2010 - %3, April

Who's the Most Powerful Gay American?

| Fri Apr. 16, 2010 2:31 PM EDT

OUT magazine recently released its 4th Annual Power 50 list of the most influential gays in the U.S.. This is the same magazine that honored Katy Perry with a “People of the Year” award for her song “I Kissed a Girl,” whose contribution to gay rights was reassuring girls that it’s okay to fool around with another girl as long as you’re drunk and have a boyfriend. If you can look past that, however, then read on.

OUT determines its rankings by examining political clout, wealth, cultural significance, and a person’s media profile. Bumping last year’s top slot getter Barney Frank is Ellen DeGeneres, whose current stint on American Idol and 29-time Emmy-winning talk show have catapulted her into super stardom. An avid supporter of gay marriage, repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and animal rights, Ellen recently gave scholarship money to Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teen whose school cancelled prom when she had the audacity to try to take her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo.

Other highlights of the overwhelmingly white and male list are:

Anderson Cooper, CNN’s silver fox, who has never publicly come out of the closet, but never mind that.

Andrew Sullivan from The Atlantic Monthly, a pundit who has ruffled his share of political feathers. For instance, he was taken to task for spreading Sarah Palin pregnancy rumors and was arrested for marijuana possession, though the case was later dismissed. Today he ruffled MoJo's own Kevin Drum.

Perez Hilton, whose most publicized moment of the year was the “ongoing battle with Miss California, Carrie Prejean, over gay marriage, which found Hilton using his powers for good (surprisingly) and transforming him into one of our most visible activists.” Thus, OUT redefines activism as “calling someone a b*tch repeatedly.”

Neil Patrick Harris, aka Doogie Houser, M.D.

Rachel Maddow, who, when asked by the Washington Post whether she was biased on gay issues, said “I can’t do the show as a non-gay person. I don’t have that option.”

Anthony Romero, head of the ACLU, who in addition to taking on Constance McMillen's case (and winning!), was called "The Champion of Civil Rights" by TIME magazine.

Tammy Baldwin, the first out lesbian elected to the House of Representatives and whose successes include the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the credit card accountability act. Baldwin is also cosponsoring ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) with #2 power lister Barney Frank, which is currently stalled in Congress.

Wanda Sykes, comedian extraordinaire and the first African-American woman and first openly LGBT person to host the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. Her second greatest accomplishment, according to me, is performing the American Idol parody song, "Boobs Out Yo Blouse."

Brook Colangelo, Obama’s chief information officer

And American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert nabbed a surprisingly high spot on the list (#5), which just goes to show you that it's only a matter of time before American Idol, along with Google, will rule our fair land.

Any surprises on this list? Who do you think was left out?

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Is Male Studies A Sham?

| Thu Apr. 15, 2010 12:46 PM EDT

Ok, I get it. Men definitely should have a forum to learn about the myriad biological and social constructs that determine their behavior. That's why Men's Studies, an interdisciplinary course designed in the mid-1970s, investigates society's standards for masculinity in men and boys. It covers the effects a hyper-masculine status quo has on the XY-chromosomed among us. Male studies, on the other hand, is a newly created program unveiled at Wagner College last week by renowned anti-feminists. And it seems like a sham. Inside Higher Ed reports:

Lionel Tiger, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University [and co-chair of the Foundation For Male Studies], said the field takes its cues "from the notion that male and female organisms really are different" and the "enormous relation between ... a person’s biology and their behavior” that’s not being addressed in most contemporary scholarship on men and boys.

Boston Channel reported on the new discipline yesterday:

It explores the biology behind masculinity and was born, in part, out of concern that society is "feminizing boys... Don't by any means let them drug your child to turn it into a girl, which is what, effectively, they do," said Tiger, a professor at Rutgers University.

Tiger doesn't say who "they" are, but one can surmise he means women, feminists, gender studies professors, and the like. His argument—that incorporating feminist theories into a gender course results in male castration—is similar to the argument that one should teach a history course that excludes slavery so that white students aren't offended. It's inaccurate because doing so only tells part of the story.

Unlike the new field of male studies, men's studies operates based on the idea that the study of men and women are inseparable. Biology is covered in men's studies, but not in a vacuum that discredits nature/nurture arguments. As commenters at The Sexist noted, a curriculum that only teaches students that "Males act this way solely because of their DNA" is lacking both context and conscience. It gives people an excuse not to change. Even authorities like Dr. Louann Brizendine, author of The Male Brain, which talks about how uniquely male neurochemistry dictates actions, is quick to note that biology is certainly not destiny.

So, every group has the right to learn about issues that are unique to their demographic. But some anti-male studies bloggers are rightfully concerned that its goal is to undermine strides gender and ethnic studies courses have made in incorporating their stories into the dominant culture’s maelstrom. Male studies' other creator is Christina Hoff Sommers, a conservative from the American Enterprise Institute who once told Esquire, "There are a lot of homely women in women's studies. Preaching these anti-male, anti-sex sermons is a way for them to compensate for various heartaches—they're just mad at the beautiful girls.”

Yeah, I wouldn't trust her with my education. Would you?

Follow Titania Kumeh on Twitter.

Apple to Fiore: No App for You!

| Thu Apr. 15, 2010 12:16 PM EDT

MotherJones.com cartoonist Mark Fiore just won a Pulitzer for his online animations, but he can't get his own iPhone app. The Nieman Journalism Lab reports that Apple has rejected an app that Fiore developed, saying that it "ridicules public figures," an apparent no-no in the iTunes app store, which only sells high-minded titles such as iFart, Atomic Fart, and Fart Piano. Not to mention the recently launched app from the reverent folks at The Onion, which I just installed on my iPhone of evil. Let's see—its current lineup includes items that make fun of Oprah's weight, call the Pope a Scrabble cheat, and portray Congress as a bunch of porn hounds. Hey, Mark, I think you should try to win this one on appeal.

Also: A gallery of Fiore's greatest hits.

MoJo Lost Chat: Everybody Loves Hugo

| Wed Apr. 14, 2010 2:56 PM EDT

See more LOST chats here.

Last night proved that, indeed, everybody loves Hugo, aka Hurley, aka our favorite voice of normalcy and humor in the wacked-out world of Lost. But is he really leading his fellow Losties down the right path? And what exactly is he trying to do?

Hey, it wouldn't be Lost without a lot of questions, and we got plenty of them in last night's action-packed, romantic episode. Two explosions! Two attempted murders! Love in an insane asylum! To make sense of it all, we invited Steve from the Lost Recaps website to join us. Thanks, Steve. Read the chat below, and stay tuned for more surprise guests in the coming weeks.

Laurin Asdal, Director of Development: Hello all!
Steve, Lost Recaps blogger: Hi.
Nikki Gloudeman, New Media Fellow: Steve, thanks for joining us!
Nikki: So, let's get the ball rolling. General thoughts on last night's Hurley episode?
Laurin: Well there was a lot there.
Steve: Love that guy!
Laurin: I have to agree. I loved Hurley last night.
Nikki: Yes, me too. His presence is needed in the bizarre, intense Lost-verse. I was really touched by the Jack/Sun solidarity with him. Even though I think he's leading them to something really bad.
Laurin: I don't, I'm a believer.
Steve: Yeah. I'm with Hurley/Hugo/Hurley.
Nikki: But now MIB can get off the island and wreak his havoc.
Laurin: I don't think he can leave. I think he thinks he has a shot at leaving.
Steve: I think Desmond is going to foil Smokey's plans.
Nikki: I would love it if Des did. And I wonder how/if the foiling ties in to running over Sideways Locke?

Sullivan Gets Colbert Wrong

| Tue Apr. 13, 2010 5:14 PM EDT

UPDATE: Sullivan responds.

Responding to Stephen Colbert's interview with Wikileaks editor Julian Assange, Andrew Sullivan writes:

I've never seen Colbert so clearly become his own character on the question of impugning the honor of American soldiers. I don't doubt that his experience with the troops affected him on this question.

This is really annoying. If Andrew really thinks Colbert is "becoming" his character on this issue, he misunderstands the show. The implication is that only someone like Colbert the character—i.e., someone who is ultraconservative to the point of parody—can instinctively jump to the defense of servicemembers. I beg to differ, as would Oliver Willis, and, I suspect, Colbert (the actor, not the character).

The moments on The Colbert Report when Colbert is most earnest are moments when you're hearing the actor speaking. In other words, Colbert's actually out of character when he's defending the troops in the Assange interview. The actor's real views are coming through, and not in the standard "parodying what a conservative might say" way that dominates most of the show. It wouldn't make sense for Colbert to use his standard method in this situation: that only works when the liberal Colbert and his conservative character disagree. When it comes to the troops, the character and the actor are on the same page. You see the same earnestness when Colbert talks about Catholicism, and for the same reason. It's pretty clear that Colbert the actor is a fairly devout Catholic, and his views on religion are different from those of secular liberals. Take this, from an interview with Time Out New York:

I love my Church, and I'm a Catholic who was raised by intellectuals, who were very devout. I was raised to believe that you could question the Church and still be a Catholic. What is worthy of satire is the misuse of religion for destructive or political gains. That's totally different from the Word, the blood, the body and the Christ. His kingdom is not of this earth.

That sounds like Colbert's religious beliefs are pretty sincerely felt—he teaches Sunday school, for heaven's sake! Colbert's sympathy for the troops is deeply felt, too: he was raising huge amounts of money for servicemembers well before his well-publicized "experience with the troops" in Iraq last summer. There are plenty of other (much crunchier) charities Colbert could have chosen to support, but he decided to give his money to the Yellow Ribbon fund, which helps injured servicemembers and their families. Colbert didn't "become his character." Quite the opposite. Not every liberal is an atheistic troop-hater. Most of us aren't.

Those Lovable Kuchar Brothers

| Tue Apr. 13, 2010 5:49 AM EDT

Underground filmmaking twins George and Mike Kuchar finally get their due in a new documentary filled with illuminating interviews, hilarious banter, and priceless footage of their work. It Came From Kuchar traces the origins of the brothers' unique aesthetic, their impact on subsequent generations of filmmakers, and their ongoing devotion to movie-making.

Born in New York in 1942 ("In the same hospital as Tab Hunter," adds George in an interview), the twins started directing films at an early age. They took cues from the conventions of 50s melodramas—Douglas Sirk films like Imitation of Life, Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8—to create low-budget, histrionic films in their mother's Bronx apartment. Their films starred the likes of their neighborhood friend’s middle-aged mother, and had titles like Born Of the Wind, I Was a Teenage Rumpot, and The Devil's Cleavage

John Waters, Guy Maddin, and Wayne Wang all cite the Kuchars as an important influence. (In It Came From Kuchar Waters calls them "true underground filmmakers," says they should be knighted, and points to George's cinematic use of turds as a precursor to his own Pink Flamingos; Maddin, discussing their aesthetic, recalls the actors' "aggressively stylized voices" and remembers feeling as though "chocolate bars had been applied to the eyebrows," which are like no other eyebrows in the history of film.) 

At a time when Andy Warhol was making movies in which nothing happened, and non-narrative filmmakers like Stan Brakhage were making experimental, formalist films, the Kuchar brothers pumped out one mutant Hollywood melodrama after another—works that, in a climate of hip, affectless filmmaking, were "all affect." Jonas Mekas, film critic for the Village Voice at the time, speculated that the makers of Barbarella had stolen ideas directly from the Kuchar film Sins of the Fleshapoids.

About a year ago, Fox News (in a segment titled "Perverts Put Out") slammed the National Endowment for the Arts for funding screenings of the 1975 film Thundercrack! written by George Kuchar and directed by Curt McDowell, who was known for sexed-up films like Loads. The result, a hilarious and perverse movie that features a wig pulled from a vomit-filled toilet bowl, a female gorilla monster named Medusa, and a combination of narrative melodrama and graphic sex, is enough to make any moral conservative denounce the arts.

The Kuchar brothers are alive and well, living in San Francisco and continuing to make films. George Kuchar has taught at the San Francisco Art Institute since 1971, where he has, according to John Waters, "inspired four generations of kids to make films."

It Came From Kuchar is an excellent introduction to the hysterical, unique, and often genuinely moving films of the Kuchar brothers. Watch the trailer below:

 

 

For a schedule of screenings, visit kucharfilm.com.

Follow Evan James on Twitter.

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Three Hours With Wilco

| Mon Apr. 12, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Wilco's Jeff Tweedy promised fans he would "feed them with tunes" during last weekend's show at New Jersey's Wellmont Theater, and feed them he did, serving the hungry crowd with three hours of music spanning the credible indie band's seven albums. They even dipped into side-projects and performed an exquisite cover of Big Star's "Thank You Friends" in memory of Alex Chilton, who died last month of a heart attack. Concert-goers who paid $45 a ticket essentially paid $1.20 a song for their evening with Wilco. Not too shabby, eh?

On a stage primarily lit with fancy candelabras and a light-soaked back-drop, Wilco played a three-dozen song menu that included everything from art rock and folk rock to country rock and near hard-rock. Having released their last album more than a year ago, Wilco's current cross-country tour is not an advertisement of their current work, but rather a showcase of the veterans' two-decades of experience. Tweedy's vocals were subdued, yet powerful in the stunning "Poor Places," while the percussion in "Via Chicago" was thunderous. The show also featured the band—additional drum set, keyboards, and all—parked at the edge of the stage for an acoustic set lit only by floor lamps featuring rare gems like "Someday, Some Morning, Sometime" and "Laminated Cat." Kudos to the stage crew for executing such a complicated shift mid-show. 

15 Minutes With Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne

| Mon Apr. 12, 2010 5:45 AM EDT

Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne is almost as well known for his foul-mouthed frankness as he is for his group's wild shows and hits like "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots." The Flaming Lips are touring in support of their most recent album, Embryonic, and will release, later this week, their full-length take on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon—on vinyl. We caught up with the witty, acid-tongued frontman to grill him about Floyd, plastic disks, and the sublime beauty of watching an asinine Radiohead fan get beat up at Lollapalooza.

Mother Jones: You recently covered Dark Side of the Moon, one of the best-known and best-selling albums of all time. What made you decide to tackle it?

Wayne Coyne: As your record's getting ready to come out, you do these negotiations with a lot of different people who are going to be putting your stuff out. iTunes is one of the major outlets now, and they always want an exclusive thing. We'd done this double record (Embryronic), and they said "Wayne, do you have any extra songs that we could use as exclusive things?" Out of sheer not knowing what to say to them, I kind of said "Why don't we do a version of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon?" And then about a week later, they came back and said, "Hey, were you serious? We checked into it legally, and you could."

Some of these songs are some of the most well-known songs ever. I don’t think you could play "Money" for very many people that love music and they wouldn't know that song. So we took a couple of the songs we thought people would know the most, like "Money" and "Breathe," and we thought, what could we do with this?

I think in the beginning, some of the arrangements seemed strange and funny and different. And then it set us on a path and we said, "Fuck it, let's just see what we can do." And it's not that many songs. I think people forget it's not like the Beatles' White Album. It's only 9 songs, and there are a couple instrumentals, and some of the songs are similar in tone. And knowing the record as well as I do, it didn't seem like "Oh boy, what are we going to do?" A lot of the songs are just such perfect songs. You really can almost do anything you want and it will work.

Music Monday: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

| Mon Apr. 12, 2010 2:00 AM EDT

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
I Learned the Hard Way
Daptone

True to form, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings' fourth album sounds like it came straight out of the 1960s soul-pop explosion. They do it without reaching for something they're not; the music feels both fresh and retro. I Learned The Hard Way isn't as satisfying as 2007's 100 Days 100 Nights, but it's recorded analog, and it's still some of the best Neo-Soul yet.

Hailing from Brooklyn, the Dap-Kings include bass, tenor sax, guitars, congas, drums, and trumpet, while Jones belts and strides through R&B and Motown-inspired ballads about lost love and men who renege on their promises. Try "Better Things" for a groovy funk rendition, and "If You Call" for a sultry appeal for love. Doctor, doctor, come cut my heart out because it hardly beats at all, she croons. But please, please, leave a little potion just in case my baby calls. "Money" starts slow and breaks into an upbeat hunt, showcasing her powerful voice: Money! Where have you gone to? Jones sings, as if addressing an absent lover who's about to get the boot. Money! We scrimp, we save to keep you around, but when we need it, you're nowhere to be found!

Books: The Bad Life

| Fri Apr. 9, 2010 6:46 PM EDT

Some controversy has emerged around The Bad Life, a memoir written by Frédéric Mitterrand. Published in France as La Mauvaise Vie in 2005, it has sold over 250,000 copies to date. Known mainly for his career in television—and as the nephew of former French president François Mitterrand—the author was appointed French Minister of Culture and Communication in June 2009 by Nicolas Sarkozy. Then, in October, he was targeted by Marine Le Pen of the right-wing National Front party, who quoted the book out of context on French television, accusing him of paying underage boys for sex in Bangkok and calling for his resignation.

Mitterrand defended himself shortly thereafter, acknowledging that he had indeed paid for sex, but only with unambiguously consenting men of legal age, adding, "I absolutely condemn sex tourism, which is a disgrace. I condemn pedophilia, in which I have never participated in any way. The book is no way an apology for sex tourism, even if one chapter is a journey through that hell, with all the fascination that hell can inspire." 

A fresh chapter emerged earlier this week, however, when Soft Skull Press—publisher of the first English translation of The Bad Life, slated for release on April 20—received news from Mitterrand's French publisher that his planned US book tour in April would be canceled. No explanation was given other than that it was for political reasons. Soft Skull found that odd, to say the least. When I spoke to Carrie Dieringer, a publicity associate at the publishing house, she was as baffled about this suppression as I was. "Everything was put in motion," she said, referring to the planned book tour and media coverage. "They knew everything was happening. To cancel things abruptly just doesn’t make a lot of sense."

Soft Skull stands behinds Mitterrand's memoir as a "complex, elegant, and introspective work," and thank goodness for that. The Bad Life is a stunningly candid and beautiful book. Described by its author as an "autobiography which is half real and half dreamed," it recounts his life as a child of privilege born into Paris's haut bourgeois sixteenth arrondissement, his experience of homosexuality, and a number of deeply felt personal relationships. Much of this is set in a social milieu of movie stars, politicians, renowned artists, and other public figures. Haute société gossip, however, takes a back burner to a fine literary sensibility that examines life with lucidity, perceptiveness, and humanity.