Monday, November 07, 2005

Monday Roundup

Though I wrote several days ago about the explosive situation in Paris, Doug Ireland offers up one of the most thorough and compelling articles on the topic in "Why Is France Burning: The Rebellion of a Generation." He lived in France for about a decade, reads the French press avidly and is in contact with people living there, and knows the society and the politics inside and out. His analyses go much deeper than almost anything else I've read, though the mainstream newspapers may have peeped his piece to get a better understanding of the expanding conflagration. Still, I've yet to see anyone else explore in depth the historical background to late 20th century French immigration, discuss the plight of the Harkis, mention the tremendous promise (and ultimate failure, at least so far) of the Marche des Beurs of 1983, or break down so clearly one of the roots of the problem, the right-wing politician Nicolas Sarkozy, whose extremely inflammatory comments Ireland notes almost defy translation into English. In effect, Sarkozy declared war by calling for the industrial cleaning (karcherise, from the well-known French cleaning product Karcher) of the scum (racaille, a word that implies something so filthy it's almost subhuman). As Ireland notes, the practical effect of this has been to propagate even more uprisings, across France (and they've spread to Belgium), while also galvanizing the support of many White French people behind Sarkozy, as his chief party opponents, the vile crook Jacques Chirac and the pompous Dominique de Villepin, twiddle their thumbs and call for ever more meetings. And France keeps on burning. (If you speak French, Le Monde features an interesting interactive piece on Samir Midi, one of the young people attempting to serve as a mediator.)

Wade and NoahRod 2.0 once again features his inimitable recap of the most recent episode of Noah's Arc (# 3), TV's only Black gay show (it's on Logo). This week, the four keekeeying friends confront (or don't) hanging with the guys (vs. the gays), thug obssession, sexual addiction, and, you guessed it, MTF drag (though they're already gender-bending). Rod prefaces his recap with an interesting apologia for the show that I wonder if it really needs. Criticism can be a good thing, and Rod's, C.'s and others' all have made valid, important points. At any rate, though I missed this episode, I'd break down the retrograde gender politics of the show so far like this: for the primary characters, gay=female, straight=male, and feminine+masculine=couple, so that you get babydollish Noah paired with "straight" (bi? questioning? DL? polysexual?) man Wade, prissy, pissy Chance paired with father (and thug lover) Eddie, Loretta Divine-ish Big Mama Bear Alex paired with verso-superhero-bodied doctor Trey, skater-parkish Rafael paired with Party Monsterish Romeo (or as Rod called her, Juliet)...okay, so things unravel a bit with Halle Minnelli himself, Ricky, who parades around like the last Miss Thing (with bangs, cute tops, lip gloss, no less), but supposedly is the last top (and constantly wants to top/bump Noah). As for fem+fem or butch+butch, rarely do the twain meet in these fictional West Hollywood haunts, except when folks are cheating (cf. Eddie+"thug"). These gay=female men actually carry this retro gender logic to its limit when they all end up parading around on stage, in full drag, to the lusty applause of straight(-acting)=male audience members. Performance meet performativity! But seriously, the issue is not effeminacy or effeminate gay men, or straight-acting men, butchnness, or the complex issue of masculinity itself, but the maintenance of a binaristic gender schema which has been under critique for over 30 years. But I know, the show is doing something different, etc., and any critique of the show is heresy, gah gah. I do wonder, though: has anyone affiliated with it ever come into contact with a real "thug" (and I don't just mean a butch queen)?

This evening while waiting in Walgreens for the pharmacist to process my order, I flipped through Essence's November issue, currently on the newstands, which features its list of the "10 Sexiest Men" selected by readers. ElbaThey are (and I'm recounting this from memory) Boris Kodjoe (at right), Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Michael Ealy, Terrence Howard, LL Cool J, Idris Elba (at left), Blair Underwood, Larenz Tate, and Mos Def. If I had to limit my choices in this category to Black, well-known, contemporary Hollywood actors, I'd say that this list would very closely approximate my own. For some reason, this surprised me a little; one way of looking at it was that I shared a similar taste with the mean of Essence readers! In my ideal list (still based, of course, on the criteria above), I'd definitely make a few substitutions. Though Washington might sneak in there for sentimental reasons, and while I do think Howard and Mos Def are attractive, I'm not sure they're among my "sexiest." Certainly Tyson Beckford (he's well known and does "act" sometimes) would be on the list, and I'd probably then choose from among a longer list that'd include Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Derek Luke, Djimon Hounsou, Rockmond Dunbar, Keith Hamilton Cobb, Anthony Mackie, Chino XL, and Vin Diesel. And there might be many others. Plus I doubt I would have thought of Michael Ealy, who's undeniably phine. But then I'm already over ten names, and dislike lists like this anyways, since they always force impossible choices. (The top 10 books, the top 10 musicians, the 25 best....) Nevertheless, who would your "10 Sexiest" be? (I did like that not all the Essence choices were under 25, superbuff, and...heterosexual. Sistas know. Just kidding....)

CorzineToday I voted by absentee ballot in the New Jersey state elections, which occur tomorrow. As I mentioned to C., the election officials swiftly sent my ballot to me once I'd submitted my request, but the process for returning it so that it'll be counted is a bit more complicated. You have to mark it a certain way, then put it in a special envelope that you sign and seal; this envelope has a strip that begs you to tear it off, but if you do, your ballot is invalid. You stuff this whole thing into another envelope, which must then arrive either by mail or by hand-delivery, though if it by the latter route, the deliverer has to list her or his name and then sign as well. I know all these safeguards exist to prevent voter fraud, but I wonder how many people slip up in some minor fashion and nullify their votes? As for my vote, the choice was clear: Jon Corzine for governor. He's been a very good senator, one of the most outspoken and progressive, and I imagine he'll be a decent enough governor. (Virginia's gubernatorial race, pitting right-winger Jerry Kilgore against moderate Democrat and current Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine also is tomorrow. Polls have Kaine ahead by a hair; his predecessor, Democrat Mark Warner, a US presidential aspirant, has done a superb job turning around a sorry fiscal situation and is very popular, but Virginia, where we lived for two years, is very conservative overall, so it will be tight.)

I've never seen any of Marina Abramovic's performances, but if I were in New York, I'd try to catch as many of them as possible. As part of an upcoming show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, this longtime pioneer and veteran will restage some of the most famous performance art pieces of the last 50 years, including one of her own, though she won't be allowed to replicate completely one of her most famous and dangerous pieces, which involved placing a number of implements in a room (scissors, a knife, a loaded gun) in a room and then allowing visitors to do anything they wanted to her with them. She will, however, perform Joseph Beuys's 1965 work "How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare," as well as Vito Acconci's still seminal 1972 piece "Seedbed," in which he lay beneath a ramp at SoHo's Sonnabend Gallery, masturbating and discussing his fantasies of gallery viewers while miked, so that the audience could hear though not see him. (At 59, she admits this one will be taxing.) Although she did not have to get permission to perform any of these works--since performance art is not copywritable--she did so out of homage and femmage to the original creators. Unfortunately, she won't be able to restage all of the works she'd hope to: Chris Burden, for example, refused to grant her permission. Others, like Yves Klein's famous "Leap into the Void," perhaps didn't come up at all. Though performance art has become an integral part of contemporary art practice and domesticated and commodified even by the culture at large (cf. not only Fear Factor but "reality TV" in general), at its limits (as Kafka suggested 3/4ths of a century ago in "A Hunger Artist" or as extrapolated from Pater crossed with Nietzsche, Heidegger, and others) it still has the capacity to shock and reframe issues of life and death. I think of of extreme works--like Ray Johnson's final life summation--that Abramovic wisely passed on.

Finally, John Fowles, the reclusive British author of the landmark postmodern novel, The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), which became an award-winning 1981 film adapted by Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter and starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, died today after a long illness at his home in Lyme Regis, UK. The Guardian Online serves up one of its usual, pithy obituaries, which I won't try to better it. One quote, from his 2003 interview with that paper:

know I have a reputation as a cantankerous man of letters and I don't try and play it down. But I'm not really. I partly propagated it. A writer, well-known, more-or-less living on his own, will be persecuted by his readers. They want to see you and talk to you. And they don't realise that very often that gets on one's nerves.

The obit also includes a rundown of all his other major novels, of which I've only read the elusive Mantissa (I never finished either Daniel Martin, which was exceedingly dull, or The Maggot). But Fowles will always be known for his greatest achievement, The French Lieutenant's Woman, which I just may ferret out and reread next summer, when I scare up a free moment. Its final, ravishing line is certainly a target to work towards.

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