The Riff

New Documentary Broaches the Big O

| Fri Feb. 23, 2007 8:34 PM EST

When Chris Anderson, director of The O Tapes, first read the findings of the Laumann study that made public the information that 43% of women experience sexual dysfunction, he was shocked. If this was the case for men, he thought, there would be a pill. Just a few months after reading the findings, one was released—for men, not for women. After doing a bit more research, he discovered that the incidence of sexual dysfunction in men was believed to be about half that recorded for women by the Laumann study.

Anderson, who had been working as a film editor, was in the market for a documentary film project, and after doing a bit of research into the subject himself, the elusive female orgasm became its subject. The only problem, he determined was that he was the wrong gender to carry this project through. But this didn't deter him. He hired an all-female staff and proceeded to interview hundreds of women and a few noted (or notorious) experts in the field about sexuality. Many of these interviews revealed that women just don't talk about sexuality.

Last night, I attended a sparsely populated screening of The O Tapes in San Francisco that was followed by a short panel discussion featuring the director and three local experts on human sexuality. Either San Franciscans think they already know everything about sex or the rainy weather served as a deterrent, because the Lumière Theater wasn't even a quarter full. But I guarantee that everyone in the audience learned something new, whether it was a historical fact or a point of view put forth by someone interviewed in the film.

While I would have preferred a more narrative approach, the organization of the film around subjects was effective. As Anderson pointed out during the panel discussion, the interview covered about 60 subjects, most of which could not be included in the final version of the film. Instead, he used his editing skills to define a more narrow set of topics including "orgasm" "foreplay," and "self image" to provide organization for the project.

The primary strength of The O Tapes isn't the film's organization, but rather, the diversity of voices that Anderson was able to capture during the interview process. The women in this film range in age from 25 to 84, and are from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. While almost all of the women are heterosexual, a few queer women are also given a voice. The project is more than reminiscent of The Vagina Monologues (click here for a Mother Jones interview with Ensler), but the diversity of voices and content goes beyond that normally attained in sex-positive film festivals.

Even though the so-called sexual revolution started something moving in the right direction, we have a long way to go when it comes to understanding female sexuality. For Chris Anderson, part of the solution might be found simply in talking about, rather than around, sex. Getting this dialogue going isn't an easy undertaking in a culture that has many taboos centered around female sexuality. Fortunately, as revealed in the film, many women do love to talk.

Click here for show times.

--Rose Miller

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What's Next, Mosh Pit Cruise Packages?

| Fri Feb. 23, 2007 5:31 PM EST

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For the love of punk rock, is nothing sacred? The American Association of Retired Persons is now running a TV commercial that shows healthy, vigorous elders moving about to a backdrop of the song "Everybody's Happy Nowadays," by the English punk band the Buzzcocks. This from a band whose first, unashamed single was the BBC-banned "Orgasm Addict," a band that wrote songs about bisexuality and had lyrics quoting Beat poet William S. Burroughs, and a band who had enough street cred to open up for the Sex Pistols in Manchester in 1976.

And the AARP commercial is not even the Buzzcocks' first ad gig. A Subaru commercial once used "What Do I Get," a song about sleepless nights and the search for lover. Predictably, ageing punks have filled the blogosphere with comments dissing the band for both.

Adfreak riffs on the song title with the headline, "Everybody's Getting Ancient Nowadays" and says the Rolling Stones would have been more appropriate for the AARP. Cult Punk calls the Buzzcocks ad an unfortunate "culture shift." The blogger behind Corporate Satan Speaks Out shouted "What th...!??!?!" when he first heard the commercial, but later admitted that since the band members are pushing 50, it did make sense, sort of.

Come to think of it, since punk has been around since the 70s, it's likely that punk rockers are turning 50 and potentially joining a group like the AARP. The AARP knows this, and they're revamping their image to attract a new generation of folks who used to pogo at punk shows but who now can benefit from health tips and tax-filing advice. Their website even has an online jukebox featuring an array of music Baby Boomers might like, including Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, Tony Bennett, Beazley Phillips Band, Willie Nelson and Madonna. But it is a little strange that punk music ¬ known to be dissident, vile, nonsensical, unrehearsed, angry, aggressive and DIY¬ is being used to push product with the consent of the artists.

Steve Garvey, the Buzzcocks' 49-year-old former bass player, broke it down recently when he told the Chicago Tribune that his royalty checks are helping pay for his kid's college education. Garvey said he loves to play golf, survived cancer of the salivary gland, and has had two rotator cuff surgeries and has bum knees. In a year, he'll be eligible to join AARP.

The Buzzcocks are not the only punk band on heavy rotation in TV commercials. An M&Ms commercial uses "This is The Day," a song by The The, a 70s English post-punk band founded by Matt Johnson. Mitsubishi scooped up "Blindness," a post punk song by the English band The Fall.

Blogs like "Big Mean Punk" relentlessly track other examples, such as Iggy Pop's Lust for Life, a song about heroin addiction, that now sells Carnival Cruise vacations. Various songs from the The Ramones push beer and cell phones, and Devo tunes have popped up in Target commercials and Swiffer spots, which have also used Blondie songs. (Check out more ironic and shameless advertising and product placement in our current issue.)

It's got to be nice for punk rock musicians to finally earn some cash for songs that originally might have earned them a only beer and a sandwich. The downside is, some of the obscure songs punk kids would crowd into small, unknown, sweaty venues to hear played live by their punk heroes don't alienate the general, mainstream public anymore—they welcome them with open arms.

--Gary Moskowitz

Wilberforce Be With You: The Christian Right Claims Amazing Grace

| Fri Feb. 23, 2007 1:28 PM EST
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Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of slavery. But since Hollywood doesn't release new titles on Thursday, it's waiting until today to launch Amazing Grace, a new movie about 18th-century British abolitionist William Wilberforce. The flick, directed by Michael Apted (creator of the mesmerizing 7-Up documentary series) and produced by the studio that did The Chronicles of Narnia, is getting enthusiastic advance reviews. But nowhere is the film more highly anticipated than among conservative Christians, who see parallels between Wilberforce's moral battle and their faith-based campaign against sex trafficking. But Wilberforce's unlikely victory is also viewed as a metaphor for the Christian right's struggle to remake the culture. Presidential hopeful Sam Brownback was dubbed a "Wilberforce Republican" by the Economist, and has eagerly accepted the title. And check out this email appeal I recently received from Ted Baehr, who runs MovieGuide, an evangelical movie review site:

One man, William Wilberforce, was used by God to abolish the slave trade in England and bring about a reformation of manners.

Imagine what you and I can do together to redeem the media and save our culture! [...]

Because of Wilberforce's willingness to serve the Lord, a Victorian society where women and children were safe and where the Church was addressing social evils in creative ways saved a nation that was quickly falling into rampant paganism.

[...] you can help us bring about a moral reform in our nation that will set the captives free from the bondage and slavery of corrupt media.

This is the chance for the Church in our era to address social evils in creative ways!

Wilberforce has officially been recruited as a culture warrior. (BTW, MovieGuide gives Amazing Grace four stars, though it warns viewers that it contains "female cleavage.")

Of course, Wilberforce's story doesn't just resonate with religious conservatives. His against-the-odds struggle for social justice plucks liberal heartstrings as well—ours included. For a progressive interpretation of British abolitionism, see Mother Jones co-founder Adam Hochshild's most recent book, Bury the Chains, which argues that the anti-slavery movement was "the first great human-rights campaign." As Hochschild explained when I interviewed him:

In a time that feels politically grim, especially for anyone in the U.S. who cares about social justice, I hope people will take heart from a story of folks who started a campaign at a time when it looked even grimmer. The idea of ending slavery seemed totally utopian, crackpot, wildly too idealistic. But they succeeded. And they succeeded in 50 years, in the lifespan of some people [...] They went through some very grim times, one of them being the long wartime period like the one we're seeing now. Wartime is bad news for progressives, and it was the same thing [during the Napoleonic wars]. So I guess to the extent that it's possible for a book like this to have any effect, I would just like to see it have the effect of making people working for justice today feel heartened and to know that any big struggle will always be a long one with many setbacks.

I don't see anyone calling themselves "Wilberforce Democrats" any time soon, but that's no reason to let the right lay exlcusive claim to the legacy of abolitionism, or even Amazing Grace. So take a break from your usual pagan film fare and see if it lives up to the hype. (And for you history buffs/Afropop fans, it's your chance to see Youssou N'Dour's silver screen debut as Olaudah Equiano.)

Katha Pollitt Rips Dinesh D'Souza to Shreds

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 7:11 PM EST

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I was going to say something intelligent about Katha Pollitt's review of Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy at Home, which I also panned. But her review kicks such major ass, that I am just going to excerpt it. Pollitt calls D'Souza's attack on the American left

a secular version of Jerry Falwell's contention that 9/11 was a divine rebuke to "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America." Of course, Falwell got hammered; even George W. Bush had to distance himself. Besides the obvious objections, God's aim seemed wide of the mark: Did He think the ACLU had an office in the Pentagon and that Windows on the World was a gay bar?

And as for Hillary, who D'Souza naturally includes in the Liberals Who Hate America category:

Hillary is a workaholic, so maybe she promotes America-hatred and child pornography in the wee hours, after her day job beefing up the US military.

The coup de grace is that Pollitt shreds D'Souza's logic. He blames the left of allying itself with America's enemies, while he more or less excuses the terrorist attacks by saying liberals' slatternly ways brought them upon ourselves. Here's Pollitt:

The idea that Americans are going to embrace the mullahs and ayatollahs out of a shared dislike of gays and working mothers is fairly fantastic. Besides, the Americans who come closest to sharing "traditional Muslim" family values are fundamentalists like, um, Jerry Falwell, who think Islam is the devil's work. The minute they tried bringing their new best friends to Christ, they'd find out that a mutual obsession with female chastity can take you only so far.

Curtain.

Guess Who's Coming to the GOP Fundraiser?

| Wed Feb. 21, 2007 6:18 PM EST

jimmy_camp.gifOne of the GOP hard-hitting political campaign managers in California is a punk musician and one-time druggie who disappears for days at a time running from the police. Said chairman of the state Republican party: "Some of the more conservative (politicos) are taken aback by the tattoos and leather jacket, but that goes away as soon as they realize how good he is at what he does."

If only social conservatives could grant the rest of us the same largesse.

Read a complete (two-part) profile here and here.

Hip-Hop On the Couch

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 7:59 PM EST

Don't miss Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a documentary on violence, sexism and homophobia in hip-hop, airing tonight on PBS. Including interviews with some big timers -- Mos Def, Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Russell Simmons -- as well as a slew of hip-hop insiders and rap fans, the filmmaker goes there, and some balk (like Simmons and the head of BET).
Byron Hurt, a novice documentarian but veteran hip-hop head, calls out his fellow black men asking how the bravado that encourages guns, violence, sexual violence and homophobia is also the pride of the community. Rap artist Jadakiss asks in response, "Do you watch movies? What kind of movies do you watch?" pointing out that what sells in hip hop is no different than what sells in Hollywood: sex and violence. In one scene Hurt asks some unknowns to rhyme for him and all they spit are lines about sex, drugs, killing. He calls them on it and one of them starts rhyming about poverty, and drugs in the community, then stops and says, "no one wants to hear that." And more to the point, no one can get a record deal rapping thusly.
Sexism? Just look at politics -- there's a clip of Schwarzenegger's "girly man" comment illustrating that hip hop is not misogyny's first, or only, rodeo. Homophobia, says Hurt and others, comes in part from the macho over-the-top display of physical dominance in hip-hop that means power, where powerful white men, like say Donald Trump, can hide behind the desk (and hair) and still have power.
Other scenes are set in Daytona Beach at BET's annual Spring Bling and show firsthand the sexism at play, and the disconnect between the music and message. Hurt talks with one white kid from suburbia whose blasting rap from his dad's truck. The guy says he's loved hip hop "since forever, the beginning," identifies with it, then in the next breath refers to Byron and black folks as "colored people." (Hurt calls him on it.)
Hurt is knee deep in this one, expressing his conflicted feelings about making the documentary, feeling such allegiance to the medium, hip-hop being part of him, but also wanting to ask the questions no one seems to be asking.
Indeed, there are lots of questions, for every level of the industry, really provocative stuff. And if you are a teacher, or an educator, or a provider of some kind who has an audience for the film Independent Lens is putting together an educational program to match. Find out more here.

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This Just In: Gay Stereotype Possibly Misleading

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 4:26 PM EST

While there's much to love in the Sarah Silverman program (like this and this), I think my favorite characters are Steve and Brian, Sarah's "gigantic, orange and gay" neighbors. Played by writer Steve Agee and comedian Brian Posehn, the couple are a bit hefty, with scraggly facial hair and rumpled plaid shirts, and seem to love video games and, uh, farting, more than Cher and Madonna. This kind of portrayal of gays on television is indeed unusual, and one could argue the show is aiming for the simplest kind of comedy by using the least "gay" guys to play the gay guys; but oddly enough they end up being a pretty accurate portrayal of most of the queer dudes I know. Maybe this is just my bizarro world, but all my straight guy friends are hair-gelling, disco-dancing superfreaks, and my gay guy friends are shlubby geeks. (And I mean all that in the best possible way, guys). Are all the gay dudes just trying to act straight, and vice versa, until everything's backwards, or could the stereotypes be (shudder) wrong?

Just this weekend San Francisco welcomed the International Bear Rendezvous, an "annual gathering of bears and bear lovers." A bear, for the uninitiated, is, according to Wikipedia, a "male individual who possesses physical attributes much like a bear, such as a heavy build, abundant body hair, and commonly facial hair." My apartment happens to be situated on a street between two of the main host bars, and all weekend, buses pulled up and disgorged crowds (herds?) of large, hirsute men. And I'm not sure if this is related, but the distinct odor of garlic fries seemed to waft over the neighborhood as well. Do bears eat garlic fries? Anyway, as I walked up to the subway station Saturday night, I found myself assuming every bearded, baseball-cap-wearing, chubby guy I saw was heading for the bear festivities, until I realized: no, these are probably just, you know, Americans. Are Sarah Silverman and my neighborhood portents of a near future in which gay stereotypes are so mixed up nobody gives a damn any more, or are we just so deep in the subculture we can't see straight any more? Either way, I could really go for some garlic fries.

Towns Launch Cold War Over Who's More Inhospitable

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 2:21 PM EST

This week's crazy intellectual property showdown: International Falls, Minnesota, and Fraser, Colorado, are in a spat over who legally owns the title "Icebox of the Nation." Fraser reportedly gave IF permission to use the title, which it trademarked. But then IF let the trademark lapse, and Fraser has filed to get it back. Part of the reason the towns are claiming to be the most inhospitable place in the continental U.S.? It's a great marketing tool: Fraser renamed its main drag after the antifreeze company that gave residents a free supply one year, and Goodyear once provided snow tires for every car in town. This spat is reminiscent of the 13-year fight over the title "Surf City," one of many examples of IP overkill MJ collected last year. Can't they just settle this with a snowball fight?

Breaking News: Britney Shaves Head, Gets Tattoo

| Mon Feb. 19, 2007 2:17 PM EST

Was she just drunk, or, after dispatching Fed-Ex, has she decided to bat for the other team?

More likely the former than the latter, but no one knows for sure. Britney is reported to have grabbed the clippers from the aghast stylist's hands and chopped off her girly locks herself. And a series of sketchy reports places Brit in and out of rehab.

Maybe she's making a statement about how little she has to do to be mobbed by the press. Or how absurd conventional notions of beauty are? (One fan who stood outside the tattoo parlor while Britney got inked told the camera crews also on the spot, "Her head is completely shaved. It looks terrible.") Or maybe Brit's just gone from imitating Madonna to imitating Sinéad O'Connor. Congress, watch out!

Dog Parts Deemed Too Hot for School Libraries

| Sun Feb. 18, 2007 6:55 PM EST

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Susan Patron's book, The Higher Power of Lucky, won the prestigious Newberry Award—meaning, it's a really good children's book.

No matter, librarians across the country are refusing to put it on the shelves.

That's because one of its thousands of words is "scrotum." Which is weird, but not worthy of a ban. The protagonist of the book overhears a conversation about a dog being bitten on the scrotum by a rattlesnake. She then endeavors to understand the meaning of this strange word. After all, she's 10 and naturally curious about things adults won't explain to her.

But librarians are refusing to stock the book because they don't want to have to explain the word to students.

Let me help: when boy dogs aren't fixed, it's the thingy that hangs down between their back legs.

We're not even talking about human parts, here—we're talking about dog parts that are out in the open for the world to see. Kids might see dog scrotums at such time-honored kid hangouts as the park. Do they not ask there what they are? I mean, isn't talking about body parts in an utterly non-sexual way the best way to introduce soon-to-be sex ed-aged students to the strange ways of nature? Or should we banish all anatomical words from the language since, clearly, it's the words not the parts themselves that inspire young people to have sex?