Archive for June, 2008

Dorothy’s Friends
28 June, 2008

Jim C. Hines wrote about taking responsibility for our words and linked to John Scalzi‘s thoughts on gay slurs. When I was a kid, we played the same game as Scalzi and chanted the same ditties as Hines. I don’t recall any extra venom in those than in any of the other dog-eat-dog, Lord of the Flies behaviors we exhibited. My friends and I repeated the insults we heard without any thought given to their origin or impact. To be frank, we didn’t much care, love or hate, about anyone but ourselves. I think it was expected for that age and stage, but we were pretty egocentric and insensitive.

I have known quite a few LGBT people over the years. The first time I recognized one of my peers as part of a sexual minority was during my high school years, probably because up until then neither my peers nor I really had a sexuality. I hadn’t even heard the term “gaydar“, let alone developed any ability at guessing someone’s orientation, until I moved to the Bay Area. So any GLBT people I met were purely the result of social Brownian motion. If I met more than the average bloke, it was probably because all the outcasts seemed to associate with each other.

Looking back, even from as soon as my college years, I could identify a handful of my high school classmates that were probably gay or lesbian. There were a couple of guys that were pretty flamboyant. (They both assiduously denied being gay and I can understand why.) There was a gal who asked a lot of “a friend of mine…” questions about what Christianity thought about lesbians and a friend’s girlfriend was pretty butch.

None of that bothered me. I don’t think that I was particularly open-minded per se as I was raised inside fundamentalist Christianity, a group not known for its tolerance and I was certainly vulnerable to insults. (And sadly still am.) But when some of the jocks called me “fag” it didn’t bother me. It struck me as just as ridiculous as insulting someone for having red hair or being left-handed.

Whilst in high school, I began working at a burger joint. One of the employees there liked to play a lot of grab-ass. My impression as a grabbee was that it was less horseplay and more outright groping. We got a new assistant manager who was rumored to be gay. On one of his nights off, this manager came through the drive-through in a limo with a half-dozen other guys. I think it was his way of coming out to us. I didn’t care before or after that night; I liked him as a manager and as a person. But the first guy, the one who liked to cop a feel of the other dudes, got him a cake for his birthday that was a nude woman’s torso with the writing “Try it; you’ll like it”. Even though I wasn’t mature or brave enough to vocally oppose it (a failing I very much regret) I still refused to participate. It seemed both mean-spirited and more than a little desperately straight.

For the first two years of my collegiate career I lived in the dorms on campus. Given the mix of young adults, lack of supervision, and surplus of alcohol, sexuality was a consuming topic for most of us. I was still pretty clueless: I tried to woo a lesbian gal who tried everything short of hitting me with a frying pan to let me know she wasn’t interested in me in that way. I remember being confused when folks started whispering that one fellow was bisexual. The fact that he liked both lads and lasses bothered me not at all. It was his cavalier attitude toward seducing and then abandoning them that stuck in my craw.

One of my friends was an extremely tall yet soft-spoken fellow whose saltiest exclamation was “Oh, dear”. We got along great, especially since he laughed at my jokes. He didn’t return after his freshman year and that summer came out to another mutual friend. As soon as I heard, I immediately thought of the hour-long car ride in which a guy we knew had held forth on how he could tell “them” at a glance, while this quiet giant just sat there in silence. It still breaks my heart thinking about what it must have been like for him that night.

It wasn’t until I started working professionally that I started to get a clue. The guys on my project were all very understanding of my ignorance. One of them had a friend whom he joked was like a winter coat: he’d come in and out of the closet with the seasons. One day while we were tooling around in his friend’s convertible, I used “fag” or “gay” as a playful insult. His friend handled it perfectly. He calmly asked me not to use that word as it offended him. I just sat there in the back seat, mind spinning. All of my friends used those as generic insults. Like “dunce”, we had learned to use them without any understanding of their origins. I was pretty embarrassed but he just played it cool, keeping my ego from interfering with my education.

Years in the software industry exposed me to a plethora of diverse people and I became friends with gay, lesbian, and transgendered people. I consider them all my friends and everything else is just a single fact about them, like whether they grew up in Hawaii or not. I consider myself lucky to have these people as friends, not just because they offer different perspectives and experiences, but for who they are as people.

My mother was a school principal and had to discipline students for calling each other “fag”. She had to explain to them what the word meant because they knew it was an insult but didn’t know why it was an insult. They, just like the kids I knew in my generation, were hurtful but not hateful. (Which is not to say that there aren’t hateful people out there.) I’m ashamed of lots of things I’ve said but I’ll not be guilty about them. Unfortunately I can’t go back and undo them. I know better now, so I do better.

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Lady Photographresses
22 June, 2008

Over the last few years, I have noticed more and more female photographers on the sidelines at sporting events. (I began noticing this trend before I got my own digital SLR, so it’s not just a case of me noticing it more once I had an interest.) I wonder why this is.

Could it be the inroads into locker rooms that female journalists have made over the two decades? Perhaps, but I doubt that is a significant factor given the presence of other women in the stands and on the sidelines.

Could it be that the owners and producers are pandering to their mostly-male audience? I think not as cheerleaders are a pre-existing and more direct attempt at that.

Could it be the advent of digital photography? I’m sure feminists would dismiss out of hand the idea that the mechanical and chemical aspects of film photography were barriers to women entering the field. Without arguing nature versus nurture, I don’t buy that argument, if for no other reason, due to the large number of young ladies in my high school photography class (mumble) years ago.

My completely unsubstantiated hunch is that it’s the change in the economics of photography, driven in part by the change in the technology of photography, that has changed the demographics of the photographers. For example, I suspect that ten or twenty years ago the news services, newspapers, and magazines were the only employers of or buyers from sideline photographers. Now there are web sites and blogs that publish photos yet don’t pay like the others. Not only publishing via the web, but publishing via prints has become cheaper. These seem like fundamental changes to the forces at play. My guess is that the photography economy has undergone, and continues to undergo, upheaval.

I still think it’s cool that there are more female photographers.

Writer, Edit Thyself
17 June, 2008

Yesterday I read two separate blog entries by two separate working writers that were both filled with spelling and grammar errors. I’ll admit that I am as susceptible to error as any. (My long-time reader can produce copious examples of that.)

But it really annoys me to try to read through those kind of errors, especially for errors other than typographical misspellings. For example, one writer repeatedly used “and” instead of “an”. The other would say things like “I stresses prep work”. It seems that a simple proofreading would have caught these errors.

Are there really any writers in Hollywood who care this little about the quality of their writing? Or is it that writing for the web seems somehow less important than writing for print? Are the Sprachlehrepolizei correct about the precipitous erosion of writing skills induced by the interwebs?

Kung Fu Panda
16 June, 2008

When I first heard of Kung Fu Panda many moons ago, I was ambivalent. On the one hand, I enjoy animated films, animals, and martial arts. On the other hand, I was unsure how Jack Black‘s style of over-the-top comedy would play well in that setting. I was pleasantly surprised by this solid offering from DreamWorks Animation. (For full disclosure, Jason P. Weber, the Character Effects Technical Director, is a buddy of mine.)

Kung Fu Panda is a retelling of the standard tale of the young man of humble origins who becomes the hero. Jack Black voiced the eponymous character in an understated way that develops sympathy for him from the audience without preventing some slapstick comic moments. Dustin Hoffman did a good job as Shifu, even though I find him an odd casting. The rest of the cast did an excellent job of not intruding on the film, even Seth Rogen who seems to be on fire in Hollywood these days.

Mark Osborne and John Stevenson captured the style of both their studio’s signature works and a classic martial arts film. (The log line could have been Shrek meets The Five Deadly Venoms.) Yong Duk Jhun brought amazingly vibrant colors to the film. The score by John Powell and Hans Zimmer was a Hollywood take on Chinese melodies a la Mulan. The animation was superb; I especially like the detail of the character’s pupils dilating and contracting in response to light.

I liked Kung Fu Panda as did my kids. But if you don’t like martial arts films, you might not enjoy it as much as it’s a new take on a classic plot and setting.

We Can Do Better than That
7 June, 2008

The Sex and the City movie presents an interesting phenomenon. Despite the fact that I’ve heard scathing reviews (including reports of visible boom microphones in multiple shots) I have also heard more than one woman celebrate it as “a woman thing”.

Really?

Have we no better way to celebrate femininity than this? I’ve seen several episodes of the series and find it a decent show, if not one I care to watch. The claim I heard that Sex and the City is for women because of all the fashion in it is just as shallow as saying The Fast and the Furious is for men because of all the cars in it.

Surely we can do better than that. Was Laura Dern unavailable to play Dagny Taggart?