fun.

Now, I have friends who suggest that we can read Eliza’s decision to return to Higgins differently (this ending, of course, differs from the original G.B. Shaw play, Pygmalion, in which Eliza leaves him and runs off to marry — and financially support – the upper-class twit Freddy). They read it as consensual kinkiness: the two of them like their dominant-submissive relationship the way it is.

But now some of my castmates and I have decided something else as we’ve watched the show unfold in rehearsal: Higgins is gay. A gay stereotype, to be sure, but stereotypes are what you get in the majority of musicals. He is deeply afraid of women, and Eliza figures this out and the two of them do their dance and Higgins realizes he need not even have sex with her but can just have her as a companion and convince himself he’s not gay. This leads to wondering what Eliza gets out of it. Respectability and someone to pay her bills, I guess, which ain’t hay. As she says, she’s always been able to get men to like her “in that way.” Higgins is something new…and a man of means.



Surely even public-bathroom sex with a total stranger is more genuine and culturally valuable than attempts to make gay people straight.


Big Gooey Lefty Crush on Mark Morford

My husband reads Discover Magazine. He can daily share cool science factoids and tell me what's happening in the science world. And he reads news online daily, too. Meanwhile, I watch The Daily Show sometimes and my magazine of choice is Entertainment Weekly. For one thing, the only time I usually read magazines is on the pot, and Discover is too techno-jargony to assist me in the act for which the pot is made. So it’s EW for me, and some Knights of the Dinner Table when it arrives each month to give me a regular nerd gamer fix. Perhaps I'd peruse more news if I brought my laptop into the bathroom with me, but I think not.

If I did have an internet hook-up in the john, I’d be reading Mark Morford. Though this SF Gate columnist has his moments of pretentious drivel and piggybacking on whatever’s going around the hip progressive chat circles, and his take on most issues is entirely predictable (often pretty much the same as mine), most of Morford’s columns are glorious exercises in venting against the ruination of this perhaps always-already ruined nation. Let me share a few quotes from recent columns.

From “Liberals Are So Intolerant!” (8/10/2005):

“I cannot tolerate an American president, ostensibly meant to be one of the most articulate and intellectually sophisticated leaders on the planet, mumbling his semicoherent support of the embarrassing nontheory of 'Intelligent Design,'
to the detriment of about 300 years of confirmed science and 10 million years of common sense to the point where America's armies of dumbed-down Ritalin-drunk children look at him and sigh and secretly wish they could have a future devoid of such imbecilic thought but who realize, deep down, they are merely another doomed and fraught generation who will face an increasingly steep uphill battle, who will actually have to fight for fact and intellectual growth and spiritual progress against a rising tide of ignorance and religious hegemony and sanitized revisionist textbooks that insult their understanding and sucker punch their sexuality and bleed their minds dry. […]
"Enough. Basta. Let's refashion the old, stagnant definition of tolerance and make it less about merely enduring, merely putting up with the existence of other narrow-minded beliefs no matter how devastating and embarrassing they obviously are to the nation's health.
"Rather, let's flip that sucker over and baste it with raw goat butter and sear it on the open flames of divine justice and bliss and intellectual fire and white-hot orgasm and burn it new.”

From “You Now Hate Chocolate Cake” (8/12/05):

“Yes, we are an obscenely obese nation, the fattest on Earth and only getting fatter and clearly we are still desperately hungry, insatiable, our appetite only growing and our butts only widening and our sense of true health and whole foods and the appreciation for our radiant flesh all dissipating like honey incense in an oil fire. We have now accepted this as indefatigable truth, the sad American way. But you have to ask, how the hell did this happen? And what, really, are we truly so hungry for? Why can we not get ourselves full?
"Look at it this way: A balanced and humane, sexually healthy, well-educated, spiritually empowered nation has no need to gorge itself on poisons, no need to bloat itself and add massive layers of enormous flabby cushioning (mental or physical) to its body in order to protect itself from the violence of the world and the shrill ignorance of its warmongering leaders and hey wait did I just begin to answer the question?”

Other recent entries, with fab titles and content to match, such as “Who Loves Creepy Megachurches?”, "Hideously Skinny White Girls," and “There’s Sex in My Violence!”, should help to tempt you over to enjoy the rude progressive articulateness that is Mr. Morford—or at least his columnist persona.

Caveat: I reserve the right to read something Morford wrote or writes in future and decide I hate his guts.


Poignant Potshot at the Prez

Dubya sez,

"I understand the anguish that some feel about the death that takes place."

So glad he understands. And thinks "long and hard" about others' grief and arguments about getting out of the incredible mess we've made of Iraq and tens of thousands of lost lives (1800+ American soldiers; 23500+ civilians) in order to reap its oil riches.

Remarkable that he chooses this wording: it seems to me a direct admission that he himself does not feel anguish--or much of anything at all. Just knows that "some" have feelings. Some suffer. But not Dubya. Nothing touches him: why feel anything at all but smugness, even when your popularity is in the dumpster? After all, so many will cozy right up again if oil prices just go down a tad or if he shuts up about social security. And, lest we forget, 45% recently polled still support this president.

Quick: somebody find me a half-full cup, I'm choking!


Inane Tests Are Taking Over the Web!

From the profound to the profane, from the portentous to the puerile, one conclusion we may deduce from the incredible number of available free online quizzes is that some people have too much damn time on their hands. (Of course, we might draw this same conclusion from the sheer number and type of entries in my two-week-old blog, yes?) Moreover, if you add the number and variety of free online tests + the number of people interested in taking them + the number of people interested in making them, the total says a great deal about overevolved human brains and our inability to know what the heck to do with our time. I suspect crossword puzzles, RPGs, square dancing, adultery, and war are also significant indicators of the same problem.

And now, a few random quizzes from various sites I’ve taken in order to write this blog entry, along with my scores and a snide comment or two:

Test: IQ Test
Score: 161 (“genius”)
Snide Comment: “Genius”? Clearly this test is too easy. But it's short -- and oh, how flattering.

Test: Belief-O-Matic (What's your religion?)
Score: Unitarian Universalism (100%), Secular Humanism (93%), Liberal Quakers (87%) – and both Reform and Orthodox Judaism (21%)
Snide Comment: Predictably, first answers for all questions are Judeo-Christian or other monotheisms, then pagan, then Buddhist type, then agnostic, then atheist. I like that you can weight answers for their importance to your beliefs after answering each question, though it’s a more taxing test than the others I took because of this. I got tangled a bit with questions that asked about abortion and homosexuality and the like – these aren’t spiritual matters for me but about human rights.

Test: Would You Have Been a Nazi?
Score: No, I would have left Germany, apparently.
Snide Comment: Let me off the hook too easily, though I like to think I’d have left Germany (especially given that I’m Jewish). Could raise consciousness in small ways just for the question about whether you believe your home nation engages in propaganda (answer is YES, dummies!)

Test: 3 Variable Funny Test (What kind of humor do you like?)
Score: The Wit (CLEAN / COMPLEX / DARK) -- with a long inane explanation
Snide Comment: Too many forced choices lead to misrepresentation and (like all these tests) oversimplification. I like that Bateman (who made this test and the Nazi test) comes up with theory on how humor works according to different trajectories, but you aren’t going to learn much about me if I have to decide which of the following I like best: "a well-planned and perfectly executed practical joke," "a clever and crushing comeback," or "a fart that you cut." Where’s the option for witty retort, a bit of slapstick humor, or a nice dirty joke? I do, however, think this test is worth taking just to see the picture of the kitty being chased by robot toys with the caption “Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten.”

Test: How Sexy Are You? (There are a billion of these all over the Internet.)
Score: “You are a Bad, Sexy Girl” (woo hoo!)
Snide Comment: I like that you get NINE options per question with this one. Still forced, but at least it’s short and you don’t have to choose between 3 equally irrelevant or inappropriate answers.

Test: What Breed of Dog Are You?
Score: Chihuahua (oh, thank you. how flattering.)
Snide Comment: Criteria are not clear to me at all with this one. Worse, to get your result, you have to sign in (with name, age, email, etc.) and click the right button to avoid signing up for other shit. Makes me want to bite ankles.

Test: The Political Compass
Score: -8.75 (Left of Gandhi); -6.97 (rather Libertarian).
Snide Comment: Sponsored, so I understand, by Libertarians, some questions are clearly skewed to lead you to a Libertarian answer.

Test: Which Zodiac Sign Would You Be Most Compatible With?
Score: Aries
Snide Comment: The lists of traits to consider (as preferences, peeves, etc.) is interesting, if (yes, again) superficial. But I'm not into astrology, so no clue why Aries was chosen for me. Actually, I was really looking for a "Guess Your Zodiac Sign" test, to see if I could check off traits and the quiz would guess my sign. Might do a bit for my cynicism regarding astrology...even though I find talking about signs fun (like these quizzes) on occasion.

Well, I didn't learn anything about myself I didn't know from all this, other than that I am apparently chihuahua-like. (I know my friend
Rick, formerly nicknamed the Psycho Chihuahua, is laughing at this additional evidence of our being twins separated at birth.)

Please feel free to take some of these tests and report your results or snide comments here…or recommend other tests you'd like me to waste my oh-so-precious time taking.


Have you seen Sylvia Scarlett?

Sylvia Scarlett is a 1935 disastrous gem of a movie. Directed by George Cukor, Hollywood’s only out gay studio director of the era, the film featured Katharine Hepburn in drag as young Sylvia/Sylvester Scarlett, a youth who follows her ne’er-do-well widowed father on an adventure in pulling small-time cons. To join him rather than be left behind, Sylvia becomes Sylvester, and a merry time is had by all, especially their newfound pal Jimmy Monkley (played with cockney fabulousness by Cary Grant). Merry, that is, until an alcoholic jealous fit leads to the death of Papa Henry Scarlett (rendered with morose charm by Wales’ own Edmund Gwenn, whom you should know as Kris Kringle from Miracle on 34th Street, Captain Albert Wiles in Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry, or 80-odd other character roles). But the comedy ending is rescued when our heroine/hero falls for the womanizing artist Michael Fane (giddily portrayed by a handsomely wavy-haired Brian Aherne). Fane finds “something queer” in young Master Scarlett, but likes the lad. When he learns that he is really a she, he is at first astonished by this “crowing hen,” this “freak of nature”; however, bewilderment soon turns to love. The film ends with Sylvia redonning boy’s garb and escaping to happiness on a train with Fane while the jilted Jimmy Monkley runs off with the entirely bitchy and spoiled former object of Fane’s affection, Lily.

What I most love about Sylvia Scarlett is, of course, its gender transgressiveness. There are countless superb moments, from Hepburn in drag to Fane’s “queer” line to Monkley telling the young person he thinks is a boy that they should bunk together because Sylvester will make a “proper little hot water bottle” to the scene in which Henry’s trollop of a girlfriend, the maid Maudie Tilt (deliciously overplayed by Dennie Moore) makes a pass at Sylvester (after drawing a Ronald Coleman moustache on him) and we actually see the kiss. Better, I would argue that the film goes even further. As I read it, the fey Fane cannot feign his own queer desires: it is obvious at film’s end that what he most loves about Sylvia is that she is also Sylvester.

It is not easy to find a copy of this box office super-flop. And it’s not without its clunky moments. But if you like camp and genderbending and can buy, rent, or borrow someone’s videotape (the DVD’s only out in England), you’ll be glad you did.


Is There Any Excuse for Enjoying The Andy Griffith Show?

When I was a kid and watched Cubs games on WGN in Chicago, they were almost always preceded or followed by an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, and it often popped up as the filler during mid-game rain delays. I remember so well my reaction just to hearing the opening whistled strains of the theme song and the view of Opie and his fishing pole walking beside his Pop: run to the tv and switch the channel before the show actually begins!!! It was a rather strange, gut kind of reaction, stronger than for other annoying sitcoms that might show up undesired on my screen. And it motivated me up out of my chair because we didn't have remotes in them days.

Now, I do remember a period when I felt similarly about The Three Stooges, but that changed over time and I grew to like them on occasion, especially when the shorts were interspersed with the Our Gang comedies for a Little Rascals/Three Stooges hour that I watched often after junior high/high school let out. But the loathing or anxiety or whatever it was about Andy Griffith continued long into adulthood, ending only after living in Tennessee for more than five years.

In retrospect, I know my reaction was certainly what the show seemed to represent, not the actual characters or plots. After all, I never watched the show, so immediate was my urge to get up and change the channel. The setting, I think, is what troubled me. A totally middle-class Jewish girl from the suburbs of Chicago with no connection to or interest in rural life -- and certainly nothing below the Mason-Dixon line -- The Andy Griffith Show was just hick and alien and thus for hick, alien people to watch.

Now, as someone who has been living in the South for the past 13+ years, I have come to groove on some aspects of the show, from the amazing precocious cuteness of Ron Howard's Opie to Don Knotts' superb performances to the creepy delight that is Floyd the Barber. It's fun to watch the endless rerun cycle of Andy's love affairs, from the blonde nurse whose name I forget to the sharp-minded Ellie (my favorite) to the milksop Helen Crump. And you gotta love the episodes centered on Ernest T. Bass as well as the Darling family. Superb campy comedy.

I will say I have mixed feelings about Otis Campbell. I love the actor. The humorous town drunk is not a character you're going to see much of anymore, not with the fond and tolerant way it's played on Andy Griffith. From the episode where he buys a car to the one where his brother (also a town drunk) comes to Mayberry to the one where he's given an award for his family heritage: the series can't seem to decide what to do with alcoholism, so it just ends each episode happily ever after with Otis feeling good about himself before he returns to bit part episodes where he's just walking into the cell full of pink elephants and having a lie-down, much to Barney's chagrin (and Andy's delight at Barney's chagrin).

I suppose my greatest pleasure in the series comes from the fact that my husband and I have developed a way of watching the show through pop psychology. We read Andy as an "enabler" (or rescuer). Andy keeps the status quo going beautifully in Mayberry, from the easy-going charm of it all to Otis's alcoholism to Barney's pathological overcompensation for pipsqueaky ineptitute. Episode after episode has Andy saving Barney's ass with a loving smile, excusing everything from his bungling to his powermongering and even trying to make him look more competent than he ever is. And Andy rescues and enables even when Barney's actions threaten Andy's livelihood or his very life. Given that, without a doubt, Barney is a pretty realistic and still-timely portrayal of those scary-ass small-town officers who thrive on treating others like crap to make themselves feel adequate all across this great nation of ours (wow, sounds like Dubya, don't it?), it can be downright painful to watch Andy keep puffing him up when he should remain deflated awhile...or forever.

But somehow it's addictive. The pleasure of knowing what will happen every episode, that everything will be "all right" in this safe little white Southern town... If I think too much about it, it's appalling. But just before bed it can put a ridiculous smile on my face that I shoud certainly not be admitting to.

All that said, I will say that the episodes where Aunt Bee gets a man and loses him over and over are just painful. Even worse are the later ones where she keeps ending up on television. You can mark the worst of it by the change from black-and-white to color.

Sadly, the show kept going far past its prime. Once Opie's going to school dances and we have to watch the likes of characters Howard Sprague and replacement deputy Warren Ferguson, I'm switching channels faster than when I was a kid. It's obvious what they should've done when Don Knotts quit the show: nip it in the bud!


So, what do you watch?

Television is a vast wasteland...blah blah blah. Yes, it is and we need not say much more than that sitcoms are and always have been basically pap and drivel and reality TV is exploitative and champions the suffering of others and glorifies its own hand-fashioned faux third-world poverty chic and crime drama is about artificially revitalizing ourselves from our psychic numbness and HBO is its own Tarrantinoland theme park and the soaps haven't changed much in 30 years and the "news" is an artificial construction that mostly just produces anxiety about things we cannot have any impact on or are so far distant from our daily lives that they just leave us even more numb so we just have to watch more original HBO series of swearing and violence and (bad) sex.

Nonetheless, I still watch TV. I have no intention of selling my TV or
killng it or throwing it away, even though I do share some of the glorious aims of folks like the TV Turn-off people and Adbusters and Jerry Mander and everyone who rightly talks about kids attention spans and the McDonaldization of our culture and how media violence affects us and how fat and lazy we all are.

I just use my TV strategically. First off, I use it as a screen for watching videos and DVDs. Second, I watch stuff with my son. In addition to the good-parent selections of Sesame Street and Between the Lions and occasional other educational type shows, we watch more than our fair share of kid-sized superhero stuff. I've written about that (mostly in terms of film) already, so let me just say we're seriously into Teen Titans at my house, and I do have to say I like that my son's favorite character is Raven, the moody girl with a demonic father. He's not crushed out on the cute and chipper alien chick Starfire, nor the macho Robin. He does like Cyborg, who shows some teen angst I enjoy now and then (and is another example of a black superhero on TV, so that's good), and Beastboy, who is a giant shapeshifting goofball. Yes, it's violent and full of all that's wrong with superheroism, but it's also well-drawn and witty. And gotta love Puffy Ami Yumi singing that oh-so-catchy theme song.

Our second favorite show is Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. Created by Craig McCracken, the same fella that made the annoying Powerpuff Girls, Foster's is about a foster home that takes in imaginary friends when the kids who imagined them grow up or don't want them anymore. That's just a damn sweet premise. All kinds of "hijinks" go on, but it's generally a sweet, goodhearted program, and the characters are all entirely loveable or bratty in just the same way your own kid is.

I do watch one or two adult shows. I kinda dig some of the Food Network shows for something relaxing, especially the uberlikeable Rachael Ray and the too-gross-for-America Iron Chef. Just how many times can you watch someone cook with fish eyeballs, shark fins, foie gras, or swallow's nest (made of delicious swallow spit!) without just saying enough! On other channels, my mom actually got me to watch something on Fox (no, not American Idol!). The show is House, and I recommend it for a break from the usual hospital drama fare. I used to watch Xena and Buffy weekly, but nothing of the sort since. Nothing at all.
[Note: My husband reminds me that we used to watch several shows regularly on the SciFi Channel a while back too, like First Wave and Farscape. It's not just lack of good shows that keep us from regular watching of much of anything; it's having a kid around who used to be able to be in the room and not notice what we were watching (at, say, age 2) but now sees all. We have friends who dig Smallville and I really don't even know what's on Sci Fi anymore.]

Right now, Comedy Central gets my top vote for a channel because it features the only show(s) I watch, even semi-regularly. Reno 911 is most excellent, as was The Dave Chapelle Show, and though I'm sick of it, South Park can be extremely witty and astute through (and despite) its immature grossness. The only truly good TV on the air, however, I am entirely convinced, is The Daily Show. It has its share of clunks and missed opportunities, poor interviews and trite ridicule, but it's the closest to Lefty TV we're gonna get in this corporate controlled climate full of rampant intolerance and imbecility, so I am just daily thankful for The Daily Show. (I like the occasional references to Yiddishkeit, too; thanks, Jon.)

Now it's your turn. What do you watch?