Archive by Author

For José

20 Dec

by Tavia Nyong’o

 

José, I’m calling up thunder.

Through so many tears

Today, I’m knocking on your door.

Can you hear?

I’m listening for your laughter through the wall

That separates and connects your office and mine.

I’m eavesdropping for the murmur

of your quiet counsel.

Give me that counsel today.

 

Gimme, gimme the words,

help me name

what you were to us.

Because there are no words

without you here to help me find them.

 

José, I’m totally fucked up

In a way that especially you could see.

I’m calling up thunder

for you, for us

for the punk rock commons

whose unauthorized entry

into the Ivory Tower

tooks its stolen wealth

And sold it in the streets for love.

 

José, you know me:

Most days I go for something pretty

Something pretty and well-spoken

And tomorrow,

I’ll say something pretty

but today,

for you José

I’m calling up thunder

to say something true.

 

12.7.2013

 

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Bully on Forever

5 Dec

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Henry and Grover, Drowning in a Bathtub

12 Oct

hes-funny

By Tavia Nyong’o

“I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” — Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform

“My thoughts are murder to the state.” — Henry David Thoreau, 19th century American writer, conservationist, and proto-anarchist.

Teaching Thoreau’s great essay on ‘Resistance to Civil Government‘ during a partial shutdown of the US federal government is an occasion for feelings of great ambivalence. The scholar Henry Abelove has called Thoreau’s prose persona seductive. And I, like Abelove, very much want to be seduced. But how can I extol the worldview of this fearless forerunner of queer anarchism while the anti-government wing of the governing party allows the sick and needy to go uncared for, the statistics on the jobless to go uncollected, the safety of our food supply to go unverified? There is a great deal of interest today, post-Occupy, in anarchist political philosophy and horizontal modes of organizing and action. This anarchist resurgence inspires me, even as it disquiets. I wonder: could I be mistaken in my conviction that, however much leftwing anarchism can sound like rightwing libertarianism, they ultimately form distinct and opposed political traditions?

Thoreau

For answers, I turn to Thoreau, and his queer little errand into the wild a century and half ago. Every American school child knows how Thoreau went to live in a cabin by a pond in Walden forest, and how he epitomized the search for a more basic and independent way of life. But, if we take too literally his descriptions of how he lived, and what he lived for, we can sometimes forget that the society he temporarily distanced himself from was, by today’s standards, itself incredibly spartan. Even those enjoying the heights of antebellum civilization that Thoreau rejected, did so without electricity, telephones, televisions, cars, the highway system, airplanes, or the internet. There was no federal income tax, no Social Security, no FBI or NSA. So, lest we be hopelessly anachronistic in our reading, we must keep in mind all that Thoreau could not have meant, when we try to recover what it meant for him to dwell apart from his society, what prompted him to utter his famous animadversions against government and to pronounce our individual duty to resist it.

The famously combative opening sentence of his essay on Civil Disobedience is memorable. “I heartily accept the motto–”That government is best which governs least”…Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe–”That government is best which governs not at all.” These are words to thrill a modern Tea Party activist. But just a page later we find Thoreau reformulating: “But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government.” This idea is different: Thoreau’s expectancy for improvement, his call to better government, is less often heard, even from left anarchist circles, than his call to do without it.

Thoreau was unlike the “no-government men” or at least, he wanted to be. Much rightwing rhetoric today pronounces itself with vitriol equal to Thoreau’s against government programs they oppose, like health care, public education, and regulation (versions of government Thoreau scarcely knew). But vehemence alone does not establish a shared affinity. Libertarians like to claim him, but Thoreau’s experiment in Walden was not so much a “going off the grid” like today’s survivalist fringe, so much as it was an effort to find a way to live against state-thinking. The right forgets that when Thoreau went to jail rather than pay his poll tax, he was motivated by outrage against specific state actions: the war against Mexico and the Fugitive Slave Law, a law that made the entire union hunting grounds for slavecatchers, and mocked the vaunted freedom of states like Massachusetts. It was against the states crimes against humanity and its imperial wars specifically, not government as such, that Thoreau theorized his proto-anarchism.

Consider this: today’s “government shut down” is itself actually an act of state. It was planned and put into action by a governing party at the behest of its radical Tea Party fringe. Shutdown is, as Malcolm Harris noted, a euphemism for accelerating the ‘austerity‘ being implemented across the world currently. It is not a shutdown of all state functions, least of those having to do with the conduct of wars or surveillance, and many of even the “non-essential” have been ordered back to work, sometimes without pay. Threatening to send the nation into insolvency if pet agenda items are not enacted is not “getting the government off our backs.” It is the pursuit of neoliberal governmentality by other means. As with austerity elsewhere, the target of the shutdown is not ‘government,’ but the social welfare state and popular sovereignty. Just ask the people of Detroit, who have had their elected government suspended in order to allow predatory creditors and lawyers to loot their remaining assets.

A sectional interest abusing constitutional mechanisms to hold the nation at ransom to forward a divisive agenda built, around the protection of a form of property, even at the cost of ruining lives. That describes the Fugitive Slave Law of Thoreau’s day, and it describes the attempt to defund the government and Obamacare now. The real comparison to be made is not between libertarianism and anarchism, but between the reactionary agenda, then and now, to withdraw protections from those who are seen not to matter — slaves and Mexicans then, the sick, poor, people of color and marginalized today — and to instead focus the resources of the state on the policing and imprisonment necessary to keep this drastic upward distribution of wealth from exploding into violence. It was this sort of state, the very one dreamt of by the likes of Grover Norquist, that produced thoughts of murder in Thoreau. This was the sort of state he called on us to resist through direct action.

Thoreau

I am not among those who imagine queers and other anarchists can simply recreate Thoreau’s wild way of life. Anyone who sought to live in such precise antagonism to his own particularly day as Thoreau did can hardly have thought highly of those present day communities who idealize an arbitrary point in the past, beyond which they refuse to develop. True, Thoreau scorned the pursuit of wealth, the coveting of consumer items, the longing for marriage and family. He even scorned reading the newspaper: keeping up too closely with the revolting deeds of his fellow Americans was, he remarked, like a dog returning to its vomit. His idea of revolutionary action was certainly individualistic. But what he meant by individualism was different, almost antithetical, to the possessive, endlessly flexible individual so valorized today. There is an astonishing image at the end of his essay “Slavery in Massachusetts,” where Thoreau directly links wildness, contemplation, and anarchist belief with a profound sense of entanglement with affairs of state:

I walk toward one of our ponds, but what signifies the beauty of nature when men are base? We walk to lakes to see our serenity reflected in them; when we are not serene, we go not to them. Who can be serene in a country where both the rulers and the ruled are without principle?. The remembrance of my country spoils my walk. My thoughts are murder to the State, and involuntarily go plotting against her.

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As Pete Coviello points out in a fine new book on Thoreau and his era, Thoreau’s discontent with society was paradoxically motivated by powerful desires to connect, to love and be loved. The persona of his journals is different from the persona of his essays and Walden, but they are recognizable facets of a single, complex being. Thoreau’s queerness lay in his determined avoidance of the love, marriage, family, and property accumulation that were then, as now, extolled as the principal aims of white, bourgeois life. He refused to be heteronormative then, and would have not tried very hard to be homonormative now. But even as Thoreau rejected institutionalized forms of relationality, Coviello insists, he did so in order to allow himself the lifelong struggle of articulating another form of being, one that was, like friendship itself, forever without institution. Coviello quotes from Thoreau’s Journals:

Ah, I yearn toward thee my friend, but I have not confidence in thee. I am not thou—Thou are not I…Even when I meet thee unexpectedly I part from thee with disappointment… I know a noble man; what is it hinders me from knowing him better? I know not how it is that our distrust, our hate is stronger than our love…Why are we related—yet thus unsatisfactorily. We almost are a sore to one another (Coviello, 30-31).

Thoreau is here able to say, with pitch perfect ambivalence, that the experience of friendship is one of simultaneous expectation and disappointment, love and hate. I love him, Thoreau says of his friend, and yet I hate him. Contrast this to the stance of the libertarian who says: I hate him, and I love me (and mine)! Thoreau offers a stunning insight here, in the decades before the modern hetero/homo divide was solidified. It is one that may begin to make new sense now that there are tentative signs that divide it may be crumbling. He points out that friendship exists almost everywhere without institutional support or government sanction. Not that friendship is pathologized. Indeed, it is probably universally extolled as an anodyne to the ravages of consumerist, competitive society. But even where extolled, friendship always lacks an apparatus. Thoreau’s insight into the undercommons of the affections is at least as valuable as his demonstrations on how to grow without neighbors. Here is Thoreau’s queer path into the wilds, wilds that are as much between us, whoever and wherever we are, as they are along some romantic horizon, always just beyond reach.

Further Reading

Henry Abelove, Deep Gossip (2005)

Pete Coviello, Tomorrow’s Parties (2013)

Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons (2013)

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Civil Disobedience, and Slavery in Massachusetts

That Oceanic Feeling

12 Jul 120417-frank-ocean-1_0

by Tavia Nyong’o

19- year-old Christopher Breaux fell hard for another straight boy who couldn’t love him back, confessing his love in a car parked in front of the girlfriend’s house. But the queerest song released so far by the artist now known at Frank Ocean isn’t an ode to boy-on-boy lust, but a corrosive satire of American marriage in the era of Kim Kardashian and Newt Gingrich.

“American Wedding” has attracted the pecuniary attentions of The Eagles, whose radio staple “Hotel California” the track is based on. But the real story isn’t about the sampling wars, but about a scapegoat generation struggling to make lives amidst the crumbling infrastructure of the American dream.

Now that marriage equality has become the shorthand for considering gays fellow human beings, the exploration of what the institution actually means has become more crucial than ever. On this score, Ocean’s take down of the idealised couple form:

She said, “I’ve had a hell of a summer, so baby, don’t take this hard
But maybe we should get an annulment, before this goes way to far.”

“American Wedding” is from Ocean’s internet mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra. On Channel Orange, Ocean is rarely thinking about conventional marriage, gay or straight. But he is always “thinking bout forever,” as the title of the opening track has it, and peeling back the skin of those of us who aren’t. The ass-backwardness of the Eagles’s response to Ocean’s cultural stocktaking is best captured by NCWYS in the SoundCloud comments to “American Wedding”:

If you older people think that the younger generation is out of control and doing everything incorrectly then you should absolutely love this song, but you don’t.

Aptly enough, Frank Ocean often also composes lines that run on a breath that suddenly stops short. An unforgettable one comes in “Sweet Life,” a sharply observed reverie of black-picket-fence California dreaming, when Ocean asks “So why see the world, when you got the beach?” He elongates “world” to contrast with the punched out “beach” in a way that tells us everything we need to know about Ocean’s mournful acceptance of a sun-ripened cruel optimism. That single line makes the extended parody of decadence and parental neglect on “Super Rich Kids” almost superfluous, except for the self-conscious scene setting it adds:

We’ll both be high
The help don’t stare
They just walk by
They must don’t care.

This is the way Ocean inherits the past: not by respecting tradition, or Don Henley, but by staring down the foreshortened horizons and complacent inequality that the frantic pursuit of wealth or happiness brings.

Not that he is lecturing, mind you, although Sierra Leone, sex work, global warming, and the hijab all make appearances in his rapidly expanding oeuvre. He is singing over the soundtrack of history, blunting its force with tried and true teenage tactics of insult, grandiosity, and desperate need. At 24 he isn’t quite old enough to know that he shouldn’t care, which is why he can gloat over “expensive news” on a pricey widescreen one moment, insist “my TV aint HD thats too real” another. On Channel Orange television is his angel of history, a flickering window on the mounting wreckage of the past as he is blown into the future.

The future Ocean is helping shape includes but cannot be reduced to one of its key aspects: the prospect of a progressively expanded honesty about and acceptance of same sex desire. Despite his Tumblr post comparing the intensity of homolove to “being thrown for a plane,”  the theme of Channel Orange is less sexual orientation than chemical disorientation. Recreational substance abuse resurfaces in almost every song, often as a metaphor for a relationship gone wrong. Or is it the other way around? Is addiction now the core, common experience we are struggling to give sense to, turning to romantic clichés like “unrequited love” in a desperate search for a familiar language?

Frank’s oceanic feelings on Channel Orange crash in waves that obliterate distinctions between gay, bi, or straight. Some of the ostensibly straight songs, except for their pronouns, feel suspiciously same-sex. And when heterosexuality is foregrounded, it never resolves any confusions, it only produces new ones. The artistic showpiece of the album, the ten-minute long “Pyramids,” is an afrofabulation of ancient Egypt and postmodern Las Vegas, centered on a woman dressing for her job as a stripper, while her man looks on, waiting for her to “hit the strip … that keep my bills paid.” The song is drenched in delusions of the good life in a “top floor motel suite,” lateral cruising confused for the upward mobility that is now as rare as water in the American desert. Ocean has a heartfelt respect for his Afrocentric queen — “we’ll run to the future shining like diamonds in a rocky world” — but the feeling tone of “Pyramids” is closer to Janelle Monáe’s “Many Moons” than Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time.” Monáe and Ocean share premonitions of a near future where a multicultural one percent rests at the opulent social apex, with brown, black and some beige bodies at the botttom “working at the pyramid” just like the slaves who built the original ones.

Where CNN anchor Anderson Cooper justified his belated coming out in terms of the reporter’s obligation not to get in the way of the news, Ocean knows better. At 18 he fled Hurricane Katrina for Los Angeles. But as Fred Moten might say, “I ran from it, and was still in it” pretty much sums up the black experience in America. Channel Orange starts in a similarly fucked up atmosphere — “A tornado flew around my room” — and ends with “Forrest Gump” the most oddball portrait of same-sex love since “Johnny Are You Queer?” A campy three-legged race featuring Tom Hanks’ dimwit but fleet-footed hero, “Forrest Gump” boils Hollwood sap down to a lubricious bump and grind:

my fingertips & my lips
they burn from the cigarettes
forrest gump
you run my mind boy
running on my mind boy

This is dark camp, nostalgic kitsch repurposed by a generation whose thefts seemed premised on the canny awareness that anything original they create could be stolen. But don’t confuse Ocean’s approach for postmodern pastiche or retromania, despite his affection for old cars and the vocal stylings of Prince and Donnny Hathaway. On his first appearance on broadcast television, Ocean scaled the national media echo-chamber down to a backseat taxicab confessional, sharing his universal angst at a human level rarely captured by the contemporary celebrity coming out:

“Bad Religion” leaves it strictly unclear whether it his taxi-driver’s effusive Islam or his own devotion to the cult of true love that is more stunning. Confusing spirituality with a therapy designed to sand our sharp edges into shape for this world, he is awestruck in a way that has little to do, in the end, with either islamophobia or homophobia.

“Bad Religion” dances on the impossible “and” in Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, the book where Freud psychoanalyzed the oceanic feeling of cosmic oneness felt by natural mystics as a form of prenatal regression. Thrown from his hometown by the unnatural calamity of antipoor and antiblack racism, Ocean is entitled to feel as bleakly about the human prospect as Freud did. That he doesn’t isn’t a sign of blinkered piety so much as a restless appetite for even the worst in himself and others. Even a curse, after all, probably couldn’t hurt him.

When Ocean greets us as “human beings spinning on blackness,” he invites us into that cab alongside him, sidling up in an undercommons of prayer and malediction, where the singular soul brushes up against the dark night of the universe. Maybe that’s why a conventional coming out, with its endless reiterations of the transparently obvious, seems beside the point. Frank Ocean isn’t like you or me; he isn’t even much like Christopher Breaux any longer.

Kony 2012: Inaudible Children

12 Mar

By Tavia Nyong’o

CNN Headline: Hunt for warlord goes viral

Can the subaltern speak? No, but she can certainly sob, with cries of raking loss and, a few rapid film cuts later, tears of heartwarming gratitude. I learned that much watching Kony 2012 this morning, even if, like most people from the region, I learned little else by way of information or context.

Why did I wait so long to actually watch the film I’d been stewing about for the last week? I actually started to watch once, but was foiled by a bad Internet connection and the off-putting opening sequence (which resembles an ad for Facebook or Google more than a documentary about Uganda). And in a way, these obstacles told me something. I am not the target audience for this film. American youth with ubiquitous, high speed internet access willing to watch 30 minute films on computer screens, cell phones and (probably soon?) wristwatches are. But my exclusion from the film’s emotional community isn’t about age or tech savvy, but because I’m an African who happens to be neither a victim nor a villain, and simply doesn’t fit into either the audience or the subject matter of this overnight, worldwide success.

The almost uniformly ticked-off reaction of Africans like Rosebell Kagumire (above), Maureen Agena, Teju Cole — at least those Africans not on the payroll of Invisible Children — must seem like a bizarre and offensive form of ingratitude to those Americans caught up in the enthusiasm to “make Joseph Kony famous.”

If I had to sum up our bad attitude it would be thus: We feel like the vision of the world acting in unison extolled in the film Kony 2012 doesn’t include us.

After all, the film tells its viewers that no one knew or cared about the Lord’s Resistance Army before three twentysomethings from California stumbled upon some terrorized children sleeping outdoors. Kony 2012 doesn’t imply that Kony is still in Uganda, as some critics have claimed. But it does recycle powerful but outdated imagery from their earlier films about Northern Uganda. It does make exaggerated claims for the leading role of Invisible Children in the peacemaking and post-conflict process (taking full credit, for instance, for the recent deployment of 100 US military advisors to Uganda). And it does assert that only continued US intervention now — compelled by a worldwide youthful grassroots mobilization — can end the regional conflict by “arresting” Kony.

But its not the questionable geopolitical analysis of the film that gets to me so much as its affect. Those who haven’t been able to bear the thought of watching it really should make themselves, if only to grapple with the escalating power of images to affect us. It is that power that makes the informed, learned critiques irrelevant, as both the filmmakers and Noam Cohen in today’s New York Times make clear. Cohen casts this irrelevance in the familiar frame of obscure complexity versus compelling simplicity. But the truth is that emotions can be as complex as ideas. And it took Invisible Children, Inc. years to craft the sophisticated images and participatory campaigns they have mobilized, as a viewing of the evolution of their prior efforts shows. Simplicity has nothing to do with it.

So, while I do have an informed, professional response to the claims made by Kony 2012, but that response is short circuited by my feelings at seeing East and Central Africa explained by showing two mugshots to an adorable blond boy from San Diego: a good African victim and a bad African warlord. The film expects its audience to identify with the little blond boy. Indeed, it obliges it to. Africans however, must identify with those flat images on the table. With Jacob Acaye the former child soldier, yes, but with Joseph Kony too. We know that these are two side of a single coin, and that when we are seen as the one, the face of the other is always lurking beneath.

Still, once I finished watching the film I abandoned self pity and ressentiment. This is a trap for the contemporary African subject. After all, we are wired into the same communications networks and feedback loops of emotional intensity as everyone else. We are no longer colonial mimics, calculating how best to reflect back Western ideas and images for our own ends. We are now all neoliberal perverts, in the sense of perversion developed by the critic Slavoj Zizek, perversion as the “inverted effect of the phantasy.” Sounds “complicated” and maybe it is.* But insofar as films like Kony 2012 invite us to see ourselves in the gaunt visage of a horror film monster like Joseph Kony — who acts at the direction of no cause, not even his own, but at the command of the Lord — and then to reflect back that image in a bizarre, pseudo-Situationist campaign to emblazon his name and image everywhere, from streetlamps and public monuments to our laptops, cellphones and bodies, I think we get the point.


The objective today is not to give Africa it’s voice but to traverse and escape the fantasy that “voice” can endow us with agency in a society controlled by the imperatives of war and capital.

* For those interested, I develop an account of perversity in the global circuits of vicarious participation in Africa’s crises in this forthcoming article (you can read uncorrected page proofs here).

Occupying Gender in the Singular Plural

21 Jan

By Tavia Nyong’o

Call me a sissy, but I’ve never particularly cared for being referred to as cisgender. Still, the work of transgendered activists within Occupy Wall Street has been one of things that keep me optimistic. At a November 13th teach-in at Zuccotti Park, just days before the brutal eviction,  trans activists took over the people’s mic for an hour-long lesson in occupying gender, educating their non-trans listeners on the unearned privileges we enjoy whenever we conform to ascribed gender; outlining the work that groups like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project have long been engaged in, against police violence and medical pathologization; and outlining pragmatic and principled tactics for an occupation open to trans and cis-gendered people alike.

The teach-in ended with a song by Justin Bond, who has charted a post-Kiki and Herb career as a singer-songwriter in the tradition of Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell. Between releasing the 2009 EP Pink Slip and last year’s full length album Dendrophile, Bond has adopted the middle name Vivian, begun to transition, and chosen the pronoun V to represent this new stage of life. Bond’s OWS appearance took what a therapeutic and individualistic culture calls “finding one’s voice” and performed it against the affective grain.

Justin Vivian Bond performing “The New Economy” at Occupy Wall Street

The pronoun V, and accompanying honorific Mx., occupy a linguistic elsewhere to binary gender, an elsewhere that Bond’s memoir, Tango, makes clear V has resided in since childhood. Tango is not a narrative of being trapped in the wrong body, however, but only of being trapped in the wrong society, and Mx. and V are linguistic foils with which to parry that society’s imprecations.

Such singular departures from accepted usage antagonize those who assume that they represent instances of amour propre. But coming from a Quaker tradition that rejects the second person plural “you,” and holds onto the archaic singular forms of “thee” and “thou,” I understand the purpose such speech acts serve. Much like the Society of Friends verbally resist the hierarchical, royal we, Bond’s neologisms dispel the ease with which binary gender preoccupies the ordinary. These dissenting gestures trust that the lateral bonds of the common can sustain the twists and torsions they exact. They are a kind of sit-down in grammar, a linguistic and literary demand to be served as we are, not according to how we are seen, surveilled or counted. They disrupt common sense in order to find a commons.

The song Bond performed at OWS was “The New Economy,” with it’s pugnacious opening lines “They say it’s a new depression, so why am I filled with glee? Everybody coming down quickly, now they can all join me.” Glee is an affect that a certain television show has made ubiquitous in recent years, but it is not often associated with the style of OWS. Bond took glee and detached it from the ethos of aspirational participation and the compulsion to please, and restored its disaffective and disaffiliative charge. Bond was, by Vs own account, homeless at the time of the December performance, having lost an East Village apartment to gentrification’s wrecking ball. But the glee Mx. performed was not schadenfreude but an invitation to queer conviviality, a living and breathing together in conspiratorial difference, a new economy of bodies and affects pitched toward the ethic, as V sang, of “take what you need and give a little back.”

I think it matters that a trans person delivered this communist message, insofar as the grain of Vs voice reinflected the conventional rallying cry. Unison singing at rallies and marches, like pledges of allegiance, tend to be rites of assent: sentimental conflations of the one and the many. But the singular grain of Bond’s voice, echoed through an enthusiastic crowd serving, sometimes with duty and sometimes with joy, as the human amplification system of the people’s mic, defied the sincerity of singalong.

This ability to perform the singular plural, occupying gender without staking a representative claim of speaking as or for any particular position in or betwixt a binarism, leads me to the question I am dwelling with these days. The banal version of this is the journalistic question: if OWS is a new movement, where are its songs? The question betrays a nostalgia for the 60s that was initially helpful in getting people to take OWS seriously at all, but which now presents an obstacle to the emergence of what is new and different about this moment. I want to speculate just a little about what that emergent sound might be.

People are having a field day redescribing the occupation in the preferred jargon of their fields and professions. So why not me? Occupation is a performative: it doesn’t so much represent the 99% as it conjures that figure into being as a speculative object of public attachment. This feeling for numbers is non-majoritarian and post-democratic insofar as it expresses a anarchist and antinomian preference for consensus decision making over majoritarian and electoral process. Excluding the 1% certainly articulates a healthy and appropriate smash the rich mentality. But the Lacanian in me also sees the 1% as yet another stand in for object a, the irreducible antagonistic remainder around which the social composes, and which is forever decomposing it. After all, wouldn’t claiming to speak as or for the 100% be fascism?

99% is a multitude composed out of antagonism, not identity. Taking what they needed, and giving a little back, the transgender activists reminded those who would hear that cis privilege is not restricted to the 1%, but a necessary fractures within occupation just as other divisions of race, citizenship, and class are. Trans and queer glee become part of the affective work of occupation, not so that occupation can become more inclusive or safe, but in order to keep those minor feelings quilted into the banners and broadsides of the many, both as a formal reminders of precarious bonds that stitch us together, and as an audio analogue of those visible seams.

A version of this blog post was presented at the MLA 2012 roundtable, “Affecting Affect.” Thanks to Lauren Berlant for organizing that occasion.

Frida and Anita

20 May

by Tavia Nyong’o

Frida & Anita from Liz Rosenfeld on Vimeo.

Frida & Anita, the new film by Liz Rosenfeld, had it’s Berlin premiere last night at Moviemento, to a packed house of friends and fans. The 20 minute short, which stars Les Margeaux and Richard Hancock as its respective titular stars, is a queer reverie of an imagined romantic encounter between Frida Kahlo and Anita Berber, one that never happened and perhaps couldn’t have, but which, in its very impossibility,  illustrates the performative premises of all nostalgia.

Rosenfeld draws her viewer in with the devices of silent film, like jerky intertitles, which are coupled with luscious technicolor cinematography (by Samuel Maxim and Imogen Heath). Frida and Anita meet in a Weimar-era lesbian nightclub that is also a present day queer bar, habituated by many of the actors themselves. As the film progresses (or, like night and day in bohemian Berlin, ambles) the period frame shifts and dissolves, as the characters Frida and Anita merge with their present day incarnations in Hancock and Margeaux. The two (or is it four?) trade philosophy, politics and sex in three languages.

Margeaux is positively the döppelganger of the teenage Kahlo, in the days before her accident, strolling around in her father’s suits with an air of proletarian insouicance. Hancock conjures Berber out of thin air, literally, drawing upon the most subtle of movements to evoke her presence, not on the basis of gender imitation, but rather through a kind of queer transubstantiation.

The screening was a community event, with many of the cast and crew in the audience. It was accompanied by a variety of shorts by those who had contributed in some way to the film. Highlights included Screen Tests by Sam Icklow, which featured the filmmaker romping around in various post-Warholian scenarios with bosom buddy Eric; Imogen Heath‘s meditative The Poetics of Porn which seemed, among many other things, to be a paean to dendrophilia, Tom Weller‘s witty Maikäfer flieg, in which the filmmaker documents the fluctuations in his vocal range over the two year period that he was taking testerone and gender transitioning by singing the same children’s song about a “Cockchafer fly”; and original contributions from Leila Evenson, Christa Holka, and Hancock himself.

Frida & Anita is the first of a trilogy of films about Weimar and queer nostalgia. The second is already in the can, and the final one will be shot this coming summer. DIY filmmaking at its finest, and, at this pace, its fastest!

EMP Pop 2011: Where were the Queers?

2 Mar

By Tavia Nyong’o (reblogged from Hear is Queer).

The 10th Annual EMP Pop conference wrapped up over the weekend and, against my fears, hosting it at a university didn’t alter the ‘secret recipe sauce’ of journalists, academics, and musicians. Is it me or did we actually gain a new and welcome constituency of students? I can’t think of another conference I go to in which people from 18 to 60+ are in the audience and at the podium, carrying on overlapping conversations about a single topic with such enthusiastic passion.

Others, notably Ned Raggett, have offered copious documentation of specific papers. And a couple conference reviews are coming online, including one by my co-panelist Oliver Wang. I am going to offer my own scattered thoughts on presentations that struck a chord in me but before I do, I have to give a “wag of the finger” as Stephen Colbert likes to say to myself and the EMP community for a group that, upon reflection, was seriously underrepresented this year: queers.

Where were the queers?

I don’t mean the queer presenters: because there were plenty of us. My question is not about a head count but about where, in the discussion of popular music today, queer and transgender topics figure. Homosexuality is apparently a big enough topic that Congress has recently passed legislation on it, people have fought and died for it at home and abroad, artists are singing about it, and sex columnists are making sentimental YouTube videos about it. Is it important to us too when we gather annually to talk about music?

It’s possible — even likely — that I missed some great conversation on queer music happening in some other room. (I missed the Idol panel. Did Adam Lambert come up in relation to queer performance or music there?) But here’s my evidence based on what I do know. In the printed program (which would have attracted or kept away potential attendees), only a single paper title (mine) including the words lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual or queer. And that paper wasn’t even about a queer artist, exactly, although Gaga has, as my co-presenter Jack Halberstam pointed out in his talk, provocatively declined to disavow the transgender body imputed to her by some hostile fans. So while I don’t ordinarily do this kind of thing, I got out my rusty essentialist bean counter and looked for honest to goodness out musicians announced in paper titles (I started to go through abstracts too, but got tired. I’d never make it as a sociologist!).

The results (aside from my and Jack’s paper): Ann Powers’ creative use of the closet as a metaphor for thinking about genre; José Muñoz’s (sadly missed) paper on Darby Crash, and an interview with the man who signed The Smiths. I do have to throw in one attendee: Phranc showed up to the Work It! pre-conference (and asked, incidentally, are we going backwards or forwards? Is there any progress? Part of the trigger for this post.)

Gerrick Kennedy’s LA Times review of the pre-conference Work it! (organized through the prodigious energies of Karen Tongson) was appreciated. But it reproduced the annoying (to both feminists and queers) equation of “sexuality” and “female sexiness in some vicinity of the conventionally heteronormative.” (as the accompanying illustration of Beyoncé, Nicky Minaj and Lady Gaga suggested). Homosexuality or bisexuality was not mentioned in the article.

I embrace the selfishness of my criticism: I want more people to talk to at EMP about stuff I care about! It’s why all of us keep coming. But me aside, its obviously not the case that sexuality is irrelevant to the theme of money and capitalism, or that we did it a couple years back and now we’re through. We need to talk about it every year, especially if the mainstream media and scholarship doesn’t, or does so in simplistic ways.

So here, in the spirit of productive suggestions, are some ideas for next year:

  • Queer as Format: Logo TV runs “gay themed” video shows. Virgin America has a “Pride” channel featuring a range of artists from Ricky Martin to Joan Armatrading. What’s that about? Do you have to be gay to be featured on Logo? What if you aren’t gay? Have artists ever objected to their videos being shown on a gay channel? I’m thinking perhaps about glass closeted artists. What’s the history of gay labels (including the one that the original “I Was Born This Way” was on: the amazingly titled Gaiee Label!)
  • After the Closet. Speaking of Ricky Martin: where is the reflection on the momentous change (is it a momentous change?) in the last year or two where established and up and coming artists coming out to increasing indifference? K.D. Lang and Melissa Etheridge broke through in the 1990s. Was it harder for male artists to come out? What about trans (does Antony (& the Johnsons) count)? Is indifference a non-story, ie: sexuality doesn’t matter now? Or are new things happening with queerness precisely in the space where, for instance, straight female fans feel free to adore gay male singers and male frat boys groove on Kaki Kings’ guitar stylistics (HT Tina M on that last one).
  • Boys who do Girls. Speaking of new things happening, someone (ID anyone?) did bring up one EMP conversation the start that Darren Criss got a start performing Disney Princess songs on YouTube. Learning that completely opened my eyes to the canny sexual orientation striptease Glee has going on now, in which an openly straight actor plays an openly gay character who is given all these songs of female empowerment (Bills Bills Bills, Teenage Dream) to sing. Isn’t there an emo genealogy to trace here (paging Dr. Tongson)?
  • It Gets Worse: But maybe this is just a bigger question: where was Glee at this year’s EMP? Isn’t its commercial revivification of the TV musical and its impact on the pop charts and digital downloads worth checking out from a C.R.E.A.M. perspective? How do we think about the clash that the show constantly stages between musical theatre and contemporary pop/hip hop, both in its plot and in its contemporary impact (and its problematic whiteness)? Glee has used music to put forth the powerful idea (connected to neoliberalism in ways I could spell out) that life after the closet isn’t necessarily easier. As the adults on Glee intimate: life often gets worse, so endurance is not about normative futurity but about a kind of indefinite, lateral childhood (which is why the bratty Sue Sylvester remains the heart and soul of the show). The braggadacio of pop and the pathos of musical theatre meet in uncanny and uncomfortable ways on Glee that seem to have a lot to do with accommodating the growing social visibility of queers.
    I shouldn’t be giving away all my ideas here because really I want to write a book on Glee and the unmaking of the American Dream. But really, it would be swell to have more stellar minds than mind helping me think these things through. I’m jealous of how much platonic love record collectors, eminent rock critics, and the term “authenticity” gets.

Or, as Darren Criss, channeling Princess Ariel, sings: “wish I could be part of your world.”

Touch the Junk

24 Nov

by Tavia Nyong’o

Constitutional Pat Down Protection

Constitutional Pat Down Protection (recto)

“Hysteria,” says downtown New York queer performance legend Justin Bond, “is the wave of the future.” Two recent events in the news — the new pat-down policies of the Transportation Security Administration, and the release of Kanye West’s fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — strongly hint that the future may be now. From the wall-to-wall cable TV coverage of the federal government’s latest iniquity to the hoopla over whether to co-sign or berate Kanye for acting out grandiose and abject male fantasies, we are all speaking the hysteric’s discourse now. But if that’s the case, then who are we speaking it to?

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

George Condo's artwork for Kanye West's latest album

On the track “Gorgeous” off of Dark Fantasy, Kanye complains about being pulled out of line at the airport for a bag check, jeering at the claim that this treatment is “random,” and consoling himself with thoughts of receiving oral sex and of spreading piles of cash around like AIDS. Mild mannered software engineer John Tyner contented himself with a different kind of viral message when he too was subjected to the TSA’s tender mercies. His blog post and YouTube, painstakingly documenting the perceived humiliation of a “groin check,” rapidly ignited a nation into a rage not seen since the government tried to slip “death panels” into the healthcare bill. “Touching our junk,” apparently, is the only fate worse than death at the hands of terrorism or a lack of health coverage.

Tyner believed himself to be speaking to his fellow citizens in the newly democratized public sphere of the internet, just as Kanye imagines his role in hip hop to be continuing, as opposed to simply sampling, what he calls “soul music for the slaves.” Too bad that the very technological terms through which both men produce themselves as exemplary male rebels are the very ones that render that counter cultural public sphere increasingly virtual.

It takes no genius to notice the sharp increase in public grievance, anxiety and aggression. But more critical attention is required to trace these latest waves of symptoms back to to their systemic cause. In the wake of 9-11, Cornel West annoyed many Talented Tenthers like myself by saying that now white Americans knew what it felt to be “niggerized.” The (very white) John Tyner’s outrage when confronted with the sort of treatment black women and men have been accustomed to ever since they were pawed and poked on the auction block, suggests that West may have been right, if for the wrong reasons. It wasn’t Osama bin Laden that punked America, but then-president George W. Bush, with his permanent global war on terror and illegal war in Iraq, his indefinite suspension of civil liberties at home and in Guantanamo Bay, and, as we are now witnessing, his reluctant creation of a TSA that his party opposed as an expansion of federal government, and whose staff they subsequently left underpaid and un-unionized even as they were called upon to do the increasingly impossible for the ungrateful, and with a smile.

President Obama shouldn’t get off scott free in all of this. But it was Bush who left America’s junk as exposed as was the president’s own during the notorious Mission Accomplished aircraft carrier photo op, clad in a flight suit that, as Mark Greif noted at the time, presented “his crotch tightly cupped in nylon, secure as a flyer in someone else’s plane.” That military codpiece fairly screamed America’s back, bitches, with balls.

Balls are also on Kanye’s mind on Dark Fantasy, and never mind for the moment that he’s pretty sure by now that George W. Bush doesn’t care much about him. The symmetries between Bush’s conservatism and Kanye’s consumerism are increasingly hard to deny, and no, having Gill Scott Heron on your album does not a revolution make. The “people that tried to black ball me,” Kanye raps on “Gorgeous, “forgot about 2 things, my black balls.” Dark Fantasy recycles balls out braggadocio on song after song, most pornotopically on “Blame Game” with Chris Rock, performing the declension of black soul into what Paul Gilroy called the “biopolitics of fucking.” Gilroy got a lot of grief back in 2000 for calling out rappers and R&B singers for reducing the soulful apex of 1970s transfigurative love and redemption into a privatized fantasy of consumption and freaky sex. Ten years later he looks pretty spot on.

On “Dark Fantasy,” Kanye asks, via a Mike Oldfield sample, “can we get much higher?” and gives that classic soulful question a plaintive propulsive thrust that is undeniably compelling. But it is the very virtuosity with which Kanye points out the obvious on that track — “you’ve been putting up with my shit for far too long” — that makes him such a bellwether of the hysteria of our moment.

I Told You So

If Kanye’s frenetic lyrical, self-promotional, and all caps textual production could be reduced to a single question it would be that of the hysteric’s: why am I who you say I am? This question has undeniable traction in the current moment, not the least because it anticipates and, as it were, folds into itself, the predicted objection. There is he toasting himself as a douchebag, asshole, and scum bag, before we get to it. But lets notice the last proviso: he is also a “jerk off” who never takes work off, that is to say, who has internalized the obscene imperatives of capitalism to labor, accumulate and expend endlessly. Here is the rock star as mogul, a brand obviously perfected by co-producer Jay Z, but one whose hysterical, spastic, obverse Kanye is determined to hype.

Bush on the Oprah Show

Bush visits the Oprah Show

Bush on book tour recently told Oprah that the most disgusting moment of his presidency was being insulted by Kanye West in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Why was that the worst moment, and not the mountain of invective that the world threw at him for all his many, many crimes, all of which he remains unrepentant of? Perhaps there is a twist to the hysteric’s discourse that Kanye is perfecting, insofar as it clearly got to the president in a way that all the ordinary hysterical protest, by which I mean all our chants in the street, our slogans, and our abuse, did not. Perhaps it was the discomfiting proximity of Kanye West to the ideal subject of Bush’s America, not his oppositionality, that made his acting out so unnerving. West was in fact out shopping like we were all supposed to be doing, as he himself admitted on air, when the levees broke and for several days after. His famous declaration that George Bush doesn’t care about black people only came after several stammering moments of an attempt at a coherent political critique, pointing out the uneven media coverage of black and white victims, and so on, before shifting cadence and flatly, perversely, condensing it into his immortal dictum.

It is for his innovations in our public language or what’s left of it, that Kanye is truly virtuoso. And in this he is again like Tyner, whose riposte to the TSA “if you touch my junk I’ll have you arrested” has elevated what was apparently gay slang for genitalia into a cri du coeur for injured white manhoods everywhere. Kanye got at Bush because he intuited that the hysteric’s discourse is no longer enough. We need new idioms, which is why we need musical geniuses like Kanye, however ambivalent we feel about them for any number of legitimate political and ethical reasons.

Censored Dark Fantasy Cover

Censored Dark Fantasy Cover, courtesy of Apple iTunes

The copy of Dark Fantasy I downloaded from iTunes has Condo’s cover art pixellated and the (more obscene) Parental Advisory Label. I guess the censors at Apple don’t want me touching the junk either. Like most efforts at censorship, this one only makes the artwork more titillating: the pixels reduce the details of the two figures engage in sex into a miscgeneous blur of browns and pinks. But what is so dangerous about showing the cock? Much rests here on the question of what orientation we take to the innovative and dangerous creativity of virtuosos like Kanye in an era’s whose hysteria seems attached to the decline in reliable figures of authority. Let the attacks on the TSA stand in as evidence: isn’t there a quiet craving for a return of state authority? Behind every exercise in citizenship in the age of the Tea Party seems to be a not so covert longing for something like fascism, based on the fear of difference. The fringe blog Americans for Truth about Homosexuality (sorry no link, go google them if you can stomach it) raised the “urgent” concern of gay TSA employees touching the junk of male flyers, or looking at their naked bods in the new scanners, and has proposed they be fired. Such absurd logic in fact makes manifest the moves through which hysteria opens a path to authoritarianism.

But opportunism and even cynicism are politically ambidextrous. Tyner’s panicked recourse to every technological appendage he could lay hold of to disseminate the news of the feds touching his junk is the Everyman counterpart of Kanye’s privileged victim. Both are virtuosos of the new communicative media that promise greater sociability even as they reduce us to gadgets. But where Tyner seeks to restore a certain modicum of privilege for the male genitals, quietly ensconcing them back in their protective coverlet, Kanye has cock, balls, and indeed, asshole dangling in the wind, admitting he’s a monster, and daring us to do something about or with it.

The Kanye/TSA mix tape thus presents us with a seemingly stark opposition. Do we, understand the underlying motivations behind the hysterical outburst against authority to be good and authentic, and endorse the gauntlet thrown down to state and censor? Or, admitting these motivations to be possibly destructive and harmful, do we throw our critical weight behind a good enough establishment that is working overtime to keep us from hurting each other? It’s this question that makes the seemingly pointless debate over whether we should call Kanye a genius or not matters. At stake is the definition of what genius is, and, to be blunt about it, what admixture of our darker natures we can admit into our definition of it.

The Italian philosopher Paolo Virno reminds us that this stark opposition between our good self-governing natures or our bad ones, requiring governance, may be a false choice. We may want to admit or even insist upon our darker fantasies, and ground our cruel optimism in a society of more freedom, less scrutiny and oversight, more liberty and more justice within those fantasies nonetheless. We could insist upon what Virno calls the fundamental ambivalence of virtuosity, an ambivalence he suggests that we seize upon. The critical demand to proclaim thumbs up or down or otherwise rank music gets in the way of this harder, but I think, more promising path, which is to hold on to the ambivalence, hold on to the questions, and just the touch the junk if, in touching it, we can dispel the illusion of male mastery and abjection that our fear of touching sustains.

Constitutional Pat Down Protection

Constitutional Pat Down Protection (verso)

School Daze

30 Sep

Hint: Skip forward in the above video to 3:10.

By Tavia Nyong’o

A closeted middle-aged man obsesses over good-looking college gay and launches campaign of pathetic vitriol against the object of his prohibited desire. He is interviewed on TV by a smirking good-looking anchor who is not himself entirely out. The mind reels. America: do we queers have to ALL the work of alchemizing your confused Ids into infotainment? Oh good, here comes a tweet from 50 cent:

“If you a man and your over 25 and you don’t eat pu**y just kill your self damn it. The world will be a better place. Lol.”

Why 25 I immediately wondered? Was a pussy like a rental car, to be handled only by those who’ve reach a certain level of maturity? My mind leapt back to Bad as I Wanna Be, Dennis Rodman’s biography, where that particular above-25 year old bad boy notoriously refused to eat out Madonna. His loss. But maybe it was just punks like Rodman at whose 50 Cent’s vitriol was directed? Probably, but that didn’t stop The Advocate from crying foul and linking him, with arch unfairness, to the recent rash of gay teenage suicide.

No one can possibly be against the children in this society, of course. So appeals to the effects of culture on our most vulnerable simply shut the conversation down when it ought to get going.

As an adult I admit to finding news of teenage suicide heartbreaking. But I am young enough to remember a time when I confess to finding the phrase “teenage suicide” hilarious, reeking as it did of concern. That is, of the condescending, sentimental and moralistic attitude parents, teachers and adults take to the aggravations and ambiguities of being an adolescent, which you kind of have to survive in spite of their help. Heathers (1989) was my generational call-to-arms against both high school bullying and the inept adult response that halfheartedly steps in to confront it, only to see, reflected back, a less compromising mirror of its own determined hostility to queers, youth, and other marginal types.

Reflecting on the lifesaving black humor of Heathers now, and it’s over-the-top bad taste anthem “Teenage Suicide, Don’t Do It,” I realize that it modeled for me a set of disidentifications with high school hierarchy that were never simply about “growing up” and “getting out,” as seems to be the case with Dan Savage’s undoubtedly heartfelt “It Get’s Better” campaign:

I’m not sure my 13 or 14 or even 18-year-old self would have been able to identify with Savage or his hubby. And my 35-year-old self isn’t so optimistic that it does just “get better.” Another member of this blog once criticized the LGBT obsession with saving gay youth as perpetuating the general American idolatry with youth over aging, and that is a valid point. It’s not that there aren’t vulnerable young people, but there are vulnerable people of all ages. Lots of folks, particularly the gender nonconforming and/or trans, never “grow out” of the kinds of social reprisals for being physically different the hubbies talk about. Lots of people’s families of origin never accept them, or are too damaged and fucked up for anyone to want to go back to, even if they could. And then there is that little issue of aging. Who’ll spare a thought for the old queen?

I appreciate the thought, but maybe it shouldn’t be our business to try to paper over the contradictions of our society with salvific images of the family, which queers always seem to believe we can win back from the Christian right, and which the Christian right keeps so effectively beating us over the head with, even and especially when the person doing the beating happens to be a closeted homo.

Which brings us to Bishop Eddie Long.

Eve Sedgwick and Michael Moon once quipped that celebrity culture is all about the pleasure of watching people tell transparent lies in public. I thought about this as I watched Bishop Eddie Long’s statement this past Sunday, responding to charges that he sexually coerced young men he had selected to be his “spiritual sons” in the unwisely named LongFellows Youth Academy, where commandment #8, I shit you not, is “Be Physical.”

I’m not religious, so I guess its alright if I throw the first stone here. Bishop Long’s masculinity academy strikes me as mighty problematic in precisely in the way all covert covens of male bonding tend to be. For us black people, masculinity has a particularly magnetizing appeal, insofar as — a raft of critics from Phillip Harper to Mark Anthony Neal have shown — being denied manhood makes the appeal of unvarnished masculinity all the more glittering. That’s glamor is what’s behind the braggadocio of someone like 50 Cent, and its very much this kind of male energy that Long has been openly trying to tap in his version of muscular Christianity, to square the circle of manhood and masculinity rather than, as feminist and queers have been calling for for years, rethinking and perhaps abandoning the whole patriarchal kit and caboodle.

Much ink has been spilled over Long’s alleged “grooming” of boys, from as early as 14, to be his favored “spiritual sons,” (although charges of statutory rape or child molestation cannot be filed against him because the age of consent in Georgia is 16, and no one has yet alleged any sexual activity prior to that age). I’m more interested however, in how this horrific nightmare of the seduction of the innocent operates as the flip side of a powerful fantasy around the redemptive power of education, Christianity, manliness and the family that continues to exert its magnetism on all Americans, but especially I think on African-Americans.

I was a teenage Jack and Jill “beau,” so I well recall being hazed into the correct deportment of the Negro bourgeoisie. Its effects were more lasting than the peer bullying I (very luckily and through no virtue of my own) did not receive. Particularly stinging in this education was a moment we boys were chastised for goofing off in rehearsal with the reminder that there would be white people at the debutante ball. If we muffed things up what were they going to say? “What more can you expect from a black person?” of course.

This burden of being a role model and a savior for the race, to represent is felt, I should think, particularly punishingly on young black men. Not because they have it harder than women (au contraire mon frere) but because they were held up by institutions like Big Daddy’s Muscle Academy as the sole people able to restore gender normativity to the race, regardless of whether or not you are one of the “select” to make it onto the private jet.

Literary theorist Candace Jenkins discusses the “salvific wish” black people can get trapped in, which is the fantasy that if we just regulate our own conduct and affairs properly, we can somehow save our people through the example of our moral fortitude. I think there is a bit of a queer salvific wish going on in the “It Gets Better” videos, which exhibits a similarly melancholic refusal to work through the grief that might come with the recognition that it doesn’t always get better, that in many ways its gotten a lot worse in this country, and that making a YouTube video, reaching out a hand, each one teaching one, or any of the other individualizing modes or participation which sentimental culture makes defines as “doing something,” isn’t always going to cut it.

When it comes to the state of adolescence, and of getting queers and minorities out of it unscathed, I guess we are all Waiting for Superman. But can schooling really be saved? Maybe the secret truth we repress is that school sucks, even when we find a way to make it work for us. Maybe that assistant attorney general in Michigan is simply acting out demons that still bedevil him from his college days when he was clearly not invited to all the frat jock parties. And he’s taken it all out on the gay kid who has the gall to be actually popular. The civil servant’s cyber-bullying blog, http://chris-armstrong-watch.blogspot.com/ has unfortunately been taken private during the time its taken me to complete this blog entry. But trust me, his accounts of gay nazis assaulting defenseless freshmen at decadent college secret society parties read like something cut and paste directly from satirical site ChristWire.org.

Screen grab of Chris Armstrong's Facebook page, grabbed off Andrew Shirvell's cyber-stalking website.

And, from the looks of it, Chris Armstrong is indeed just the sort of overachieving, All American college stud that strikes fear and loathing in all us dweebs and nerds. He is excelling in precisely the way that gay men — gender-conforming, educated white gay men — increasingly get to in contemporary American society (at least once they make it out of the charnel house that apparently is our high school system). It’s fascinating to me how much Andrew Shirvell appeals to the weakling in all of us, how so much of the cyber-bully’s rhetorical energy is devoted to “exposing” Armstrong as a racist who abuses and looks down on decent working class and African-Americans. Here is the much lamented American victim culture on ersatz display, and it’s another reason to suspect the filaments of self-pity and resentment that so tantalizingly undulate around each new pop cultural hot button issue.

Naturally, I hope Armstrong gets his restraining order against his fevered “admirer.” But when American masculinity is driving into a rut, and not even 50 Cent at the helm of the Pussywagon can stop it, what’s a poor schlemiel to do?

Go Blue!

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