Poor, poor Sanjay Gupta. When he signed on as CNN’s medical correspondent, it must have seemed like an incredible deal: he’d visit far and distant lands (Iraq, Louisiana), report back incredible stories and generally raise America’s consciousness of both the scientific and political aspects of medicine.
How could he have possibly known that this would also require him to provide live, minute-by-minute commentary on the growing puddle of blood at the base of Bret Michaels’ (for lack of a better word) brain?
(Cross-reference under: “things I would never have known if not for the TVs in the gym.”)
A day or two ago I was driving in a car and listening to Aesop Rock‘s “No Regrets”, which has always been one of my favorite tracks by him. And I got to thinking…
So there’s this thing called the “Bechdel Test”, named after Alison Bechdel, the writer and artist behind the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. The Bechdel Test is a test for how movies deal with female characters. To pass, the movie must contain:
Two female characters…
who have a conversation between them…
that is not about a man.
It’s astonishing how many films — including some of my favorite films ever — flub it badly. (“Citizen Kane”? Fail. “Blade Runner”? Oh so fail. “2001”? Acres of fail.)
Back to Aesop Rock. “No Regrets” is a carefully conceived, tightly written character study, about an artist named Lucy. In three verses, we see her as a precocious 7-year-old, an introverted but talented adult, and finally in a nursing home, explaining to a nurse that… well, at this point, you should just listen:
(Lyrics here if you have any trouble making it out.)
Listening to it, I found myself thinking: if there were a Bechdel Test for pop music, this song would totally pass. But what would the Bechdel Test for pop music be? It’s rarer for pop songs to have multiple characters than movies, so it seems like that would be a little unfair to impose as a requirement. Instead, let’s say for the sake of argument that a passing song should be:
About a woman…
who the singer is not attempting to have sex with, court or marry (or already be dating/married to, or currently breaking up with)…
and who the singer is not dressing down because she’s such a tramp/floozy/bitch…
and who is not related to the singer.
Okay, quiz time: how many pop songs can you think of that pass? Bonus points for any that are written or performed by men.
[Edit: I think I need to work a little harder on the phrasing of Rule 3, because as phrased it still allows songs that are the lyrical equivalent of the girlfriend in the fridge to slip through, and even in less extreme examples I feel like songs about women with drug habits, abusive boyfriends or general self-loathing problems are against the spirit of the thing. Suggestions for better-worded rules also happily accepted, as are convincing arguments that I’m being way too picky at this point, as I suspect I might be.]
For the younger folks in the audience wondering what the deal is with the old guys rapping on the boring guy’s show: you may not credit it, but these guys used to scare the piss out of white people. (Including, to be fair, lil’ ol’ me.) Now… heh. “Radio stations / I question their blackness / they call themselves black / but we’ll see if they play this.” Time finds irony in the oddest places.
As has been noted in a few venues, 2008 was the year that VHSfinally died. The last commercial distributor is closing out his inventory: whatever isn’t sold by the end of the year is going into a landfill somewhere, to be missed by no one. The format that remade the movie industry and launched commercial pornography out of the dark cinemas and into everyone’s home was always a bit of a botch technically, and when the DVD came along, people fell over themselves to replace their old tape collections.
Other people have done the elegies for this inelegant piece of technology far better than I have, so I’ll restrict myself to noting one utterly hilarious thing: according to the above-linked article in the L.A. Times, the last film released on VHS was David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence in 2006.
Yes, the last videotape ever released was from the same man who directed Videodrome.
Ladies and gentlemen: the new flesh is dead. Long live the new flesh.
You know how when most people say “I have this kind of embarrassing question, but I’m asking for a friend?” they’re transparently asking for themselves? Well, I have a question for a friend (or rather that my friend asked me that I didn’t have a good answer for, and rapidly found interesting enough to bring to a wider audience), and it’s sort of tangentially not worksafe, but since it involves having a 13-year-old son (which last I checked, I do not), I get to say with assurance that it really is for a friend. So here goes:
Is there any “how to talk to your teenager about pornography” parenting-advice material — books, web pages, what have you — that doesn’t completely suck?
I spent some time combing through the most popular google search results for “talking to kids about porn”, and oh my god the stupid it burns. Just wall-to-wall awful. Here’s a quote from the number one search result:
You need to be worried about your son’s frequent, intense relationship with pornography primarily because of what it teaches him about sex and women. If you allow porn to be the principal sex educator of your son, you risk serious impairment of his healthy psychosexual development. Porn will teach him that girls and women want and enjoy being sexually used, dominated, and humiliated by men. It will encourage your son to try out the harmful fantasies that porn offers, including the fantasy that women secretly want to be taken forcibly or that they want to be raped. Porn will teach your son to objectify women, to treat them as toys who exist solely for his sexual gratification. Pornography is devoid of tenderness, caring, or loving in its images.
How do you compress that much Wrong into a single paragraph? Oh, I know: make sweeping generalizations, avoid historical context at all cost, omit any and all qualifying adjectives, and leap instantly to the reducto ad absurdem case! Feel free, you’ve got a Masters of Education, you’re qualified to do it!
…I mean, god knows, internet pornography has certainly turned me into exactly the sort of psychopathic monster described there.
So in my hypothetical perfect universe, there would be a “talking with your horny adolescent about porn” pamphlet that would contain the following:
No implicit anti-sex bias.
Acknowledge that porn has existed for a good long time.
Acknowledge that men and women have looked at (and created) porn for a very long time.
Acknowledge that masturbation is okay. (Seriously, you would be amazed at the amount of material on this subject that either never mentions it or only coyly alludes to it. It’s like they’re talking about porn as experienced and used by some alien species only distantly if at all related to humanity.)
An explanation that porn is (mostly) Not Real.
Emphasize that it’s a paid performance job.
Contextualize porn inside the larger world of fantasy entertainment (real police don’t act like they do on cop shows, so therefore..?)
Delve into the un-glamorous mechanics of producing porn: enemas, viagra, vats of lube, editing, lighting, overdubbing, photoshop, etc.
Healthy skepticism about the porn industry itself
Emphasize that it’s just a job, and it’s often a crappy job.
Explain the realities of how porn workers are often paid and treated.
Explore the incentives the profit motive creates.
Acknowledge that some pretty despicable behavior has and does gone on in the making of a lot of porn.
Actual interviews with current and former performers, not just ex-officio pronouncements by some random PhD, and ideally a mix of positive and negative commentary.
Acknowledge the limits of generalization: “porn” encompasses a lot of territory, and different people will experience it differently both as producers and consumers
Actual historical background
Greek vases, the Song of Solomon, Sappho, Walt Whitman, 1920s muscle magazines: nothing takes the wind out of a teenager’s sails like realizing that he didn’t invent sex himself…
Some acknowledgement that there have always been wildly differing opinions on porn’s morality and effects, and that it’s an ongoing debate.
Does such a thing exist? Could such a thing exist? For that matter, is there some aspect of it that I’m missing?
(Politely, please. People who forget to cite sources or prefix opinions with “I think” will be swiftly and mercilessly disqualified by the judges.)