February 8, 2012

Queer Issue: Why the Baseball Hall of Fame should honor the legacy of Glenn Burke.

I have to confess that I am not the best person when it comes to publicity as I tend to feel that if an idea is good enough one should not have to polish said idea and make it shiny in order for people to realise that, yes, a good idea is a good idea and a great idea is a great idea. Of course, such idealism rarely survives for very long in the real world. Hence this post.

With regards to Glenn Burke, I came up with the idea that the Baseball Hall of Fame should honor the legacy of Glenn Burke, who was the first openly gay major league baseball player because it seemed like obviously a good idea, nay, a great idea.

This past year, I proposed to Pflag Oneonta/Otsego, the chapter that I am president of, to make petitioning the Baseball Hall of Fame to honor the legacy of Glenn Burke one of our goals. The group agreed, so here we are now. (For those not aware, the village of Cooperstown, NY which is the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, is in Otsego County.)

To date only two individuals who played Major League Baseball have come out, the other being Billy Bean, who unfortunately did not get to be played by Brad Pitt in Moneyball. Glenn Burke came out while he was playing for the Los Angelos Dodgers, and while accepted by most of his teammates, Tommy LaSorda, the Dodger Team Manager was unhappy knowing of Glenn Burkes' sexuality (along with Glenn Burke befriending LaSordas' son, Tommy LaSorda Jr.). The season immediately following his coming out, LaSorda traded Glenn Burke to the Oakland Athletics.

While entering professional baseball with great promise, Glenn Burke left it with a whimper, rather then the proverbial bang. After playing with the Oakland Athletics for a brief period, Glenn Burke suffered a knee injury and was eventually let go in 1979.

To many straight people, this story may not seem remarkable. Yet those who have had to face the choice between remaining closeted about our sexuality/gender identity or coming out, will know the difficulties inherent to Glenn Burke's situation.

In short, what I am getting at, is that it takes courage, even under the best of circumstances, to come out, even outside of the sort of macho cultures where homophobia thrives. To date, only two baseball players have come out, Glenn Burke and Billy Bean and Glenn Burke was the first, as well as the only one to come out while still playing professionally. One can only imagine, that for Glenn Burke to come out in the locker-room as he did, took extraordinary bravery.

Furthermore, Glenn Burke was instrumental in popularizing the now ubiquitous high-five greeting, used within Baseball as a means of congratulating players who just scored a home-run. In other words, it should be known that Glenn Burke, in spite of his short tenure in Baseball, was also instrumental in subtly altering the culture of Major League Baseball.

Therefore, as President of Pflag Oneonta/Otsego, I am calling on the Baseball Hall of Fame to honor the legacy of Glenn Burke by creating a permanent exhibit to memorialise his accomplishments.

February 7, 2012

Off Topic: Ayn Rand is the Anti-Christ.

Alright, The Fountain just made it's way up the Netflix que and I therefore was able to see it on Sunday. I don't want to right an actual review (there is nothing artistically worth commenting on) but I do want to say some things about it.

First, Ayn Rand's philosophy is so bizarrely irrational and self contradictory that I feel obligated to argue that Ayn Rand's The Fountain probably represents the greatest contribution of all time to American anti-intellectualism. Admittedly though, at this point I have not seen Atlas Shrugged.

There are two fundamental claims being made in The Fountanhead.

1) People should hold rational self interest above all else. No character in the film actually bothers with this so let's look at claim number 2.

2) A person's work is his own, and the only way society has advanced is thanks to the innovations of a small number individuals who were smarter and brighter than the unwashed conservative, change hating, innovation repelling masses. Furthermore, any man who refuses to compromise and lives only according to his own vision without *any* assistance or aid from anyone else is the ideal man. Also, you can blow shit up whenever things don't go your way.

I will assert that these two concepts are in direct conflict with each other and the only reason they never come into direct conflict with each other in The Fountainhead is because of the complete fantasy land Ayn Rand created for her characters to play in.

The first instance where they almost come into conflict is when Roark almost manages to sell his first architectural design but refuses to compromise in any way. I felt that Ayn Rand was having a nice little laugh during this scene and deliberately flipping a giant birdie at the very notion of rationale self interest. By being principled and uncompromising, Roark, the anti-capitalist, anti-rationale self interest poster boy, gives up an early chance at having a successful career as an architect.

This is the first time Rational Self Interest loses out to Adhering to Principled and Uncompromising Vision of the Artistic Genius. It happens later as well when Roark blows up the apartment complex that he designed but for which the design had ended up being altered by others. Again, there is no reason the man adhering only to rational self interest should do this, only a visionary, uncompromising artist would have any reason to blow it up. Again, I could very clearly hear Ayn Rand telling rationale self interest to go fuck itself.

Ultimately, this is what the conflict of The Fountainhead boils down to. Roark, the genuis architect, refusing to compromise his artistic genuis in any way and basically throwing a hissy fit and blowing shit up real good after the one time that he ends up being inadvertantly forced to comprimise his artistic vision.

So let me sum up what I found the take home message of The Fountainhead:
-Rational self interest and capitalism can suck it, because they make too many demands on the artistic vision of geniuses like Ayn Rand.
-Socialism can suck it, because the ways of being dependent on others in a socialist society are somehow, much worse than the ways capitalism makes people dependent on corporations and artistic genuises like Ayn Rand.
-Being nice to others is really bad, because contrary to what a socialist like Jesus might have preached at one point, only the rational self interest of artistic geniuses like Ayn Rand matter.

Regarding that last point, I just want to say this but Ayn Rand is clearly the anti-Christ. Not in a harbinger of the apocalypse kind of way, I just mean that her views are completely antithetical to the message of Jesus. Nietzche, who pointed to Jesus as one possible pre-model for the ubermenzche, had a more Christian message to deliver. This isn't a problem so much for Ayn Rand herself as she was an atheist. However, there is a trend I find disturbing, namely that in this day and age, many adherents of Ayn Rand (namely certain Libertarian/Republican politicians) also proclaim that we are or need to be a Christian nation. Talk about worshipping two masters.

However, while Ayn Rand was an atheist, I could not help but notice that she has Roark following a very messianic path. Roark is beset, from the beginning, by the temptation of giving into the demands of a capitalist society, yet refuses to comprimise his vision, even going so far as to work in a rock quarry. Over time, he even gains his own followers and disciples. Eventually, Roark is forced to take drastic action, in order to maintain his non-rational, non-self interest serving principles and artistic vision, which results in him being arrested and placed on trial. During this time, his darkest hour, even his followers/disciples are forced to abandon/deny him. Eventually, thanks to Roarks willingness to endure these trials and tribulations, he emerges triumphant over evil.

The difference between Roark and Jesus, is that Jesus argued for principles such as humiliaty and empathy for ones fellow man, while Roark sticks his noise in the air, and declares that he, the ever tortured artist, must make a martyr out of himself because his artistic vision is just that awsome.

February 6, 2012

Queer Review: Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

Fried Green Tomatoes
Director: Jon Avnet
Writers: Fannie Flagg and Carol Sobieski. Based upon the novel Fried Green Tomatoes At the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg.
Cast: Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Jessica Tandy, Cicely Tyson, Chris O'Donnell, Stan Shaw, Gailard Sartain

At times heartwrenching and nostalgic, Fried Green Tomatoes is a good movie that could have been great had it not made the unfortunate decision to straighten out the lesbian relationship between it's lead characters. In other words, this film represents more evidence that Hollywood is not the liberal bastion that so many proclaim it to be.

A housewife struggling with a suffocating marriage, Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates), meets and befriends Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy), a nursing home resident with a fascinating past. Ninny tells Evelyn the stories of her sister Idgie Threadgoode, a butch woman who was accused of murdering Frank Bennett (Nick Searcy), who was her partner Ruth Jamisons' (Mary-Louise Parker) former husband. Eventually Ninnys' stories help Evelyn to develop the self confidence needed to improve her own life.

The Queering
Fried Green Tomatoes walks a very thin and frustrating line. On one hand, it has perhaps the strongest lesbian subtext of any film out there. The story of Idgie and Ruth Jamison is replete with instances that make it very clear that these woman love each other far more than is normal for most friends. On the other hand, the more explicit content from Flaggs' novel was eviscerated and this is where the source of the irritation lies. There is nothing in the film that makes it clear that Idgie and Ruths' relationship goes beyond the platonic.

Had Fried Green Tomatoes come into existence without being based on previously established material, I would probably be much more willing to sing it's praises. As it is, Fried Green Tomatoes represents yet another example of Hollywooeds' hell bent crusade to straighten out any character it can get it's grubby little hands on.

Overall, the film also features some particularly fine acting and writing and manages to over up an emotionally engaging story. The four leads (Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Jessica Tandy) all offer up some of the best work of their careers. Considering the number of Oscar nominations amoung them, that is saying something. There are also many scenes are capable of moving even the most stoic amongst us to either tears or laughter. Too bad all of this talent and effort is wasted on a film that could have been so much more.

Under most circumstances, I would probably give Fried Green Tomatoes 3.5 pink triangles. Thanks to the filmmakers decision to refusal to do the right thing and to just say no to the Hollywood straightening out addiction, I cannot in good conscience rate their film so highly.

While a tasty enough menu choice in its own right, Fried Green Tomatoes serves up little more than the cinematic version of an appetiser and will otherwise leave one hungry for more wholesome and affirming queer productions.

The Rating


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

February 1, 2012

Queer Issue: Choosing to be Queer is But an Illusion.

Sometimes, as someone who majored in philosophy in college, there comes a certain times when watching certain debates play out, feels to me like watching two boxers going at but where both participants were heavily drugged and blindfolded. This is in addition to neither ever having been properly taught how to spar in the first place.

One debate which exists within the queer community that stands out in this category above all others is the discussion on whether or not one is "born" gay. The arguments of both sides tend to break down like this.

Pro: Sexuality is not a choice, we can't choose who we're going to be attracted to. The scientific evidence all points to sexuality having a genetic component. Furthermore, if sexuality is not a choice than it would mean conclusively that queer behaviour should not be outlawed at all or discriminated against in any way.

Against: Sexuality is a choice and we should not have to justify our lifestyles by claiming that it is not a choice. Furthermore, discrimination and bigotry have not ended for those groups (people of color, women, etc.) who did not choose their minority status either.

Now let me say that both arguments have flaws. Allow me to break them down.

Pro: Moral is different from natural, a mistake many people make. I have problems with the term "unnatural" as well, anything that is "unnatural" technically can't exist (or exist only in imagination). If one desires something, then that desire is natural. Furthermore, simply because one naturally desires something, does not make it moral. If I desire to kill someone who wrongs me, killing them would still be "immoral", no matter the strength or innateness of that desire. There is also a good possibility that pedophilia itself is also an innate desire. There is good reason for paedophilia to remain illegal, no matter how natural or innate the desire to have sex with children is for some individuals.

If we reduce morality to that which we naturally desire, then anything I desire becomes moral by default. It would create total chaos. I want to kill? Fine! Steal my neighbours property? That's cool! Rape and pillage? Get your freak on! Obviously there needs to be some other criteria altogether for developing morality. I'll get to one later, but that's the gist of why mere desire does not work for justifying one's behaviour.

Against: The argument that we queers should not have to justify our existence by proving that sexuality is innate has one obvious flaw - it is a normative claim and has absolutely nothing to do with the way the world is. Technically speaking, I even agree with it. In an ideal world, people would not need to justify sexual activity based upon how natural or innate their desire, but rather on the consent of all participants. This should be the criteria, nothing else.

However, I have to point out that we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a cruel and arbitrary one. There have been cases where queers have been able to pass legislation by arguing that being gay should belong to a protected class (much like race and gender). In short, there are actual benefits to being able do demonstrate that one's sexual orientation is innate, rather then a product of free will.

Which brings me to the last and most important point to all of this. There is absolutely no reason to believe that free will exists. Granted this is hardly a decided philosophical issue but it is one that is very relevant to this discussion. In order to be able to choose to be queer, then free will would need to exist in order for it to be a genuine choice. If free will does not exist, then all choices are naught but an illusion, including the choice to be queer.

I know this is an idea that most people do not like. After all, we like to think of ourselves as autonomous beings capable of changing the world around us. This desire (which is natural for any sentient being) would of course lead to one believing in that free will exists, even when it does not.

However, I believe in determinism simply because of well, all the evidence points to us living in a world that obeys a few simple rules of physics, which implies a universe with a set future. If the future is set, then we can not affect through mere application of will, it is no more complicated than that.

Add in the mounting evidence that sexual orientation does have it's roots in our genes and it becomes increasingly difficult to see how sexual orientation is a choice. I have no strong evidence to back myself up on this, but I would hazard a guess that bi, pan, and omnisexual individuals, as well as those with a fluid sexual identity, are among those who are most likely to view sexual identity as a matter of choice.

So in summary:
-There is no rule that says a natural desire means that such behaviour is moral.
-In an ideal world we should not have to prove scientifically that we exist or that being queer is not a choice in order for queers to be accepted by society. Only the consent of all participants would matter when determining the morality of a sexual act. Too bad we don't live in an ideal world.
-Given the lack of evidence for free will, therefore it is only logical to believe that being gay is not a choice by default.

All clear? Agree or disagree? Let me know!