Friday, June 27, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mr. GayProf

Now that I have recovered from my throat eating bacterial infection, I can think of more pleasant things. And what is more pleasant than my birthday? Yes, this weekend GayProf’s odometer rolls over to 34.

I find it hard to believe my birthday is already here. Where has the summer gone? Oh, right – The Never Ending Research Project of Doom and illness. Hey, it can’t all be sunshine and lollipops.

As is tradition at CoG, it’s time to break out the ol’ subjunctive mood. Let’s measure my life against where other people were at the same age. :

    If I were Jacqueline Kennedy at age thirty-four, I would have moved out of the White House last year following the untimely death of my husband.

    If I were John F. Kennedy, I would currently be serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. I would meet Jacqueline Bouvier next year.

    If I were Jesus at age thirty-four, I would have been dead for one year.

    If I were Mary Richards at age thirty-four, I would have moved to Minneapolis four years ago. It would be abundantly clear that I was going to make it after all.

    If I were Cher, this would be the year that I formed the doomed band Black Rose. It would be two years before I starred in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean on Broadway.

    If I were James Dean, I would have been dead for ten years.

    If I were Cleopatra VII, I would be Queen of Egypt and Cyprus.

    If I were Julius Caesar, it would be another sixteen years before I would meet Cleopatra VII.

    If I were Mark Antony, it would be another seven years before I started an affair with Cleopatra VII.

    If I were Montgomery Clift, I would be enjoying critical acclaim for my role in From Here to Eternity. In two years, I will smash my car into a telephone pole and disfigure my face.

    If I were Pancho Villa at age thirty four, I would become provisional governor of Chihuahua in the midst of the Mexican Revolution. It would be another three years before I decided to launch an attack on New Mexico.

    If I were Harvey Milk, it would be another 13 years before I became the first openly gay elected official in a major U.S. city.

    If I were Miguel Otero, II, it would be another three years before I became the first Mexican American governor in the U.S. (Appointed to govern New Mexico)

    If I were Ezequiel Cabeza De Baca, it would be another nineteen years before I became the first elected Mexican-American governor in the U.S. (Serving New Mexico).

    If I were Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo, I would be the District Attorney of El Paso. It would be another thirty-five years before I became the first Mexican American elected to serve in the U.S. Senate (for the State of New Mexico).

    If I were Saint Anthony of Padua, I would currently be serving in the papal court of Gregory IX. I would only have another two years to live.

    If I were Che Guevara at age thirty four, I would be a key figure in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    If I were Marilyn Monroe, this would be the year that I shot my last full film, The Misfits.

    If I were George W. Bush, I would be a major failure and an embarrassment to all of humanity (this is true at any age).

    If I were Kate Jackson, I would have left Charlie’s Angels four years ago. It would be another year before I starred in Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

    If I were Farrah Fawcett, I would have left Charlie’s Angels four years ago. It would be another three years before I made the Burning Bed.

    If I were Jaclyn Smith, this would be my last year on Charlie’s Angels. I would be the only one of the original three to stay through the show in its entirety.

    If I were Barbie, this would be the year that I declared “Math class is tough.”

    If I were Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, I would be under heavy pressure to abdicate my fabricated claim to a fabricated throne. France would also withdraw its military support. This would therefore be my last year alive.

    If I were Barack Obama, I would currently be working as a Civil Rights attorney in Chicago, Illinois.

    If I were either of my parents, I would already have three children. The youngest would be six years old (who would later grow up to be the most desirable man on the blogosphere).

    If I were Queen Elizabeth I of England, this would be the year that I imprison Mary, Queen of Scots.

    If I were Diego de la Vega, I would have been fighting injustice as Zorro for a full decade.

    If I were Dolly Parton, I would have three number-one songs on the chart this year: “Starting Over,” “Old Flames,” and “9 to 5.” The last would be nominated for an Oscar.

    If I were Billie Holiday, it would have been two years since I was convicted on drug charges. I would be banned from performing anywhere in New York for the rest of my life. It would be another five years before I decided to tour Europe, where I was much more appreciated than in the U.S.

    If I were GayProf, I would have finished my first year at Big Midwestern University and be working on the Never Ending Research Project of Doom – still. Oh, wait, I am GayProf.

    If I were Lupe Vélez, I would be at the height of my popularity in the U.S. as the star of the “Mexican Spitfire” films of the 1940s. I would commit suicide in two years.

    If the people want me to be President of the United States, it will still be another year before that will be allowed by the Constitution. I can be named Supreme Emperor at any time.

    If I were Eva Perón, I would have been dead for one year. Argentina may or may not have been crying for me.

    If I were Wonder Woman, I would age another 2,457 years before joining Patriarch’s world to fight crime.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Death Comes to the Arch-GayProf

Okay, maybe not literally death. Still, this past week I have battled strep throat. It might not have been the most ill I have ever been in my life (that would be an e-coli infection I once had), but it was still quite unpleasant.

Sometime last Saturday, the swelling got to the point that I felt like I was choking on my own throat. My tonsils grew to the size of robin eggs. I don't mean the bird, either, I mean Burt Ward.

Before this, I didn’t even know where my tonsils were. I always thought tonsils were some mythical invention created as a plot device for television shows like The Brady Bunch. It turns out they are real and they react badly when infected with bacteria. Even with antibiotics, my body has taken ten days to fight off the infection.

Of course, this was perfect timing for work on the Never Ending Research Project of Doom. Why not lose several precious days to make really sure that it is never ending? Then again, the pain and fever kinda made the NERPD seem like a low priority.

Something else about strep? I couldn’t sleep – at all. The pain was too severe. This left me looking to sweet, sweet television to soothe the pain. Let me tell you, there is absolutely nothing on at three in the morning, except the occasional rerun of Roseanne and infomercials for “magic” towels that soak up twice their weight in water. I think that I might have ordered two in a fit of fever.

Falling asleep worried me anyway because I feared that my throat would swell shut and then I would die. Being on the macabre side, I then wondered what my obituary would look like. I am pretty sure it would be along the lines of this:

    GayProf, the most desirable man on the blogosphere, died of a super strain of throat-eating bacteria yesterday in his cottage in Midwestern Funky Town. He was thirty-three – the same age as Jesus when he died. Many people are already drawing the parallels.

    GayProf was unsuccessfully treated by doctors with a round of antibiotics, proving his parents’ proclamations from his childhood that doctors didn’t do anything and weren’t worth the waste of money. It is said that he had only visited a doctor’s office around a dozen times in his entire life.

    In recent months, GayProf lived in quasi-seclusion as he worked on the brilliant, but unfinished, Never Ending Research Project of Doom. Some people suggested that his blog, the vehicle of his tremendous fame and popularity, had suffered as a result. A few even stated flatly that he should really “pull the plug” on it. “What CoG needs,” one friend recently told him, “is a bullet.” He probably feels very guilty for that now.

    Although he was one of the most adored bloggers (among those who were gay, male, part-Latino, and a professor), he was a shy and unassuming presence in real life (though still really glamorous). Many people considered him the intellectual and spiritual leader of our nation. Others thought he was just some goofball guy who liked Wonder Woman a little too much. Whatever the case, he is dead now.

    The nation is in shock and mourning. "I never expected that he could die," one citizen exclaimed, "Or, if he was going to die, I thought it would be from TaB related cancer."

    Not much is known about GayProf’s early life, except stories about his birth and upbringing in his beloved New Mexico. Those who knew him best said that he gave a prayer each morning thanking the goddess that he was not be born anywhere else in the U.S.

    Untangling the myths from the reality for the early part of his adult life has vexed tabloids and biographers for decades. Most accounts suggest that the people of New Mexico decided to send an emissary to the rest of the U.S. to teach them their superior ways of being and knowing. After an exhausting athletic competition, GayProf became that emissary. A less realistic story states that he simply decided to attend graduate school.

    Whatever the case, he worked hard in his role as emissary, often living in the most conservative and backwards parts of the nation as a sort of reverse-missionary. At the tender age of 21, he entered graduate school. It was his first challenge in this new role. GayProf (then fighting injustice as GayGradStudent) was unexpectedly surrounded by ultra-conservative white evangelicals. Coincidentally, GayProf was frequently seen with his best friend in the town’s local bars trying to quash out the pain of it all.

    GayProf’s biggest challenge, however, appeared when he accepted a job in the dreaded state of Texas. Never before had GayProf witnessed such extreme and blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, gluttony, and meanness as the people of Texas provided. “Never trust a state that assassinated a president,” GayProf often stated.

    It was during that pivotal moment that GayProf took his message of peace, love, and sensible shoes to the global internet. He covered a wide-ranging array of topics, including gay porn, Charlie's Angels, racism in popular culture, Charlie's Angels, misogyny, and circumcision (and occasionally a post on Charlie's Angels).

    GayProf's real identity became the subject of much speculation. Many people even theorized that there was not a single "GayProf." Instead, they imagined that there was an entire legion of GayProfs who all contributed to the brilliant blog. Well, until people actually thought two seconds about it. I mean, how many gay, Latino professors are there in the world? His "secret" identity was kinda obvious and maybe even a bit lame.

    Fame brought attention. An avalanche of articles and television programs obsessively followed GayProf’s fashion choices, his tastes in art, music and literature, and his thoughts on politics and history. A few complained that GayProf wore his sexuality on his sleeve, literally:

    In private, though, GayProf had become exhausted fighting losing battles to make Texas civil. He found reprieve at an institute in the Boston area. Though only there for one year, news of his death has crippled the historic city. Plans are already underway to change the name of Beacon Hill to GayProf Hill. “Our city was founded to be an example of the best in human endeavor – to be a beacon for all others to emulate,” one Bostonian stated, “If GayProf didn’t embody that spirit, I don’t know who did – or who could.”

    Unwilling to return to the cesspool-state of Texas once his year in Boston was up, GayProf took a new position in the more laid-back atmosphere of Big Midwestern University at Midwestern Funky Town. For the first time in his academic career, he found a somewhat serene environment to explore historical questions. “What I remember most about GayProf,” one colleague stated, “was that he really knew how to make a cocktail. I mean, did he have a drinking problem? Totally – But it was like drinking heaven when he pulled out his shaker – and he was a good bartender, too.”

    In his final days, former students had gathered on the lawn of his modest cottage burning candles and singing songs of praise. “GayProf was a certain type of professor,” one crying student confided, “You weren’t necessarily in love with him when you were actually in his class -- and his star-spangled short-shorts took some time getting used to. He also made you do a lot of work. Given that so many of us are lazy and feel entitled, this frequently created resentment. As time went by, though, you realized that he was the best you would ever have. Who will take care of us now?” The news of his death resulted in large scale rioting across the campus and the burning of several classroom buildings.

    GayProf, however, was not free of controversy. Anonymous commentators on his blog frequently left poorly worded and ill-conceived complaints.

    Some others remarked that his trademark goatee left him hopelessly trapped in the nineties. Still others feared GayProf’s unhealthy and dark obsessions. “Why does he have so many dishes?” an anonymous critic told this reporter two years ago, “I mean, do you really need a separate luncheon set from the 1940s and a dinner set from the 1960s? It just isn’t natural.” Today, those critics are undoubtedly burning with shame.

    GayProf kept a modest and chaste personal life. It was said that he never bedded anyone before really knowing him. Well, at least until he knew his name.

    GayProf is survived by his cat, who may or may not have been gnawing on his corpse when discovered by police. His body is in state at the round-capitol building in New Mexico, draped in the familiar red and yellow flag of that sacred place. Canonization proceedings are expected to start sometime next year.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sexism in the City

One of the constant themes of this blog is that GayProf is absolutely no fun as a movie companion. My gravitas will largely overshadow any enjoyment of a film, especially if it involves a post-viewing critique. One shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that I have some tart words for the Sex in the City film.

Let me be up front with the fact that I never actually watched the show when it was on the air. HBO wasn’t in my budget, so I missed its six-year run. It got to be so crazy popular among certain sectors of the straight-woman/gay man world, however, that I started to feel the need to feign interest in it. Even without premium cable, one couldn’t escape the show’s icons: cosmo cocktails, “Mr. Big,” and glossy scenes that are more about showing pretty, pretty dresses than actual plot or character development.

So when some gay friends suggested that we see the film this past weekend, I agreed. Heck, it was better than working on the Never Ending Research Project of Doom. Actually, having a catheter inserted would be better than working on the Never Ending Research Project of Doom.

For those (like me) who only had a vague sense of its composition, Sex and the City centered on four thirty-something (four forty-somethings in the film) white, straight women, each with their own personality quirks, seeking love and romance in New York.

I understand (or at least think that I understand) the appeal of the show/film for its target audiences of straight women/gay men. First and foremost, it is escapist fluff. The show/film is a consumer fantasy where money falls from the sky, fashion is everything, and the most complicated problem in your life is how to have a three-way without the nanny hearing or smudging your makeup. Given the crippling economic depression that is appearing in this nation, I am not surprised that many people want vicarious, carefree adventures involving the wealthy.

Like most HBO productions, it also relied on sexual titillation (heavy on the “tit”), but without the creepy violence of Oz. The show’s title was not a shy reference nor did it depend on mere sexual innuendo. From what I understand, many of the episodes would have made Helen Gurley Brown blush.

Sex and capitalism, despite what Fox executives might think, aren’t enough to make a show a hit (even in the U.S). So, why did so many women viewers become cult followers of Carrie, et al’s fictional love lives?

Unlike most representations of single women on television to that point, these women characters had active sex lives that they enjoyed without apology. Against gender stereotypes, the show said that women could be just as sexually adventurous, daring, and even raunchy as men (The show was often written by gay men – which is something for somebody else to explore).

It also showed a type of sisterly bond among the protagonists that had been one of the lost promises of second-wave feminism. They created their own support networks that were outside the scope of the men in their lives. Every week (day?), they met over drinks to discuss their latest romps or heartbreaks and shared their lives. It’s small wonder, therefore, that the show filled a much desired gap for its viewer ship. Many women were probably tired of characters like Ally McBeal, who seemingly only wanted to have sex and a relationship as means to end her spinsterhood and finally have a baby.

That’s all to the good, I suppose. Still, the Sex-in-the-City franchise is a poor substitute for actual sexual liberation or gender equality. The film more often reenforced the gender and sexual (and racial) status quo than challenged it (and I can only really talk about the film since, despite that exposition, I have never really seen the show (and I am willing to concede that the show might be substantively different than the film (but that would require me watching the six seasons of it, which I don’t want to do after watching the film))). I know, there will be immediate naysayers and scoffers. Heck, one of my film companions complained that “GayProf just didn’t get it.” A true statement.

Why didn’t I “get it?” Well, firstly there were the huge racist presumptions that went into the film. For a more careful reading, see Diary of an Anxious Black Woman (found via HistoriAnn). She succinctly explains the “Mammy 2.0" that appears midway through the film as “Louise,” Carrie’s assistant/wet nurse. That alone made my flesh crawl in the film. I am tired of the mainstream media serving up the same-old racist shit and having to pretend like it isn’t that big of a deal.

Before going to the big screen, the producers of Sex in the City recognized that their show had long been criticized for its lack of racial diversity (despite being set in one of the most diverse cities on the planet). One can imagine that somewhere in a board meeting, a [white] writer proposed the character of Louise as a solution to this quandary. “We need a woman of color to shut them up,” the producer exclaimed, “What do women of color like to do?” “Don’t they like to serve white people?” this writer offered, “At least until they get married and have babies?” “That’s brilliant! Write it up.”

My other major problem with this film is the way that it conformed to narrow views of sexuality, relationships, and marriage. Maybe I am jaded (What am I saying? “Maybe????”), but we don’t need another candy-coated celebration of heterosexual, monogamous marriage.

The heterosexual bit came in the total absence of lesbian characters (despite one of the main actors being a real-life lesbian) and the only cursory inclusion of gay men. If Louise was Mammy 2.0, then white gay men were Mammy 3.0. [white] Gay men existed flatly in this film to happily serve straight women in planning their wedding, giving advice, and offering snappy fashion quips. In an opening scene, they also offered a passing joke/titillation (low on the “tit.”). For a show written by gay men, it’s pretty homophobic.

More than that, though, the film played into some durable, sexist assumptions about heterosexual relationships. At its core, the film argued that, even when they are wrong, straight men are always right.

If we eliminated the fashion shows and extended shots of footwear, the film’s plot centered on three of the main characters facing problems in their relationships. Carrie wants to marry “Mr. Big;” Miranda discovers that her husband had a one-night stand; and Samantha feels unfulfilled in her monogamous prison relationship.

Let’s start with the last. On the surface, Samantha should be the critique of monogamy and traditional conceptions of marriage. Indeed, her character unmasks the tedium that is associated with monogamy (which she compares to chemotherapy). She faces daily temptation from a hot Los-Angeles neighbor, whose shower is apparently located outdoors. Ultimately, Samantha realizes that monogamy is not for her.

Potentially that decision could have been a bold statement in the film. Its execution, however, suggests otherwise. Samantha does not renegotiate her relationship with her current partner to something more open (Sex is sex, love is love -- Relationships don't have to be based on society's expectations of monogamy). That is ruled out even before it's mentioned. In Sex in the City, relationships are apparently all or nothing.

Instead, Samantha packs her bags and heads back to New York. We are never shown that she has a better life single and non-monogamous (or non-single and non-monogamous). We don’t even know if she lost all her frustration-weight! In the end, she is alone with her girlfriends celebrating her fiftieth birthday.

If Samantha’s resolution is, at best, ambiguous, the other dilemmas are much more clear cut. We are led to believe that it is entirely Miranda’s “fault” that her husband cheated on her. After all, she cared much more about her career and her child than satisfying him sexually. Plus, she stopped waxing her vagina! What was Miranda expecting? Even the best man is going to cheat under those circumstances.

The film never offered that the problem is bigger than Miranda or her slutty husband (who was presented as a saint). Maybe the problem is the expectation of monogamy? Maybe the problem is the way that marriage, in our society, presumes that one person belongs to another?

Nope, says Sex in the City, the problem is frigid, career-oriented women. These poor, delusional women think they can do it all: marriage, job, children. They are really nuts and selfish. Sadly, it’s their innocent men who suffer because of them.

After Miranda goes to therapy (not to deal with the obvious betrayal, but instead to figure out why she is so wrong in not forgiving her cheating dog of a husband), she reveals that she is afraid that she will be left by him. Being alone is a fate worse than death in Sex in the City. What is a woman without her man? Nothing -- That's what. Their reunion on the Brooklyn Bridge is the triumph of the heterosexual family.

Finally, Carrie’s storyline is all about conforming to gender expectations. Carrie and “Mr. Big” decide to get married early in the movie (maybe around the third catwalk of dresses). Mr. Big buys Carrie her dream apartment, complete with a walk-in closet bigger than my studio in Boston.

Carrie, though, has at least heard the word “feminism.” She begins to wonder if she would have any legal recourse should Mr. Big dump her and take away that fabulous prewar abode. They both come to the legalistic conclusion that marriage is really about property. So far, so good as far as GayProf is concerned.

Then things kinda go off track. Carrie starts trying on wedding dresses, hires a gay wedding planner (Mammy 3.0), and poses for Vogue magazine. Before you know it, her wedding plans make Princess Di’s look like the christening of a Greyhound bus. All the pomp and circumstance results in Mr. Big standing her up at the altar.

For the next hour and a half, we watch as Carrie puts her life back together (thanks, in part, to Mammy 2.0). When she finally is independent, however, Carrie returns to the house that Mr. Big built and realizes that she was the one who was truly in the wrong. Sure, he jilted her – but he was forced to do so by her greedy self-interest. Had she just recognized what a good provider he was, Mr. Big would never have left her.

While I am definitely on-board with the film’s message that people are spending too much on their wedding(s), I am not at all on-board with the film’s message that marriage is a necessity (unless you want to end up fat and alone like Samantha). I would have been much more satisfied if the film argued that sex and love don’t require a binding contract.

Sex and the City pulled off a neat masquerade. Nice clothes and great hair cloaked a retrograde message that happy relationships necessarily require women’s sublimation.