We got 99 problems and Paula Deen shouldn’t be one of them.

This whole firestorm surrounding Paula Deen smells of something stinky. And it is not simply racism. Now, before you have a cow (butter basted, deep fried, or otherwise) hear me out. I am not saying that Paula Deen is not racist. She probably is. But I do find it curious that she has become the single person to punish for racism. Here is why.

Paula Deen was called out for using the “N-word.” It is worth noting that this word is treated far more fearfully in just about every form of media when people are fine using the word bitch to describe women, faggot to describe gay men, and a whole variety of slurs to describe Latinos and Asians that no one feels the need to abbreviate… and as a woman who is generally called a bitch when I stand up for myself, I take issue with the allowances given that term – I am talking to you Kanye West and Jay Sean Carter Z…

We all know, collectively, that the “N-word” is not an okay word to use – unless, according to some, you are a black person, though being pretty white, I don’t really feel like I can talk about that, unless we all agree that insider status gives you the privilege to reclaim the power of a word – like I do not mind when my girlfriends use the term bitch/bitches in describing our group of friends… though I am filled with furious rage when women who do not know each other use the term against another, so… hypocrite? I dunno.

So, what did The Queen of All Things Butter say? In response to question in a videotaped court proceeding about whether or not she had ever used the “N-word”, she said, “Yes, of course,” further explaining that it’s “just not a word that we use as time has gone on.” And people lost their minds.

Okay, fair enough. Here is a southern white woman who has done some ridiculous shit ranging from not acknowledging her privilege as a white southerner (possibly forgivable) to organizing a “Plantation” themed wedding reception with all black servers dressed in plantation appropriate attire – so dressing as slaves (clearly less forgivable.) She also (born in 1947) came up through a hugely transitional time in our nation’s history , and who knows how much time she spent outside of Georgia, but I am guessing she was fairly insulated from the real drama of the civil rights movement, perhaps along the lines of how some people in places outside of San Francisco are unaware of the real struggle for equal rights that the LGBT community has been fighting – for years. Further, she clearly acknowledged that it was a common term that she knows should not used anymore.

She fucked up, this is clear. But the public vilification of her, and the absolute demolition of her livelihood has been bothering me. It reminds me of how Martha Stewart – who did do something dumb, (and illegal) – was made an example of when there were thousands of Wall Street men who committed far more significant and egregious crimes of the exact same nature that never even got their wrists slapped.

Huh.

Thanks to my girl Co who is from Texas (and sends me amazing things like this), I recently found out that the governor of Texas, one Rick Perry (who is on so many of my shitlists I don’t even know where to start with him) owns a property called Niggerhead Ranch. Now, I would like to ask why this man is not being removed from his position of power (which would benefit far more people – women are more than 50% of the population and I cannot imagine there are that many Paula Deen cuisine fans) and being crucified in the press. Beyond being insulated from any scandal this might have to offer, there are articles like this which suggest that owning a property with the “N-word” in it is totally acceptable because of the, say it with me: HISTORY. Whether or not this is an acceptable explanation, according to the aforementioned article:

…hinges on whether the ranch’s title means that Perry is – drumroll, please – a racist. However, Perry did not name the place himself – by the time he was using it, the name was an ancient custom, and not associated explicitly with insulting black people. Here, we must listen to the locals who tell us that the name was simply an utterance to them. “That’s just what people call it,” one told The Post.

So, because it is historical vernacular it is okay. For Rick Perry. But because Paula Deen admitted that she used the word, was basically honest (admittedly under legal pressure) about her familiarity with the term, she is a racist, historical vernacular aside. And while the article quoted above is shockingly ignorant for myriad reasons, I would just like to know where this guy’s defense of Paula Deen is.

There is something about this that seems strange…. but I just can’t quite put my finger on it… hmmmm…. I wonder…. what do these examples have in common….

GUILTY!

GUILTY!

Huh. I wonder…

NOT GUILTY!

NOT GUILTY!

GUILTY!

GUILTY!

I feel like there is something there, but I am just not… wait, I think I see a pattern.

The thing is this: Paula Deen may very well be racist, in fact I am fairly sure she is, but the number of people taking this opportunity to congratulate themselves for not being racist because they are “not like Paula Deen” is ridiculous (the absolute best response I have seen to Paula Deen is this amazing letter: read it here.) The “at-least-I’m-not-Paula” excuse is allowing the perpetuation of what John Fugelsang termed the ignoracist (which Paula herself is). These are people who avoid public acknowledgement of their racist tendencies by saying things like “no offense” after an offensive statement, or “I’m not racist, I have black friends,” or my current favorite, “hey, I’m not racist, I voted for Obama!” All the while these same ignoracists allow a white male attorney to establish that because a young black woman used the “N-word” with her best friend, one Trayvon Martin, the woman is racist, (even though these people already said it is okay for black people to use the term among themselves) and somehow this racism mitigates the cold-blooded killing of Trayvon (by extension, also racist) by George Zimmerman. That is racist. And inconsistent. And god dammed sexist too, which is apparently completely acceptable in fighting for the greater good, whatever the hell that is. (Take note Mr. Perry, this shit is not cool.) I bet a lot of ignoracsists (or ignorsexists) and “at-least-I’m-not-Paula” types also buy Kanye’s and Jay Z’s records, which are littered with the N-word and the B-word (I think they have had to step away from the F-word, but I can’t say for sure.)

It is a wonder any of us can get through the day anymore without doing serious bodily harm to ourselves (or others.) It is hideous. But let’s try to keep the focus on what is real, and try to maintain if not a modicum of decency, then at least some consistency.

Being racist is not okay, and not knowing you are a racist is even worse. In the same vein, being sexist is not okay, and it should be treated with the same outrage we rightfully reserve for racism. When people, or even Rick Perry, say things in a public speech like, “And just remember: the louder the opposition screams, the more we know we’re doing something right,” it becomes clear how those in power perpetuate these gross ills in society, from racism to rape culture.

Hey Rick (and all y’all), when people scream their opposition to something, like Trayvon did, and like the women of Texas did, they mean NO you fucker.

“Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!”

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“Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope.”

I finally saw Baz Luhrmann’s production of The Great Gatsby today. Not a new film anymore, I realize, but as is the nature of my life, I tend to get caught up on my celluloid fix during the summers, and a grey San Francisco June day is the perfect time to take in a matinée. For better or for worse, when it takes so long to get around to seeing movies it is impossible to not hear the critiques, and for an American classic of this stature, you can be sure there was an abundance. First, there were the “I haven’t seen the thing and I never will” critiques. These derived from a mix of folks ranging from those who stand on principle that, in fact, you not only cannot repeat the past you should be goddamned barred from trying. Also in this group are the people who categorically find something wrong with Baz Luhrmann, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Jay Z. Another element of this group would be the lit crit snobs, who I think are basing their critique on someone else’s review, which makes them too derivative to really even consider here. Next there were the literary aficionados. This group saw the film, and is largely comprised of teachers (heavily weighted towards English), readers of the New Yorker (or NYT Book Review), Fitzgerald experts, and “Americanists” (yes, that is a thing.) The criticism from this group was heavy on nostalgia and loyalty to the book. Many of them talked about how it was insulting to have the symbolism so directly explained [Um, yes. Americans don’t really read anymore and so I would say that in fact they DO need this explanation.] Some of them talked about how it was too literal, other said it took to many figurative liberties. I also heard complaints about the Luhrmann’s general misunderstanding of Fitzgerald’s primary theme in the novel (arguably the corrosion/degeneration/decay/ruination/failure of the “American Dream”). Associated with the latter was the notion that the irony of the novel would be lost in a Luhrmann-like celebration of the visual and aesthetic grandeur of the time period. How can he make a pretty movie about a fucked up thing like this? 

Ummm… I think you might have missed the irony there, professor.

“I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.” 

Anyhow, I went in with my own biases. I have read the novel probably ten times. I read it as a high school student (mostly), and then as a more responsible university student trying to actually e as well read as I said I was, and then as a high school teacher – yes, I too “taught” the novel. In addition to my self-professed familiarity with the book, I also believe that Leo DiCaprio may be one of the most underrated actors of my generation. I mean, forgive the guy Titanic, already, will you? What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Aviator, Catch Me If You Can, The Departed, Blood Diamond, Basketball Diaries, and D’Jango Unchained? Please, that is a list of fantastic films, roles, and work. Anyhow, I suppose I am either preaching to the choir here or wasting time on deaf ears. Beyond that, I also love Baz Luhrmann. Visually, his work is amazing, even if you don’t like the movies, and I would suggest even if you don’t like his aesthetic, it should still be categorized as amazing work. Strictly Ballroom  will forever be a favorite, and judge me how you like, but I liked Moulin Rouge. So, there you have my biases. Oh, and Prada dresses & accessories for the parties? Yeah, I’m in.

“For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”

 We have a deep-seated fascination with the “Roaring Twenties” in America. I know this as a U.S. History teacher, as well as a relatively observant human. There is something eternally compelling about a decade of such transition, tumultuous as it was. America came out of WWI looking as dapper as ever, and with the booming markets, new access to popular culture via radio, and huge cultural transitions like women’s rights (women’s suffrage, the Flapper movement, co-ed colleges) and the influence of black culture made more accessible, if not wholly acceptable, through the Harlem Renaissance, and then there was the emerging marriage of music, movies, fashion through the first generation of real American celebrities. People hold on to all these glamorous images tightly, going so far as to stylize even the worst elements of our culture, crime (organized or otherwise), racism, witch hunts (political and economic), in a way that offers pretty and sterile memories; always so much more fun to recollect. The resulting (yes, it was consequential) economic collapse even seems to be romanticized as some sort of retrospective Faustian morality tale – from which we all learned such valuable lessons. Oh. Wait….

I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

Now, off of my teacher soap box and into the theater. The costumes did not disappoint, the work in that area was divine. And the party scenes were just as I would hope from a Luhrmann vehicle: palpable texture. However, the scene that got me from the start was the moment Nick walks into the Buchanan’s home. From the first time I read the book I have loved that scene; the billowing curtains veiling Daisy and Jordan, the whiteness of the space… all of it, and I loved how it was done in this film. Nick’s first party is also fabulous. The way that Gatsby was a man of mystery at once so obvious and so invisible (as Jordan said, “…I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy…”) was, if not totally original, very well done. And anyhow, it is hard to imagine that anyone who was seeing this movie would be without an idea who Gatsby was being played by, so the element of surprise was based more in style than purpose.

Beyond the little things – including wildly overdone settings – which worked by the way (the Valley of Ashes was a crazy zone of transition) I found the movie to be an effective reminder of what I remember being most compelling about the book in the first place: the simultaneous enchantment and repulsion of humanity. The amazing wealth (which was actually available to so many people during the decade Fitzgerald aimed to unveil) is tantalizing, and the way Luhrmann capitalized on Fitzgerald’s descriptions of decadence made the veneer of this wealth viscerally clear. The commodification of everything has become a way of life for modern America, but maybe at one point in time that was not the case.

The scene when Gatsby finally gets to show his home to Daisy, to demonstrate his worth to her, is also exceptionally well done in the film. Daisy’s clear intoxication by the context rather than the  characters of the home is obvious, and her consideration of Gatsby is sad. But the part that got me was when they all went swimming. For some reason the way that Lurhmann brought this scene to life made me so hugely and immediately grateful to be with someone because of the someone they are rather than the somethings they may or may not have. I am unsure why this scene made me think that, but it was immediate and in spite of luxury I could well imagine loving, I was so glad to not be those people. It was weird.

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”

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It reminded me of all the people I see working so hard to be Someone or Something, worried evermore that they will never be enough if they don’t go to all the right places, eat all the right food, like all the right things. You know this guy; the guy who measures his worth by Twitter followers or something, who talks about how much he likes the things that Robin Leach told us we should like back in the day because that will make him higher quality, who talks about how amazing s/he is and how much they love their life telling everyone how they “live the dream”… while they are so totally alone… at the restaurant, at the concert, at the bar… “table for 1”. That irony, being totally alone in the proverbial crowded room was the fate of Gatsby, who believed that Daisy would solve his loneliness.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Ultimately, it is hard to say if the good guys win this one. I never liked Nick in the book, I found his odd humility and warped self-image far too distracting as a narrator, and clearly the rest of the characters were loathsome, and he is pretty meh in this version as well. All my gay male friends really hate Tobey McGuire for some reason and they blame him for Nick being so lame, but I think Tobey was pretty spot on in terms of suckage, I mean, Nick is the biggest drag in the book – at least the really awful people are not conflicted by their hideous natures. Being self-conscious about it is even more annoying.

“They’re a rotten crowd’, I shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

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But there was always Gatsby, perhaps the last bastion of the failing American Dream – the eternal optimist in the face of certain defeat, and someone who was honest enough to understand that the measure of a man would never again be made from his character in this modern world, but only in the correctly constructed facade, regardless of the means of acquisition. Pretty things are more important I guess.

That Gatsby remained hopeful was lovely, and I like to think that he dies believing Daisy did call. I like to think this is because I too am an eternal optimist. And I left this newest version of The Great Gatsby feeling like they got it. It is different from the other versions, but the reminder that we continue to live in a world that increasingly rewards people not for the people they are, or how they have contributed to humanity, but for the spectacle they can make of themselves irrespective of the attendant costs to others or society, is both timely and important.

And maybe we should just call this movie a reminder, not a remake, and then everyone could be less of a critic and take a look at how prophetic the story actually is.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Oh – and ps: Jay Z killed it on the soundtrack. Real talk.

It’s really just too complicated: Or, springtime in NYC.

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I spent spring break in New York City this year. I had not been to the BIg Apple since 2004 and in terms of relative time, that was really another lifetime that barely seems like it was my own. That was before I really got in touch with my love of cities… at that point I sort of knew I loved cities but… being stuck in Reno one can’t really focus on what one loves, one must focus on more basic things like not killing yourself or random people around you. Why New York? Well, I have been dying to take a trip for more than a year, and it turned out that a dear friend of mine had Jedi mind tricked her employers (located in Madrid) to not only facilitate, but fund her wish to work from Manhattan for three months. [If you would like to schedule an appointment with her for some handy tips on how to make your employers do insanely rad things for you without having to sell your soul, just let me know, I will see what I can do.] Further, it seemed like it was one of possibly two times of year that I might be able to tolerate the climate. And I was going to get a chance to see Fun Bobby for this first time since I left Hong Kong, which frankly, has been an unacceptable situation. So, it seemed like kind of the right time to go. Plus, I was thinking it was gonna be all like this. I gotta be honest though, it started out a whole lot more like this though. And really when one is on vacation, ain’t nobody got time for that. New York is supposed to be so very, you know. I’ve come to my own conclusions, but we will get to those presently. Suffice it to say that New York is (as Jerry Garcia said long ago about The Grateful Dead), like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice, REALLY like licorice.

Anyhow, here it is. New York City Chapter One: In which we determine that everyone really does want to be in the cast of Girls, the East Village has a sidewalk cafe that smells like ass, as well as another one that serves tequila slushees, and Gangstagrass might actually be a thing.

It started this way. A morning flight to O’Hare. Crowded. Middle seat. The best part about this middle seat? I was between two people who were traveling together but hated the middle seat so much they booked the window and the aisle on a sold out flight. I understand hating the middle seat thing, but seriously? These two talked over me for four and a half hours. That takes true dedication and stamina. Who does that?

Then I landed in Chicago. (Previous question answered.) I had some nostalgia as I thought back to my last trip to Chicago wherein there was Lollapalooza and Alinea and museums and such. Mostly I love Chicago because there is no where on earth I have visited where I feel so tall and thin as I do when I am in Chicago. It is like an instant ego boost. Therefore, I do like the Midwest. But – on to the next one, please.

Seeing a friend you haven’t seen in nearly four years is pretty amazing. In every sense of the word. If it is true that the measure of a (hu)man is in their friends, it appears I am awesome. And I am grateful for this. Arriving was simultaneously exciting and expected, which is cool. There was much catching up to do and Brooklyn Lager to drink and take out to order. It was past midnight my time, but hey – there are better times to sleep. And however it happened, I woke up the next morning ready to go. Who knew I still had it in me?

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It was sunny and clear and R’s apartment, directly adjacent to the Manhattan School of Music was deceptively cozy. It was cold outside. Really. Cold. I think one of my issues with New York has to do with the cold and the dilemma of outerwear.* One must have a plethora of coats and jackets to get by out there and for travel this is mightily inconvenient. Having brought my warmest coat that does not belong on a ski mountain was smart, but totally limiting. I mean a full length cashmere and wool coat *only* looks good at night. Any other time it looks totally stupid. But since all domestic airlines charge for luggage now (except my favorite… you know who you are Southwest!) it is neither feasible, nor economical for the solo traveler to bring the requisite “plethora of outerwear.” Sigh.

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With a series of not entirely ideal layers we headed out. It was fun to see the city and get a sense of the neighborhoods. From Morningside Heights down through the Upper West, through Lincoln Square to the Theater District where I could take the awkward tourist photos and later forward them to my non-tourist Brit. Through Midtown to the East Village… I figure we logged ten miles or so. I have been hearing all about how Brooklyn is the hipster paradise, but was overwhelmed by odd facial hair, late-90s fashion choices with a splash of American Apparel for that contemporary edge and muchos fixies. (R calls them onesies which really makes me laugh because I just picture the hipsters riding around in rompers with attached feet… but then I had to stop laughing as it dawned on me that with little encouragement that could really be a thing and then I would be sorry to have ever conjured the thought.) There was much to see and admittedly it was quintessentially “New York”. And even a San Francisco kid can appreciate that. I didn’t see many of the hawkers selling the fake bags and such out on this day [Prada? Gucci? Louis? What you want? You tell me, I put on the label…] though I did see my pashmina men, and since I can no longer hustle down to the lanes in Hong Kong, and my cat eats textiles, I was in need. “How many do I buy to get some for free?” (The answer is ten, btw.) As R noted, apparently you can take the girl out of HK…. Hey, he understood, and I got something free, even though I couldn’t find eleven colors I liked, R picked out a leopard print and we were good to go. We were all happy.

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Looking around lots of things kept coming into my mind. I thought about the Maurice Sendak/Carole King Really Rosie collaboration a lot. Rosie always seemed so cool in her eight year old New York way, and she was really Rosie, but I am pretty sure she was from way don in Brooklyn and I had yet to check that out. Still… I thought about movies like… well none really in particular, it is just that a lot of New York feels like a movie set. I thought about how lame I find the today show as I looked at all the people mooning outside their windows. Is that show even on on Saturday? I thought about how Matt Lauer has fallen from grace. I didn’t really care that much about it though, because I was getting hungry. So much so that I missed my chance to see ScarJo walking by. And some other guy who is famous apparently, but I still don’t know who he is. Fortunately, as in the city where I live, the biggest issue when one gets hungry in NYC is choosing where to eat.*

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For a minute it got warm enough to unlayer and so we celebrated with champagne cocktails. It seemed like the right thing to do. This was my first experience of shockingly bad table service in NYC (and also my first table service.) Granted, I can appreciate that I am approaching middle age, and this fact may be exacerbated when I hang around with my “younger” friends, which R certainly is, so I may not look as cool as the other customers, but logic seems like it would dictate that older people have more money for say, tips. Regardless, this waiter was either suffering from some sort of facial palsy, wearing a dirty diaper, or just really that sour. He even made us switch tables. Saved money on the tip in the end. (Tipping was a fairly constant topic of conversation on this trip though as the Brits are definitely not on board with tipping the way that we are, and they believe we are “ruining it for the rest of the people” with our tipping practices. I am still thinking about this.)

After this interlude, we headed further into the East Village because we were after tickets for a show at the Mercury Lounge that evening. This fairly lengthy hike warranted another reward and so we had pink lemonade margaritas at another sidewalk cafe. They were slushees with booze. We also ordered nachos, which was a mistake, particularly for a girl from the Mission. Regardless, R, it turns out, has a little love for bluegrass, and in her search for some local bluegrass, she came across Gangstagrass. Yes, they are a thing. Had either of us ever watched the show Justified, we would have been apprised of this band, but we had not. And since they were playing in town we had decided to go. In our effort to purchase the tickets (it did not work – the girl at the booth was locked out of the computer) R saw that another band, The Stone Foxes was playing later in the week. Should we get tickets? She thought she liked them, she had them on her iTunes… We got those tickets with instructions to get the Gangstagrass ones prior to the show at the door. Interestingly, the band on her iTunes turned out to be the Fleet Foxes, but no bother.

Tickets in hand, we opted to cab it back up town, to get ready to come back downtown… It was a treat to be back in a city wherein the biggest issue in getting a cab is that they nearly crash trying to simultaneously get your fare.

We turned it around in record time and headed to the show. The opening band was Kamara Thomas and the Ghost Gamblers. Her eye make up was troubling, but it turned out to be more troubling for her than us as she accidentally smudged it pretty bad and none of her peeps told her about it. That should be in the band code: tell your frontman when they smudge their Robin-styled eyemask make-up. At least, if I were in a band I would make that a rule. Then came Gangstagrass. And I gotta say, totally not disappointing. I might even watch Justified now.

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One day, nine or so neighborhoods, eleven pashminas, three bars, two wanky servers, myriad hipsters, three outfits, one train, two cabs, bad eye make-up, fusion music, late night pizza; all in a city that is not my own.

And that made all the difference.

*First world problems.