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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“I Am Cait”‘s Version of Reality

Caitlyn Jenner is a transgender superstar who is now famous for at least three distinct reason. First, as her birth gender, Caitlyn became an Olympic champion in the 1976 men’s decathlon and notably set a world record. Secondly, she was married to Kardashian matriarch Kris Kardashian and was part of E!‘s Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Now, thirdly, she has become a transgender superstar and has become the transgender “it girl” of the moment. Her Vanity Fair cover was massively important for transgender recognition and legitimization, and now she is the star of her own E! reality show, I Am Cait.

I am always skeptical about reality television because it is staged and a very odd part of our culture. The spectrum of reality television is nearly as diverse as that of sexuality, and some manifestations are more appealing to me than others. I’m not sure what I was afraid I Am Cait could turn out to be, so I put my skepticism aside and watched the first episode. I hoped for the best, after all it seemed that E! producers and PR persons knew that this was a major historical moment to be on the winning side of. Eventually rights and liberties win out over oppression and restriction.

I Am Cait is aware that it is privileged. Caitlyn Jenner mentions this at least once, her awareness that her experience is not typical of most trans experiences when coming out. She exclaims  that people die over this, transitioning, and that she has a safe and supportive environment to transition within, a privilege many trans people live without. Instead, many trans people live in fear of the public’s reaction to their identity, or even their family’s own reaction which could be violent itself. Caitlyn informs us that trans people have a higher rate of being victims to suicide and murder, and presents the problem as if there could be a solution. The underlying theme of I Am Cait is one of acceptance and understanding but not ignorance. It is glossy and fashionable but not without understanding and empathy.

Two major celebrities appear on the show, Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner. Kim’s bit in the show is light hearted and fashion oriented, something that lightens the mood and shows the audience that a person’s transition can be fun. Kylie’s appearance is a little more unclear since she has not seen her father since her transition. It does seem like a staged appearance for Kylie, a little bit of a reference to Caitlyn’s beginning monologue of many trans people not experiencing acceptance form their own families. We later learn that for the most part the Kardashian clan has largely been absent during Caitlyn’s transition. They offer kind words from the telephone but don’t see her in person. As a PR pro, Kylie also lightens the mood and brings her father blue hair extensions to put in her hair. Though funny, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Caitlyn clearly feels a little bit abandoned from her family from their lack of presence.

Caitlyn’s non-famous family also makes an appearance, and these people are seriously confused about pronoun usage. They constantly refer to Caitlyn as “Bruce” or “him” or other male pronouns. Caitlyn’s mother frets that her now daughter is violating a passage in the bible that forbids men from wearing female clothing. E! predictably overlay dramatic music during this scene, and a LGBTQ counselor awkwardly answers that since Caitlyn has always been a woman, even when she was Bruce, she is not violating anything biblical. This seems like an odd answer, but it gives at least enough relief to Caitlyn’s mother. The audience also learns that Caitlyn had been thinking about transitioning for at least thirty-five years from conversations with her sister. This surprised me, to have the full extent of how deep the secret went revealed on television. It proves the point that these things are never just out of the blue, they are identity issues that are confusing and should be sensitively handled by everyone around the trans person.

I Am Cait gives transgenderism dignity and legitimacy within a Hollywood frame. Prestige and privilege are mandatory, and a sad tale of epic proportions must be included in the entertainment in order to keep the viewer gripped. We learn about a trans teen who committed suicide after experiencing time and time again improper recognition from the adults around him. Quite simply, adults wanted to refer to him as a female, his birth sex, instead of as a male, his gender. To a frail teen ego and underdeveloped mind, this was devastating. It must have felt like that was what they world was going to be like for the rest of his like, confusion about his identity and lack of acceptance. It is easy to see why transgender people suffer from suicide at a rate that is nine times higher than the rest of the population. Including this teen’s story was a good thing to do for the show because it humanized the issue beyond celebrity Caitlyn and took the focus off of fashion, frivolity, and family and on to one of life and death, which was the point Caitlyn originally wanted to make at the beginning of the episode.

I plan on watching I Am Cait for the rest of the series mostly out of curiosity because I’d like to see how Hollywood will combine transgender advocacy with entertainment. After a first promising episode I believe it will successfully achieve its goals of coming off as entertaining and empathetic.


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Violence in Prisoners (2013)

As I have stated before, this blog has become something of a study in violence. Which is interesting, because apparently studying themes of violence is a theme in my very family.

I am proud to say that I am the cousin of brilliant (obviously I am biased) Hollywood screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski. Aaron wrote Prisoners before he wrote the first film that was produced and distributed by a major Hollywood company, which was Contraband (2012). Both films are violent, and both films are studies in fatherhood, masculinity, family ties and obligation, illegal activity, drugs, and the distortion of humanity.

Where does my family get this fascination with the darker side of human reality?

Our great grandfather was an eccentric man. An intellectual, an enigma, something of a patriarchal myth and legend. The story goes, when acquired enough wealth, he bought property and constructed not only a house but also a man-made lake, and within this lake was a mound of Earth, and on top of this mound of Earth was a bathtub.

See, he was eccentric. He was not violent, as far as I know, but he was somewhat detached. Sometimes he communicated in short, simple sentences like the person he was speaking to had walked in on the conversation in his head. At least this is what I gather him to be like, I do not know for sure because I was there. A legend.

Aaron’s movie Prisoners has narratives that are eccentric, like the all the mazes and the pig’s head in the sink. But what really struck me while re-watching this movie, is that the anti-cathartic ending has a resonance within my perception of the world as well, possibly through my systematic study of human engineered violence, which is a theme explored in the film. When Aaron first achieved success, it coincided with my study of Leni Riefenstahl and her influential Nazi propaganda films, so as an experience for me, looking to cinema as an art form was an important thing to do if I was going to understand how societies worked.

One of the plot lines in the movie is about torture. Dover, the aggressive and out of control father of one of the abducted girls, himself abducts a one time police suspect and subjects him to similar treatment found in the CIA torture report, like the use of extremely cold water on the body, deprivation, beatings, and general psychological terror. Clearly, the characters in the film are not as sophisticated as the American government, but as I observed previously, there are only so many ways to torture a human being. In a similar frame of mind, Dover is a survivalist who believes that there is a constant threat to his safety, as seen in the beginning of the film when he tells his son that he has to depend on himself because at any moment the grocery stores could stop carrying food. When there is a threat to his family, he takes things into his own hands. This is a similar narrative as to why so many Americans are currently accepting torture as a status quo. If there is a threat to us, then we throw the rule book out.

In the film, Dover’s actions circle back to him. He becomes a prisoner himself, reaped of his own violence sown out of a heart filled with sorrow and pain and actions taken out of aggression and dominance. Dover’s own use of violence makes him a victim, literally of Holly, the psychotic character responsible for this whole mess, and causes his family’s own victim hood to continue even further with his disappearance. They are still traumatized, and the violence did not cause a catharsis.

Violence also interferes with the necessary understanding of nuance. While drawing the map, which appeared to be a maze, Bob Taylor, the only living and functional victim of Holly, appears to be fucking with Detective Loki. Loki doesn’t have time for this shit, and smashes Taylor’s face into the table. That’s it. Taylor decides, fuck it, I can’t talk normally, I can’t explain after all these years of being silent about the torture and the mazes and the abuse and I’m fucked up over it, I’m just going to grab this police officer’s weapon and commit suicide (Hollywood drama, sure, but it’s a great scene and shocking the first time). Some people just do not communicate like the rest of us. Taylor was indeed drawing a map, it was of a maze, and no one would take a moment to understand. Everyone just got violent instead.

My cousin’s work is fiction, but the narrative of violence is based within the truth about violence. The circular path just continues to show up until the cycle is broken.

How to break it without more violence? I think that’s the question we can’t answer, and possibly won’t.