Thursday, May 31, 2012

Science fiction writers and misogyny past and present

The current issue of the New Yorker contains essays by science fiction writers.

Here is old man Ray Bradbury waxing nostalgic:
At the end of the Fourth of July, after the uncles had their cigars and philosophical discussions, and the aunts, nephews, and cousins had their ice-cream cones or lemonade...
Philosophical discussions were not something that children or women engaged in.

I'm sure that this passage didn't trouble the New Yorker editors for a moment. Certainly not in the way that something like this hypothetical passage might:
Ah yes, those good times in the South in the 1920s. I remember the end of the Fourth of July, when the adults finished their cocktails and the coloreds and children ate watermelon...
Contrast this with Ursula K. Le Guinn's memories of the olden days, the kind of olden days that evolve from the world of Ray Bradbury's childhood:
In the late sixties, Robie Macauley, the fiction editor of Playboy - "Entertainment for Men" - was publishing stories of literary interest. My agent, Virginia Kidd, who couldn't be kept in a ghetto of any kind, sent him one of mine. It was pure science fiction, and all the important characters in it were men. Virginia submitted it under the discreet byline of U. K. Le Guin. When it was accepted, she revealed the horrid truth. Playboy staggered back, then rallied gamely. The editors said that they'd still like to publish "Nine Lives," Virginia told me, but that their readers would be frightened if they saw a female byline on a story, so they asked if they could use the initials, instead of my first name.

Unwilling to terrify these vulnerable people, I told Virginia to tell them sure, that's fine.
Playboy thanked us with touching gratitude. Then, after a couple of weeks, they asked for an author biography.

At once, I saw the whole panorama of U.K.'s life as a gaucho in Patagonia, a stevedore in Marseilles, a safari leader in Kenya, a light-heavyweight prizefighter in Chicago, and the abbot of a Coptic monastery in Algeria.

We'd tricked them slightly, though, and I didn't want to continue the trickery. But what could I say? "He is a housewife and the mother of three children"?

I wrote, "It is commonly suspected that the writings of U. K. Le Guin are not actually written by U. K. Le Guin, but by another person of the same name."

Game to the last,
Playboy printed that. And my husband and I bought a red VW bus, cash down, with the check.
But hey, it's all ancient history and who cares? We live in a perfect, misogyny-free world now.

Except meanwhile, in the very same issue of the New Yorker, Anthony Burgess writes:
"Man," said G. K. Chesterton, "is a woman"
Burgess continues, explaining -
-he does not know what he wants. There are few of us who do not reject outright both the Orwellian and the Huxleian nightmares.
He is quoting from Chesterton's omniscient narrator from The Napoleon of Notting Hill:
For human beings, being children, have the childish wilfulness and the childish secrecy. And they never have from the beginning of the world done what the wise men have seen to be inevitable. They stoned the false prophets, it is said; but they could have stoned true prophets with a greater and juster enjoyment. Individually, men may present a more or less rational appearance, eating, sleeping, and scheming. But humanity as a whole is changeful, mystical, fickle, delightful. Men are men, but Man is a woman.
Man is a woman. And women are children. I guess that's why only men get to discuss philosophy.

The only valid reasons to reference the Chesterton passage is to demonstrate either "some people had douchebag attitudes in Ye Olden Tymes" or "G. K. Chesterton was an asshole."

But Burgess, who is actually three years older than even Bradbury, is writing this in 2012 my error - Burgess died in 1993 - which makes it even more mystifying why the New Yorker would publish this piece with its outdated attitude towards gender. Were they really that hard-up for science fiction writers to contribute to their Sci-Fi issue? 

And as I said originally - is it really so important to share with us G. K. Chesterton's opinions on the subject? Who gives a flying faeces what G. K. Chesterton thought about anything?

Well, if Anthony Burgess and the New Yorker wanted me to stop reading Burgess's essay at that point, out of sheer contempt, they succeeded.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

friends of Willie the Whaler


I was recently contacted by Vince M. who writes:
Somehow, I stumbled upon your column and found the Willie the Whaler cartoons.  I love them!  I despise anyone that hurts or kills whales, but I do love all things nautical...
After establishing his excellent tastes and anti-animal cruelty coolness, he then proceeded to clarify many of the issues that I had been wondering about during the period from November 2010 - June 2011 when I was blogging about the Willie ads:
Since you already correctly described the bowsprit and martingale, I’ll describe the others.

What is now called a bowsprit (the spar extending forward from the bow) was once called a gyb by the Dutch.  The English spelling of which is, jib.  The English eventually started calling that spar a bow sprit, but they continued to call the sails attached to it, jib sails. (jibsail, inner jib, outer jib, flying jib, jib topsail...) As you know, with few exceptions, sails are named after what they are attached to. (not the other way around)

A jib boom is yet another spar that is attached to the jib (bow sprit).  It extends the bow sprit by roughly 50% to 90% in length.  Another spar may be attached to the jib boom, to extend it even further, and that is called a flying jib boom.

Headstays are lines that are attached to the forward most mast of a sailing vessel, and they are either terminated at the bow or on various points along the bow sprit, jib boom, or flying jib boom, however the vessel is equipped.  Headstays 'stay' the mast from falling over backwards, whereas back stays prevent the masts from falling forward.

The very upper part of the bow of a sailing vessel is where the head timbers are located, which help support the bowsprit.  That's also where the 'bathroom' (head grating) was located, hence the term 'going to the head'.  So, the ‘head’ of the vessel, is the front of the boat.  The sails that are located forward of the most forward mast, are called headsails, even though they have individual names. (all sails do)  The lines that stay the mast to the bowsprit group are therefore called headstays.

Larger boats have masts that are made in sections.  For instance, a typical square rigger's foremast, (the one furthest forward) has a lower section called the foremast.  Above that would be the fore topmast.  Above that would be the fore topgallant mast.  Then the fore royal mast.  Each one of those masts has a stay that goes forward and down, to the bow, the bowsprit, the jib boom, or the flying jib boom.  The taller the mast is, the longer the bowsprit and its extensions will be...
...When Willie said, “…I don’t see fitten for to lower.”  I see that as it was windy enough that he SHOULD have lowered his sails, or at least reefed them, but he’d rather go faster (at the risk of putting the ship in peril) and drink to have the courage to replace his lack of prudence.  Many Captains did just that...

Swinging the lead, or sounding, was a fairly easy job, and the lucky ones to get assigned to do it, were happy to have a ‘lazy job’ to do for a change.  It did eventually come to mean that you were a “Lazy Jack” if you were ‘swinging the lead’.  (Lazy Jacks today, are a system of lines to control a sail while lowering it……a labor saving device)

You nailed it about the ‘sun is over the foreyard’.  Once the sun was above the lowest yard on the foremast, the Captain allowed rum rations to be distributed.

Camber is the curve that the surface of the sails have when powered by wind.  Just like an airplane wing.  It is built into the sail during the construction of them by carefully cutting the separate panels that make up the sail.

If one goes for a camber, it means to go for a sail.  However, in keeping with the traditions of Willie, I can only assume that his walking path would be a curve (camber) after having slugged a bit of plush.
Wow - so many mysteries solved - but maybe the biggest mystery solved was this commentary on my bafflement over this Willie ad - Willie says: "Let's straighten the Monongehela with our addlings." Vince writes:
I just looked up addling, which one definition of it is the verb form of addle.  Whiskey, (or any alcohol) can addle your brain, but I think it means something completely different in this case.  The Monongahela reference is, in my opinion, the river in southern Pennsylvania and northwestern West Virginia.  It is a very crooked river, and parts of it were straightened to allow for easier traffic for the commerce that uses it for transportation.  It was probably big news for a few weeks or months at some point in time.  I found references about straightening it, but couldn't nail down exactly how much of it was straightened, but it wasn't that much of it according to current maps.

I found a site that shows addle to be a synonym of puddle.  Here is the 4th definition of it:

4. (verb) puddle
wade or dabble in a puddle
Synonyms: pee-pee, make water, micturate, wee, addle, piddle, muddle, relieve oneself, make, urinate, pass water, spend a penny, wee-wee, piss, take a leak, pee

The next several definitions of puddle, also include addle as synonyms.  Here is the link to that site.  So, I think that Willie and company drank so much that their addlings straightened the Monongahela River with the extra flow of liquids.
Yes, that would totally be like Willie to say something like that! I think Vince has solved this most mysterious of all Willie mysteries, by Jove! Way to go Vince!

He also suggests that I might want to write an article on Willie for a sailing magazine:
It's called Good Old Boat and here's the link for the online portion of their magazine.  They cater to the 'poor' sailing people, unlike Sailing and other magazines, which is for the rich, snooty bastards with their multi-million dollar yachts.
Fascinating - it never occurred to me that there was a class hierarchy in the world of boating. Of course I know almost nothing about boats, as is obvious in my posts about Willie. I almost got to ride in a sailboat, a few years ago - the actor in one of my theater productions offered to take the cast and I out on his father's sailboat, but then I had a falling out with the actor so that never happened. So I wrote a scene on a boat in my play JULIA & BUDDY to make up for it. That's what art is all about - sublimation.

I just might write the article on Willie, after some research and permission - I'm not sure what copyright issues, if any, pertain to these Willie ads and the New Yorker, so I'd better contact the New Yorker and ask. They also might have more information about the origin of the character, the artist, etc.

I popped in at the Whaler Bar at 38th and Madison just last week, while waiting for an appointment. Unfortunately drinks were not being served - I walked in on what looked like a private event in the bar, a meeting of a bunch of suits who looked like extras from Mad Men. But the mural was still there so I was happy.

The image at the top of this post is this Willie the Whaler ad that I colorized with Photoshop.

Thanks again, Vince!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The New Yorker Parity Report - June 4 & 11, 2012

I thought for a moment we might reach a 39% parity rate this week (or two weeks, it's a double issue) but China Miéville turned out to be a male. I will say there was a surprisingly high number of women represented in their science fiction section. But the parity score is exactly the same as last week's.

Henceforth I will ignore the reviews of Anthony Lane, who seems to have a problem with the film "Hysteria" being a romantic comedy instead of a treatise on the development of the vibrator. He also claims it has few laughs, which I can attest is wrong. But then Anthony Lane thinks hideous bromance swill like Knocked Up is swell. Or as he says "even if you tire of Apatow’s vomit jokes..." - I mean how could anybody ever tire of vomit jokes? What a concept! But even if you, inconceivably, tire of vomit jokes, well there is still so much comedy gold. After all, there are fart jokes too! This is what Lane considers a good romantic comedy. Idiot.



The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.


A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.


Parity change from previous week: 0

June 4 & 11, 2012

Total writers: 23
male: 12
female: 8
gender parity score: 35%

Total writers: 20
male: 13
female: 7
gender parity score: 35%

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Hysteria Report

Just as I predicted, the movie Hysteria has turned out to be a full-on non-misogynist romance movie. In fact, this might just be the quintessence of the non-misogynist romance movie - Hugh Dancy is adorable as the doctor (Maggie Gyllenhall is adorable too, but not in quite the same way), the script is extremely well-plotted, lots of good roles for women, a great feminist message without being tiresome and doctrinaire, fascinating historical facts and details and really funny. I laughed aloud several times. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that for me the funniest part involved goggles. Go see the movie, you'll understand.

I confess I was a little worried. When I blogged about this last week I said that I thought it would be silly, and almost considered waiting for it to come out on iTunes, but I read this positive review by Roger Ebert and decided I had to see it sooner rather than later. And it wasn't silly at all, but clever and charming and thoughtful. And Hugh Dancy plays Victorian diffidence extremely well - you want to just jump on him, in his adorable vests and cravats and sideburns.

Yes, as you might expect about an experience that involves adorable men and "paroxysms" I came away extremely satisfied.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

death by Golden Gate Bridge

This year is the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and while reading up about it, found this ghastly section in Wikipedia:
Suicide
More people die by suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge than at any other site in the world. The deck is approximately 245 feet (75 m) above the water. After a fall of approximately four seconds, jumpers hit the water at around 75 mph or approximately 120 km/h. Most jumpers die from impact trauma on contact with the water. The few who survive the initial impact generally drown or die of hypothermia in the cold water...
An official suicide count is kept, sorted according to which of the bridge's 128 lamp posts the jumper was nearest when he or she jumped. By 2005, this count exceeded 1,200 and new suicides were occurring about once every two weeks...

People have been known to travel to San Francisco specifically to jump off the bridge, and may take a bus or cab to the site; police sometimes find abandoned rental cars in the parking lot. 
And I'd never heard of this movie.
The Bridge is a 2006 documentary film by Eric Steel that consists of the results of one year's filming of the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004, which captured a number of suicides, and additional filming of family and friends of some of the identified people who had thrown themselves from the bridge. The film was inspired by an article titled "Jumpers", written by Tad Friend, that appeared in The New Yorker magazine in 2003.
 The trailer






Friday, May 25, 2012

Occupy Union Square



We recorded the video of OCCUPY DISNEY the NYCPlaywrights May Play of the Month today, in Union Square Park.

Hopefully it won't take me a month to edit this, like it did to edit the February Play of the Month which took place on the subway.

The clip here is a bit of business that the actors came up with, but I'm sure the author won't mind if I put it in the video. The actors for this video are Tony White, Larissa Adamczyk and Tim Lueke. That's Larissa and Tim dancing - only Larissa has dance training but you can't tell by watching Tim, who was clearly enjoying himself. They all did amazing work.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

naked Greek god at 4 o'clock

Well, 4:36 if you want to get technical.


I took the photo above, but the NYTimes has a much closer, clearer version - click on it to really zoom in.



But what's with the eagle and the other naked guy and the lady with the party hats? This web site has the details. Jules-Felix Coutan is the sculptor and that's Hercules and Minerva hanging out with Mercury.



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

cat meditation

This is a sad sight from Roosevelt Island...


And to make sure there was no unauthorized meditation, they fenced off the meditation steps.


Mr. Fuzz, however, doesn't need no stinking meditation stairs to relax. He likes to hang his head off the table and rest a foot on my laptop screen for optimum results.

 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

John Simon - still hanging in there

Here is John Simon's web site - JOHN SIMON - UNCENSORED. What I found really fascinating was that one of his sponsors appears to be Yoko Ono.


As a crusty curmudgeon, I imagine that John Simon was in the same camp as Al Capp in regards to Lennon/Ono during their bed-in. Al Capp was notoriously nasty - this clip demonstrates:


One of the ways that Al Capp reminds me of Simon is the way he disparages Yoko's appearance here in an amazingly nasty and blunt way. Simon is infamous for making snide remarks about actors' appearances. Roger Ebert had one of the best come-backs:
"I feel repugnance for the critic John Simon, who made it a specialty to attack the way actors look. They can't help how they look, any more than John Simon can help looking like a rat."
Simon is officially working for the Yonkers Tribune although he doesn't seem to have written anything since last year.

I still haven't found it in their online archives, so I have no proof, but I distinctly remember about ten years ago on Theater Talk, John Simon suggested that Suzan-Lori Parks was a "social climber" because she married a white guy. I still can't believe he said that.

Fun fact: John Simon once dated Katha Pollitt.

Monday, May 21, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report: May 28, 2012

This week the parity rate nudges up one point to 35%. However one female author, Lizzie Widdecombe, is counted twice with an article and a restaurant review.

And Woodie Allen (ugh) does Shouts and Murmurs this issue. As with Mac Wellman's intro to "The Bad Infinity" which I blogged about last week, Allen also name-drops Kierkegaard, although in his case it's a feeble attempt at humor. I guess Kierkegaard is the prestige name to drop for 70-something men. The New Yorker just can't stop worshipping Woody Allen, no matter how old and tiresome his schtick grows. I would look forward to his finally dropping dead, but no doubt an entire issue of The New Yorker will be devoted to his wonderousness. It's always a trade-off, isn't it?

I will say that Allen's son Ronan Farrow has turned out to be quite the hotty - mainly because he looks much more like his mother.

The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.


A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.


Parity change from previous week: +1%

May 28, 2012

Total writers: 20
male: 13
female: 7
gender parity score: 35%

Last week's score
Total writers: 23
male: 15
female: 8
gender parity score: 34%

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Responses for Thickpenny

My pal Amanda Thickpenny is conducting a study and asked me to participate. Below are her questions and my responses:


Q. Do you identify as a Feminist, why or why not?

I do identify as a feminist - because a feminist is in favor of equal rights for women. What kind of person is against equal rights?




Q. Do you think that women are guilty of being sexist towards other women?  Please give an example.

Yes, because many women have internalized culture-based misogyny. There are so many examples of sexism by regular women, especially Republican women, and there are some women who have made a career out of bashing feminism and women in general, for example:

Katie Roiphe
 http://www.shakesville.com/2012/04/today-in-your-feminist-backlash_16.html

and

Caitlin Flanagan
http://www.salon.com/2012/01/19/the_creepy_condescension_of_caitlin_flanagan/




Q. Do you think that women are guilty of being sexist towards men?  Please give an example.

Yes - anybody who buys into the whole Mars/Venus gender essentialism is not only sexist towards women but also men.

However, a most egregious example of cross-gender bigotry against men is the widespread cultural belief that prison rape is funny - if it's men being raped by other men.

http://www.alternet.org/reproductivejustice/141594/why_does_popular_culture_treat_prison_rape_as_a_joke/?page=entire




Q. Why do you think current state governments are clamping down on reproductive rights?

It's part of the current Republican far right-ward tilt.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2012/04/10/150349438/gops-rightward-shift-higher-polarization-fills-political-scientist-with-dread




 Q. Why now in 2012?

The ascendancy of the Tea Party, a mostly astro-turf organization created by David Koch and friends which exploits social-conservative sentiments to help push fiscal-conservative goals - and of course the personal enrichment of Koch & company.

http://fdlaction.firedoglake.com/2011/07/13/little-shop-of-horrors-corporate-astroturf-campaign-turns-into-giant-venus-flytrap-eats-master/




Q. Do you think that Feminism has changed since the 1970's - for better or worse?

I'm not sure how "feminism" is defined here - if the definition is the quest for equal rights for women then I don't think there's been a change in feminism.

Although I do think there is still much work to be done, I wonder sometimes if some of the despair over women not having achieved equality yet is the result of lack of historical perspective. After all, extreme patriarchy has been the rule for thousands of years. Women in the US have had the right to vote for less than 100 years. (In Switzerland women got the vote in 1971.)

And only in the last 50 years have women been able to be self-supporting (at least in developed countries), thanks to previously "men-only" jobs opening up for women, as well as equal-pay laws. The fact that perfect equality has not been achieved in a mere half-century, after millenia of female dependence should not be taken as a sign that feminism has "failed" but rather as a sign that feminism's time has arrived.

Bonus response - one of my favorite musical numbers:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kvk1NZDFvZU&feature=related

Friday, May 18, 2012

Words words words

Lots of web sites about words - but then written words is the primary means of communication on the Internet...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report - May 21, 2012

This week the parity rate nudges up to 34%, thanks to one more female and one less male than last week - the overall number of bylines is again 23. If this keeps up we may reach parity in a month. But it won't.

And speaking of the New Yorker, I couldn't help responding to this trashing of DEATH OF A SALESMAN with this:
DEATH OF A SALESMAN may have flaws, but as even Giles Harvey admits, that hasn't kept it from being deeply moving to many people. Although Harvey quotes Thoreau in a rare positive comment on SALESMAN, Thoreau has more in common with Harvey than with Miller:
"Thoreau was tilting at a century earlier, when he wrote, in “Walden,” “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”
The people who have friends and family living in Maine and Texas, who believe that a magnetic telegraph might contain communications that could be deeply meaningful to them personally are fools to the anti-social Thoreau, who, like Giles Harvey, is certain that the only way to respectably experience worthwhile meaning is through pristine austere self-contained perfection.

The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.


A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.


Parity change from previous week: +4%

May 21, 2012

Total writers: 23
male: 15
female: 8
gender parity score: 34%

Last week's score
Total writers: 23
male: 16
female: 7
gender parity score: 30%

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

3 movies to see

This is certainly unusual - there are now three movies recently released or about to be that I want to see - and I want to see so few mainstream movies in any given year:

Marley - Bob Marley was a supreme musical genius and this movie promises all kinds of previously unseen footage



The Dictator - I've been a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen since Da Ali G Show. I haven't seen his Borat or Bruno movies - I feel like I saw that schtick on Ali G - but I really want to see The Dictator. He gets to have an actual plotted story this time, and he gets some good satire into this one. Word from critics is that he gives a speech at the end that is a critique of the US financial system. A perfect target.



And finally Hysteria, which is on the exact same theme as Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room.

It does look rather silly, but who could object to the cause of female orgasms? The movie is classified as a romantic comedy and I strongly suspect it will end up on my non-misogynist romance movies list.

Also Hugh Dancy looks much cuter in Victorian get-up and hairstyle than he does in his current incarnation in VENUS IN FUR.



Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mothers Day Frittata

Look at the wonderful brunch my daughter made for me for Mothers Day - that's a frittata with goat cheese, asparagus and tomatoes, baby potatoes and greens with balsamic vinaigrette - and of course mimosas. The best Mothers Day brunch ever!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Prince of Princes

I exchanged my copy of The Bad Infinity for a biography of Prince Grigory Potemkin - "Prince of Princes: the Life of Potemkin." The biographer, Sebag Montefiore is a much more entertaining writer than any of the Catherine the Great biographers I've read so far, and he writes almost as much about Catherine as Potemkin, which makes sense since their lives were so intertwined for over twenty years. He's made one of the most sensible statements yet on Catherine's favoritism:
The nature of "favouritism" derived from the Empress's peculiar position and her unique relationship with Potemkin. It was undeniably true that anyone becoming a favourite of Catherine's was entering a relationship in which there were three, not two, participants. Favouritism was necessary because Catherine lived in a man's world. She could not publicly marry again and, whether in law or spirit, she already had a husband in Potemkin. Their egos, talents and emotions were too equal and too similar for them to live together, but Catherine needed constant loving and companionship. She yearned to have an effective family around her and she had strong maternal instincts to teach and nurture. These emotional longings were easily as strong as her famed sexual appetites. She was one of those who must have a companion, and often did not change partners without finding a new one first. Usually such habits are more based on insecurity than wantonness, but perhaps the two are linked. There was another reason why Catherine, as she got older, sought younger lovers, even at the cost of her dignity and reputation. She touched on it herself when she described the temptations of Elizabeth's (the Empress who reigned prior to Catherine's husband) Court. The Court was filled with handsome men; she was the Sovereign. Catherine did it because she could - like the proverbial child in the candy shop. Who would not?
My emphasis at the end of the passage.

Harumph! A man's world indeed. Powerful older men who get young women are not consider to be risking their "dignity", and if anything it enhances their reputations.

I sure do hate the persistent double standards of the Patriarchy.

And I hate with equal vehemence the servant of the Patriarchy, Evolutionary Psychology, which tries to enshrine an indisputably cultural convention as "nature."

Friday, May 11, 2012

hopefully the last post about Mac Wellman

I mean really, if some people enjoy the plays of Mac Wellman, who am I to tell them they are wrong? Maybe they like those precious names or the endless monologues. Maybe they hate coherence and plot. Whatever, just because endless monologues irritate me, and just because I prefer coherence and a well-wrought plot, who am I to dictate my tastes?

But what really annoys me is when Wellman starts expounding on The Problem with Naturalism in Theater as he does in his introduction to a collection of his plays "The Bad Infinity" which I recently took out of the library.

Wellman loves to reach out to the Great Men of History for affirmation. He starts with Kierkegaard:
 ...Kierkegaard said that a direct relation to the deity was the definition of paganism, and he meant by this that the attempt to grasp and seize divinity by the appropriation of a human definition was to create an idol, an unreal apparition that possessed no truth. If we take the world we know as an act of collective imagining, an idol of the modern mind, it becomes apparent that reality as such becomes subject to the same - or a similar - danger: decay of the perceptual process, enactment of an unreal idol reality. The banishment of the real world. In other terms, the thing itself is replaced by successive (repetitive) images of the thing...
If you can find any actual substance in the above excerpt you are a better semiotician than I Gunga Din.

First off, Kierkegaard was a theist who thought Christianity needed reforming. Presumably along the lines of Martin Luther - Kierkegaard was raised Lutheran and is commemorated in the Lutheran Church's "Calendar of Saints."

Kierkegaard's attitude towards Christianity is similar to Luther's - that salvation, or a connection to God is on an individual basis, not to be mediated through the Catholic Church (in Luther's day) or the Protestant establishment (in Kierkegaard's day.) So what does a non-Christian - an atheist even - care about these ecumenical squabbles on the supposed evils of paganism? I mean, really, why would I care if the relationship to "the deity" is direct or indirect? It's a relationship to a fiction either way.

But even if I did care,  what do I make of Wellman's interpretation?
...the attempt to grasp and seize divinity by the appropriation of a human definition was to create an idol, an unreal apparition that possessed no truth
What exists outside of "human definition?" Unless you are a mystic, you must agree that nothing does. Whether your relation to deity is direct or indirect, it is defined by you - or by a group of individuals as in the Catholic Church - as a human. And surely even a mystic, one who believes humans are created by the deity in question, can hardly fault humans for defining the world around them based on human understanding.

Or could you? If you don't worry about logic or coherence, then I guess you could.

So with that in mind, onto the next statement:
If we take the world we know as an act of collective imagining, an idol of the modern mind...

That's a big if, and it depends on how you define "the world" and "collective" and "imagining" - but you fans of Wellman don't need to be told, you're already among the knowing. Clearly from the context, the world we know, "an idol of the modern mind" is bad... we know it's bad because Wellman continues:
...it becomes apparent that reality as such becomes subject to the same - or a similar - danger: decay of the perceptual process, enactment of an unreal idol reality.

Danger. That's bad. So is decay. And the danger is enactment of an "unreal idol reality." From this we can infer that real reality - or "reality" - is good.

So there we go. Idols are bad, because they are not reality, which is good.

I would argue that idols in themselves are neither good nor bad, but just a symbol of something. You know, just like these words you are reading inspire thoughts in your head, but the words themselves are just black marks on a white database field. And Wellman doesn't think words are bad since he generally uses an excess of them whenever he wants a character to speak.

So how does all this evil idolatry connect to theater? Wellman continues:
In American theater this idolatry bears the name of naturalism. Its origin is the same as that of the paganism Kierkegaard wrote of: the desire to subsume all human experience under labels, definitions, and explanations and therefore to substitute rationalizations for experience.
It should be noted that Wellman's distaste for unreal paganism doesn't stop him from providing his own labels, definitions and explanations.  Although perhaps all can be understood with what comes next:
The logic of The Bad Infinity is an attempt to suggest the logic of this decayed act of collective imagining. It is not interesting at this point in human time to portray the real world as it seems to be in its own terms; but it is interesting to unfold, in human terms, the logic of its illogic and so get at the nut of our contemporary human experience.
At least, it's Wellman's opinion that his plays are interesting and that they unfold in human terms the logic of illogic (or I guess the blackness of white, or the fullness of emptiness, etc.); and that this in turn somehow gets at "the nut of our contemporary human experience."

I'd say his plays are as interesting and as penetrating as his anti-naturalism philosophizing.

You do have to at least be grateful that he will allow the unfolding to take place, you know "in human terms" rather than presumably in his more native direct-from-deity terms.

He then goes on to ask us to worship more of his personal idols, the aforementioned Great Men of History in addition to Kierkegaard - he name drops Beckett, Handke, Witkiewicz, Twain, Bierce and Mencken:
We need a dozen Mark Twains, a score of Bierces, a hundred Menckens to do justice to the times. Those of us involved in this critique of apparent reality cannot expect to convince many, much less can we expect our views to prevail (the time may be past for all that); all we can expect is to have some fun, share some laughter, and go out with a modicum of self-respect. We must love the truth not because it favors us but because it is the truth.
What "the truth" is, Wellman doesn't actually say, but maybe if you have to ask it's a sign you're not a member of the mystical anti-pagan truth brotherhood and shouldn't even bother asking for a definition - you know "in human terms."Although maybe he really is saying nothing more nuanced than "naturalism in theater is bad and untruthful" and "postmodern theater like mine is good and truthful."

I have to laugh at his inclusion of Twain, who I seriously doubt would be a fan of Wellman's plays or  theories. Twain's own play, IS HE DEAD? is about as naturalistic as they come (and also a big mess), and so are his novels. Then of course, as lovable as he often is, Twain was a raging bigot against native Americans, and Mencken was an anti-Semite.

In any case, I'm taking "The Bad Infinity" back to the library, and with any luck won't have to think about Mac Wellman much more in the future, apart from bumping into the occasional Internet hagiography.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

In defense of Julia

Stand tall Julia! Haters gonna hate!
Well I've criticized President Obama on occasion here on this blog, but I'm feeling the love for the POTUS right now thanks to his stepping up for social justice.

And I don't think this will hurt him in the election - as Frank Rich observed:
I, for one, never understood the point of saying you were “evolving” when many of the voters you were pandering to don’t even believe in evolution.
But I'm nevertheless annoyed with Frank Rich for his criticism of the Obama campaign's The Life of Julia which seems to focus entirely on aesthetics and on whether the Right will be able to parody it:
But the Obama camp’s didactic comic strip suggested what Cathy might have looked like had it been conceived by a humorless committee of social planners in a Scandinavian government bureaucracy; it played into every right-wing caricature of Obama as the “socialist” avatar of a nanny state. That this thing saw the light of day suggests that the Obama campaign has management and quality-control issues that had better be addressed.
Over at the New Yorker, Jill Lepore has the same concerns:
“The Life of Julia” borrows its aesthetic from USA Today and its narrative logic from Chutes and Ladders. It is a very bad place to begin a campaign. As a story, “The Life of Julia” is a mess; it’s got the verisimilitude of a string of paper dolls. As an argument, it’s worse. Better public education and affordable health care are worth fighting for, urgently, and they matter to everyone, but the heart of the fight is not over whether Julia, a fictitious college-educated Web entrepreneur, can one day plant Brussels sprouts.
First off, I disagree. I like its aesthetic, and I think it gets the message across succinctly and clearly. And the "Brussels sprouts" line is Lepore's own invention. What it actually says:


Under President Obama: Julia retires. After years of contributing to Social Security, she receives monthly benefits that help her retire comfortably, without worrying that she'll run out of savings. This allows her to volunteer at a community garden.

Under Mitt Romney: Julia's benefits could be cut by 40%.


There's not a damn thing wrong with that.

But maybe it doesn't work for most voters - I think it will - and I seriously doubt it's the disaster Rich or Lepore both claim it is - but I have no evidence.

But neither do Frank Rich or Jill Lepore.

All they have are their aesthetic complaints and concern that it's able to be parodied. Whether or not it accomplishes the goal of its existence - reaching the voters - does not seem to matter at all to either of them.

I mean, of course it can be parodied by the Right. The Right will find a reason to parody anything. The Right found it hysterically funny when Rush Limbaugh imitated Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's symptoms. Does Frank Rich really thinks there's a way to make anything parody-proof?

And as far as aesthetics - I guess Rich and Lepore wanted it to be illustrated by R. Crumb, but I think it looks just fine, and many voters don't share Lepore's tastes.

The New Yorker and New York Magazine are good publications, but let's face it, their writers are a tad, shall we say, self-impressed.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

inmates of Blackwell's Island

Prior to 1921, Roosevelt Island was called Blackwell's Island (it was called Welfare Island from 1921 - 1973) and it is notable for the number of famous women who visited, and for one of two reasons - prison or insane asylum: Emma Goldman (imprisoned several times for being pro-anarchy, pro-birth control and anti-draft); Mae West, on public obscenity charges for her play SEX; Billie Holiday on prostitution charges; and Nellie Bly, who had herself committed to the Women's Lunatic Asylum so she could report on the atrocious conditions there.

There were a few other women there who are not so famous now, but were in their time: Becky Edelson, an associate of Emma Goldman; Madame Restall, infamous for performing abortions, and accused of causing the death of Mary Rogers due to failed abortion, although it's generally thought Rogers was outright murdered (her death was the inspiration for Poe's The Mystery of Marie Rogêt"); and Ida Craddock, described by Wikipedia as "advocate of free speech and women's rights."

Craddock is a fascinating figure, in that she had bizarre religious beliefs - although really, all religious beliefs are bizarre by ordinary workaday rules of logic and rationality. Hers were just more idiosyncratic than most. The infamous censor Anthony Comstock seems to have made persecuting her his personal past-time - he eventually drove her to suicide - she made sure to name him in her suicide note. George Bernard Shaw also despised Comstock and coined the term "comstockery" in his honor.

Much of her work can be seen at IdaCraddock.com and here's a taste of her Heavenly Bridegrooms - Craddock claimed to have sexual relations with an angel:
It has been my high privilege to have some practical experience as the earthly wife of an angel from the unseen world. In the interests of psychical research, I have tried to explore this pathway of communication with the spiritual universe, and, so far as lay in my power, to make a sort of rough guidebook of the route.
Which sounds pretty helpful. Later on she points out the erotic nature of some Christian practices:
The celestial being who, whether as God or an angel, becomes the Heavenly Bridegroom of an earthly woman, is better known to the literature of the Christian Churches than most people who are not theologians are aware. But he is not peculiar to Christianity. He has been known and recognized throughout the world in all ages. The woman to whom he comes is, as a rule, distinguished for her purity of life. Usually she is a virgin; but where already married and a mother, she must be recognized as chaste or, at least, there must be no stigma of impurity upon her reputation. I am not at the present writing aware of a single exception to this.

Let us, however, first consider the Heavenly Bridegrooms of Christianity, from the popular orthodox standpoint.

There are two Heavenly Bridegrooms--the Holy Spirit and Christ.

The first of these, the Holy Spirit, is, according to the New Testament, the Being through whose agency she whom the Catholic Church delights to honor as the Blessed Virgin became incarnate with Jesus. The second of these, Christ, is the Being honored alike by Catholics and by Protestants as the Bridegroom of the Church; by Catholics also as the mystic Spouse of the ecstatic and purified nun, as in the case of Saint Teresa; and by Protestants as the Bridegroom of the Soul, in that popular hymn beginning:

"Jesus, Lover of my soul,
"Let me to Thy bosom fly!"
I once attended a young women's revival meeting at Ocean Grove, held under the auspices of an evangelist who was noted for his success in converting young girls. When the enthusiasm flagged, and his hearers were slow in responding to his appeals to "come to Christ", he started the above hymn, and the ardor of his fair congregation was at once kindled, girl after girl rising to publicly give herself to Christ. That which earnest pleading for their soul's salvation had failed to accomplish, was brought about by this simple suggestion of the "Lover of the Soul". In thus stimulating the untrained emotions of a maiden to aspire to the Divine through symbolism of earthly affection, this revivalist not only showed keen insight into human nature, but was also instinctively true to the teachings of the innermost truth of all religions, as I hope to show further on.
Ocean Grove is a town just south of Asbury Park, NJ, and is still known to this day as a location for Methodist "camp meetings" and as a religious resort.

Pointing out erotic aspects of Christianity is, I'm sure, what drove Comstock to consider her Public Decency Enemy #1.

The Heavenly Bridegroom, unfortunately, shares almost no "practical experiences" of being the wife of an angel. Instead almost the entire thing is devoted to quasi-scholarly justifications for her belief system. She uses the Bible extensively to support her theology.

What it really comes down to is a woman's response to the extreme constraints placed on female sexuality on the Victorian era, as well as the disappointments of marriage to earthly men:
The angelic bridegroom, as well as his earthly partner, must live a correct moral life and think clearly; and this means that he must exercise a tenderness, a considerate regard for his wife's comfort and happiness, and also a marital self-control of which too many earthly men are ignorant. No wonder, then, that on the plane of sentiment she should prefer this ghostly spouse to "anie mortall man". And on the plane of physiological relations, I think I have already shown that the husband who is an initiate in the third degree, who has trained his wife therein, can assure her of "connubial bliss which is perpetual". The Borderland bridegroom has this advantage, too, over the earthly bridegroom: being able to read his partner's thoughts, he can adapt himself to her most delicate fluctuations of sentiment at a moment's warning, and so never fail to be truly her companion.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report - May 14, 2012

This week the parity rate nudges up to 30%, the high-end of the typical female parity range. Although it must be said that three of the by-lines are by one woman, Joan Acocella. I like the cover this week, and James Surowiecki's Financial Page is always great.


The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.


A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.


Parity change from previous week: +3%

May 14, 2012

Total writers: 23
male: 16
female: 7
gender parity score: 30%

Last week's score
Total writers: 22
male: 16
female: 6
gender parity score: 27%

Monday, May 07, 2012

Freaky Roosevelt Island

Wow Roosevelt Island is weird. It's only a 30 minute walk from my apartment over the Roosevelt Island bridge and it's like another world. Or to be specific, it feels like a small seaside town, not the middle of New York City.

I decided to rest my eyes some more, since they still haven't fully recovered from the vicious bout of eyestrain I had, and had been curious about Roosevelt Island. And for a beautiful day in May, it was practically deserted.

You can see the UN building in this photo looking south - look at the walkway. There's nobody there. Every now and then a runner would run by.

Click to see a larger version




To get a real understanding of how deserted the place is, here's a shot of Carl Schurz Park, across the river from Roosevelt Island:

Click to see a larger version
If you click to see the larger version you can make out all the people along the walkway. And I guarantee the place is crowded because I used to live a block away from the park and it was always crowded, especially on the walkway,  even in the winter, much less a mid-spring Sunday.

And here's Roosevelt Island:

Click to see a larger version
You can tell the day was fairly low-humidity by my barometer-like hair.

There's also a lighthouse on the northern end of the island - and again - look at how there's no people here.

Click to see a larger version
The place is also a hypochondriac's dream - there are two hospitals on this one tiny island, as well as remnants of former hospitals. Here's the sun dial in front of the Octagon.

Click to see a larger version

The Queensboro Bridge goes right over the middle of Roosevelt Island. Here is the tram about to land in the tram garage, or whatever it's called.

Click to see a larger version

This picture is looking east to Queens - there's the giant Pepsi sign.

Click to see a larger version

 If anything the southern end of Roosevelt Island is even more deserted that the northern end. Here's a small park with benches - nobody there but me and that squirrel.

Click to see a larger version

And here is the ruins of the Smallpox Hospital.

Click to see a larger version
It's so exotic, and yet about three blocks from here, I caught the Q102 which dropped me off two blocks from my home. Amazing.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Team Snake



It turns out that the two women who played the Snake in two different versions of MISTRESS ILSA, Carolyn Paine and Vibe Normann, make a pretty good team. Here they play sisters in the NYCPlaywrights April Play of the Month. I absolutely cannot watch Carolyn say the line: "One time a customer wanted all the kid mannequins, and I made a hundred dollars" (at 7:44) without cracking up. It took all my self control - and three takes - before I could record her saying that line without bursting out laughing before she finished.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Internet Eye Health Day

No posting here yesterday (Friday, May 4) because I declared that day as "Internet Eye Health Day." I normally spend too much time online and then I decided to get involved in the whole Drupal/MAMP programming environments and blam! gave myself a serious case of eye strain. So in order to force myself to stay offline for a whole day, I went to lunch with a friend and then off to Central Park.

I must confess I did peek at my email and Facebook with my iPhone. I'm not a saint.

But I got some very nice photos at the Conservatory Garden on the upper East Side of Central Park. And now that it's no longer IEHD I can post them.

The statue in the English garden
tulips eye view
I'm not sure what these flowers are - this is in the French garden
The well-named butterfly bush - I got some amazing butterfly pix

In this zoom-in you can see there are two butterflies in the shot

You can see the butterfly's probiscus in this shot - freaky!



Thursday, May 03, 2012

The theatre boys club report

I see that the three newest playwrights in Martin Denton's "Indie Theater Now" lineup are men. Of course Denton gives lip service to the idea of more female playwrights - don't they all? But when it comes to walking the walk, not so much.

I see Denton is also promoting the work of Edward Einhorn, who believes that if you have a disagreement with him over a small-claims court sized director's payment, he has every right to take a copy of your script, file it without your permission or even knowledge, with the US Copyright office, and then turn around a year later and sue you for producing your own play in federal court at a cost of over $300K.

It only took six years and the focused effort of the Dramatists Guild to finally - finally! - get Einhorn's ill-gotten copyright de-registered - and that's years after all that money was down the federal court drain.

Well, not like it matters. It doesn't seem to have harmed his career with the would-be gatekeepers of the theatre world.

When I criticized Denton's boy's club on this blog last summer, the girlfriend of one of Denton's playwrights informed me, while she was trying to justify the relative absence of female playwrights in Denton's line-up:
Martin Denton (and his lovely mother, who runs the company with him) have invited (the playwright) and I into their home with graciousness and hospitality.
No surprise, Denton has published everything this playwright has produced in the past four years. It pays to schmooze.

I've seen a selection of the plays listed on Indie Theatre Now and I thought the best of them was just OK. Maybe the rest of them are so excellent they make up for that, but I doubt it.

As always, the justification for not including work by women is that the selectors only consider "quality" - because of course white males are just naturally better at writing plays. The artistic director at the Guthrie recently justified his line-up:
DOWLING: (interrupting) NO! No no no. I will continue to do the job that I am obliged to do, and that is to pick the best possible plays, irrespective of gender, irrespective of other issues. It's got to be the best work that we can put on our stage. 
A former Facebook friend of mine with four plays published by Denton scoffed at the idea that there was a pattern of bigotry concerning female playwrights, claiming likewise that Denton only responds to quality, and men just happen to be better playwrights. And I didn't even de-friend him for that, I de-friended him for mocking Joni Mitchell because in his opinion her music is too "girly." You know because girls suck at the arts, so "girly" is a horrible insult. That's the mindset out there - just because it's rarely stated so bluntly doesn't mean that these people are actually enlightened and progressive.

Dowling, and one of Dowling's defenders, Tad Simons in mspmag.com,  both mention economics as a reason for the selections. Simons writes:
Underlying it all is the question of how much responsibility the Guthrie has to reflect and serve the community that supports it, and what that should look like onstage? This is very different from asking what the Guthrie’s responsibilities are to its audience. The larger community of the Twin Cities may be getting increasingly diverse, but the Guthrie’s audience, however much one wishes it to be otherwise, is overwhelmingly white. Why? Because the number of people in the Twin Cities who can afford to pay $25-75 a pop for a Guthrie play is relatively small. And white.
Yet women make up 70% of the ticket buyers. But somehow that doesn't translate into  more plays by female playwrights being produced. Funny how that is.  And I don't know about the box office for non-white playwrights, but plays on Broadway by female playwrights actually earn 18% more than plays by male playwrights, according to Emily Glassberg Sands' famous study. And yet not only are plays by female playwrights less likely to be produced, their play productions are less likely to be extended than productions of plays by male playwrights.

And that, as Julia Jordan noted in her keynote address at last June's Dramatists Guild conference, is the clearest sign of bigotry - producers are actually operating against their economic self-interest to favor male playwrights.

But unfortunately too many women, like the playwright's girlfriend I quoted above, are willing to buy into the idea that all the male producers, publishers, etc etc simply select on the basis of quality and economics. The playwright's girlfriend suggested that a. it's the fault of women that we haven't achieved parity, and b. there are more important things in the world to complain about:
 Aren't women (in this country at least) at the point where they need to start also looking within themselves to see where our, collective or otherwise, baggage may be preventing us from achieving what we surely can? Or maybe we need to take our petty resentments and dissolve them by telling the stories of women in regions of the world who have got it really bad. Boo hoo hoo, Nancy didn't make Martin Denton's list again this year.

 Also she seems to think that this is personal - because I didn't make Denton's list that's the only possible reason I could have a problem with parity issues. Apparently she can't imagine that this could be about a general principle of justice, and not just about me. I guess she really believes that if Martin Denton doesn't approve my work I must be devastated.

And anybody who is familiar with Elevatorgate will recognize the similarity between the girlfriend's argument and Richard Dawkins's attitude towards any non-Muslim women who complain about sexism - those women over there have it really bad so you women in the West can just STFU.

It is attitudes like these that keep majority female theater-ticket-buyers from saying enough is enough and start boycotting theatre organizations that persistently avoid work by female playwrights.

And one more important point - NYCPlaywrights has been doing a Play of the Month project for over a year now, and so far we've selected eleven plays - 5 have been by women and 6 by men. And this was not a deliberate attempt at parity on my part - I am not the only one choosing the plays, I use teams of people to make the selections. And if I hate a play, there is no way I will select it, whether a woman wrote it or not. A bad play is a bad play. So without even trying we've reached perfect parity (given that we are at an odd number at this point) - why is that? Well maybe because we don't look at any previous successes and productions given to the playwrights, and we don't schmooze with the playwrights - we select the work based purely on the individual scripts alone. That's how you reach parity.

Oh and one more thing - we don't charge a fee for people to watch the readings we video-record for the Play of the Month, but we can see how many hits each play gets, and the run-away favorite play according to that is by a female playwright.

Somehow I'm not surprised.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Maddow & Krugman

Krgthulu appears on the Rachel Maddow show!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

For everybody who is visiting this blog today via the hunt for krgthulu

There he is again - on reddit!
I’m Paul Krugman. I've been a columnist for The Times on the Op-Ed page since 1999, and I’m also a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. I’ve written extensively on international trade and finance and was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science in 2008 for my research on global trade patterns. My latest book, ‘‘End This Depression Now!,’’ will be published later this month. In it I look at how we got stuck in the recession of the past four years and offer ideas for how we can free ourselves from its grip. An adaptation from the book, questioning some of the decisions made by Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, was published in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday. Here are links to my blog, The Conscience of a Liberal, and tweet verification that I am, in fact, Paul Krugman. Update, 6:04 p.m.: Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful questions. I'm off now for a short break and then on to Rachel Maddow's show tonight.
Krugman and Rachel Maddow - yay!

New Yorker Parity Report - May 5, 2012

Back up to the average parity rate - 27%. The New Yorker is in a groove of having about 22 bylines per issue with the number of female bylines somewhere in the 3 - 7 range. In other non-parity news, the situation for women in Australian theatre is getting worse, and the artistic director of the Guthrie Theatre thinks anybody who isn't a white male playwright and director can suck it - white males are just the best at everything and that's why they get their stuff produced and that's why they get to direct.

The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.


A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.


Parity change from previous week: +9%

May 5, 2012

Total writers: 22
male: 16
female: 6
gender parity score: 27%

Last week's score
Total writers: 22
male: 18
female: 4
gender parity score: 18%