Opinion

The Future, as Seen By Barbarella

In 1968, Barbarella saw into a future in which the counter-culture ruled. Paul Baker looks at the outfits, the camp computers, and the glamour.

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Barbarella is a vision of the future if the 1960s had got its way, and there had been no backlash, no AIDS, no Margaret Thatcher, no unrestrained American capitalism, no nihilistic rap or mindless R&B music. Instead, imagine the 1960s got more and more louche, the drugs got even better and the outfits and music even more colourful and weird, for 10,000 years.

Based on the French cartoon strip, Jane Fonda is at her physical peak as the eponymous Barbarella and has never been bettered. (Kylie and Jem have imitated that opening credit zero-gravity striptease while Ariana Grande’s video ‘Break Free’ is also Barabrella-inspired.) Barbarella travels through the Universe in a fur-lined space-ship with only her camp computer to keep her company (either voiced by Kenneth Williams or a KW-impersonator). There is a plot, but it’s not really essential to enjoying the film, which is a more of a sensual experience involving set pieces, frequent costume changes (at one point Fonda briefly wears a tail as an accessory) and outlandish one-liners. Fonda has a great way of drolly observing her predicament, always slightly amused, always detached.

Briefly, Barbarella is dispatched by the President of the Earth to rescue Durand Durand who has gone missing on the 16th planet of the Tau Ceti region. And that’s when the adventures begin. Our heroine keeps getting herself into unlikely danger. “What’s that screaming? A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming.” Early in the film a group of feral children capture her and condemn her to death by robotic dolls with biting fangs. And later she almost gets herself pecked to bits in a cage full of colourful budgerigars: “This is much too poetic a way to die!” My favourite danger sequence is when Barbarella is imprisoned inside an organ which causes the victim to expire of sexual pleasure during the crescendo. However, redoubtable as ever, the organ is no match for her and it explodes. Ironically, it is Durand Durand who has captured her – he is unrecognisable (life on the planet ages you terribly), and has taken to wearing the Sydney Opera house down his front for no good reason.

Barbarella-Jane-Fonda

The film is one of exploration, as sex on Earth has become a matter of matter-of-fact drug taking – “When our psychocardiogram readings are in harmony and we wish to make love, we take an exaltation transfer pellet and remain like this for one minute or until full rapport has been achieved”. Initially Barberella is horrified – “You mean they could still be living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility?” – but using old-fashioned “primitive” sex as the currency for thanking her rescuers (including a man dressed in a suit of hair, who is just as hairy underneath), she eventually decides the old ways are the best. And there is a lot of sex in this film.

Barbarella’s evil opposite is The Black Queen, played by girlfriend of some of the Rolling Stones, Anita Pallenberg, but dubbed over, if I’m not mistaken, by the sultry, fruity vocals of Fenella Fielding, who can make a simple statement like “I’m going to the shops for coffee” sound like a filthy innuendo. The first encounter between Barbarella and The Black Queen riffs on the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (The Black Queen is disguised as a prostitute at the time and has just offed two of Babarella’s potential rapists):

Barbarella-Anita-Pallenberg

“Hello Pretty-Pretty. Do you want to come and play with me? For someone like you I’d charge nothing. You’re very pretty, Pretty-Pretty.”

“My name isn’t Pretty-Pretty, it’s Barbarella.”

The Black Queen is wonderfully tyrannical – here’s how she acts as judge, jury and executioner to poor bare-chested fallen angel Pygar (John Phillip Law): “He has endangered the labyrinth. Crime! He has destroyed twelve of my black guards. Crime! He dares to deprive me of a pleasure unique in Sogo: an Earthling. Crime! Crime!”

According to Marianne Faithfull, who was around at the time of filming and wrote it up later in her autobiography, Pallenberg got a big kick out of the role:

“It was a very nutty part Anita was playing and she got lost in it. There’s a fine line between put-on and reality, which is never quite clear in these situations. That line was crossed by our Anita a great deal. Early afternoon there’d be ‘Darling, sometimes when I am at Cinecitta I really do believe I am the Black Queen.’ As a joke, naturally. Then eight hours later and a lot more stoned ‘But you know what? I really am the Black Queen’, and then another eight hours later there’d be another level of insanity ‘I AM THE QUEEN OF ALL I SURVEY!’ Anita was in costume all the time… All her clothes began looking like the Black Queen’s outfit, so even when she wasn’t in costume she looked just like a day version of the Black Queen.”

Barbarella-Jane-Fonda

The sets of Sogo, where much of the action takes place, look like the grooviest, most decadent ’60s party ever. Imagine a city which is decorated in enormous fibre optic lamps, oil-projections on walls, swings, inflatable see-through pillows, fur-lined secret compartments and spaced-out chicks smoking “essence of man” from a giant hookah with a semi-naked man swimming around inside. If you threw a lava lamp it’d hit about 10 gay leather-men because they’re EVERYWHERE. The city is powered by liquid evil called The Mathmos which gives off fumes that cause everyone to be in a state of heightened sexuality (like my home town Newcastle-upon-Tyne). The soundtrack was written by Bob Crewe, who combines kitschy orchestral pop with acid-inspired psychedelia. Out of circulation for years, I spent a good deal of the 1990s trying to get a decent bootleg version.

Barbarella-Jane-Fonda

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film failed critically and financially when it came out – it was far too far out, even for the 1960s, although it has since become a cult favourite. And it should be on the playlist of every gay man today. The lines need to be memorised and religiously quoted whenever possible. Got it, pretty-pretty?

Doctor Who: Take a Deep Breath

A new Doctor inevitably causes concern for every committed Whoovian. Jim Sangster takes a deep breath … which is followed by a sigh of relief.

Doctor-Who-Peter-Capaldi

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A new Doctor Who can be a very worrying thing for a Whoover. Like a fan with a beloved football team, we want to remain faithful through bad times and good. Every past Doctor has their fans but what if you really dislike the latest model? You’re stuck with him for a few years and it’s not like you can just not watch. I’m not mentioning any names, but some Doctors just turn out better than others.

I must confess from the outset, I already adore what Peter Capaldi’s doing in the role. After just one episode, I’m a gushing fan once again. He has the rudeness of Tom Baker, the breathless racing pitch of David Tennant and as if any of us needed convincing about his age (twenty five years older than his predecessor), he was more energetic in his debut than any Doctor ever.

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The episode begins with two contrasting images: the Houses of Parliament and a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Older fans may remember when Doctor Who first tried to do dinosaurs. In 1974, there was a dinosaur invasion of London that was not wholly successful; the rubbery, rather lifeless models never managed to convince. ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ (2012) showed just how far effects have come, where we can finally have a decent dino on a TV budget. They’re getting rather blasé about their monsters now though. They’re confident enough to include a shot of a character in front of a window where the T-Rex can be seen on the horizon, casually gambolling about. And while we’re perhaps noticing how real our scaly friend looks, we’re almost certainly not noticing just how much of the London skyline is also an effect. For this is a capital from the nineteenth century. And it looks magnificent.

To help the new Doctor ease in, he’s surrounded by the familiar. The Paternoster Gang – the lizard woman, her wife/maid and their potato-headed Sontaran butler have been regular guests in the show since 2011. The Sontaran, Strax, is a gift for much-needed comic scenes. The glee with which he imagines burning the Doctor with acid or throwing a newspaper full in Clara’s face had me hooting with laughter.

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As the old friends get to know this new man calling himself the Doctor, we also learn more about them. There’s a beautiful bit of business involving Madame Vastra’s veil that manages to bring out the best in Clara. While Jenna Coleman has done an excellent job with the role, the unravelling mystery around her last year didn’t leave room for much actual character – after a whole series we still didn’t really know her – so it’s gratifying to see her finally developing a bit of a backbone and become more three-dimensional.

One other old friend we should mention plays a tramp in a back alley from whom the Doctor acquires a coat. Keen-eyed viewers may have spotted Brian Miller’s name in the credits – the husband of the late, much-loved actress Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith off and on for nearly forty years. Nice to know the Doctor’s extended family is near when he needs them most.

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Every Doctor needs his villain and in the half-faced mechanical man we have one of the series’ creepiest ever ideas, a robot wearing a suit made from human skin. It reminds me of the old Steve Wright joke about the weird guy with wooden legs and real feet. The idea of tricking the mechanical butchers by not breathing is another classic from writer Steven Moffat (who previously gave us Doctor Who‘s first ever monster under a bed and the terrifying weeping angels). I wonder how many viewers held their breath to see if they could last as long as Clara.

So, back to the main man. He is instantly recognisable as the Doctor, despite being unlike any we’ve seen before. He pulls off the traditional ‘regeneration madness’ thing perfectly, disassociated an defamiliarised as he warns his friends not to look into a mirror because “it’s furious!” while expressing surprise at the new “attack eyebrows” that come with his new face. He makes the kind of leaps of logic we expect from the quirky Time Lord – pointing out to Vastra and Clara that they’re asking the wrong questions as they inspect the charred remains of that lovely T-Rex. He’s passionate, curious yet still possesses that youthful innocence (asking a robot waiter if they have a children’s menu). It feels like we have a Doctor who knows the entire history of the show and that we’re in safe hands. It’s a good feeling. And for a few children out there who are too young to remember David Tennant in the role, Peter Capaldi has just become their Doctor. I think he might be mine too.

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Edinburgh Fringe

Laura Macdougall celebrates the great amount of queer content at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2014, from comedy to drama and spoken word.

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Following comedians on Twitter is great fun, particularly in the run-up to Edinburgh Fringe when they all, understandably, start freaking out. Sarah Millican dispensed her advice this week, which was: “Work hard, get sleep, don’t drink too much, see your proper friends, ignore reviews, do your best.” Easier said than done. Others have been tweeting about panic, shortbread, pancakes (yes, food is often a theme), chickens, cats, showers, the weather… It remains to be seen what comprises their Twitter feeds during and after the Fringe.

The Fringe has now been running for over sixty years and continues to be the world’s largest arts festival. Edinburgh in August is also one of the places to see the largest number of comedians in the shortest space of time – if you can face it, that is. But who wouldn’t want to see some of the funniest people in the country perform in venues ranging from basements to pubs to dark, damp caves? This year I’m particularly excited that there are so many brilliant female comedians performing at the festival, and that so many of them are queer women. The brilliant Jen Brister is bringing her new show, Wishful Thinking to the Fringe this year, and if you’ve never seen her before I urge you to do so. She’s one of the best mimics around, particularly when it comes to impersonating her Spanish mother. I hope this year will be the one when she breaks into the mainstream.

Edinburgh-Fringe

Susan Calman is also performing a new show this year, Lady Like, and, as one of Scotland’s best comedians, a trip to Edinburgh without seeing her would be a shame. You might already be familiar with Zoe Lyons from her regular appearances on The Wright Stuff and Mock the Week, and she’s back in Edinburgh with her new show Mustard Cutter. Mae Martin is a young Canadian comic I will admit to never having seen before, but I have it on good authority that she’s worth keeping an eye on, and she’s bringing a work-in-progress show, Mae Martin’s Workshop, to this year’s Fringe. Radio 4 regular and Funny Women finalist Rosie Wilby is also back this year with her new show, Nineties Woman, an interesting blend of comedy, theatre and storytelling in which she traces her journey through 90s feminism while a student at York University.

Of course, there are some funny straight women, too, and my two top recommendations are Bridget Christie, who had her breakthrough last year when she won the Edinburgh Comedy Award for her show about feminism, and Sara Pascoe, who is performing her new show, Sara Pascoe vs History, at the Fringe before embarking on her first ever national tour.

I always look for new writing when wading through the Theatre section of the frankly enormous Fringe programme. Although the percentage of shows is fractionally down this year (while comedy is up), there are still some incredibly exciting prospects, including a number of shows with queer performers or with an explicitly queer outlook. In the latter category is Outings, a new play by Thomas Hescott that was inspired by Tom Daley’s coming out video on YouTube. Based on real-life coming out stories, the play also boasts comedian Zoe Lyons in the cast and will have rotating guest stars for each performance. Sister is a new play by sisters Amy and Rosana Cade, both of whom are ardent feminists interested in female sexuality. Amy works in the sex industry while Rosana is a lesbian. Sister sees the two women reveal everything in an attempt to understand their own and each other’s sexual identies.

Edinburgh-Fringe

Lippy is a new Irish play that will have its UK premiere at the Fringe. Based on the true story of four women who entered into a suicide pact and starved themselves to death over a period of forty days, it won a host of awards in Ireland. Chatroom is a new play about six teenagers who communicate only via the internet. Exploring teenagers’ lives online, peer pressure and suicide, this play promises to be an intense sixty minutes. Finally, award-winning playwright Owen McCafferty is back with Unfaithful, a new play which explores relationships, desire, regret and betrayal and asks how far couples will go to break free from the tedium of their daily lives; a question we can probably all admit to having considered in the past.

If you were following our series earlier this year on queer spoken word and read our interviews with some of the best performance poets on the circuit today, then you will be pleased to hear that Sophia Blackwell is returning to the Fringe with her new show, Becoming Wonderwoman, in which she asks what it means to have it all, and why some people seem prepared to settle for less.

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Spoken word has only had its own category in the Fringe programme since 2012, and still makes up barely four per cent of the approximately 3,200 shows on offer, but it is great to see a rise of eighty per cent on last year and there are some truly exciting shows taking place this year. They’re all very different, presenting their own blend of poetry, comedy, storytelling and theatre, but then that’s very much the beauty of the art form.

One to look out for is John Berkavitch’s latest work, Shame, described as a blend of spoken word and hip-hop theatre that features break-dancers. It will surely be a bold – and different – exploration of choices, chances and, of course, shame. Also returning to the Fringe is poet Tim Clare and comedian Alexis Dubus, who will both be performing poetry or poetic tales on a variety of subjects and themes. A young writer and performer I’ve been keeping an eye on for a few years now is Sabrina Mahfouz, who has written a new one-woman show called Chef that is about one woman’s descent from haute cuisine head chef to convicted inmate running a prison kitchen. Mahfouz isn’t performing the role herself, but instead it will be taken by the talented young actress Jade Anouka.

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Finally, Dame Diana Rigg is taking a solo show to the Fringe this year. Title No Turn Unstoned, it is based on her book of the same name, in which she examined some of the worst theatrical reviews in history, and how actors survive them. One of Britain’s best-loved actresses, who’s recently won over a whole new generation of fans by appearing in Game of Thrones, I’m sure Rigg’s monologue will be something quite special.

So, if you’re heading up to the Fringe this year, do try and catch some of the above. Don’t, however, try and see as many shows as David Chapple, who is reportedly trying to see 287 during the month! Choose wisely, give generously if you’re going to the Free Fringe, and spare a moment for the artists’ sanity, if not your own.

The Last Tea Party

The Last Tea Party: Or How “Operation American Spring” Turned a Once Powerful Political Movement into the Laughing Stock of the Country

Walter

Friday May 16th, 2014. It was supposed to be a date that future writers would carve in stone in the annals of American History. According to organisers, ten to thirty million “patriots” would descend on Washington, DC, arrest President Obama and assemble a tribunal of conservative lawmakers to decide the charges he would be facing before they shipped him off to Guantanamo Bay.

According to their official website, this was how the plan was supposed to go:

Concept of Operations:

Phase 1
Field millions, as many as ten million, patriots who will assemble in a peaceful, non-violent, physically unarmed (Spiritually/Constitutionally armed), display of unswerving loyalty to the US Constitution and against the incumbent government leadership in Washington D.C., with the mission to replace with law abiding leadership. Go full-bore, no looking back, steadfast in the mission.

Phase 2
One million or more of the assembled 10 million must be prepared to stay in D.C. as long as it takes to see Obama, Biden, Reid, McConnell, Boehner, Pelosi, and Attorney General Holder removed from office.

Consistent with the US Constitution, as required, the U.S. Congress will take appropriate action, execute appropriate legislation, deal with vacancies, or U.S. States will appoint replacements for positions vacated consistent with established constitutional requirements.

Phase 3
Those with the principles of a West, Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson, Lee, DeMint, Paul, Gov Walker, Sessions, Gowdy, Jordan, should comprise a tribunal and assume positions of authority to convene investigations, recommend appropriate charges against politicians and government employees to the new U.S. Attorney General appointed by the new President.

The plan was signed, Harry Riley, COL, USA, Ret.

These liberty-loving patriots were ready, they had their plan laid out, their numbers tallied, and God was on their side as their commander ordered them to “bathe this effort in prayer”.

Of course their efforts were also soaked in the paranoid gibberish of the American Right, with vague warning about what to do if you’re captured and put in one of the FEMA camps, dark comments about plots to poison the water with chemicals, and other sorts of brain-damaged swill that comes straight from the script of Alex Jones’s radio show.

So what happened on May 16th? Was it the day of reckoning for President Obama’s administration? Was the Tea Party finally in control of Washington, DC?

No.

Operation-American-Spring

For all the fire-breathing about tens of millions of patriots flooding the National Mall in Washington, approximately 150 people showed up according to even the most generous estimates.

Oh they came prepared, they had their Gadsden Flags, their signs proclaiming that America is a Christian Nation (long a favorite rallying cry of the Right) and of course plenty of signs about Benghazi, their current political hard-on.

But there was no revolution, no uprising, no attempt to seize control of the city in the name of “We the People”, nothing of the sort. What happened would be considered a standard political rally in Washington, there were speakers, chants, flag-waving, and a hilarious butchering of the National Anthem (you would think such ardent patriots would at least get that one right). By the afternoon, there were photos floating around of zealous patriots lounging about on the grass with their flags fluttering in the breeze. I guess such revolutionary fighting really takes the wind out of a man.

Not ones to merely accept the total failure of their operation, the paranoid nutjobs were quick to come up with excuses. First and foremost was the weather – apparently it had rained in Virginia earlier in the day. If all it takes is a little rain to stop your fight, you must be pretty pathetic revolutionaries. No word yet on whether or not the rain was caused by Obama’s secret meteorological weapons system, but I’m sure the Teabaggers are cooking up the perfect story for that one.

And of course, they claimed that there was a “media blackout” on the event, that the mainstream media deliberately ignored them because of “liberal bias”. I guess no one had the heart to tell them that when a few dozen people gather in Washington DC to bitch about the government, it’s not considered news. Not by the national press corps and certainly not by the local DC papers, who see far bigger turnouts for charity events.

But this abysmal failure may indeed be a watershed in the history of American politics.

The Tea Party emerged in 2009 and quickly became a force to be reckoned with in the Republican Party as Tea Party-backed candidates toppled many strong moderate Republicans from office. They showed their strongest political muscle in the 2012 Republican Presidential Primaries, forcing Governor Mitt Romney, a long known moderate, to go hard to the right. He even remarked on national television that he was a “severely conservative governor”, a laugh to anybody who knows Romney’s political history; he was the governor of Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the country. If he was “severely conservative”, he never would have been elected governor.

So now, five years later, it seems the Tea Party has fallen and they have fallen in full view of everyone. While “Operation American Spring” was the public showing, behind the scenes, the defeats were even deeper. A Tea Party backed Senate candidate is currently seventeen percentage points behind in Mississippi and in Kentucky. Tea Party backed candidate Matt Bevin is twenty-six points behind Senator Mitch McConnell.

If they can’t even get solid support in deeply conservative states like Mississippi and Kentucky, they’re finished.

When the obituary is written for the Tea Party and it will be written by a much better political journalist than I, the cause of death will be suicide of hubris. The Tea Party died because they made the fatal mistake of all hard-bent ideological political movements: they took their own paranoid gibberish too seriously and expected vast segments of the American public to go along with them.

And many did, for a while at least. But bizarre ranting about FEMA camps, birth certificates, socialist indoctrination, religious fundamentalism, as well as endless political whining over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and the Benghazi attack, makes most people take a second look at such a movement. Many people don’t like President Obama, but they’re smart enough to know that another couple years with him is better than turning over the country to bunch of whackjobs who are so paranoid they see socialists in their toilet tanks.

Friday was the last dance for the Tea Party as a serious political force in America. When their abysmal failure was made public, the internet became hot with jokes at their expense. The Party’s over, now all that is left is to crack a few jokes as the few remaining true blue paranoid believers clinging to the sunken ship.

A Short Requiem Incidentally Featuring Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps speaks for the God of Hate. As he lies on his death bed, Carrick McDonald wrestles with his feelings about a man “deemed consistently worthless by anyone old enough to have an opinion”.

Whenever one of humanity’s most miserable specimens reaches the merciful end of their (usually overlong) life, I’m never quite sure how to react. So it goes with Fred Phelps. Am I a cold person for saying that I have a deep appreciation for the knowledge that he’s dying somewhere, unused and unloved, like a vestigial organ? Sometimes history is cruel, like Pol Pot’s long house arrest or Hitler’s suicide, but now and then history gives us a hateful old man tossed to the curb like the trash he is, shitting himself under supervision somewhere. This ending raises questions that I don’t currently have the answers to, and will accept eventually as splashes of color on a man who only appeared in black and white. He was the only public figure to be deemed consistently worthless by anyone old enough to have an opinion.

Fred Phelps 'god hates fags'

Inversely, I am grateful for him. I struggled to maintain my faith in the face of all the questions and concerns I had with it. I never hated gay people, but I was told (sometimes overtly) that I was eventually going to have to. For a while, I lived with the paradox of thinking gay people were normal, enjoyable members of society, people with names and dreams that I worked on school projects with and dressed next to in gym class. Here was this religion I grew up with telling me they were actually just faceless sinners in a long line of one-dimensional caricatures of flawed humans. I was horrified and had no reasonable answer, no happy ending for either point of view in my near future.

Learning about Fred Phelps during the height of this searching was enough to drive a wedge between what I really believed and what I was force fed. I imagine it was the same way for a lot of Americans. Making and hearing casual remarks against homosexuals from the townspeople was one thing, but seeing a leering group of circus freaks with their famous rainbow signs screaming at the parents of dead children was another entirely. Twisted, disgusting food for thought.

I lived with the dissonance until my first semester of college. The very first day of class, I found myself being addressed by another living, breathing curiosity, straight from the canon of unhinged Americans living and dying by our First Amendment. Brother Jed was a callous but hilarious old fogey who couldn’t be as harmful as Fred Phelps if he devoted the rest of his life to catching up. His act consisted of him sitting in a small chair, waving around a giant crucifix, and telling overly enunciated stories of his freewheeling youth. He was a drug-addled hippy who saw a vision of Jesus on the beach and renounced his fornicating ways forever.

I was entranced at seeing a person of this stripe and persuasion in the flesh. Any anti-gay remarks I had heard in my life were always whispered by wide-eyed people I thought I could trust, people I used to fully enjoy until I saw their determination to make known their displeasure with homosexuals. They would look around nervously and whisper as if one of them were in our midst.

“One of them” was their phrasing of choice, as if homosexuals were being born at an alarmingly common rate, in your state, your town, or even your household. Here was someone beating that same war drum – the only difference being that he was doing it at full volume and in full sentences. If he mentioned “them”, it’s because he wanted them to be around and listening. The absurdity of that cantankerous old fool pointing a giant staff at gay people and telling them to “turn or burn” was enough to flatten my fledgling faith forever, opening up a true spiritual apathy that lingered inside of me.

Just the same, I was drawn to the spectacle. Watching someone who knew their holy book to a T argue with simpleton do-gooders who were staving off the same crisis of faith as me was entertaining for a while. I had immersed myself fully in the madness. Every time it happened, I mentally developed plans to make a short documentary about it. As time dragged forward, the fun slowly starting drying up. I began to anticipate and cringe at the same arguments being made, the same Bible verses lobbed back and forth like an aimless game of catch. The thrill was evaporating quickly.

A friend of mine at school joined me to watch Brother Jed tell one of his bizarre stories, and after the climax was reached, he succinctly summed it up as “a big fucking waste of time” and left. Slowly, reality came trickling back to me too as I remembered the paper I had to write the next day. Some math homework hadn’t quite clicked for me and I wanted to redo it. There was a book I wanted to get from the library, and so on. I picked up and left and didn’t surrender another minute of my time to the village idiot with the loudest voice.

phelps

I labored over a eulogy before realizing the best way to memorialize Fred Phelps is to find better subjects to devote time to. Phelps, from several accounts, was a drug-addled abusive father who turned his back on a promising civil rights career to indulge in kindergarten-level arguments and shameless mugging. No tragedy was too sensitive for him to hop on, and no interpretation of a major event too banal and unreal for a supposedly educated man to parrot. I’m told he and his church lived on settlements because their rights had been infringed upon, making him the most obnoxious welfare queen in America, as well as a genuine workhorse when it came to annoying others.

It’s only fit that he was rejected and thrown out of the cage by the monsters he created with his belt and his Bible. Somewhere in Kansas lies an unlovable, pathetic man, one who can count the people who care on one hand – if he can even remember how to count. A team of uncomfortable nurses are anxiously going through the motions, waiting for him to finally cave in and die. Eventually he will, and the bed will go to someone more deserving. No love lost there.

In light of this upcoming passing, people have raised the possibility of picketing his funeral or celebrating it with a pride rally, but I think both of those approaches would be pretty short sighted. Today’s as good a day as any and tomorrow will be too. Give a few dollars to a charity for runaway LGBT youth. These kids have been cast out by the Phelps families of the world who aren’t gutsy enough to scream their convictions outside the cemetery gates. Go for a walk, knowing you still can. Do your math homework until it clicks. Fascinating as these people will always be, most of them should know better and a lot of them secretly do. To condescend to act like them for even a second would be a big fucking waste of time, a description that doubles as a fitting epitaph for Fred Phelps. Rarely is a man’s legacy so clear.

 

Your Perfume Does Not Have A Sex

Your Perfume Does Not Have A Sex

05 Mar 2014  /  Opinion  /  by Liam Moore

Scent does not have a gender. And so why, asks Liam Moore, should some embody masculinity whilst others embody femininity?

Perfumes, Polari Magazine

There exists in the perfume industry a gendered mentality toward marketing, advertising and panel-testing. For men this involves a latent “masc4masc” approach, for it seems that to be masculine a real man must exclusively, strictly, only wear fragrances marketed for him. Does it contain the synthetic raw material Ambroxan? Then it’s a man’s “aftershave”! The same applies to women. If she’s not butch, then it’s a “femme4femme” approach. We are culturally indoctrinated to accept how important perfume is in the feminine woman’s world.

It was commonplace for fragrances in 19th century Europe to smell of floral essential oils, and both sexes wore these without question. Today, a perfumer’s palette seems almost limitless, yet a strict divide between both sexes is enforced. Sometime between then and now a notion caught on that certain smells should embody femininity whereas certain other smells should embody masculinity. Perhaps it was down to François Coty at the turn of the 20th century. Lauded as a legendary perfumer and marketer, he pioneered the notion that attractive bottles sell a fragrance. Gift boxes containing identically scented items such as creams and powders at affordable prices were targeted at middle and working-class women. Thus did he secure his fortunes, and set the history of perfume on a different path.

It’s mystifying that this divide exists at all because the underlying truth is that fragrance is oblivious to gender. Like marriage being classified as only between man and woman, it is little more than the accumulation of cultural ideas about what constitutes reality, and normality. Look to the Middle East, after all, and you’ll find many men’s perfume containing staggering amounts of rose.

That said, I’d be a little shocked to see a man turn up to work in a pair of Manolo Blahnik’s. But I’d be impressed all the same, and even a little intimidated. Am I man enough to step out in heels? Probably not, but I find it admirable when anyone crosses their traditional norms with another. I am “man” enough to wear the oh-so-feminine, sheer and decadent Shalimar by Guerlain however, a game-changer of a perfume created in 1925. I am “man” enough to wear Old Spice too. I am also “man” enough to try on Channel No5 at a department store because I can’t quite decide if I like it enough to buy a small Eau de Parfum bottle of it. Look how butch I am now.

And for perfume, just get right to the heart of the matter: the smell. What does it smell like? I don’t care if Sophie Dahl is selling it, fully naked in an ad campaign. I don’t care if the sales assistant at the store tells me it’s for women – in fact I’d be annoyed. I don’t even care what people around me think, because it’s me wearing it not them. That’s not to say I spritz it on offensively to the point of starving the room of oxygen – but simply that it doesn’t matter. What are the opening notes like? Is that bergamot? I can smell the heart notes; the rose, the jasmine. And the basenotes: that lush, creamy vanilla and skanky civet dry-down. Heaven.

In any case, my choices are opened right up and I can step-out into a much more varied olfactory market of fragrances. Ever noticed how dull men’s fragrances can be? If I have to smell one more Sport flanker.. .

It’s surprising how much we are influenced by marketing. I recently took part in a blind sniff test and was stumped that what I was smelling Old Spice. I could have sworn that what was under my nose was a highly expensive, intensely French-style lady’s parfum. Something about that carnation heart note confused me and I couldn’t even recall memories of my grandfather slapping it on. I was pleasantly shaken and it reaffirmed my own misconceptions. Yet as I got to know the fragrance, blindly, taking the time to enjoy all its facets, I could appreciate it for what it really was: a well crafted olfactory piece of art.

The concept of “unisex” is gathering speed in the fragrance industry – in an ideal world the term would be done away with entirely. However, there have been other “unisexes” before. CK One, circa mid-nineties, really did change how fragrance was sold; man, woman, black, white – it didn’t matter. It brought unisex back into fashion, from the 19th century right to the forefront. I was a pre-teen at the time, but I can think how refreshing that must have seemed, the smell being a fresh oceanic wave in itself. Poetic I’m sure.

Despite Calvin Klein stumbling in recent years with this non-gender approach to CK One – why release For Him and For Her anyway? – smaller, independent perfume houses on the rise don’t even consider gender identity at all. They make fragrance for what it is, and what it ultimately is always about – the juice, the smell, the art. You won’t even see the word “masculine” or “feminine” crop up at all, despite the utter temptation I’m sure to help grow their business and translate an impression of a smell on their website.

It’s difficult to erase gender notions, like the idea of marriage being only between man and woman. But it’s slowly happening. It is changing, so after that war is fought, I think we should set our sights on the engrained notions that exist in fragrance and we can do away with “masc4masc to the front of the queue” entirely.

Gunfight at the Rainbow Corral: Arizona’s “Right to Discriminate” Bill

Arizona’s draconian bill to give people the right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs passed the House and Senate. The national disapproval that followed showed how out of touch this warped thinking is.

Walter

Send lawyers, guns, and money, the shit has hit the fan. - Warren Zevon

And the man at the back said everyone attack,
And it turned into a ballroom blitz.
And the girl in the corner said boy, I wanna warn ya
It’ll turn into a ballroom blitz… 
- The Sweet

This should have been one story, a piece on the attempts of the Religious Right to pass pro-discrimination laws and their failures at doing so. But sometimes things get pretty weird on the front lines, especially for a journalist always chasing a story and last Friday, Arizona seemed poised to make the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” a law; it passed the House and Senate and made its way to Governor Brewer’s desk, awaiting her signature.

Within 48 hours, the national press exploded, with CNN, MSNBC, and other major networks running continual coverage of it. George Takei was on the wire, calling out the state and threatening a boycott if the bill passed. The NFL threatened to pull the Super Bowl from Arizona, potentially costing the state millions in revenues.

Even several state legislators who voted for the bill were gnashing their teeth into the nearest microphone, grumbling to the press that this bill wasn’t what they intended. Whether they had a genuine change of heart or were caving into public pressure due to the upcoming elections is anyone’s guess.

Not all of them were repentant of their mistakes, notably State Senator Al Melvin who appeared on CNN in an interview with Anderson Cooper.

Cooper asked Melvin to name one instance that happened in Arizona that would require a law such as this to protect. Melvin couldn’t come up with one single case. He insisted that the bill had nothing to do with discrimination, but was “nothing more or nothing less than protecting religious freedoms in our state and we take that very seriously.”

While the national media took notice and state legislators were put on the defensive to defend or renounce their votes, the activism community in Arizona quickly took the helm, with HERO (a local activist group) cranking things up within 24 hours of the legislature’s vote. The main attraction occurred on Monday with a massive rally at the capitol building.

According to several people who were there in the midst of the action, the capitol lawn was packed with estimates between 1,000 and 1,500 in attendance.

Phoenix Berliner, one of the demonstrators, said, “People flew in from other states to be there. CNN had a camera on a sort-of remote control helicopter buzzing our heads and used video of us as their Breaking News footage, which was awesome! Everyone was so fired up and we were wonderfully loud, chanting in unison. Brendan Pantilione, Lee Walters and Erica Keppler, among others, did a great job of keeping the crowd fired up and loud. The love and community support was amazing!

A march was organized for yesterday night, which had a turnout estimated to be anywhere from 800-1700 people strong. This night was indescribably powerful for me. Out Senator Demion Clinco echoed my sentiments that this movement was exceedingly hopeful during his speech. It was brought up that news of our protest had spread internationally. We were loud and proud, yelling about how Arizona is better than our legislation has made us out to be and how this bill legalizes discrimination against everyone, not just the LGBTQ community, and we are fighting for equality for ALL citizens of Arizona. Several faith organizations and people of faith showed up, proclaiming that this bill does not reflect their religious standards in the slightest and that they are just as appalled by this bill as secular folk. HRC and One Community shared news about the large number of businesses who had already come out in opposition to the bill, hanging signs on their storefronts that said something akin to “We are open to all!” There was another round of great speeches by notable people.

We marched slowly around the Capitol, to the beat of some terrific drummers, and paused halfway, in front of another entrance to the building, screaming and hollering even louder. When we got back to the front of the building, we kept the energy up. I heard our voices chanting in unison so powerfully that it reverberated off the Capitol’s walls and echoed our passion for Arizona back to us and it gave me chills.”

Sean-Michael Gettys, another demonstrator there, reported, “I was happy to see people of all stripes; families, people of color, a variety of faiths and ages and economic status was represented. I was unable to understand the speakers because if they had a sign language interpreter it wouldn’t have mattered as I couldn’t see where they were standing mid grass.”

The real beauty of the rally and the activism surrounding all this has been the independent nature of it. According to Mike Shipley, a prominent queer libertarian activist out there, it has been nearly completely divorced from Gay, Inc. and the big money behind it. He told me, “It had the original gay liberation spirit, no corporations attached”. Yes, it seems the full Colors were blazing in Arizona and the spirit of Stonewall was alive and well.

I hoped to hear from Ira Bohm-Sanchez, one of the most radical Trans* activists out there, I knew he was deep into all of it and could provide me with some killer detail. But alas, he seemed on the verge of collapse from exhaustion and was unable to get any details to me.

One thing that Ira did say about the bill was a brief open letter addressed to the Governor;

Governor Jan Brewer,

Can you please veto this, because I move on Monday and I’m falling behind on homework. I have other things I’d like to get done, and while I enjoy getting together with my communities, I’d really prefer to just live my life.

Please with sugar on top,
Ira

The rally Monday night was planned to be just the beginning, Governor Brewer had until Saturday to act on the law, either sign it or veto it and the brothers and sisters out there were ready to keep the place rocking until it came to a close. There was a drag queen overnight planned for Wednesday, a Chik-Fil-A Blockade planned for Saturday, and other events scheduled. It was going be a Colors waving fight all the way to the end.

Veto SB 1062, Polari Magazine

Outside of the street action, local businesses began to take notice as well with a campaign started to post signs on places of business reading “Open for Business to Everyone!” According to Mike Shipley, Ollie Vaughn’s in Phoenix was the first business to do this with a big banner reading “We Gayfully serve LGBT”.

But what would this bill mean for businesses? I talked to local cabbie Gavin Turnbow who told me, “From my point of view as a cab driver, it’s going to suck. If the economy here tanks anymore in regards to the tourism and convention industries, such as hospitality, night life, conventions, and all of the fringe hospitality services such as bars, clubs, strip clubs, cabs and all the rest of it, we’re really going to be put under. We are the ones that are ultimately going to suffer should the boycott happen. Now in regards to the bill itself, I have my pride tattooed on my forearm. I have the full 8 colors of the original flag on my forearm, as well as the symbols of my faith with Wicca and Asatru. For the businesses that would decline me should they I know who and what I am, it is immediately apparent, & I will be turned away without a thought, I’m assuming. Thankfully there are not many businesses here which would actually take advantage of this laws allowance of discrimination.”

Sean-Michael offered his view of the bill itself, “People who support this bill want to play like it is all about religious freedom but then they ignore statements by the creators of this bill specifically staying they want to be able to turn away LGBT clients and patrons, they refused to allow religion to be defined as inclusive of all religions, and voted down amendments that would have made it so EMTs, hospital workers, teachers, and police couldn’t refuse to serve certain people. If it’s not about discrimination, why did they refuse to include religions like Wicca?”

That does seem to be the underlying thing here, the sources I talked to all pointed to the Religious Right as being the true architects of this bill, with several referencing CAP (Center for Arizona Policy) and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), two organizations that are heavies in Arizona politics, particularly in the Republican Party. The effects of this remain to be seen in the upcoming elections.

Supporters of the bill have been mostly silent, although the Williams Tea Party of Coconino County issued a statement defending the bill and offering a bizarre interpretation of the Constitution, saying “The First Amendment was meant only to protect the Christian faith. When the founders spoke of religion, they meant the Christian religion.” Perhaps they should do some more studying on the Founding Fathers, paying particular attention to Thomas Jefferson and his views on religious liberty.

I attempted to contact a local street preacher I knew out there. He had been offering some views in support of the bill online, but he declined my offer. Maybe he only speaks to journalists who reply “Amen!” to his every statement. Ah well, C’est la vie.

Wednesday night, I decided to take a break from this insanity after spending the past 48 hours gathering sources and finish the story later when Phoenix got a hold of me, telling me Governor Brewer had called a press conference regarding the bill. I still had several sources I was waiting to hear back from, but with the ending possibly just a few short moments away, I realized I may have to finish this story without them.

I pulled up the live feed and lit a cigarette, my heart racing at a thousand miles an hour, hoping this was all about to end. On the live feed, while waiting for the governor, one of the reporters present was overheard saying “Isn’t journalism fun, kids?”

At around 7:45 PM EST, Governor Brewer appeared and officially vetoed Arizona’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, bringing this strange saga to a close.

God Save the Doomed: The Last Stand of the Religious Right in America

Indiana’s HJR-3 proposed to outlaw same-sex marriage. Walter Beck celebrates the striking down of the bill and sees an end of days for the Religious Right.

Walter

“We reserve the right to refuse service to you,
Take your business back to Walgreen’s,
Have you tried your local zoo?” – Kinky Friedman

Recently, there were celebrations here in my home state of Indiana. HJR-3 went down in flames as the state senate refused to put in the second sentence, essentially killing the bill until at least 2016. Before the night ended, news came out of Virginia that a Federal judge struck down their state’s constitutional amendment against marriage equality (ruling pending appeal). I wake up most mornings and read about more and more challenges in Federal court to states’ various marriage laws in the wake of the DOMA ruling last year.

It seems we’re riding the crest of a wave of victory, but the opposition has one more trick up their sleeve to stop us in our tracks.

It started with a photographer and a baker. In New Mexico, a photography service called Elane Photography refused service to lesbian couple, citing their religious beliefs. The New Mexico Supreme Court disagreed and found that Elane Photography violated the anti-discrimination provisions of the New Mexico Human Rights Act.

Sweet Cakes by Melissa is an Oregon bakery who refused service to a lesbian couple on the basis of their religious beliefs. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries found the bakery in violation of the 2007 Oregon Equality Act, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation (exemptions are provided for religious organizations).

The photographer and the baker became instant celebrities in Conservative Christian circles, held up as 21st Century Martyrs, casualties in the latest front of the Culture War. Meanwhile, LGBT people continue to face physical violence and legal discrimination encoded in the law here in the Land of the Free (but remember, the baker and the photographer are the real victims here).

Various state legislatures decided they had to act. They had to do something to stop the bakers and the photographers from being the victims. So they started proposing bills to protect religious folk’s sacred right to discriminate against those they don’t like.

Welcome To Arizona, No Gays Religious Freedom, Polari Magazine

Arizona was the first with Senate Bill 1062, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”. The bill would allow any person (defined under the bill as “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation, or other legally entity”) to claim the practice or observance of religion to basically dodge any state anti-discrimination law. This would extend beyond churches and religious affiliated institutions and basically give anybody the right to turn someone way as long as they said the magic words “it’s my religious beliefs”.

The Arizona bill has passed committee and is awaiting further action.

Kansas was quick to follow with House Bill 2453, which would allow religious institutions, churches, and regular business to refuse services or even recognize the validity of same-sex marriages. They would also be allowed to refuse employment, benefits, or social services as well. And if they were sued in court, they would have an absolute defense of claiming “religious beliefs”.

The Kansas bill easily passed the state house with 72-49 vote, but was stopped cold in the state senate after the National press got a hold of the story and made Kansas the laughing stock of the country for anybody with a brain in their heads. Poor Kansas, they have enough of a bad reputation with the gay community as it is, with Topeka being the headquarters of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church. A bill that granted blanket discrimination rights to anybody claiming “religious beliefs” would have just poured salt on an old, festering wound.

Oregon stepped into the fight, with a ballot initiative up for a general vote in November called the “Protect Religious Freedom Initiative” (sponsored by the Oregon Family Council). It would allow individuals claiming “deeply held religious beliefs” to refuse any service, accommodation, products, etc. to any same-sex couple ceremony, be it a wedding, civil union, etc. It would also prohibit a person engaging in such discrimination from facing any civil penalties.

Polls numbers were not available at this time to see where voters stand on this initiative.

Tennessee seems to be the latest state trying out one of these License to Discriminate Bills, state senator Brian Kelsey has introduced Senate Bill 2566. The bill allows individuals, private businesses and local governments alongside churches and religious institutions to refuse services, accommodations, counseling, goods, etc. to any same-sex couple. Furthermore, it would protect such individuals and organizations from any civil or criminal penalties.

Senator Kelsey backed away from the bill once the media got a hold of it and ran him through the shredder over it. Senator Mike Bell has picked up the bill and is moving forward with it.

If any of these bills pass, it’s going be a mess for state courts. Masses of lawyers will need to be raised up at a moment’s notice to either challenge the bill or defend it. Hundreds of millions of in state tax dollars will go up smoke as the legal expenses shoot sky high and the state courts will come to a grinding halt as the states are forced to defend their right to discriminate bills.

What would count as “religious belief”? I’ve been associated with many satirical religions throughout my life – if I lived in a state with such a bill on the books, could I claim Pastafarianism to refuse my services to someone? Or even with a serious religion, could a Muslim shop owner claim his religion in order to refuse to do business with a Christian or Jewish client? Could a Protestant claim his belief and refuse a Catholic customer? I don’t think any of the proponents of these bills are considering the legal mess they would be inviting if these bills passed.

These various states represent the last stand of the American Religious Right. They have conceded the marriage fight; even the major leaders have admitted that they’ve lost that one. But they’re not going to lie down so quietly, they have found a new front with these “right to discriminate” bills being attempted here.

It’s a sign of their hubris and paranoia eating away at what’s left of their minds. They have twisted their minds so hard that they honestly believe they can skirt state anti-discrimination laws by simply proclaiming “religious beliefs”. They have tried to cast themselves in the role of the victims, gnashing their teeth into news microphones and whining to anyone who will listen about how persecuted they are because they can’t use the name of Jesus to throw someone out on the street.

The question is, will the American people believe it? I don’t think they will. Most would agree that a church shouldn’t be forced by law to solemnize a marriage that violates the teachings of the church. That’s one thing. But it’s a far stretch to claim that a private business is a religious institution or engaged in bona fide religious practices. A Christian bookstore? Yeah, that may be counted as a religious organization. But a baker or a photographer? No, you’re a regular public business and thus, you should be subjected to laws governing businesses and that includes anti-discrimination laws.

It’s an ignoble fate for the Religious Right. They rode high into power over thirty years ago, securing the election of Ronald Reagan and maintaining a strong position in the Republican Party for many years afterwards. But now the tides have turned and the American people are waking up and realizing that bigotry cloaked in a Bible is still bigotry. What was once a powerful political force in America now ends their days in a crazed quivering mess, desperately trying to claim victimhood and ensure their rights to act like inhumane bigots “because God said so“. The American people will not weep for them; they will shake their heads sadly and wonder what went wrong.”

Tear the Stripes Down: The Sanitizing of the Movement

Walter Beck stares down the marriage equality opposition, and is confronted with opposition from the conservative Gay, Inc. activists on his own team.

Walter

“God money, let’s go dancing on the backs of the bruised.” - Nine Inch Nails

“Power to the people, right on!” - John Lennon

Recently I attended a hearing at the statehouse here in Indiana for HJR-3, a proposed state constitutional amendment that would not only put marriage equality on double secret probation (it’s already against state law by statute), but would also outlaw civil unions, domestic partnerships and anything else “substantially similar to marriage”. I was looking forward to the hearing, being a well-known and incurable political junkie; I wanted to see the opposition right up close, I wanted to hear what they were saying against us. And I wanted to see our brothers and sisters testify on behalf and absolutely annihilate whatever bullshit our opponents were slinging.

But before my buddy Todd and I got to the gallery to take our seats, I was stopped by a young man in a suit and tie who was with our side. He had an issue with my attire, or at least one aspect of it.

I was decked out full guns blazing as usual, had on my rainbow suspenders, leather jacket, red gonzo shirt (we were told to wear a red shirt to show our solidarity), black beret covered with my buttons and ribbons from the street, and of course, I had my Pride flag wrapped around me. I don’t go into action without my Colors.

Well it was the flag that this guy had an issue with, he told me, “I appreciate the enthusiasm, but is there another way you could hold your flag? We don’t want our opposition taking a picture of you looking like that and using it against us.” He wanted me to hold it folded and subdued, clutching it to my chest like a security blanket, instead of letting it blaze in defiant glory.

Strip Away The Colour Walter Beck Polari Magazine

Photograph courtesy of Todd Berry   (Click to enlarge)

I gave him the hard Clint Eastwood stare down. My buddy Todd shifted a bit nervously, especially after the guy said, “Is that OK? You can be honest with me.” I didn’t say anything, just walked on to the restroom before entering the gallery, reverently folding up my Colors and putting them in my jacket pocket.

What could I have said to a guy like that? It broke my heart. What I wanted to say was, “Brother, are you ashamed of who are? Are you ashamed of where you come from?” Our Colors, our flag, have a storied history. It has seen rivers of innocent blood spilled by our brothers and sisters struggling to stand under it without shame, it has flown in demonstrations and riots in the decades of fighting for liberation and equality. And this young man in a suit and tie was ashamed of it. He didn’t want the opposition to see what they were up against, he didn’t want them to see a wild-eyed street warrior dressed to the nines with eyes that told of mental and spiritual scars from years on the front lines.

Nope, he wanted to give off the vibe of “we’re jes’ folks like you”. He was willing to sweep the weirdness, the defiance under the rug to look respectable to the opposition. In a few short moments, our opposition would be testifying before the committee, telling them that people like us were sick, perverted, damaged goods in need of fixing. And instead of meeting them head-on, this cowardly punk was willing to tone it down out of fear of “offending” them.

The opposition didn’t disappoint in their testimony. There was a “converted” lesbian who supported HJR-3 because “I changed and you can too!” The most offensive was the black preacher who said it was an insult to claim that our movement was a Civil Rights Movement because according to him, gay folks have never been lynched in America like black people were. Excuse me? Do the names Matthew Shepherd or Brandon Teena ring a bell? Even today, with all the “progress” we’ve made, we still face the constant threat of physical violence because of who we are.

When it was all said and done, we lost 9-3 with one abstention. HJR-3 advanced to the House, where we still await a final vote before it moves to the Senate.

What happened to me over the flag in the Statehouse is a microcosm of what’s happening in the movement. Other incidents have occurred, from the Human Rights Campaign trying to remove a Trans* Flag at a marriage rally last year to radical groups such as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence being spurned at equality events.

We were needed when it was time to march in the streets, when it was time to stake our claim, when it was time for the public to take notice, but those days are over. Now that we’ve got a fair amount of respectability, we’re shuffled off to the side and told “OK kids, thanks for clearing the path for us, now run along and let the grown-ups take over.”

Yep, the big-money organizations run by the polite and clean A-listers have taken over the Movement. They’re the ones who grab the headlines and toast the victories. They sip champagne with their $100,000 donors and shut the door in the rest of our faces. It’s become a Big Gay Country Club and folks like me, the freaks, the weirdos, the social outlaws, the truly queer, ain’t on the guest list.

That’s bottom line when it comes to Gay, Inc. Folks like me are bad for advertisers. A tall hairy gonzo weirdo decked out full guns blazing would freak out a member of the opposition; they would either puke in disgust or piss their church trousers out of pure fear.

You know what? Good, I’m glad it triggers such a reaction from them. I’ve spent my whole life here in the Bible Belt being told I’m sick, I’m demented, I’m damaged goods. I’ve heard that for almost twenty-seven years. I’m not here to back down, I’m not here to compromise, I’m not here to shake hands for political favors, and I’m not here for half a loaf. I’m here to rally the Colors and help my brothers and sisters reach that final mountain peak of equality. If the opposition thinks I’m an abomination like their holy books say, let’s see if they have the balls to throw the first stone. I want them to look me in the eyes and see me for who I really am when they do it.

Fortunately, it seems I’m not the only one who’s tired of being sold out by Gay, Inc. There seems to be a growing number of activists who are going back to the roots of the movement and realizing that we don’t need corporate sponsors or slicked up advertisers to finish our Revolution. All we need is each other, some good marching songs, the determination that we are human beings worthy of respect and rights, and of course, our Colors, which are not gray and lifeless, but a bright shining Rainbow, representing all of us, no matter how weird we are or how much money we have in our pockets.

Brother Jack from Tempe, Arizona sums it all up best, “When we diss our brothers and sisters for not fitting into the mainstream mold, ask then to fold up their flags, remove their rainbow jewelry or wash off their faces and put on ‘respectable’ garb, we demean ourselves. We all stand together, in face or not, furled in Pride flags or not, wearing office casual or full-on outrageous. We cannot tell some of our community to please go in through the back door, or stand out of the limelight. The people who hate us don’t care how we are dressed. Every one of our butches could let their hair grow and put on a little lipstick; all our queens could sport torn jeans and flannel shirts, with a chain wallet hanging from their back pockets, and still they would hate us. Take off every bumper sticker with a rainbow or an equals sign and they would still hate us. Only when we tell them that we will not allow them to divide and conquer can we hope to win the right to live as who we are.”

Money doesn’t win a Revolution, brothers and sisters. Love does.

Postscript: On January 27th, the Indiana House of Representatives voted an amendment to strike the second sentence from HJR-3, effectively killing the bill for the year.

No Comment

It seems that nobody likes reading the comments section under online articles, writes Polari’s editor. So, to celebrate Polari’s 5th birthday he has decided, for the best of reasons, to dispense with this feature altogether.

No Comment, Editorial

 

Whenever I start to read the comment section, whether under an article in the Guardian or a video on YouTube, I invariably regret it. There may be one or two insightful comments but for the most part it’s the equivalent of the madding crowd throwing rotten vegetables at the felon in the stocks. And I know I am not alone in this view. I do not know anyone who has said, in all seriousness, “I like reading the comments section”. It is nevertheless an unquestioned feature of the online experience, so much so that it is deployed as if it is obligatory. From new blog installations to the renovated BBC website, there it is, asking what you think, what your views are. I think that it is time to question the reasons for maintaining this contentious feature.

Ever since tech pundits defined the concept of Web 2.0, the orthodoxy has been that the successful website is an interactive one. The philosophy of Web 2.0 championed connections and networks, considering user input and interaction more important than static content. For the magazines and newspapers, whose stock in trade is by definition static content, the comments feature offered the quick and dirty path to inclusivity. The Web 2.0 revolution, with its ambition to give people a voice, meant that it was the key to online commercial success. The comments section was, thereon, inevitable and inescapable.

Back in the days of Web 1.0 in the 1990s, the mantra of the dotcom revolution was “content is king”. Interactive content was limited to rudimentary forums, which were uninviting places that were of the geeks, for the geeks and by the geeks. Then the dotcom bubble burst at the end of the century, technologies advanced, and a new internet arose from the ashes on the principles of Web 2.0 claiming to democratise the internet.

That said, the phenomenon of the comment section is as much about 21st century individualism as it is about principles of democracy and free speech. This individualism hinges on inclusivity, an illusion that the comments section maintains, and the consumer of electronic content appears to be at the centre of the action rather than an observer.

Yet left to its own devices, this ‘feature’ is not so much about giving people a voice but who can shout the loudest. The fact that it is so easy to leave a comment is the key to the problem. You do not need time to think about what you’ve read. You can just react. Opinions are instant. Just add hot air.

There will always be interesting points made in the comments section, just as there will always be interesting conversations in social media forums. But those comments are invariably buried under a torrent of dreck. The very immediacy of the comments section nurtures the instant, single-minded opinion. It’s the natural playground of the hothead, the bully, and the pedant.

Then, perhaps I am just being an idealist. Journalism can, after all, be a grubby affair, and popular opinion columnists are paid to do little more than sound off. How else could reactionary bullies like Melanie Phillips, Toby Young and the dread Julie Burchill maintain lucrative careers in this field? This style of journalism is prejudice with a voice and rarely a mind, if only because it is reactionary in the truest sense of the word. It’s a process, not an analysis, and bows to the commercial demands of a publication in search of page hits by appealing to the worst instincts of the readers. Of course, to whip readers into a frenzy guarantees a slew of comments, which is then considered the measure of success.

Rather than continue this questionable practice, we have decided to let the content speak for itself, to separate the content from the discussion, and promote the use of social media as the place to wrestle with articles and ideas. Removing the option to quickly post a comment will not stop the hotheads, bullies and pedants altogether. You only have to take a quick look at the daily Twitterstorms to see that. The networks and connections that people foster in the social media sphere at least stand a chance of giving individuals a voice. In the open-to-all, cutthroat world of the comment section, that is definitely not what is happening.