Archive for June 2010

Merchandising the subaltern*

June 29, 2010

*(For those of you not hip to the post-colonialist lingo, here you go.  It’s a pretty big word in some circles.)

By far my most-visited blog post is one I wrote last year discussing my participation as a straight man in an increasingly open and inclusive queer community.  This stuff gets people talking.

(My second most traffic-heavy post is the one that turns up in search engines to “woman squirting.”  That says a lot, I think, about what most people are looking for with Google.  I bet they’re disappointed when they end up here.)

This last weekend was our local Pride celebration.  Where I live, this is not a small thing; we take sexuality seriously ’round these parts.  Or, we used to (so I’m told, anyway).  Since I moved here, what I’ve mostly experienced is a thin veneer of tolerance covering a giant excuse to party and advertise.  And, I’m generally fine with that, because a good party is a good party.

This year, though, I was struck by how the party might be getting stretched just a little bit thin.  The Sunday morning parade was fun, but I’m not sure it had to be several hours long.  Someone needs to explain to parade organisers that a flatbed with men in underwear dancing is not, by itself, enough to constitute a parade float.  Similarly, you know what doesn’t make for an exciting parade float?  A guy I’ve never heard of in a suit, waving.  If he’s gay, why isn’t he in a thong dancing to Lady Gaga with everyone else?  And, every freaking business in the state made a point of having a float. Yes, Google has eleventy-billion employees,  many of whom are doubtlessly gay. Do we need a float to tell us that?

It’s actually the latter two examples that struck me the most.  Every parade has its “boring waving politician” moments (Oh, look, it’s… some old guy, the Marshall of the Easter parade!), but there sure seemed to be an awful lot of them this weekend. Watching elected city administrators climb over each other to identify with a significant voter block really doesn’t make for festival-level entertainment.  In a city like this, being open-minded about sexuality is less a commendable political stand and more of a bare minimum, but that doesn’t prevent all the political jumping and waving, “Look at me!  I like gay folks!”

Now, this isn’t to say that the parade wasn’t still fun, and generally successful at being vibrant, inclusive, and fabulous.  But, for every well-decorated float full of mostly naked men dancing in clever costumes, there was a “Yes, yes, all your male sub-management employees are gay, Virgin America, we get it” moment.  It’s a good thing the airline companies were in the parade to let us know that their flight attendants are gay, or we might not have known.

(I expect the next big shocker on that front will come from the modern dance industry.)

But, after the lamely conservative (can’t have too much fun wearing your employer’s logo, after all) corporate float moves past, it’s replaced by a truly creative and entertaining living rainbow, made up of mostly-naked men in body paint running and climbing around in a choreographed flow.  And, the crowd cheers, and the folks on the float laugh and dance, and everyone is having fun.

And then the old Asian lady representing district 8 goes by waving politely from the back of a convertible, and the buzz is killed.  She’s not even naked.

This was the up-and-down of the entire, rather long, parade: genuinely entertaining and celebratory content alternating with corporate and political cash-ins.  And, that, in a nutshell, is the queer rights movement around here.  The transition from protest to celebration has been a slow and hard-earned one, and there is, I think, a lot to be said for appreciating both at once.  However, it’s also a little disappointing to see that once something is acceptable, it’s also exploitable; somehow, we’ve commodified tolerance into corporate and political capital.

I can’t decide if that’s a bad thing.  It seems like a patently self-serving perversion of a minority’s struggle for recognition and acceptance to so obviously milk the cultural capital of a social movement.  But, this is also a reflection of corporate and political interests treating gay rights as they would any other acceptable, mainstream, safe phenomenon, and in a goofy way that’s a bit wonderful.  You know that your days as a subaltern are numbered when AT&T makes a float in your honour.

(I bet you wondered if I were ever actually going to use that word in my main text.)

Of course, nothing I’ve written so far means that the movement to recognise the GLBTetc community is over, or even meaningfully close to the goal line; it’s a rather safe bet that major corporations aren’t scrambling to enter Pride parades in Oklahoma City.  Still, it’s got to be a good sign when private interests start trying to profit from association with minority rights.  And, maybe it’s even a good thing when the celebrations get watered down by all the self-serving irrelevant stuff; the threat of dilution and irrelevance could be a legitimate spur to progress within a movement that might otherwise drift into fabulous complacency.

Good or bad, though, none of this changes the fundamental fact that members of the city parks commission do not make for exciting parade floats.  And, that’s not an issue of minority recognition, corporatisation, or political pandering; it’s just the simple common sense not to stick too many dud floats in a parade.  If all of this shows nothing else, it’s that the gay rights movement has finally reached the big leagues, and maybe it’s time to step up and do a little quality control.  An inconsistent level of fabulousness will hurt brand loyalty.

For example, anyone wearing a banana-hammock thong need not apply.  I saw way too many of those this weekend.  They aren’t sexy. Borat was parody, people!

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The urinary fluorescence of twelve men!

June 21, 2010

Regular readers of this web log will doubtless have concluded (correctly) that my eating habits are not especially… balanced.  My nutrition is far from terrible, but I’d be lying if I said I paid nearly enough attention to it.  So, in the interest of preventing scurvy, and on the recommendation of several friends who are into such things, I have begun taking a daily multi-vitamin.

I believe this officially marks my passage into geriatria.

(Don’t worry; that isn’t a real word.)

But, this isn’t a discussion about my fading youth.  I’ll save that for an upcoming entry about my recent efforts to start jogging again.

Instead, this post is about a rather unexpected side-effect of multi-vitamins.  It turns out that vitamin supplements often give you more than the amount of vitamins required daily for good health.  The idea is, basically, that as long as the extra isn’t dangerous, there’s no harm in taking more than you need, just in case.  After all, there are varying opinions on the value and effectiveness of vitamins, so why not err on the side of caution and be sure you’re getting plenty?

The excess isn’t dangerous, because your body just uses what it needs and gets rid of the rest.  No harm, no foul, right?  Except for a rather awkward moment, when you realise something a bit distressing:

Vitamins make you pee Gatorade.

Yep.

The first time it happened I ran straight to my family doctor with a description of the symptoms.  Unfortunately, since my family doctor is Google with “SafeSearch” disabled, my initial diagnosis was a long and somewhat baffling variety of urine-related pornography.  A slightly more specific search string, though, confirmed my hope that this is just a regular and un-dangerous side effect of my vitamin supplement.  It turns out that some vitamins aren’t clear, and so if you don’t absorb the supplement fully, the stuff that remains will leave the same colour it came in.  Apparently, vitamin B2, Riboflavin, is a particularly unnatural and distressing hue of yellow-orange.

To be sure, I checked the label on my supplement.  On the back of the bottle are listed the various vitamins, and the percentage of my daily recommended intake provided in one pill.  Niacin, 125%; okay.  Folic Acid, 100%; good.  Vitamin C, 300%; well, it doesn’t hurt to be sure.  Riboflavin… 1,176%.

What the freaking hell, man?

No wonder my urine is the colour of a glow-stick at a rave; I’m getting the nutrition of twelve guys.  The bright, neon-yellow nutrition of twelve guys.  I suppose I should consider myself lucky that my bladder doesn’t glimmer ominously through my belly.

I understand that there is theoretically no harm in large doses of these vitamins.  The body is (obviously) more than capable of removing the unnecessary nutrition.  But, just whom are these vitamins for that someone might actually want or use  a twelve-fold daily dose?  This is an over-the-counter vitamin supplement purchased in healthy, happy suburbia.  No one is taking this vitamin and air-dropping it into a famine zone.

I’m also a bit curious about what I need with 6,667% of my daily recommended intake of Thiamin.  Offhand, that dosage seems a little excessive, but at least the stuff is apparently a more subdued colour.  I should really find out what it’s good for, though.  If it helps ovulation or something, I’m probably not getting the full benefit.

(That wasn’t a typo, by the way.  This pill actually has in it enough Thiamin for 67 guys.  One pill could get an entire infantry division ovulating nicely, or somesuch.)

But, my doctor tells me (in the form of websites whose connections to the vitamin industry one can’t help but wonder about) that this supplement is perfectly safe, and that urine with the shine of an emergency flare is a perfectly normal and healthy reaction.  Still, I get the vague impression that I’m being sold the solution to a problem I don’t have,

(and, frankly, the guy whose problem is alleviated by 67 times the recommended dosage of Thiamin probably has bigger concerns)

but since I’ve bought the pills, and my overall nutrition is indeed pretty spotty, I’ll keep with this for awhile. It certainly seems, though, that nutritional supplements like these vitamins might best be administered under the advice of a doctor who doesn’t initially direct a patient to Photoshopped images of Lindsey Lohan peeing on a Japanese schoolgirl.

(Or, maybe not Photoshopped.  Who am I to judge?)

It says something, perhaps, that an entire thriving industry exists around rather apocryphal notions of nutritional inadequacy.  Preventative medicine is a good thing, of course, but one wonders if this is a case of the cure motivating the condition.  Can so many people really be eating so badly that a giant aisle at the drug store is necessary to keep everyone supplied with sufficient vitamins?  I can’t help but feel like I’m once again being convinced that I want something I don’t need or even have a meaningful use for.

(That reminds me, those new iPhones look sweet, don’t they?)

But, I bought this supplement just in case.  I suppose it’s not especially expensive, for peace of mind, but it would be even cheaper not to stress about probably-nonexistent health concerns in the first place.  However, even if the supplement doesn’t help, it probably doesn’t hurt, and if I can get over the desperate, clutching fear of my own urine, I should be fine.

So, I continue with my daily vitamin habit.  I don’t feel any different for the moment, but I also don’t feel the onset of scurvy, so maybe I’m on the right track.  And, I’m not sure, but maybe my ovaries do feel a little healthier.

Here be jerks

June 15, 2010

So, yesterday I was standing in line at the drug store.  It was the usual long line, filled with the usual bored and indifferent people, waiting for the usual slightly-overworked cashiers to get through everyone.

Then, this fellow walked right up, past the line, and put a couple of small items on the counter to buy.  When the cashier politely informed him of the queue, he replied, “I’m just buying a few little things and I’m in a hurry.”  The teller, to her credit, was unfazed, and withstood the queue-jumper’s increasing insistence until he eventually announced that if they didn’t want his business he would take his money elsewhere, and left in somewhat of a huff.  The teller (doing that thing only underpaid, overworked cashiers can do, where she managed perfectly to emote sighing and rolling her eyes somehow without any actual noise or movement) called the next person.

It’s easy enough to write off such moments as one of those random encounters with weirdos that we all have every now and then (especially for those of us who frequently take the bus).  This time, though, the fellow in question wasn’t (at least, seemingly) a local oddball.  He was young, clean, wearing clothes that probably marked him as an office worker, perhaps on his lunch break.  He spoke normally, even eloquently, didn’t act drunk or stoned, didn’t have his penis hanging out or a shoe on his head.  He was just a regular guy, to all appearances — a regular guy who, somehow, got it into his head that the world revolved around him, and that he was more important than all the people waiting in line.

I used to be confused by such people.  You have to be quite the jerk, I thought, to wander through the world expecting (and demanding) that events fall into line neatly with your desires, regardless of what anyone around you might want.

Anyone who has ever lived in a student residence has seen this happen.  There are always people who are pleasant, smart, and polite, but who somehow just don’t understand why they get asked to turn down their booming stereo at three in the morning before a final-exam day.  I once saw two of my neighbours almost start a fistfight after the following conversation in the hallway early in the morning:

“JUST A SMALL-TOWN GIIIIIIIRRRRRRL…”
“Hey, man, what the hell?”
“LIVIN’ IN A LONELY WOOOOOOOORLD…”
“It’s 6am and I have an exam in four hours.  Could you possibly not…”
“SHE TOOK THE MIDNIGHT TRAIN, GOIN’ AAAAAAANYYYYYYWHERE.”
“Hey!  Shut up!  I’m sleeping!”
“JUST A CITY BO… what?  Dude, what’s your problem?”
“I have an exam in a few hours and I’d really like to go back to sleep, please.”
“I like to sing in the morning.”
“Just shut up so I can go back to sleep.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?  I’m just singing.  I didn’t do anything to you.”
“You woke me up!!”
“I like to sing in the morning.”

Fortunately, another neighbour (oddly enough, also awake) intervened between the two just before the moment became ugly.

The guy who likes to sing is a nice guy.  But, he just couldn’t grasp that singing in the hall at six in the morning is uncool.  If he wants it, then it must be fine.  That’s how it works, right?

It’s easy to blame self-centered students on them being young, and maybe spoiled.  “That’s just stupid kids being stupid.”  But, it’s a cop-out (and vaguely discriminatory) to blame this on youth; adults do it too, just as often if not more.  Mr. I’m-too-important-for-lines-at-the-shop was certainly old enough to know better.  And, when it comes right down to it, most crime is really just an extension of the idea that what is important to one person is worth more than what is important to another.  For that matter, most of the economic policies that maintain the wealthy at the expense of, well, everyone else, are based on the same principle.

So, in my head I’m mostly trying to decide if the correct analysis for all of this is a rather simple, “Some people are really selfish.”  Part of me likes that idea because it blames our bad behaviour on basic human nature, and also because it makes the guy cutting in line at the store an example of everything wrong with mankind.

But, that raises the question of how we could all be like that.  If people are generally selfish (which, to at least some degree, is probably true), then how do some people learn to be so righteously indignant about it?  You can’t watch everyone else thinking that the world revolves around them, and then conclude that it must therefore revolve around you.  That learning pattern might work if everyone were unabashedly and un-hypocritically selfish, but many people (like store-guy, or hallway-singing chap) are completely unaware of how self-centered their perspective is.  You don’t naïvely assume the spotlight as a result of watching other people do the same, because obviously not everyone can have a spotlight.

But, it also can’t simply be that some people are spoiled and wealthy.  I know plenty of wealthy people, and many are spoiled, but not all of them are over-expectant whiners.  And, I also know plenty of people who act like selfish jerks but aren’t especially wealthy or coddled.  I’ve actually got to wonder where some people get their sense of entitlement, because I’ve seen people who have nothing and achieve little (and will likely never amount to anything) walk around like they own the place.

(And, sometimes it works.  We’ve all seen the short pudgy guy leave the bar with the hot girl just because he acted like an arrogant prick all night.  Protip: women go for arrogant pricks.)

So, there might be a correlation between being spoiled and feeling entitled, but it’s hardly an absolute connection.  And, it’s probably also not as simple as behaviour being validated with rewards — I really doubt that Line-Cut Guy would have found a different response anywhere else.

So, where does this come from?  Is it really as simple as, “Some people are jerks”?

My theory is that it’s universal.  All people suck, but we only notice it when they suck in a way that we personally find particularly annoying.  Everyone does thoughtless things, and by definition we don’t really understand that we’re doing it.  Being thoughtless doesn’t make you a bad person (although, of course, you might independently be a bad person); it just makes you human.  That doesn’t make it a right and proper thing to completely ignore the perspectives of the people around you, but it does mean that you’re somewhat less evil than Hitler.  Good people aren’t the ones who never do anything wrong; they’re just the people who do their best to stifle it.

That sounds pessimistic, but it’s really not.  Yes, it’s basic human nature to be a jerk.  But, the way we regularly go about our lives without being incessantly bothered by thoughtless losers shows pretty clearly that in general people are good at stifling their less considerate impulses.  This distinction is important, because it re-frames what it means to not annoy everyone around you. No one is inherently and magically a wonderful person — people have to put thought and energy into being considerate.  It’s important to remember that getting along takes some effort.  Not that we shouldn’t expect it, but we should also be appreciative when it happens.  And, maybe we could stand to be a little forgiving when someone has a bad day and just doesn’t have the fortitude to worry about the rest of the world.

I bet even Gandhi peed on the toilet seat every now and then.

What am I doing here, exactly?

June 8, 2010

If you go right back to my first blog post last year, you’ll see where I note that writing a web-log is a new thing for me.  Frankly, when I started I didn’t really expect anyone to read this, and for a few days the sub-title of this column was a sexually-inappropriate (and rather explicit) reference that I changed in a hurry when I saw that I was actually getting traffic.  I’ll always wonder if my first few readers found this blog by accident while Googling the particular act that was mentioned.  But, perhaps the less said about that, the better.

At any rate, while the intent of this blog has always been just for me to wax philosophical (or simply rant) about whatever’s going through my head on a given day, I noticed quite early that there is an odd balance to maintain in allowing my personal life to inspire a topic without making my personal life the topic itself.  I’m not keen to reveal too much about myself (although careful reading actually implies an awful lot of the details) because I’m not trying to write a diary or autobiography, and I’m not trying (at least consciously or intentionally) to share myself with strangers.  On the other hand, some of you clearly know who I am, and that gives me a completely different thing to be careful about — several of these entries reference things that actually happened to me, and therefore anyone I mention (even vaguely or cryptically) in a post could potentially end up reading that post, or (even worse) someone else could recognize a person I write about.

“Hey Jim, you don’t happen to read Matthew’s blog, by any chance?”

“Matt has a blog?  I had no idea.  No, I don’t read it.  Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no real reason.  It’s just that he talks about this stupid moron he knows, this guy who’s really stupid, and a moron, and who smells, and who is totally unpopular, and Matt hates him and paid a guy $100 to rip off his ears and make it look like baguette-cutting accident.”

“Oh, that’s interesting.”

“Yeah, it’s a good read; you should have a look.  Hey, how are those ear-stumps healing?”

So, I’m very aware that if I write about things that I know or see, I’m also writing about my life.  It’s not as easy as it seems to keep these posts about my ideas and not about me.

The question, I suppose, is what this blog is actually supposed to be, and who it’s actually written for.  Some blogs amount to commercial online newspaper columns, written on a specific topic, and the writer is putting his knowledge out there (and not so much himself) for a specific audience that is interested in a specific topic.  On the opposite end, some people use blogs as diaries (private, or not), an opportunity to document their experiences for personal fulfillment or to let friends and family follow their lives.  I’m not personally a big fan of this kind of blog, because it often gives me the feeling that I don’t rate enough time and attention to actually be told how someone is doing.

But, then, diary blogs are really little different from posting details of your life on Facebook or other social-networking sites, and I’m apparently willing to do that.

This raises the question of why I’m putting myself “out there” in the first place if I don’t want anyone to see me when I do it.  To me it seems that mostly I just like writing and feel a vague urge to do a little of it every now and then, to see my words on the page; it’s a little like talking just to hear the sound of your own voice, something that I also do, probably more often than I realise.  On the other hand, I could also be a giant fleshy sack full of repressed desires fighting for release and recognition.  I don’t think I’m like that, but then I probably wouldn’t.  If I have a post in a few weeks titled “Hey everyone, I’m really gay!” then you’ll know that everything up to that point was just beating around the bush (ahem).  Of course, I’m not gay.  But, then, all this denial certainly suggests otherwise.  Although, I’m not.  Not gay.  That is.

Why am I even thinking about all this?  Well, frankly, you people are actually reading this blog, for some reason.  I can’t imagine why.  I like to think that the quality of writing has something to do with it, but for all I know, it’s just a bunch of people who don’t like me personally checking every couple of days to see what damn fool thing I said this time.  Although, I’m personally aware of exactly two people who know me and read this blog, so I’ve got to think that a clear majority of my regular readers have never met me.  Knowing I actually have an audience who return with some regularity to see what I’ve written forces me to think about what I want to say, show, or acknowledge.  I’ve actually got several posts saved as drafts that I’ll probably never put online, simply because they feel too personal, or too clearly refer to people in my life.

So, I want to put enough of myself out there that I’m interesting and worth paying attention to, but not enough that I feel vulnerable or exposed.  That… sounds like pretty much how everyone goes through life, doesn’t it?  That’s not a blogging mentality; that’s a living mentality.  When I look at it like that, I suppose it makes a little more sense that it’s tricky to find a happy balance between interesting and vulnerable.

(And, before anyone thinks, “But, vulnerable can be interesting,” consider how you would feel if I started my next post with “So, I have a rash on my junk.”)

(I don’t, by the way.  Have a rash.)

One person has already told me that holding back personal details is actually part of the allure of my blog, as if I’m some sort of interesting mystery or puzzle to be figured out with careful reading.  I kind of like the idea that I’m a sexy enigma; it’s almost certainly a more interesting image than I’d foster with accurate details.  In the meantime, I’m fairly happy to just treat this blog as a metaphor for life, balancing information and privacy while I babble about whatever strikes me as interesting or annoying at the moment.  And, if a little bit of sexy rompecabezas sneaks in there as well, then I suppose I won’t complain.

Maybe I do have a rash.  Isn’t the mystery exciting?

(Definitely not gay, though.  Really.)

Purple is the new orange

June 3, 2010

The first time I watched this video, I didn’t guess the correct answer; I was as confounded as Cookie Monster.  This embarrasses me, and I still feel Kermit’s palsied indignation weighing on my soul.  There might be no one in the world I would less like to disappoint.

Cookie Monster’s logic isn’t exactly unreasonable, however. Maybe it’s the result of the artificial sensations in our modern lifestyles, or perhaps the cause is simple semantic drift, but the happy synesthesia linking colours, tastes, and objects has fragmented and mutated.

Yesterday, I asked some first-graders what flavour grape candy is.  The answer?  Purple.

And, I agree with them.  Grape candy isn’t grape-flavoured.  I would argue that most grape juice isn’t either.  Go eat a grape, then pop a Jolly Rancher in your mouth; they aren’t even close.  Most food products with grapes on the packaging are actually purple-flavoured.

Cookie Monster wasn’t slow or stupid to miss what was in the box from the clues he was given.  Rather, Cookie Monster represents a dissociative sensibility in which the contextuality of a simpler time has been surpassed by our contemporary sense of diversity and variety.  In rejecting the associations of the past, Cookie Monster is the modern zeitgeist

Although, he was just plain wrong about it being a cookie.