Slightly Pre-Friday Sorta-Fluff: I’m Kate Fucking Harding

So, the other night, I went to see my friend (and sometime Shapeling) Tari play at a local bar, and as usual, I was slightly surprised by how awesome she is. Not because I have any good reason to underestimate her, but because A) I just don’t hear her play all that often, and B) it’s always a little surprising to see someone you mostly know in one context (in this case, the internet and $5 martini night at another local bar) in a different context, where they happen to kick a hundred kinds of ass. I have all sorts of friends who are writers and artists and performers, all of whom I know are tremendously talented and hardworking, and yet, when I see evidence of their tremendous talent and hard work, I still go, “Oh! Right! You really aren’t fucking around, are you?” ‘Cause it always seems a little magical, even if you know better.

So I did that the other night, when Tari came over to talk to Al and me in between sets. I was all, “Holy shit, that was so awesome!” like she’d just spontaneously done a backflip off the bar or rescued a kitten from a burning building or something, as opposed to doing something she has spent basically her entire fucking life training to do, and which she practices continuously, and which makes up a substantial portion of her identity. Like, WHO KNEW?

You know who knew? (I mean, besides me, if I’d thought about it for half a second.) Tari. She is, after all, the one practicing and performing and listening to herself all the damned time. And here is the actually surprising (well, not if you know Tari, but still) awesome thing: She said as much. Instead of just being all, “Aw, shucks, thank you, you’re too kind, and really, XYZ didn’t go as well as I hoped, and I’m still working on ABC, but I guess I’ve had worse shows…” she said something like, “Thanks. Yeah, I like to think I’m good at what I do. I could act all self-deprecating, but it is, you know… what I do.

And Shapelings, I am ashamed to tell you I had a moment there — just a little one, like a second long — of thinking, “Wow, that was –” Except, before I could even get to what it was — arrogant? cocky? inappropriate? — I was like, KATE WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU WHAT THAT WAS WAS THE TRUTH. And P.S. You think exactly the same thing about yourself.

And so I said as much. Something like, “Yeah, I know what you mean. After 25 years or so of practice, I’m pretty sure I can write.”

And we laughed. And part of my brain even noted, in that moment, that what just happened was unusual and very cool: Two women had just had a conversation in which they admitted out loud that they were good at something, without feeling the need to qualify it with a bunch of stuff about how they’re not as good as they could be, or how other people are so much better, or how the things they’re good at aren’t really important in the scheme of things. I almost said “a bunch of bullshit” there, but you know, it’s not bullshit. We’re not as good as we could be, because who is? (Also, the years ahead would be pretty bleak if we had no improvement to look forward to.) And there are people who are much better at what we do. And in certain schemes of certain things, at least, who gives a rat’s ass if you can write or sing well? So none of those statements actually qualify as bullshit, in and of themselves. But that compulsive need to acknowledge all of those things whenever someone gives you a compliment, to make sure no one could ever accuse you of being arrogant or cocky or inappropriately self-congratulatory about a demonstrated skill you have worked really hard on building? That’s bullshit.

And I thought maybe I should write a post about that, about how qualifying anything that might sound even vaguely self-esteemy is such an ingrained habit for so many women, we not only do it to ourselves, we police our friends when they don’t. About how I sat there for that one second, even if that’s all it was, and thought “WTF? She’s not supposed to say that!” when Tari said the exact same thing about herself that I’d just said. And there is a whole other post somewhere in my brain about how believing that only other people had the authority to determine whether I was good or bad, pretty or unpretty, funny or unfunny, etc., was at the core of my self-hatred and miserable body image for oh, 15 or 20 years.

But right now, I don’t want to talk about that. Right now, I want to talk about Sady fucking Doyle.

Sady fucking Doyle, if for some reason you’re not familiar with her, is the proprietress of Tiger Beatdown. And she recently went gloriously apeshit on a troll called Freddie, who was your fairly typical, if impressively relentless, mansplainer who totes considers himself a feminist but fears for the future of the movement because it’s full of all these lady feminists saying things he doesn’t agree with and/or things he ostensibly agrees with but not presented the way he would say them (note: joking makes feminists seem unserious, even if everything else makes us humorless), and if we would all just shut up for five minutes and listen to reason, we could work together and really get some social justice going! But tragically for womankind and indeed humanity, all these unpleasant, talking, joking women everywhere make feminism a hard sell to normal people! DID YOU EVER THINK OF THAT, YOU GUYS?

So, yeah. Sady went off. And then she went off some more and some more and some more and there were a lot of delightful boner jokes, and the phrase “I’m Sady fucking Doyle!” was invoked, and you should go catch up on all that if you missed it. I just got myself fully caught up today, and that’s when I learned that Sady has already pretty much written the post I wanted to write about that little moment with Tari, which you should read all of, but here’s the paragraph that says it all:

And, yeah, the “I’m Sady fucking Doyle” thing turned people off. You think I didn’t know it would turn people off? Women are not supposed to say that shit, even when it’s true. And it was there completely on purpose, with full acknowledgement that people would call me a narcissist, self-absorbed, in love with myself, etc, for saying it. Because I wanted to convey to Freddie that Freddie ain’t shit, largely because he actually ain’t. But I also wanted Freddie, who is hugely terrified of women who assert their authority and primacy in the feminist movement, to be confronted with the sight of a woman acknowledging, accepting, and reveling in her own authority and power. That shit is terrifying, often even to women, but definitely to men. So now Freddie’s sulking that Sady Doyle is “telling everyone about how impressed with herself she is.” And I am. Because I knew that would piss him the hell off. Because I’m a woman, and I have accordingly been taught my entire life to view myself as lesser-than, to devalue my own accomplishments, to accept it when other people treat me as lesser-than and devalue me, which they (if they are men, especially) have been taught to do. And I refuse. I say no. I tell you I’m Sady fucking Doyle, and I expect you to believe it. Being a woman who likes herself, is proud of herself, is impressed with herself, in public: There might not be a more subversive act.

I believe it.  And  you know that opinion is worth something because I’m Kate fucking Harding.

So this is actually not a very fluffy topic, but it at least struck me as an opportunity for some positive feel-good commentary (in addition to the usual analysis). Because Shapelings, I want to know what makes you awesome. We’ve actually done “toot your own horn” fluff threads before, but this time, I’m not interested in anything so ladylike as a mere toot. Today, I’m not interested in your tiny superpowers; I’m interested in your power. I want to know what makes you Screen fucking Name.  Lay it on me.

In Defense of Hit Girl

So, I saw Kick-Ass yesterday, and I thought I might want to blog about it, but I wasn’t sure if A) I could articulate just what I liked about it — because I did like it — and B) I wanted to open that can of worms. Now, I’ve committed to B in my own mind, so we’ll see if A comes together as I go along.

I went to see it mostly for the same reason a whole lot of people — including Roger Ebert, with whom I agree about 95% of the time — hated it: One of the main characters, Hit Girl, is a stone cold killer who calls victims cunts and motherfuckers, traits that would be soporifically old hat if not for their belonging, in this case, to an 11-year-old girl. (Also, a lot of people — though Ebert’s not one of them — seem a hell of a lot more upset by her language than by watching her eviscerate other human beings or be brutalized herself, which got my “Wow, this culture is fucked up” antennae wiggling.)

I was not disappointed. I loved that character, far more than I expected to, even. But I loved her while also recognizing that her approach to life was essentially sociopathic — and worse, that she was not that way naturally, but had been trained/brainwashed by her father (portrayed here as a basically sympathetic figure, further complicating matters) to kill without a hint of remorse or disgust — so if I thought about it too hard, I’d be torn between crying and vomiting.

Now, regular readers know I am not one to shy away from overthinking things, and I am a big supporter of Moff’s Law. (Short version: “If you really think people should just enjoy the movie without thinking about it, then why the fuck did you 1. click on the post in the first place, and 2. bother to leave a comment? If it bugs you so much, GO WATCH A GODDAMN FUNNY CAT VIDEO.”) So I am by no means suggesting that one should avoid any deeper analysis of Hit Girl. In fact, I’m about to do just that. But it’s a lot more complicated, for me, than simply saying the whole concept of her is beyond fucked-up and therefore represents a failure of art and/or entertainment. Because the fact that she made me feel squirmy and confused and inarticulate is one of the things I liked about the movie.

Before I proceed, I want to make a few things clear.

1) There will be spoilers. Big ones. I’ll put the bulk of this post behind a cut, but for dog’s sake, if you don’t want to be spoiled, go away now.

Continue reading

Queen of Your Own Life!

Kathy Kinney (best known as Mimi on The Drew Carey Show) has co-authored a book with a publishing exec I’ve never heard of named Cindy Ratzlaff – the book’s website states: Ratzlaff is a publishing executive, who created marketing campaigns for more than 100 New York Times best-selling books, including The South Beach Diet, as though that’s something to proud of – entitled Queen of Your Own Life due out soon.

In my opinion Queen of Your Own Life is yet another vaguely prescriptive tome of the “You Go, Girl” variety. While I found its premise – though not necessarily all the actions prescribed – not entirely terrible, but still ultimately riddled with lots of problematic analysis of why folks struggle in their lives.

From the book:

By letting go of things like self-doubt, fear of being judged and worry about how to look younger, we were setting ourselves free to admire who we were right now. We were overjoyed to discover that we did admire the women we had become. We were two strong women, who brought with them to the second half of life courage, wisdom and, most of all, the knowledge that they could survive anything with their dignity and humor intact.

Now on the surface this appears all well and good; finding the path towards self acceptance. However, it’s a bit presumptive and problematic to flatten various life experiences so individual blues are somehow analogous.

Since Ratzlaff is in fact a marketing maven, she has taken the message to Oprah. Take notes, kids – 90% of effective marketing is targeting the right audience for your product; well she’s hit the jackpot.

Even the seemingly altruistic article posted on Oprah’s site reads like a thinly veiled infomercial for the book, which is certainly their prerogative, but I mean we can all be the queen of our lives if we’ve got access to Oprah’s powerful platform! And what a glorious platform it is!

I opted to rearrange the list in 1 – 10 order rather than utilize the Casey Kasem top ten format seen in the article. Mostly to illustrate there’s nothing new here, even if one hasn’t read the slew of happiness related books currently blanketing the market, from The Happiness Project to The How of Happiness.

  • 1. Pass it on. “Hear ye, hear ye,” says the queen.
  • 2. Place the crown firmly on your head. You queen up well.
  • 3. Learn the simple trick to finally being happy. As we say in the Midwest, “It’s time to poop or get off the pot.”
  • 4. Set strong boundaries. Mean what you say and say what you mean.
  • 5. Build and nurture trusting friendships. Face life’s joys and challenges with a friend by your side.
  • 6. Admire yourself. Give yourself a Windy Mountain Moment so you can appreciate who you’ve become.
  • 7. Language matters. The words we choose to speak to ourselves and about ourselves are important.
  • 8. Claim your beauty and power. End the mirror’s reign of terror.
  • 9. Keep. What do you really like about yourself? Identify your strengths and decide what you want to keep from the first half of your life that’s still working for you.
  • 10. Banish. Let go of a thought or action from the first half of your life that is no longer working for you.

My problem with the book or others of this zeitgeist genre is not with concept of action steps folks can take to better their outlook on life, but rather the notion that faithful application of said action steps ought to result in finally getting all the things one believes they so richly deserved. These books are often framed from the premise-behind-the-premise folks have the right to be “happy” and “fulfilled” – a worldview I simply do not support. I don’t even wish to open the can of worms these books present from a privilege/oppression standpoint, though it’s chief among my quibbles. What happens if you follow the instruction to the letter and find that life does not dramatically change or unicorns do not magically appear on your lawn, prancing about? Do you then attribute such failure to your inability to thoroughly grasp the concepts? Do you get your money back? Do they parade you through the streets wearing an “I am the court jester of my own life!” t-shirt? The book did not guarantee anything in writing the way – say Midas guarantees its mufflers and the work by its mechanics – but there is an implicit suggestion that any failure to make the magic happen can be attributed to the reader. I can imagine the “If only…” rebuttals readers who aren’t able to rule their queendom in style have in store for them.

[sarcasm] Good, victim blaming times, indeed.[/sarcasm]

If I sound a bit harsh – though, honestly I don’t think I do – I attribute it to longing for something different from the book, which had me at…Kathy Kinney. I was looking for some of the wit and astute observations I’d noticed in interviews and what I believe I observed in her portrayal of Mimi, which I found in a few instances to both trade in and subvert fat tropes simultaneously.

And before you – the editorial “you” – jump in to tell me maybe I could use a little “happiness” literature in my life, I should tell you I am quite satisfied with my life. Is it perfect? HELL NO. Do I expect it to be? HELL NO. I am dazzled each day by the things in my life that are going well. I am grateful for the wonderful family, great friends, meaningful work, agency over 75% of my time and loving partner I have. Do I feel entitled to any of this?

Nope.

I believe you do the best you can and you get what you get; it’s all fine to work to dismantle systems of oppression, but in the meantime you have to live your LIFE in the here and now. Hmmm, maybe I should write a book and get mine on the shelves in time to profit from the inevitable happiness lit backlash.

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A version of this entry previously appeared on Snarky’s Machine.

Treme/TV Themed Open Thread

Treme – HBO’s hot anticipated series by writer/producer/personal patron saint David Simon (The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Street) premiered last Sunday to exTREMEly glowing reviews from Simon fanboys and television critics alike.

Hank Stuever at WaPo says:

Will it be as good as “The Wire”? Three episodes in, I’m willing to say “Treme” (the title is two syllables; it rhymes with away) has the potential to be better than “The Wire.”

Them’s probably fightin’ words to fans of The Wire.

While I appreciate The Wire I am an old school Simonite. Treme evokes Homicide: Life on the Street in terms of character development and tone than it does The Wire, which if you know anything about me is the best news ever.

Treme tells the story of NoLa (New Orleans) in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and honey, they have brought it in terms of casting: John Goodman, Melissa Leo (H:LOTS, Frozen River), Wendell Pierce, Michiel Huisman, Khandi Alexander, Steve Zahn, Kim Dickens and Clarke Peters. I expect there will be cameos and guest appearances by many other bright stars in the Simon universe.

I am hoping against hope Treme finds a loyal audience and is showered with the praise it so richly deserves. And while the recent unexpected passing of co-producer and Simon’s frequent collaborator – the undercover black man himself – David Mills is a somber moment in an otherwise exciting time for Simonites, my enthusiasm refuses to be dampened.

I know Simon’s gonna do right by his road dawg and NoLa.

So are you excited about this show or other new shows? This is a TV THEMED open thread. Have at it, Shapelings.

Zombie Playa Revisited

You know Spring is truly on its way when media outlets pick up every story matching the keyword, “Dating”. The latest being so-called “Nice Guys” seeking assistance in cultivating their inner jerk in order to rid themselves of such despicable qualities as: empathy, respect and appropriateness.

There is nothing new here; same rehash of the nice guys get nothing/jerks get everything false dichotomy. It seeks to frame the issue as a matter of female partners – since nearly all “Nice Guy” articles are written from a heterosexual perspective – finding “Nice Guys” categorically undesirable without any analysis as to why.

Frankly, it’s a bit cheeky to frame the issue in this manner when doesn’t explain WHY women tend to shun these men; only blaming women for doing so. In fact when closely examined I find there are little differences between so-called nice guys and the jerks they believe are getting all the ladies.

Skim through any dating forum and see folks hashing out this very issue without much in the way of clarity or resolution. For one thing, few can agree what is meant by the term “Nice Guy” and I suspect that’s merely a derailing tactic, rather than legitimate debate.

Look, here’s what is meant by “Nice Guy”:

  • A guy whose niceness is used in order to get something from you.
  • A guy who quietly seeks to infuse every atom of his being with yours without directly stating his intentions (when asked)
  • A guy who believes it’s possible to fake care his way into your heart and underpants
  • A guy who is unable to discern subtle cues of disinterest or willingly ignores said cues.
  • A guy who believes he is entitled to a certain level of treatment simply because he’s pick a specific woman as his mark. Often leading him to behave in decidedly “not nice” ways when his advances are decisively rebuffed.

From the above linked article:

Dean Melcher was the kind of guy who befriended girls easier than boys. He was a tad shy, consistently thoughtful and surrounded by women, but he still couldn’t get a girlfriend.
“I think I was kind of clueless and oblivious,” admits Melcher, who spent his early 20s lingering in the friend zone. “Women wanted the bad boys.”
Everyone probably knows a Mr. Nice Guy like Melcher, who is now 46. He’s the guy who patiently listens to a girl complain without interrupting her. Because of his sweet nature, he puts the girl’s demands first, altering his weekend plans to fit her schedule. He may be uneasy about making a decision for fear of being domineering.

So much fail going on here.

Newsflash, Mr. Melcher, you lingered in the friend zone because these women were simply NOT attracted to you. There was nothing short of a gun and rope that was going to motivate these women to date you.

Moreover, I suspect some of those women felt it odd that you did not play well with those on your end of the gender spectrum. That is one of my GLARING red flags for anyone. If you can’t play well with folks in your own sandbox, I view it as a HUGE SCARECROW and I run out of that cornfield ASAP.

Also, nothing here has suggested why you feel you’re in fact – dateable. I mean chow chow about your perceived qualities – all of which are easily framed as manipulative when viewed through the “nice guy” lens – I’m not seeing anything approximating “great catch” at all. What I am seeing, however, is a dude who was secretly a jerk all along finally ditching his faux nice guys ways in hopes he can better attract partners who are still NOT GOING TO DATE HIM. I’m seeing a lot of “me” in all of this. Where are the women? Oh yeah, it’s not about them!

Since my name is Snarky’s Machine I’m going to reiterate the “ugly” truths of dating for the dudes in the cheap seats:

  • You get what you get.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, lower your damn standards.
  • You get someone if you’re actually willing to adhere to points 1 and 2.

It would appear in this case, the “Nice Guys” have told themselves lots of fantastic tales using evidence such as the catalog like set up of most dating sites and the fact that lots of schlubs such as themselves have hot girlfriends in Gross Out Comedy films to support their flawed world view. Far too much celluloid has been wasted instructing men that hounding the hell out of a women after she’s repeatedly rebuffed his advances is just one tool in a well stocked dating arsenal.

Want to see a “nice guy” turn jerk faster than potato salad goes bad at a picnic? Ignore his unsolicited emails on a dating site or tell him directly that you do not find him attractive and he has no hopes of ever securing a date with you by any means except coercion.

When his eyes light up, remind him most forms of coercion are in fact – illegal.

As for why women pretend they don’t notice or give the appearance of actively encouraging the behavior? Well I can’t speak for all women who have their own hell to raise, but I do it because I’m not about to have a motherfucker go all Dressed to Kill on me simply because I do not find him dateable.

It’s just not worth arguing with that strain of stupid.

The premise of the “nice guy” defense is they are entitled to whatever women they are attracted to as long as they have devoted sufficient effort and resources in the form of performing “niceness”.

And, honestly, how nice does that sound to you?

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crossed posted at my pop culture blog I Fry Mine In Butter

Hoochie Mama – The Other White Meat and Razor Wire Pubic Hair: Books as Stranger Repellent

A version of this entry appeared previously on Snarky’s Machine

As a person who does not particularly enjoy unsolicited social engagement, I find myself locked in an epic battle to protect my precious SAUs (social attention units). I am constantly road testing strategies to ensure this adorable and accessible looking face doesn’t start interactions this adorable and inaccessible mind is unable to sustain. If this is not your experience, I’m happy for you, but I can probably do without hearing all the ways in which this makes me “lucky”. I don’t feel lucky and if I don’t moderate my time I’m exhausted when it’s over and disappointed with myself I didn’t fake labor in order to secure my escape.

One strategy I employ involves heavy use of my cellphone. Seriously, I will not leave my house without my phone and will always call someone and talk to them. People often try to talk to me in public places, asking for suggestions or making nice nice. Now, when I’m in the south, all this goes out the window cause it’s real bad manners not to offer your opinion on the heat when asked by a southerner. Besides, they know when the conversation has run its course and are more than happy to mosey along their merry way.

The other strategy I employ is carrying around books. I read them in line and just about any place where there are a collection of strangers waiting for something to happen.

Here is Snarky’s Trust me I’ve done the legwork approved list of books that guarantee your personal space bubble will not be breached.* Inclusion on the list does not constitute a recommendation – though nearly all were enjoyable to me – rather it simply means the title provided effective protection of SAUs.

Airports and such

  • This would probably strike most as counterintuitive, but AIRPORT LIT is the best choice to avoid AIRPORT bubble breachers. I’m talking about pulling out the big guns: Crichton, Grisham, Balducci, Grafton and Cook. People often romanticize air travel believing anyone flying has the potential to be enthralling.

    It’s a great time to pick up a copy of A Time to Kill This Close Talking Assclown or S is for STEP OFF BUBBLE BREACHER.** The key here is the copy should be totally brand new, preferably purchased from the gift shop. Extra points for using the receipt as a bookmark. Additional note: obscure titles are generally less effective and tend to welcome rather than discourage conversation.

Waiting Rooms – Medical

  • Since there is often a paucity of anything worth reading if you’re not say a parent, gun enthusiast or a card carrying member of AARP, the selection of periodicals provided offer no immunity from bubble breachers whose first comment will involve noting the vintage of the magazines. If you ARE a parent, gun enthusiast or a card carrying member of AARP certainly your lived experiences are probably a lot more exciting than what could be found in those stale periodicals.

    Books with provocative titles casting medical professionals or the profession in general in a rather unflattering light are the most effective. Your Dentist might not have read Marathon Man but it’s likely they will know what is meant by the phrase “Marathon Man Dentistry”. If this is the first time you’re hearing this phrase, google is definitely your friend. I’ll let you do the legwork on that one.

Waiting Rooms – Other

  • A diverse range of subjects are suitable for SAUs protection. I lean towards books overtly sexual in nature, though best selling “female” focused self help and astrology titles are useful as well. Car Dealerships are good places to bring out the feminist non fiction or a “Clown Horn” feminist work like Fear of Flying. There is something about a book exploring a woman’s sexual awakening that will make people scoot away and redirect their attention to The Price is Right faster than you can utter “zipless fuck”.

Coffeehouses, Bookstores and other “enlightened” spaces

  • Since folks often venture to these establishments for the express purposes of imposing themselves on strangers Young Adult fiction is often the best bet. Nothing thwarts this particular strain of breacher like the idea that you just might not be very well read.

Restaurants

  • “Offensive” titles are the strongest weapon in the bubble breach protection arsenal. Think of them as broad spectrum antibiotics to be used judiciously.

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* offer void where prohibited. some restrictions may apply.
** actual titles may vary. check local outlets for similar products available in your area.

An Airline Rant That Does Not Involve Fat

Because really, why would I want to restrict myself to just one aspect of why commercial air travel sucks, especially in coach, when there are so very many others?

I’ve long enjoyed reading Patrick Smith’s “Ask the Pilot” column on Salon. He often does fantastic, well-informed smackdowns of two of my major pet peeves: Security theater/overblown terrorism panic and airlines rolling out new policies that make me think I, with an MFA in creative writing as my highest credential, would be substantially better at running these fucking businesses. His column today touches on both, and while I’m not sure I agree that “unbundling” is a good strategy in general and Spirit Airlines has merely taken it too far, I can appreciate his logic.  But then we come to the last paragraph:

I fly mostly international these days, which tends to be pretty civilized, but a few weeks ago I found myself in South Florida, at the Spirit Airlines terminal. I have to ask, having been out of the domestic loop for some time: Is this the state of flying in the United States? I’d never experienced anything quite like it. It was like a humanity bomb went off. The lobby was elbow-to-elbow with the ugliest, loudest, more unbearable people I have ever seen — guys in gold chains screaming at each other; trashy women tottering around on silver high-heels clutching knockoff designer bags; teenagers sleeping on the floor; gigantic suitcases and baby carriages everywhere. The din of crying babies was unbearable, the security lines endless.

There is a whole lot of classism going on there, not to mention the child hate, which I’m not even going to unpack, because it’s pretty self-evident. (I was surprised and relieved to get to the end of that paragraph, reread it again, and realize fat was not also on the list of things that disturbed him about his fellow human beings.) My point is not “Oh, Patrick Smith, you have disappointed me,” although for the record… yeah. But frankly, I can’t get on anything much higher than a Shetland pony here, because quite honestly, if my life and finances were such that I could choose to travel primarily under more “civilized” circumstances, you’re damn right I would, and fuck everyone else. Because YES, that is exactly what flying is like for most of us, most of the time, and even if I’m not offended by designer knock-off bags and try to be sympathetic to parents of small children (though I don’t always succeed) and understand that teenagers sleeping on the floor might very well be there because the airlines have canceled or delayed their flights, I hate it all just as much as Smith did.

And so do all those other people. We all hate it. Because it is miserable. Not because of babies or purses or gold chains, because it is just too damn many people shoved into too little space, moving way too slowly, in a situation that jacks up everyone’s anxiety levels for numerous reasons. On top of concerns like “Will I make it on time?” and “Will the plane go down?” and “Am I going to be mistaken for a terrorist?” and “Is my underwire going to set off the metal detector again?” and “Will my luggage actually make it with me?” and  “Are all of my bags and/or children still within my sight and if not, what happened to the one I can’t find now?” you’ve also got 150 different airline and safety policies we’re all supposed to be aware of, but the vast majority of us are not — either because we haven’t flown recently or because the rules change every five friggin’ minutes — so at every step, somebody in a uniform is barking at you. “Boarding pass and I.D.! Put that here! No, HERE! Boarding pass and I.D.! This line. No, THIS line. Boarding pass and I.D.! Take that off! That needs to go in a separate bin!  That bin needs to be turned the other way! Come on now, don’t hold up the line! What’s in your pockets? Step over here!” Et fucking cetera. And meanwhile, there are recordings playing over and over, telling you to take out your carry-on liquids, which must be in 3-oz. containers in a quart Ziplock bag and if they’re not you need to fix it or throw them out, and have your boarding pass and i.d. ready, and if you’re using a passport, make sure it’s open to the picture page (so the line moves more efficiently, natch) and if you see any unattended baggage, you must report it, and p.s. Homeland Security says we’re on ORANGE ALERT. (I’ve flown dozens of times in the last few years, and it has never been anything but an orange alert. Which means, at this point, if I encountered a red alert, I’d be like, “Well, that’s only a little worse than normal. Whatever.”) And meanwhile, you’re expected to read signs about the symptoms of swine flu (and presumably get out of line and go home if you have them — or throw a fit if someone else does?) and signs about what to do with your laptop and shoes when you finally get to the friggin’ metal detector, and signs reiterating the point about the liquids, all while listening to the recorded messages and the authority figures barking at you. And the crying babies. And the people arguing. And then the people in front of you have liquids that aren’t in approved containers or forget about the change in their pockets or try to go through with their coats still on or misplace their boarding passes or put too many things in one bin, on top of the time it takes everyone who knows the drill to remove their shoes, coats and cardigans, get their laptops out of their bags and get all their coats, cardigans, shoes, laptops, purses and metal objects into bins and trays without overcrowding, and wrangle all their kids’ stuff if they have kids, then restore everything to its original location 10 seconds later, and GOSH, I HAVE NO IDEA WHY EVERYONE ENDS UP IN A BAD MOOD.

And that’s just flying domestically. My head almost fucking exploded at the Toronto airport last Saturday as I learned how much things have changed since the last time I flew into the States from there. (Probably at least 5 years ago; I usually drove.) It used to be you checked in at the ticket counter, got your checked baggage tags, went through customs, dumped the checked bags, went through security and that was that. Three lines, three requests for your boarding pass and I.D., only one more step than flying domestically. Now you go to the ticket counter and get checked baggage tags PLUS a bright yellow tag for each carry-on item. Then you are herded, with astounding inefficiency, into the customs area by one guy who has to check your boarding pass and passport AND make sure all your luggage is properly tagged. (This is where I realized my purse didn’t have the proper carry-on tag even though my computer bag did — I stupidly didn’t realize there was no distinction between “carry-on” and “personal item” in this context — so I had to go back and start over.) Then you go through customs, which used to seem like the big pain in the ass but is now by far the simplest part of the process. Then somebody asks to see your boarding pass and passport again as you drop your checked bags on the belt. Then you go through security — which, see previous paragraph. Then, once you are PAST security, another person asks for your boarding pass and passport. Then you walk off toward your gate, and suddenly ANOTHER person wants to see your boarding pass and passport. And then ANOTHER — and this one also searches all of your carry-on baggage, then tells you to put your palms face up so she can swab your hands for traces of explosives. (Except Al had to explain that last part to me, because when I asked what she was about to do to my exposed palms, she said, “I have to take a sample of your hand.” Me: “WHAT?” Her: “I just have to take a sample of your hand.” At which point I am JUST BARELY holding it together enough to recognize that whatever that means and however much I might object if I knew, being a belligerent asshole is not the smart move here. So I let her “take a sample” of my hands and move on.)

And all of that is before you drag your carry-ons 8 or 10 miles to sit in an uncomfortable chair at the gate for ages because you were warned to arrive 6 months in advance or risk missing your flight, which is before you get on the goddamned plane, which… well, the actual flying experience has been well covered by previous posts and comment threads on the fat issue. Oh, and I almost forgot the pretty much inevitable step where they tell you that your regulation-size carry-on bag will have to be checked now, so you need to get out all the shit you want on the flight and carry it on loose and figure out where to stow it once you’re on the plane, and hey, you know what would come in really handy at that point? A FUCKING BAG. And you know why that step is pretty much inevitable at this point? Because the airlines are all charging for checked luggage now, so everyone traveling somewhere for less than two weeks tries to get by with the largest possible regulation-size carry-on bag stuffed to the gills, which means they won’t all fit in the overhead compartments. (Which would be reason #1 why I don’t agree with Smith that unbundling is a fine idea to a point.)

The whole process is absurdly time-consuming, anxiety-inducing, demeaning, dehumanizing and uncomfortable, no matter who you are or what you look like. Triple all of that, for different reasons, if you look remotely “Middle Eastern” by the most ignorant person’s definition, if you’re fat, if you have trouble standing or walking but not quite enough to request assistance,  if you have assistive devices the TSA people don’t understand, if you don’t speak English, if you’re traveling with small children — and I’m sure there are several more categories of Extra Horrible Suck I’m not thinking of here.

So yes, it is always like that. And it is miserable for all of us. But we can’t do a goddamned thing about it, for the most part, because in many cases, flying a commercial airline is the only option. But not in all cases, which means people who would have flown in the past are choosing alternative transportation when it’s possible — on top of former business travelers who can now do it all online and people who can no longer afford to fly, thanks to the recession, and people who are unreasonably afraid of terrorism, thanks to ridiculous fear-mongering, off the top of my head — so between all that and fuel prices and piss poor management and who knows what else, the airlines are floundering, and their brilliant recovery strategy is to make it even more miserable.

I know! Let’s charge people for blankets and headphones and carry-ons and using the restroom, in addition to checked luggage and food and drinks and being fat, instead of making it clear how much a flight actually costs up front! And hey, while we’re at it, let’s stop taking cash for any of the onboard stuff, so even people who were willing to pay might be screwed when they get on the plane! And let’s cut a bunch of flights so we can continue overbooking them even with fewer customers! And cut a bunch of staff, so everyone who works for us is just as demoralized and anxious and surly as all the customers, who are made even more miserable by the fact that there is no one available to help them, ever! Also, we should totally buy into the theory that security theater makes everyone feel safer and more comfortable, as opposed to making air travel a bazillion times more punishing for reasons that are not even our fault, although we’ll be blamed for all of it, and thus avoid pushing back with all our might every time there’s a new arbitrary restriction meant to create the illusion of safety. And meanwhile, we should continue longstanding traditions like delaying and canceling flights and offering customers as little information as possible about those changes, switching gates at the last minute, wasting time begging people to take vouchers because we’re overbooked, loading up the planes and then sitting on the tarmac for hours, generally behaving as though our business plan reads “Phase 1: Engineer epic clusterfuck. Phase 2: ? Phase 3:  Profit,”  and then insincerely thanking everyone for their business AS IF ANY OF THEM WOULD PUT UP WITH A GODDAMNED BIT OF IT IF EVEN ONE AIRLINE OFFERED A HALF-DECENT ALTERNATIVE.

Now, since I am not an aviation expert, and I have no idea what actually goes on behind the scenes at airlines, it is entirely possible that I am unfairly blaming them for some things they cannot control at all, or not easily. But guess what, that’s business. What customers perceive is just as important as anything else — and thanks to the security process, every airline is starting with 3 strikes against them in terms of customer perception of the overall flying experience, so it really sucks to be them. Nonetheless, this is my impression, as a customer, of every single airline I have flown in the last several years, which is all of the big ones and some of the small ones: They’re fucking hideous. I have occasionally had an experience that made me think, “That wasn’t as horrible as usual; I should try this airline again,” but the problem is, then I do try them again. And lightning never strikes twice in the same place. I fly quite a bit, but I don’t belong to any frequent flyer program because there is no airline that has managed not to piss me off enough that I would rather commit and earn points than just look for the cheapest flight every time.

So, let’s review: I am someone who flies at least every couple of months, on average. But I am not loyal to any airline — in fact, I pretty much despise them all. I almost always choose the cheapest non-stop flight available even though I would gladly pay extra (within reason; i.e., not first class prices) if any of them actually offered something extra (other than extra legroom, which is not a big concern at 5’2″). In the last couple of years, I have been choosing to drive or take a train or bus a hell of a lot more than I used to — routinely for any distance under about 500 miles, and sometimes much longer — because it is always less anxiety-inducing, demeaning, dehumanizing and uncomfortable than flying (and often not much more time-consuming, if you factor in how long it takes on both ends). And if high speed rail ever happens in this country, I will be thrilled to cease flying domestically altogether.

There is one reason, and one reason only, that I give any of these companies my money: Because I have to. In my experience, every last one of them treats customers like shit and provides an utterly miserable experience, start to finish. And if any one of them made a sincere gesture toward offering customers a not so utterly miserable experience, at something less than oh, four or five times the cost of a coach seat? I would fly more often, and I would pay more for it. I’m not everybody, obviously — but as for broad principles that do apply to every single person who flies, I really don’t see how “Treat customers like shit and offer an utterly miserable experience, relying on all of our competitors to suck just as badly and a certain number of people to fly anyway” is a winning business strategy. And I really, really don’t see how “Charge more for things that used to be included, offer fewer flights and make customer service experiences yet more punishing” is a smart response to declining sales. I understand that when you’re bleeding money, trying to cut costs and find new revenue streams is an obvious answer. But at some point, you have to factor in that your success depends on providing services to actual human beings, and if you cannot prevent those human beings from feeling sheer disgust at the way you provide those services, or from actively resenting you every time they have to fly  – forget about whether you can engender loyalty among them — you are going to have a long-term problem, even if some of them will consistently be forced by circumstance into patronizing your business.

I mean, what do I know? My highest credential is an MFA. But I know I have to get on a plane again tomorrow (Arkansans, come out and say hi on Saturday!) and I’m dreading it. And I always dread it, even as an able-bodied white woman who’s not fat enough to be concerned about getting thrown off a plane or tall enough to be concerned about leg injuries just from sitting there. Because yes, it is always just that bad. And I really don’t have any brilliant way to wrap this up except to say fuck yooooooou, airlines, all of you, and fuck yooooooou, decision-makers who probably never fly coach but think making security lines even longer every time our intelligence agencies and the TSA fail to catch a bad guy before he gets to the plane is a good idea, and dear god I don’t even believe in, please bring high-speed rail to this country like yesterday.

Sweet Sabbatical

Kate’s wonderful post on the somewhat lost art of getting absorbed in an activity — deliberately not multi-tasking (unitasking? monotasking?) — nudged me closer to a decision I’ve been putting off for a while. Toward the end of her post, Kate said

Also, if you don’t see me around here? It’s generally safe to assume it’s because I’m feeling the need to do more listening than talking. That’s all.

For the last several weeks, I’ve had this terrible feeling that I would have to  flounce from the internet altogether to retain my mental health. It’s not that I don’t love this blog, or that I don’t adore having a real audience for my writing,* or that I don’t have anything to say about what we talk about here. It’s just that I’ve been writing and moderating here for almost three years,** and I am tired.

I’m tired of high-speed, high-quality interactivity. I’m tired of multitasking. I’m tired of keeping track of commenters; much as I love you all, there are just so damn many of you these days. I’m tired of reading drive-by trolls whose sole purpose in life is to hurt me and anyone else who happens to be reading. What I’m not tired of, thank god, is reading and writing; I’m tired of talking. Bone tired. Kate’s post hit me between the eyes: I need to make more room in my life for being absorbed, for letting my mind stay with one thing for a while without wandering. If I don’t do something differently, disaster is imminent.

An artist's depiction of my current state of mind

So here’s what I’ve decided: I’m not gonna flounce off the internet. I’m not going to leave the blog and scorch the earth behind me. I’m just going to take a Shapely Sabbatical. You won’t see me around here for a while (except possibly with an occasional comment, link, or especially clever lemur). I have complete faith that my co-bloggers will soldier on just fine without me, and that you all will play nice and follow the ever-more-draconian comments policy we all know and love. And I trust that I can go on sabbatical, work on my dissertation and my poetry and my sanity, and come back to blogging when I’ve got the passion for it again.

Deal?

*It still floors me, in fact — I can write something, and then thousands of people will read it and pass it on! I have dreamed of having that kind of audience all my life, and it’s no less delightful even with my author photo as a cartoon and my nom de plume stolen from a Doty poem.

**I believe that’s thirty in Internet Years.

On Productivity and Absorption

So, Al bought an iPad yesterday. Don’t ask me how I didn’t see that one coming, because Al buys practically every gadget that comes along and has a particular affinity for tiny computers. But since he’s not an Apple nerd in particular and has so far resisted the urge to buy an iPhone, when he said “Let’s go look at the iPad,” I actually believed we were only going to look. You’d think I just met the guy.

Anyway, it is indeed a cool little device. And what I like about it is pretty much what Laura Miller talks about in her review here — it’s terrific for consuming all sorts of media – but because I wasn’t excited enough to read a million reviews before it was released, I didn’t realize some people thought that was a bad thing.

Between being a youngish (emphasis on the “ish”) person and having a gadget geek husband (with a job that pays well enough for him to be one),  I already consume practically all of my media via small, portable computers. Music comes from iPods and internet radio, not CDs and a stereo. We no longer have a proper TV or a cable subscription, and I can’t tell you the last time either of us bought a DVD — we mostly watch Netflix, Hulu, Amazon on Demand and the like on our laptops or via a Roku box hooked up to a projector. And since I got a Kindle, I’ve pretty much stopped buying paper books unless they were written by friends or aren’t available as e-books.  (Also, you probably wouldn’t have guessed this, but I read the internet a little bit every now and again.) As Laura says, a laptop can do all those things, but for various practical and emotional reasons, she’s so far found the iPad preferable for non-work-related media consumption. I think I would too. After Al and I had messed around with it for a while yesterday, my overall impression was, “That’s a really nice little entertainment delivery device” — like a TV or a stereo or an e-book reader, except all of those and much more. Which is kind of awesome.

But I forgot that nobody’s supposed to be entertained without an opportunity to respond anymore, so apparently, just being able to watch TV and movies, listen to music, play games and read books, magazines, newspapers and the entire internet on one device that does all those things pretty damn well is not good enough. (Not that you can’t interact with a lot of the above on the iPad, but it’s not always as easy as it is on a laptop.) So this paragraph of Laura’s really hit me:

The iPad may not be ideal for what the tech industry calls “productivity,” but it’s well-suited for the purpose I had in mind: absorption. Even the most creative individuals will tell you that they have to spend some time simply soaking up the world around them, including the work of other creators, or ultimately the well runs dry. Much techno-utopian rhetoric implies that devoting your whole attention to someone else’s creation, sans interactivity, is necessarily a sad, incomplete, merely passive experience. Not only is that incorrect, it reflects certain troubling psychosexual attitudes about surrender and control that I don’t even want to get into here. When people complain nowadays about not being able to think or read as deeply as they used to, they’re not just acting like a bunch of old fuddy-duddies: They’re noticing a genuine lack of substance, the threadbare sensation of living in a culture where everyone’s talking and nobody’s listening.

I love technology, generally speaking, and I don’t like people who are all “Oh no! The internet is killing genuine human experience!” But I also don’t like people who think that entertainment or art without a high level of interactivity is necessarily inferior to the new kind. That’s a whole other post, but for now, let’s just say that as someone who lives much of my life online, I’m actually finding it makes me appreciate passive media consumption — as Laura puts it, listening – even more.

Al and I spent last week in Toronto, where I lived about 2/3 of my adult life to date.  Crossing the border meant the roaming charges were obscene, so we both turned off everything but the phone parts of our phones. Which meant that for 8 days, we couldn’t e-mail, update Twitter or Facebook, end an argument by looking something up on Wikipedia, or read random internet shit unless we were actually in our hotel room with our computers. Now, everyone who witnessed the Sandra Bullock shitstorm knows I was online plenty last week — but I was also offline a LOT more than usual. Because these days, I am used to being online whenever I’m on public transit, when I’m out for dinner (yes, I’m that rude asshole, at least when I’m with my rude asshole husband), when I’m waiting for a movie to start or a friend to show up, etc. So when I realized I’d been out for hours and had no idea what was going on in comments on the Bullock post, for instance, I’d have a moment of panicky frustration before I remembered oh yeah, IT WILL STILL BE THERE WHEN I GET HOME.

I went more than 30 years without owning a smartphone, but it did not take long for me to become disturbingly dependent on one. And living without all those extra features for a week made me really conscious of how frequently that takes me out of the moment. Or, more precisely, it puts me in a different moment — I don’t think constant internet access makes you fail to be present or engaged with your own life, as some would argue, but it can mean a lot of your life takes place in your head more than your body.

Sometimes, that’s a wonderful thing, especially for people who for various reasons can’t be physically present everywhere they might like to be, or who find it much easier to be social this way. But for me, the blessing and the curse of it is, I spend much more of my life than I used to thinking about what I’m going to say next. I’m composing a comment in response to what I just read instead of sitting with it; I’m having “chats” with friends where there can be no pleasant silences without one of us wondering if the other is still there; if I’m observing the world around me, half the time I’m thinking, “How do I make this a funny tweet?” When I was writing for Broadsheet, I read other feminist blogs desperately looking for fodder, rather than just taking it all in because it’s smart and interesting — which is exactly what got me interested in them and made me want to start my own in the first place.

All that thinking up something to say gets fucking exhausting. Which is ultimately a big part of why I gave up daily writing for Salon, and why I’ve been so absent around here for so long. (After a day’s work, I’m supposed to think up even more things to say?) And one of the things that made me realize I needed to make a change was that I became obsessed with TV. Like I said, we don’t have cable or a proper TV, and part of the reason for that is because we just weren’t watching enough to bother. It wasn’t a big part of our lives. But over the last few months, I would finish work and just want to sit there for hours watching Hulu/Netflix/Amazon stuff — whatever was available to stream and looked remotely interesting to me. I’ve found a few shows I really love that way (Leverage, In Plain Sight, Better off Ted, the sadly long ago canceled Kidnapped), but I also watched a hell of a lot of crap TV, two straight seasons of 21 Jump Street in a weekend and about a million episodes of Law & Order I’d already seen. Because all I wanted to do after thinking up shit to say all day was sit there and let someone else tell me a story that was easy to follow and demanded no response.

I really do love writing online and talking to other people about what they’re writing and what I am. But man, I also really do love sitting on my ass and letting someone else do all the thinking. I didn’t realize how much I missed that when I was in my honeymoon phase with the blogosphere and totally delighted by all these new avenues for interaction with enormous numbers of people.

I also love reading and writing fiction, neither of which I’ve been doing much of all this time; another reason I gave for quitting is that I’m trying to get back into writing a novel. But getting into the mental space for that involves reading a lot of other people’s work, as Laura notes, as well as sitting with my own work and getting no immediate feedback. It involves a hell of a lot more offline time, absorbing time, listening time — listening to other people and to myself far more closely than I can when I’m writing to deadline every day — so it’s a surprisingly big adjustment, considering it’s what I spent most of my time doing just five years ago. And meanwhile, I don’t want to fall off the radar completely with my nonfiction and online stuff, so I’m still taking the occasional paid opportunity, trying (or thinking of trying) to blog here more, tweeting, commenting and working on personal essays that could go in a book. Which means not writing or reading much fiction, unless I can figure out a good balance.

That’s what I’m trying/hoping to do right now. It’s too early to really say how that’s going yet. But I’ve written a bit of fiction without checking e-mail every ten minutes, I’m reading more books and watching less TV, and that week without a smartphone was surprisingly instructive. It will all still be here when I get back.

I travel a lot, usually with my Kindle and netbook. And I usually work while I travel. When I first considered whether I might want my own iPad — thinking mostly of traveling with it — I thought, “It would be nice to have everything on one device*, but I don’t think I’d like working on it.” Right now, though, I’m thinking that’s exactly why I might want one. Because someday, I might take a real vacation again, go somewhere and not work at all, just explore and observe and maybe passively consume some entertainment on the plane or in the hotel. Just like I did until a few years ago, always carrying several paper books and maybe a cell phone that didn’t do anything else along with me. I’m probably too far gone to want to go more than a day or two without internet access at all, and I’m okay with that.** But I love the iPad precisely because it reverses the netbook’s priorities — it is ideal for absorption, not productivity. And if my TV binge taught me anything, it was that I need to work more absorbing into my life if I don’t want to go completely off the rails.

So yeah, I kind of want one. Probably won’t get one any time soon, because they ain’t cheap. But it is a really cool little entertainment delivery device. And I think that’s all the recommendation it needs.

Also, if you don’t see me around here? It’s generally safe to assume it’s because I’m feeling the need to do more listening than talking. That’s all.

*Yeah, I could read Kindle books on my netbook, but I really don’t like that as much.

**Unless someone wants to offer me a free week on a beach somewhere I can’t possibly get it. I would take that, just for the record.

Posted in Fat

In Which I Am a Victim-Blaming Bitch

Dear Internet,

Pursuant to yesterday’s post at Jezebel, I feel I should clarify a few things.

1) If you are not an Oscar-winning actress or similarly well-known personage, I was not talking about you. I understand that if you don’t routinely get media inquiries about your personal life, you probably do not have people in your employ whose job is to keep the public from thinking poorly of you. This means that no one, least of all me, will ever expect you to issue a public statement regarding the actions of your douchebag partner.

2) If you are concerned that I would judge you by the actions of your douchebag partner, or that I do not understand how easy it is to be fooled by someone you love, please see the passage beginning with the fourth sentence of the goddamned post, which reads:

Don’t get me wrong: I am in no way suggesting that a wife is responsible for her husband’s behavior. I’m not even saying Bullock must have known; just as it’s possible for women not to realize their husbands are cheating or married to other people or, say, responsible for multiple murders, it’s surely possible to miss the signs that your partner is, if not an active neo-Nazi, the kind of twisted asswipe who finds humor in taking photos that suggest he is.

3) If you are concerned that I am unfairly judging Sandra Bullock herself, please revisit the post, paying special attention to the following lines:

  • “all anyone can do is speculate”
  • “all of the information we have comes from questionable sources”
  • “I have absolutely no idea what she knew and when she knew it, and no way of finding out”
  • “I like Sandra Bullock”
  • “I’m not saying we should be accusing Bullock, or assuming anything just yet”
  • “all I know for sure is that I don’t know the woman at all”

Perhaps that sort of close reading will make it easier to understand that I have not, in fact, decided that Sandra Bullock is a Bad Person. I have not, in fact, decided anything about Sandra Bullock as a person. What I have done is call attention to the following points:

  • When you are married to someone who, at the very least, thinks posing for a picture like that is funny, it may be unreasonable for people to presume you share his views, but it is perfectly reasonable for those who are interested in your life to ask you things like, “Um, do you think it’s funny too? And were you aware that he did? Hypothetically speaking, if your husband were shown to be an aficionado of Nazi culture, would you consider that a dealbreaker, y/n?”
  • When you are a very famous actor, fucking everyone is interested in your life. (This is why you have people to deal with your public image while you deal with your private life. See point 1 above.)
  • It is customary for very famous people who are at risk of being tarred with someone else’s douchebag brush to issue statements denouncing the douchebag in question. Ergo, it is curious that there was no immediate move from Bullock’s camp to distance her from a man who, at the very least, thinks posing for a picture like that is funny.
  • It is also customary for the media to talk all sorts of shit about celebrities who might plausibly be tarred with someone else’s douchebag brush. Ergo, it is also curious that so few people seem to even be idly wondering whether Bullock was aware of the breadth and depth of her husband’s douchebaggery.

4) At the end of the day, I am really not all that interested in what kind of person Sandra Bullock is, and I certainly do not feel she owes me or the public a damned thing. But I am very interested in how the cultural conversation about a photo like this goes:

All too predictably, loads of people (in Jez comments and elsewhere) are saying shit like, “It’s just one picture” and “We don’t know the context” and “It was obviously just a joke.” To which I would respond:

  • How many pictures like that would you need to see to be appalled?
  • What context would make it okay?
  • What on earth makes it funny?

If all you mean is that it would be unfair and premature to conclude from this photo that Jesse James personally wants to commit genocide, I’ll grant you that. But I am entirely comfortable concluding from this one photo — let alone other recent revelations — that Jesse James is an epic fucking douche, and that racism is a noteworthy element of his douchiness.

That, of course, is what some people get so upset about. Heaven forbid we jump to the conclusion that someone captured on film doing a “humorous” Hitler impression perhaps has some problematic views about race. We’d better wait until we have the whole story before we go off half-cocked and say things we might regret! I mean, for all we know, he might have just been…

What? What would make that picture okay?

Hint: Nothing.

For fuck’s sake, what does a white person have to do around here before a critical mass of other white people are willing to say, “Yep, that’s some racist bullshit”? More than use Nazi imagery for laffs, apparently. And that, more than anything, is why it troubles me that Bullock didn’t immediately issue a statement, and so few people even seem willing to question whether she was aware that her husband held the sort of views that, at the very least, made him think that photo was funny — let alone whether she holds similar views. Because giving her the pure and unfettered benefit of the doubt at this point is only a milder version of making excuses for him. It’s all based on the same premise: that being called “racist” — or even questioned about your association with someone who, say, uses Nazi imagery for laffs — is such an unbelievably painful thing to endure, we must never, ever imply such a thing without hard evidence that the person in question deserves it.

Hard evidence like… well, something more than one photo taken out of context that was only meant to be a joke, surely. And if that’s not admissible, then merely being married to someone who would take that one photo is, without a doubt, utterly meaningless — so it would be tasteless and cruel even to ask the spouse, “Dude, what the fuck? Did you know about this?” In fact, the consequences of accusing a nice white person of racism, falsely or not, are so unspeakably terrible — why, some people might think poorly of her! — it would probably be better if we never used the word “racist” at all, except with regard to people who do, in fact, personally want to commit genocide. Just to be on the safe side.

And if that means we can never really confront racism when we see it, well… that’s unfortunate. But come on. We don’t want to make people uncomfortable. White people, I mean. I understand that racism itself tends to have damaging effects on everyone else, but since I’ve never personally experienced it, I can only speak as a white woman — and let me tell you, being told that something you’ve done as a well-intentioned, liberal white person was, in fact, racist? AWKWARD! So before you go trying to end oppression, you should probably take that into consideration, okay?

Look, I truly don’t have an opinion on what’s in Sandra Bullock’s heart. But I have an opinion on that photo: Appalling and inexcusable. And an opinion on Jesse James: Racist fuckwit. And an opinion on attempts to somehow justify that photo and steer the conversation away from words like “racism” and “anti-Semitism” and “white supremacy” at all costs: Bullshit. And all of that brought me to the opinion that if Bullock wants to keep the stink off her, she’d best issue a statement denouncing her husband’s racist behavior in no uncertain terms. As fast as possible. Which means, basically, yesterday.

That’s what I was talking about. Not judging her or blaming her or making presumptions about her, but expecting her, as a public figure, to take this seriously. Because that picture, despite what James’ defenders say, is fucking serious. And while it’s very possible for people to remain ignorant of a lot of things within a long-term relationship, it is also, exactly as I said yesterday, reasonable to wonder, and to ask, whether someone shares or condones or willfully ignores her partner’s odious views.

But we’re not supposed to wonder about Bullock. Because she seems like such a nice person, and she’s publicly said non-racist things, and she’s going through so much, sure. But also because it is considered rude and vaguely scandalous to not give an apparently nice white person the extreme benefit of the doubt where any suggestion of racism is concerned. And that’s bullshit. I don’t know one way or another what she thinks of that photo, but for those of us who have never met the woman, in the absence of a public comment there is no more reason to assume she deplores it than there is to assume she thinks it’s hilarious. So it’s really disturbing — albeit not unexpected — that so many people seem to think even posing the question is a vicious assault on her character. Jesse James does a Nazi salute with one hand and a Hitler mustache with the other, and people scramble to explain why we shouldn’t assume it means anything, you know, negative. But ask what his wife thinks about that, and why — for the sake of her own public image, if nothing else — she hasn’t commented (via a publicist, so it’s not like she has to be articulate in the midst of heartbreak and humiliation)? Tasteless! Insulting! Victim-blaming! Why, I never!

That’s pretty fucked up, folks. It really is.

Love,

Kate