Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ramblings + Ella Turenne's Woodshed + Toussaint + Elections Have Consequences

Blogging, slogging. Summer's bearish days haven't arrived yet, and every sentence already requires a battery charge. Well, every sentence I type on this blog. The quarter ends this week, and then I and the rest of the faculty will be bidding a number of undergraduates and graduate students farewell and best wishes on their futures. I'll save my congratulations for next week, but as with every year, I will be sad to see so many of the students depart, though I am always excited about the various paths they take or find themselves on once they leave the academic groves.


From former students to former colleagues: one of my friends and former colleagues, the multitalented Ella Turenne, will be premiering her first film, Woodshed, at the Hollywood Black Film Festival. She was discussing making films back when we worked side by side about seven years ago, and has been working on this film with several of her close friends for five years. (I still walk around in the Soulfinite T-shirts she created back then.) Now it's done and will finally hit the big screen. Ella is one of those people who makes things happen; when I met her she was painting, writing and performing her poetry with the Blackout Collective, thinking about acting, and contemplating graduate school. She has since completed one grad degree, appeared in a play in NYC, and published a commemorative anthology in 2004 to mark the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence (she's Haitian-American). Somehow, amidst all of these activities, she managed to complete her film, and when she's not teaching, she runs a program at a New York-area university. As one of my good friends always says, "amazing!" Congratulations, Ella, and I hope to catch the film as it makes its way around the country. If you are in Los Angeles this weekend, however, you'll be able to catch its debut.


Ella and I discussed the recent news that Danny Glover had received $18 million from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to make a film about Toussaint L'Ouverture. The news of Chávez's support impressed me, because a L'Ouverture film--and feature films in general about the Haitian Revolution--is long overdue, and independent Haiti provided Simon Bolívar, Chávez's avatar, with some of the resources he needed to liberate Gran Colombia. I told Ella that I'd checked out the film's page, and was surprised to see there did not appear to be many Haitians or Haitian-Americans involved with the film. Neither of the film's writers appear to be Haitian or Haitian-American, and none of the high-profile (and highly talented) Hollywood actors, like Don Cheadle, Angela Bassett, Mos Def, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who are "rumored" to be in the film, are either. I also heard that it will not be filmed in Haiti or the neighboring Dominican Republic, but in Venezuela. I understand the problems of filming in Haiti (or DR, for that matter, where many, many Haitians live), but just think of the jobs (even temporary) that such a production would provide. But then again, who knows how things might turn out. There are many notable scholars of the Haitian Revolution (including several colleagues of mine), as well as Haitian and Haitian-American actors, writers, musicians, and so forth, so I hope some (many) of them will be part of this film as it develops.


Movie actors: I must be impervious to the charms of bad actors who become politicians, because I was no fan of Ronald Reagan, wish Arnold Schwarzenegger had stuck to trade shows, and cannot grasp a bubble of the mainstream media's current lather over Fred Thompson. (While I admire George Clooney's and Leonardo DiCaprio's progressivist bents, I'd rather they stick to films, filmmaking and other non-legislative pursuits.) I don't watch any of the shows he's appeared on with any regularity, but I can say that when I have encountered him on screen, he's made zero impact. With the right-leaning punditocracy and its many of its "liberal" adherents, he seems to be pushing the same sort of buttons of authority and confidence (but not in the ironic sense) that "Commander Guy" did in 1999 and 2000, and we know where that has left us. Several commentators, including MSNBC's Chris Matthews, are jonesing over this man. All I see is a lumpish, pseudo-folksy, not very inspiring, intelligent or attractive character actor who probably should be kept as far away from the White House, except for temporary visits, as possible, and the media fawning makes clear to me that these folks are just not serious--about our country, our future, anything, except whatever short-term fun and games they can have playing with the power they unfortunately possess. (Well, they probably do care about the longer term benefits to their bosses and those in their class.)

But then when I look at all the Republican candidates, current and presumptive, I feel the same way about all of them. The last thing we need is another four years of someone who lies through his teeth without batting an eye, denies evolution and fetishizes blastocysts, demonizes people who are dark-skinned, speaking a foreign language or worship faiths other than Christianity or none at all, coddles racists or supremacists of any sort, express an eager or blithe dislike of gays, lesbians and other groups, and simply cannot grasp or take responsibility for the utter disaster that is the Iraq War. (Thompson has stated publicly that he thinks the war is zooming along well and he's also made the equally preposterous claim that "Mars is warming." Lord help us!) As I wrote the other day, I don't think the majority of the Demopublicans are much better, especially on the war, but I think I'll venture the counterfactual and argue that had we had a Gore-Lieberman (the thought of Lieberman as the Vice President sickens me to my core) administration, we wouldn't be in one-third the problems we are today, whatever the failings of either man or the people they might have selected for their cabinet. I'd be willing to bet on it. Instead...well, you know how this line goes.

Which leads me to a particularly and predictably dreadful but telling outcome of the last two presidential elections: where on earth does he or his underlings, the "Bushies," find a total nut like this one?

I must quote The Nation's the Notion blog about this potential candidate to be the next Surgeon General of the US:

And today, the Human Rights Campaign released a document [Dr. James] Holsinger authored in 1991 as a member of the United Methodist Church's Committee to Study Homosexuality. Titled Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality, Holsinger's religious tract-cum-scientific paper is a fascinating window into the perverse imagination of homophobia. In essence, Holsinger argues that male-female "reproductive systems are fully complementary" because "anatomically the vagina is designed to receive the penis." The remainder of his paper is a graphic account of the "delicate" rectum which is "incapable" of "protection" if "objects that are large, sharp, or pointed are inserted" into it. From there Holsinger continues to discuss what he imagines are the pains (and pleasures?) of anal sex, from "fist fornication" and "sphincter injuries" to "lacerations," "perforations" and "deaths seen in connection with anal eroticism."

Sharp objects! Deaths seen in connection with anal eroticism! Gadzooks! Now, I've been around the block one or ten times, and I don't know any gay men who have put scissors up their ass, much less died from it. Of course, the barely mentioned but palpably anxious context in which Holsinger connects "death" with "anal eroticism" is the AIDS epidemic. And it should come as no surprise that his paper was part of a larger, pseudo-medical, moral discourse in which gay men's mode of sex (and by extension gay men) were blamed for AIDS - the death we deserved, the sexual suicide we courted.

The flip side of Dr. Holsinger's lurid speculation is the dangerous presumption that because heterosexual sex is "natural," it is safe -- safe from HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases and the trauma and injury that Holsinger seems so feverishly eager to attribute to gay anal sex. We now know, tragically and beyond any possible doubt, that heterosexual sex is not safe unless one practices it as such. And no amount of wishing and praying by our next Surgeon General on the "complementarity of the human sexes" will make it so.

Could any of the great satirists have made someone like this up? Aristophanes to Reed, I wonder. And yet he's quite in keeping with so many others who've tunneled like a Chagas worm into the upper levels of our government. In addition to Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Feith, Wolfowitz, Brownie, Claude Allen, and so many others, W also foisted this crackpot and this one on us. Let's hope the Senate takes care of this most recent looming disaster swiftly. As California Senator Barbara Boxer, one of the better examples of our left representatives, said just last week to her raving colleague, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, "elections have consequences...."