BH, BU, & OE


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BH, BU, & OE

13 April 2018


Check Your White Privilege White Tower Musings—DAMN, This is America


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Childish Gamb

It’s not a place

This country is to be a sound of drum and bass

You close your eyes to look around

—XXX, Kendrick Lamar & Bono


America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.

America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.   

I can’t stand my own mind.

America when will we end the human war?

-America, Allen Ginsberg


He guns down the choir a machine gun and says “This is America.”  It’s a moment that hits me in my gut because it’s stylized violence before I remember that it’s actually happened.

I really do in fact, despite my claims, have several friends.  I know that as a writer and an introvert I’m supposed to say that I have no friends, but I do in fact have people in my life that I care a lot about.  True many of them are coworkers, but they’re also people I have a lot in common with.  Some are queer like me, almost all of them are readers, and almost all of them enjoy music of some sort.  And outside of work I have a gathering of people who, while they no longer live in my home town of Tyler, I’m still close to.  One of these friends is my brother Josh Grijalva.18033223_1945210082376663_8569107665547197131_n

He’s not a biological brother, but this motherfucker and I am joined at the hip.  When you wrap your arms around somebody for dear life at a Slipknot concert that’s fucking family.  I met Josh several years ago as I was just starting college, and I didn’t know his actual first name for close to a year, when I found out he was also called Josh I felt like a dumbass.  It didn’t matter thought because over the next few years the pair of us bonded over Heavy Metal, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Creative Writing (he was the mad-poet genius and I was the cold souls prose-ist).  Josh taught me a lot about life, and after his mother died I tried to be there for him as much as I could, and it’s one of the great fucking tragedies of my life that the guy lives up in Dallas, but we still talk off and on and this relationship has, in it’s way, still been one of the best relationships in my life partly because Josh Introduced me to Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino.

Rap wasn’t a genre of music that was played in my house growing up.  My parents were teenagers of the late seventies and early seventies so I grew up on Aerosmith, Blondie, AC/DC, Boston, Madonna, and the Eurythmics.  Along with this there was plenty of Rat Pack: Louie Prima, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzegerald, and of course Frank Sinatra.  It wasn’t that my parents kept me from Rap growing up, it just wasn’t part of their world, and because parents tend to raise their children according to their own values and interests and aesthetics, I grew up being bottle fed by the Rock-Gods rather than the
Rap pioneers.  I don’t hold my parents at fault foro0800060812932993417this, but this absence of rap also seemed to follow the pattern of “whiteness” that was my upbringing.  

There weren’t many black people around growing up.  I attended a private christian school where there was only one African American student in my class, and by the time I graduated there was only two.  The only black people I ever interacted with were the janitors and custodians of the school or our church that dad worked with (he’s an exterminator so he tended to work with the staff).  My social life was pretty much
nonexistent and I was an introvert who preferred staying home playing video games and reading comics.  This is just a long way of saying that I lived in what some would refer to as a “lily-white” world or privilege and so approaching an essay about two rap songs is a difficult proposition because before I’ve even begun I have to address my whiteness and my privilege.

Josh Grijalva has steadily introduced me, over time, to great rappers like N.W.A., Wu-Tang Clan, Kendrick Lamarr, and Childish Gambino.  Each of these people or groups has opened me to a new world of music and now I know the important truth that Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nuthin’ to fuck with.  And that I need to “fight the powers that be.”  Josh was a great teacher because he offered me suggestions for music, and in my effort to understand my white privilidge and consider the experience of the African American community I’ve discovered a lot of incredible artists I never would have encountered in my childhood.02-Childish-Gambinos-This-Is-America-screenshot-billboard-1548

I never grew up around the threat of gun violence, and so watching Childish Gambino shoot a man through the back of the head and declare that this is America is at first shocking and jarring, but the last few years are a quick counter to this.  

This is America is a song that has become a new discourse largely because of the video, and as I discussed the short film with one of my fellow co-workers, who for the record taught me the word “woke,” we both agreed that the song is great but the video is work of art that manages to convey far more than the lyrics.  If the reader looks at the first start of the song they might not observe too much significance.  Childish Gambino has just shot a man, who at the start of the video was simply playing the guitar, through the back of the head and the song starts:

This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo)
Don’t catch you slippin’ now (ayy)This is America Gif

Look at how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now (woo)

Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy)

Guns in my area (word, my area)
I got the strap (ayy, ayy)
I gotta carry ’em

A rapper singing about the need to carry guns for the sake of his own protection in the neighborhood he loves in isn’t anything new.  In fact groups like N.W.A. pretty much made it an industry standard.  What makes the words so powerful is the way in which Childish Gambino presents it.  Throughout the entire video the man is shirtless, wearing just a pair of pants, and while he is not out of shape by any means, as he dances about the man is never presented as a kind of sexual ideal.  In fact throughout the video onethis-is-america gets a sense of the man’s vulnerability.

This is America follows Childish Gambino as he sings and dances through a large warehouse that is populated by him, a group of dancing African American school children, and then humans that are always moving about in the background usually fighting, looting, burning the many parked cars, or else attacking the few clearly African American characters in the background.  Gambino becomes this surreal figure as cars are burning, people are looting and burning, and the man is smiling and dancing about.

And this very act has led some to observe that one of the most striking aspect of the videoBlackface THISare the implications of blackface performance tropes.  Gambino is constantly dancing through the film, making jerking motions and contortion his face randomly.  The bent elbows, the erratic facial twists, and the near cakewalk on top of the car near the end of the video all call back to minstrel shows where white performers would done black face paint and behave in cartoonish representations of African Americans.  I’m not the first person to observe this similarity, in fact many of the people who watched this film have observed how Childish Gambino uses a pseudo-minstrel-show persona throughout the video to distract the viewer from the violence and mayhem taking place in the background behind him.  This reference to a morbid form of entertainment continues the body narrative because ultimately the black man’s body is observedBlackface TIAin objectified ways to the point of being a commodity.  While the world behind him burns Gambino is a mock-minstrel reminding the viewer that black men like himself have been used and destroyed, while a shallow cartoon has distracted people from
seeing the real travesties that plague American society.  Why see the violent conflict that afflicts real people in our society when there is, in Gambino’s own words, a “fitted” and “pretty” person “on Gucci.”  Why bother to see the violence in the haze when there’s a funny cartoon dancing right in front of you?  Isn’t that far more entertaining? 

It’s when the man shoots the quoir with the AK-47 that the video seems to take the turn that it does.  Gambino appears through a door and dances to the quoit singing the lines:

Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody

EverlastingKindheartedGiraffe-max-1mbYou gon’ tell somebody

Grandma told me
Get your money, Black man (get your money)
Get your money, Black man (get your money)
Get your money, Black man (get your—Black man)
Get your money, Black man (get your—Black man)
Black man

And at once Gambino produces the rifle and guns the choir down.  It’s a quick act, not drawn and not dramatized.  In fact if you blink you’ll almost miss it.  The gun fires and the bodies drop and once again Gambino declares This is America.  The dramatic quickness of the act, and the way it changes the tone of the music instantly the reader is left wondering what the fuck just happened.xoFCtzg

I’m not the only blogger who has commented on the dramatic violence of This is America, in fact the internet seems to have become, since the video dropped, just one long discourse about what the violence means, what the popularity of the film suggests, and whether or not Gambino was right to even create it.  In the face of all this discourse I run the risk of becoming just another voice in the white haze, and in fact I probably will.  What more can be said when so much has been said?  As per usual I turn my focus back to myself and see what the video means for me, or what I focus on and that in fact is not the violence but the very end of the film.

Gambino is seen running through the warehouse in the dark and Young Thug, one of the collaborators for the song begins singing gently:

You just a black man in this world
You just a barcode, ayyThis is America
You just a black man in this world
Drivin’ expensive foreigns, ayy

You just a big dawg, yeah
I kenneled him in the backyard
No probably ain’t life to a dog
For a big dog

As throughout the film Gambino reveals a real vulnerability, specifically his body.  He’s a black man being chased through the dark by white shadows as the world declares that he’s just a barcode.

It’s not violent like the early scenes.  There’s no cop cars burning.  There’s no acts of random violence.  Instead there is just the vulnerability of the man’s body, and the look of terror in his eyes as he has to flee.  It’s clear if they catch him they’ll destroy his body, and on some level it’s implied that the destruction will take more than that.  Over the course of the video Gambino has tried to make his body into something more.  A black man’s body is something painfully relevant and important because it’s something that’s vulnerable; it’s something than can be destroyed or stolen or appropriated.

Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks about this in his usual magnificent way in his book Between the World and Me when he address his young son:download1

Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.  Enslavement was not merely the antiseptic borrowing of labor—it is not so easy to get a human being to commit their body against its own elemental interest.  And so enslavement must be casual wrath and random mangling, the gashing of heads and brains blown out over the river as the body seeks to escape.  It must be rape so regular as to be industrial.  There is no uplifting way to say this.  I have no pride anthems, nor old Negro Spirituals.  The spirit and soul are the body and the brain, which are destructible—that is precisely why they are so precious.  And the soul did not escape.  The spirit did not steal away on gospel wings.  The soul and body that fed the tobacco, and the spirit was the blood that watered the cotton, and these created the first fruits of the American garden.  And the fruits were secured through the bashing of children with stove wood, through hot iron peeling skin away like husk from corn.

It had to be blood.  (103-4).

Many people online have pointed out the symbolism of almost every aspect of the video.  Whether it’s the references to Minstrel shows, the implication of viral violence, the ignoring of violence that is all too apparent, the references to actual gin violence in america, of the references to the “sunken-place” from Get Out This is Americathis-is-america-2promisesso much opportunity to explore violence and the problems facing the black body in American Society.

I’ve watched This is America at least ten times, and each time I see more and more of this symbolism, but more and more all I can really observe is the vulnerability on display.  The body is something that is exposed to all of this violence, and while Gambino manages to escape this destruction around him, the implication at the end is that no one is truly free from it.

Which of course brings me to XXX and DAMN.

There was an ambition that really was a dream in the early years of my training as a writer.  I wanted to win a Pulitzer.  The writers I admired had won that award:damn-kendrick-lamarHemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner.  And so my young brain interpreted the winning of that award not as something that meant one had really said something with their art but just a real recognition that your art was legitimate and culturally recognized.  I’ve since abandoned the ambition that I will ever win a Pulitzer because I’m a realist and some dude with a blog, but I still follow the award and it’s winners because the books that win it do tend to say something significant about the culture and the zeitgeist.  It was too my great joy when I heard that Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN had won the award because I love the song XXX.

DAMN is an album I downloaded as soon as the library bought a copy and I’ve inhaled it ever since.  It’s not just that it’s unlike any rap album I’ve bought to date, it’s just a truly exceptional album for the way that it feels of it’s time and place while also making something that will last as a true cultural document.  DAMN is the first rap album ever to win the P{ulitzer and listening to XXX it’s not too difficult to understand why.  The song digs into the problems of gun violence in the United States, while also digging into Lamar’s self.

He sets up the story as a friend informs of the death of his son:

Yesterday I got a call like from my dog like 101

Said they killed his only son because of insufficient funds

He was sobbin’, he was mobbin’, way belligerent and drunk

Talkin’ out his head, philosphin’ on what the Lord had done

He said: “K-Dot, can you pray for me?KLamar Live

It’s been a fucked up day for me

I know that you anointed, show me how to overcome.”

He was lookin’ for some closure

Hopin’ I could bring him closer

To the spiritual, my spirit do no better, but I told him

“I can’t sugarcoat the answer for you, this is how I feel:

If somebody kill my son, that mean somebody gettin’ killed.”

Tell me what you do for love, loyalty, and passion of

All the memories collected, moments you could never touch

And after Bono sings his haunting chorus that feels like something out of a Jazz-roomCelly This is Americabar, Kendrick continues reflecting his pain outward and trying to understand it in the larger cultural context:

Hail Mary, Jesus and Joseph

The great American flag

Is wrapped and dragged with explosives

Compulsive disorder, sons and daughters

Barricaded blocks and borders

Look what you taught us!

It’s murder on my street, your street, back streets

Wall Street, corporate offices

Banks, employees, and bosses with

Homicidal thoughts; Donald Trump’s in office

We lost Barack and promised to never doubt him again

K Lamarr Live 2But is America honest, or do we bask in sin?

Pass the gin, I mix it with American blood

Then bash him in, you Crippin’ or you married to blood?

I’ll ask again-oops-accident

It’s nasty when you set us up

Then roll the dice, then bet us up

You overnight the big rifles, then tell Fox to be scared of us

Gang members or terrorists, et cetera, et cetera

America’s reflections of me, that’s what a mirror does
I can never understand fully the realities of being a black man, and the trials and pain and cultural weight that comes with it.  I’ve observed this repeatedly here on this siteCG Danceand in these essays, and while it feels repetitive to keep acknowledging my whiteness I do not believe that the sentiment loses any of its significance.  I am not a black a man, I am a white man who lives in a state of real privilege.  It’s not just that I’ve had economic advantages that have helped me live a comfortable life, I’ve also had educational advantages, and the privilege of living in a world that wasn’t plagued by violence.  I had the privilege to grow up not having to worry about what people thought about my body, or at least in a way where I didn’t have to worry about whether my body was perceived as a threat.  

Privilege as a word has fallen into a precarious position because there is so much debate about what the word actually is.  Privilege is not about absence of pain, misfortune, or absolvence.  Privilege is only and ever the reality in which an individual has some advantage that others do not.  The time and space to write these essays is a privilege, one that many people in this world would love to have.  The ability to not have to worrythe-undefeated-gif-sourceabout how one is going to get to work is a privilege.  The freedom to not have to worry about finding money for a child’s school payments is a privilege.  And now having to worry about whether your body is going to be objectified in positive or negative ways is a privilege.

That reality, living that reality, is a privilege.  This is America and DAMN shook me because they both reveal how much of a privilege that reality is.

Looking at myself in relation to these cultural events is the best way I have to write something that feels relevant about them.  Rather than just observing the symbolism contained therein, these are works of art and therefore it’s vital to understand theirThis-is-America-Donald-Glover-4relevance to the self.  What kind of man am I if I observe that there’s gun violence in my country and leave the observation at that?  What kind of citizen am I if I ignore the very real threat of violence against a portion of the population simply for the sake of my own comfort?  Art, when it is created with a concern for aesthetic and message can impact human beings in incredible ways.  Every time I watch This is America I have to wonder how much I agree?

The death of the choir is so dramatic and spontaneous.  The people didn’t even see it coming because the person who performed the act was someone right by them, dancing along to the music.  And in a moment their lives were gone.  It’s a disturbing, almost absurd reality that’s easy to dismiss as just a video.  But all too quickly the reader can check their phone or laptop and be reminded that such events have unfortunately become rather common.

The man dances on, the world burns behind him, and we all miss the violence for death riding by with a police escort.




*Writer’s Note*

All quotes cited from This is America came from  All quotes cited from XXX were sourced from


**Writer’s Note**

This video is too important to miss.  If the reader hasn’t seen it yet take the time to watch it.



***Writer’s Notes***

I’ve also included some links to articles about This is America and Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer win.

It Ain’t All Wishbone and Books Folks


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It Ain’t All Wishbone and Books Folks

25 January 2018

A Woman, Pretending to Be a Man, Pretending to Be a Woman, Being Herself: Julie Andrews’s Queer Feminism


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Julie Andrews in drag.  I mean after that I don’t really need any other reason to watch a movie.  I mean if you said Julie Andrews singing though I’d take that too.

I’ve recently acquired the title of “Queer Fairy Godmother” from a group of friends and this title comes with a bit of a conflict because it seems to be a multifaceted upon closer examination.  There’s the obvious “Queer” which is just another way of saying person who likes dick, vagina, and everything else in between, but then the use of the word 987B1B8A-DFF0-4529-9802-138915BDAB4E“Fairy” is a conflict.  I usually classify myself as “Queer as a $3 bill” because, while I am do not project the world’s most masculine persona, I don’t believe I’m a fairy in way form or fashion.  I prefer working class men, and men who wear leather, and my attire is usually jeans and a Slipknot shirt.  I might very well be a “Fairy,” but your perception is your reality, so I can’t say that I am a “fairy.”  There’s also the troublesome use of the word “Godmother” because this might suggest some sort of gender ambiguity when there really isn’t any.  Granted I like to wear the fingerless lace gloves that my wife originally bought for a costume from time to time, but even then I never question my gender perception.  I suspect then that this final word was meant more to be an indication of my tendency to point my friends in the directions of great queer resources in the form of books, films, and online resources.

I have yet to say “Bippety-Boppity-Boo” and then hand my friends a copy of Sex Between Men, but then again that’s only because I don’t have the magic wand.

Gay Movie Night has quickly become one of my favorite new activities largely because I am apparently this “Queer Fairy Godmother,” and last week I bestowed upon my friends Victor Victoriayet another gift from above, the movie Victor/Victoria.  I realized about halfway through that I had succeeded because my three friends, all of them queer and all of them women, spent most of the film shouting “Yas queen!” And applauding.

It was rather difficult to disagree with so much enthusiasm when Toddy, played by the perfect Robert Preston, has such incredible timing and wit throughout the film offering one of my favorite lines of the entire movie:

Toddy: Oh, god… there’s nothing more inconvenient than an old queen with a head cold.

If the reader is unfamiliar with the film, then you’re most certainly heterosexual, or else you’re still in “that phase.”  Don’t worry sweetheart we all were.  I know you say you just go to the bookstore for the coffee and books, but we all know it’s because Ryan got a full time gig as the barista and you’ve gotten nowhere in that “screenplay” that you’re writing that’s going to be great.  Whenever you’re ready we’re here for you.tumblr_p3rauvHtUS1qgyefyo1_500-2

As for my more seasoned readers who haven’t seen the film because they have lives and jobs and awesome Wild West Table Top games to play (Deadlands, check it out) Victor/Victoria is a film about a young woman named Victoria Grant who is trying to make a living in Paris as a singer.  The story actually begins however with a middle aged gay man named Carol “Toddy” Todd who is having relationship trouble.  The pair meet after Victoria is almost taken advantage of by her landlord, and Toddy has lost his job after he starts a fight with his lover in the nightclub where he works.  The pair have an instant connection, and when Victoria wears one of Toddy’s lover’s suits the pair hatch a plan.  Victoria will become a female impersonator, or, as she so brilliantly puts it, “A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman.”  The plan works and “Victor” becomes the smash of Paris until a nightclub owner from Chicago arrives with his body-guard and mistress to see her act.  King Marchand falls for her and Victoria falls back, and from that point on the film is a positively gay affair.

I suppose the first real meat of the matter that I need to write about is the constant gender dynamic that takes place in the film.  To be honest dear reader, I really didn’t want to write an essay about the movie.  I’ve actually just wanted to writer about women wearing suits for the last two months.  You see my “Unattainable Crush” happens to be Ellen Page (she’s unattainable because she’s married now and she and her partner are I'm Gayjust too fucking adorable, the fact that she’s a lesbian may also have something to do with it).  Apart from just being an incredibly awesome human being, Page is also one of these incredible women who happen to look fucking amazing in suits.  And ever since I fell in love with Diane Keaton in Annie Hall (there was something about her vest and tie) the image of a woman in a man’s suit has always left me sexually absorbed, and intellectually intrigued.  Better writers than I have tackled the butch quality of this effect, and I’m sure to write about it at some point, but looking at the film there are constant moments of Andrews rocking a white tie tuxedo better than most men.

Blade Edwards the director (who also just happened to be Julie Andrews husband) plays on this dynamic in the film, and when King Marchand confronts Victoria after her first show the reader is able to hear the doctoral theses write themselves:

King Marchand: I just find it hard to believe that you’re a man.

Victoria: Because you found me attractive as a woman?victor-victoria-toddy-and-victoria

King Marchand: Yes, as a matter of fact.

Victoria: That happens frequently.

King Marchand: Not to me.

Victoria: Just proves the old adage: “There’s a first time for everything.”

King Marchand: I don’t think so.

Victoria: But you’re not a hundred per cent sure?

King Marchand: Practically.victor-victoria-julie-andrews_l

Victoria: Ah, but to a man like you, someone who believes he could never, under any circumstances find another man attractive, the margin between “practically” and “for sure” must be as wide as the Grand Canyon.

This brilliant exchange is followed by this beautiful gem:

Victoria: Your problem, Mr. Marchand, is that you’re preoccupied with stereotypes. I think it’s as simple as you’re one kind of man, I’m another.

King Marchand: And what kind are you?

Victoria: One that doesn’t have to prove it. To myself, or anyone.13676_1

Having a library of Queer Theory and queer history and queer literary books that reach up to my eyes, and being surrounded by a small coven of queer women at the time, this line was greeted in the typical fashion, a series of applause followed by yet another round of “yas queen!” There is some merit to the question though I suppose: is this scene somewhat predictable, or does it lack a certain teeth in this contemporary atmosphere?  A conversation between a queer and straight man (though in this case it’s a woman pretending to be a queer man) in which the former questions the latter’s sexual rigidity is a scene I’ve scene played before sometimes to great effect but often it’s a downright bore.  To be completely honest it’s not that the scene in Victor/Victoria isn’t performed well, it’s that often such scenes are accomplished by actors who are really just acting as parrots for the writers attempting to impart some didactic moral lesson about sexuality and it’s fluidity.VV Poster

I might be being a bit harsh here, and the reaction of my friends might also offer me an alternative argument that whether it’s a trope or a cliche, the scene still feels relevant after 36 years.

And as much fun as I had being delightfully gay with my friends, and loving every quip Toddy offers, something rather unusual happened while I was watching the film: I was actually having fun watching King Marchand.

James Garner was an actor that I’ve recently come to appreciate more than I did while he was alive.  It’s a disturbing trend in my life, and my recent fascination with David Bowie doesn’t help that pattern.  Playing a straight man, and, let’s be more accurate, playing the working model of heterosexuality King is a character that has unfortunately fallen on hard times.  If Victor/Victoria has any sort of gay victory it’s ultimately in the fact that Marchand is able to grow intellectually to the notion of gender and sexuality.  While at the start he appears to be the typical straight homophobe who projects masculinity to compensate for any personal shortcomings, the character eventually becomes something more.

I suppose the most obvious instance is when he finds himself alone with Victoria after fleeing from the police following a bar fight, and in an embrace he acts.

King Marchand: I don’t care if you are a man.

[kisses Victoria]Victor gif

Victoria: I’m… not a man.

King Marchand: I still don’t care.

This scene is probably lessened somewhat by Andrews admission, but the first line seems to be everything.  King is a man who has grown comfortable or at least familiar enough with his heterosexuality that before he acts he has to announce it as some kind of confirmation.  There was an awkward period shortly after I was officially out as bisexual that when I had conversations about men and women I would often begin them by saying, “As a straight man…” and of course the ellipsis should hopefully demonstrate what would happen.  I realized I no longer had that particular ethos, and after a while I stopped announcing it as such.  But this behavior hit my after a while because I realized how fragile my straight masculinity and sexuality had been.  This is not to say that King is secretly homosexual, or bisexual, or pansexual, but it should hopefully reveal something about heterosexuality in cisgender men.

There is a need to prove oneself in the face of what is perceived.  Julie Andrews herself more-or-less says it outright in one brief exchange.vv3

King Marchand: If you were a man, I’d knock your block off.

Victoria: And prove that “you’re” a man?

King Marchand: That’s a woman’s argument.

And of course the best example of King’s need to prove his masculinity is one in which he finds himself dressed up in a tuxedo walking into a dive bar

King Marchand: [Looking to start a bar fight; to the bartender:] Milk.

Bartender: [Sarcastically] Would that be cow’s milk, monsieur, or mother’s milk?

King Marchand: How about your sister’s?MV5BN2I0ZTNiZmItOGU5My00OTg0LWFiZTMtZjE1YTU1OTE4MjE0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjAwODA4Mw@@._V1_

[Fight starts]

This is the stuff of cheesy machismo in action movies, but while I was watching the film I became aware of the fact that I was a queer man, watching a straight man, surrounded by queer women, who couldn’t understand his need to prove himself which left me in the awkward position because how was I supposed to explain that need?  My “straight ethos” is long since gone so it feels pointless to try and explain out the straight mentality, but at the same time I am still a man who suffers from lack of confidence in the self, and being cisgender I understood King’s need for a fight, for some kind of physical catharsis.

Victor/Victoria manages to be an incredible film in the way it understand and demonstrates the way men and women act and behave, both in sex and in managing personal failings.  And it also manages to touch on the idea of how importance proving yourself as something can be.

There is one brief exchange between King and Victoria which, unfortunately, IMDB has failed to chronicle and so my reader will have to watch a little video.  The scene in question occurs just after King’s bodyguard “Squash” Bernstein stumbles upon him and Victoria having sex to which Squash responds by coming out to his boss.  King is left completely frazzled and the following exchange takes place:

I hate posting links to videos and not having the words.  It feels somehow less than honest about what I’m trying to do in these essays, still, I blame my own laziness and refusal to transcribe the scene which, if the reader was actually paying attention, could practically be it’s own college level course in feminism and queer theory in a nutshell.

There is a real powerful feminist message to be had in watching and absorbing
Victor/Victoria, not simply because it’s a film that reasserts the difficulty women face giphy-2simply to be recognized for the talents they actually have.  I would argue in fact that it’s in the regular emphasis on “proof” that the real feminism takes place.

The entire film is ultimately one long examination of the idea of proof.  Whether it’s Victoria having to prove that she’s good enough to sing in the dive bar, proofing there was a roach in her salad, proving that she’s really a male impersonator, proofing to King that she’s a man, proving to King later on that she has her own agency, and ultimately proving to the world that her gender has nothing to do with her own abilities.  Victor/Victoria is a chance to observe in the gender argument that people are constantly having to prove themselves as smoothing and to prove their presentations, desires, ambitions, and selves are legitimate.

I think this idea of proof is really what hit me, because as I’ve noted in many essays previously, I’ve always felt like I’ve had to prove something about myself and my masculinity.  As I’ve dug more and more into queerness, queer history, queer theory, and queer literature, there is always this recurring theme, and as long as queer people  exist it seems we’ll always have to remind me people, “we were here and here’s the proof.”Robert Preston Victor Victoria

Victor/Victoria is a gay film that leaves the reader feeling fantastically gay at heart.  It’s a gay time that leaves one feeling gayer and gayer at each viewing, and while there are a significant number of straight actors playing incredibly gay roles, there is still a beautiful message at the heart of Victor/Victoria: one’s personality and merit should never be based on proving to other people who and what you are.  Real strength of character comes from acting as being and living without worrying about proving anything.

It’s also a reminder that if you find yourself in a dive bar never ask for milk unless you’re ready for a fight.




*Writer’s Note*

All quotes from Victor/Victoria were taken from IMDb.


**Writer’s Note**

I’ve included a few official reviews of the film Victor/Victoria if the reader would like a few other voices about the film.  Enjoy.“crazy-world-full-of-crazy-contradictions”-blake-edwards’-victorvictoria/


***Writer’s Note***

It might be indulgent to end all of this with a photo of Julie Andrews one more time in a suit, so I decided to post a picture of Ellen Page as well.  Seriously don’t hate, I’m just amazed that both of these women look better in a suit than I do, though I suppose that’s not really saying much.



Will They, or Won’t They?  The Fabulous Gay Love Story That is the Early Chapters of Moby Dick


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I mean if I woke up to find myself in the arms a large, able-bodied, tattooed god I could only hope that my make-a-wish came true and that I was resting next to Jason Momoa.  A man can dream after all.

22716_lgIt’s been a strange sort of year, one that has come with numerous changes and developments, but the most recent one was finishing yet another in a long line of 1000 page books, however my most recent challenge was unique because it was not a novel but in fact it was a history book.  Since I was a child my father has owned a dense tome wrapped in a black dust jacket marked with a swastika.  I knew a fair amount about Nazis because my father would often tell me stories of men like Patton and Ike Eisenhower who defeated these evil monsters that were almost on par with orcs from The Lord of the Rings.  I could never understand then why my dad had a book with their logo on the front.  This was largely because I didn’t take the time to read the cover.  The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer is an incredible book, and while I would hope one day to write about it’s significance to World War II history discourse, I began to observe, somewhere in the three hundred pages of Russian-German diplomacy, that I really, really, desperately wanted to read Moby Dick.  Again.

I mentioned this the other day to two of my co-workers and they gave “the look.”

Photo on 1-15-18 at 7.13 PM #2

It’s an odd sort of look.  I can’t say that it’s pity exactly, nor would I go so far as to suggest that it’s jealousy.  In fact it’s something in the middle I suspect.  A loathing of the self before one comes to the realization that I’m a narcissist and a weirdo who thinks he’s special and interesting and so they pity my strange variety of nerdom.  It’s a look I’m familiar with, and one friend even has a name for these moments that he charmingly MOBYrefers to as “Jammer Moments.”  I’ve yet to contact Oxford English Dictionary because the term has yet to develop a significant etymology and I also don’t have the merchandizing rights yet.  “That’s so Jammer” will look great on t-shirts, and I intend to make a killing.

Despite my oddity, and my friends and co-worker’s mystification at my desire to read what is widely regarded as one of the most unreadable novels in all of human history, I’ve enjoyed picking up Moby Dick again.  The novel is beautifully written, philosophically profound, textually complex, and also a wonderful opportunity to dig into my queer sexuality and find what is surely one of the most delightfully gay romances in American literature.420089507100d0939e292c100da10545--gay-men-sailors

Now I can anticipate my reader’s objections before I even get into the fun parts.  Fun parts for the record are of course queer jargon for ding dongs and buttholes, both of which terms are straight jargon for penises and anuses, both of which are themselves medical jargon for those things that shoot out babies and turds.  Why should I care about whether or not the characters in Moby Dick are gay?  I’m never going to read the book in the first place, so why should I bother worrying over the sexuality of two fictional people?  More to the point, if Moby Dick is a beautiful and philosophically profound novel, why worry about something as petty as sexuality?

My reader makes some wonderful arguments and I understand where they’re coming from, but to be frank I just feel like having some fun and writing a trashy queer romance and maybe, possibly perhaps, find something culturally relevant to observe at the end.  So get off my back people, life is hard and sometimes we all need to find a way to relax.

Now our story begins in the city of Nantucket where the gloomy Ishmael finds himself in a bar, the Spouter Inn to be exact.  I’ll touch on that imagery in a moment.  Our young stud of a protagonist is a country-boy named Ishmael who is caught by a wanderlust that is at times gloomy, which just gives him this precious “dark side” allowing the reader to picture the man as a kind of Goth dream-boat only without eye-liner and leave tattoos.  commission__moby_dick_by_explosive_toaster-d40j968That’s for later.  Ishmael is caught by a near-constant desire to travel specifically to go whaling on the ocean for it provides his spirit an unknown, or indescribable satisfaction.  The fact that he surrounded by men is unspoken, but I hope my reader will agree, it’s clearly all about the dick, whale.

I meant whale.

Ishmael steps into the ejaculation, Spouter, I meant Spouter Inn, and he walks past a group of butch sailors to inquire about a room.  At this point the reader is given the first bits of foreplay to the beautiful party:

“But avast,” he added, tapping his forehead, “you haint no objections to sharing a harpooner’s blanket, have ye?  I s’pose you are a goin’ a whalin’, so you’d better get used to that sort of thing.”

I told him that I never liked to sleep two in a bed; that if I should ever do so, it would depend upon who the harpooner might be, and that if he (the landlord) had no other place for me, and the harpooner was not decidedly objectionable, why rather wander further about a strange town on so bitter a night, I would put up with half of any decent man’s blanket.  (19).

I suppose I have to sigh and groan that our protagonist should announce himself upfront to be a bit of a slut.  It’s not enough that he let’s the barman tap his “head” in front of him without calling him on it, then you have the fact that admits to preferring multiple lovers and that monogamous relations leave him tired and bored, and before he’s even finished dancing-sailorsthe sentence he has admitted that he’s not overly picky about the sort of man who shares his bed.  But perhaps what’s worst, or best of all, I’m not sure which at this point, Ishmael states outright that he’s willing to shack up with any guy if it means being warm and dry.  I mean I’m as much of a slut as the next guy, but show at least a little deference in selection of sexual partners Ishmael.  There are some Creeps out there, and you always find out far far too late in the game.  That orthodox priest was not happy when I said I had an early meeting.

Now my reader is sure to object against my interpretation by suggesting that none of that was actually implied.  Ishmael was just a young man looking for a place to stay during a nasty 6251_640storm.  Well my reader has some very intriguing ideas concerning Ishmael’s sex-life, however I’m afraid I must continue to the juicy parts.

The reader is given a lengthy passage in which Ishmael deliberates about whether he should share a bed with the strange man that the bar-tender speaks of.  I wish I could say that this was enjoyable to read, but Melville really lacks a certain penasch in terms of getting one hot and bothered for random bed-sharing.  Chapter four progresses rather slowly until the reader is able to get a juicy couple of pages of Ishmael discovering his bed-mate will be a cannibal, and there is some rather yummy passages in which Ishmael studies Queequeg’s body, but it really isn’t until the start of chapter 5 that the reader gets any sort of hint that the action is starting up again:counterpane

Upon waking up the next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner.  You had almost thought I had been his wife.  (36).

Before the reader interrupts my good time let me observe rather quickly that from this point on Ishmael will regularly use marital adjectives when describing his relationship with Queequeg.  It’s not enough that the pair of them wake up in a loving, warm embrace.  After all, it was a cold, rainy night and they were strangers seeking solace and warm in one another’s…company.  But just a few pages on from this Ishmael drops another hint at his developing infatuation:

But at length all the night’s events soberly recurred, one by one, in fixed reality, and then I lay only alive to the comical predicament.  For though I tried to move his arm—unlock his bridegroom clasp—yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain.  (38).HarTon0215-460x421

Once again Ishmael employs the adjectives of marriage, and this association of course leads to a somewhat annoying realization that Ishmael is one of those queer men who buys into the idea that one of them is “the girl.”  This is a rather unfortunate realization, because up to this point I was enjoying Ishmael’s sluttiness and unbroken frolicking with another man.  Perhaps what’s so frustrating is this perpetuated rhetoric in today’s society, most obviously in straight communities.  Homosexuality is seen often as a kind of malleable heterosexuality in which two men or two women form a monogamous bond that mimics a straight couple’s.  One of the pair is the man, and therefore the active penetrator or licker.  I should really consult a lesbian and determine what the inside terminology is.  While the other partner is the passive receiver, meaning of course that that person is “the girl.”  Ishmael seems to be employing this imagery as he observes Queequeg not responding to his attempts to wake him up, and while it’s hardly a severe reiteration of a tired mode of thinking, it’s just disappointing that Ishmael can’t foster his own working model of queerness.

I then rolled over, my neck feeling as if it were in a horse-collar; and suddenly felt a queequeg_patrick_stewartslight scratch.  Throwing aside the counterpane, there lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage’s side, as if it were a hatchet-faced baby.  A pretty-pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk!  (38).

The only thing missing I suppose is some leather chest-guards, chaps, some cigars, and one of those swings you have to pay somebody to set up.  Who says Literature is boring?

Now my reader interrupts my fantasies because they are compelled by some misguided sense of revisionist intellectualism to remind me that there was no actual sex.  Queequeg simply fell asleep and Melville is trying to establish a purely heterosexual friendship between the two characters.  The use of the word “savage” as well is not meant to be dirty, but is in fact some unfortunate racism on Melville’s part to appeal to his original audience.  These are all fine points, but they’re ignoring the obvious assplay that was exchanged, and Ishmael being a weird slut who totally wanted it.

This is compounded by a later passage in which Ishmael is just watching Queequeg, and thinking about their association together.  And after a few moment’s reflection, which, let’s be honest here, men only ever employ that term to mean “thinking about all the sorts of kinky sex I’d love to have with another man,” Ishmael makes a further move:

I drew my bench near him, and made some friendly signs and hints, doing my best 1394170049343to talk with him meanwhile.  At first he little noticed these advances; but presently, upon my referring to his last night’s hospitalities, he made out to ask me whether we were again to be bedfellows.  I told him yes; whereat I thought he looked pleased, perhaps a little complimented.  (73).

If a man told me he’d like to sleep with me more than once I would probably be flattered as well…alas, I have yet to even receive an offer.

I suppose I must sigh here, and gently wave towards my face as Ishmael only gets more steamy in the sheets with his Cannibal lover (Man eats Man would be either a beautiful title for a homoerotic play by Tennessee Williams or else a wonderful title for a gay porno, I’m not sure which, why not both?).  After the previous exchange was offered Ishmael offers another sight just a few pages on where he let’s the obvious foreplay be observed:

But we did not go to sleep without some little chat.

How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends.  Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning.  Thus, then, in our hearts honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair.  (75).

Again, before I can even get into the juicy parts about what is obviously sexual, my revisionist reader must needs interrupt to inform me that I’m performing a gross 0 Rdisservice to literary analysis.  What is being described is not an openly homosexual relationship.  Melville is merely using words like “honeymoon” to show a deepening friendship that is developing between Ishmael and Queequeg.  They would also like to remind me that strong homosocial bonds were common between men of this time because it was just not socially acceptable to share emotions between people of different genders.  Men and women kept their personal selves to themselves, and preferred to share such intimately with members of their own sex.  They would also like to tell me that I’m obviously trying to write contemporary homosexuality onto these characters which is unfair because the homosexuality of today’s society is an entirely different animal than homoeroticism that existed in the past.

Well, if I can offer a defense, I never used the word homosexual.  We have no idea if Queequeg is homosexual, or pansexual, or bisexual, or just queer.  Now Ishmael is most definitely gay though, because this entire book is just one long testament to his fascination and erotic fixation on “THE D.”

Now if my reader is done interrupting I need to get to the last two passages which obvious end with our queer heroes finally getting, if I can borrow an expression the kids are using these days, “Biz-zay.”  Immediately following the previous quote the next chapter begins with Ishmael and Queequeg, resting together and just basking in the afterglow:b5215d202466a4525967d5aca614339f

We had lain thus in bed, chatting and napping at short intervals, and Queequeg now and then affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs over mine, and then drawing them back; so entirely sociable and free and easy were we; when, at last, by reason of our confabulations, what little nappishness remained in us altogether departed, and we felt like getting up again, though day-break was yet some way down the future.  (76).

While this is nowhere near as pornographic as I would like it to be (Ishmael remains to the very end a nasty little tease) it’s so obvious that these two men have spent the night voraciously making love.  Queequeg’s invitations might also suggest that he was the one doing the penetrating, but even my skills of queer deduction only go so far.  I mean, the dude is the one leading the advances in this scene, literally “filling” the space of the bed and actively “pushing” into Ishmael’s personal space demonstrating his affection, but then again plenty of men like to be the one leading the advances before lifting their rump in the air like a cat in heat.  You never really know somebody until you get them in bed.20140504-091923

What’s obvious, apart from the fact that they both spent the night hiding the “sau-seege” is that these two men have developed a deep and caring intimacy.  Ishmael and Queequeg can freely touch and talk and fuck to their hearts content, and thus suggests that the opening passages of Moby Dick are offering a classic narrative of the “Will they?/Won’t They?”  Readers and viewers enjoy watching this dynamic because people are sexual creatures who tend to get some kind of voyeuristic thrill of watching another romance develop.  And because love is an evolutionary development designed to encourage procreation that results in long terms relationships to ensure two parents can raise a child together, sex is always going to be the end result of a love affair.

People want to see people fall in love to see if maybe they don’t see a little bit of themselves in these characters.  We want to observe another person’s love affair to see if it resembles the loves that we’ve pursued in our own lives.  And, I secretly suspect, this desire to watch another person’s love affair is a chance to explore a sexual dynamic that we did not.

I myself never got a chance to form a love affair with another man, and to be honest I’m not sure if I ever would.  I tend to gravitate more towards women when it comes to my emotional self.  I like their company, but I can’t deny that my queerness does push me queequeg-ishmael-first-night-together1towards a sexual dynamic with men.  I guess then I should give my reader one last chance to argue with my interpretation of these early passages of Moby Dick.

It’s ridiculous.  This whole essay has been one long, almost mastubatory re-writing of an American classic for the purpose of justifying or exploiting the writer’s personal sexual curiosities and hang-ups.  Ishmael and Queequeg do form a strong, homo-social bond together, and while there is some physicality in it, there’s no way that these two men could have possibly been considered lovers.  Its irresponsible and indulgent.

And I suppose my reader does have a point.  Queer as a word has changed from what it was.  That’s the nature of language.  It’s a fluid and constantly altering technology that allows human beings to turn thoughts into physical, tangible reality.  Queequeg and Ishmael express a companionship that is intensely homoerotic that manifests in physical and emotional closeness, and Melville writes it out as a kind of marriage between these couple-hug-x750_1two men, using the language of domestic partnership to allow the reader to see how much Queequeg becomes the most important person in Ishmael’s life.  The language of Melville shows that men in the past formed strong homosocial bonds between other men and found some kind of emotional solace in it.  So strong were these bonds that often times men found, in other men, more emotional and physical comfort in the arms and bodies and company of other men than they might have had with women.  And some men, in these relationships, might have found something akin to a romantic partner who gave them a stability and foundation of love that they could then build a life on that might, as time went on, save them from any and all kind of emotional problems.

I suppose my reader is right about Moby Dick in the end.  Men might have loved and fucked one another in the past, but the only thing that’s really changed is the language.



*Writer’s Note*

All quotes from Moby Dick were taken from the 2000 paperback Modern Library Classics edition.



**Writer’s Note**

As per usual, I really like helping my reader dig into the great works I write about, and so while I was writing this essay I found a few essays about Moby Dick in case the reader would like to dig a little deeper into the text.  Enjoy:

The two-headed whale: Bisexuality and Melville’s “Moby-Dick.”



***Writer’s Note***

On an entirely separate note…seriously, Jason Momoa isn’t the sexiest man of the year?  Seriously?  Do I really need to…okay.  Apparently I do.


You’re welcome.

Deep Philosophy of Common Tree(Men?): The Lord of the Rings The Two Towers Part 1


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I hate Treebeard, only because he has a better beard than I do.

There was a time in my life when I believed that I too could grow an incredible beard that might one day house families of squirrels and field mice who would tickle me as they burrowed into my beard making a safe space for themselves.  This fantasy would often accompany an honest desire to be a woodland dwelling forrest god with taut, MV5BMGMxMmRkNzctMWQzYy00MTY3LWEzMDAtMzEzMDhkZWI4MjZlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDUzOTQ5MjY@._V1_UY317_CR4,0,214,317_AL_bulging muscles and hair down to my ass.  It was a beautiful time in my life when the word metal was an adjective rather than a noun, and the soundtrack to my life was Corey Taylor screaming while Clown banged on beer kegs with an aluminum bat.  And of course these wild-man fantasies would be accompanied by loads of sex (Often with buxom wood nymphs, and sometimes with other bearded wild-men but such occasions were rare because I was still in that awkward phase when I pretended that browser histories weren’t a thing and that I wouldn’t wind up gay if I jerked off to two dudes having sex “just that one time”).

I can’t deny how much the Lord of the Rings franchise has mattered to my personal and intellectual development because I watched The Two Towers everyday after school for two weeks as soon as the VHS copies came out on sale.  I’d watch the film over and over again wishing I was in Middle Earth fighting alongside Two TowersGimli and Aragorn and Legolas.  And, I really wish this part wasn’t true, I would often watch the film once my family had gone to sleep so I could fight imaginary orcs and Uruk-hai.  There were so many signs of my loser-dome in those early years, and I’m only recently acquiring a semblance of personality.

These fantasies turned realities that were the major reason why I didn’t lose my virginity until I reached my early twenties were always, always, coupled with a sublime awe of ents.  Having grown up in a home that my parents literally built with their own two hands, and having an entire woods to explore and walk around in the ents were charged in my young pre-teenage mind with a kind of supernatural power.  I would actually tremble when the ents “went to war,” and watching an army of trees march to end the fires of industry seemed to me the most beautiful moment in the film.  I would watch the scene over and over again, and no matter how many times I watched it, the scene felt imbued with an energy and symbolism that felt potent and relevant and, I’ve used the word already but it feels right, sublime quality.

Though I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself because my reader may not have any idea what the ents actually are, at least in terms of the larger Tolkien universe.  My reader might have an idea already, “them those tree people what throw the rocks and such.”

The Wrath of the Ents, by Ted Nasmith

My regular reader’s outstanding grammar aside, that is partly an idea of what the Ents were, however there’s a little more to it.  A friend of mine gave me a Christmas present this year, which made me feel like an absolute ass because I didn’t get him anything, but opening the package I realized my friend knew me perfectly for not only was it a book, the title was Tolkien: A Dictionary by David Day.  I discovered that this book was in fact a 15743926121miniature version of A Tolkien Bestiary, and looking at this wonderful book a better idea of what Ents actually are comes into play:

Elvish histories tell how, when Varda, Queen of the Heavens, rekindled the stars and the Elves awake, the Ents also awoke in the Great Forrests of Arda.  They came from the thoughts of Yavanna, Queen of the Earth, and were her Shepards of Trees.  Shepards and guardians they proved to be, for if roused to anger they could crush stone and steel with their hands alone.  Justly they were feared, but they were also gentle and wise.  They loved the trees and all the Olvar and guarded them from evil


Though Ents at times had great gatherings, called Entmoots, for the most part they were a solitary folk living apart from one another in isolated Ent Houses in the Great Forrests.  Often these were mountain caverns plentifully supplied with spring water and surrounded by beautiful trees.  (81-3.)John_Howe_-_Ents

Now it’s very possible that the reader still has no clear understanding of what an Ent actually is, which has fine because there are Tolkien Scholars who still have no clear conception of what an Ent actually is.  I discovered halfway through the eighth Non-Lord of the Rings book about Tolkien and his work that there is an ongoing debate about the etymological origin of Ents, and therefore no-one is really sure what they are.  They might be orcs or trolls or giants or simply something that can’t be clearly defined.  It’s easy to read this description and watch the Peter Jackson films and believe they have a firm conviction of what Ents actually are, but their quality is something linguists, scholars, and fans themselves are still debating, and even reading Tolkien himself the reader is sure to come away still stumped.

They found that they were looking at a most extraordinary face.  It belonged to a large Man-like, almost Troll-like, figure, at least fourteen foot high, very sturdy, with a tall head, and hardly any neck.  Whether it was clad in stuff like green and grey bark, or whether that was its hide, was difficult to say.  At any rate the arms, at a short distance from the trunk, were not wrinkled, but covered with brown smooth skin.  The large feet had seven toes treebeard-3each.  The lower part of the long face was covered with a sweeping grey beard, bushy, almost twiggy at the toots, thin and mossy at the ends. (452).

In the same paragraph Tolkien has compared Treebeard to both a man and a troll, further creating an “other” by the seven toes on his feet.  There really is nothing like an Ent because every time one gets close to understanding what it actually is, Tolkien offers only more speculation, and to be completely honest after a while I really don’t care what Ents really are.  And neither should the reader.

The role of the Ents in Book 3 of the Lord of the Rings is not so much their supernatural existence, but rather their ultimate role in changing the events of the war of the Ring.  Merry and Pippin escape into Fangorn after being held prisoner by the Uruk-Has that killed Boromir at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring.  The Two Towers follows the pair of them as they encounter Treebeard in the woods, and through their influence the man decides to join the war, and rally the ents to him in order to defeat the evil Wizard Saruman who is wreaking havoc over the territory of Rohan with his orcs and “industry.”ti_02

It’s in this territory that most of the interpretation of Treebeard and Ents tends to veer towards the predictable.  Most people who comment or write about the Ents tend always to use them as nothing more than a metaphor for environmentalism, the only ever real political position that Tolkien offered during his lifetime.  It’s because the “Old Professor” rarely ever espoused any significant personal interpretations, and because the man had a driving passion for the woods and pastures of native England, the existence of the Ents in the novels has largely been interpreted as an attempt to create a symbolic army for the environment.  The Ents became tree-huggers rather than tree-shepards, and thus legions of term papers and blog posts were established killing any real attempt at independent scholarship or initiative.800px-Ted_Nasmith_-_The_Tree_Shepherds

It’s not that I disagree with the argument that Ents serve as an environmental argument, it’s just that I object to simply interpreting the Lord of the Rings books using the pathetic tool of allegory.  Allegories tend to be the tools of religious sycophants, or else pathetic middle school compositions that totally should have deserved the contest prize over Tom’s poem about some piss-for-shit leaf on a branch of a fucking tree in fucking Autumn.  #NeverForget#TomCanSuckIt.

Treebeard is an interesting character because he is a man (or troll, or giant, or god, or tree, or whatevs) because he is a man with no real allegiance to anything other than his own business.  At one point Merry and Pippin are discussing the war with the man and he offers his take on the world and himself:44f6fed5898c5e36c1c4c6278b11c13f

‘Hoom, hm, I have not troubled about the Great Wars,’ said Treebeard; ‘they mostly c concern Elves and Men.  That is the business of Wizards: Wizards are always troubled about the future.  I do not like worrying about the future.  I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me: nobody cares for the woods as I care for them, not even the Elves nowadays.  […]. And there are some things, of course, whose side I am altogether not on; I am against them altogether: these—burarum’ (he again made a deep rumble of disgust)’—these Orcs, and their Masters.

‘I used to be anxious when the shadow lay on Mirkwood, but when it removed to Mordor, I did not trouble for a while: Mordor is a long way away.  But it seems that the wind is setting East, and the withering of all woods may be drawing near.  There is naught that an old Ent can do to hold back that storm: he must weather it or crack.  (461).

treebeard-2It’s hard to say, write really, that I identify with Treebeard without feeling like an absolute hipster.  It’s easy to nod along with someone and their words, it’s quite another thing to commit to action and demonstrate conviction.  It might also be because the current political environment in the United States is not friendly to anyone outside of the two-party, two-side system.  Treebeard stands in the face of those who would have him pick one side or the other, and ultimately he does pick a side.  It would seem then that Treebeard’s ultimate decision to join the fight of the War of the Ring is a real political gesture, however my only conflict with this argument is that Treebeard is a man with his own sense of time.e7dc8b16e1260144332e08709a804379

I addressed in my essay about Gandalf, and then again when discussing Durin’s Bane that Tolkien’s effort in The Lord of the Rings is often about creating a sense of deep time.  The reader steadily, as they read, become aware that the characters that they love and care about are actually small figures in the ancient conflict between good and evil, or the light and shadow that stretches back millennia.  Treebeard then is another one of these figures that serves to juxtapose the hobbits against the enormity of time that exists in the universe.

Pippin himself observes this feeling of time when he tries to describe Treebeard

But at the moment the hobbits noted little but the eyes.  These deep eyes were no surveying them, slow and solemn, but very penetrating.  They were brown, shot with a green light.  Often afterwards Pippin tried to describe his first impression of them.882ed63e9dc1ba58c8d17f58178d8670--ent-lord-of-the-rings

‘One felt as if there was an enormous well behind them, filled up with ages of memory and long, slow, steady thinking; but their surface was sparkling with the present; like sun shimmering on the outer leaves of a vast tree, or on the ripples of a very deep lake.  I don’t know, but it felt as if something that grew in the ground—asleep, you might say, or just feeling itself as something between root-tip and leaf-tip, between deep earth and sky had suddenly waked up, and was considering you with the same slow care it had given to its own affairs for endless years.  (452).

Tolkien provides most of the material for me, using words like “deep” and “endless” to characterize the Hobbit’s impression of the Ent.  And the reader at that point is able to feel the hobbits’s feelings of Treebeard’s feelings of them as they feel their own feelings about the feelings of feelings thus expressed.Many_ents

I like James Joyce a little too much I think.

I can hear my reader’s objections.  We’ve already addressed the theme of Time in The Fellowship of the Ring; what good is it to continue on with this theme when there are so many other aspects of the universe to explore?  Treebeard is important, but he’s just another beating of the same drum.

To this I don’t really have a good defense.  The reader is right, Treebeard is another expression of the Deep Time that Tolkien is crafting over the entire trilogy, and my exploration of the character is just a reminder of that sensation of deep time.  However if I can offer some sort of defense for myself it would be that even if Treebeard is an example of the “deep time” of Middle Earth he is not what the reader has observed before.  Gandalf was a wizard and a Maiar, one of the ageless spirits watching and manipulating the course of human events and wars to ensure the course of some nameless, natural order.  Durin’s Bane was a balrog, a footservent of an agent of pure evil that existed purely for the sake of war, destruction, and pain.  It’s existence revealed the ancient quality of the world, but it was also a reminder of evil.

Treebeard, simply put, is about desiring only peace.

The ents, to me and my reading of the The Two Towers, were the most fascinating and hopeful aspect of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the word hope is employed purposefully.  When I would rewatch the “Last March of the Ents” and feel the hairs on my arms and legs stand on end and the shiver run through my body, it was because the Ents were creatures without any sort of real agenda.  They were almost human beings 800px-Luca_Bonatti_-_Farewell_to_Fangorndefending their homes.  Unlike the Men, who were greedy and vain, or the orcs, who were vicious and cruel, the Ents fought only for the trees and the earth and the safety of the natural world.  This is not a particularly sexy position to take in an armed conflict, but it stands to be reminded that it is ultimately the reason most people would or should want to fight.

Treebeard is not a machiavellian despot fighting to secure of position of territory for further conquest, he is a man who has lived a long life and decides to fight because he recognizes that, even if his efforts will be for naught, the fight against the shadow is worth fighting for because it will be for the world rather than for a partisan cause.  This OptimisticInfiniteHornedtoadprovides some real sense of hope as a reader, and a real form of identification.  Watching the year 2017 unfold, and watching my country dissolve into contested and petty partisan conflict a figure like Treebeard was refreshing and hopeful because it was an example of a being who could look past it.  The time of trees is older and longer than the times of men.  Outside of my office window stand two pecan trees.  They are most assuredly older than I am, and I’m sure they’ll be there long after I am dead.  In their time they will provide food for squirrels, shelter for birds, and sleeping space for plenty of stray cats who will no longer be strays once my wife has discovered them.  It’s not a profound, or highly insightful comment on the battle84f7481f88088496274cf4e8df676634-d3l2t5v between good and evil, but trees, like Ents, are beings that offer a long series of selfless acts at their own expense.

Tolkien was a man who loved nature and the woods and beauty of the natural world.  And rather than turning that love into simple political or environmental allegory, it’s a much more satisfying interpretation to observe that Treebeard and the Ents are a real contribution to the mythos of Middle Earth because they are Shepards trying desperately to keep careful watch over their flock of trees and who, when the time comes, were willing to fight for the life and world in which they loved.

Treebeard may not charge onto the fields of Pellenor welding Anduril and slaying Orcs, but he does at least chunk a few boulders, and wear an impressive beard.




*Writer’s Note*

All quotes taken from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers were taken from the Mariner paperback edition.


**Writer’s Note**

I might as well share the scenes I used to watch over and over again until my VHS was nothing but a thin whisk of dark plastic that clicked and hissed as it tried desperately to play the “Last March of the Ents.”  I eventually replaced it all with the extended DVD sets which themselves are now nothing but thin nubs of whatever they made laserdiscs out of.  Watching this scene on YouTube I’m struck by the appalling quality of the video itself.  Despite this, watching the Ents slowly march out of Fanghorn forest I can’t deny I still feel that sublime tingle.  It’s something to the craft of these films that after close to a decade I’m able to reconnect to the teenage loser who believed in the forrest and trees.  Enjoy.

Hard Candy Histories, Sticky Sweet Sentiments


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Sex Between Men

Hard Candies, Sticky Sweets Sentiments

11 November 2017

The Case for Reparations: A White Tower Review


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Photo on 3-1-18 at 10.53 PM

I don’t watch television. That’s honestly how I get so much reading done. That, and I come from a position of privilege of which some I can promise is based on my whiteness.

Somewhere in between discovering that Corner Bakery sells the best coffee I’ve ever had, scoring a full-time position at the Tyler Public Library, taking care of washing the dishes and doing the laundry, spending time with my family, and starting a new blog dedicated to posting photos of left-over plastic from BOB the Library’s 3-D Printer, I somehow managed to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy isn’t the first of Coates’s books that I’ve taken the effort to read. In fact this year alone I’ve read his other books which include the first volume of his Black Panther series, Between the World and Me, and his headshots_1507036441820.0memoir The Beautiful Struggle. All of these books eventually came through the book drop at the library, and each time that they did I would scramble to pick them up and read them.

It wasn’t just that I wanted to read these books because I had heard the name Ta-Nehisi Coates before and knew that he was quickly becoming a public intellectual that was worth reading to understand the public discourse. I picked up any book written by the man because his words were scored by an incredible conviction and beauty. Every time I pick up a book or essay by Coates I know that I am reading a writer who believes in every word he puts on the page, and pays careful attention to the arguments he’s crafting with them. And to be honest the last writer who I honestly believed had that same attention to detail was Christopher Hitchens. I don’t like to add the title of “great writer” to many people I read because that would ultimately cheapen the title, but I have no hesitation in saying that I believes Coates is a great writer.atlantic-reparations

As usual though I’m ashamed to admit that I was aware of his presence in the zeitgeist and culture before I actually took the time to read him. The first time I had ever even heard of the man he was appearing on Real Time with Bill Maher in promotion of his essay that had recently been published in The Atlantic: The Case for Reparations. My wife and I had recently moved into an apartment in my in-laws garage, we were just married and needed a place to live before graduate school started up, and every night at dinner they usually had the television on. Coming from a home where people sit and talk with the television set off and in another room there was a culture shock element, but I watched the show paying attention to the interview because I had heard of the controversy that this magazine article had caused. Coates wasn’t a black man pointing out that slavery was a vice and a black mark on the United States cultural history, he was arguing that the United States had a moral obligation to not only acknowledge the reverberations of slavery, but to try and actually atone for it.

I also remember Bill Maher teaching Coates the old joke about black men caring more about their Cadillacs than their houses.


This was my introduction to Coates, and while I recognized there was a brilliant mind that was worth reading, I was dealing with the new territory of being a newlywed, beginning graduate school, and starting this blog which, at the time, was pretty much one long series of kiss-ass articles about Christopher Hitchens and George Orwell. My regular reader will note that times have changed and now I only really kiss Christopher Hitchens’s ass. As such Coates was left largely unread, and unappreciated by me until early this year when I picked up Between the World and Me, and I recognized that the man was possibly one of the greatest writers since James Baldwin, a writer whom Coates download1has been compared to numerous times and fittingly so.

While I do have every intent to get around to reviewing that book, after finishing We Were Eight Years in Power I recognized how important The Case for Reparations was, not just for Coates’s cultural legacy, but for any reader who recognizes humanity and the importance of bridging the gaps that can sometimes form. It’s not too much to write that the United States is plagued by it’s own cultural sins in terms of slavery and the steady abuse and genocide of Native American populations. Yet frequently the experience of an American citizen who opens up this conversation is one of either quick dismissal or outright anger. Coates himself notes this early on in the essay as he notes the immediate and anticipated rebuttal of this argument:

Broach the topic of reparations today and a barrage of questions inevitably follows: who will be paid? How much will they be paid? Who will pay? But if the practicalities, not the justice, of reparations are the true sticking point, there has for some time been the beginnings of a solution. For the past twenty-five years, Congressman John Conyers Jr., who represents the Detroit area, has marked every session of Congress by introducing a bill calling for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects as well as recommendations for “appropriate remedies.” (178).reparations_02-845

If the reader has ever actually discussed such a matter with friends or family they may have had such a reaction. Thanksgiving was a time in our nation’s history where people would gather and eat and celebrate just being together, but as of the last six decades it seems that tradition has largely been replaced by correcting your grandfather about what a transgender person actually is, and listening to your aunt discuss the dangers of GMOs and the importance of “healing crystals.” Reparations does not get the same amount of air-time that these “sexy” issues do, but when Coates’s article was published it created a bit of a storm in the public largely because many people felt threatened or vulnerable even if they had no real stake in this argument.Slavery Reparations

And this habit and feeling is best explained by Coates just a few paragraphs later.

That HR 40 has never—under either Democrats or Republicans—made it to the House floor suggests our concerns are rooted not in the impracticality of reparations but in something more existential. If we conclude that the conditions in North Lawndale and black America are not inexplicable but are instead precisely what you’d expect of a community that for centuries has lived in America’s crosshairs, then what are we to make of the world’s oldest democracy? (179).

I anticipate the reaction of some of my regular readers, Why are you bothering with this liberal, self-loathing bullshit. Coates’s article does nothing but further tarnish the image of the United States as a nation of possibility. Yes there have been troubles that have faced certain portions of the population, but what good does it do bemoaning the events of the past?

This is a difficult question at first to answer, largely because it reeks of a kind of national and personal solipsism.american-exceptionalism

The recent debates which have taken place over the removal of Civil War statues that bear the images of Confederate generals and soldiers has sparked debates, not just on FOX News, but all over the United States and no one is entirely free of it. If you are a person such as myself who lives in a small town in East Texas you’re sure to encounter at least one or two such persons who feels compelled to inform you that removing statues is akin to erasing history, which is amusing because such people usually tend to be the kind of people who go into a library and never check out a book where actual history is recorded. For my own part I’ve tried to stay out of these debates largely because I want to avoid the headache, but the one position that I’ve clung to, which I do not mind American Exceptionalismshouting out into the infinite white noise that is the internet is that any argument which bothers to actually dig into the actual discourse that is history is worth consideration. And Coates’s article does just that.

Coates follows the economic trends of a few individuals in Detroit, observing how African Americans became the prey of predatory real-estate deals that left an entire generation screwed out of any kind of reasonable mortgage. Coates observes the general trend in the city of Detroit alone in order to observe a larger trend in the history of the United States which was that African Americans typically were denied or deceived from achieving economic prosperity and some of the points made in the article shocked even me. Perhaps the most pernicious was the reality of the G.I. Bill, the government provision still in effect today which allows veterans to receive finincial benefits for college 0eca9-screen2bshot2b2015-02-082bat2b7-32-252bpmeducations.

The oft-celebrated GI Bill similarly failed black Americans, by mirroring the broader country’s insistence on a racist housing policy. Though ostensibly color-blind, Title III of the bill, which aimed to give veterans access to low-interest home loans, left black veterans to tangle with White officials at their local Veterans Administration as well as with the same banks that had, for years, refused to grant mortgages to blacks. The historian Kathleen J. Frydl observes in her 2009 book The GI Bill that so many blacks were disqualified from receiving Title III benefits “that it is more accurate simply to say that blacks could not use this particular title.” (187).

This passage was difficult for me to read the first time, largely because I grew up in a house where stories about World War II were as common as stories about Ronald tumblr_myuv88qhMw1rqscijo6_500Reagan beating the Soviet Union using only his wit and his Iron Man technology which he built with his bare hands. In hindsight I’m pretty sure my dad was over-emphasizing Reagan’s engineering skills. But the stories of World War II were always stories about heroes, and young men overcoming great odds to defeat the forces of real evil. It seems fitting that a narrative built on “othering” should blow up in my face and reveal, not a “Greatest Generation,” but a generation of people who benefitted economically at the expense of others.

The GI Bill was one of the greatest economic boons in American history, and an entire generation of African Americans were denied access to it because FDR needed to secure a political legacy.

At the same time the GI Bill was opening doors for millions of Americans the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation along with the Federal Housing Administration began opening loans which were dramatically reduced from previous mortgage rates thus allowing the possibility for lower income families to purchase homes and thus create a new standard of living. It became not only possible for United States citizens to buy homes, it becomes part of the national rhetoric. The key to success was not just gainful employment and finanicial success, owning a home was a sign that one was living the “american dream.” And as my reader can surely guess, this too was denied African Americans as Coates points out.concise_history_ampersand

That emblem was not to be awarded to blacks. The American real-estate industry believed segregation to be a moral principle. As late as 1950, the National Association of Real Estate Boards’ code of ethics warned that “a Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood … any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values.” A 1943 brochure specified that such potential undesirables might includes madams, bootleggers, gangsters—and “a colored man of means who was giving his children a college education and thought they were entitled to live among whites.” (188)

Coates is careful to remind the reader that this redlining was supported by the federal government, and thus another in a long line of economic obstacles was praised as an overwhelming success by New Deal supporting liberals. It’s strange to me how many progressive friends of mine who still praise the New Deal and FDR as some kind of Chicago.CBL.protest-abeacon what happens when government works, yet Coates article, along with mountains of historical discourse have largely revealed the New Deal to be one lord line of fuck-ups and FDR to be an adulterous egomaniac.

But nevertheless this passage, much like the one actually shocked me the first time I read it because I had never been taught that. No teacher had ever mentioned the fact that African Americans were outright denied access to reduced mortgages, though it was something I had assumed given my knowledge of the “white flight” which helped create the culture of suburbia.

These discoveries illuminate something about the education I received, namely that the complexities inherent to the African American experience was something that was largely ignored or white-washed. I read books about the Civil Rights movement and reparationsslavery, and so I was given the general outline of the travesties that blacks my home country have been subjected to, but the nuances and details were largely ignored. And this negation of details leads me to a deeper conclusion about my country, which is that there is an unwillingness to really atone for what has been done.

This isn’t just my observation, because Coates to make this point far more eloquently than I can.

And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collectively biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering Alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans.
Won’t reparations divide us? Not any more than we are already divided. The wealth gap merely puts a number on something we feel but cannot say—that American prosperity was ill gotten and selective in its distribution. (202).

He goes on in the next paragraph saying,education

What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking abut is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. (202).

Every nation has their own sin, and every nation has their own regrettable action. This isn’t a truly original thought for other writers better than me have expressed it far more clearly than I ever could. Recognizing their sin however has allowed these nations to move forward, and while it hasn’t by any means erased the evidence or awareness of their sin, it has allowed for a deepening understanding the failings in their humanity. reparations-3The perception of perfection or moral superiority is a dangerous concept for a people to internalize because it allows for the possibility of “othering” other people. When any group believes themselves naturally superior and drafts a cultural rhetoric which justifies atrocity, or worse, freedom from responsibility then tragedy is soon to follow.

The United States is not immune from this trend because our history, our real history shows this to be true. Whether it was the consistent abuse and eventual genocide of Native Americans, the abuse against Irish immigrants during the 1800s, the general xenophobia against jews which has never truly abated in our culture, the institution of Slavery followed by the establishment of Jim Crow laws followed by the barbarity of Mass incarceration, the internment of the Japanese following Pearl Harbor, the manipulation of hispanic Americans during World War II which culminated in the atrociously named “Operation Wetback,” the massacre of Wounded Knee, and while I 9.+Coates+Quotecould probably spend an entire page listing out the offenses of the United States this list is meant only to affirm one central point: the United States is not an innocent nation. There is blood on our hands, and for some reason no one really wants to acknowledge it and offer some kind of atonement.  There is more an impulse to argue, “yes it happened, let’s move on,” which in itself is yet another form of denial of the issue.

This might just be the trend of history working against us, and it might be that the United States will never even consider reparations. This to me however would be a tragedy because it would suggest a real emotional insecurity of this nation which, supposedly, the greatest country in the world. The sign of a mature person is one who is willing and able to acknowledge their faults, it’s someone who can admit when they’ve fucked up and offer a real recompense. There have been signs that this nation can and would do just that, but not to the extent that was really necessary.

Coates article isn’t just a fascinating portrait of one of America’s lasting sins against a portion of its populace, it’s a real meditation about the nature of the democracy that many praise and enjoy. He is observing that it’s easy to enjoy the benefits of a democracy when you’re the privileged party, but then offers Temple of Libertythe question of what kind of democracy is it when that same group negates the reality that their success is coming at the expense of others? The Case for Reparations is not about arguing for a simple pay-off the African-American community, because money is an empty gesture. The health of a democracy is measure by the maturity of it’s populace to understand what a real equality is, and so looking at The Case for Reparations I observe not just a beautifully written essay about the differing economic levels of blacks and whites, but a real call for Americans to recognize their past and deepen their emotional understanding of their culture’s past.

Coates offers up just such a summation near the end of his article:

An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future. More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders. (207).

Finally sitting down to read The Case for Reparations was a marvel to me because with every word I recognized that Coates had established himself as a definitive and consequential voice in the body of American Letters. Reading this essay I realized how privileged I was to have the economic benefits that I did, and I considered how many white people I had met growing up who had been part of a long tradition of wealth. And Ta-Nehisi-Coates-640x480at first while I intend to explore this notion of privilege, the larger concern for the health of a democracy seems far more, if not equally, relevant. I’ve watched in just the last few months how my country has become more and more divided over the issues of the past and race, and it seems, at first, like any kind of hope for a healthy and reasonable conversation is next to impossible.

In the face of this reality I admit with no hesitation that I feel afraid everyday. Each morning comes with it’s own sorts of challenges, and the conversations seem to be getting more and more outlandish and violent. It behooves one to hope that there is space for a real conversation like the one The Case for Reparations opens up.

All it takes for democracy to fail is for people to feel that their voice has no place or relevance. All it takes for a democracy to implode is for people to stop talking because they’re afraid of discomfort. The important conversations about this country’s past are not going away, and so I am, in spite of everything, inspired by The Case for Reparations because Coates reminds me that the voice of individual citizens to argue about the nature of their democracy isn’t just a matter of the past, it’s a constant ever-changing discourse. What kind of democracy would we inhabit if we stopped trying?






*Writer’s Note*
All quotes taken from The Case for Reparations were cited from First Edition, hardback copy of We Were Eight Years in Power as published by One World Books. If the reader would be interested in reading the full article however they can follow the link below to The Atlantic’s home webpage where the essay is posted. I highly recommend it, even if the reader is still unconvinced by my review, and even if they disagree with Coates’s argument. It’s worth taking a few moments to consider this essay and it’s place in the larger discussion of race in the United States.


I’ve also posted a video below where Coates discusses his article.  There are many like it, and YouTube’s A.I. being what it is it should provide you links to other videos where he discusses it.  Unless your browsing history is different than mine in which case, I don’t want to know.


**Writer’s Note**

I’ve included below a few essays which explore Ta-Nehisi Coates as well as the argument about Reparations.  Enjoy:

And because I’m me, I’m also including a link to Adam Ruins Everything where he talks about the racist history of Redlining and how this has helped created wealth disparities between blacks and whites in the United States.