sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

Archive for the ‘celebrity’ Category

I’m kind of appalled by Clay Shirky

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on January 17, 2010

You may have read Clay Shirky’s recent post, “a rant about women.” You may also have read, heard, or participated in the chaos and conversation that sprung up around it. And rightly so, given this representative chunk of Shirky’s post:

Remember David Hampton, the con artist immortalized in “Six Degrees of Separation”, who pretended he was Sydney Poitier’s son? He lied his way into restaurants and clubs, managed to borrow money, and crashed in celebrity guest rooms. He didn’t miss the fact that he was taking a risk, or that he might suffer. He just didn’t care.

It’s not that women will be better off being con artists; a lot of con artists aren’t better off being con artists either. It’s just that until women have role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead, they’ll miss out on channelling smaller amounts of self-promoting con artistry to get what they want, and if they can’t do that, they’ll get less of what they want than they want.

There is no upper limit to the risks men are willing to take in order to succeed, and if there is an upper limit for women, they will succeed less. They will also end up in jail less, but I don’t think we get the rewards without the risks….

And it looks to me like women in general, and the women whose educations I am responsible for in particular, are often lousy at those kinds of behaviors, even when the situation calls for it. They aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.

There are enough smart people out there responding to this piece that I don’t need to add more noise to the cacophony. But I do want to speak up as a dues-paying member of Women Who Run With The Arrogant Self-Aggrandizing Jerks And Sometimes Behave Like Arrogant Self-Aggrandizing Jerks Themselves.

Did I mention I’m a dues-paying member?

Because it’s not easy to self-promote. It’s not easy to stand up and say things that might be seen as stupid–or worse, dismissed because they come from a woman. It’s not easy to announce to people “You should listen to me because I am awesome and the work I do is also awesome.” It’s not easy, in part because it takes extreme confidence (or at least something that looks to other people like confidence) to stand up and ask for attention, respect, recognition; and it’s also not easy because the backlash is often so great, and simultaneously so subtle, that it sometimes feels like a one-step-forward, two-steps-back kind of deal.

My experience, in academia anyway, is that the tradeoff is this: If you want respect, authority, and platforms for broadcasting your ideas to a wider public, you have to self-promote; and if you succeed in gaining respect, authority, and platforms for speaking it’s often at the cost of personal and professional relationships.

Let me say it more clearly: If you’re a woman and you want to be heard, especially in academia, you have to knock on every door, announce your presence to everyone, and holler your qualifications at everyone in earshot. And if you do it right, people will hate you.

It will be harder to get daily work accomplished, because your colleagues will be stiff and formal with you. Male colleagues will challenge your knowledge and authority, and if that fails they will simply demean you in front of others. Female colleagues–and this is the really painful part–will shrink from you because in speaking so loudly, you’ve drowned out their voices. Some women, in an attempt to ally themselves with the people in charge, will also attempt to challenge and demean you.

(Another way to gain respect and authority, by the way, is to ally yourself with the people in charge, who in this case are primarily white guys. The backlash that comes out of this type of effort, though, is that you risk losing your place at the table the minute you misbehave. Then you have to come grovelling back, apologizing with downcast eyes, and take what scraps you can.)

Sure, men who self-promote risk hostility and resentment–but it’s a different kind of hostility and resentment than what women experience. As members of the dominant cultural group, men who self-promote may be seen as a threat to specific people, but they certainly don’t represent a threat to the established social order.

Women who are aware of the social positioning of women as a non-dominant group (and not all women are aware of this positioning, which is fine but sort of sad) develop a complex relationship to the decisions they make in crafting their public personae. They may engage in the kind of “arrogant, stupid” behavior that Shirky says is the best way to get ahead, but they do so knowing that some people (including, apparently, Shirky) will see this as “behaving more like men.” They may choose to self-promote far less aggressively than Shirky would probably find useful, and to either accept that they will have trouble getting heard or find platforms for speaking where less self-promotion, less arrogance, is perfectly okay.

Or–and this is what lots of women, including me, do–they may adopt multiple identities, more identities, with more complicated politics, than those that men choose or are forced to adopt, in order to manage the competing demands on their behavior. This is not, lest I be misunderstood, the kind of identity cultivation that allows people to say “I have multiple identities! I’m an academic, and I’m also a mother, and I’m also a sister, and I’m also a friend.” This is something much more complicated: It’s “I’m this sort of academic-mother-sister-friend in this type of context, and I’m this sort of academic-mother-sister-friend in that type of context, and I’m this sort of academic-mother-sister-friend in that type of context with this person removed” and so on.

I don’t quite know how to end this post, except to say that lots of people I like and respect think that Shirky is right on the money. And to add that my opinions are mine alone and not necessarily representative of all women, and that–and this is really important–I’m speaking from a position of relative privilege, since I’m a white, well-educated woman. I’m also thin, young, and not in any way physically disabled. I can’t imagine how much more complicated this gets for someone who’s even one step further removed from the dominant group than I am.

Posted in academia, bigotry, celebrity, Clay Shirky, culture, feminism, gender politics, human rights, politics, social justice | 7 Comments »

on ageism, sexism, and bad behavior: what we can learn from Dave Winer

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on January 11, 2010

Over at scripting.com, ageism is becoming an issue for Dave Winer.

Here’s how it went down, in Winer’s own words:

Earlier today I was listening to Talk of the Nation on NPR and heard an interview with Keli Goff from the Huffington Post. The interview started with an explanation that linked Reid’s embarassing words (about Obama’s race) to his age. She went out on a limb, way too far, although later in the interview she walked it back a bit.

This led to an afternoon of heated exchanges on Twitter. Lots of nasty stuff was said about people of my age, most of them untrue. What troubles me is that there is no general acceptance for insults based on race, religion or gender, but age-based insults have no taboo.

Dave Winer got attacked on Twitter today, no doubt about it. But what Winer doesn’t point out here is that he gave as good as he got: He came out absolutely swinging, excoriating Groff and smacking back at anyone who disagreed with him, insulted him, or–and you can imagine the temptation was just too great for some of Winer’s followers–notified him that he’s too old to know what he’s talking about. Here’s a clip of Winer’s twitter feed:

More than one person responded to Winer with some version of this:

I have to admit, it’s kinda tough to disagree with @miniver.

Before I go on, I want to cop to my own bad behavior with respect to ageism: In the past, and on this very blog, I have offered up Rupert Murdoch as “further proof of why old people should not be allowed to run media conglomerates.” That was blatant ageism, pure and simple, and it was wrong, and it’s not okay, even when used as a rhetorical device. (In retrospect, I should have offered up Rupert Murdoch as further proof of why hopelessly avaricious people should not be allowed to run media conglomerates.) I am sorry. I promise to try harder from here on out to avoid such wrong-headed attitudes and discriminatory language.

Now then.

In some ways, ageism is similar to sexism in that it’s brutally apparent to those who are the victims of it, even if others (non-victims) don’t see how a person might take offense. (I imagine, but don’t know for sure, that the same comparison could be made to other forms of prejudice–I’m just sticking with what I know best here and leaving the rest to others who know better than I.) People who react with anger to sexism, as to ageism, are treated like they just have their panties on a little too tight. “It’s just a fact that women are better at raising children.” “It’s just a fact that older people don’t understand the digital revolution.” Both disempower the target. Both are destabilizing. And both are treated as socially acceptable in lots of situations where everyone should know better. (By the way, here’s the mp3 of the Talk of the Nation conversation–Winer’s right to take issue with what’s clearly blatant ageism.)

Oh, but while I’m at it, I should also mention that women are exposed to sexism throughout their lives, so they’re used to it and develop strategies for coping with it as it happens and afterward. But ageism is perhaps as startling and frustrating as it is for the simple reason that its victims are experiencing a prejudice that’s entirely new to them. Of course, women who are the targets of ageism get hit with the double-disempowerment that comes with not only being female but being an old (read: asexual and therefore irrelevant) female. I can’t imagine how the prejudice gets compounded when the target of ageism is nonwhite, nonstraight, or otherwise out of the mainstream.

Winer self-identifies as white and he’s presumably straight (though a significant web presence has insinuated that he is, among other things, gay–about which more in a second), which perhaps explains his extreme outrage at the ageism directed straight at him today. (I agree with Anil Dash, who offered Winer this advice via Twitter:

@davewiner The way you are saying what you’re saying is undoing the argument you’re trying to make. Take a deep breath, come back in a bit.)

If you’ve rarely, or never, experienced the prick of arbitrary bigotry, then the first prick stings perhaps all the more deeply, scalds all the more powerfully. I still remember my first encounter with sexism, when my fourth grade teacher told me I couldn’t climb the playground swingsets to unwind the swings because I was a girl. It never gets less galling. It’s just that we do our best to get better at responding, in word and in deed. The fourth grade me, surprised, gave in and went inside. The 32-year-old me, by contrast, might climb the swingset anyway, in direct defiance of her teacher. (The 32-year-old me may, incidentally, actually be worse at getting what she wants.)

There’s a side note to this story, an interesting one: Dave Winer apparently carries a reputation for bad behavior in online communities. I didn’t know this until this evening, when I started researching Winer’s backstory for this post. I started following him on Twitter because of his status as a pioneer in weblogging, and until today knew next to nothing else about him. But here’s a sample of what I learned about how Winer responds to criticism:

  • Software developer and writer Mark Pilgrim decries Winer’s propensity for personal attacks against those who criticize his work (here’s What’s your Winer number? an algorithm for determining how your experience of Winer’s verbal abuse compares to the experiences of the hordes of others who have fallen victim to it, and here’s a post where Pilgrim makes public Winer’s response to the Winer number post–take a look at Winer’s comments below the post).
  • Here’s Matthew Ingram on Winer’s response to public criticism of a post Winer wrote called “Why Facebook Sucks.” When Stowe Boyd disagreed with Winer’s post, Ingram writes, Winer apparently called Boyd “a creep” and “an idiot.”
  • Here’s Jason Calacanis, who names Winer as a friend but still offers his experience of “getting Winered” during a public presentation.

The list goes on. The ridiculous “gay” insinuation–well, that sort of bad behavior is what people resort to when they feel people in positions of power are acting in violation of the public trust–when they see arrogance, pettiness and rudeness from someone who has no reason to act so poorly.

There are at least two lessons to draw from the Winer / ageism story: First, that the worn grooves of prejudice and discrimination are so, so easy for humans, flawed as we are, to fall into, and that it is our responsibility to guard against taking that easy path; and second, that bad behavior in communities of practice is still not okay, no matter who you are. The difference these days, of course, is that reputation not only precedes you but follows behind you like a little yipping terrier. It’s getting harder and harder to walk into a room you’ve never entered without everyone noticing the constant bark of that little dog.

Posted in bigotry, celebrity, feminism, gender politics, lame, politics, racism | 3 Comments »

can we defend danah boyd while also wondering if there could have been a better response?

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on November 24, 2009

file under: just about the hardest blogpost I’ve written to date


I just spent a good few hours catching up on the Web 2.0 Expo / danah boyd debacle. You know the one I’m talking about (and if you don’t, you can read about it here, here, and here).

As a quick reminder, boyd gave a keynote at the event last week and by all accounts failed fairly resoundingly, especially given her renown for fantastic presentation style. According to all in attendance (including boyd herself), she spoke too quickly, read from her notes, and struggled to get her points across. If you weren’t in attendance, a video of her presentation is below.

Issues of ethics, good behavior, and bullying aside, I’m most interested in boyd’s response to the event. On her blog, she published a reflection on the event, which alternated between clear-headed analysis of her mistakes and a resentful self-defense.

Now bear with me for a second, because I stand here in absolute defense of boyd against her critics. But I also, because as a young female academic myself I cannot afford not to, want to offer a reflection on boyd’s reflection, which to me felt somewhat overly defensive.

boyd admits that her delivery was fairly bad, but she defends herself with a host of excuses, including the following (all emphases, to highlight points of self-defense, are mine):

Because of the high profile nature of Web2.0 Expo, I decided to write a brand new talk. Personally, I love the challenge and I get bored of giving the same talk over and over and over again. Of course, the stump speech is much more fluid, much more guaranteed. But new talks force folks to think differently and guarantee that I target those who hear me talk often and those who have never seen me talk before.

A week before the conference, I received word from the organizers that I was not going to have my laptop on stage with me. The dirty secret is that I actually read a lot of my talks but the audience doesn’t actually realize this because scanning between my computer and the audience is usually pretty easy. So it doesn’t look like I’m reading. But without a laptop on stage, I have to rely on paper. I pushed back, asked to get my notes on the screen in front of me, but was told that this wasn’t going to be possible. I was told that I was going to have a podium. So I resigned to having a podium. Again, as an academic, I’ve learned to read from podiums without folks fully realizing that I am reading.

When I showed up at the conference, I realized that the setup was different than I imagined. The podium was not angled, meaning that the paper would lie flat, making it harder to read and get away with it. Not good. But I figured that I knew the talk well enough to not sweat it.

I only learned about the Twitter feed shortly before my talk. I didn’t know whether or not it was filtered. I also didn’t get to see the talks by the previous speakers so I didn’t know anything about what was going up on the screen.

When I walked out on stage, I was also in for a new shock: the lights were painfully bright. The only person I could see in the “audience” was James Duncan Davidson who was taking photographs. Otherwise, it was complete white-out. Taken aback by this, my talk started out rough.

Now, normally, I get into a flow with my talks after about 2 minutes. The first two minutes are usually painfully rushed and have no rhythm as I work out my nerves, but then I start to flow. I’ve adjusted to this over the years by giving myself 2 minutes of fluff text to begin with, content that sets the stage but can be ignored. And then once I’m into a talk, I gel with the audience. But this assumes one critical thing: that I can see the audience. I’m used to audiences who are staring at their laptops, but I’m not used to being completely blinded.

All of the above points are undoubtedly true but obscure a crucial point: that even the most stellar academics just sometimes have bad days. This was a bad presentation from a stellar academic, and it should be enough to leave it at that.

The audience should have left it at that, but did not. They treated boyd’s struggle with glee, with an evil, hysterical schadenfreude. So instead of defending herself by explaining how the cards were stacked against her, boyd should have spent her time reviling the spectacularly bad behavior of the keynote audience. This behavior is exemplified through the following tweets, which were broadcast on a screen behind the podium, out of boyd’s range of vision:

This guy, whose profile names him as Doug V, was one of boyd’s most active hecklers. Other chunks of the twitter stream, in which @dugwork was a regular and active participant, included this:

and this:

Then, when the twitter feed was apparently taken off the screen by conference moderators, this:

In her blog reflection, boyd expressed anger and frustration, and rightfully so: this was bullying at its most despicable.

There’s also, as boyd herself points out, a gender dynamic to this kind of bullying. She refers to the hecklers as the tech version of 12-year-old boys with whiteboards. She asks:

what’s with the folks who think it’s cool to objectify speakers and talk about them as sexual objects? The worst part of backchannels for me is being forced to remember that there are always guys out there who simply see me as a fuckable object. Sure, writing crass crap on public whiteboards is funny… if you’re 12. But why why why spend thousands of dollars to publicly objectify women just because you can? This is the part that makes me angry.

I parsed the archived twitter stream, tweet by tweet, and didn’t find anything in there that suggested the audience saw or was trying to treat her as a sex object, though I don’t doubt she felt completely objectified. Let me reiterate: I do not doubt that she experienced this bullying as objectifying, possibly terrifying, definitely absolutely demoralizing. I don’t doubt that I would feel exactly the same way. In fact, isn’t that the point? It didn’t even take an outright sexual comment for boyd to feel objectified, sexualized, and treated like a “fuckable object.” That’s what the best hecklers can do to even the most capable female speakers. 

And here’s the part where I start to feel incredibly torn, because a huge piece of me wants to leave it at that, to stand up and start swinging at boyd’s bullies. They rose up en masse against her, in a public, cruel, and mean-spirited way. I have deep suspicions, just as boyd does, that gender played a significant role in helping the steam to build: We (us smartypantses in audiences filled with other smartypantses) are more likely to want to undermine women, especially when they dare to speak with authority, especially when they dare to present themselves as confident, competent, and infallible, especially when they dare to also seem in any way vulnerable. Seriously, you guys, stop being such enormous assholes. Stop using your misogyny as an excuse to be cruel. I’m so effing tired of you effers.

I also struggle with boyd’s blogged response to the heckling, because I worry that it plays into the very weaknesses that so many of the hecklers (and techies and academics and so on) suspect smart, confident, brash women harbor. Women are overly emotional. We whine when things don’t go our way. If people don’t play by our rules, we pick up our toys and go home.

Now, I don’t mind being critiqued,” boyd writes;

I think that being a public figure automatically involves that. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin over the years, but there are still things that get to me. And the situation at Web2.0 Expo was one of those. Part of the problem for me is that, as a speaker, I work hard to try to create a conversation with the audience. When it’s not possible or when I do a poor job, it sucks. But it also really sucks to just be the talking head as everyone else is having a conversation literally behind your back. It makes you feel like a marionette. And frankly, if that’s what public speaking is going to be like, I’m out.

So I have a favor to ask… I am going to be giving a bunch of public speaking performances at web conferences in the next couple of months: Supernova and Le Web in December, SXSW in March, WWW in April. I will do my darndest to give new, thought-provoking talks that will leave your brain buzzing. I will try really really hard to speak slowly. But in return, please come with some respect. Please treat me like a person, not an object. Come to talk with me, not about me. I’m ready and willing to listen, but I need you to be as well. And if you don’t want to listen, fine, don’t. But please don’t distract your neighbors with crude remarks. Let’s make public speaking and public listening an art form. Maybe that’s too much to ask for, but really, I need to feel like it’s worth it again.

It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s not defensible that female intellectuals are held to a different standard than male intellectuals are. It’s abominable how the audience treated boyd during her keynote. And not having ever been subjected to the kind of public bullying boyd was subjected to, I don’t know how I would react given the same situation: probably with the same rage, resentment, and abject pain that boyd expresses in her post.

But the solution is not to plead to the audience to be nicer next time. The solution is to come out swinging, to come out with both barrels smoking, to storm the audience with righteous indignation, to stand up and say yes, I screwed up, and fuck you all because I’ll be back up here next year (or next month, or next week) and you’ll still be sitting down there in the audience watching me shine. Good luck with your puny little attempt at twitter fame.

boyd and I are approximately the same age, and I look to her as one model of female academic. I believe that those of us who are strong enough to take it (and early evidence suggests that boyd is indeed strong enough) have a responsibility–an ethical duty–to stand in scrappy, defiant, unapologetic opposition to the stupid, ignorant, misogynistic, did I mention ignorant?–ignorant theories about how women should act and how to take them down if they get too presumptuous, too arrogant, too cocky to fit their preconceptions.

Here’s what you say in response: not Can you please be nicer next time? but Fuck you. 

Here’s what you say: Fuck you. I’ll see you next year.

Posted in academia, academics, celebrity, conferences, danah boyd, feminism, human rights, lame, obnoxious | 11 Comments »

update on bigot Jan Moir

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on October 18, 2009

First, I want to show you this fantastic video I snagged from the Online Journalism Blog. If you’re like me, you’re not thrilled about the notion of sitting still and watching a 3 minute video, but I promise it’s worth it.

The video was embedded in a post by Paul Canning called “Jan Moir is a Heterosexist.” If Canning and I were to follow the advice of the video above, we would write things like:

  • Jan Moir’s column was heterosexist (or homophobic, depending on your take).
  • Jan Moir’s column adopts a heteronormative (or homophobic, depending on your take) approach to gay rights.
  • Jan Moir’s argument promotes homophobic (or bigoted, depending on your take) attitudes toward gay rights.

Nope, I’m going with the old “Jan Moir is a bigot” approach. It’s not that I think the advice in the above video is wrong; it’s just that Moir followed up the bigoted assumptions espoused in the column in question with an Official Statement that rejects the notion that the piece espoused bigoted assumptions. Here’s her statement, in full:

Some people, particularly in the gay community, have been upset by my article about the sad death of Boyzone member Stephen Gately. This was never my intention. Stephen, as I pointed out in the article was a charming and sweet man who entertained millions.

However, the point of my column-which, I wonder how many of the people complaining have fully read – was to suggest that, in my honest opinion, his death raises many unanswered questions. That was all. Yes, anyone can die at anytime of anything. However, it seems unlikely to me that what took place in the hours immediately preceding Gately’s death – out all evening at a nightclub, taking illegal substances, bringing a stranger back to the flat, getting intimate with that stranger – did not have a bearing on his death. At the very least, it could have exacerbated an underlying medical condition.

The entire matter of his sudden death seemed to have been handled with undue haste when lessons could have been learned. On this subject, one very important point. When I wrote that ‘he would want to set an example to any impressionable young men who may want to emulate what they might see as his glamorous routine’, I was referring to the drugs and the casual invitation extended to a stranger. Not to the fact of his homosexuality. In writing that ‘it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships’ I was suggesting that civil partnerships – the introduction of which I am on the record in supporting – have proved just to be as problematic as marriages.

In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones.

Mischievous in the extreme? Really? Let’s return to the scene of the crime, where Moir writes:

Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.

Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately’s last night raise troubling questions about what happened.

It is important that the truth comes out about the exact circumstances of his strange and lonely death.

Ok, so let’s be clear on the association Moir is making here: The only thing that these three men have in common is that all engaged in relationships with men. Michael was arrested for public indecency; McGee, after a long struggle with depression and addiction, committed suicide; and Gately was in an apparently happy relationship with his husband, Andrew Cowles.

And, by the way, it’s not at all clear what the death of McGee has to do with Gately’s death, though for some reason Moir thinks the two events together “raise troubling questions about what happened” on the night that Gately died.

What the hell does the suicide of a young gay celebrity have to do with the death, apparently of natural causes, of another young gay celebrity?

Moir’s column was homophobic; but her defense of the column, when a public mea culpa would have been the appropriate action of someone who–as she herself declares–has in the past publicly supported civil partnerships, takes things one step farther. Her column presents a bigoted argument; and her follow-up self-defense presents her as the bigot she is.

  • Jan Moir is heterosexist (or homophobic, depending on your take).
  • Jan Moir is heteronormative (or homophobic, depending on your take) about gay rights.
  • Jan Moir promotes homophobic (or bigoted, depending on your take) attitudes toward gay rights.

Additionally, her writing skills are fairly abysmal, though I suppose that’s another argument for another day.

Posted in bigotry, celebrity, gay rights, human rights, lame, obnoxious | 2 Comments »

bigot update

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on October 18, 2009

file under: for the love of god shut the hell up, you homophobe

Last week, Irish pop singer Stephen Gately died at age 33; preliminary reports point to acute pulmonary edema, or a fluid buildup in the lungs. Gately was young and presumably otherwise healthy, so of course it makes sense for us to reach for an explanation of his terribly untimely death.

Daily Mail columnnist Jane Moir has her theories, and every theory she offers assumes something sleazy. “Whatever the cause of death is,” she writes,

it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered.

And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.

What’s the sleaze of this particular story? Well, Gately was seen dancing at a nightclub with his husband several hours before his death, and they left the club with another young man, who was at the apartment at the time of Gately’s death. It also appears that Gately smoked cannabis in his apartment before he died. None of these, just to be clear, are considered to be contributing factors to Gately’s death. Not the presence of the young man, not the marijuana in his system, and not the fact that he was gay.

Moir is clearly one of those ignorant people who are on the prowl for proof of what they assume is true: that gays are sleazy sexual perverts. Every sentence of her column points to exactly this.

Gately was on vacation with his husband of three years, Andrew Cowles, when he died, yet Moir calls his death “lonely.” There was no sign of foul play, no evidence that Cowles or the young man they brought to the apartment played any role in Gately’s death. No evidence that Gately died of a drug overdose. No evidence that he died of AIDS or any other sexually transmitted disease. No evidence, at least so far, of the slightest bit of sleaze. In fact, Gately’s mother insists that her son died from a genetic heart condition. Yet Moir still finds reason to assert that

Another real sadness about Gately’s death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships.

Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.

Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately’s last night raise troubling questions about what happened.

I have a couple-three things to say about this:

1. Nobody is arguing that gay couples are any more likely than straight couples to get this partnership thing right. To be crystal clear, there is no happy-ever myth of civil partnerships. There is only the premise that gay couples have the same rights as straight couples to make an honest, legally recognized go at a committed relationship with the person they love.

2. George Michael hasn’t cornered the market on unconventional approaches to sex and relationships. Lots of people of all orientations take an experimental approach to their sexuality. And guess what–when that experimentation takes place between consenting adults, and when all parties involved approach their interactions safely and maturely, it’s none of our damned beeswax what they do. And besides,

3. We’re well past expecting gay couples to prove they’re ‘just like’ straight couples. It’s ignorant and homophobic to presume that for gay couples to “earn” their right to marry they have to prove they’re not as perverted, dirty, and disgusting as some straight people think they are. It is, in short, ignorant and homophobic to assume, despite preliminary evidence to the contrary, that when a gay man dies young the circumstances must be sleazy.

Oh oh oh! and one more thing:

4. If we’re going to use celebrities as spokespeople for a sexual orientation, then I bring you:

  • Roman Polanski (for raping a 13-year-old girl)
  • David Duchovny (for uncontrolled sex addiction)
  • Jude Law (for cheating on his wife with their child’s nanny)
  • Woody Allen (for cheating on his partner, Mia Farrow, with Farrow’s daughter)
  • Charlie Sheen (for multiple documented ‘encounters’ with prostitutes and a failed marriage as a result of addiction to porn)

Of course nobody would take the actions of these celebrities as proof that all straight people are perverts. And there’s no reason to act differently when it comes to gay celebrities.

I’m so goddamned tired of homophobia. I’m tired of people like Jan Moir acting as if hateful, despicable, and cretinous attittues toward homosexuality and gay marriage are perfectly intelligent, thoughtful, and rational. Even if the final reports point to what Moir would consider ‘sleaze,’ the fact that she didn’t need that evidence in the first place tells us exactly what we need to know about her: She’s a bigot, pure and simple, and her vile attitude toward human rights is despicable and, thank god, woefully outdated in an increasingly warm, accepting, and tolerant society.

Posted in bigotry, celebrity, gay rights, human rights, lame, obnoxious | 3 Comments »

getting the actors we deserve

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on October 11, 2009

In today’s New York Times, Dick Cavett introduces a video of his 1980 interview with Richard Burton, in which Burton talks about his struggles with alcoholism, overcoming both positive and negative reviews, and the differences between stage and screen acting. The interview starts and ends with brilliance, with Burton beginning with an articulate meditation on what it’s like to constantly struggle with addiction and ending with a delicate performance of a simple speech from Camelot.

Here’s what we get: Tom Cruise on scientology.

On the other hand, somehow we’ve earned Colin Farrell:

And Will Smith, who sometimes sneaks in an opportunity to show his skill in between shooting aliens and beating up mutants:

And some day, sowhere, some film director will start giving women some serious roles that aren’t pre-orchestrated for maximum pathos (cf. self-denigration, overcoming hardship, overcoming hardship), and we’ll start seeing female actors taking opportunities to rise up to their full heights. Here’s hoping somebody makes it happen before Dakota Fanning gets too old.

Posted in celebrity, culture, movies | Leave a Comment »

how to eat pistachios and where to buy your jeans

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on October 6, 2009

Here’s how the infamous ex-soon-to-be-son-in-law of Sarah Palin, Levi Johnston, eats them:

And speaking of advertising campaigns that have no problem taking advantage of perfectly unsuspecting people, Levi Strauss & Company has unveiled a new campaign called “Go Forth.” Here’s a sample commercial that embodies the tone and spirit of this most recent sales offensive.

This campaign takes on a tone similar to the 2000 Volkswagen commercial that featured Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” and a group of young adults in a VW Cabrio who choose the purity of a beautiful nighttime drive over the stumbling chaos of a college party.

To be honest, the Nick Drake commercial seriously moved me, and I bet if I’d had the money I would’ve gone out and gotten me a Cabrio. Though if we’re going to be really honest about it, I was that kind of 20-something: I read a lot of Ginsberg. I bought extra copies of On the Road to hand out to my friends. I listened to Dylan, refused to own a TV, and made sure everyone knew it oh god I was such a lame-o.

I was, I’ll admit, curious enough to go to the campaign website, which features a Blair Witch-style video featuring the lost treasure of Grayson Ozias IV. Ozias, according to the site, was a close friend to Nathan Strauss, a nephew of Levi Strauss, and he disappeared in the late 1800’s to explore the Great America. Along the way, he buried $100,000, presumably his entire inheritance. Levi’s has Officially Discovered the cash and will give it away to whoever locates it.

The Levi’s commercial–in fact, the entire campaign–is beautifully executed and would be pitch perfect if it weren’t for the tiny detail that the whole thing is engineered to sell run-of-the-mill clothes manufactured by a company whose labor practices are controversial at best.

God, it’s all a lie. Over at ARGNet, Michael Anderson explains that one key member of the campaign is Jan Libby, formerly of lonelygirl15. If you know your YouTube history, you know that the lonelygirl15 webisodes were carefully (some might say brilliantly; others might say a bit too preciously and heavy handedly) engineered so that viewers couldn’t tell whether Bree, the protagonist, was completely real, kind of real with a scripted story, completely made up or some combination of the above. (If you don’t know which category she ultimately fell into, then I leave it to you to go forth and see the Great Wikipedia Page.)

I can handle the idea that a group of smart(ass), young, new media types would try to make money off of an enormous cultural dupe. I can even accept that Volkswagen and Gap would see nothing wrong with climbing the economic ladder by stomping on the heads of our most awesome dead celebrities.

But Levi’s is trying to out-Whitman Whitman. It’s trying to out-Christopher McCandless Christopher McCandless. It’s trying to out-Dorothea Lange Dorothea Lange. This is a case of a company that wants so badly to be viewed as a Real American Original that it will go so far as to manufacture a Real American Backstory even though nobody’s buying it.

Seriously: Go to the site. There’s a Last Will and Testament of Grayson Ozias IV. There’s the hint at a cast-off pedigree (he is, after all, the fourth and presumably last of the Grayson Oziases, and he turned his back on all that mantle could have meant). The video presents beautiful young men and women frollicking to the backdrop of a grainy sound recording, apparently of Ozias himself explaining his decision to set forth into the great Unexplored America. “Therefore,” he states with unequivocal soundness of mind, “I commit the fortune I have made in my travels back to the earth from whence it came” (cut to beautiful young people in Levis uncovering and then reburying an old-timey trunk).

This is clearly a corporate attempt at harnessing the spreadability factor of social media. And I wonder how well it’s working. For my part, the only message I’m interested in spreading is a message about how lame it is to create a fake genuine American hero to sell fake genuine American apparel.

Posted in advertising, America, celebrity, convergence culture, creativity, lame, literature, spreadability | 2 Comments »

RIP Patrick Swayze

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on September 15, 2009

They just keep blinking out, don’t they?

“Pain don’t hurt,” he said, while reading Jim Harrison. Pain don’t hurt? What kind of a line is that? And that blond lady with the glasses–jesus.

Rest in peace, Swayze. Fifty-seven years got you installed as an icon. A brighter body, over a brighter firmament, none of us could hope for.

Posted in celebrity, movies, speechless | Leave a Comment »

seven things I know about Michael Jackson

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 26, 2009

He changed the way we think about movement:

Posted in awesome, beauty, celebrity, music | Leave a Comment »