philosofunk

what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin


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White-washed “Stonewall”: Hollywood’s Version of the Truth

Hollywood is infamous for distorting historical truths in the name of better entertainment. Hollywood is also infamous for limiting staring roles for minority actors and as a result stunting the careers of many promising black actors. This time in the telling of the infamous queer riot in New York City, Hollywood has set aside key people of color for the queer movement and replaced them with cis male white actors. Key moments of history are being portrayed in favor of a more heteronormal sexualized version of the queer movement. See, Stonewall was sexy, and thats why you should come see our movie, says Hollywood.

danny

He is a sexy man-boy, someone anyone who is attracted to men would find enticing. He throws the first brick, which is symbolic of the entire rebellion, which happened in response to police harassment and raids. When members of the LGBTQ community violently reacted to the barrage of physical harassment and provocation, it wasn’t sexy or pretty. It was a group of people fighting dearly for their lives. In all fairness, Hollywood does have to operate on a sexiness factor, and sexing up the story a little is fair game for mass production. However, taking the power away from the marginalized people who were responsible for the entire ordeal is disrespectful.

Marsha P. Johnson is widely credited with throwing the first brick. This is her:

marsha p johnson

She is poor, she is marginalized, she is black, and she is trans. Her life was one of vulnerability and genuine originality. She worked to lift an entire community out of the broken mess that was created by the hatred of the greater world, and was beautiful in her own character and being. She and friend Slyvia Riveria created the group “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR)” which was an advocacy street organization for transgender and gender queer people. She even had associations to Andy Warhol, who asked her what the “P” stood for in her name to which she replied “Pay it no mind”. To sass Andy in his day was a bold move, one that gained her notoriety among the New York queer and arts scene. She was also an AIDS activist in ACT UP, a now international organization that started in the streets of New York by gay and queer people seeking better care and research on the AIDS virus.

Her sexuality and sexual orientation are one of an obscure nature, not a lot of people share that sexuality or sexual attraction, so her story isn’t going to be considered by Hollywood producers to be a money maker. She could be a quirky side character, a mention in the film, a noted footnote, but not the focus of the film. The director of the film responded to criticism about ignoring Marsha in this message:

rolad

Very slick, very Hollywood, very “hey folks, remember its fictionalized, so its okay if we distort the reality a little bit”. Its classic solipsism, something that is taken for the perspective that is the more entertaining, relatable, normalized version of events. This means making the focus of a queer story, something that is already a marginalized perspective, into a cis-male white protagonist because in utility, he is the character the most number of people are going to be able to relate to. The truth is the casualty.

Many within the queer community are calling for a boycott of the film. I view it as the next Rent: a sterilized version of a very serious story where people where beaten, had their rights denied, and died. While I can appreciate that the story was told, the way in which it is conducted is very important to the dignity of the people who lived it. Ignoring Marsha P. Johnson is like ignoring George Washington, or saying that he was not that important in the American Revolution. Marsha is credited with throwing the first brick that sparked the riots. This is significant and not something that should be ignored.

If this had been an independent film, odds are that the story-line would have been more congruent with the truth. However, independent films are not as widely distributed so then not as many people would see the story of Stonewall. But, it is the fictionalized version of Stonewall, one where black trans people are ignored, the very people who held such an integral role within the movement. Hollywood needs to be questioned on this because it is ignorant to not have the main character have any connection to Marsha P. Johnson. If she is too strange to be a main character, than a supporting role would be a fair compromise. Besides, making the main character into a person of importance within the movement makes sense, and therefore it would be historically accurate to have him work with Marsha.

It is unfortunate when Hollywood gets shortsighted in the name of conformity and aesthetics.

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On “Authenticity”

I live a colorful lifestyle. Instead of corporate riches, I have chosen the wealth of freedom, bohemianism, liberty of knowledge, and learning hardcore street smarts. In the span of things, I am a bohemian at this point in my life, fleeting and flowing around without many things bogging me down, trying to find my place in the world. One thing that I have learned for absolute certainty, is that when there is a lack of resources, there is a wealth of what could be deemed “authenticity”.

Many years ago, for a university class called “Feminism Gone Wild”, I wrote a paper evaluating the concepts of authenticity, credibility and respectability with regards to African-American cultural values. I chose to evaluate Lil’ Kim (authentic and credible as a female rapper derived from both her hardcore lifestyle growing up in Brooklyn and inherited from Notorious B.I.G.), Oprah (respectable for being an American powerhouse, authentic for having lived through true hardships of the American South, and credible for representing female Black power in America) and Kobe Bryant (his reputation called into question due to rape allegations, but his ultimate solidification as a figure representing authenticity, credibility, and respectability within the African-American cultural dynamic allowed these allegations to have little negative affect against him) which resulted in a very entertaining college paper. Hopefully, I will find it again some day. Writing this paper expanded my alertness concerning reputation, behavior, and the values of a certain group one is operating within.

Over the course of the last month, in a post I hope to follow up on, I have gone through some intense personal experience, trials and tribulations of the very definition of a person and what it means to be human. As a bohemian, as to be expected, I am not a part of the elite class, but a part of what could be referred to as the underclass, the outlaw caste, and/or the fringe. Some of the people I have been friends with could be identified as “hardcores”, in the sense that when they fuckin’ do something they fuckin’ do it and they don’t fuck around about it even (and especially) if they are fuckin’ around. I am quite certain there are those who would refer to me as hardcore as well due to my high tolerance for chaos, fringe culture, strange experiences, and ability to carry on through extremely bizarre circumstances. To a degree, I always knew I had this in me I just did not know how it would manifest while I was growing up.

One thing I know for sure as a result of finding all these beautifully unconventional people is that, identity cannot be bought. No matter how much money you may or may not have, you cannot don another outfit and become another person. You cannot escape the wounds of moments past and turbulent emotions to flee into another version of one’s self. An orange is an orange, it is citrus, a bursting flavor of cleanliness, and it is vibrant in it’s color, so much so in the English language it is simply identified as an “orange”.

There are three types of people in the world: unmovable objects, unstoppable forces, and essences. It should be fairly obvious to one’s self what one is, and if one is strong in one’s identity, others should have no problem identifying it.

There is a fantastic documentary called “Paris Is Burning” about the Vogue Scene lived among the Black gay community in New York City during the 1980s and 1990s. Madonna took voguing from these people, a certain style of attitude, dress, and ultimately dance that she turned commercial and benefited astronomically financially while the founders were living in varying stages of decrepit urban hardcore living. These people were not elite, not rich, but wealthy in life and in struggles. Many were banished from their families and became their own families as a result. This is an extremely common experience for those of us among the fringe, an extended family beyond the bounds of blood, something forged must deeper of the mind. People who have not been a part of fringe movements may understand this in theory, but to actually feel like one is coming home to a family that was not created out of blood but mutual identity is a contrary familial experience to blood bonds. Neither one is richer or more rewarding in and of itself, but both have features that are both advantageous and disadvantageous. The documentary is a rich and insightful glimpse into how these people made it work, something of a catchphrase among American gays. Many of the people featured in “Paris is Burning” probably also suffered death from the AIDS epidemic, the name of which President Reagan refused to uttered until millions of Americans had died, because who cares about queers and junkies right?

The thing is, there are those of us who care about the people on the fringe. We care because they make the world infinitely more interesting. The people who live on the outside, who live in mystery and shadows, the people whose faces you look at and you see a vast novel behind the visage, the pages in the mind’s eye hidden in the pupils, those are the gems in the dust.

What is a house?

Does a house end when the wind whips your breath from your nose? Does a house end at it’s roof? Are the people within the house part of the house? The warm smells in the house, is that part of the house? Is the laughing, the crying, the sorrow, the seizing excitement, the shouts, the stealthy silence, part of the house? Where does the house end? Do you carry the house in your heart when you step into the world?

This corporate society can sometimes get me down. I don’t like measuring peoples worth based on their monetary value. I don’t like to see people as worth more than others simply because there is a financial system that has been rigged to keep few extremely rich with money and many extremely careful about money. The solve for this problem is beyond me, minds far wiser and of more education and intelligence have tried and failed, debated and philosophized about this matter. Simply, those of us who have infinite worth but are money poor must be proud. We must be proud for the beauty of our poverty, how objects take on new worth, how the sentimental value of something is beyond what the financial measure. We must also pity the extremely wealthy, those who have poverty of knowledge in the beauty of objects, who have become so jaded to the things that come with financial wealth, those who are tied like a chain to the monetary system and those who fear it’s collapse because “What if I’m poor?!?!”. The worst has already happened to us, we are poor, but we are fierce and we are more brave than those with a thousand rooms in their homes.

We find home with each other. We can go home wherever we are.


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The Purpose of Documenting Reality

I am a documentary junkie, and an avid enthusiast of knowing everything humanly possible about the Nazi era and regime. This intellectual pursuit is motivated to provide a witness to one of the most dramatic stories in human history. As a Polish person whose family members were personally murdered by the Nazis because of their upper level jobs in the Polish government at the time the Germans came marching through (my family members were also left-leaning, so death was inescapable) I have a duty to my dead family members to understand what happened before, during, and after their murders. As a person who has all the characteristics of what the Nazi regime came to label “Aryan” (blonde hair, blue eyes, tall stature, fair complexion), I have to understand the power of my appearance and what it means to look the way I look. That may sound superficial, but when your face matches the visual representation of what one of the most murderous regimes of the twentieth century considered ideal, you have to look at your appearance if you want to stop it’s disproportionate power that helped cause human suffering. Maybe I still sound conceited, it is not my intention.

A Film Unfinished (2010) by Yael Hersonski is a documentary which I found several years ago on netflix. It’s not there anymore, but youtube sometimes carries it and here is the link through Hulu:

A Film Unfinished explores a set of unnarated film reels that were taken by Nazi propagandists with unclear intentions. Some of the shots are staged, some are direct first-hand visual accounts of what happened in the Warsaw ghetto. Perhaps one of the most notorious pits of human hell before the hellholes that lead to the flames of death at Dachau and Auschwitz, the Warsaw ghetto was a surreal reality of fascist hatred. Confined to just over one square mile with nearly half a million people, the Warsaw ghetto bustled with activity of people who were trying to stay alive by any means necessary. Deference to extreme human agony was a necessary survival tactic, a comment one of the survivor’s show’s barely any emotion about.

Many people do not have adequate imaginative skills to imagine other people’s reality. This is seen when people make insensitive remarks about victims, either rape victims or the black victims of police violence, about what they “would have” had it been them at the hands of a violent assault. People are especially resistant to understanding why victims loose their power, or even give their power over to their abuser. People believe that if it was them, they would fight to the death.

The truth is, few of us fight to the death. Most of us are beaten to death. That is a logical decision for a human to make; instead of making rash, sudden actions in the face of danger, instead to conform to the restrictions of the danger and ride it out until it ends. Because theoretically, it could end. There were holocaust survivors. There are rape victim survivors who went through the darkest parts of human sadism and lived. There are victims of extreme police violence who endure until they are let free again. Except, sometimes, it doesn’t end. Sometimes people get beaten, or raped, or traumatized until they die, and no one wants to think that could be them.

A Film Unfinished shows us those people who were beaten to death by the hatred of the world. Adam Czerniakow, the head of the Nazi set up Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Council (or Judenrat in German). Like Hitler, he would not see the post Nazi German era because he swallowed a cyanide pill on July 23, 1942 after the Nazis carried out “Grossaktion Warsaw” or the total destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. Czerniakow is an extremely important historical figure in understanding the dynamic between power and victim hood, how victims attempt to keep power, and what happens when victims come to understand that they are loosing.

Czerniakow was by no means perfect. He was a complex figure with a problem more intricately poisonous than what many face at the worst of crises. But he did write complex narrative down. He did try to take on the impossible task of creating some way for Jewish persons to be a part of some sort of society. He knew he was fighting a loosing battle. But if not him personally, who else would have been the Judenrat and how would they have led it? Czerniakow is a historical character worth investigating for anyone wishing to read about the complexities of power and victim hood that can sometimes act simultaneously.

Willie Wist, the only German film propaganda crew member to be interviewed for the documentary, agrees that the “documentary” of the Warsaw ghetto has a political agenda, to show the extreme differences between the “rich Jews and the poor Jews”. The two groups were often shown next to one another, pitting deathly poverty against the last shred of humility and dignity a person could have held on to during that time.The effect is startling, sickening, and brutal. If to say anything at the time, the Nazis could have pointed to a number of negative stereotypes against Jewish people at the time. Looking at it now, it is a heartbreaking example of the depths the human mind has to survive.

No one owns the truth, but there are those who monopolize it. If we do not document our own reality, however mundane and otherwise boring we personally see it, we do not contribute to the human narrative. We cannot draw correlations between human behaviors or historical patterns. We cannot see that we and them, we are all not so different. When we document it, we can look at it and revel at how different we are, how different realities are constructed, how different people’s lives are.