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Archive for June, 2010

The pun really is too good to pass up. You see, today I made a decision that will affect the course of my next few years pretty significantly: I changed my major from Theatre Studies to Sociology.

School is a pretty big piece of my life right now, and I’ve written about it before. Like I said in that post, I am in some ways ambivalent about the whole thing. But I do like school, and while I’m here I want to be doing what I like in school.

And more and more I was feeling like that wasn’t theatre. I mean, don’t get me wrong–I still love theatre. I suspect I always will. But I may love it best as a consumer. And Sociology…

Okay, I spend all of my offtime doing cultural criticism. I talk about cultural norms with the people I know. I push back at them through demonstrations, and other activist things. They occupy a lot of my thoughts. But I don’t have any formal training. And I’m not saying you need formal training–I kind of believe the opposite, to be frank. But I feel like for me, personally (and only for me personally–I am not presuming to speak for anyone else), I would like to have the toolkit a formal sociological instruction would provide.

Also (as if this post wasn’t scattered enough already), I want to point out that I know I am going to run into some problematic stuff as I go up through the ranks of sociology classes. Both from my classmates, and probably from my teachers (as I learned just this past semester). To be honest, I’m almost looking forward to that. In theatre, controversial issues rarely come up. And if I can disagree with someone in a classroom environment, and by doing so, maybe change their mind, or the minds of others in the class? I feel that’d be worth it. I’m looking forward to engaging critically with material, rather than in the solely fact-based way that some theatre discourse tends to lapse into.

And sometimes it’ll be hard, and frustrating, and I’ll want to tear my hair out. But overall, I’m feeling like this is a sound choice.

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Recap

So, as y’all may have noticed, I’ve not posted much lately. While this sort of silence on my part is hardly unusual, I thought I’d go over why exactly it happened in this case.

Simply put, I’ve been busy. Two conferences/convergences in two weeks (both of which, by the way, were awesome), work, and some significant mental health issues. Which last, let me tell you, are not at all fun.

Two weekends ago (as in, not the one that ended yesterday) was QueeRIOT, a radical queer anarchist convergence, here in Guelph. Friends of mine put it on–this was the inaugural year. I was a volunteer, which while a really positive experience, was also, well, tiring.

Then this past weekend I went to the Allied Media Conference in Detroit. This was also excellent. I went to a number of workshops, and met a couple of people I know from the internet in person. But again, it was another four days of fairly high-investment activities, less than a week after I had finished…four days of high-investment activities.

I’m spent. I hope to write more about, in particular, the AMC at some point soon. But for now, I need to recharge.

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Well, not quite. These are actually thoughts on certain fan and press responses to Joanna Newsom, and more particularly, to the fact that she is dating Andy Samberg of SNL.

Let me be clear: I am pretty much opposed to commenting on/dissecting any consensual relationship wherein the participants seem content (and frankly, I’d rather leave dealing with relationships where there are underlying problems to the people who trained to do that, also). I feel it is the business of the people participating in the relationship. The reason I am looking at responses to this particular one (and again, I stress, I am not examining the relationship itself) is because I think they tie together a number of…interesting tropes.

So let’s get started.

There is a certain thread that often comes up when Newsom’s personal life comes up among her fans. Not all of them do this, but enough. It goes like this: “I can’t believe she’s dating Andy Samberg…I mean, he wrote ‘Dick in a Box’. What does she see in him?”

And every time it does show up, I get really pissed off. Like, I don’t care about Samberg personally. I’m not interested in SNL. I barely know him from Adam. But, I mean…maybe she dates him because she likes him? Maybe he makes her laugh! His career would suggest he is good at doing that!

But why do people insist on dismissing him (and her agency in choosing to date him) in this way? The way I see it, there’s at least two major reasons. Which are kind of interrelated, mind.

1) Joanna Newsom is a Magical Pixie

This one is annoying because it’s an impression Newsom can’t seem to shake, and it’s one she’s made clear she dislikes. People continue to write about her this way, and it fosters this idea of her being “alien” or “other”, of only being interested in, I don’t know. High-minded pursuits and Medieval imagery. But you know what? She’s fucking human. She has sworn in interviews, she cops to watching bad TV and drinking beer, she’s a human being. And people’s insistent viewing of her as some kind of ethereal fairy-being means they can’t understand why she would date a guy who, you know, makes jokes for a living. Joanna Newsom doesn’t need jokes! She subsists on moonbeams and morning dew!

2) Joanna Newsom is an ARTIST.

And Samberg, in this equation, is not. The implications here are twofold; the first being that obviously, since Newsom is an ARTIST, she needs to date someone who is similarly ARTISTy. It plays into this weird idea of “dating at your level”, which is awkward and strange. People date outside of their field, profession, or skill level constantly, folks. The world does not end! The second implication is more insidious: it is the division of creative output into “high” and “low”, or “art” and “not-art” categories.

Look, I love what Newsom does. She writes gorgeous, complex, ambitious music. I am not a fan of what Samberg does. SNL is not my style. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Newsom’s work is any more “artistic” than his is! We can’t fucking make that call! It plays into this weird high/low culture divide and frankly, comes off as more than a little rooted in class signifiers. Samberg is for The Masses, so what he does doesn’t count, obviously. Ugh.

——-

These narratives bother me, because of the implications above, but also more generally, because they propose that there is a set of “rules”. There really isn’t. Or at least, there shouldn’t be. The two of them seem by all appearances to be content together, which should be enough. We don’t need to be critiquing whether Samberg is a WORTHY SUBJECT for Newsom to write her heartbreakingly beautiful romantic songs about (yes. This is a question I saw someone raise. HEAD. MEET DESK). If she wants to write songs about him, she will. That’s the point. Everyone should just…let them be.

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Last night I went to a speaking event organized by a few people who are linked to the upcoming G8/G20 protests in Toronto. I went anticipating a nice, fun time listening to some awesome radical thoughts. I…sort-of got what I wished.

The first speaker was excellent. He gave quite a comprehensive historical overview of patterns of colonization and resistance on Native land in the Americas. He traced empire-building right back to Greece and Rome and the cultural things they borrowed from Egypt, actually. His presentation was both engaging and informative, and I enjoyed it a lot.

But then the second speaker. Oh my goodness, the second speaker. He was, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, a Privileged White Male Anarchist [PWMA]. And, as the title also subtly implies, his views were somewhat eyebrow-raising! His speech was all about how democracy is inherently terrible, which, whatever. I don’t entirely agree, but he’s an anarchist. The idea that government is terrible is something of a defining belief for the movement, so I can go along with that. It’s when we got into specifics that the trouble began. For our PWMA, you see, does not believe in equality. Nor does he believe in rights or freedom of speech. His reasoning, roughly speaking (sadly I did not take notes—had I realized what a WEALTH of bizarre rationalization awaited me, I would have brought paper), centred around the following tenets:

The idea of ‘equality’ means that EVERYONE IS EXACTLY THE SAME! But, truly, people are not!
The clamour for ‘rights’ was instigated by upper-class people! Therefore, the entire concept is flawed!
Freedom of speech is to prevent us from having freedom of action! TERRIBLE.

Now, I want to give him his due: each of these ‘points’ does have an embedded truth in it. People often interpret equality to mean “everyone is the same”, which is indeed problematic. An upper-class person’s idea of “rights” often leaves out things that someone less privileged does, in fact, need. And freedom of action is also important, though only to the extent where your actions impinge on others’ freedoms. (No, Mr. PWMA, I do not feel that people’s freedom to retaliate as they choose is enough of a check on unregulated freedom of action, thanks. An eye for an eye continues to be a lacklustre mode of governance, in my opinion).But he’s missing something crucial. Well, several things, but one really important one. Flawed though the execution may be when it comes to conceptions of “equality” and “rights”, these notions have been fucking crucial for, I don’t know, every civil rights movement ever. Without the rhetoric of ‘rights’, we wouldn’t fucking have any. Women wouldn’t be able to vote. Racial segregation would be thriving, not just de facto as, still, sadly is going on, but probably in law as well. The limited gains the queer movement has made wouldn’t even be that. All of these groups have a long way to go—but if it weren’t for some of the concepts our PWMA is so quick to abolish, we’d have a hell of a lot further.
But the fail doesn’t stop there! He also put up some stellar straw arguments. Did you know, for example, that democracy is directly responsible for the banning of ethnic studies programs in Arizona? It’s true! He said so! His reasoning is thus: democratic plurality divides people into groups. It is in a democracy’s best interest that these groups do not have conflict with each other. Therefore, if anything crops up that challenges the status quo, democracy will INSTANTLY SNUFF IT OUT, to make sure everyone lives in happy happy harmony.

Again, there’s a grain of truth in here. Conflict isn’t great for democracy, but, as he pointed out, it is sometimes necessary, even if it runs counter to the government’s interests. I don’t disagree with that. What I disagree with is his assertion that democracy inevitably leads to oppression of all dissent. I mean, certainly this can happen. Certainly it has happened. But it needn’t always. Also, the banning of ethnic studies programs, specifically, was the product of a very specific political ideology within a democracy, not of democracy itself. By rights, that is what we should be attacking, and believe me, I’d be happy to lead the charge!

He also implied that talk is worthless if you don’t go out and do stuff (hi, ableism!). And that non-anarchists aren’t worth talking to, because of how thoroughly they’ve Internalized the Lies of Democracy or whatever. Which is a really great way of dodging legitimate criticism, if you ask me (but he wouldn’t, obviously). And he did a whole lot of equating of democracy with capitalism, which…not quite. I myself, for example, lean pretty hard toward democratic socialism as an ideology! He did all of these things, and all of these things could easily be picked apart in much more detail than the cursory treatment I am giving them here. But this post is already really long, and I really don’t want to spend much more time thinking about his arguments, because they’re gross and unsavoury and smacking hugely of unexamined privilege. So with that, I leave you!

(Though, I encourage you to engage with his other arguments in comments, if you feel like it! Or, to quibble with points I make, as always. TELL ME I’M WRONG, if you think it is so! I, unlike PWMA, will not dismiss outright the views of those with a different ideology than myself!

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