That’s So Gay! And That’s So Awesome!

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The recent Pride celebrations in San Francisco – and across the nation – were especially festive as they coincided with the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision forbidding states from denying gay people the right to marry. This decision has unsurprisingly upset a lot of people. I have no idea why. I mean, I have an idea because they are always saying it is because it is against their beliefs and the Bible forbids it and therefore it should be forbidden to all people… and some folks throw in some nonsense about how the sanctity of marriage is some sort of cornerstone of our society… I guess I mean I do not understand the “marriage” of these realities, or how people who preach freedom feel that the freedom of others shits on their own. Rainbow sparkly unicorn shit, apparently.

I don’t even want to be bothered to explain how something being against one person’s beliefs cannot be made into law because in the same way they get to hold their beliefs, others get to hold theirs (oh hi First Amendment to the US Constitution), or how the Bible forbids all sorts of shit (like wearing mixed blend fibers and shaving) and encourages all sorts of shit (like infidelity and spousal abuse) and so selective enforcement of Biblical law might make a person a hypocrite (because I really do not care what you believe – only that you do not [and legally cannot] make me believe the same because: America.) I also am not interested in explaining how the “sanctity” of marriage is evolving if it is even still a thing. The divorce rate is actually dropping, only about a third of marriages now end in divorce, but the interesting reality behind this trend includes a whole bunch of inconvenient truths for fans of “traditional” marriage. It turns out that the reasons marriages are lasting longer has to do with increased reproductive rights and work equality for women. Also, as more educated people marry, and marry later, marriages seem to last longer. Another painfully obvious reason divorce rates are dropping is that marriage rates are also dropping. People who live together and then break up (often as traumatic and costly as a divorce) don’t figure into the stats. But there remains a positive correlation between some of the most rabid defendants of “traditional” marriage and divorce, which is a little awkward.

I don’t want to talk about all that because I really do not care about marriage. At all. I also do not care about, say, American football. You might even go so far as to say I do’t really believe in either of them and what they stand for. But why on earth should that preclude other people from being crazy about either institution? Their passion for football or marriage has no impact on my life.

I am far more interested in the freedoms and protections that our Constitution guarantees. And with expression being one of them – along with equality under the law – it seems that the whole gay rights thing should be redundant.

Of course it is not because, well, because people everywhere feel compelled to tell people that they “are doing it wrong” and bent on proving that rather than just living their own lives.

After the marriage equality ruling came down, the world exploded in rainbows (really literally in a lot of cases) and landmarks across the country got rainbowed.

So of course people got angry. Because, rainbows and ponies and glitter.

I think – aside from the obvious reality that I am in favor of any ruling that is going to prevent the government from getting involved in personal matters – like who is marrying who (remember when interracial marriage was illegal? #awkwardtruehistory) – the rainbows struck a personal chord with me because I am a child of the eighties. For real. As I watched the eruption of positivity and joy around Pride this year I realized it all feels like coming home. I was raised – culturally, with no specific familial influence – in a Pride parade. Consider my early cultural imprinting:

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It is all so fabulously gay! And all the men I loved? Well, you be the judge:

Even the straight guys seem pretty gay…

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I have a completely ineffective gaydar because of all this… Seriously – who could tell? And who cares (well, except for the inconvenient truth that those super cute waiters I was crazy for as a tween at the Crest Cafe in Hillcrest were never gonna be waiting for me – outside of some John Waters style of fiction.)

This was also a time when we were trying to work out WTF about HIV/AIDS and lots of our standard popular culture was littered with the pejorative, “Fag!” Strange bedfellows fear creates indeed. When I revisit those films now I always have a double take because it’s always coming from someone dressed like the above, and I am like, “Really.” It was around this time that I once referred to something as “So gay” in a disparaging way in front of my (gay) aunt who perfunctorily said, “Oh really? Gay? Do tell.” That was awkward. But important. And as I think about all the parts of my life that really are “so gay” I realize they are fundamental parts of me, my person, my taste, and my mind. In the most awesome ways.

I guess my point is this: I love the rainbows and the glitter and the gay. And for people who do not, and who are allowed to not, don’t. The difference is now you can’t legally discriminate based on your personal beliefs – which you were never supposed to do anyhow. #LOVEWINS

And if you don’t believe me, ask Jon Stewart.

The Political Line: Keith Haring @ The De Young

 

Keith Haring was the first artist I chose to love all by myself, outside the influence of my parents, or however else it is that we begin to understand our tastes. I have several pieces in my home, (prints of course…) and have always kept my eye out for his work (see poster ripped from a wall in Salzburg above.)  Haring broke out on the scene when I was at the perfect age to grab on to a new type of pop art. It was bright, bold, the lines spoke to me. I mean I was a pre-teen in the early eighties… I was loving the slick, stylized feel of big colors (Esprit anyone?), smooth lines (Nagel – don’t hate…), and looking for something that made sense to me in a world that seemingly made less and less sense. But these were strange times, and they were going to be all the more stranger for me as I started to see the eighties emerge around me.

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Things I remember? Telling my mom to vote for Carter not John Anderson because in our mock election at school, the Anderson votes had led to a Reagan victory, and due to the narrative I was generally exposed to, I was pretty sure we were all going to die a soon as Reagan took office. John Lennon’s murder. Xanadu. Some drama in Iran. No-nukes rallies. Michael Jackson. The emergence of the Anti-Apartheid movement. Olympic boycotts. Live Aid. Our first Mac. My step-dad’s first cell phone: the Brick. And some artwork that was showing up in New York’s subways.  Today I got a screaming refresher course in the decade that took me from 10 to 20.

From the first time I saw Haring I knew that this was an artist I understood. I understood the frenetic feel, contrasted with super clean lines and bright colors. I understood the politics. He spoke to things I knew about and would grow up under the influence of: AIDS. Crack (is Wack). Oppressive governments. Racism. Homophobia. Environmental devastation. The computer age.

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I learned somethings I didn’t know about his work and his life, and his techniques. I learned that Larry Warsh is maybe the most bomb-diggity art guy in New York. I learned that a Sheikha in Dubai owns a couple of amazing pieces of Haring’s work. I learned a new phrase: VISUAL VOCABULARY. And I like that a lot. And Haring was basically right that more people go to the subways than go to the museums – although today, it hardly seemed that way. A huge crowd – nearly as interesting in its diversity as the exhibit added much to a stunning exhibition.

There has been a lot of discussion of Haring’s work and it’s intention – aesthetic? political?commercial? sell-out? watershed? Maybe it is all of the above. I like to think so. I can say, more than 30 years later, his work has a prescience and a relevance that is almost eerie. And seeing this amazing exhibit at the De Young in San Francisco today took me right back to a crazy period of time that shaped me and informed so many of my sociocultural priorities and concerns… so how cool to see it all before me today.

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For a ton of amazing images from museum visitors, go to Instagram and click on the De Young Museum Keith Haring Exhibit location tag. #Awesome.

 

Revisiting Susan.

The other night as I slipped into the deep end of the first weekend of summer break I flipped through the movie options offered by my cable monopolizer provider, I came across this old gem.

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When I told the Cowboy I had picked a movie he responded with the appropriate enthusiasm. And then I pushed play. He looked at me. I grinned. He kept looking. “What?” “Desperately Seeking Susan? Really?”

And we settled in to watch.

My immediate thoughts on the film had much to do with Madge herself. Bearing in mind that, as a legit child of the 80s who remembers the first time I hear Holiday and was surrounded through highschool by girls (braver than me) who fully embodied the Madonna-wanna-be stylings with great success, her first album is firmly imprinted somewhere deep within me. As I sat watching I was struck how on trend 1985 Madonna remains. And I was as dramatically impressed by my initial reaction to Madonna’s physique… which was somewhere along the lines of “Wow, Madonna looks big…” As the movie progressed and I got used to looking at the old version of Madonna (in my opinion far more attractive than the modern version that has varied between exercise fanatical and positively underfed) I realized how lucky I was to grow up in a time where I felt good about a normal body. Madonna is tiny – IRL and in the film – but our standards have shifted to such extremes, at first glance she looks… pudgy. Well, that is overstating it, but at the very least she has a softness and fleshiness that is frowned upon these days. Even Rosanna Arquette, a tiny human by all accounts – looked, *normal* in the movie. I guess normal isn’t what we want to look at as a model anymore, but it was certainly refreshing.

The film held up pretty well, I thought, likely because it was (I think?) purposefully kitsch in ’85. Of course, the fact that the clothes donned by all the characters set the tone for hipster trends also give it that oddly contemporary feel. Apparently Madonna is the muse of every one of the customers in my favorite store. Further, I found that the lack of technology contributed to character development in a way that is also lost. Remember when we used to wonder about things? ‘Who wrote that?’ ‘What is so-and-so doing tonight?’ ‘Where is such-and-such?’ I realize that I am as guilty as anyone for noting – on the regular – that we no longer have to wonder about anything anymore… just whip out the smart(er) phone and look it up… But I also miss that thin veil of not knowing; and it was the unknown that really drove the entire story in Desperately Seeking Susan after all. I mean, with an internet search, or even online newspapers, that whole debacle of a search would not have made a 30-minute sitcom (which is really only 21.5 minutes of program time…)

Product placement in the movie was also delightfully antiquated. There were very few actual commercial products in place – the most notable, the regularly visible Miller beer bottles. Remember these squat little things?

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The style and aesthetic of the film were also really vivid. These days it seems like movies work so hard to be devoid of texture, you know, so slick and stylized. Not so here. It makes you look. And when you look you see all these other cool details, not the least of which includes the cast (beyond the two female leads) of this movie: John Turturro (and his mom!); Will Patton; Steven Wright; Aidan Quinn; Laurie Metcalf; and remember the garage attendant from Ferris Bueller – What country do you think this is?? Yeah, Richard Edson is in there too. So that is all pretty cool.

Ultimately, one of the things that really got me thinking a lot about this movie was an article that a friend of mine posted somewhere in the world of social media. The article, How Hollywood’s Disinterest In Women Could Waste A Generation Of Outrageously Talented Actresses, talks about how there just aren’t movies built around women anymore.

Last week, NPR’s Linda Holmes did the math on movies that were screening in the Washington, DC-area on Friday, and calculated that of the 617 movie showings on the calendar, 90 percent of them were for movies about men, and only one of the movies in theaters was directed by a woman. And this is in a major metropolitan area.
“I want to stress this again: In many, many parts of the country right now, if you want to go to see a movie in the theater and see a current movie about a woman — any story about any woman that isn’t a documentary or a cartoon — you can’t. You cannot,” Holmes wrote. “There are not any. You cannot take yourself to one, take your friend to one, take your daughter to one. There are not any.”

The irony of coming up in the 80s when it was becoming cool to never be too rich or too thin (remember that Omega Watches ad campaign?) was that somehow, we were still allowed to be girls and we were audacious and healthy and got to see movies about cool chicks – without the pressure to be them, just the choice.

Of course, as absence makes the heart fonder, years soften the actualities of experience and I am aware much of the 80s blew – hard. And that we are still suffering from much of it. I mean, am I right?

But, today, and many other days, I am grateful for Madonna. Say what you want about her weird British accent phase, the Kabbala nonsense, the obsessive midlife body issues, and plastic surgery (all of which I would like to blame on a mainstream media that would never have let her be herself for long.) Madonna got real, when little else was, by being audaciously ridiculous – and she was definitely in on the joke.

And that is bitchin’.