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Tilting at Windmills

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January 8, 2006
By: Debra Dickerson

Two-fer: How to stab both your race and your gender in the back with one post....Kevin foolishly forgot to disable my password, so, never one to under stay my welcome, I just had to John-Hancock another demerit onto my ghetto and womyn's room passes when I ran across this interview with Craig Brewer, writer and director of the controversial movie Hustle and Flow. Let me save you some time: homey's a freak.

Here's an extended excerpt from MSNBC's chat with him

Brewer: "Hustle & Flow" is actually about me and my wife making that first movie. I had my father, at the age of 49, die rather unexpectedly of a heart attack and literally his last words to me were you should do this script you wrote, this "Poor and Hungry" script, and don't shoot it on film. Don't spend all your money. Just celebrate the fact that you don't have that much money. So my wife and I would build these sets inside our house and we'd have to quiet down the neighbors and it was a very difficult time for us. My wife was working as a seamstress and then she started working as a stripper. I was writing in this bar and working in receiving at a bookstore. And really, this movie changed us and saved us from this crazy life we were living in Memphis. We became filmmakers. That's really what "Hustle & Flow" was about, we just changed it to rap and made the character a pimp.

AP: Why do you think the movie has such broad appeal?

Brewer: I think everybody has related to DJay. Everybody has thought, "I've been moving away from that dream that I had when I was a younger person, like an inch every day and now I'm on the other side of the room and I don't know if it's even possible for me to return to that time ever again. I'm closer to the end than I am to the beginning and is it OK for me to reboot?" Of course it's OK for you to reboot. Of course it's within your right to try and change your life. ... "Hustle & Flow" is for everybody who wants to reboot and I think that's why people connected with it.

....AP: Your next film is even more risky. What is the story behind "Black Snake Moan"?

Brewer: It's about this young white girl I don't like the word nymphomaniac but she suffers from this intense sexual addiction through these panic attacks she gets. It's about the relationship she has with this old black man who finds her beat up on the side of the road, nurses her back to health and he tries to help her. She's a very self-destructive young woman and so he keeps her chained, with a long chain, to this immovable rusty radiator out in his country home so she can't go back into town and hurt herself again.

I cannot wait to see Black Snake Moan and, dammit, I hope I like it as much as I liked Hustle and Flow and Jane Campion's 1993 The Piano. No, that's wrong: I didn't just like those movies. I was mesmerized by them. (Even though the male friend I saw the Campion with was so put off by Holly Hunter's butt shots that he nearly had to spit).

For those of you who were lobotomized by the feminist fury that movie incited, here's a The Piano cheat sheet lifted from the Boston Phoenix:

Women find another, more eloquent expression in The Piano, as does Campion in her consummate work to date. The film begins with a voiceover from Ada (Holly Hunter, with scarcely a syllable of dialogue, in her greatest performance) that comes not in her speaking voice she has not spoken since childhood but in her "mind's voice," that of a changeling child. Imprisoned in the 19th-century social restraints embodied by her stern black bonnet and gown, Ada gives voice to her soul through her piano (in the moody, somewhat anachronistic rhapsodies of composer Michael Nyman).

Unwed and burdened with her child Flora (an eldritch Anna Paquin, winner of one of those freak Best Supporting Actress Oscars), herself a witchy handful and her mother's interpreter and familiar, Ada is sent packing from her native Scotland to the surf-tossed, mud-clotted wilds of New Zealand and mail-order husband Stewart (Sam Neill). There, the piano proves an object of contention, as the hapless and puritanical Stewart insists on leaving it on the beach. On the other hand, his semi-feral neighbor Baines (Harvey Keitel, poignantly vulnerable despite his Maori markings, piggish behavior, and trademark nudity) is intrigued both by it and by the truculent, fragile Ada, who passes through the benighted settlement like an inkdrop through water.

Baines offers Stewart a strip of land for the instrument and then enlists Ada for "lessons." What follows is a perverse and wrenching treatise on capitalism, sexual politics, and passion as he trades piano keys to Ada for increasingly intimate, fetishistic favors. Far from being victimized, Ada gains power through the transactions, and though it carries the price of a brutal convulsion of violence, the finished composition is a sensuous meditation on language, sublimation, fate, and the ineffable mystery of the female will.

Now, while studying on an Ivy League campus, imagine loving a movie about a woman, er, womyn who comes to glory in trading sexual favors to ransom her beloved piano. I thought my own ovaries would stage a walk out before it was over. The fury of even my closest friends we'd mostly met, after all, through feminist groups was so thorough going, so Old Testament-ly impervious to the notion that theirs, too, were mere opinions, I ended up just metronoming things like, "Dunno. Just liked it, ok?" Or "Did you hear Holly Hunter play that piano? Sis was jamming." In particular, "C'mon. You know you'd a done that naughty pudge Keitel, too if no cameras were rolling" seemed to set them off.

It's not that I (duh) endorse anyone forcing anyone else to pole dance to retrieve stolen heirlooms, but, given my whole hearted embrace of the feminist critique of patriarchal sexual relationships, especially for a mute 19th century mail order bride with a bastard daughter who was sold by her father to a stranger, why is it so wrong to paint a picture of what such a reality might have looked like? For all its titillation, doesn't it prove the very point feminists make: that, at best, it makes sado-mascohists of us all, just as slavery and Jim Crow did? Unless we fear the bright, disinfecting light of public debate, why not interrogate our own notions of how those power relationships might have played out? Am I the only black feminist who hopes that Sally Hemmings might have actually loved Jeff-Daddy, even as I believe that waaaaaay most pre-1964 or so offspring of biracial unions were the result of rapes or, at best, date slash keep-my-job rapes? I don't need for every enslaved/ or Jim Crow'd mother of biracial children to have had to suckle her rapists' offspring to assert that 98 per cent of racial problems in America derive from whites' determination to control the black body, male and female. Hideous as it is to accept, there was the odd, counterintuitive instance that highlighted exactly that while providing for a modern day, unimaginable parable that kept our Starbucks'd minds from wandering into our millionth Nigerian-lottery-winning email of the day.

I know 'someone' who manipulated the love of her life into slapping her to prove that she could make him do any thing she wanted. You had to be there, not that I was, but it proves the point that often, the most passionate relationships, almost by definition, have some element of S & M at their core. It's not right. It's not preferable. It just is, as with the tale of a pimp who, even tho he forces his 'top bitch' to service a store owner to procure a top-of-the-line microphone for him, nonetheless has a heart of gold and just wants to be loved as a rapper.

Bring on the pitchforks.

Debra Dickerson 4:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (166)

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Comments

Um, is this a joke?

Posted by: skeptic on January 8, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

I thought most of the fury unleashed by The Piano came from anti- and non-feminists who thought it was a stupid, overaestheticized chick flick that should never have been nominated for any Oscars because, like most movies by and/or about women, it wasn't "about anything."

Posted by: rabbit on January 8, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

Jeez, and modus podus thought *I* needed a hug on the soda thread ...

Oh well, I guess I'll have to read about Tom DeLay's fall from grace elsewhere today.

Seemed like a pretty important story at the time.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

too much input...cannot compute...back to politics

Posted by: twoupfromtheright on January 8, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

I have a personal solution to dealing with movies the advance press of which gives me reason to suspect some sort of egregious truck with retrograde memes and/or sterotypes.

I don't watch them.

Woah.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

"...especially for a mute 19th century mail order bride with a bastard daughter who was sold by her father to a stramger..."

Is "stramger" a portmanteau word for stranger + masochist?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Am I the only black feminist who hopes that Sally Hemmings might have actually loved Jeff-Daddy"

I am sure she did.
And I am sure he did too.
Unspeakable love always burns brightest.

Which reminds me...
After all forms of sex are legalized
And media-ized
What will the glass-tit have left to titilate us with?

When nothing is left unspeakable,
How will they speak to us?

What's left after we sucked and fucked and slashed fictioned ourselves into voyeuristic boredom?

I mean... even a Kligon fucking the Queen of England upside down will ultimately prove a yawner to a Yorkshireman.

So what happens to big media when every door knob has been sucked, and every keyhole fucked, and every species to species possibility has been cornholed and utterly uddered?

What we will suck on then?

[Aside: Idea for an invention: Coca Cola bottles shaped like dildoes. (one has gots to makes ones moola whilst ones can]


Posted by: koreyel on January 8, 2006 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

As a feminist, I never had a problem with The Piano. Doesn't raise my womyn hackles at all. I think it's unrealistic - the telepathy, Sam Neil letting his wife run off with Harvey Keitel, and the daughter being OK after all the trauma.

OTOH the Maori are treated with condescension to some extent. (specifically, The Bluebeard play where Maori think the gory stage effects are real).

Posted by: Librul on January 8, 2006 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Why would you think this is a joke? I think Ms. Dickerson makes a brilliant insight. People are always finding their cognitive realities conflicting with material ideals. Denying these complexities does no one any good.

Posted by: ack ack ack on January 8, 2006 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

This is undoubtedly of interest in analyzing the feminine mytique. As a Progessive male Democrat who supports gender equality and feminist political positions, it nontheless provides me with way too much input.

Posted by: Roland Vincent on January 8, 2006 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

I feel traumatized. Reading that brought back freakish memories of dating a fine arts student.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on January 8, 2006 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

koryel:

Nicely poetic post.

I keep coming back to the coprophilia scene in Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow."

When we can assimilate that as a culture, we'll be at the end of history.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

I take it the feminists remain upset over something.

Who gives a fuck?

Posted by: Thinker on January 8, 2006 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

I have no idea what the point of this post was.

Posted by: metaphoria on January 8, 2006 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

Sometimes, I just can't get past the yuck factor. "It's hard out there for a pimp" ? Give me a break.

Posted by: Sara on January 8, 2006 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you for the most hilariously written "fuck you" I've ever read. My eyes are filled with tears, just thinking about what poor little anonymous must be doing right now. I'll come back with a straight face in about half an hour & read it again. This post is chock-full of, well, something for everyone.

Absolutely priceless.

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on January 8, 2006 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

> Who gives a fuck?

> Posted by: Thinker

*snickering indulgently*

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Look, commenters are challenged. Err, being challenged.

Posted by: ack ack ack on January 8, 2006 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

chauncey:

It wasn't an anonymous post. It was another Debra Dickerson offering -- giving us all her best riotgrrrl impression by posting without Kevin's explicit permission (he forgot to disable her password).

Look, I worked under radical lesbians at NJCA. I was harrassed for being heterosexual and becoming friends with a woman who worked there who was on the verge of coming out.

Humorlessness is humorlessness.

I'll take Betty Friedan any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Debra, where do you usually write? Half the stuff leaves me befuddled but nonetheless I'd like to see more.

Posted by: QuietStorm on January 8, 2006 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

An interesting post.

I wonder about the proportion of pre-1964, biracial unions being coerced. Maybe this varied by geography, with a greater proportion (and probably a greater absolute number) occuring in the South.

I've never understood the revulsion of some, not at a story, but that the story was told. It's as if by documenting some tiny example of social reality, it is, thereby, endorsed in some way.

Posted by: Mike B. on January 8, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Debra,

Please "understay" anytime with or without "properly inserted commas".

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 8, 2006 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

debra,

from your habitually vague writing, i gather from your first sentence that your time at PA is almost up.

i'd like to take this opportunity to thank you. i've historically been a front-page only reader at PA and never delved into comments. your writing has been so obtuse, nonsensical, and in short, bad, that i was forced to jump into comments for the first time to get clarification. not finding much enlightenment there, i've since read comments on your posts solely for the schadenfreude and confirming i'm not the only one who can't stand your posts. and while there, i've come to appreciate how sharp and thoughtful is the quality of kevin's readers, who provide additional insight to posts i wouldn't have found, if it hadn't been for you.

so thanks. and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Posted by: rahrahrah on January 8, 2006 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with Debra's posts is that they're totally bone-ass self-indulgent. She assumes the same level of familiarity -- and worse, interest -- with The Piano (perhaps forgivable because it was widely seen) and these assinine gangsta movies that nearly all of us would find appalling if we took three seconds to pay them any attention at all.

Her posts are turning PA into The Village Voice.

We're no longer dialoguing on things that we all read about with roughly the same level of interest and can then find a common language with which to discuss and debate them. It has nothing to do with the radical feninista nature of the subject. It'd be just as goddamned self-indulgent if *I* wrote a blog post about ... fucking odd time signatures in rock music -- something I happen to care passionately about as a composer but which causes everybody else's eyes to glaze over.

Instead, the nature of her subject matter devolves into a semaphore of PC, and we all start butting heads based on self-righteous affirmations or disaffirmations of the same. It's like having an entirely content-free abortion debate.

The same goddamn thing with her complaining about what they stick in the African-American Literature section of commercial bookstores. Idealistic special pleading coupled with stone-cluelessness about the publishing industry.

Sheesh.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

No, Bob, I know who wrote that post. (If you've been around here for the last week or so, how could you NOT know.) This was just a genius combination of confession, analysis, & count-my-commas-now,-bitch. And now the comments section is going to be almost as much fun. Koreyel has already got the ball rolling. And then there will be the other comments. (Can't you just feel the conniptions coming?)

Sorry to hear about your problems with the sisterhood.

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on January 8, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

This is at least the 3rd post where you've felt it important to mention an ivy-league education. Elitism isn't progressive.

Posted by: Drew Miller on January 8, 2006 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

To those who would like to know more Debra Dickerson's work, either google her name, go to her web site, or check with Random House, her publisher.

For those who would like to know more about her detractors, be sure to check with their non-publishers.

Posted by: sisboombah on January 8, 2006 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Bob: "We're no longer dialoguing on things that we all read about with roughly the same level of interest..."

Or maybe there's a bigger "we" out there than "we" typically find in the comments section.

"It'd be just as goddamned self-indulgent if *I* wrote a blog post about ... fucking odd time signatures in rock music -- something I happen to care passionately about as a composer but which causes everybody else's eyes to glaze over."

But that's cool. Because then I learn something about which I know nothing (those signatures of yours), while still getting down with whatever brings me to your blog in the first place. Or I just move to the next item. I would never presume to think that the worth of your musings is what I have to say about them.

By the way, isn't a blog, almost by definition, self-indulgent?

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on January 8, 2006 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

chauncey:

Hehe ... good points, bro :)

I mean ... why discuss Tom DeLay and the Republican leadership when you can tear Kevin's contributor friend seven gazillion new ones, eh?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

sisboombah (aka 3rd Paul):

My publisher was The New York Times. About, uhmm, odd time signatures in rock music. First Sunday of 2000, Arts & Leisure section. You'll have to pay to read it in archive, though, if you're not a member of TimesReject.

chauncey:

In the general blogosphere, of course I agree with you. But particular blogs have particular ecologies. I'd be far less inclined to go off on a tear about this if this wasn't the weekend that Tom DeLay resigned from the leadership. There are important things to discuss about that which nearly all of us are following. Certainly more important than some radical rant about movies that virtually none of us will bother to read the reviews of, let alone see.

My gripe here is about relevance, not content per se.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Very irritating post. It reminds me of some prattle that you put up with from a college girl because you want to get into her pants. Nonsensical, irritating, jibber-jabber. Please go away now.

Posted by: Steven H. on January 8, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Wow. Been alone long?

Posted by: cdj on January 8, 2006 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Bob: "I mean ... why discuss Tom DeLay and the Republican leadership when you can tear Kevin's contributor friend seven gazillion new ones, eh?"

Among the things that I enjoy about reading this woman's posts is that she's raising different issues & provoking responses that don't necessarily break down along lines that we're used to seeing here. Even better, she's making people (well, she's making me) think as much about why I respond to the issues she raises as much as how I respond to them.

I think it would be great if she continued to post here, but that's just me.

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on January 8, 2006 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

Well. I'll say the same thing that I say to the guy who panhandles on the median strip near my house. Shut up. Get a job.

Posted by: Steve H. on January 8, 2006 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

chauncey:

Oh good lords, I have no problem if she wants to post here; that's not the issue. As long as she's not offended by the comments, it's always worthwhile to provide any reason to generate discussion, no matter what that discussion is.

My problem, though, is that nobody here can properly-speaking discuss the content of what she's saying. The best we can do is to make vague extrapolations into what we *think* she's saying, which more often than not are just straw men whether pro or con.

I mean, what's going on right now is that people are reacting to the aura that surrounds what she was trying to say ... something about trying to understand the attraction hidden within blatantly oppressive and/or expoloitative relationships.

Me personally, I'd love to discuss the sexual relationship between Brock Vond and Frenesei Gates in Pynchon's "Vineland," because it touches precisely on that issue. But I also know that maybe only one other person has probably read the book.

So to attempt to do so would just be completely self-indulgent.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Bob: "There are important things to discuss about that which nearly all of us are following. Certainly more important than some radical rant about movies that virtually none of us will bother to read the reviews of, let alone see."

If you're complaining that somebody else isn't talking about what you want to talk about, then maybe it's time to start your own blog. Be sure to let me know what the url is. I'll visit.

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on January 8, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

What started out as an interview with a wacked movie guy digresses into some sort of self-pitying lesbian fantasy gripe. I don't get it...

Bloggers should strive for brevity. Some of us have better things to do than to slosh through mental diarrhea for a half hour at a time.

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on January 8, 2006 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

Got no time for the jibber-jabber.

Posted by: Mr. T. on January 8, 2006 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

Reading Debra's racial/feminist shaggy dog stories give me an overwhelming desire to take a shower afterwards. And I'm not alone, obviously. She also has those who defend her vigorously.

I hear it was like that at the premier performance of Stravinsky's "Rights of Spring".

Yes, I know, that was a total faux-intellectual non sequitur. But if she can do it, why not me?

Posted by: 2.7182818 on January 8, 2006 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

People are different. Those differences may be irritating sometimes, but they are also valuable. Making the effort to understand people who are different is valuable too. To me, that's the core idea of liberalism.

Did Debra get under your skin? Did she piss you off? Good! That's valuable information. How you use it is up to you.

Oh, and cdj, thanks for the best laugh of the day.

Posted by: Doctor Jay on January 8, 2006 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

Doctor Jay:

You make precisely my point. Instead of commenting on anything that could be remotely connected to what Debra wrote, you come back with some boilerplate about liberal tolerance -- as if any regular here would dispute that.


This is what I mean about straw men and responding to auras.

And what it does is fill the comments section with straw-man (straw-woman?) pissing matches between people who think they're defending liberalism and people who were genuinely put off by Debra's posts.

Hey look, if you like what she wrote -- why not try actually defending it, or extrapolating on some point she raised, eh?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

Did someone say something about it not being the feminists but the antifeminists who unleashed their fury at things by and/or about women? Debra, if you want feminists to attack you, you'd better go to a different blog. Here, it's mostly woman-haters as usual.

Posted by: rabbit on January 8, 2006 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think I'm exceptionally stupid, but I just read that post and don't know what Debra is trying to say. Maybe if I read it again, and maybe a few more times, I'd have some idea.
Yes, it's something about the Piano and sexual politics and capitalism and race, but beyond that list of words I have only the vaguest sense of what she thinks about any of it. Look at that sentence that begins "Hideous as it is to accept...." What the hell is that?

Posted by: Donald Johnson on January 8, 2006 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

2.7:

The Rite of Spring absolutely rocks. One of my all-time favorite pieces of music.

I prefer the two-piano composer's reduction to rehearse the ballet, though. Cuts through some of the clutter so you can really experience the intense structural ideas of that piece.

Hehe, *speaking* of totally irrelevant self-indulgence :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

rabbit:

What's a "woman hater"?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

>>

But you don't have a point.

- ack ack ack

Posted by: ack ack ack on January 8, 2006 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

I remember "The Piano". The visuals were so ugly I closed my eyes, which left me listening to the rest. When I also stopped up my ears, I realized I'd be happier somewhere else and left.

The point of the movie was telegraphed with such thudding emphasis that only the obscurity of story was left to give it any interest. That is, damn little.

Speaking for myself, this rape love story didn't inspire in me the desire to do either Harvey Keitel or Holly Hunter.

Posted by: Tom Parmenter on January 8, 2006 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

I wouldn't think that guest bloggers are invited to imitate Kevin (or Josh Marshall), either in topic selection or writing style. So why outcry when she writes about what interests her? If you don't find it interesting or relevant, don't read it. And definitely don't click on the comments.

I've found some of her posts interesting, some self-indulgent, and some both. The black garbage writing as literature post was self-indulgent, but it was also interesting (to me at least). But reading writers and other intellectuals complain is the most boring and off-putting chore I can imagine.

Debra is very smart and knowledgable. But her writing style is discursive; it seems to mirror her thinking, making and ruminating on connections among secondary and tertiary subjects. The problems with this style is that it can come across as pedantic (because it often is) and it can be just plain difficult to understand what in the hell the author is talking about.

I am surprised at the level of vitriol being leveled at our guest.

Posted by: Mike B. on January 8, 2006 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Awesome post, Ms. Dickerson. Thanks.

One of the first things feminist guys have to get over is this whole listening to women thing. It's so much easier to figure we're cool and we can tell you what's important to you. So keep telling us what you really care about and what you really think, even if it is inconvenient and distracting for the guys who are trying to focus on their serious political business of which of us white guys are in power and we'll get to you later, sometime, whenever.

Given the complete lack of any experimental controls, I really don't know whether oppression makes sado-masochists of us all, or if it's the other way around. I strongly believe that oppression is bad, and that S&M is not. Some think it's the other way around, but they're confused, and some of them are the most dangerous perverts of all, the ones who have a kink for taking over governments and churches and forcing all of us to participate in their power fantasies.

I don't know about Sally Hemmings, but it would be wrong to say there can't be love in a relationship tainted by oppression. That would be a denial of the humanity of those involved, and their right to try to make the best of a bad situation.

Posted by: TomB on January 8, 2006 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

I just re-read Debra's post. Her last paragraph is absolutely freaking incoherent. Aside from a heavily suspended verb (two lines's worth of prefatory clauses), I can't tell if the last clause of her final sentence (about the pimp with the heart of gold) is meant to be ironic, or sardonic, or literally or what.

In context with her "It just *is*," point, one would assume that she meant it literally. But then the very notion of a pimp with a heart of gold undercuts every last shred of the argument she spend so many paragraphs setting up.

This woman is such a cool-ass cynic about popular culture she may as well be a nihilist. All that feminymism fer nuthin' but a microphone for your heart-o-gold pimp daddy, eh?

Sheesh. Did I misread this? Somebody help me out here ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

Reading Debra's racial/feminist shaggy dog stories give me an overwhelming desire to take a shower afterwards.

That's what I found so disconcerting about this post. There are some interesting thoughts to be discussed when it comes to someone's abivalent feelings about The Piano, but it's inserted in the end after a "shaggy dog story" involving a guy I've never heard of who wrote a movie I've never seen talking about his thought process and family history behing writing it, which I don't really care about. Instead of just giving the readers the executive summary about what may raise the ire of some feminists when it comes to The Piano and Hustle and Flow, we're treated to long, out-of-context excerpts from MSNBC and the Boston Phoenix. Then there's the digression into pre-1964 offspring of biracial relationships, references to Starbucks and Nigerian 419 scams.

Amanda Marcotte could have done so much work with the subject matter.

Oh, and the juxtoposition of the Boston Phoenix followed by a mention of an Ivy League education was the most subtle way I've ever seen someone allude that she has gone to Harvard. That was a good one. :)

Posted by: Constantine on January 8, 2006 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Count me as a big fan of "The Piano".

However, I have no idea what this post is about.

Posted by: fiat lux on January 8, 2006 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

Elitism isn't progressive.

You know, I'd like to take issue with this. I'd like to hope that most progressive families would aspire for their children to avail themselves of elite educations and, unlike the president, use the opportunity to become a better, more educated, more knowledgable person. Love of learning is progressive.

Posted by: Constantine on January 8, 2006 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

Great, this is about girls. my favorite topic!

Sado-masachism, if it stayed in the bedroom, then fine. When it boils out into the relationship, then others get affected, that is my beef.

I told my fiancee, one day, she has the week-end off. She ran off into white slavery and never returned.


Posted by: Matt on January 8, 2006 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

TomB:

I don't think the dichotomy is between oppression and S&M. Even perfectly consensual S&M relations involve some kind of domination as a matter of definition. The real question is how much aggression and domination is admixed with sexuality altogether.

This is a very dicey topic. On the one hand, you'll have essentialists like Camile Paglia making pseduo-sociobiological arguments that it is indeed -- and then pooh-poohing date rape on college campuses, because conquest is inherently in the nature of the way men sexually relate to women. Why just look at the animal kingdom, etc. etc. etc.

On the other hand, you have sexual liberationist feminists, many in the gay community and others who argue that it is as well, but that our conscious minds ultimately mediate, and as long as lines are drawn and safewords understood, the aggressive, dominating nature of sex (and the equally strong desire to submit) can be decoupled from oppression in the larger social sense.

I tend to be more sympathetic to the latter line of reasoning than I am to the Dworkinite/Paglia view (two sides of the same coin) that sex is inherently oppressive and this is either simply natural (Paglia) or else, since inherently bad for the weaker party -- women -- the sign of a grave cultural sickness (Dworkin).

Then we're left with the liberal vanilla folks who have a hard time wrapping their minds around the idea that sex is inherently aggressive and involves poles of dominance/submission at all. I don't know what to tell these folks at all, save to ask them to more deeply introspect.

The most interesting aspect of this, for me, is what it is that makes folks who are genuinely oppressed come to love their oppressors. I think this was a central point in Debra's post, and as uncomfortable as this makes *all* of us, it nonetheless seems to be empirically true. What is it about military guys that women find so attractive? What is it about barbie doll women that men find so attractive?

I have no answers to this question, glib or otherwise.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

I mean, what's going on right now is that people are reacting to the aura that surrounds what she was trying to say ...

Oh. I thought what was mostly going on here was people forced to watch your obsessive love affair with the sound of your own voice. Again.

Posted by: way on January 8, 2006 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

Hi Bob,

I think there's a key difference between domination/aggression and oppression. Oppression doesn't have a safe word.

I don't think I have any answers either, but if we're going to figure out human behavior, it's going to be through an evolutionary perspective. Taking your example, the more chaotic and violent a society is, the more survival value there is with military skills, and survival is attractive. This example highlights the irony of right-wing authoritarianism: the right-wing holds power by offering protection from violence, but if they ever really delivered, people would not find the right-wing so attractive.

Tom

Posted by: TomB on January 8, 2006 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

I think this whole post is a joke. I've tried reading Dickerson's posts but they have been uniformly so deadeningly stupid I didn't bother. This time I bothered because I couldn't figture out what side she thought she was arguing. But when she came to her discussion of The Piano, a movie I had actually seen and liked, I knew she simply was making stuff up. I'm a feminist. I know lots of feminists. None of them, not one of them, had a problem with the movie. Why? Because a movie (or a book) isn't supposed to tell you how life *ought* to be in a perfect world. Its telling you something important about how life *is* lived and how that affects people. Good, bad, but never indifferent. Dickerson's reading/viewing skills are so impoverished that she thinks we watch things for how it ends.

screw you and this sophmoric reading of pop culture. And stop dragging feminism down with you by attacking unknown, hypothetical, anonymous "Feminists" that you claim said something stupid to you once. On the evidence of your writing, I can imagine that most conversations left them scratching their heads trying to figure out what the f*&ck you were saying.

Feminism isn't a way to get dates and it isn't a feel good script for reading movies. Its a political viewpoint on actual events and political policy.

aimai

Posted by: aimai on January 8, 2006 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK

way:

> "I mean, what's going on right now is that people are reacting
> to the aura that surrounds what she was trying to say ..."

> Oh. I thought what was mostly going on here was
> people forced to watch your obsessive love
> affair with the sound of your own voice. Again.

Well, that and two-line snarks by
anonymous cowards with nothing to say.

> You are sending a comment to:
> toomuch@bob.com

Let me guess ... 3rd Paul, right?

I guess we'll never find out :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

nicely done bob/rmk1!

it looks like you were able to extract a point from debra's post after all, and it's basically what i got out of it, no less. power and sexuality interact in ways that are extremely difficult to coherently map. debra was articulately plumbing those depths, and if some readers weren't up for thinking about that, well, their loss.

Posted by: sayke on January 8, 2006 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

Constantine:

Excellent summation of my problems with Debra's posts. It's not her subject matter or her POV -- it's the digressions about things that only tangentially support her point (and with which few of us are familiar), but which are drawn with a hardcore ideological brush -- as if they're somehow central to her argument.

It reads like somebody's ranting LiveJournal entry, not a blog post with its topic designed to provoke discussion.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

The comment section is really disappointing to me (I usually skim through it after reading the article, rarely post). I don't have any actual comments to on Debra's post, since I never saw the Piano, and probably won't see this new movie; but the fairly personal vitriol directed at her disgusts me. I thought a lot better of Washington Monthly readers than that.

Posted by: Brian Palmer on January 8, 2006 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, it's pretty creepy.

I thought it was a decent blog post, myself. It wasn't a classically balanced essay, but then neither are Kevin's posts, generally speaking. It marshalled some personal experiences and some observations of pop culture and paid off with a pretty reasonable insight at the end.

From here it looks like some people are giving Debra Dickerson double doses of crap for rhetorical sins which they forgive in other bloggers all the time. Gosh, why might this be? Quite a stumper.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden on January 8, 2006 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

So how do you feel about movie and book Geisha?

Posted by: Katherine Graham Cracker on January 8, 2006 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

> nicely done bob/rmk1!

Oh, uhh, thanks :)

> it looks like you were able to extract a point from
> debra's post after all, and it's basically what i got
> out of it, no less. power and sexuality interact in
> ways that are extremely difficult to coherently map.

Well yes. And it's very ambivalent and makes things extremely
uncomfortable for liberals, who'd like to tame the darker corners
of our psyches with reason. TomB above said the difference between
natural sexual aggression and natural social oppression is that
there's no safeword for oppression. True of course -- but I
think the relationship is much more admixed than any good liberal
would like to credit. Sexual aggression created social oppression,
and social oppression leaves forms which produce sexual attraction
for both sexes -- despite our very best egalitarian ideals.

Again, check out Thomas Pynchon's novel Vineland. The female
protagonist -- a hardcore smash-the-state 60s radical -- is co-opted
by a drippingly evil FBI agent who wants to infiltrate the movement.
They have a consensual sexual relationship. Turns out she's always
been attracted to guys in uniform. In fact, the first scene we meet
her she's unzipping to masturbate in front of a CHiPs rerun. This
is for comical effect, of course -- but it's a question all through
the book which Pynchon supplies no easy answers for. How could
somebody who was raised as a red diaper baby, who loathes the FBI,
wind up attracted to this fascist at all? A very disturbing idea.

> debra was articulately plumbing those depths, and if some
> readers weren't up for thinking about that, well, their loss.

Well, it was more that Debra's reading was incoherent, because
the usual feminist analysis just can't deal with it. According
to feminism (or humanism), sexually exploitative relationships
are just flat-out wrong, period. Yet we're left with these movies
that explore the attraction between the powerless and those who
sexually profit from their power over them, and how both are, at
the end of the day, victimized by something neither uderstands.
The Sally Hemmings comment was telling. Let's hope she *did*
love him. There is *no way* to produce a neat liberal script
for how to read this. It's not merely that military guys offer
security, or that men are inherently insecure (Maureen Dowd's
reading). Something deeper is going on, maybe something hardwired.

I have no idea what it is. It's both troubling and fascinating.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

Wait a sec. Am I on the right site? This is Kevin Drum, right? Washington Monthly?

Feminism?

Posted by: Slothrop on January 8, 2006 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

Patrick Neilsen Hayden.

Ha ha ha.

No, it's neither racism nor sexism.

Debra's posts are not remotely equivalent to Kevin's, either rhetorically or in terms of subject matter.

The tiniest bit of retraint on Debra's part would have made all the difference in the world. Just the sort of thing that English teachers and editors usually wish for in the people who write for them.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

One of the first things feminist guys have to get over is this whole listening to women thing.

No, no, no, that's not it at all. What you want is for us to uncritically love everything a woman says because any criticism or question directed to a woman is, in your mind, misogynist.

I have objection to hearing about things I otherwise wouldnt know about. I encounter new things all the time. But bad writing is bad writing, even when done by a black feminist. Her sentence structure is confused and she makes bad assumptions about her audience. She knows this particular blog universe would have no ideas about those black movies, so she should give us a sentence or two about why we should care about them and a sentence or two of context so we can be invited into a different world. Good writers do that.

And instead of spouting noise about the irrelevance of white male politics to, you know, them down homies on the street, how about her writing a post about how G Bush looks from her angle? Because it wasnt too long ago that the destruction of a certain city with a lot of non-whites in it was front and center in white male politics but is now sadly forgotten. I tend to think Bush has had just a bit of an impact on blacks and on women and that is one of the many reasons I despise him.

But its about the writing. Good writers take us into worlds wed never otherwise encounter. They dont have to pander to the audience, they dont have to water it down, but they do have to make it compelling.

Posted by: JohnN on January 8, 2006 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

Slothrop:

Love yer nom de blog, bro :)

I was Genghis Cohen for the longest time ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

My eyes are filled with tears, just thinking about what poor little anonymous must be doing right now.

I'm disappointed she's leaving just when she was getting up to speed.

Posted by: anonymous on January 8, 2006 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

JohnN:

Bingo.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

Hideous as it is to accept, there was the odd, counterintuitive instance that highlighted exactly that while providing for a modern day, unimaginable parable that kept our Starbucks'd minds from wandering into our millionth Nigerian-lottery-winning email of the day.
...
It's not right. It's not preferable. It just is, as with the tale of a pimp who, even tho he forces his 'top bitch' to service a store owner to procure a top-of-the-line microphone for him, nonetheless has a heart of gold and just wants to be loved as a rapper.

???

Posted by: SlackJawedBanjoPlayerFromDeliverance on January 8, 2006 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

Okay seriously, can someone disable her password?
Please?
She needs to go very far away from PA and never come back.
Her. Writing. Sucks.

Posted by: Morse Hudson on January 8, 2006 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

Bob, the tangents are what makes blogs fun to read. Each post builds a narrative that the blogger builds over time. Eventually we'll understand all the references without the handholding. This is also why guest bloggers are difficult to follow at first.

Posted by: chris on January 8, 2006 at 9:49 PM | PERMALINK

Literature and movies allow us to examine what was, is, and might... And are important in that case.

You don't not see To Kill a Mockingbird because it shows a sad side of our history. You use it to learn from, and overcome.

The shows here are entrancing, viceral, and show a fortitude of character - being able to rise to the challenge and take back what was theirs, even if they were put in a terrible situation.

Myself... I thought The Piano was really boring, Hustle and Flow would've been better if he hadn't changed their professions. But that's just because I prefer the fantastic or mundane over watching people interact so basely.

Posted by: Crissa on January 8, 2006 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

chris:

Read the two quotes directly above that SlackjawedBanjoPlayerFromDeliverance just pasted here and then just *try* to parse them for us.

I dare ya. If you can make sense of them, I promise not to blog here for the next month :)

You can't, can you. Blither is blither is blither.

QED

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 9:58 PM | PERMALINK

Geez, and can we shove all the misogynist trolls back into the trash compactor?

That goes twice for Bob.

Posted by: Crissa on January 8, 2006 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

crissa:

You haven't even read my posts, I'm sure.

Knee-jerk defense of rhetoric because it was written by somebody of a certain sex and a certain gender is about as productive as the identity politics election they just had in Iraq.

I wrote a couple big posts above which dealt seriously with the implications in Debra's post.

Perhaps you have a cogent comment on them you'd like to offer.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

So knee-jerk ignorance of art and literature is better somehow?

I read them, but really, the responses are better, as they boil you down to what you really are: A spoiled child playing tantrum because there's a black woman actually discussing issues which touch her heart.

Two posts 'seriously' talking about her grammatical errors really doesn't make up for the dozens of posts you've made here while sitting in the thread like some unwanted housefly.

Posted by: Crissa on January 8, 2006 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

Bob,

Regarding the toomuch@bob.com - No way, never sent anything. I only signed as sisboobbah because of rahrahrah.

However, a lot of this reminds me of a neighborhood bar. Lots of different regulars, but sometimes a "sense of ownership" takes over. If the bar owner goes on vacation and brings in a new bartender, some of the regulars take umbrage and start ordering the bartender around because "they own the bar". When the owner comes back, many whine and cry about such things as "well, he tried to make me pay my tab".

If one does not like the way she writes, then move on to another thread. Often posters do not agree with some of Kevin's threads, although he does have a remarkable track record.

You, Bob, came on to one of her threads about mascots, and said that you were not interested in team sports, however, you went on to complain about her thread. If you were not interested in the subject, why did you take the time to criticize her?

If you neither like nor are interested in a thread, then don't post.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 8, 2006 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

I'll have two of whatever Debra is smoking.....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 8, 2006 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

The quality of her writing aside, Ms. Dickerson is being treated to a level of hostility I don't usually see on this site. Even illiterate trolls from the right get more respect, and they really don't know how to write. It's pretty hard to look at this thread and not think, "gosh, the boys are pretty PO'd because some dumb girl got in and tried to talk about some dumb girl stuff", which for a bunch of white liberal guys in 2006 is pretty damn pathetic.

Posted by: Salmonella on January 8, 2006 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

Imagine the quote below with black, swooped for white and vice versa.... imagine the protest...
And yet Whites just ignore this shit....

Racial vilification in America. You can only do it to Whites, Asians and Christians. And yet, you think your culture breeds racial unity.

-------------------
"Brewer: It's about this young white girl I don't like the word nymphomaniac but she suffers from this intense sexual addiction through these panic attacks she gets. It's about the relationship she has with this old black man who finds her beat up on the side of the road, nurses her back to health and he tries to help her. She's a very self-destructive young woman and so he keeps her chained, with a long chain, to this immovable rusty radiator out in his country home so she can't go back into town and hurt herself again."

Posted by: McAristotle on January 8, 2006 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

crissa:

> So knee-jerk ignorance of art and literature is better somehow?

Ahh, but straw man arguments are the best of all, aren't they?

I don't know either of those two movies. I do, however, know Thomas
Pynchon's novel Vineland, which deals with the issue I believe Debra
tried to address. I discussed it above, and also the implications.

> I read them, but really, the responses are better,
> as they boil you down to what you really are:

What I really am? This is the mode of discourse from a person
who allegedly appreciates art and literature? Ad-hominem attack?

> A spoiled child playing tantrum because there's a black
> woman actually discussing issues which touch her heart.

*rolling eyes*

You know, this is precisely how Debra gets away with writing as
badly as she does. Because anytime anyone calls her approach to
task, she's got an army of college-trained "feminists" waiting to
pounce on them and call them racist and sexist for using their,
uhh, education in English and literature to make a pointed critique.

> Two posts 'seriously' talking about her grammatical errors

Several posts, with two engaged responses, which talked about
the larger syndrome, which is why people are attracted to their
oppressors. Precisely what Debra herself was wondering about.

> really doesn't make up for the dozens of posts you've made
> here while sitting in the thread like some unwanted housefly.

And you've written ... what exactly here, which
might serve as a counterexample? One poorly-worded
rah-rah post and two ad-hominem attacks.

Nice work, Crissa. I guess they call that leading by example.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

The topics that interest Debra are very important ones, and I have a partiality for many of the same kinds of movies as those she discusses - films which explore the connections among power, desire, pleasure, pain, money, imagination and sexuality.

And if she chooses to raise topics or make allusions that sail over the head of aging straight white guys like me, with different cultural experiences, that is her own business. No one is required to write for every audience, and if I feel irritated by being excluded that is my problem.

Still, it would be hard for anyone not to be revolted by the graceless and pretentious writing style she employs in her posts. In fact, so much of what I have read from her so far seems overly involved in affecting a certain chaotic "style" - a style that in this case works entirely to the detriment of the ideas that she is discussing. I wish she would get over her fondness for ostentatious solecism, and for noisy and extravagant verbal display. It's phoney - her mind can't really be as untutored and illogical as she presents it as being. Perhaps she should get out of her own way stylistically, let the inherent interest of the ideas direct the writing, and eliminate all of that unlovely and flocculent verbal clutter, and the dissonant, self-indulgent specatcle. It's just ugly.

Her manner of writing suggests someone who is interested in some very important things, but doesn't know what she wants to say about them, and is afraid that if she worked her thoughts out clearly, and then just articulated them as directly as possible, they would turn out not to be very important or insightful. So she retreats behind a puerile and affected style. She also comes across as somewhat pathologically fearful of being perceived as deviating from some perfect internal standard of political-cultural hipness and correctness.

Posted by: Dan Kervick on January 8, 2006 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

Elitism isn't progressive.

You know, I'd like to take issue with this. I'd like to hope that most progressive families would aspire for their children to avail themselves of elite educations and, unlike the president, use the opportunity to become a better, more educated, more knowledgable person. Love of learning is progressive.
Posted by: Constantine on January 8, 2006 at 7:22 PM

Constantine, who's to say you can't become more educated and knowledgeable at most of our public flagship universities like Berkeley, Ann Arbor and such? Just because someone went to a school which has a fancy club in Manhattan doesn't make them inherently better than the rest of us.

Posted by: Vincent on January 8, 2006 at 10:27 PM | PERMALINK

Dan Kervick:

Excellent post. Precisely. It has nothing to do with her topics or her political orientation.

It has everything to do with an affected, beatnik stream-of-consciousness style which has long since gone out of fashion.

She reads like a cross between JD Salinger and William Burroughs.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

She reads like a cross between JD Salinger and William Burroughs.

And this is a bad thing because ...?

Posted by: Salmonella on January 8, 2006 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

sex is inherently aggressive and involves poles of dominance/submission

Inherently? I don't think you're doing it right.

I don't know what to tell these folks at all, save to ask them to more deeply introspect.

No, really. We do for each other. Your fantasies or whatever are your own.

Posted by: Gary Sugar on January 8, 2006 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

Gary Sugar:

Do you always need to make your point by quoting out of context? I mean, lords know it's easier and all that ...

Salmonella:

Hey, I love JD Salinger. Catcher In The Rye was my favorite book as an adolescent (as it is for so many) and I've re-read it in adulthood.

William Burroughs, however, is virtually unreadable. He indulges in a kind of paranoiac hyperbole that gets old very quickly and is ultimately inexpressive of his central ideas. I mean -- you've read Naked Lunch, right? I have ... The Talking Asshole was, however, a great trope. The movie was actually better than the book.

I think I agree with Dan. It's that Debra's hiding behind a rhetorical facade. I think she's doing it because what her gut and her personal experiences as a person of color tell her about these movies is completely at odds with her cultivated radical feminist sensibilities.

The post was watching these two elements of her psyche collide in a rhetorically bloody train wreck.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

Bob, I think you've hit the nail on the head re: the rhetorical facade. After wading through the post, it looks to me like Debra knows she is presenting several contradictory ideas, but if she puts enough fluff around and between them, maybe no one will notice the contradictions.

Either that or she is a masochist and gets a kick out of reading the comment sections after her posts.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on January 8, 2006 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

There's something just plain rude about her writing style. Her 'hipper-than-thou' references leave me frustrated because I feel left behind. She just can't be bothered to fill me in on the background that is assumed by her writing. It's like being with people who keep making little inside jokes that you aren't in on. As artsies say, it's an exclusionary discourse, the main point of which is "Screw you, outsider."

Posted by: ohthepain on January 8, 2006 at 10:55 PM | PERMALINK

At least this is public and can't be flagged and removed. I hate it when a good commercial forum goes south because of advertisers. Here, we have a prime example of someone writing something challenging to a whole lot of folks who don't get challenged as much as they should. Apparently.

Posted by: parrot on January 8, 2006 at 10:56 PM | PERMALINK

Gotta disagree about Burroughs' writing. It's not straightforward, but it does have a structure. It's sort of similar to the cubist idea of looking at objects from multiple point of view simultaneously.

The movie was good, but the books are even better once you get used to the way Burroughs writes.

Posted by: Salmonella on January 8, 2006 at 10:56 PM | PERMALINK

MJ:

Dan Kervick expressed it better than I did. It's as if had she expressed herself in a straightforward way, just, for example, given the feminist line on these movies (and they sound like bad movies regardless; I think I wouldn't be able to sit through The Piano after now knowing what it's about), she would have come across as, well, trite.

I mean, what other argument *is* there for movies like these? Nobody likes to contemplate abusive sexual relationships from the abusee's POV, in such a way that the abusee is implicated in the abuse.

But that's a very powerful insight, and I'm in fact very glad Debra brought it up. It's something that needs to be be discussed, for sure -- and it's a topic that fascinates me because it's so difficult to come to a neat moral conclusion about it.

But it was as if Debra was offended at her own politically incorrect fascination with these flicks, and so launched into a twisted flight of rhetorical fancy to try to square this unsquarable circle.

At the end of her post, she just sounded incoherent. I'd still love to know what others think of that final paragraph.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

Salmonella:

Well hey, I've read William Gaddis' JR, so I'm no stranger to the "literature of complexity" that was so big in the late 60s/early 70s. I'm also a certified Thomas Pynchon fanatic. "Difficult" holds no terrors for me.

I guess with William B it's mainly the fact that his heroin addiction colors so much of what he writes, especially Naked Lunch. It's based around a consipracy theory -- which is fine -- but it all-too-neatly allegorizes around his dope habit.

And then stylistically, there's one helluva lot of repetition. I guess that's what bothers me most of all.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

I can't agree that Bob, or "Everyone Here is a Bro" as some have referred to him, is racist or misogynist.

He is, however, a crashing bore, at least in this thread. Bob, you've spent the last six hours complaining about Dickerson's post. You make little forays into discussing other writers, but then you race back to resume picking the scab of your disgust with Dickerson writing.

I'm no fan of her work, but can you begin to see why you're coming off a bit unhinged at this point? Give it a rest already.

Posted by: shortstop on January 8, 2006 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK

Re: last paragraph...

The first part, the "slapping", is showing how far a woman will go to prove to herself that she does have control over a relationship.

The second part, the "service", is showing how far a woman will go to prove herself as a worthy mate to the man with the heart of gold.

Caveat: I haven't seen any of these movies.

I think a more familiar context on PA might be to try and explain the lengths that Hillary went to protect Bill throughout his career.

Posted by: chris on January 8, 2006 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop:

"Everybody here is a Bro"? Who calls me that? That's pretty funny ...

Fair point. I've been monopolizing the hell out of this thread, and that's annoying whether you agree with me or not.

I guess it was a choice between this thread and arguing with rdw over on the Tom DeLay thread.

Avoidance got the better of me, I suppose ...

I'm not promising anything (he says while the coffee brews), but I'll do my best to try to tone it down a bit.

No offense meant to anyone.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

Um, well, actually, Bob, I just made it up. It made me chuckle that you keep calling everyone "bro" regardless of gender.

(Once I tried the same thing using "girl" just to see how it would go over. Not well, it turns out.)

Anyway, it takes a grownup to apologize like that. Well done and thanks.

Posted by: shortstop on January 8, 2006 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm, what to think about that. The "liberal rationalizer" in me wants to say that there are larger societal forces at work which forces these types of irrational/rational behavior in relationships. The "just is", romantic in me says that love is a complex irrational behavior which for better or worse has evolved along with the long gestation period of our children.

Posted by: chris on January 8, 2006 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Debbie hate to burst your bubble... but it's wimyn.

Posted by: MNPundit on January 8, 2006 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

shorstop:

*trepedatiously risking a too-early response*

Geez, I hadn't realized. I think I have a gendered image in my head of the peeps around here I call "bro" -- but we all know how well *that* can work out. Hehe, I prolly did it to you, with your baseball moniker and all -- before I found out through the grapevine that you're really a hot lesbian cheerleader :)

When I'm uncertain of gender, I reach for the ol' standby "dude." Are women bothered by that, I wonder?

But of course, few things are really "certain" in this hall of mirrors we call cyberspace.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

No offense meant to anyone.

Posted by: rmck1 on January 8, 2006 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK


For what it's worth the whole thread has been highly entertaining and enlightening in a lot of ways. Really, for a convoluted post, it got tons of comments!

and also FWIT, the last paragraph only has one connecting dot in it (don't know WTF it connects to)IMO ~ in reponse to your plea upthread ~

...one last comment from me before checking out the other threads...

The mention of To Kill A Mockingbird made no sense whatsoever. Maybe by the time I read Crissa's post, I was already dizzy from the original. Who knows?

Posted by: jcricket on January 8, 2006 at 11:41 PM | PERMALINK

"Dude" is for everyone: boys, girls, grandmothers and cab drivers. I would judge "bro" to be for the XY crowd exclusively. Others may disagree.

Anyway, I was gigging you, not lecturing you--at least about the bro business. Now stop picking the scab and go live a non-electronic life for one hour. Just an hour! Baby steps!

Posted by: shortstop on January 8, 2006 at 11:47 PM | PERMALINK

From here it looks like some people are giving Debra Dickerson double doses of crap for rhetorical sins which they forgive in other bloggers all the time. Gosh, why might this be? Quite a stumper.

It's interesting that you bring this up.

After Debra's first post, I assumed she was in her early twenties, because she seemed like a very inexperienced writer. After her post on George Will, which mentioned a television appearance with him, I further assumed that she was a television journalist, which would explain being notable enough to be asked to blog here while being unable to write.

I also thought she was a white woman.

It was only with her Newark post that I googled and discovered that she is, in fact, not white, and also that she is an experienced magazine and book journalist.

By that time I had written several very critical remarks about her writing. About its lack of clarity, and its sloppiness and carelessness.

The first few seconds after I learned she was black, I felt sorry that I'd been so hard on her. Also, I thought I had misunderstood her writing. That I should have forgiven what I had thought was her carelessness.

Because for those few seconds, I felt like I should have taken her writing as -- jazz-like. You know, improvisational. And spontaneous.

Well, after a few seconds I caught myself doing this. And I thought about Debra's bookstore post, where white liberal editors thought her reviews of trash novels by black authors were too harsh.

And I decided to keep up my original critique.

Posted by: anonymous on January 9, 2006 at 12:28 AM | PERMALINK

Okay ...

My shortstop-imposed hour is close enough to up that I
think I can fudge it a little. I'm left with two choices
posting. Arguing with the vile blatant liar and defender
of nihilism rdw in the Tom DeLay thread. Or watching
tbrosz be, well, tbrosz in the Downing St. Memo thread.

I'd rather post here. I like cultural issues.

Chris' points about the last paragraph:

The "slap" is an extremely nasty repudiation of the central values
of feminism, especially a radical feminism which offers a critique of
the male paradigm in the interest of creating a better world. I can't
figure out for the life of me why Debra would bring it up; it should
rattle the very protesting ovaries that wanted to bolt The Piano.

A woman who gets her boyfriend to slap her in the face to
prove that she has ultimate power over him is violating
both her bodily integrity and her boyfriend's non-abusive
values -- all in the name of a dominance in relationships, a
power for power's sake, that a feminist critique is supposed
to separate from love, which is something between equals.

A woman who makes a guy do that, IOW, is an emotionally unhealthy
person, probably Borderline Personality Disorder. Hostility
is the highest proof of love. You hadda be there, indeed.

As for the pimp with the golden heart? Well, tell us a little more
about this pimp other than that he gets a free state-of-the-art
mic out of making his "top bitch" service the salesman. Otherwise,
leaving it hanging at the end of the graf just looks nihilistic.

If there are mitigating contexts here, if there's something
compelling going on for the women who seem clearly on the
bottom of these situations, this needs to be shown somehow.

"You hadda be there" just doesn't cut it.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2006 at 12:58 AM | PERMALINK

No, no, no, that's not it at all. What you want is for us to uncritically love everything a woman says because any criticism or question directed to a woman is, in your mind, misogynist.

Actually, no. I didn't say that, and that's not what I meant. Women are human, and are just as capable of being wacky as the rest of us. Just because misogyny invariably involves unfair criticism of women doesn't mean that all criticism of women is unfair or misogynistic. You ought to try hanging out with more women, and see how they talk about each other. You're missing out, dude.

When I said that feminist guys need to get over this listening to women thing, I really meant listening, not blind acceptance. I said that because I've seen a very smart and feminist guy* trip and fall. As in "I'm a feminist and a scientist and I've researched feminism so I know it a lot better than all of you women." That was very educational. Lesson 1: Feminism is about women, it's not about you. Lesson 2: Even if you're really smart, it's still not about you. When I said listen that is exactly what I meant. Spend a little more time trying to figure out what the hell Ms. Dickerson is trying to say.

It seems to me the most effective criticism of this post is "she could have written it better." My feeling about that is "so what?" If it really matters to you, write something better and post a link here. I'll be happy to read it. In the meantime, her ideas are still out there, and I don't think her presentation prevented us from being able to tell what she was writing about. Quite the opposite. I think the problem with her writing style is it's messy and raw and uncomfortable, for dealing with a messy and raw and uncomfortable subject. In other words, maybe she's writing too well.

Sorry this gives short shrift to the thoughtful discussion that has also been going on in these comments, but I'm going to post this, and let the bits fall how they may.

----
*Name available upon request, for a bottle of Auchentoshen Triple Wood.

Posted by: TomB on January 9, 2006 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

As an aside to the steet pimp'n question, why whould the wife of a politician allow herself to be used (ahem, hired to provide a stupid donation list) to launder money?

Posted by: chris on January 9, 2006 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK

TomB:

Sorry, bro, I think you're just wrong about this. I think Debra's *feelings* were messy, raw and uncomfortable and she just dumped them out into a text editor the way someone would after having a bad personal experience and then ranting into a journal, and then posting the thing with minimal editing.

That doesn't make for a clearheaded discussion. That makes for misunderstandings and arguments about straw men (and straw women), not what it is Debra tried to communicate.

The comments here are a testament to the gross inefficiency of her method; everything that finally wound up addressing her points came after post upon post of incomprehension and silly fights over who's a feminist or who's a racist.

Much of that could have been avoided with a little bit of restraint and a little less love for her own spontaneous (and insanely hyperbolic) turns of phrase.

Nothing a good editor and/or a little proofreading couldn't have accomplished.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2006 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

That was an amazingly long, indirect, and non-entertaining way of making the point "Its okay to enjoy a movie that follows the actions of characters in situations that you do not morally endorse replicating in reality." Which I don't think is a particularly controversial point, though of course in particular instances there is often considerable debate -- which, while its the only substantial issue or controversy involved in the subject she address, Dickerson manages to completely avoid -- over where the line between artistically depicting bad acts and promoting or glorifying, intentionally or not, those same bad acts is, and whether particular works cross that line.

Instead, we get another overwrought screed that manages to entirely avoid the meat of the issue it dances around and angrily, and self-importantly, wastes lots of words without actually saying anything.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 9, 2006 at 1:51 AM | PERMALINK
Here, we have a prime example of someone writing something challenging to a whole lot of folks who don't get challenged as much as they should.

The only challenge in Debra's post was working through the poorly organized and overwrought writing to find anything approximating a point.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 9, 2006 at 1:56 AM | PERMALINK

Can we talk again about how the whole idea of chaining up your own personal white druggie skank for her own good is OK in black literature?

Posted by: McAristotle on January 9, 2006 at 2:32 AM | PERMALINK

Okay, I'll stop being so goddamned obsessed with this thread in a minute, I promise.

I read the piece again. For a third time. Slowly and carefully, as if it were a page from Gaddis' The Recognitions. I drank in the rhythms of speech. I didn't let the surface gestures, the collegiate self-referentiality and the unfocused anger put me off this time.

Here is what I've discovered, for what it might be worth (and a few of you I'm sure think that won't be much, with all my previous bloviating on the subject):

Debra is reacting *against* feminist type. She loves the two movies and is breathlessly waiting for the one about the chained up druggie white skank (thanks, McA) to come out. Her reaction is contrary to all her sistahs. The Piano has a well-established (and doubtless well-deserved) orthodoxy of feminist critique against it. She loves it, though, Holly Hunter butt-shots and all.

Why? I honestly don't know. I'd have to see the films. All the feminist bluster she can throw at them (and she thows the kitchen sink) doesn't seem to dent it. It's like, she's enjoying these films while (guiltily?) arguing with herself the whole time.

Ultimately, she doesn't do an adequate job of explaining why they're compelling. It just *is* doesn't suffice as an insight.

And this should (ins'allah) be my last word on the subject.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2006 at 3:10 AM | PERMALINK


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Posted by: 成都机票查询 on January 9, 2006 at 4:51 AM | PERMALINK

Self-important, self-righteous, womyn. Mymber of Mynsa. Puerile without the puer. Gig-rock narnofascistic stereopathic twat.

Jiggnofizzle is da shizzle. Wequetequock!

Bring on the pitchforks.

perry

Posted by: perry on January 9, 2006 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

"You had to be there, not that I was, but it proves the point that often, the most passionate relationships, almost by definition, have some element of S & M at their core. It's not right. It's not preferable. It just is,"

She did give a reason. She wants to be exploited.
Thereby making generation of date-rapists part correct.

Posted by: McAristotle on January 9, 2006 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

This site should turn off the comments section. If I want to read this crap I'll subscribe to The Klansman.

Kevin Drum, who used to write a great blg called Calpundit, has turned this site into wingnut-lite. Time to move on Kevin.

Posted by: Dicksknee on January 9, 2006 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

McAristotle:

No, McA. As much as I've made a fetish of disagreeing with Debra this entire thread, there's no way I'm going to accept your bone-ass opinion about it.

I don't know what exactly Debra is saying about what makes these kinds of relationships compelling (save for the passion), but she most assuredly is *not* saying that she "wants to be exploited."

That's what you call an extrapolation. Putting words in her mouth.

I think, personally, it has to do with the fundamentally irrational nature of intense sexual and/or romantic attatchments. By their nature, they subvert what good people would like them to be.

If you can summarize why this is so without devolving into idiot reductionist cliches, you'll be a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2006 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

"Can we talk again about how the whole idea of chaining up your own personal white druggie skank for her own good is OK in black literature?"

Um, Ms. D. started off by saying Craig Brewer is a freak, so I don't see here as endorsing the chaining of your own personal white druggie skank for her own good for fun and profit. And who gets to decide what's "okay" in "black" literature or any sort, by the by? Anthony Comstock's still dead, last I checked, although he'd be a prime candidate for zombiehood.

Off the top of my head, I'd wonder if it was either meant as a critique of social conservative's attitude that women's (and everyone's, really) sexuality needs to be restrained by society or a hilarious jumping out from the subconscious of the same on the part of Craig B, the pimpinest screenwriter in Hollywood.

"She did give a reason. She wants to be exploited.
Thereby making generation of date-rapists part correct."

Date-rape 'em all and let God sort them out?

Posted by: Dan P. on January 9, 2006 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

I always thought that Jefferson just might have loved Sally, since she was his wife's half sister and he was devastated by his wife's death. while an intellectual he was evidently a very emotional man.

Posted by: m on January 9, 2006 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Bob: I'm not sure what your agenda is in asking what a "woman-hater" is, but "Steven H." and the ironically named "Thinker" above provide definition by example.

Posted by: rabbit on January 9, 2006 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

what. utter. bullshit.

Posted by: chris on January 9, 2006 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Pat:

I've never read Steinbeck. It's something that I really need to get around to doing.

Maybe it's cuz I'm Irish-American, but I appreciate rhetoric. I don't mind an author who sticks his craft in my face -- if the craft is good enough. I'd agree with Edward Mendelson that Thomas Pynchon is the greatest living author in the English language. Mason & Dixon was just incredible; both a frighteningly well-researched 18th century historical novel and a freshly-imagined alternate history of the founding of the United States, replete with the voices of the historically voiceless -- the preterite (the un-elect, the "little people") that Pynchon has always dearly loved. Also, a friend knows a professor of 18th century lit who thinks it's the funniest book he's ever read.

rabbit:

My agenda was that in your post where you made the "woman haters" comment, you seemed to be broad-brushing everybody who has had strong objections to the way Debra expresses herself.

I've seen some of the most liberal, well-informed people on PA make those kind of comments, so I thought that swipe was unfair.

Though certainly I can see your point with "Thinker" and Steve H to be sure.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2006 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK
And who gets to decide what's "okay" in "black" literature or any sort, by the by?

Ms. Dickerson has already rather clearly made the point that her tastes dictate what should be considered "Black Literature", with everything else written by or about blacks relegated to some lesser category.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 9, 2006 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

sex is inherently aggressive and involves poles of dominance/submission

Bob, you make some very good points throughout, and I agree that though thoughtful, Ms. Dickerson can lapse into what seems to be a seemingly willful incoherance. But, I have to agree with Gary Sugar: the above senitment of yours just sounds like projection to me. And, no, it's not just because I haven't been introspective enough.

Posted by: Robert S. on January 9, 2006 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

you need to get off the college campus more. Who cares what a bunch of insulated womyns studies students think about movies? A good rule of thumb is whatever they like is ideological, overbearing, undernuanced crap, and whatever they don't like actually tells the truth about the world.

So, if you like it and they don't you are more than likely right.

One more thing: Feel free to edit down your posts. they are way too long, and you can express the points you are making much more succinctly.

Posted by: exhuming mccarthy on January 9, 2006 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Robert S.

That "above sentence" of mine is truncated.

Try reading the full post in context and see if you can't catch the drift of what I was trying to say.

I've blabbered on far too much already in this thread to start repeating myself.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2006 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

No, I read all your comments thoroughly (believe it or not!) - maybe you needed to provide more context for your original comment. I also question your thought that "Sexual aggression created social oppression." Though I think a good case can be made, that seems to be an oversimplification. Oppression seems rooted in forms of tribalism, of which the competition over sexual partners seems to certainly be a facet, but not the entire story.

Posted by: Robert S. on January 9, 2006 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Well now we know why Debra likes George Will.

Jeebus.

Posted by: Cheryl on January 9, 2006 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Well now we know why Debra likes George Will.

LOL. Debra, you get the prize for most succinct commentary yet!

Posted by: Robert S. on January 9, 2006 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Can we talk again about how the whole idea of chaining up your own personal white druggie skank for her own good is OK in black literature?

This is the first time I have ever found myself in agreement with McAristotle. I certainly hope it will be the last.

I liked The Piano and think there's certainly plenty of great art to be made out of exploring how our sexual interests and attachments lay waste the fragile bounds of our moral convictions. But a film about chaining a woman up so she can't harm herself any more, if that really is the filmmaker's unironic take on the chaining character's motivation, is only going to be a work of art by accident.

Posted by: brooksfoe on January 9, 2006 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Robert S.

Okay, I'll try to amplify my comments, then. But bear something in mind -- I'm not interested in having an ad hominem argument. If you think I'm projecting then you're reading me in bad faith, and that means we aren't communicating.

My main point is, first of all, that sex is inherently aggressive. I don't see how anyone can get around that. It doesn't mean that sex is inherently violent or inherently expolitative or oppressive -- only that sex and aggression are admixed, probably at the neurological level. I think, also, that Debra would agree with this fully.

Secondly, I do think that oppression is aggression writ large. Aggression ritualized and systematized, if you will. What are the implications of this? That social structures don't cause aggression -- they're a response to it. I do agree with you that oppression -- the social channelling of aggression -- arose in our earliest social formations.

If there's one thing I'll give Camille Paglia, it's that -- contra standard feminist analysis -- society and its oppression doesn't cause rapes. Society is what prevents more rapes from happening.

As we've evolved, our brains have far outstripped any other part of our biology. We've devised ethical codes that run counter to our natural impulses. What we need to reduce oppression is more of this cultural evolution. There is no eden we can step backward into any imagined "nobly savage" eden to make things any better than they are.

But the realm of sex is always pushing us backward, away from our evolved ethics, which are a product of our front brains, not our glands. Our hearts sit straddled between the two realms, and that's why it's all such a bloody mess sometimes.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

I also question your thought that "Sexual aggression created social oppression."

I didn't think Bob was saying that all social oppression had its roots in sexual aggression - I thought he was saying that sexual aggression created/creates a form (or many forms) of social oppression, notably sexism. Obviously sexual aggression isn't the chief culprit in the creation of, say, the murderous Congolese rubber trade of the 19th century - though it's interesting how in situations of social oppression, sexual aggression very often winds up becoming involved pretty quickly. (People aren't sent to jail in the US because we want to subject them to homosexual rape, but somehow it ends up being a predictable consequence.)

Posted by: brooksfoe on January 9, 2006 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

MANGLED SYNTAX ALERT:

Correction; There is no "nobly savage" eden we can step backwards into to make things any better than they are.

Preview is my friend. Preview is my friend. Preview is my friend.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2006 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

If there's one thing I'll give Camille Paglia, it's that -- contra standard feminist analysis -- society and its oppression doesn't cause rapes. Society is what prevents more rapes from happening.

This is a misguided and simplistic dichotomy to set up, rather like saying "momentum is not what causes car accidents; momentum is what prevents more car accidents from happening". "Society" can be a contributing factor or a preventive factor with regard to rape; in any case, humans being social animals, it is no more possible to imagine eliminating "society" than it is to imagine eliminating momentum, so the point is moot.

Posted by: brooksfoe on January 9, 2006 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

brooksfoe:

It's not a false dichotomy if you put it in context, as a dialectical response, in Paglia's argument against feminist social constructionism.

I'm not a Rousseauvian. I don't believe in a pristine state of nature that we pissed on by creating society. Of course social structures exacerbate oppression in any number of ways, but the problem is, in all cases, a flawed social structure, not social structure itself.

You fix the problem by fixing the social structure.

What I'm saying is that oppression is not *inherent* in social structure. Oppression only a social expression of aggression, and aggression is hardwired and thus must be overcome *through* social structures.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2006 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not going to add to the manure pile here, but I would like to point out something that I found off-putting in Ms. Dickinson's post that might be fueling a lot of the comments around here. I wasn't struck by structural issues or writing style in the post so much as how self-conscious they seem to be. She is continually saying that she expects to be offending everyone and that she is sort of uncomfortable saying anything about the subject at all. I think that this, coupled with the Ivy League name-dropping shield and convoluted grammar noted above, makes it difficult to believe that she is really telling us what she thinks.

This is really problematic in a blog. I think people read blogs because blogs give you the opportunity to get to know a person's ideas and attitudes in a way that is more informative and complete than any other media forum. Kevin has spoken before about the distinctive "voice" of a blog being really important to the readership, and I am inclined to agree. I have never felt that Kevin has said something that he didn't really believe as of press time, but with Ms. Dickinson's posts I often come away with that impression. That might be why they have been so provocative to the regulars here.


Posted by: Ruck on January 9, 2006 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

My main point is, first of all, that sex is inherently aggressive. I don't see how anyone can get around that. It doesn't mean that sex is inherently violent or inherently expolitative or oppressive -- only that sex and aggression are admixed, probably at the neurological level.

Unless you are using either "aggression/aggressive" or "violent" in an unusual way, that seems contradictory. Further, sex is "admixed" with lots of drives and behaviors at a neurological and/or endocrine level, in that there are either some common triggers for the drives or that the experience of the acts result in some overlapping responses. Yes, aggressive, violent behavior is one of those -- so is flight behavior. I don't think that means that sex is inherently aggressive, anymore than it means sex is inherently "flighty" (yeah, yeah, wrong adjective, but I don't think there is a good word for this.) It means that there is inherently a relationship between sex and aggression, not that aggression is inherently a component of sexuality.

I think, also, that Debra would agree with this fully.

While I disagree with it, its a pretty standard feature of doctrinaire feminism, and Dickerson seems to be struggling with the conflict between doctrinaire intellectual feminism (and what might be described as a similarly doctrinaire, er, blackism) and her own emotional response to the works at issue, so your probably on firmer ground arguing that it seems likely, though its not outright stated, that Debra would agree with that than when you try to make the case it is an inescapable fact that everyone has to accept.

Secondly, I do think that oppression is aggression writ large. Aggression ritualized and systematized, if you will.

I would tend to agree with this, though I am a bit concerned that there may be a degree of equivocation here; I'm not sure that "aggression" is used in the precisely same sense here as in the first point.

What are the implications of this? That social structures don't cause aggression -- they're a response to it.

But that's not right, either. If oppression is "aggression ritualized and systematized", then social structures neither cause nor respond to aggression. They are oppression itself (or they are the absence of oppression, as the case may be.) Social structures are where the systematization and ritualization of aggression exist, if they exist at all.

As we've evolved, our brains have far outstripped any other part of our biology. We've devised ethical codes that run counter to our natural impulses.

I'm not entirely sure that's correct. Arguably, the ethical codes we've devised have largely been devised with the principle objection of controlling the behavior of others for the devisor's advantage, which isn't at all contrary to natural impulse. Indeed, though the mechanisms aren't as elaborate, we it throughout the animal kingdom.

What we need to reduce oppression is more of this cultural evolution.

Since, oppression is a purely cultural phenomenon -- as you have described it -- that's fairly well true by definition.

But the realm of sex is always pushing us backward, away from our evolved ethics, which are a product of our front brains, not our glands.

While we create conscious rationalizations, I don't think its all that true that our ethics are that much less a product of our glands than our sex drives are. They are rationalizations of our emotional responses to acts and conditions we observe around us.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 9, 2006 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, but Bob, if Paglia actually construes any feminists to be saying that misogyny is inherent in social structure, and therefore women would be better off without social structure, then she is arguing with a feminist who has never existed - Germaine Greer as Ayn Rand.

Anyway, Paglia is ridiculous. It's appropriate that no one really took/takes her seriously in academia.

Posted by: brooksfoe on January 9, 2006 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

I'm astounded that not one commenter seems familiar with Hustle and Flow. I haven't had a chance to see it yet (it just came out on DVD) but it was widely reviewed in the mainstream media and Terence Howard has been mentiones as an Oscar contender. It's hardly known as a "gangsta" film.

That said, I too found the post incomprehensible and annoying, almost as much as these comments. The suggections that she's being criticized because she's a woman and/or black are particularly hilarious. I find it interesting that most of those making that accusation then spend very little time actually defending or expanding on her points. I particularly liked "If I want to read this crap I'll subscribe to The Klansman." Way to stay grounded in reality.

Debra seems to be more interested in establishing a style than actually communicating her thoughts. And for those who feel the need to chastize others for criticizing her (I'm sure your condescending overprotectiveness has nothing to do with the fact that she's a black woman) please note that she ended her post with the sentence "Bring on the pitchforks." I'd suggest a writer not say that if she's trying to avoid criticism.

Posted by: ChrisO on January 9, 2006 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

If there's one thing I'll give Camille Paglia, it's that -- contra standard feminist analysis -- society and its oppression doesn't cause rapes.

I rather thought that "standard feminist analysis" would hold that society isn't the cause of rapes, but that the dominant, patriarchal society is a systematization and ritualization of rape, both a product of the drive to rape and a reinforcer of that drive.

But it seems like a lot of your argument rely on discussing "society" as if it is possible to meaningfully discuss without reference to a particular society, as if you could meaningfully discuss the interactions of groups of people without any society vs. a "generic" society. But it seems to me that is simply self-contradiction; however people interact in a system defines a society of some kind.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 9, 2006 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

brooksfoe:

> Yeah, but Bob, if Paglia actually construes any feminists
> to be saying that misogyny is inherent in social structure,
> and therefore women would be better off without social
> structure, then she is arguing with a feminist who
> has never existed - Germaine Greer as Ayn Rand.

LOL ! Indeed :) What an image ... You can't take Paglia qua Pagila.
You have to put her in context, and she was reacting against precisely
the opposite -- the social-construction-of-everything crowd that had
infested English and Womens' Studies depts in the 80s and early 90s.
They were completely obsessed with critiquing every aspect of social
arrangements to the point that you'd get the idea that the oppression
was inherent in any kind of social organization. If Paglia seems like
an extreme essentialist (which she is), she was reacting to extreme
culturalists. The truth is somewhere between, and Paglia's point --
that society keeps us from the worst elements of ourselves, is valid.

> Anyway, Paglia is ridiculous. It's appropriate that
> no one really took/takes her seriously in academia.

Oh I *adore* Camille Paglia. She's so bloody Italian. What would
you expect from a woman who didn't come out as a lesbian until
her 40s? Everything she writes about you have to understand as
a product of her own struggles with self-identity. Yeah, she's a
nutcase. Yeah, she's a Sir James Frazer revivalist. But she had
the best take on Clinton/Lewinsky (in Salon) anybody ever wrote.

I read every page of Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from
Nefertitti to Emily Dickenson. I worked in a bookstore at the time.

Nobody laid the smackdown on the deconstructionists more ascerbically.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2006 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

> "If there's one thing I'll give Camille Paglia,
> it's that -- contra standard feminist analysis --
> society and its oppression doesn't cause rapes."

> I rather thought that "standard feminist analysis" would hold
> that society isn't the cause of rapes, but that the dominant,
> patriarchal society is a systematization and ritualization of rape,
> both a product of the drive to rape and a reinforcer of that drive.

Exactly. And if you take that idea to its extreme (which the
postmodern orthodoxy of about a decade ago tended to do), you're
left with very little vision of how to forge an alternative,
since all social arrangements were tainted by power relationships.

Read Foucault if you want a triple shot of this idea.

> But it seems like a lot of your argument rely on discussing
> "society" as if it is possible to meaningfully discuss
> without reference to a particular society, as if you could
> meaningfully discuss the interactions of groups of people
> without any society vs. a "generic" society. But it seems
> to me that is simply self-contradiction; however people
> interact in a system defines a society of some kind.

I'm not writing an anthropology thesis, bro. I'm
trying to sketch out very sweeping ideas in the broadest
possible fashion in the space of two or three paragraphs
of a post. What would you prefer, footnotes? :)

I'm sketching out general principles. An academic-minded
person could, of course, tear everything I say to shit based
on the premises that it's 1) impossible to talk of nature
outside of culture, 2) it's impossible to talk of culture
outside of nature and 3) it's impossible to generalize about
the interaction of the two because any given society society is
holistic and their interaction is a context-dependent gestalt.

But then, you wouldn't be debating in good faith, would you.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2006 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not interested in having an ad hominem argument

Me neither. I was only teasing, though I guess that doesn't come across well/easily.

Secondly, I do think that oppression is aggression writ large.

That, I agree with, and also your thoughts on social structures, but that's not what I was disagreeing with: "Sexual aggression created social oppression." That's what I think is an oversimplification. Sexual aggression is just one facet of oppression in general, which has at its roots a number of other motivators, including but not limited to desire for control of resources/people/etc, desire for primacy in general, and a primitive/visceral fear of differences.

cmdicely covers the sex/aggression thing above very nicely; I agree. There's much of feminism that I agree with and find productive, but the idea that sex is innately aggressive, which seems only a hop, skip and jump away from "all sex is rape." (No, it's not exactly the same, I know and I don't mean to pretend they are.)

Just to prove I'm not being contrary: elsewhere you say, There is no "nobly savage" eden we can step backwards into to make things any better than they are. I most certainly agree with that, bro!

Posted by: Robert S. on January 9, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Your posts are self-obsessed, incoherant and long. In effect, boring. This isn't a comment on you as a person, but as an electronic sprite posting at what is a fantastic blog, you're a really obnoxious presence. Sorry, but please, spare us.

Personal rants or musings or whatever are fine, but you take... whatever it is you intended to do, and turn it into a quest for the holy grail for anyone who tries to read it. It's a burden trying to get through that stuff, wondering what the hell the point is and is it anything more than you just love to hear yourself talk (or watch yourself write, I guess), and when is it going to end, and why I am still reading, and yes, of course, stop reading and never read anything this person write's again because they can't be trusted.

Do not give Debra the benefit of the doubt, that's the lesson learned. Sorry, but your self-obsession consumes any point you might have had.

Posted by: The Tim on January 9, 2006 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of preview being one's friend, I got lost in my own Byzantine syntax. Should've been longer (unfortunately):

There's much of feminism that I agree with and find productive, but the idea that sex is innately aggressive, which seems only a hop, skip and jump away from "all sex is rape" is not one of (one strand of) feminism's finer contributions.

Posted by: Robert S. on January 9, 2006 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK
Exactly. And if you take that idea to its extreme (which the postmodern orthodoxy of about a decade ago tended to do), you're left with very little vision of how to forge an alternative, since all social arrangements were tainted by power relationships.

All social relationships are tainted by power relationships, and I'm not sure that there is a way to forge an "alternative". You seem to be arguing a kind of "argument to the consequences of belief" stance, here, but while those consequences may not be aesthetically pleasing, I don't see that the ones you evoke are actually wrong here. Power is as hardwired into how humans relate to each other as the sex drive is hardwired, best I can tell. I'd be tempted to describe this as an analog to "original sin", something which can be acknowledged, and his consequences may be repented and compensated for, but which cannot fundamentally be corrected. (Or, at least, not be corrected through social means -- human genetic engineering may offer a way to "correct" it on the level of biological nature in the future, though I expect unintended consequences there will be staggering.)

I'm not writing an anthropology thesis, bro. I'm trying to sketch out very sweeping ideas in the broadest possible fashion in the space of two or three paragraphs of a post. What would you prefer, footnotes? :)

I'm sketching out general principles. An academic-minded
person could, of course, tear everything I say to shit based
on the premises that it's 1) impossible to talk of nature
outside of culture, 2) it's impossible to talk of culture
outside of nature and 3) it's impossible to generalize about
the interaction of the two because any given society society is
holistic and their interaction is a context-dependent gestalt.

A couple paragraphs explaining and resolving the apparent contradiction rather than spending the same space blowing it off would have been more conducive, I think, to a productive discussion.


Posted by: cmdicely on January 9, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

After reading the comments, I decided to read the post again, and came to a singular conclusion: I can't think of a stronger indictment against an ivy league education.

Hopefully, you won't get that nonsense out of a place like Michigan, Cal, UCLA, UVA or other places.

I think when people actually have to work for a living, or go to school with people that do, it gives them a more realistic and relevant point of reference.

Posted by: exhuming mccarthy on January 9, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

One of the most interesting comment threads I've read in awhile. I'm a little suspicious of the rhetorical style, also. But I'd be curious to read Dickerson on her own turf. In spite of her stated willingness to "overstay" a welcome, I can't help but feel as if she feels a little "on the clock" while guest blogging here at P.A.

Posted by: David on January 9, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

exhuming mccarthy, if you check dickerson's resume, you will see that she went to University of Maryland, College Park as an undergraduate. She attended law school at Harvard.

Dickerson's biography is as "work for a living" as one can be. She's simply a poor writer.

Posted by: Constantine on January 9, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

A poor writer that attended Harvard Law, maybe. I think that that puts a different spin on her biography.

Posted by: Ruck on January 9, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Wow. I read most of the comments and posted one up above and I feel that I have to come in here and point out that Dickerson's whole intention (insofar as she can be said to have an intention in this incoherent piece) is to offend *everyone* she thinks she should be presumed to side with (feminists, other black people, liberals) by arguing what she thinks is an unheard of, undiscussed, revolutionary thesis that sometimes the oppressed get some kind of power from their oppression, sometimes masters love their slaves and vice versa, sometimes sex and love are complicated. Of course these things aren't, in fact, at all controversial and have been the grounds not only for serious philosophical and literary discussion for--frankly--ever but have even been the topic (endlessly) of pop culture, daytime tv shows, jerry springer, and science fiction alternate universe books and essays. What is annoying about Ms. Dickerson is that she presents what she has to say as novel and worthy of discussion. But its actually old and tired.

Secondly, her manner sets her up to attack her readers for their presumed
a) ignorance of these arguments
b)disagreement with them.

The entire style of the essay is a huge "fuck you" to her presumed readers. It doesn't ask for agreement, it asks for attack (and expects it).

Here's the thing--she can find plenty of agreement for her points with the MRA and the racists. Why isn't she posting over there? There's money in being the woman who says women really like being abused--and should also enjoy watching it in a movie. There's tons of money being in the position of lecutring women about how much women like being in porn movies--that was Linda Lovelace's whole shtick before she finally came out and admitted that she was physically and mentally abused rather than loving every minute of deep throat. And there's tons of money arguing that slavery wasn't all bad--just look at the guys who wrote "time on the cross" and step over to Steve Gilliard's site for a discussion of the current crop of sell outs.

But there isn't that much money and respect over here for this kind of writing. And there shouldn't be. because on top of being craptacularly bad *as writing* its also incredibly old and tired *as theory*.

aimai

Posted by: aimai on January 9, 2006 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Well. If thinking that her writing really sucks it makes me a racist, call me Strom Thurmond.

By the way, accoring to Deborah's bio, she spent years in military intelligence. Sheds some light on how things got so freaking garbled that we invaded IraQ, when IraN was the one we shouldv'e been concerned about. No?

Posted by: Pat on January 9, 2006 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

All relationships contain power - the power of being desired and the powerlessness of desire.

Posted by: kyangadac on January 9, 2006 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

It just is, as with the tale of a pimp who, even tho he forces his 'top bitch' to service a store owner to procure a top-of-the-line microphone for him, nonetheless has a heart of gold and just wants to be loved as a rapper. -Debra

If this 'just is'. Then date rape can 'just is'.
Note the words 'forces his 'top bitch'' do not belong in the same sentence as 'has a heart of gold and just wants to be loved'.

If you accept this shit, you accept that the date rapist can have good intentions, 'cos he/she knew he/she would love rough sex once he/she got started.....

This is why I call liberalism, moral nihilism.
It starts with a legitimate intention to be tolerant ...then it degenerates into a philosophy where there is no wrong.

If African Americans can chain up 'white skank 'hos' in literature and get a movie deal with Christina Ricci because of slavery?

What do Malaysians get? Next time I'm in the States can I get a few phone numbers at least 'cos I come from an opressed Muslim country.

Posted by: McAristotle on January 9, 2006 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

> My main point is, first of all, that sex is inherently
> aggressive. I don't see how anyone can get around that.
> It doesn't mean that sex is inherently violent or inherently
> expolitative or oppressive -- only that sex and aggression
> are admixed, probably at the neurological level.

> Unless you are using either "aggression/aggressive" or
> "violent" in an unusual way, that seems contradictory.

It's not if you look at oppression as a social expression
and aggression as part of individual behavior. First of all,
the entirel BDSM community (and I'm not a member, believe
me -- but I've talked to a few who are) is predicated on the
notion that you can take all sorts of explicitly aggressive
behaviors (apanking, humiliation, chaining somebody up -- do
I need to go on?) in the context of a consensual interaction.

Secondly, sexual intercourse is dimorphic. It cannot proceed
without a man exercising his will and a woman submitting to it.
While we've evolved to the point where sexual expression can be as
tender and empathetic as caring for an infant, the default state
of sexuality is simply biologically and physically built that way.
Think of what it takes for a man to have coitus. If you can view
thrusting as a non-aggressive behavior, you're a pretty evolved guy :)

> Further, sex is "admixed" with lots of drives and
> behaviors at a neurological and/or endocrine level,
> in that there are either some common triggers for
> the drives or that the experience of the acts result
> in some overlapping responses. Yes, aggressive, violent
> behavior is one of those -- so is flight behavior.

Sure, if you'd like to broaden this to include the fight-or-flight
response, I think that makes sense. This incorporates the female
response to being pursued. In either case, it's an endocrinal
response with the first aim at self-preservation, with a decision
between either striking out or escaping. Submission after pursuit
is certainly as hormonally significant as aggression in pursuing.

> I don't think that means that sex is inherently
> aggressive, anymore than it means sex is inherently
> "flighty" (yeah, yeah, wrong adjective, but I don't
> think there is a good word for this.) It means that there
> is inherently a relationship between sex and aggression,
> not that aggression is inherently a component of sexuality.

Well, except look at all the social and cultural mechanisms
that have been built around the sexual impulse. Every
single one of them, from the incest taboo, marriage,
social mores, religious strictures, are an imposition of
the collective will on the desires of the individual, for
the sake of curbing the aggressive nature of sexuality --
the impulse to take for oneself without regard for the other.

What I'm saying, though, shouldn't be any more controversial
than saying that the act of eating is inherently aggressive, the
difference being that eating doesn't involve another human will.

> "I think, also, that Debra would agree with this fully."

> While I disagree with it, its a pretty
> standard feature of doctrinaire feminism,

No, this is simplistic. It leads to a position that strongly
bifurcates politically. At one pole, you have the radical feminism
of Andrea Dworkin (heterosexual sex is akin to rape -- this is an
abomination), at the other you have the conservative essentialism
of Camille Paglia (heterosexual sex is akin to rape -- this is
perfectly natural). In between these poles, you have many artists,
gay activists, sexual liberation feminists, the BDSM community, etc,
who all believe basically that sex and romantic love, for better
or worse, are inherently bound up with some of our darker impulses.

I'd put Debra in this camp as well.

This is opposed to the larger stream of feminism, its two poles being
liberal humanism and postmodern theory. Both stem from a reluctance
to confront the "natural" in a species so conditiond and structured
by human interactions. I think liberal humanists are for the most
part simply squeamish, but postmodernists assert that it's impossible
to talk about "state of nature" essentialism without revealing some
kind of agenda, usually a privileging discourse of power. Instead
of finding the locus of oppression in human biology or evolution,
they bind it inextricably with socially constructed institutions.
On the one hand, this leads to the optimism of humanists, who believe
we can simply construct better, less oppressive institutions, on the
other to the detatched nihilism of radical postmodernists, who believe
that all human interactions are so tainted with the discourse of power
that the best one can do is deconstruct and de-center these ideas.

> and Dickerson seems to be struggling with the conflict between
> doctrinaire intellectual feminism (and what might be described
> as a similarly doctrinaire, er, blackism) and her own emotional
> response to the works at issue, so your probably on firmer ground
> arguing that it seems likely, though its not outright stated,
> that Debra would agree with that than when you try to make
> the case it is an inescapable fact that everyone has to accept.

Yes, I'd certainly agree that Debra's post illustrated a
collision between the po-mo feminism she imbibed at college
and her instinctual empathy to movies which paint the victims
of oppression as something other than passive. I think this
is a collision between feminism and "blackism" that's at least
as old as the civil rights movement (Stokley Carmichael's
infamous rejoinder to the question of what's the best position
for women in the civil rights movment: the prone position).

I only wish Debra did a better job of advocating her view.

> "Secondly, I do think that oppression is aggression writ
> large. Aggression ritualized and systematized, if you will."

> I would tend to agree with this, though I am a bit
> concerned that there may be a degree of equivocation
> here; I'm not sure that "aggression" is used in the
> precisely same sense here as in the first point.

Look at aggression as individual behavior. Look at oppression as
the resuit of an aggregated social response to aggressive impulses.

> But that's not right, either. If oppression is
> "aggression ritualized and systematized", then social
> structures neither cause nor respond to aggression.

I certainly do not believe that social structures are the
primary cause of oppression, though of course they're often
proximate causes; I am not a postmodernist. They are, though,
absolutely responses to our aggressive nature. The entire
oppressive structure of patriarchy is predicated on a desire
to protect women and men from themselves. That this has become
drastically misplaced is a result of culture outstripping biology.

> They are oppression itself (or they are the
> absence of oppression, as the case may be.)

As I say, they can be proximate causes of oppression, but the
deeper root is our natural tendency to impose our wills on others.

> Social structures are where the systematization and
> ritualization of aggression exist, if they exist at all.

Sure. And the great tautological mistake of postmodernism is
to conflate these loci of oppression with oppression's cause.

> "As we've evolved, our brains have far outstripped
> any other part of our biology. We've devised ethical
> codes that run counter to our natural impulses."

> I'm not entirely sure that's correct. Arguably,
> the ethical codes we've devised have largely been
> devised with the principle objection of controlling
> the behavior of others for the devisor's advantage,
> which isn't at all contrary to natural impulse.

Oh is that *ever* a Foucauldian idea. I think it's complete
bullshit, though. Think of the Golden Rule. I'm closer to
Freud (in Civilization and its Discontents) on this. We have
raging ids. Society arose to repress those baser instincts, which
would have us kill each other in the name of self-gratification.
After the fact, as society grew a collective awareness, the idea
of controlling The Other arose, but to protect social cohesion.

> Indeed, though the mechanisms aren't as
> elaborate, we it throughout the animal kingdom.

There is no "devisor" in the animal kingdom. Social mechanisms
(in ant colonies, baboon troops and soforth) exist to further
group ends. If you're thinking of the "narcissistic" behavior of
alphas, this is only a function of successful gene propogation.

> "What we need to reduce oppression
> is more of this cultural evolution."

> Since, oppression is a purely cultural phenomenon -- as you
> have described it -- that's fairly well true by definition.

No, that's the tautological trap of postmodernism. Biology
certainly isn't destiny, but we have a legacy of our evolutionary
past that's as important as culture. We need to get beyond the
proximate causes of oppresion by designing better social forms.
But we won't eradicate it entirely. There are no utopias.

> "But the realm of sex is always pushing us
> backward, away from our evolved ethics, which
> are a product of our front brains, not our glands."

> While we create conscious rationalizations, I don't
> think its all that true that our ethics are that much
> less a product of our glands than our sex drives are.

I couldn't possibly disagree with you more, Chris. Ethical codes
arose precisely to thwart our drives, whether sex, aggression or
Thanatos if you want to buy into Freud's idea of the death instinct.
If we didn't have these drives, ethics wouldn't be necessary.

> They are rationalizations of our emotional responses
> to acts and conditions we observe around us.

It's interesting that you deleted my final sentence about the
heart being halfway between these two realms. Without the emotional
response of empathy and the group identification it fosters, it'd be
very difficult to imagine how societies could have arisen at all.

To that extent, our limbic brains have thrown themselves
on the sides of our rationalizing heads in the eternal
war against the tyranny of glandular oppression :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 10, 2006 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

sexual intercourse is dimorphic. It cannot proceed without a man exercising his will and a woman submitting to it.

At best, a poor choice of words. Instead of "submitting" to it, how about "agreeing" to it? Where I come from, if a woman submits to sex but doesn't agree to it, it's still called rape in a court of law.

And I assure you, sex can proceed with the woman exercising her will and the man submitting (and agreeing). It doesn't need to involve bondage or humiliation, just a willingness to be led and surprised. If you haven't tried it guys, don't knock it.

Think of what it takes for a man to have coitus. If you can view thrusting as a non-aggressive behavior, you're a pretty evolved guy :)

And you're probably wonder why you're getting so little tail.

Posted by: 2.7182818 on January 10, 2006 at 7:47 AM | PERMALINK

2.7:

> sexual intercourse is dimorphic. It cannot proceed without
> a man exercising his will and a woman submitting to it.

> At best, a poor choice of words. Instead of "submitting" to it, how
> about "agreeing" to it? Where I come from, if a woman submits to sex
> but doesn't agree to it, it's still called rape in a court of law.

Well, I'm not exactly writing a romance novel here. I'm using a
generality to encompass the broadest possible set of circumstances
where sex can occur, something which would include submission by
her jumping on top of the guy and submission to being raped.

In other words, the ideal has nothing to do with what I'm describing.

> And I assure you, sex can proceed with the woman exercising her
> will and the man submitting (and agreeing). It doesn't need to
> involve bondage or humiliation, just a willingness to be led
> and surprised. If you haven't tried it guys, don't knock it.

Been there, done that, have a wardrobe fulla T-shirts. But again,
you're missing the point. A woman can initiate sex, well duh.
I've even heard of a man being raped by a bunch of women who so
physically threatened him he got a hardon out of fear. This is
not, obviously, the usual case. The pharmaceutical industry is
making a fortune right now on the proposition that a man has to
make himself submit to his own will to have sex, let alone his
partner's. But a woman, sadly enough, can be forced to have sex
whether or not she's aroused. What I'm talking about has nothing
to do with consent, or with what's desirable. Only biology.

> "Think of what it takes for a man to have coitus.
> If you can view thrusting as a non-aggressive
> behavior, you're a pretty evolved guy :)"

> And you're probably wonder why you're getting so little tail.

He he he. This is actually a very good response, because
it illustrates the biggest, umm, cleavage in the sex wars
today is not between feminists and anti-feminists (nobody
with a half a brain and three quarters of an education is
really an anti-feminist) or between men and women, but between
the two camps I described above: the sex-is-a-dark-force
folks (including Debra and myself, not to mention Paglia,
Dworkin and Freud) and the humanists / postmodernists.

Paglia, Dworkin and Freud, oh my!

Nobody who cherishes good thoughts about humanity likes to think
that sex is mixed in with truly nasty impulses. So people go the
extra mile in these debates to point out that in today's world,
aggression per se need have little if anything to do with sex.
Agreed. And this is thanks to our wonderfully evolved cerebrums
and the host of social and cultural attitudes they helped foster,
especially here in the enlightened West, were we don't stick widows
on funeral pyres before they're dead and hack off clitorises.

Bob

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Posted by: dating on January 11, 2006 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK
Oh is that *ever* a Foucauldian idea. I think it's complete bullshit, though. Think of the Golden Rule.

I've thought about it. Its not causing any problems with my explanation. Perhaps you'd like to expand on why you think it is relevant.

I'm closer to Freud (in Civilization and its Discontents) on this. We have raging ids. Society arose to repress those baser instincts, which would have us kill each other in the name of self-gratification.

Everything I've read about people who have ever had occasion to kill suggests that killing, for the vast majority of people, does not produce self-gratification.

After the fact, as society grew a collective awareness, the idea of controlling The Other arose, but to protect social cohesion.

The idea that society has a meaningful "collective awareness" itself I find specious.

There is no "devisor" in the animal kingdom. Social mechanisms (in ant colonies, baboon troops and soforth) exist to further group ends.

I am with Dawkins on seeing this as sloppy thinking; group behavior that is explained as serving "group ends" actually serves the preservation of the genes of individuals engaging in the behavior.

This is largely true in humans, though genetic interests are admixed, there, with memetic interests.

I couldn't possibly disagree with you more, Chris. Ethical codes arose precisely to thwart our drives, whether sex, aggression or Thanatos if you want to buy into Freud's idea of the death instinct. If we didn't have these drives, ethics wouldn't be necessary.

The problem with this explanation, is that (1) our drives, I think, largely explain both the actual ethics that are common, and (and especially in context with) the (often hypocritical) ways that people attempt to enforce them, and (2) no source other than our biological nature is posited from which ethics could have been derived with the intent of thwarting that nature. So, I think rationally your explanation must be rejected, aesthetically attractive though it might be.

That is not to say that ethical codes do not exist to thwart certain drives; but they are a product of serving one set of primal drives that conflict, both within and, more importantly, between individuals.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 11, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

> "Oh is that *ever* a Foucauldian idea. I think it's
> complete bullshit, though. Think of the Golden Rule."

> I've thought about it. Its not causing any
> problems with my explanation. Perhaps you'd
> like to expand on why you think it is relevant.

Because doing unto others is not a political admonishment. You'd
have better success with this argument if you wanted to talk about
marriage and inheritance codes, or punishments for proscribed sex --
where it's pretty clear that the men are lording it over the women
in their own best interests and justifying it after the fact as
"protection" -- at least in patriarchal societies. But doing unto
others is a basic command to empathize, to put yourself in the shoes
of someone else before you act in such a way that would affect them.
That's not a command that establishes the power of one group, class
or individual over another. In fact, if it's fully universalized
(which it has never been), it produces a strongly egalitarian outcome.

> "I'm closer to Freud (in Civilization and its Discontents)
> on this. We have raging ids. Society arose to repress
> those baser instincts, which would have us kill each
> other in the name of self-gratification."

> Everything I've read about people who have ever had
> occasion to kill suggests that killing, for the vast
> majority of people, does not produce self-gratification.

Of course not, Chris. Society works to assure this -- but I'm
hardly talking about the *outcome*. In almost all cases, from
understandable crimes of passion and homicide in self-defense to
the offhanded actions of thrill-killing psychopaths, to soldiers
killing to fulfill orders, the *intent* of killing is to increase
self-gratification. What other general motive could there be?

And what I'm saying is that social codes arose to contain these
impulses, of both Eros (think of the murderous rages produced
by sexual jealousy) and Thanatos (MOL unfocused aggression).

> "After the fact, as society grew a collective awareness, the idea
> of controlling The Other arose, but to protect social cohesion."

> The idea that society has a meaningful
> "collective awareness" itself I find specious.

Well, leave aside prehistory. When societies develop
language, in nearly all cases they also develop a sense
of themselves as a people, which comes out in their
mythology and creation stories. Think of the Bible, which
is the story of one cultural grouping gaining control over
a rather valuable piece of east Medeterranean real estate. The
ancient Hebrews, at least as expressed through these scribes,
most decidedly had a sense of themselves as a collective.

> "There is no "devisor" in the animal kingdom. Social
> mechanisms (in ant colonies, baboon troops and
> soforth) exist to further group ends."

> I am with Dawkins on seeing this as sloppy thinking; group behavior
> that is explained as serving "group ends" actually serves the
> preservation of the genes of individuals engaging in the behavior.

Okay, fair enough. I don't know enough evolutionary biology to
argue this point, and what we were talking about originally was
the origin of social codes. You seem to be arguing that they
arose to increase the power of one group or individual over others
(and I think in certain cases that's true; again, look at sexual
dimorphism expressed through these codes); I would say, more
generally that these codes arose out of an awareness that we all
have dark impulses at our cores. In another thread, you said there
was an analogue here with "original sin." I agree with this, but
I don't think it's inherent in social or personal relationships.
I think it's inherent in all of us: male or female, master
or slave, king or subject. This may express itself in social
injustice, but I, following Hobbes, think the root is deeper.

> This is largely true in humans, though genetic
> interests are admixed, there, with memetic interests.

Sure. Once culture comes into the picture it's impossible
to follow a purely genetic path to trace these origins.

> "I couldn't possibly disagree with you more, Chris.
> Ethical codes arose precisely to thwart our drives,
> whether sex, aggression or Thanatos if you want to
> buy into Freud's idea of the death instinct. If we
> didn't have these drives, ethics wouldn't be necessary."

> The problem with this explanation, is that (1) our drives,
> I think, largely explain both the actual ethics that are
> common, and (and especially in context with) the (often
> hypocritical) ways that people attempt to enforce them,

Well sure. Eros in its largest sense isn't merely the sex drive,
it's the urge to conserve and preserve, to create as well as to
procreate. And it contains the notion of empathy which I arged
is the basis of the Golden Rule. We wouldn't have ethics, or a
sense of ethical violation, if we merely had destructive drives.

But we also have deeply destructive drives. Envy, jealousy, greed,
vanity -- not merely aggression, which is constructive in self-
defense. This is why Freud had to also postulate the death instinct.

> and (2) no source other than our biological nature
> is posited from which ethics could have been derived
> with the intent of thwarting that nature. So, I
> think rationally your explanation must be rejected,
> aesthetically attractive though it might be.

Well I hope I don't sound like I'm making some kind of
old-fashioned (hehe, he says, after citing Hobbes) dualist
argument. I'm not saying that there's a Spirit somehow ineffibly
different from and superior to Flesh. But I do believe that
our natures set us at war with ourselves, and that our baser
drives (sex and aggression) need to be channeled because they're
inherently stronger, and also that culture plays a huge role in
cultivating the more limbic, mid-brain responses (empathy, fellow-
feeling) that satisfy us when we curtail our baser natures.

> That is not to say that ethical codes do not exist
> to thwart certain drives; but they are a product
> of serving one set of primal drives that conflict,
> both within and, more importantly, between individuals.

I'd only say that some drives are more primal than others
(rooted in different areas of the brain and which involve
different kinds of hormonal responses), and that Freud
was correct to posit sex and aggression as both the deepest
and the strongest drives, because they're implicated in
personal (or as Dawkins would say, genomic) survival.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 11, 2006 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Because doing unto others is not a political admonishment.

Sure it is. If I tell the people I interact with to "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you", if I succeed in getting them to adopt that behavior pattern I have, aside from their relations to third parties, gotten them to treat me as they would prefer to be treated.

It's ultimately self-serving to get others to adopt that meme, particularly those you interact with frequently.

You'd have better success with this argument if you wanted to talk about marriage and inheritance codes, or punishments for proscribed sex -- where it's pretty clear that the men are lording it over the women in their own best interests and justifying it after the fact as "protection"

While that's the conventional argument from critics of "patriarchy", I think its pretty clear that that is not the likely genesis of those prescriptions; rather, they are about survival, reproductive competition, and the material consequences of infidelity in primitive societies.


Think of the Bible, which
is the story of one cultural grouping gaining control over a rather valuable piece of east Medeterranean real estate. The ancient Hebrews, at least as expressed through these scribes,
most decidedly had a sense of themselves as a collective.

As much of the Bible was recorded during the Babylonian captivity, and largely with the fairly clear purpose of creating and reinforcing such an identity, its not entirely surprising that it depicts the existence of such an identity. But, at any rate, I think I mistook what you meant by a collective awareness -- certainly, group identities exist. But I don't think the war against the Other results from group identity, in the absence of such identity its present, though the Other is defined more personally and less in group terms.

I would say, more generally that these codes arose out of an awareness that we all have dark impulses at our cores.

I think we just fundamentally disagree with this; I think that the desire to control others out of self-interest is more significant than the desire for self-control in the development of moral codes (indeed, I suspect that attention to personal defects is a result, rather than cause, of the promulgation of moral codes.)

While, of course, I view the story as metaphorical, I don't think it is misleading at all that the original knowledge of Good and Evil acquired in (and resulting in expulsion from) Eden in Genesis comes as a direct result of disobedience to an externally imposed code of behavior.

In another thread, you said there was an analogue here with "original sin." I agree with this, but I don't think it's inherent in social or personal relationships. I think it's inherent in all of us: male or female, master or slave, king or subject. This may express itself in social injustice, but I, following Hobbes, think the root is deeper.

I don't think evil can exist except in terms of relation between moral agents. Wrong cannot be done except that it is both by and against a person. So, while I agree that the drives which result in evil are internal to each person, they result in evil only between persons, because that is the only place evil exists.

But we also have deeply destructive drives. Envy, jealousy, greed, vanity -- not merely aggression, which is constructive in self- defense. This is why Freud had to also postulate the death instinct.

I'm not convinced those are any more destructive than aggression, and are indeed constructive in the appropriate circumstances. Greed most clearly so, envy/jealousy because where others are doing better than you, it is a clear sign of either (1) them not sharing, and/or (2) missed opportunity; responding negatively to either is, in a purely survival sense, probably beneficial. Vanity is a little harder to see as positive, but its tightily related to the others, may just be a manifestation of the same drive.

I'd only say that some drives are more primal than others (rooted in different areas of the brain and which involve different kinds of hormonal responses), and that Freud was correct to posit sex and aggression as both the deepest and the strongest drives, because they're implicated in personal (or as Dawkins would say, genomic) survival.

I would argue that empathy and forgiveness are also implicated in personal (and a fortiori genomic) survival for humans. I think the observations from game theory about the dominance of tit-for-tat strategies in prisoner's dilemma cases (which many real scenarios boil down to relatives of), especially when combined with imperfect information, make drives toward both presumptive cooperation and limited retaliation strongly related to survival.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 11, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Think of what it takes for a man to have coitus. If you can view thrusting as a non-aggressive behavior, you're a pretty evolved guy :)

with all due respect Bob (I enjoy reading your posts) this is nonsense. If you want to define "aggressive this way," then putting a pencil to paper is "aggressive"; stepping on grass is "aggressive"; pulling a curtain shut is "aggressive"; picking your nose is aggressive"; and putting a steel untensil in your mouth to consume food could be considered aggressively forcing mash potatoes into your own orifice in a manner all too uncomfortably close to some sort of oral rape.

Aggression is not just action, it's attitude - and you're leaving the latter out all together in your attempt not to budge from your initial thesis.

Posted by: Robert S. on January 11, 2006 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

floor with some trucks Marty almost tripped over him as he walked online casinos Fine.

Posted by: Marina Shreya on January 11, 2006 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

Robert S.:

> Think of what it takes for a man to have coitus.
> If you can view thrusting as a non-aggressive
> behavior, you're a pretty evolved guy :)

> with all due respect Bob (I enjoy reading your posts) this
> is nonsense. If you want to define "aggressive this way,"
> then putting a pencil to paper is "aggressive"; stepping
> on grass is "aggressive"; pulling a curtain shut is "aggressive";
> picking your nose is aggressive"; and putting a steel untensil
> in your mouth to consume food could be considered aggressively
> forcing mash potatoes into your own orifice in a manner
> all too uncomfortably close to some sort of oral rape.

Oral rape, LOL ! What a great image. Okay, leave aside
the side dishes for a minute. How about slicing into the
main course: that nice, thick, red, juicy slab of steak? :)

Ahhh ... there's aggression *somewhere* in there, isn't there.
Sombody had to slaughter that cow, and raise it for the slaughtering.

Did you read my response to 2.7 upthread? This is *precisely* what
I'm talking about. Some liberal humanists (and I am a dyed-in-
the-wool, card-carrying liberal humanist) literally bend themselves
over backward to avoid seeing aggression in sex, reading aggression
to mean "he forced his will on her." Look, I don't want to turn
this post into porn spam, but think about sex in the real world for
a minute. The most loving, mutual, tender, consensual sex between
a man and a woman has an *irreducible element of aggression*. If
you can't see it, I'm reluctant to draw a more detailed word picture.
It's physiologically necessary. It's the way the parts work. Not
only that, but more overtly aggressive sex is usually hotter, too.
Which of course does *not* imply that rough sex is the hottest of all
-- that's a personal taste thing. But as a general rule it's true.

> Aggression is not just action, it's attitude - and
> you're leaving the latter out all together in your
> attempt not to budge from your initial thesis.

No I'm not, really. You can kill somebody in a fit of anger or you
can kill somebody in cold blood, but it's still homicide. I'm not
trying to stretch the boundaries here and say that sex games on the
edge of rape are cool. There are definitely parameters. Sex in
anger -- motivated purely out of aggression -- is psychologically
unhealthy even if it's consensual. And, of course, rape is purely
about aggression; sex is only the form in which it's acted out.

I'm not trying to argue for where the optimal level of aggression
should be in sex. People have different tastes and they're
all over the map. As I say, the BDSM commuity would be yawning
strenously over this timid discussion of "proper" plain-vanilla
sexuality. And some people really prefer tenderness and strive to
keep aggression at a minimum. All I'm saying is that aggression
-- not defined by attitute but by action -- is there at some level.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 11, 2006 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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