Monday, October 31, 2005

More Gay Musings

Er, perhaps I should call this, PeaceLove's Musings on Gayness, lest you should read this and think, "That's so gay!" Here are a few more thoughts on homosexuality and culture that I really wanted to put into that last post but couldn't quite shoehorn in.

The expression above -- "That's so gay!" -- sounds for all the world like it should be derogatory towards homosexuals but I think it's not, at least not as it's generally used in popular culture. I hear it used a lot by young people I know are not homophobic or prejudiced. Hell, I've even heard it used by gays. It's worth unpacking the expression a bit, and I think what's going on is this:

Gay people are different, and not only because they sleep with people of the same sex. They are different because they come from a persecuted minority, because they are bound together by a commonality (sexuality) which remains largely taboo and hidden. In addition, many of them share a particular type of dysfunctional family background, especially if they grew up somewhere in America's "heartland."

The historically hidden aspects of gay culture mean that much of the gay presence in the mainstream culture has had to be communicated via a whole occult (hidden) language of signs and signifiers. I remember sitting in film classes with the late Gerald Mast, who was gay, and learning something of the visual language of gay Hollywood film. For instance, the director George Cukor was gay, and if you watch his classic comedies like Holiday (1938) and Adam's Rib (1949) with this in mind it becomes easy to spot the gay characters - Hepburn's brother Ned (Lew Ayres) in the former, Tracy and Hepburn's next door neighbor Kip (David Wayne) in the latter. Mast was fond of pointing out the signs, such as Kip's Buddha statue (a sign of gayness in the 1940s) and his line to Hepburn (who in the movie is married to Tracy), "You should marry me, Amanda. It'd be so convenient."

From Mast's class I began to realize that there's a whole language of homosexuality, hidden in plain sight within mainstream culture. This is not hidden in there with the intention of secretly converting heterosexual children to homosexuality (take note, fundamentalist gay-bashers), but rather as a way for gay people to communicate to other gay people that they're not alone. As the culture opened up, the avenues for gay expression opened up, too. Today, many of the most familiar signifiers are so well-known as to approach (or surpass) camp. In film and television, a man interested in musicals (especially involving Judy Garland or her daughter Liza Minelli) or the fashion industry is tagged (with some justification) as a gay character.

The Internet has opened the doors wide open; without the Net there would probably have been no Time cover story like the one I discussed previously. Given the well-established gay signifiers in the culture, the expression "That's so gay!" is simply an affectionate tease, expressing that the straight recipient of the comment is dressing or acting in a manner that overlaps a bit too heavily (for a straight person) with gay style and culture. I don't think there's any undercurrent in the comment that gayness is inherantly bad, only that it's unbecoming for a straight person to look or act gay.

Just the other evening on Loveline, a radio show with Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew, Adam had on his assistant Matt Haber (who is also his TV sidekick on The Adam Carolla Project). Haber is an openly gay young man, a sassy queen with a sharp sense of humor and a sweet spirit. It was refreshing to hear him discuss his sexuality and culture so openly, but it also amused me when Adam used the "That's so gay," line a few minutes later to a different person in a different context. I'm quite sure that Adam in no way meant to disrespect gay people; rather he was hitching a ride on a cultural idiom in a way only someone comfortable with gays ever could.

Years ago, a Canadian friend told me that she was perfectly comfortable making jokes about race with black friends of hers because "we don't have that whole slavery thing you Americans have, so we don't have to worry about being taken seriously when we joke." I believe something similar is happening with today's young people with regard to homosexuality. They are beginning to grow up in (and perpetuate) a world in which they can embrace gays and straights alike. Last year, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the courthouse for gay marriages -- thus pushing the issue permanently into the forefront of our national consciousness -- I suggested to a twenty-four-year-old straight male friend that Newsom should get a Nobel Prize. I was extremely surprised and moved when he replied without any hesitation, "I think he's going to be President."

That had never really occurred to me as a possibility, since historically, standing up for gays has never been a path to political success. Perhaps times have changed. Maybe voters have changed.

Maybe, in this new world, a little joke about gays is just that: a joke.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Time Delivers!

I don't normally read Time magazine because, well, why bother? But it's around at my work so I tend to skim through it on my downtime. I've been rather shocked--shocked!--at what I've seen over the last four issues.

What on earth could possibly have come over them? Four cover stories in a row I've read where they've actually taken extremely progressive stances, not necessarily in the most straightforward way, but quite specific nonetheless. This post will cover the first of the stories.

In The Battle Over Gay Teens, Time offers up an extraordinarily balanced view of what's going on with gay teens in America these days: how they're coming out earlier, how they're less scared to come out, how the Internet gives them a home no matter where they happen to live, how being anti-gay is beginning to be seen as uncool among the young, how 57% of teens favor gay marriage (compared to 36% of Americans overall). Of course, they also have the requisite right-wing primitives who decry the end of civilization as we know it, but for the most part the article is quite specific in humanizing its subjects -- and the undercurrent clearly communicates the notion that gays should be free to do whatever they want in a free society.

In short, if you read between the lines, Time is announcing to the country that the battle is over, that within a generation or so gays will be fully integrated into the culture.

I suppose I ought to add in my own two cents about just why I find this story so refreshing. It requires addressing what I call "liberal bias," which I've referred to elsewhere in the context of Hip Hop music. In reference to homosexuality, the standard liberal stance contains a paradox: most liberals will try to convince themselves that there's no difference between gays and straights while simultaneously praying that their own sons and daughters don't end up being gay (because "life as a homosexual is difficult," or some similar argument).

By contrast, the Time article cites a number of studies showing that almost ninety percent of gays would NOT choose to be straight even if they had the choice. In other words, there's obviously something specifically rewarding about being gay, such that a majority of gay people are apparently grateful for their orientation (I encourage comments from gay readers on this point).

This reminds me of a controversy covered by Atlantic Monthly some years back about a new procedure intended to give hearing to deaf people. The controversy centered around the fact that many deaf people (especially the "elite" of deaf people, deaf children of deaf parents) resented the notion that they were somehow "incomplete" without their hearing. Deaf people have their own language (American Sign Language is not simply a signed version of English) and culture; to be deaf is to be part of a whole community. Giving the deaf children of deaf parents hearing, the argument went, risked alienating them from their parents and culture.

I don't know what percentage of deaf people wish they could hear, but it's not safe to assume that all deaf people do, or even that they necessarily suffer the way you or I probably imagine we would suffer if we suddenly lost our hearing. Similarly, if it's wrong to assume that most gay people would jump at the chance to be straight, why should any parent care one way or the other if their child is anything other than happy?

I don't follow any particular religious path but my spirituality is very clear on the notion that God doesn't make mistakes, that everyone is here for a reason. If that's the case, then gay people are absolutely equivalent to straight people (not identical, equivalent), and it literally does not matter whether your children are gay or straight. The pseudo-Christian Right is forever lamenting the "normalizing" of homosexuality in our society, but their infernal battle is already lost. Raise the consiousness of the young and the "battle over gay marriage" will seem quaint in ten or twenty years.

Up next: Time delivers again, and again, and again!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Scanner Darkly

I'm definitely waiting for King Kong, since Peter Jackson is on my all-time heroes list after Heavenly Creatures and the masterwork Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson has taken the revolutionary step of posting extensive info about the production online; check out the fascinating "production diaries" on the Kong is King website.

But my most-awaited pick is Richard Linklater's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly. The trailer is a trip; they seem to have adapted the "digital rotoscoping" technology used so brilliantly in Linklater's astonishing Waking Life and added a whole reality-bending element.

Linklater has made a string of extraordinary films over the last ten years or so, including Before Sunrise, its nine-year follow-up Before Sunset, and the aforementioned Waking Life. He also has a pretty sharp commercial sensibility; School of Rock rose above its pedestrian Hollywood roots by combining Jack Black's sweetly manic performance with a keen sensitivity to the kids in the band. A Scanner Darkly looks to be another notch in his belt; even the Philip K. Dick Trust has high hopes for this one.

Linklater himself has a long cameo in Waking Life as a guy (himself?) telling a long story about Philip K. Dick, dreams, and time travel. He seems to be a director comfortable with serious investigations into the nature of consciousness, the contours of reality, and the netherworld between imagination, dreams, and the temporal and spatial consensus reality. In Linklater, Philip K. Dick may finally have found the director he's been posthumously seeking.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

On Connectedness, MySpace, and The Future

The single most important engine driving the popularity of MySpace is that it's free. Free to have a Profile, free to post pictures, free to have a personal blog, free to have a friends list, free, free, free. Free is the engine that has driven much of the Internet. If you like this blog and want your own, it's yours for the taking; blogs here on are free, too.

[Actually, the only person who had to pay anything for MySpace is Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News Corp. just paid 580 million dollars for the company that owns MySpace. I guess Tom, the dorky-looking geek who started MySpace, and who adds himself as a "friend" to every new member's profile, won't have any problem getting dates from now on.]

Mention MySpace to the average adult and, if they've heard of it at all (I live in Silicon Valley where a disproportionate number of adults actually know about Internet trends), they usually dismiss it as "a big teenager thing." There is some truth to this, even in my own personal experience. Two of my three "friends" are the teenage daughter of a friend of mine and a friend of hers (the other is an early-twenties magician buddy).

I don't know the statistics, but any search without an age range will return far more 18-25 year-olds than 25-60 year-olds. Much of this probably has to do with the fact that teenagers have the skills and the time to mess around on MySpace; they don't have kids and mortgages to worry about. But I think something else is afoot as well.

The Internet Generation, which I have dubbed Gen I* is growing up with a sense of global connectivity unseen in the history of life on earth. They keep in touch with their friends as often as they desire, through their ever-present cell phones (via talk and text messaging) and through myriad channels on the Net. MySpace and the other social networking sites give them a place to homestead in cyberspace. Because everyone is connected to everyone else at all times on Myspace, it really does share an important quality with a village: everyone lives in your neighborhood.

In perusing various profiles on MySpace, I have been repeatedly struck by the level of personal detail people put out there for all to see. I'm not talking about sexual proclivities, or that sort of thing. But people have huge lists of their favorite bands, films, TV shows, drinks, sports, activities, and other passions. You can tell a lot about a person by the info they put out there, and it's clear the subjects of the profile want it that way.

For the moment, much of the activity on MySpace does seem somewhat infantile, but the kids who are growing up on this and similar sites will very soon be the adults of tomorrow. They will be used to having their own personal profile as an extension of themselves. I have already noticed how useful the web can be for finding out more about people I meet, especially in the context of where they work, since most companies have a web presence. How useful it would be to be able to pop over to my doctor or lawyer's MySpace profile to find out quickly how likely we are to be compatible (doctors who love hunting - no; lawyers who do pro bono work with the ACLU and listen to Radiohead -- much more likely).

It's hard to predict where social networking sites will be in five years, but I doubt they're going away anytime soon.

* [Damn. Gen I seems to be mine, but with Generation I Bill Gates seems to have beaten me to the punch by an embarrassing five years.]

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Simpsons: Origins

My continuing adventures with MySpace are a work in progress, but in the meantime here's a trip down my memory hole.

A few of my readers may remember that The Simpsons started out its life as a series of shorts on Fox's The Tracey Ullman Show way back in 1987. They were extra bits intended to get the show in and out of commercials, but they quickly developed a life of their own. I was already a huge fan of Simpsons creator Matt Groening's work, having developed a delirious passion for his his darkly plangent Life In Hell comic strip from reading it regularly in the Chicago Reader when I first moved to that fair city in 1982. I'm pretty sure I knew early on that Groening was the creator of the shorts; I may have even watched the show on that basis.

At any rate, I saw the first-ever short episodes of what later became The Simpsons on its premiere airing on April 19th, 1987. I remember well the refreshing bite of those quick snips; there was nothing like its satirical blend of family dysfunction, neurosis, and fear on television at that time. The first series, "Good Night," has stayed with me for the last seventeen years and from that single viewing years ago I can quote you almost verbatim the entire four-section mini-cartoon.

Now I've had the chance to check my memory. Those early episodes are available online for viewing here. They're as funny and sharp as I remember, if a bit rough around the edges. Popular culture has evolved and grown by leaps and bounds in the last eighteen years, and The Simpsons has been in the vanguard of that change. And Tracey Ullman, as part owner of The Simpsons, has become a very wealthy woman indeed.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Next week's Time magazine (sigh)

Tip 'o the Hat to the folks for hipping me to this HUGE upcoming story...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

On MySpace and the Future

Wired News has a brief article about the job market for Futurists -- and the lack of any accountability or certification program for those self-professed prophets who purport to interpret the signs and advise businesses which way the wind will blow. I mention this because I think this would be a perfect gig for yours truly, since I love nothing more than to analyze kiddie trends and prognosticate about what will happen when said kids grow up to be the leaders and trendsetters of tomorrow.


[Sorry, I drifted off there for a moment while imagining my son running the World Bank, or Halliburton...]

At any rate, a few weeks ago I was sitting in the hot tub at my gym when I overheard a couple of young men (high-school seniors, I gathered) discussing one of their girlfriends. "Where did you meet her?" asked the first. "MySpace," replied the second, matter-of-factly. "Oh, cool," said the first, without much further thought.

Meeting a mate online is nothing new, but when most adults (people over thirty-five, say) describe such a meeting, they inevitably effect a tone somewhere between salaciousness and wonderment -- "He met her on the Internet" -- implying that this is still an exotic and perhaps not-entirely-savory way to meet someone. I was, therefore, particularly struck by the casual affect of the young man; he may as well have been describing a meeting in school, or at the mall.

MySpace is the hottest of the social networking sites on the web (other popular sites include Friendster and Orkut). Basically, these are sites where you can set up your own personal website, with pictures, music, links to your interests, passions, sexual preferences, favorite color, and anything else you'd like others to know about you. On MySpace, you also get your own MySpace blog linked to your Profile, as well as a linked email account and instant messenger.

Most importantly, everyone you know who's on the network can join your "friends" list, so it's easy to quickly acquire a large network of "friends," some of whom are no more than people who 1. have a profile you find interesting and 2. agree to accept your "friend request." Of course, all your friends become the friends of all your friends as well, and their friends' friends become friends of friends of friends...

The whole "Friends" network can get pretty big pretty fast, which is sort of the point. On MySpace, you can quickly feel that you're part of a larger community. Networks of friends can keep in touch about what's happening on The OC or where to find out about tattoos.

Built into the system is the power to peruse the massive database for potential romantic partners, too. MySpace allows you to do searches by zip code, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, and a variety of keywords. You can find all the 25-27 year-old slender/slim vegetarians within fifty miles of you who are into mountain biking, or Matisyahu (The Hassidic Reggae Superstar), or (all over MySpace) Adult Swim.

Now, this wasn't the first time MySpace had intruded into my consciousness, but the casual way these particular kids referenced the site was a major wakeup call for me. I chatted with them a bit about the site, and from the discussion it was clear to me that this site was a huge part of their lives. So I started paying attention to the MySpace meme, and once I started looking I found MySpace showing up wherever teenagers were prevelant.

The Next Big Thing is happening right now! I figured I'd better get right over there and investigate...

Up next: What I learned about MySpace, young people, and our future (Hint: it's brighter than you think)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

More on Shining

Wow! The New York Times did an article about Robert Ryang, the 25-year-old creator of the "Shining" trailer mentioned below. That's just so wild that a little project he put together and emailed to a few friends suddenly got him into the New York Times. He won a contest and...well, read it and you'll see.)

The power of the net to spread a good idea...damn.

[Sorry about the light posting schedule this week; I've been exploring MySpace. I'll tell you what I think very soon.]