Douchebaggery is not constitutionally protected

Many of the people who vehemently shout about our constitutionally protected right to Freedom of Speech (usually as a reaction to public backlash against shitty behavior) have absolutely no idea what that means. That seems like an ironic little integrity test for those who actually care about the First Amendment, doesn’t it? Le sigh.

Things the First Amendment Doesn’t Protect Against:

  1. Revealing the identity of a Reddit poster who was internet-famous for posting fetish shots of minors.
  2. Public backlash against Daniel Tosh’s rape joke
  3. Individuals encouraging each other not to spend money at a restaurant that supports hateful views

Freedom of speech means that you can say what you want without the government arresting or fining you. Hooray! But it does not mean that people won’t respond to that. That is also freedom of speech.

I absolutely do not understand the mentality that artists can say whatever they want without people getting hurt. You can say what you want. And you can choose whether or not to care if people feel hurt by it. But no where in the artist contract did it say that people don’t get to call you out when they find your work offensive.

Freedom of speech does not protect your right to speak anonymously. And while I support sites like Reddit choosing to allow anonymous posting, it is still a public sphere. If a journalist figures our your identity, too bad so sad. You put your shit out for the world to see. Don’t complain when you receive negative commentary. That is, in fact, the same justification you used to post photos taken of women taken without their permission. This is almost exactly a perfect example of comeuppance.

Boycotts, public backlash, and media criticism are not infringing on your rights. They are actually an awesome example of how free markets can sometimes regulate themselves. Please don’t invoke freedom of speech unless your actual freedom is in jeopardy.

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This is Halloween, everbody make a scene

As I try desperately to decide between two Halloween costume options (this is the closest to the holiday I’ve ever been without knowing what I was going to be!) I thought I would glean inspiration from the past and post a retrospective of costumes. (This will be especially relevant to Addi’s podcast listeners!)

2011 – The White Witch (The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe)

The Chronicles of Narnia were a hugely formative part of my childhood and The White Witch is one of the coolest villains of all time. Lexi agreed to play along (and really, make my costume make sense) as Aslan (sexy Aslan. Obviously.)

How it’s made: Both my dress and mask were purchased on Etsy. The dress was a custom request from a seller who generally caters to the Goth set in blacks and reds, but she happily bought new fabric for my request. The mask was, in some ways, the inspiration for the costume. I’d had the idea for years, but was never sure how I would want to execute the idea. When I stumbled upon this shop, I knew the mask would serve as the anchor to the costume. Hair feathers and snowflake earrings (not particularly visible, but they’re there) are from Claire’s. Lexi is wearing a Spirit Hood and the base dress comes from a Cowardly Lion costume available at all major costume retailers.

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Five Facts about Female Bodies from the Todd Akin Anatomy Textbook

Renowned Fertility Specialist and all-around Learned Person Todd Akin recently informed the public that victims of Legitimate Rape cannot get pregnant because the female body can “shut it down,” so we don’t have to worry about exceptions in abortion bans. You didn’t know that? Funny, neither did I. In light of this important scientific1 discovery, I did some serious research2 about what other awesome tricks the female body can get up to when threatened.

Prepare to be enlightened.

  1. When approached by an unwanted suitor, either in a bar or a dark alley, women can spit a paralyzing venom from a gland found at the back of their throats.
  2. Ovaries will emit an Electromagnetic Pulse with a half-mile “blast” radius.
  3. If pursued by a predator, a woman will shed her breasts, much like a gecko sheds its tail. The breasts will continue to wriggle on the ground to confuse the predator. It generally takes 6-8 weeks to regenerate.
  4. Progesterone can serve as a crude form of chloroform.
  5. Under extreme duress, five women can band together to form Voltron.

If, perhaps, these facts don’t quite sit right with you, you may want to throw some money toward Claire McCaskill, Mr. Akin’s Democratic opponent.

1. Not actual science
2. No actual research was completed

Tokenism?

The backlash against Girls definitely made me look at my writing for racial diversity. And, yup, most of my characters are white. Nothing plot-wise makes them white, but looking at characters through the lense of a theoretical Hollywood casting session, they would all end up white. Now, of course, that speaks a lot to the fucked-up nature of Hollywood casting. It says something that people of color (or fat people, trans people, people with disabilities, etc.) are only cast when the plot specifically calls for them. White = default. Boo.

It also speaks to my life. Like Lena Dunham, my imaginary life is pretty racially homogenous because my social life is pretty racially homogenous. That is a fact of my life that I don’t like, but I don’t particularly know how to fix.

I started diddling around with the idea of a new play recently (which, in all liklihood, I will never finish anyway because I am bad at long writing projects, so this may all be moot, but let’s pretend I have an attention span longer than a gnat.) It will focus on a nuclear family and a few of their significant others. And, as I started to play out scenes in my head, I realized that all of my imaginary actors were white. Whoops. There is absolutely no reason they need to be.

How do I fix it? Do I specify that a particular character is black? That’s easy enough. But by doing that, now the rest of the cast is, by extension definitely not black. Leave it up to the casting director? Like, in theory, in my perfect world (where this play is being produced repeatedly! lolz) the racial make up of this cast would change with every show. But that feels lazy, too. Not my problem! I didn’t say they had to be white! The casting director did it! I’m the writer. I am aware that diversity is an issue. It is my problem.

It feels awkward, to insist on a physical trait for a character that has no bearing on the plot. But I guess that is the only way to make diversity happen. Major social change probably doesn’t happen by trying to avoid ever feeling awkward. This character is black. That one is fat. Because life has diversity, and we are failing to document the world artistically if our palette is so bland.

Rather than specify the physical characteristics of any particular character, I’m considering adding this note to the stage directions:

Author’s Note: When casting this show, please take diversity into consideration. Physical attributes are mostly irrelevant to this story, but what is relevant is reflecting a somewhat accurate portrayal of a “modern” social group. Assembling an entire cast of thin, conventionally attractive white people is not the correct tableau.

Thoughts? Do any of my director friends feel like this would impinge on their artistic freedom? It’s certainly bordering a little closer to Beckett-esque direction than I’m usually comfortable with, but I think it’s ok for a good cause. Is it even enough? Is the only way to ensure diversity at this juncture to specify?

The Newsroom: Behind Every Great Man are 15 Other Great Men (and One & a Half Great Women)

The Newsroom is smart. It is witty, and impassioned and oh, did I mention smart? I liked a number of things about The Newsroom. Aaron Sorkin at his best is my favorite thing to watch. He makes intellectualism a moral issue and I love him for it. If I could boil the first season of The West Wing in a spoon and inject it into my veins, I would.

But Aaron Sorkin has lady trouble. In that, he doesn’t really like to write them as characters. Oh sure, they exist, and sometimes they’re even awesome, but for every CJ Cregg, there are 20 Josh Lymans. 20 whip smart, misunderstood Aaron Sorkin avatars at every stage of life, shooting through hallways soliloquizing at record speed.

If Sorkin were a new writer, fresh to societal criticism, I would note the gender failings of The Newsroom and hope for better next time. Lena Dunham was rightly criticized for her alarmingly racially homogenous cast, but I can note the (correct) criticism of Girls and still enjoy all of the things it did right, because I genuinely believe Lena Dunham will learn, and that her mistakes come from inexperience and ignorance, not hatred. But now she knows, and if her next project features the same palette, she will have made an active choice. “I’m sorry, I just didn’t think…” becomes “I chose not to think.” Aaron Sorkin has had chance after chance to fix the glaring hole in his record and he doesn’t care to.

I guess it isn’t everyone’s job to fix sexism. I suppose it’s anyone’s right to just not give a shit about racial and gender diversity. But Aaron Sorkin’s whole schtick is “doing better.” Being better. Tilting at windmills. Which I love! But it is hypocritical to rant at the American public for sinking into the intellectual and moral mire, to pat yourself on the back for “speaking truth to stupid” and then blithely ignore the negative impact your work has on 51% of the population. Aaron Sorkin prides himself on tackling The Big Issues. Well, Aaron, gender equality is a Big Issue. It is a moral issue. When you are a self-appointed prince of the liberal elite, you must be held to a higher standard. Depressingly, the “higher standard” for mainstream tv is still pretty low and shouldn’t be that hard to reach.  

Sorkin is an experienced writer, one who crafts meticulously and understands structure and symbolism. I do not believe any of his choices are haphazard, though I do suspect his motivations are sometimes subconscious.

Let me run through my specific issues:

1. In the opening rant (you’ll recognize it from Studio 60 and the Sunset Strip, with like, relevant bits cut and paste) Will McAvoy sneers at a “sorority girl” then goes on to extol the virtues of some mythical foregone time when you could “be a man” and there were “great men” who were venerated for being great men.  

2. The first time we meet Maggie (the charming Alison Pill), she is being emotionally bulldozed by her older, more successful boyfriend. I’m not saying people don’t have boyfriends, or personal drama, but Sorkin is a writer who nearly fetishizes the Character Introduction, so to have Pill’s first words on a show about journalism, politics, and morality be about her relationship is insulting.

3. Will McAvoy knows the names of his white, male colleagues, but not his female assistant or his Indian blogger.

4. The first time the two named female characters (The aforementioned Maggie and our main female protagonist Mackenzie) interact on this show about journalism, politics, and morality they discuss….clothes, beauty, and boys. Again, I’m not saying that female co-workers don’t discuss fashion or relationships. I do! But in Aaron Sorkin-land, to make this their primary interaction is defining and insulting.

5. When Maggie is promoted by Mackenzie, it is not because she does something noteworthy in her work (which she does later in the episode!). No, the impetus for her promotion is that she has displayed a warm, fuzzy feeling. While loyalty is certainly an admirable quality, in Sorkin-land, men are lauded for merit, even when they’re assholes. Women are rewarded for being nurturing.

6. So far, there are zero visible LGBTQ characters.

I have not given up hope. Mackenzie is pretty great so far, not seeming to suffering from any of the usual trope ailments that seem to strike Sorkin ladies: Hungry Thin Lady Syndrome, Beautiful Klutz, Neurotic Overanalyzer. Future episodes promise other prominent female characters from Jane Fonda and Olivia Munn (although, good god, am I really pinning any feminist hopes on Olivia Munn?!) Pill’s character Maggie had a shaky start (and Sorkin was especially lazy with her, pulling her almost quirk for quirk from The West Wing’s Donna Moss), but I think there’s potential in that arc.

The Newsroom has other problems that have nothing to do with feminism, most notably that, seriously, I believe Aaron Sorkin does not think we will notice that he is recycling himself at an alarming rate, including his own personal issues. Yeah, you gotta work your shit out through your art, but you’re obviously not making any progress, because you’re chewing the same gristle you were 4 years ago.

A lot of people hate The Newsroom because it’s made by pedantic blowhards for pedantic blowhards. I have a pretty high tolerance for pedantic blowhards (myself included) so that won’t be what drives me away from the show. Sometimes, I need my hour in the liberal, intellectual echo chamber. But I do need to see him try to respect my gender, to try to write something new. I know it’s hard to leave the formula when you feel like the formula works. Bad news, though. It doesn’t work anymore.

I’m still holding my breath for Aaron Sorkin to grow. I want to believe there’s another great show in him. Call it quixotic.

The Groupon Diaries: Archery Lessons

For someone who doesn’t hunt, arrest criminals, or even play video games, I sure do like to shoot things. So when there was a deal offered for archery lessons, bow & arrow rentals, and practice time on the range, I jumped at it. Vicki got in on the action as well, having grown up a non-hunter in a hunting family.

We promptly forgot about the deal until May, when it was nearly expired. That is how I roll.

Finally, we trucked out to semi-rural PA for our lesson. There was some trouble finding the entrance:

Some people go both ways

My graphic designer friends may notice that there are two arrows. In addition to this sign, there was a large billboard next to the dirt road turn-off for the building. But it didn’t have the white arrow. So the logo pointed directly to an empty field. Obviously, we worked it out. But maybe be careful with including arrows in your logo, is all I’m sayin’. 

Inside, the staff was courteous, but reserved, in the way that seriously outdoorsy people often are. Our teacher took us to the range and tested our “eyedness” before handing us our bows.

He showed us how to place the arrows, how to draw, and did his best to explain how to release without like, releasing. Having read “Zen and the Art of Archery,” I understand, intellectually, that the release is supposed to happen sort of magically: plucking the string will disrupt the flow of the arrow. So a master in the art will be first in a state of tension and then in a state of release, without like, releasing. Yeah. Zen. Let’s be clear. I… don’t know how to do that.

But Vicki and I did alright even without spiritual enlightenment. I was pretty comfortable at least making it within the target. Vicki struggled a bit with her bow. She’s right-handed, but after testing left-eyed (not lopez), she was given a left-handed bow. I’m not saying the instructor was wrong, per se, but after she switched to a right-handed bow, Vicki got 2 bullseyes.

You can tell she got more badass because the lighting is different.

I got one bullseye, scouts honor, but the it was during the lesson and I was too embarrassed to ask the instructor to pause so I could take a photo of it for my blog. Because surely, that would be what gave me away as a nerdy city slicker. I figured if I got one, I would be able to get another during our practice time, which was a very stupid assumption.

While the instructor was still there, he would tweak our form or give advice (bending the bow holding arm ever so slightly will prevent nasty string ricochet!) and then say, “sooo, do you guys…have any questions?” Ah, the Socratic Method*. Interesting approach. We came up with a few questions, but mostly I didn’t really know enough to know what to ask.

“Uh…how do you get….good?”
“Practice. Like, a lot of practice. I sometimes practice 5 hours a day.”
“Oh.”
So there’s not like…a trick? Just practice, huh?

Cue training montage

We got to watch a staff member fixing and testing a crossbow, which was good fun. But the end of our practice time, both Vicki and I could feel the whining of muscles we rarely use, and I can see how with this whole “practice” business, they might strengthen and improve stability and therefore aim. I think both Vicki and I would like to return to practice more. I feel better prepared to survive the apocalypse, but perhaps not the zombie apocalypse, as my accuracy is probably good enough for a body shot, but not a head shot. I’m trying to figure out how to turn my basement into a range… I would definitely have paid full price for this, but I’m not sure I would have thought to go without the catalyst of a groupon.

 *Please no one leave a comment explaining the actual Socratic Method.

bureaucracy

I paid off my student loans about 7 years ago, pretty soon after I graduated from college.

Today, when I went to check on my transcripts request for my grad school application, I was told there was a hold on my account that had to do with my student loans. My sudden internal panic was replaced with annoyance when I was informed that it was because I hadn’t completed the mandatory “exit interview.”

The exit interview is entirely designed to teach you how to pay your student loans in a timely fashion. I…think I tested out of this class, guys.