May 18, 2012

Queer Review: The Libertine (2004)

The Libertine
Director: Laurence Dunmore
Writer: Stephen Jeffreys (Based upon his own play)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Paul Ritter, John Malkovich, Stanley Townsend, Rosamund Pike, Samantha Morton, Tom Hollander, Johnny Vegas, Richard Coyle

This pretentious biopic of debauched libertine John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, features mesmerizing performances from Johnny Depp and Samantha Morton, but unfortunately thanks to poor directorial choices/style, turns out to be a bore.

The story begins with King Charles II (John Malkovich) asking John Wilmot (Johnny Depp) to return to London after having been previously exiled. Wilmot does so and Charles asks Wilmot to write a play to honor the Kings' legacy and leadership. Wilmot agrees and meanwhile starts a romance with actress Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton). His wife (Rosamund Pike) used to the Earl engaging in such affairs, doesn't mind. When the play finally opens, King Charles is enraged to find himself being openly mocked and Wilmot flees London, and spends the rest of the movie dyeing of a mysterious venereal disease.

The Queering
The most effective sequence of The Libertine is the opening monologue, in which Johnny Depp, set against a dark backdrop, brazenly tells the audience that "you will not like me". Too bad the rest of the film fails to live up to the promising beginning.

The subject matter is also promising. Wilmot, like any good libertine playwrite, told stories with the lewdest of subject matter and mocked any and all authority, even if that authority was the one commissioning him. Johnny Depp gives one of the braver performances of his career and Samantha Morton, as the upstart actress Wilmont falls for, manages to almost outshine him at times. The dialogue is brimming with wit, even if it's a tad unrealistic at times. Nobody in any era was ever that flowery when they spoke.

So where does the production go wrong? Unfortunately first time director Laurence Dunmore presents the entire production in as dreary a manor as possible. Every scene is filmed with little light and and with the most drab colors. This does a good job at highlighting the filthiness of 17th Century London, but it causes the whole production to become dreary and depressing rather quickly. The final third of the film, which features Wilmot's downward spiral from a venereal disease that slowly destroys his face, may make the audience wonder if getting syphilis might represent a less painful experience than sitting through this film.

Than there is the issue of the straitening out of John Wilmot. In his writings, Wilmot frequently made heterosexuality out to be inferior to same sex activities. One would never know this from watching The Libertine. The opening monologue teases the audience here too, with Depp brazenly announcing his willingness to engage in intercourse with the dudes in the audience. After that, Wilmot's queerness becomes entirely a matter of subtext. That about sums up my opinion of the movie, that it is entirely a sub-textual tease.

The experience of watching The Libertine is like suffering all of the consequences of a libertine lifestyle (painful and embarrassing STD's, liver failure from alcohol consumption, etc.) but getting to enjoy none of the benefits. In other words, masochists are the only ones who should seek this out.

The Rating


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

Queer Issue: The Queer Umbrella is an Oxymoron

Having just come across this poll on The Huffington Post, I felt a bit of a need to respond. Why? Becuase it's a completely pointless question to ask.

The whole purpose of the developing a queer identity, historically speaking, was to shun labels, boundries, and umbrellas. To even say something like "queer umbrella" would be like saying "I want to blur the boundries between good and evil, but cannot accept that there are shades of grey between them". Likewise, asking if the queer identity includes polyamorous relationships and asexuals is like asking if oak trees and mammels are all catagories of nouns.

If one thinks that asexuals and polyamourous relationships might not be or cannot be included in the term queer, than one obviously knows nothing of queer history or the origins of such.

May 15, 2012

Social Constructs and the Natural Order Part 3: Free Will, Choice, and Self Determinism Within Social Constructs

This is the third in a series of planned philosophical essays and therefore will not make sense if you have not read the first one.

Social Constructs and The Natural Order

Table of Contents
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Evolution and Survival of Systems
Part 3: Free Will, Choice, and Self Determinism Within Social Constructs
Part 4: The Role of Science and Religion
Part 5: Social Constructions Involving Race, Ethnicity and Culture
Part 6: Social Constructions Involving Gender and Sexuality
Part 7: Thoughts on Creating more Ethical Systems

If there was ever a more hoary concept than free will, I have yet to come across it. Basically, we all like to think of ourselves as entitities capable of determining our own destiny. We call ourselves "self made men" and arrogantly assume that could possibly be true on any level.

Of course, it should be important to note to define what free will is. Free will, for the purpose of this series, shall be defined as, "the ability to freely choose between two (or more) options, with those two (or more) options leading to significantly different outcomes."

To sum up me feelings on the matter, I do not believe in free will and ultimately that all "choice is an illusion".

In regards to social constructs this is important for several reasons. One, while "free will" is technically not a social construct in of itself, it is a false belief that is used to justify a lot of really problematic social constructs. For example, libertarianism not only requires a society of entirely rational individuals to function (good luck with that) it also requires that they are all capable of acting according to the principles of free will.

Furthermore, in our current society, conditions such as poverty and homelessness is not seen as the ultimate consequence of imbalanced and bigoted power structures, but the consequences of the choices of the individuals who are poor and homeless.

Than there is the reality that "choice" is seen as an empowering concept in of itself. By making consumers believe that they have "chosen" a particular brand (rather than having been skillfully manipulated by advertising) companies are able make costumers feel good about a given purchase. By selling the concept of free will to consumers, "choice" becomes another tool in a companies sales tool kit. Modern capitalism, like libertarianism, relies on the belief of it's proponents in free will in order to function.

I don't have much more to say than that I'll be exploring this more in the last part, Thoughts on Creating More Ethical Systems.

Off Topic: Mickey Mouse For President!

From any reasonable perspective, modern politics leaves much to be desired for those, such as myself, who favor pragmatism over idealogy. When it comes to political activist a myriad of choices are presented, each with their own set of problems and compromises. While participating in protests, using social media to raise awareness of social injustice, letter writing campaigns, petitions, and so on are all legitimate means of political activism, there is really only one way in a democratic society to achieve real social change, namely voting.

But then the question becomes, which candidate should one vote for? Should one even vote for any candidate? In the upcoming Presidential election, voters will have the option to choose between Mitt Romney and Barrack Obama. However, I think it's worth comparing the differnt optionns and considering the pragmatic value of each compared to voting for either mainstream candidates.

Option 1: Not voting
A totally non-pragmatic option as there is no chance of affecting social change by not voting. By staying home and not voting as a means of protest, all one will accomplish is to make oneself totally irrelevant to the political process.

Option 2: Voting third party or supporting a candidate doing a write in campaign.
This has pragmatic merit and therefore worth considering, due to the fact that having a viable third party has a shot at breaking through the dysfunctional mess that is modern politics. True, the chances of the candidate winning the election may be slim, but the fact is that every political party has to get it's start somewhere, but if a political party or politician gets enough votes, it may garner them enough attention to allow them win the proceeding election or at least get airtime on future debates.

Option 3: Abstaining but still casting a ballot or by writing in your favorite cartoon character.
Different from Option 1 in the sense that it requires the political activist to actually go to polling station and make aproximately the same effort as any other voter. While in the short term you will not be affecting the immediate election, the advantage comes from the message it sends to whoever wins. Consider how much more seriously an elected politician will take constituents concerns if their main compitition was from Mickey Mouse.

Granted this applies less when the politician who wins becomes a second term President, but I think it's worth considering, even if the chances of this having the desired affect are slightly less than number 2.

Also, I would like to point out that I have done this myself in one local election, when the candidate in question was running unapposed and had taken on positions that I found untenable.

Option 4: Voting For Either Democrate or Republican
For the pragmatic political activist, there is no longer any reason to consider voting for Republican candidates at the national level. I can't comment on local or state politicans too much (particularly as there is one local Republcan candidate currently holding office that I like) but when it comes to the GOP, idealogy now trumps any and all reason. What makes the situation worse is that the GOP's idealogy is horrifically inconsistent due to the crossing of Ayn Rands' Libertarianism (Screw the poor! Big Business Rocks!) while picking and choosing bits and pieces of Old Testament Law (Death to the Homosexual!) to shove down citizens' throats. "Uttely nonsensical" is a phrase unable to come anywhere near summing up my feelings for the current GOP.

From a pragmatice perspective when it comes to Romeney and Obama, there is no contest. Based upon everything I have read about Romeny's economic policies and positions, I see no reason to believe that that they will do anything besides benefit the rich while screwing over the middle and working classes. Toss in Romney's laughing off the fact that he once assaulted a fellow student who demonstrated non-conforming behavior and combined with his waffling/etch-a-sketching on every issue, and there is nothing to indicate that Romney has any leadership qualities worth mentioning.

Yes, I have very serious concerns about the positions and prioritites that many Democratic politicians, paticularly Obama have taken, as well as some of the legislation that they have supported and passed.

I get why many people are fed up with the democrates. To me, modern politics often feels like the following scenario.

You've just been in a serious car wreck, are experiencing severe arterial bleeding, your arms are bent at angles you didn't know were possible, and you can't move or feel anything below your waist. Along come the Democrates and offer you only a single band-aid and maybe spread a little salt in the wounds "to prevent infection". When the Republicans show up, they simply offer a length of rope tied into a noose, "to make the pain go away quicker".

At the same time, liberal political pundits stand around the smoking hulk that was once your car, hyping the undervalued healing properties of salt when combined with band-aids. All the while, conservative commentators argue that the rope in question is too expensive and because all of the money spent by the government on the noose, the salt, and the band-aids has now all been added to the national debt, we can soon be expecting the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Furthermore, the conservatives argue, the EPA really sucks because of how much envirnmental regulations will cost to remove and properly dispose of your car.

As you start to draw your final breaths, the liberals jump back in argueing that the EPA is good damnit (how dare the conservatives suggest otherwise) becuase of how much it will be helping to save all the species that are now endangered by the toxic fumes your burning vehicle is giving off.

Getting back the issue at hand, as a pragmatist, I believe in choosing the options before me, not in giving in to idealogy. That means even if I disagree with the President's stance in favor of LGB assimilation via marriage, I will still consider voting for him over the guy who assaulted a fellow student for demonstrating effeminate behavior.

To me, the choice a pragmatic activist has comes down to voting for a third party or write in candidate vs. voting for Obama. Those options are legitimate means of creating political change, while voting for Romney in the presidential election means chossing the worst of all the possible options. The worst option is not voting at all, which means giving up all chance of achieving political change and social justice.

May 9, 2012

Queer Issue: What is Marriage For?

With the recent announcement from President Obama, in which he endorsed marriage equality for same sex couples, the LGBTQ social networking scene just exploded with a the sort of rainbow collective joy that one might assume signalled the second coming of Christ.

However, I think this is as good a time as any to ask a question that rarely gets brought up: What purpose does state sanctioned marriage serve? That is, why should the state sanction specific types of relationships?

Consider the following possible reasons why the state might wish to sanction marriage:

In the united states, the first ammendment would appear to prevent the government from sanctioning *any* religious form of marriage whatsoever. If the state were to sanction marriage, it would have to do so with reasons that would be unrelated to religion.

Promote Sexual Monogamy
The government needs to stay the hell out of peoples' bedrooms. There is no bloody reason the state should care about the sexual activities that occur between consenting adults. Any questions?

Two (or more) people living together in the same dwelling and sharing resources, would (logically speaking) use fewer resources than if they lived separately. Therefore, it could be argued that it would benefit society on the whole, if more people lived together. Therefore, it would benefit society on the whole to promote relationships that encourage people living together.

Several problems with this. One is that it does not matter if the people involved are lovers or merely room-mates, they are still going to be using less resources regardless. The second is that, well what's the point of the government providing economic advantages to a situation that already comes with it's own economic incentives?

We often think that marriage means a better environment to raise kids in. I mean, obviously two people in a committed to raising a child(ren) are going to have an advantage over a single parent. Furthermore, given the whole "kids are the future of society" thing, it makes sense for society to provide benefits (such as tax breaks) to individuals who are raising kids.

But since single parents need more support over parents who are in committed relationships, it makes more sense for the government to provide more benefits to single parents, not less.

In short, it is difficult to find a reason for the state to sanction *any* marriage. In fact, it makes more sense for the state to provide additional benefits in some cases to adults who are single (if they are raising kids) than it does providing benefits to those who are in committed relationships.

While LGB advocates celebrate Obama's endorsement, they fail to ask what exactly is the purpose of even having state sanctioned marriage. I say leave marriage to the religious communities that wish to sanction it, leave the state out of it.

Ultimately, the queer community has bigger issues to pursue, such as seeking to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, dealing with homelessness (a problem which disproportionally affects lgbtq youth), or doing something as simple as passing GENDA in NY State. Marriage equality will benefit the wealthiest of the LGBTQ community, but will do little for those who need it the most.

Is this true equality?

May 5, 2012

Queer Issue: Transgender/Transsexual vs. the Gay: Let the Oppression Olympics Begin!

I realise that I'm probably going to offend at least a few people with what I'm about to say, but so be it.

Back when marriage equality was going before the NY State Legislature, I can recall how fired up every major pro-gay (I'm not going to say LGBT for reasons that should be obvious shortly) was. My twitter feed was nearly a constant stream of pro-marriage sentiment. Pro-same sex marriage (and anti-same sex marriage) stories abounded across the media. Albany was flooded with supporters. I can recall reading updates on The Bilerico Project from Rev. Emily C. Heath, who came from out of state to show her support in Albany. Gov. Cuomo himself had long since endorsed marriage equality. There was an energy in the air so thick you could have operated an entire gay pride float solely on the sheer rainbow colored exuberance.

Now, a little less than a year later, GENDA was able to pass (for the fourth time) the NY State Assembly, and now needs to pass the Senate in order to become law. For those who are unaware, GENDA provides key protections for Transgender and Transsexual individuals by preventing discrimination based upon gender identity, as well as strengthening hate crime legislation for crimes committed against Transgender/Transsexual. Unfortunately, GENDA faces what could charitably be called an uphill battle in order to become law. Actually, to be more accurate, it's most likely going to be dead on arrival.

Now here's where things get really disturbing. All of the mainstream organizations that put so much effort into marriage equality, now appear to be taking a nice easy rest rather than working to ensure that GENDA at least has a chance at passing. At a time when pro-LGBTQ organizations should be using the momentum gained from the passage of marriage equality in New York State, they instead appear to be applying to the brakes. There is no energy, and barely a whisper of support from any of the mainstream organizations. I have yet to notice a singel pro-GENDA tweet on my twitter feed. I have not heard of any endorsment from Gov. Cuomo and a quick google search turned up nothing.

Furthermore, all of this is occuring with Justice and Equality Day less than a week away, in which GENDA has at least been decided will be the focus. Maybe I'm asking too much, but I do feel the energy is missing. I have not heard of any endorsment from Gov. Cuomo and if there is coalition building going on, it's going on quietly and behind closed doors.

So let me say it: this is complete and utter bullshit. Transgender/Transsexual individuals (even when compared to gays and lesbians) are more likely to be fired from their jobs, be denied housing, or have to deal regularly with the threat of extreme violence. SONDA already exists to protect people from being fired or denied housing based upon sexual orientation, but there exists no such laws to protect against those issues based upon gender identity. That is, it is illegal to deny housing or fire an employee for reasons related to their sexual orientation but perfectly legal to do so based upon gender identity.

Maybe there are reasons for this situation but I'm not interested in hearing them. I'm tempteted to point fingers, but I only have 10. There is no excuse for the lack of effort and the double standards exhibited by the mainstream pro-LGB (and allegedly pro-LGBT) organizations here. There is a long and extensive history of pro-LGB organizations focusing on pro-LGB issues and completely ignoring the needs of Transgender/Transsexual individuals. This history now seems doomed to repeat itself ad nauseum.

If the mainstream organizations could come together and build the necessary coalitions to pass marriage equality in New York, why is it so much harder to pass something much more basic (and more important to the indviduals who would benefit from it) such as GENDA?

Marriage Equality was strongly opposed by multiple organizations, such as National Organization for Marriage, and became a lightening rod of controversy. At this point in time, GENDA has mostly flown under the radar, which at least has prevented it from coming under the same level of scrutiny. Maybe this is part of the strategy being used by the mainstream LGB organizations, keep GENDA's profile low in order to prevent it from earning the same level of scorn.

I really doubt that is the strategy being used though. My sense is that even if GENDA was more in the spotlight, it still would not be facing down the same opposition that marriage equality faced. Try finding clobber verses for the fundamentalists to use against it and you're going to come up short. Furthermore, whereas even state sanctioned marriage is viewed as a religious concept, employment is not typically subject to the same moral scrutiny. In short, I actually think passing GENDA would be easier than marraiage equality, particularly with the momentum that we gained less than a year ago.

Therefore, the question becomes why is it legislation that when compared to marriage equality, should (in theory) be easier to pass and would have a greater impact for the population that has more need of it, be getting the silent treatement?

I have no words other than to say that I am saddened by the mainstream LGB(T?) organizations lack of public support for GENDA. At a time when we could have another victory on our hands, we have only the barest echo of a whisper.

May 4, 2012

Otsego County Pflag: GENDA and New York State Equality and Justice Day

Otsego County Pflag: GENDA and New York State Equality and Justice Day: Okay, as I posted in the Facebook group, I plan on attending the New York State Justice and Equality Day in Albany (May 8th) and encourage o...

Social Constructs and The Natural Order: Part 2: The Evolution and Survival of Systems

This is the second in a series of planned philosophical essays and therefore will not make sense if you have not read the first one.

Social Constructs and The Natural Order

Table of Contents
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Evolution and Survival of Systems
Part 3: Free Will, Choice, and Self Determinism Within Social Constructs
Part 4: The Role of Science and Religion
Part 5: Social Constructions Involving Race, Ethnicity and Culture
Part 6: Social Constructions Involving Gender and Sexuality
Part 7: Thoughts on Creating more Ethical Systems

The Evolution and Survival of Systems
As the flight begins, all is well. Our would-be airman has been pushed off the edge of the cliff and is peddling away, and the wings of his craft are flapping like crazy. He's feeling wonderful, ecstatic. He's experiencing the freedom of the air. What he doesn't realize, however, is that this craft is aerodynamically incapable of flight. It simply isn't in compliance with the laws that make flight possible - but he woud laugh if you told him this. He's never heard of such laws, knows nothing about them. He would point at those flapping wings and say, 'See? just like a bird!' Nevertheless, whatever he thinks, he's not in flight. He's an unsupported objected falling toward the center of the earth.
-Ishmael, An Adventure of the Mind and Soul by Daniel Quinn

The story of an aviator who, after being pushed off a cliff while believing that he was in flight, provides a wonderful illustration for what I want to talk about with this article. But let's backup a little first.

To begin with, it was evolution that gave forth to rational consciousness and rational consciousness that gave forth to social constructs, which require the faith of rationally conscious beings in order to exist. These social constructs would of course have originally been designed by our rational consciousness in order to help us survive.

Now for the obvious conclusion, that social constructs should follow similar rules in terms of how they would survive and perpetuate themselves. It should also be equally obvious that there would be some significant differences as well. For example, the method by which social constructs are able to perpetuate themselves - propaganda, language, indirect persuasions, and way to many others to list here - are radically different from those of biological organisms, which rely primarily upon the transfer of genetic material from one generation to the next in order to perpetuate and survive.

However, that is where the differences end and the similarities begin. The most basic rule of biological evolution - that biological systems/organisms change over time and that those organisms which take on traits that give them a better chance of survival - relative to the other biological systems that they are competing with - will be most able to pass on their biologogical traits.

This too applies to social constructs. Social constructs wil compete with each other for believers, as well as natural resources, which means that social constructs will inevitably follow the same principles as biological organisms. That is, social constructs which take on characteristics that will best enable them to survive - relative to the social constructs they are directly competing with - will have a better chance of "surviving" and perpetuating themselves onto future generations.

While this may seem tautologically obvious, there is a key catchet that is often overlooked, namely that in evolution, negative characteristics or traits that do not help the organism/system to survive, can still be sustained, provided they do not cause the extinction of said organism or system.

Furthermore, social constructs can take on traits that may allow those social constructs to survive in the stort term while having others that guarantee extinction in the long term. It is possible for sustainable social constructs to be created that have traits that have negative effects, for both the constructs and those who believe in them.

This all leads me to the point I want to end on. Much like the doomed aviator in Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, it is possible for us to construct the means of our own doom. Our faith that certain social constructs are necessary for our survival will not save us if we are wrong.

May 3, 2012

Off Topic: The Diverse Visions of the Founding Fathers.

I keep coming across this phrase again and again, "The one true vision of the Founding Fathers". This is a phrase, I would argue, which has only one proper response. That response being the sort of BLEEPing noise one hears on game shows when a contestant gives a wrong answer to a question, or if on Jeopardy! the wrong question to the answer.

Why is this one might ask? Well, basically because the very idea that there was one, and only one, unified vision that the Founding Fathers had for America, is fundamentally flawed. The Founding Fathers, I would like to point out, were rarely of one mind and disagreed frequently. Their political (and religioius) beliefs were as diverse as the Founding Fathers themselves

Some of the founding fathers owned slaves, others were abolitionists. Some thought a weak central government was best, others thought a stronger federal government was needed to rule over the states. Some were atheists, diests, and agnotics, others were deeply religious. Some believed that a bill of rights would be unnecessary, but we ended up with one anyways

Furthermore, the Founding Fathers were not even of one mind over how the Constitution itself should be interpreted. Some, like Thomas Jefferson believed that the government had no powers other than what were explicitely granted by the Constitution, others believed a looser interpretation would be necessary in order to practically run a country.

If there was one value that the Founding Fathers agreed on, it was the importance compromise. You read that right, the Founding Fathers were big fans of coming together, in spite of their differences of opinion and negotiating untill a compromise could be reached. One needs to look no further than the U.S. Constitution to see this. The most obvious would be the Great Compromise, which divides Congress up into the Senate and House of Representatives. The other well known compromise would be the 3/5ths compromise, which also serves as an awkward acknowldgment of the existence of slavery.

If there is one value that has been lost in modern politics, it is the importance of compromise and negotiation. What makes this even more interesting (and ironic) is the fact that amongst many of todays politicians, those who cry the loudest about being true to the vision of the Founding Fathers, are also those who have become the most intractable.

May 2, 2012

Off Topic: On iPads and the lack of posts...

Okay, first, allow me to offer up that little standard uh apology for not having posted a lot recently. Although, I'm not sure I understand the point precisely of apologizing for having a life beyond this virtual internet thingie but if every other blogger out there does it in similar circumstances...

In any case, I've been busy with another project, a story to be precise that I've been working on. Maybe I'll even get it published someday.

The other problem is that my laptop has slowly bitten the dust and is now closer to paperweight than electronic. It's only a matter of time before the Smithsonian starts making inqueries.

I can write more or less on my iPad, especially since my Dad got me a nice little keyboard that connects wirelessly,f for me for Christmas and while it's not like writing on a regular keyboard it is nicer than using the screen keypad. However, the format I use for the reviews is virtually impossible to replicate on an iPad. Well, it's possible, it's just really difficult and time consuming. Given my current funding situation, it will be awhile before I can afford a new regular laptop.

Speaking of the iPad, I thought I would offer up my thoughts on the device. There are two things I want to say. One is that Apple has truely created a truely amazing piece of hardware. They then went on to set up this amazing piece of hardware with some seriously flawed software. As someone who uses flash and java apps a lot, the lack of support for flash and java apps is rather disappointing. Particularly as someone who plays Runescape. So what if those things use up a lot of battery life and are ineffecient? I like having access to all the internet has to offer and if I want to use a program that shortens the battery life, shouldn't I at least have that option?

That's just the beginning of the software issues I have. The other is the way that there is no independent way to store files outside of apps, which makes emailing/uploading photos online... frustrating. As in trying to do so will usually end with the phrase: *AURGH* *HULK* *SMASH*. I bet the high price tag is the main reason more iPads don't usually end up in a million bits at the end of the day. It's weird to go from being able to effortless perform a variety of tasks that would seem nearly impossible for a single device to pull off to wanting to smash it for being inable to do something that seems utterly straightforward.

Suffice to say, I dislike having to shell out a few bucks each for apps that allow one to upload to services like Facebook or Instagram.

In the grand scheme of things, I should note that it's nice to be able to take one small porable device with me me to the gym, use it to watch music videos while I workout, take photos to document graffiti on the streets outside, type up a few paragraphs for the story I mentioned I was working on while I eat lunch, then later go to a meeting and show those photos to others.

Just good luck for anyone who might want to also use Java, Flash, or show those photos to anyone on Facebook on the free.