Saturday, May 26, 2012

Queer Eye for the Stereotype

Several years ago, my liberal tolerance bonafides were put in peril when I noticed the surprising number of lesbians at Denver's Pride Parade who were wearing jean shorts, t-shirts with the sleeves rolled up, and full-on mullets.  None of these ladies would be confused for men, of course, but it was pretty obvious they were all shopping at the same store participating in a stereotype, whether they knew it or not.  It was, almost literally, a uniform.
And yet there's nothing about being sexually attracted to women that forces one to wear a mullet or jorts or to so studiously roll those shirt sleeves up. So why do it?

My theory was that it's a case of in-group signaling.  Since it's not really practical to go around all day saying, "I'm gay," it may be more efficient, not to mention subtle, to communicate that through fashion.  I think that not only accounts for the mullets, but for pretty much any gay stereotype out there, from the lisps to the overly dramatic theatricality.

This pretty much confirms my view:
When I came out in college, I was lucky enough to do so in the company of three highly experienced lesbian roommates, all of whom advised that I reconsider the long, shapeless locks I'd carried over from my high-school days. One of the gang, as odds would have it, owned all six seasons of The L Word on DVD -- 24 discs of the kind of soft-core, girl-on-girl action that only Showtime could get away with -- and we scoured each episode for hair inspiration.

I eventually settled on Shane's cut, the only style on the femme-heavy show that looked queer enough to help me land a date. I printed out a photo and brought it to a hairdresser in Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.'s original gayborhood, to take my first physical step toward assimilation into the all-welcoming queer community I imagined was waiting for me.
The joke I've often used is that these women go to the hairdresser and say "I'd like to look as gay as possible."  Of course, I always thought that was a joke, as in it's funny because it doesn't happen like that.  But now I'm not so sure.  Now I think there may actually be some "queer" hairdressers out there who have "The Gayest Haircuts In Town" printed in big block letters on their business cards as a selling point.

And that's sad, I think.  What's also sad is that the overall effect of reading this lady's piece about her gayborhood, my impression wasn't one of understanding or even empathy.  I felt more isolated and disconnected with every word. 

Queer this, queer that.  Thirteen times she used that word, sometimes as a noun, sometimes as an adjective, but never as a pejorative.  She can do that.  She's a lesbian.  The straight guy using the word "queer" thirteen times in a 950-word piece?   Well, he should be careful.

Because he's a straight man and he just doesn't know....

Friday, May 25, 2012

Breaking News

Operator of hydroponic store behind marijuana growing ring.

Also, water is wet and shit rolls downhill. Now here's Tom with the weather.

 The sad thing about this story is that my first instinct was to call this guy an idiot for playing out the stereotype.  Of course the hydro guy is growing weed.  If he was just growing tomatoes, that would be weird.  And of course the Feds are going to go after him.  He's industrial level, a kind of grow operation multiplier, and he's making money.  The Feds are very interested in money.

But then I thought about it.  I have no personal beef with marijuana or the people who grow it.  I actually lean more on the "they're doing a public service" side of the equation and while I don't idolize the mad scientist growers of the world, I do value their work.

I also think the Feds are wrong on this issue.  Prohibition and enforcement create more problems than smoking dope.  Is this guy stupid for using his hydro store as a front, or is it the whole Drug War that's stupid?

If this guy is stupid, it's only because he refused to play the game.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Yesterday I watched all six parts of Steve Lekson's "A New History for the Ancient Southwest" and it was fascinating.  I knew a lot of this stuff, but there was a lot I didn't know, and it was nice to hear Lekson talk about it.  He comes off more confident in his ideas in this presentation than he did in his book, The Chaco Meridian, which has a "I know this is crazy, but hear me out" tone to it.

I'm not sold on the meridian idea, per se, but Lekson has convinced me on various other notions that most southwest archaeology considers absurd.

Among them:

A)  The "Chaco Phenomenon" was mostly political.  The Great Houses in the canyon and in the surrounding areas weren't "villages" like modern day Pueblos;  they were the palaces of elite ruling familes (ie, kings).  When they first excavated Pueblo Bonito, the largest Great House in Chaco, they were shocked to find very few burials, very little evidence that the 650+ rooms were actually occupied, and were left trying to explain what it was and why it was built.

Once the "domestic residence" theory was thrown out, it was replaced with the "center of religious activity" theory, which is not really incompatible with the idea that a ruling elite lived there.  As Lekson points out, there was no separation of church and state in the ancient world.

Whatever the Great Houses were, I've lost the notion that they were villages.  These buildings were erected for the few (the elite) by the many (the commoners).  This goes counter to the many ideas we have about egalitarian Native societies, but you have to follow the evidence not the angels of your better nature.

B)  "Kivas" were residences, not underground chambers of religious ritual.  And hey, I get it.  Modern Pueblo people use their kivas as chambers of religious ritual, so it must have always been the case...even though Modern Pueblo people deliberately abandoned their "old" way of life to the point of abandoning the geographic area where they lived it.  They're going to ditch their kings, ditch their religion (for the new Kachina faith they practice now), ditch their buildings, ditch everything....but they're going to keep the concept that kivas are for ritual?

Consider the history.  The earliest culture in the region, the Basketmakers, lived in underground pithouses.  A pithouse is just like a Pueblo-era kiva, except the later "kivas" were made of stone.  Same round shape (although in the southern Mogollon region they were square), same hole in the floor, same roof-entrance, same hearth under the ladder, same venting system.

And yet we have to believe they stopped living in them just as their society was becoming more advanced?

The key indicator of a room where people once lived is the presence of a hearth.  It's vital for keeping warm on cold nights and necessary for food preparation.  You want to know where the people slept and cooked?  Look for the hearth.  Not every roomblock in an Anasazi building has a hearth, but every "kiva" does.  Pithouse + hearth - ceremonial purposes = Anasazi home.

When I went down to Mesa Verde, we heard so much about "ceremonial purposes," it became a sort of running joke.  A gnarled piece of wood on the ground?  It was used for ceremonial purposes.  A feather blowing in the wind...ceremonial purposes.  It was absurd.  You started to wonder how these Indians can do so much construction (multi-story buildings, reservoirs, irrigation channels) if they're in their holes doing ceremonies all the time.  "Ceremonial purposes" almost became shorthand for, "I don't know what that is, but it was probably used for (everybody now) ceremonial purposes."

Gimme a break.  They were religious and ceremonial, but they were also practical human beings.

C)  Mesoamerican influence was a wee bit more influential than we thought.  The Anasazi grew a lot of maize, which originated in Mexico, as well as squash, which originated in the Andes and made it up to the Southwest through Mexico.  We also know they traded with Mexicans for copper bells, macaw feathers (as well as live macaws), and cacao.  Similarities in architecture and pottery styles have been noted, as well as language.  (Both Hopi and Nahaua, the language of the Aztecs, belong to the same language family, Uto-Aztecan.)

So the Anasazi can borrow Mexican crops, Mexican luxury items, pieces of Mexican mythology (ie, the progression of worlds and the emergence into this one from a lower one), but they can't borrow Mexican ideas on political structure?

Now I'm not saying that the Anasazi are Aztecs or should be considered a Mesoamerican people.  I'm just saying that they knew about Mesoamerican civilizations and Mesoamerican civilizations knew about them.  That border fence Joe Arpaio loves so much didn't exist back then.  Goods, people, and ideas flowed freely.  I think one of those ideas was the concept of class.  To people of the time, it would have been as natural as growing corn.

At any rate, I think I'm going to bite the bullet and buy Lekson's book to learn more. Everyone else seems content to parrot the conventional wisdom which, hate to say it, seems wrong.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Great Ted Levine

This post exists for one purpose: To get "The Great Ted Levine" listed as a search term in Google.

A History of the Ancient Southwest

I'm debating whether I should buy this book or not.  I really want to read it --considering that it's written by Stephen Lekson and provides a "narrative" historical account of the ancient southwest-- but it's over $30.  I'm sure it's worth every penny, but I do think that's a bit steep for a single book. 

Knock ten dollars off the price and I'd still have to think about it, but not as hard. Yes, I'm a cheap bastard, but books should not be over $30 unless they come with something else, a T-shirt or a DVD or something.  I can appreciate the work Lekson put into the book and recognize the publisher's need to recoup costs after publishing a big academic book with little to no mass appeal, but at prices like this, they're pretty much guaranteeing that the only people reading this book are people with Pell grants.

The used prices are even more ridiculous.  New from Amazon, the book costs $31.54.  Seller "any_book" from Florida will sell you their two copies, one for $85.45 and the other at the "discounted" price of $80.53.  I'd like to believe these are pristine signed copies printed in gold-leaf on vellum paper, but alas...I suspect they're just trying to rip off some college kids.

The Last Outlaw

For some reason I was looking at Dermot Mulrooney's wiki page and it turned me onto an old western he was in called The Last Outlaw.  It was an HBO movie and I vaguely remember seeing ads for it way back when, but I don't think I'd ever seen it.  Wikipedia called it a "cult western," which sparked my interest, and then I saw the cast.

It's like the Pro Bowl of character actors I love.  Aside from Dermot Mulrooney, there's a pre-comeback Mickey Rourke playing the villain.  The guys in the gang?  Aside from two Platoon vets in Keith David and John C. McGinley, there's Steve Buscemi and the great Ted "It puts the lotion in the basket" Levine.

A good movie?  Not sure yet.  A great cast?  Definitely.

Truth in Advertising

I was at a Burger King the other day, which was unusual because I've pretty much sworn off all fast food type places. Not all, as there are a few --mostly local places with no franchising options-- that are quite good, and the whole "fast casual" franchises aren't bad. But I have no use for the McDonald's, Wendy's, KFCs, Taco Bells, Burger Kings, Arby's, Subways of the world.

No, it's not the Trans fats or the evil cooking oil. It's the soggy lettuce, the squashed tomatoes, the poorly mixed fountain drinks, the fact that the fries are often overcooked and oversalted, the hamburgers mashed together with all the care that a minimum-wage employee can muster in five seconds.

I'm not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination, but that shit is nearly inedible. It's poor quality food with poor quality preparation and the truth is that it's not much cheaper than real food from a place that gives a shit.

The only reason I went to Burger King on this day was that I had my niece with me and I didn't want to go to McDonald's. My niece, it should be said, doesn't like the food either, but she does like toys. Getting her to eat her chicken nuggets, though...good luck.

At any rate, on the wall of this Burger King was a photographic mural of a group of racially diverse, upwardly mobile young people, model-types of course, sitting at a Burger King enjoying their meal. Only instead of paper cups and messy wrappers, their food came on plates, their drinks in glasses. The fries? They looked magically delicious. The Whoppers on their plates? Looked like they got them at Red Robin, all big and fat and gourmet. 

The saddest thing about this mural was my emotional response:  It pissed me off.  Where's that Burger King?  In France?  Can I pay extra and get a good Whopper on a plate?  Why am I sitting here trying to nibble at this crap when I could be having the awesome experience the people in the mural are having?

And you know, I get it.  It's advertising.  Coors Light doesn't summon a frozen train.  Axe Body Spray doesn't cause random make-outs.  And Whoppers don't come on plates.

And while Coors could never deliver actual frozen trains and Axe isn't truly a pheromone, no one says that Burger King couldn't serve a decent hamburger, plate or no plate, except for, well, the honchos out at Burger King corporate.

Everything in life has a trade-off.  Like most fast food places, Burger King traded quality for quantity.  It was more important to them to have thousands of crappy restaurants than half as many good ones.  And they're probably sitting in their boardrooms, telling themselves no one is willing to pay for a decent burger, which one glance at the restaurant industry as a whole would tell you is a complete and utter lie.  People are more than willing to pay for a decent burger.

It's just that Burger King and their ilk are unwilling to provide one.