The Riff - January 2007

The Sex Workers' Art Show: Making Sex Arty

| Tue Jan. 30, 2007 7:47 PM EST

The other night, I sat on the cold floor of the San Francisco arts organization CellSpace listening to a woman with red, neon hair announce the first act of the evening to a packed house. She introduced herself as Annie Oakley, curator of The Sex Workers' Art Show, an event that originated in Olympia, Washington, in 1998. The cabaret-style show, comprised of everything from spoken word to burlesque and multi-media performance art, is made by people who work in many areas of the sex industry. It tours the country every year busting stereotypes about sex work and sex workers (and by extension, about what constitutes art) town-by-town and college-by-college. The show's aim is "to dispel the myth that [sex workers] are anything short of artists, innovators, and geniuses!"

The artists and innovators who I witnessed perform at the San Francisco show didn't try to make art sexy, but rather they made sex arty. Some of the performances, namely the burlesque acts, were presented with a quantity of glamour, while others exposed the realities of sex work in a more sobering manner. An eloquently rendered story entitled "Melho's Place," by writer and performance artist Amber Dawn started the evening off by shedding light on the humanity of sex work. Burlesque performer Miss Dirty Martini wowed the audience with her stylized fan dance. The art in the show really came to light when the fleet-footed performer hailing from Japan who calls herself Cono Snatch Zubobinskaya danced her way onto the stage with a humorous drag king number. San Francisco author Kirk Read delivered a raunchy yet tender spoken word piece about the closing night of the Circle J sex club in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. He presented this little piece of history to the audience like a gift, revealing aspects of a community those who are not gay men in San Francisco will never have occasion to be a part of.

If the goal of the show is to illuminate the intricacies of sex work while revealing sex workers as artists, the group of individuals touring with this year's show certainly have accomplished a few things. The performances are varied and nuanced, portraying sex work in a way that transcends either positive or negative representation. At times the show was steamy and funny, and at others it was serious or sad. Like most things in life, sex work contains a complicated set of experiences that this set of performers articulated through story, movement, and song.

-- Rose Miller

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Helvetica Turns 50: Cool Modernism Turns Gray

| Tue Jan. 30, 2007 4:45 PM EST

The once ubiquitous typeface, which is still the signifier of accessible modernism (Hello Target! Hello Crate and Barrel, Microsoft, Muji, American Apparel...) turns 50 this year. To mark the anniversary of Helvetica's release, Gary Hustwit has made a documentary that will be doing the film festival rounds this spring. To get a taste, check out the clips here. The Berlin montage is a witty look at Helvetica's takeover of the city but mostly the interviews are for font geeks.

Dispatch from Sundance: And the (Oscar) Winners Are...

| Tue Jan. 30, 2007 3:40 PM EST

Sunday night, during the closing ceremonies in Park City, Utah, the 2007 Sundance Film Festival winners were announced. I wasn't there, four days at Sundance was plenty for me, but the onslaught of emails from the press office were evidence enough. But I wonder, does anyone really care about which film won the Special Jury Prize or the World Cinema Audience Award? It seems all anyone is talking about is how "Little Miss Sunshine," "Iraq in Fragments" (read Mother Jones' review of the film here) and "An Inconvenient Truth" raked in the Oscar nominations last week.

Sundance tends to be repetitious in its subject matter. This year, "No End In Sight" will surely give you your Iraq fill, "Everything's Cool" contains a deluge of information on Global Warming and "Blame It On Fidel," much like "Little Miss Sunshine" tells the story of a young girl shaped by her society. But really, would the festival be complete without a film on Iraq or Global Warming?

Clueless White Writer + Hipster = Clipster?

| Tue Jan. 30, 2007 4:15 AM EST

Yesterday's NY Times played the race card with an article on, well... black people who like indie rock. Or make indie rock. Or, um, skateboard. Cause white people totally do that! Idolator already has some choice comments about this strange piece (correctly pointing out that UrbanDictionary.com is a kind of lazy source, even for the Gray Lady), and some bloggers and journos have taken exception to the Times' unironic use of the term "blipster" (as in, "black hipster"). Some other blogs point out that blacks didn't just saunter away from rock music because they felt like rapping (see Colonel K's blog entry here).

Hmmm. I'm sympathetic to any attempt at unraveling the racial basis underpinning so much of how we define and categorize music, and, er, "lifestyle," but this article doesn't even try. Can we have some statistics of black artists on white radio? Racial makeup of hip-hop buyers? History of Billboard charts? Ultimately, if you ask how many black people make rock music, you have to define rock music. Oops. You end up back where you started: it's white people music! Turns out the question reveals more than the answer, with the very terms being discussed laden with decades of racial bias. With racism so entrenched, and so many other factors at play (howabout girls who like boy music! Straight people who dance to Scissor Sisters!) it seems like the subject needs a little more attention and care than this lazy, condescending article gives it.

What's the deal with the Times and cultural, specifically current music, coverage? Despite an occasionally amusing piece that comes out of nowhere, they just don't seem to have any idea what's going on, and so they end up trying to overcompensate, and we get these vague articles about perceived cultural trends that just end up being offensive. Too bad.

Party Ben's 2007 Mother Jones Mashup: Faithless vs. George W. Bush's SOTU

| Mon Jan. 29, 2007 8:27 PM EST

Hello internet. I'm Party Ben. You might know me from such films as "That's My Monkey 2: Ookin' it Up," and "Arm & Hammer: a Company With a Future." Not really. Actually, I make those most mockable of musical items: mashups! Plus I also DJ in the Golden State, and do something called "creative direction" for San Francisco radio station LIVE 105. Good times.

For reasons that are not yet clear to me, I've been asked to be a guest blogger on this blog, focusing on musical and cultural items of note. I guess I'll bring a refreshing lack of "writing skills" or "journalistic ethics" that they couldn't find around the Mother Jones offices.

To celebrate my acceptance into the liberal media elite, I've updated one of my more political tracks for exclusive download by readers of this fine blog. It's based on a song by Faithless, "Mass Destruction," a deceptively jaunty anti-war number that appeared on their 2004 album "No Roots." At that time I produced a novelty version featuring some appropriate excerpts of George W. Bush's anti-evildoer speechifying. Despite my version's simplicity (like, wow, echo!) it proved inexplicably popular. As is my usual method, I produced at least six different versions, including a long one that appeared on my website and a shorter one that got some radio play on my own and other stations. This new version uses excerpts of Bush's recent State of the Union speech as well as some of the clips I used in the original mix. Compare and contrast! It's Faithless vs. George W. Bush, "Mass Destruction" (Party Ben's 2007 Mother Jones remix). Enjoy.

TheirTube

| Mon Jan. 29, 2007 7:17 PM EST

Embarrassing gaffs, humiliating moments, there's nothing like amateur video to make laughter heard round the world. Now you can tap in to what makes the Arab world tick in the file-sharing universe with the Arab language site Ikbis.com. Along the YouTube vein you can find all sorts of photos and videos that, well, we don't see on YouTube. Like this still from Iraq, this video of a Palestinian ambulance backing into a victim or "this clip, of a giggling man at a prayer sesion, which has nearly 12,000 hits to date. Humor abounds at the site, launched in November, but politics are also common on Ikbis (tagline, "Capture your Life"), with Bush parodies, the Saddam video (now down) and war footage we just don't see on CNN. Definitely worth clicking through every so often, for the raw footage, and for a new window into funny.

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Ex-Gay, or Faking It?

| Sat Jan. 27, 2007 2:02 AM EST

If you haven't already seen them, here are the "God Hates a Fag" music video and the list of bands that will make you gay from this week's internet-only Christian rock sensation, Donnie Davies. His ex-gay schtick is bound to offend you or make you laugh out loud -- depending on whether you think it's a hoax.

godhates1.jpg

In the video, Donnie dances around in a pink button-up shirt, delivering classic lines like "the Bible says it plain as day: with a man you shall not lay." But he also tosses off innuendo-drenched head-scratchers like "to enter heaven, there's no back door" and "righteous man, get on your knees." The mixed message has inspired endless speculation on whether Donnie is the real deal. To me, it's pretty clear that this is a farce -- a smart, well-acted farce by someone with a studied appreciation for the genre.

Why has it taken off so quickly in the secular blogosphere? People are quick to forward Donnie's material because it's shocking enough to grab your attention, but has just enough irony to leave you questioning whether it's real. A list of "gay bands" with...uh...Ravi Shankar and our buddy Ted Nugent? An fundamentalist site featuring an Oscar Wilde quote? A ex-gay Christian rock song that says Jesus is "the only man for me?" (Hat tip to South Park's "Christian Rock Hard" episode.) Like with last year's Lonelygirl15 mystery, people are intrigued with figuring out whether it's for real.

Take a peek at Donnie's site while there's still a smidgen of intrigue left. Like Borat, it's good performance art that flirts with politics before eloping with entertainment. And whoever Donnie is, his performance is spot-on. As one poster on Dan Savage's blog says, Donnie nails the "so-gay-he-must-be-straight-and-evangelical-or-he'd-sure-as-hell-be-a-drag-queen thing."

K-Fed an Insult to Fast Food

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 8:12 PM EST

K-Fed just can't get a break. Fresh off of his split from Britney, the stay-at-home-rapper swung a sweet deal with Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. (yes, at least someone is "On Your Side," Kev) to star in a Super Bowl commercial where he essentially daydreams of being a star and then wakes up to find himself merely a burger flipper.

Nothing groundbreaking here people. Fast food work is not exactly glory-filled, and pop culture calls attention to that fact quite often. Still, this week the National Restaurant Association asked the insurance company to pull the ad saying that it: "give[s] the impression that working in a restaurant is a demeaning and unpleasant," and stands as a "direct insult to the 12.8 million Americans who work in the restaurant industry."

Now wait, does an ad expressing disappointment at being a minimum wage, part-time worker with no benefits rather than a millionaire rap mogul really strike you as demeaning? (Even if that worker is Kevin Federline.)

Did they also object to the ending of American Beauty where another Kevin (Spacey) got a job flipping burgers so he wouldn't have to think about anything? Maybe the NRA (could have switched around their name for a more kindly acronym?) should come to the rescue of their "insulted" workers in more substantive ways: let them unionize, increase their wages, and improve working conditions. For starters, just leave Kevin alone.

-- Elizabeth Gettelman

Dispatch from Sundance: Bodine and Gen. Garner Weigh In On New Iraq Movie, "No End In Sight"

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 4:17 PM EST

On Monday, two car bombs in a Baghdad market killed 88 and wounded 160 others. Saturday was the third deadliest day for U.S. troops since the start of the war. Things are dire and only getting worse. Two weeks ago, after watching the President's less than illuminating speech on escalation, I swore off writing about Iraq for awhile. What more was there to write? I found myself flip-flopping between sending 150,000 troops to the country or pulling out completely, a flip-flop many others do. But neither of these seem like such great ideas, so, after listening to Bush's plan to send 20,000 (I definitely don't think this is a good idea), I decided I couldn't add anything more to the debate.

So, where did I find the inspiration today to write about Iraq? The Sundance Film Festival. This morning I attended a live televised panel discussion about the Iraq War and the new movie about it, "No End In Sight," which is a product of over 75 interviews with key players. (Keep an eye out for a doc review from Mother Jones, it's on its way.) The panel included, among others, General Jay Garner, Marine Corps Lt. Seth Moulton and Ambassador Barbara Bodine. The discussion was mediated and many of the same questions we always hear were asked and many of the same answers given. Here's my paraphrase of the discussion:

"We made mistakes, no one had a plan, no one admitted there was an insurgency, the administration did not listen to its military leaders, military leaders didn't stand up to the administration, and disbanding the army as well as not stopping the looting were the gravest errors made over the past four years."

(For more details on the mistakes made before and during the Iraq war, check out the Mother Jones timeline here.)

Yes, hearing all of this still makes my blood boil, but I was left wanting more. For instance, what are we going to do now? What answers do these experts have for us regarding the future? I got the chance after the discussion to sit down with both Moulton and Bodine. Here's what the two had to say (paraphrased).

•We need to define what victory means: staving off regional war, securing the country...?

•It is essential when fighting a counterinsurgency to build the support of the people. It is not just about "killing bad guys."

•We don't have enough troops to effectively fight a counterinsurgency.

More Media Whores Claiming Gov't Persecution (Girls Gone Wild Edition)

| Mon Jan. 22, 2007 11:14 PM EST

Today is quite a day for scummy self promoters claiming they've be wronged by government prosecutors, the media, etc.

First there was Richard Hatch. (No, not this one -- aka Apollo. This one.) And now, that purveyor of good taste, "Girls Gone Wild" mogul Joe Francis, is bitching because he got slapped with heavier than expected fines and penalties for making obscene profits by getting drunk underage girls to take their shirts off for a bunch of late-night dorks too cheap to spring for real porn.

His fine is 200 hours of community service, two years probation, and $500,000. That's on top of 32 hours of CS per month for 30 months and $1.6 million in penalties he got in a related Florida case. That's 1,160 hours of community service in all.

Outside the courthouse, Francis said he was relieved the process was over and that he now felt free to say that he had been unfairly persecuted by the Justice Department. "Of course I've been unfairly targeted by the government," Francis said. "What better target than Joe Francis?"

What better indeed. Let's hope they make him clean stadium urinals or something else suitably nasty.