Archive for May, 2009

Further thinking about the gay subculture

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Last week I wrote about how I see the gay subculture dying, and how it reflects a certain progress in our culture towards a lessening of the need for a distinct group for people of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered orientations.

Josh emailed me this response that I want to share. Josh coauthors Jess and Josh Talk About Stuff and has written several times about gay culture and queer theory. Here he points out a few more things to think about:

You said: “A distinct gay culture is an anachronism today.” To some extent, I think that’s true; just like the so-called hipster subculture, the gay subculture has largely been absorbed into the mainstream and lost its primary function: to provide a network and cultural identity for a marginalized, unaccepted minority. As the straights continue to embrace the gays, I think we’ll see the gay subculture decline even more.

That said, I think that it’s important to note the ways that straight (or even just mainstream) media have incorporated, manipulated, and coded “gay culture” to market to this now-accepted group of people. Bravo’s programming most certainly caters to the gays; for instance, while walking to work today I saw an ad for their supermodel contest, and two of the three figures depicted were men in various states of undress. A supermodel show advertising shirtless guys definitely isn’t marketing to straight men, and its appeal to women is questionable. There’s a book I want to read called Gay TV and Straight America (by a Becker to whom I’m not related, heh) that talks more about the ways gay culture entered the mainstream lexicon, especially through the medium of television. An excerpt of a review:

Becker demonstrates that narrowcasting — frequently cast as something unique to the era of media convergence — has actually been a common practice in consumer culture, generally, and the television industry, specifically. And that happened well before the television audience erosion that characterized the late 1980s and early 1990s. Using trade press and economic scholarship, Becker details how the peculiarities of the post-Fordist U.S. economy, particularly the aims of the advertising industry, made targeted marketing an increasingly central part of the U.S. economic landscape from the 1970s on. And not just any kind of targeted marking, but particularly methods that focused on psychographic appeals to consumers. Becker meticulously examines the impact that these kinds of marketing strategies had on television via accounts in the medium’s trade press, scholarship on advertising, and various interviews with people working in those industries.

And the continued economic stability (and, in some cases, success) of the gay nightlife industry in the midst of the current recession points to at least a inkling of a “gay bubble,” by which gay consumers–the “pink dollar” or whatever it’s called–are able to maintain their lifestyles in spite of, and perhaps in response to, larger socioeconomic trends.

My point is that I don’t think the gay subculture has ceased to exist; rather, it’s been continuously used, incorporated into, and (as a cynic might argue) perhaps exploited by straight media channels. It’s easy to assume total media assimilation, but as the recent Miss California scandal and broader gay marriage debate have shown, there is still a big leap between what mainstream America is comfortable with, in terms of gay culture, and what we’d like to see mainstream America be comfortable with, and as long as that divide exists, a gay subculture will have its place in society.

Housecleaning Note: Short Stories and Budaeli Fiction

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

I’ve decided to shut down Budaeli Fiction as a separate site and publish all my short stories on this blog. There is no reason to maintain two sites when most people only stumble upon this one.

If you’re affected by this change, that must mean you’ve read my short stories, therefore you rock! Also, comments, all one of them, have been moved too.

Here are the new links to the three published short stories:

As the number of stories increases I’ll create a separate archives page to separate the stories by genre and subject matter.

Short Story: “Where Little Bluebirds Fly”

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Teaser: Sometimes you have to trust your instincts with love, even if it puts you out of your comfort zone. Two men find that out the hard way.

“Two years ago,” puff, “I never would have fit in this dress.” Puff, “Now I’m about to go onstage and my belly rolls are ready to fall into the audience again.”

Another drag on the cigarette, and put out with the sole of a red shoe.

Michael adjusted his wig. “It’s time to show these kids how it’s done.”

 

He sang “I Will Never Turn My Back On You” and after chatting with his friends, went to the bar to catch up on his drinks while they left to make an appearance at another party before coming back to close the bar.

A guy from the audience sat next to Michael and ordered a drink. “I never expected anyone to sing a Big Maybelle song,” he said.

Michael looks at him. “I always go for the songs that make the old queens cry. Did you?”

“Did I cry? No because it’s a happy song and you sang it well, but good jab at my age. I was also surprised you sang it instead of lip-syncing.”

“I’d rather do it my way than have to put on black face. Besides, I don’t need to give people another reason to hit me.” They both laughed.

The bar gets crowded and Isaac invites Michael to to a booth. “As much as I love playing dress up, this dress has to come off before it pops off by its own volition,” Michael says. 

“Well when you’re done changing there’ll be another drink for you at that booth. I’m Isaac, by the way.”

“Michael,” he says, finishes his drink and goes back to the changing room.

The regular performers left the changing room for their normal nightly set, so he had the place to himself. He sat down and tried to decide whether he should leave or go back and talk to Isaac. A free drink was always a good excuse but he was afraid of talking to this guy, especially since he seemed genuinely nice. If he were an asshole it would be more fun because Michael could make a game of it. Isaac wasn’t bad looking, but he wasn’t hot – yet what right had Michael to be picky? He thought briefly on his last relationship, a year ago, to a somewhat attractive bastard who always treated him like shit and more like a confession booth than a lover.

He changed, removed the makeup, and spent ten minutes at the mirror getting the nerve to go back. When he went back to the bar, Isaac was by himself in a booth and a bartender was just bringing out a drink for Michael. Michael sits a safe distance from Isaac. Neither talks for several minutes, but both are trying to figure out what to say first.

Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf? Virginia Wolf? Virginia Wolf?” Michael mock sings. This is what he does whenever he’s nervous and with strangers.

“What?”

“Oh nothing, just a joke.”

“It’s a great play,” Isaac says.

“You’ve seen Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” Michael asks.

“Certainly. It taught me how to have all-night conversations.”

“Jesus. I bet you get punched every night then.”

“No but I usually lie and say I have a son,” Isaac says. They both laugh.

Isaac asks, “Do you perform here much?”

“Only on open-mike nights and only when I can’t resist the urge to dress like a woman in front of other people – not that that’s my thing. I mean-”

“Sure.”

“No! Look, I enjoy the dress-up part. It’s just I can hide behind the dress and wig and makeup.”

“All for one song? And then as soon as you get an admirer you run off and change? Some queen you are.”

Michael sizes him up. “You look quite the straight to me, or do you dress up in private and say things like ‘it rubs the lotion on the skin?’”

“You know I never thought the first guy I meet who’s nicer to me in drag could figure it out, but yeah, no one will let me have a sex change so I’ll have to do it myself with other women’s skins.”

“Well at least you’re not a cannibal.”

They both sit in silence for a few minutes as they watch a couple at the bar.

“God. Straight people are weird,” Michael says.

“I hear it’s more common than what we do,” Isaac says.

“Gross. But look at them. Let’s say they defy the odds, get married, and live together for years and years. I bet they’ll be miserable. Yet that’s what they both want.”

“You’re not much of a people person, are you?”

“I’d rather eat them and talk to my cat.”

“At least you’re not straight and crazy. That would be just weird.”

“What’s with the assumptions buddy? Just because I sing rhythm and blues in a flattering halter top doesn’t mean I’m gay,” Michael says.

“Does that mean I can ignore your ‘straight people are weird’ comment?” Isaac says.

“Ass.”

Michael’s friends come back and stand by the door, staring at Isaac.

“I’ve got to go.”

Isaac holds out his hand. “Thanks for the company,” he says. “Hopefully I’ll see you soon.”

Michael shakes his hand, says, “Yeah I hope so too,” and leaves.

 

“Ooooo, who was that?” one of Michael’s friends asks once they’re outside the bar.

“Oh that guy?” Michael said. “That was Isaac. Just. A. Guy.”

“You two friends or what?” 

Michael hates being interrogated by his friends.

“We just met. It’s no big deal, he’s just a nice guy.”

“Well why don’t you go back and talk to him? Your love life is more important than us right now.”

“I’m sorry miss but aren’t we all heading to free booze? I don’t care if it’s rubbing alcohol. I need my medication, ladies.” 

They locked arms and skipped down the street, singing. Michael kept thinking about Isaac and regretted not going back, but relieved that he escaped the almost overpowering awkwardness.

 

The next morning, Michael lay in bed, thinking. Everyone else is in a relationship, or at least successful at appearing that way, he thought. So why couldn’t he find someone. Hell, Isaac would do – Michael didn’t find him attractive, but he kept up with the references. No one does that – except Michael – and they weren’t even that obscure.

Perhaps that was what he was doing wrong: going after people he thought he liked but who turned out to be dull or dilettantish. Even worse were the hopelessly stereotypical. Oh god, he thought, people even think that of me. Did Isaac think I was some dime-a-dozen fag? There was now no reason Michael would allow that could get him out of bed.

On days when he is alone, Michael daydreams. He imagines a better place – an alternate ending, not a fantasy otherworld. In this world, he grows old with a guy who quietly loves Michael for who he is and asks no questions. Today he saw Isaac. Isaac, in bed, on any normal day, waking up to go to work (he was a nerdy engineer and they would laugh about how they couldn’t understand each other’s terminology). Here, Michael is a celebrated movie critic known for his wit and clever puns – and he gets up much later and works from home. Sometimes Isaac will go into work late and they’ll make love and neglect to feed their dogs and laugh about their silly carelessness.

Michael stopped. He knew that as happy as he could make the imaginary future, its impact on the present only succeeded in making him unhappy and incapable of fulfilling his dreams. That’s what he told his therapist, and he believed it for the first time.

He snuck out of the bedroom and made himself breakfast, ran back to his room, and tried to find a movie that would make him happy that he hadn’t already memorized. He passed on Nights of Cabiria and settled on Holiday. Cary Grant always made him happy. But the happy ending of the movie failed in its intention.

 

Isaac spends Saturday morning going out for a walk. Some people sleep on their decisions or problems, he just has to walk through the neighborhood. He wishes he could meet more people like Michael. Beneath the stereotypical surface is someone who is a real person. Maybe everyone is like that and I just surround myself with the phonies, he thinks. Eventually he thinks about more pressing matters.

 

The party that night was going to be about half people that Michael knew and half people he didn’t know. He didn’t want to go to any party that night but he promised his friends he’d go; there’d be free booze so at least he’d have something to look forward to. He also had an obligation to go because of the host. The more he drank the lower his inhibitions went and the better his insults became, which was a popular entertainment with his friends.

He got ready, fixing his hair, washing his face, and fretting over what to wear that will be flashy enough to distract without insulting his sensibilities. No wonder people think I’m the biggest asshole they know, he thinks as he picks out an outfit. Getting buzzed on white wine played a big part in the preparations.

Isaac was at the party early. He was a good friend of the host’s and helped set up. He spent most of the early evening listening to out-of-towners talk about their lives and chatting with the host. When the party got really going he went out on the balcony with the smokers. Isaac felt more comfortable with smokers. He figures it has to do with how the same kind of person that would take up smoking takes bigger risks and is very likely more interesting.

 

Michael is in his element at the party. He spits out his comments exactly how his friends expect.

“The asylum doesn’t let me out much. I tend to make jokes about raping small animals and the bums complain en masse.”

“Your music is alright, but I’ll wait for the cover band.”

“Those shoes are wonderful. I think the Pope wears the same kind. Have you thought about a career as a drag queen for god? I have, but I like my men butch and not twelve.”

“Hey bud, I’m not sure who your audience is, but we’ve all heard your stand up set before, and done better, by Dane Cook. And we don’t think he’s a comedian. So are you going to continue, because I need another drink.”

“You two are achingly lovely! You know it’s the shouting ‘till your hoarse together that make perfect relationships. No, I didn’t say that.”

Half an hour after arriving he spotted Isaac sitting in a chair surrounded by several people. Michael stared, which got the attention of his friends.

“There he is!” said one.

“He’s much better looking in this light,” said another.

“Hey! That’s my man you’re talking about!” Michael said.

“Well go over and talk to him.”

“I’ll need your support. First, get me a full bottle of vodka,” Michael said.

“Get it yourself while talking to him. What was his name again?”

Isaac didn’t see Michael, or at least it didn’t look like it, as he was talking with someone. Michael walked over slowly, acting casually to try and look natural…but he loses his confidence and walks past the chair with Isaac, goes to the kitchen and fixes himself another drink, a stiff one. The whole bottle of vodka, if no one will notice, he thinks. In the kitchen, he grips the countertop and leans over the sink. He wants to vomit from the nervousness and fear of talking to Isaac. The idealized daydream is replaying in his mind, but it only makes him more afraid of saying the wrong thing. Who cares, right? he thinks, he still might be a bastard.

He takes a deep breath, lets go of the countertop and makes himself a drink – gin, straight up. Finished, he spins around and walks right into Isaac, freaking Michael out so much he throws his drink up and it falls into the sink. Michael is thankful he doesn’t shriek.

Now red in the face, he looks at the drink and looks at Isaac. Isaac says hi, asks if he’s all right. Michael doesn’t respond. Isaac offers to make his drink again. Michael nods. “What was it?” Isaac says. “Gin and two ice cubes.” Isaac looks at Michael then grins and pours two gin on ice. 

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. You weren’t drinking gin last night but I’m not surprised now,” Isaac says.

Michael couldn’t think of a comeback. Part of him was glad for that.

They go out to the balcony. Michael offers a cigarette and Isaac declines, explains his theory about smokers, mentions he likes the way it looks, and almost takes a cigarette. They talk about the people at the party, Isaac explains how he knows the host, Jen, and they look out on the city.

“I’ve heard that you’re quite the coffee table book at parties,” Isaac says. “Jen told me of some of her favorite stories of you. I’m surprised you haven’t insulted me like that yet.”

“I’m saving up to knock you down later. Insert sports analogy here. Boxing or something.” Michael pauses to gather his courage to ask the question, “What do you think of Annie Hall?”

“What do I think of Annie Hall?”

“Yeah. But think about it for a moment, I’m going to get more drinks. I thought I saw some lemon juice.”

Michael leaves to fix Tom Collins for both of them. On the balcony, Isaac listens in on another conversation, which is entirely about who’s sleeping with whom, and Isaac starts to get bored as Michael comes back with the drinks.

“So? Annie Hall?” Michael asks.

“Yeah what about it?”

“Tell me what you think about Annie Hall. Did you like it?”

“Yeah, it’s great. Why are you asking me about Annie Hall? Is this a set up?”

“I like to know what other people think about it,” Michael says.

“You’re stranger than I thought. Tell me, what does my response to this mythic tale portend?”

“Forget I said anything about it. I asked Jen about you-”

“No. Annie Hall. Now,” said Isaac.

“It’s nothing. Really. I just, it’s just this thing,” Michael sighs and looks away. “Normally I can’t stand anyone who doesn’t like the movie. It’s like a Rorschach test, you know. Only bastards hate the movie. Bastards with no taste. Now forget it, it’s just a thing I do and I learned it from someone else.”

Isaac looks at Michael who’s looking away. He realizes Michael’s sloppy answer is about something else entirely, so he drops the topic and resists asking Michael why he’s not living up to his reputation as having a sharp way with words.

“What did Jen say?” Isaac asks.

“Oh. Yeah, so I talked with Jen,” Michael says. “She says you two know each other from school or something. And you’re a programmer? Funny, I thought you were an engineer.”

“You could think of it the same way.”

“Yeah I guess so…”

“What else did she tell you? Did she tell you that I hate writing code? Did she tell you that I’m probably going to have to go back to school to learn something else to do?”

“No but it’s good to know I’m not the only one miserable with my career path. I edit copy for other people,” Michael says.

“What an interesting way to put that.”

“Other people’s writing unnerves me. Reading something finished under the pretense of being published is one thing, but the nearly-finished is so jarring I have to fight back the urge of destroying the document by any means necessary. There are always the wrong words, the insane sentence structures. But it’s the dialogue that’s the worst. No one ever writes conversations like people really talk.”

“I bet you’re a writer. Are you a writer?”

“I play-write.”

“Oh that’s good.”

“Let’s not talk about this.”

“Okay.”

They stand there looking at their drinks. Michael finishes off his drink, grabs Isaac’s half-drunk glass and gets more. Isaac listens in on the other conversations again on the balcony but decides not to join.

Their conversation lasts for hours. Neither wants the talking to stop but won’t say the real reason. Isaac is being polite, and Michael is scared, even if that’s not how it feels to him. Neither will remember what they talk about, but they learned how to be comfortable in each other’s company.

 

Several of Michael’s friends went home with some other people, one went to another party, and another one decided to get a cab and left Michael on his own, so he kept drinking. Isaac tried to find those friends but ended up helping him home. On the way back, Michael kept talking, mostly about how nice Isaac was and how kind and how he should cut the crap about trying to not be confrontational and really give in to a good argument, because he likes that. Isaac just smiled and didn’t say anything.

Isaac carried him up the stairs, and they sat together on the couch in silence for a few minutes. Michael got up and went to his computer, played “Ooh La La” and pulled Isaac up to dance. After a few more songs, Michael fell asleep and Isaac carried him to his bed. Isaac slept out on the couch.

 

Michael awoke slowly and in fits. He had an overpowering headache, an upset stomach, and an aversion to the morning light from the open window. And he thought wait. I never leave the window open. Why is the door open? I can’t sleep without the door closed. Moments later he figured it out:

Someone else had brought him home. 

He had to know who brought him home. It overrode any rational desire to deal with the hangover. He crawled out of bed onto the floor and slowly dragged himself to the bedroom door.

From the doorframe could look into the living room. Hanging from the side of the couch were two feet. Two gorgeous feet. When the feet rubbed together and their owner shifted on the couch Michael shot back into the room.

Fighting the urge to crawl back into bed, his curiosity took over and he had to see who was sleeping on the couch. But the only way to enter the room was in the form of someone who knew the score and was unconcerned that there was a guy who spent the night in his living room. But there was a guy in his living room! Even if he couldn’t remember doing anything last night yet, that guy, whoever he was, made him forget the aching.

He stood up. He grabbed the dresser for support. After practicing walking and holding his head as if he had a violent headache (which was true anyway, but it was the acting that counted), Michael walked into the living room. He walked slowly, enough to get a good look at the guy, but fast enough to not appear to be nosy.

Just as he got in position to get a good look, Isaac opened his eyes and smiled. “Good morning.”

“Hi,” Michael said. He continued his path to the sink. As he filled up a glass with water he briefly noted that the sink was empty and that conflicted with his last memory of standing there.

Isaac stretched and sat up in the couch to face towards the kitchen. “How are you feeling?” he asked.

“It feels like my body could collapse and form a black hole. So…why are you here? Did you bring me home?” Michael said.

“Yeah,” Isaac said. “Your friends had left and the party was dying out and you could barely walk. So I took you home.”

“That wasn’t necessary,” said Michael.

“Yes it was. You could barely walk. How you danced I’ll never know.”

“What?” Michael says. “Hey I’ve stumbled home many times before. I’m an expert at drunken navigation. Don’t be so chivalric. You don’t have to be nice to me out of pity or whatever you’re trying to do. The only one who can pity me is the only one who can insult me, and you’re looking at him.”

“I’m not. And pity? If I’m nice to you it’s because I want to be nice, not because-”

“Because what? I stopped taking bullshit from guys like you years ago-”

“This isn’t bullshit-”

“Yes it is. I wish guys would stop being nice just so they can feel good about helping me out. It’s the fake hope that I can’t stand.”

“Hey you’re hungover, I’m hungover, our nerves are a little raw right now. How about we go back to sleep and we’ll talk this over brunch…or lunch…or dinner…my head hurts,” Isaac said.

“This has nothing to do with my hangover! Stop acting with me, Isaac. It’s unflattering.”

“I think it’s time for me to go.” Isaac grabbed his watch and phone and walked to the door, followed closely by Michael.

Michael opened the door. “I’ll see you,” Isaac said. “Bye,” said Michael. He closed the door. Locked the door. Leaned against the door and sat down. He realized what he had just let get away, but his mind had no concrete thoughts that he could verbalize. He thought about Isaac and how he was never mean or deceitful and that’s when he almost cried. But Michael didn’t cry.

He got dressed and left to go meet his friends at the diner for lunch. Slowly, the events of the night before came back to him. On the walk there he felt the presence of everyone else and their happy lives and he cried. He ran back to the apartment and texted his friends that he couldn’t make it to lunch. They’ll all think I got lucky, he thought, but he didn’t care. 

 

A few months later, Michael was walking down a street and he thought he saw Isaac on the other side. He stepped into an alley for a better view. Isaac was having lunch with another guy at a restaurant’s patio. Michael wanted to say hi, to try and regain a little bit of decency after how they parted.

He crossed the street and walked towards the restaurant. He could see Isaac’s face, and he remembered why the sink was clean: Michael had thrown up in the sink when he got home that night. Isaac must have cleaned up after him. Michael turned around and walked away, almost.

Isaac saw Michael just as he turned around. Isaac stopped mid-drink.

“What’s the matter?” his boyfriend asked.

“I just saw a guy who got away.” Isaac said and immediately regretted letting Michael go.

You aren’t the same person you were a second ago

Friday, May 15th, 2009

I’m standing on a piece of land with a lake on one side and a river on the other. If I put my foot in the lake, the water only moves to displace my new presence. But when I put my foot in the river, there’s new water every instant replacing what was there when I first entered. Life, the universe, and everything is like the river. Even the lake.

Impermanence is about the only thing anyone can count on from birth to death. It’s the source of most of our pain, both physical and mental. It can force people to relive the past, dream about the future, or exist in the present, but it’s the latter that we’re all doing anyway. The river is rushing by us without stop and we have two options: we can move to the shoulder of the river that’s calm and slow moving, or we can let the current take us down stream. We can try and go upstream – but in this river, there are no boats, flappers, or anything to help us but ourselves and the water. Eventually we’ll tire of trying to fight the current and go along with everything else.

As with any analogy, life is more complicated than being a giant river. There are choices, opportunities, and the incessant messiness of being alive. And unlike a river, nothing is predestined – there is no single direction or destination, save for death. There’s a scene in the movie Synecdoche, New York where an actor playing a priest at a funeral gives a speech that explains this better than I can (I’m including the passage in its entirety because the entire message is important):

Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you’ll never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it’s what you create. Even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn’t really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along. Something to make you feel connected, to make you feel whole, to make you feel loved. And the truth is I’m so angry and the truth is I’m so fucking sad, and the truth is I’ve been so fucking hurt for so fucking long and for just as long have been pretending I’m OK, just to get along, just for, I don’t know why, maybe because no one wants to hear about my misery, because they have their own, and their own is too overwhelming to allow them to listen to or care about mine. Well, fuck everybody. Amen. 

That’s life, well aspects of it. The only thing I can add is that the negativity and sadness of life as embraced in that passage can be countered with a special kind of happiness. This is the happiness that comes from being alive and being conscious enough to get to experience the whole thing. You may be suffering; hell, we’re all suffering for one reason or another, but being able to feel the suffering and still be alive is better than to not exist.

I’ve always understood impermanence as an intellectual concept, but only felt its realness in short bursts. However I can see a vast difference from the person I was two months ago (about when I lost my job) who I am right now writing this post. The change is even clearer when reading this blog and my two finished short stories.* My understanding of Twitter is not the same as when I last wrote about it. I no longer think Bloc Party’s album Intimacy is as good anymore. I’m not the same person who wrote those. A piece of him is still here guiding my understanding of all the new things happening to me. But as of this moment I am something new, and by the time you read this I’ll be someone else, riding the river’s current just happy that I get to go along for the ride.

*Trust me, I know those stories are bad. I’d tell you about my struggle to finish the next story, but it’d be better to just finish the next damn story.**

**And working on a better footnote system.

Saturday Night Fever

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Saturday Night Fever

It’s not about the music. It’s not about the clothes.

It’s all about the bridge.

Saturday Night Fever should have been a throwaway movie about a fad. Instead it uses the disco scene as a backdrop to the universal story of someone trying to escape to something better. Tony Manero is stuck in a place where his parents have one vision of what he should be (like his older brother, a priest who ends up leaving the clergy, well on his own path) while finding happiness only when he’s dancing and no way to translate his drive for that into other parts of his life. He has friends who are racist, misogynist, and homophobic – though I suspect that comes from their frustration of being locked in by a perceived lack of opportunities. That’s certainly the case for Tony – he wants something more than a job at a paint store and living with his parents. Enter the bridge.

Tales of yearning play a major role in American culture. Ever since the days when someone actually had the ability to move out West and start over with a clean slate and make something of themselves, we’ve been raised that everyone has the opportunity to be successful. To Americans, there will always be an open West waiting for those with the determination to exploit its riches.

In Saturday Night Fever, the West is Manhattan and the journey is the bridges crossing the East River. Tony understands this almost before he is consciously aware of it. There is a scene where he effortlessly recites trivia about the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge* as if he’s been quietly saving up whatever knowledge might be needed for the day he crosses a bridge and moves onto a new life. He knows he has to leave, and it takes a certain tiredness, and a girl, for him to go.

My life doesn’t even come close to paralleling that of anything represented in Saturday Night Fever, except for the urge to leave home. Even if I can’t say I’ve accomplished anything significant yet, the act of leaving Iowa and coming to Boston was one of the most important events in my life and was necessary for my own personal journey.

I had to cross the bridge.

 

There are plenty of other interesting things about the movie, and I suggest you read Roger Ebert’s original review and his revisit for the addition to his Great Movies list.

Other interesting things to note:

  • This film came out in 1977, a crazy year for New York City. A heat wave, a crime wave, Son of Sam, a blackout, and a World Series. For a first-hand account, I highly recommend Michele’s (aka @abigvictorytale of her experience that summer. She also has a great story about being on the rock side of the Disco wars.
  • The much-parodied opening sequence of Tony walking down the street is exactly how you introduce a character like Tony in a movie- we learn that he’s always showing off his good looks and style, is really trying to use the moves to pick up women, yet he works at a paint store.
  • Also, we’ve all done that walk. Feel free to use any music, but “Stayin’ Alive” is always the best choice for strutting down the street.

*This is a bridge that goes to Staten Island and not Manhattan, which makes no sense in the context of the movie. The only reason I can think that it was used for the shot was because it’s a nice shot and is the same bridge used in several other scenes.

The dying of the gay subculture (and why it’s a good thing)

Monday, May 11th, 2009

There really is a gaydar. The mistake that everyone makes though is that clues to a person’s sexuality can be gleaned from the way a person walks or talks or what clothes they wear.* Using those visual cues works only for those who are a part of the gay subculture. The home of musicals, dance music, and fashion consciousness infused with effiminancy and a non-sexual love of women. It was a place where gays could belong without being as harshly judged by bigots, and as a identity with which to find other gays. That culture is slowly going away as a distinct group, and that’s a good thing.

A distinct gay culture is an anachronism today. We’re living in the beginning of an age of marriage equality, where government accepts and provides support for one of the most common social constructs among humans, long-term monogamous relationships. There have always been heterosexuals who never had a problem with their gay brothers and sisters, but it’s increasingly becoming more acceptable to be openly and vocally supportive for their rights.

Some will lament this subculture’s passing, especially those who grew up to identify closely with it. However groups like this should be based around common interests and beliefs, not sexual orientation. If this subculture morphs into something that less aligned with a perceived gay lifestyle, it has a more legitimate reason to exist. This is already happening, with the unintended consequence of straight people having their sexuality questioned just because they like musicals or dance music or have a flair for design.

What this really means is that gays are becoming a more tolerated and even celebrated part of the greater society. The voices of hatred for those who are different is being drowned out by reason and tolerance. The most visible representation of this change is the counter-protests to the Westboro Baptist Church.

There still needs to be support systems for people coming to terms with their sexuality, but the need to belong to a specific social group is no longer necessary. It’s a good time to be gay and not want to fit any old-fashioned stereotypes.

And now for some random pieces of gay cultural history I’m itching to share (and they provide some extra perspective):

Judy Garland had a large gay following not just because she was a great singer, but the pain that she felt could be heard in her singing and she was a voice for the unhappiness most repressed gays felt.** Most of the effiminacy of gays from the 40s through the 60s can be attributed to gay portrayals in movies*** – gays could only appear as comedic elements or heavily coded to pass the censors. For a boy growing up in a small town with few visible role models, the movies were often the only way for many to find their identity.

Twentieth century gay subculture was defined by several important events: the Pansy Craze of the late 20s and 30s, World War II (it was the first time many gays discovered there were others like them, and the subsequent conservatism following the war brought invigorated repression), the political activism of the 60s and 70s, and the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. A set of slang, symbols, and philosophy of life developed that created a unified gay identity. This was crucial because of the cruel way American society treated gays and lesbians during the period; by having such a group to belong, it created a tremendous support system for a group of people trying to shake off the commonly-held belief that their sexuality meant there was something wrong with them. It was also an identity to align with, one that accepted people openly and judged more on their actions than expectations.

*So how does the gaydar really work? It comes down to non-verbal cues like where someone’s wandering eyes follow or facial expressions in relation to certain topics discussed, as well as verbal cues – the most obvious is the ‘pronoun game’ but there are others like an absence of certain topics (like chasing girls). Of course the easiest way to tell if someone is gay is to ask them and they give a straight answer (no pun intended) or you see them having sex with someone of the same sex, like yourself.

**If you haven’t heard any of Judy Garland’s later recordings, I suggest you check out Judy at Carnegie Hall or any of her later recordings of “Over the Rainbow” – the heartbreak is so strong it never fails to get me teary-eyed.

***For an overview of portrayal of gays and lesbians in movies, check out the great documentary Celluloid Closet.

I can’t tell stories

Friday, May 8th, 2009

There is something about remembering a joke or telling a carefully crafted tale, that my mind mangles and the result is either I am perceived as a bad storyteller, or I wind up with a new creation only vaguely related to the original concept. On occasion, I’ll recite a poorly-remembered quote or joke or song or whatever I felt worth committing to memory for the purpose sharing: the result is better than the original. The more common result is a joke with no punchline, a story with no outcome or piece of interest to the listener, or singing that has little resemblance to anything recognizable to anyone else but my own.

What I suspect is happening: whatever thought is committed to memory is only added in fragments, often only the most interesting or most unique bits. When retold, my mind fills in the blanks the same way it might take care of a blind spot on the eye. Then it just comes out of my mouth (if I write the thought down I have more time to better fill in the holes or do the research necessary). 

I have tried to either fix this malfunction or find a way to use it to my advantage. One major hindrance is the tangled methods my memory associates things. Tangents come easy to me because I link memories in an arbitrary fashion. The way the sunlight looks through a window may remind me of a song I heard that was tinged with melancholy, or the way someone talks about a movie triggers some story I want to tell about some crazy person I saw on the street. Neither of which has an obvious connection to the trigger.

Also, I lack the skill of attribution. Unless the source is built into the thought or is from someone or something which I consciously try to remember (such as a friend or favorite artist), there’s little hope that any of that information will be remembered.

To change how I think is nearly impossible and filled with unforeseen consequences. I accept who I have become and think that any attempt to consciously change who you are, especially when it’s a skill or trait that runs deep, is always the worse choice. This is the biggest flaw of any self-help advice on living one’s life.*

Which leaves making an inability to re-tell stories an advantage. One way is to write fiction. I’m finishing and posting stories that are built from the half-remembered ideas that clog my memories. But that project is hindered by another of my hang-ups: self-doubt. But self-doubt is often disarmed when met with action. My first reaction to an upcoming new experience is fear, which usually goes away immediately after the event has begun.

Perhaps self-doubt is what this post is really about.

*My rule for any self-help books is that if it’s younger than 100 years then it’s not worth reading. A good judge of great work is time, and when it comes to advice on how to live one’s life, the longevity of an idea is very important. I may talk about this in a later post.