The League of Extraordinary Assholes

November 28, 2009

Can we all please agree that the use of rape as a metaphor is tiresome, offensive, and rape-culture-propagating? [Trigger warning.]

Last night, J and I tuned in to The League, a new FX series about a group of five stereotypical, heterosexual, white men participating in a fantasy football league. (I know. With a premise like that, what could possibly go wrong?) This particular episode begins with Pete asking his friends to go on an already-paid-for, romantic spa weekend with him in place of his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Unfortunately, the most sentimental and earnest of the group, Andre, is the only one who can go. In a television show that relies heavily on gender stereotypes, the choice of Andre to replace the missing female in this pairing is unsurprising. Andre, excited to finally establish himself as a true best friend of Pete’s, is blissfully unaware of the humiliation of being the last choice or of the fact that the other men all have their own lives, while his is devoted to validation through his relationship with the alpha male of the group. After all, women are just so annoyingly desperate for the affection of the alpha male in a group that they will fall all over themselves in the fruitless pursuit of his love, just
as Andre has. Upon arrival at the spa, the two are mistaken for a gay couple, and while I’ll give the show credit for not expressing blatant homophobia, this is little more than a vehicle for Andre’s desperation, as he gushes over the fact that they must be true best friends because only true best friends could be mistaken for a couple, and an opportunity for Pete to tell his story to Andre’s parallel and rival for Pete’s love: Claire, the traditionally attractive hotel clerk who becomes immediately smitten with Pete upon learning of his pending divorce. Throughout the rest of the episode, Claire and Andre vy for Pete’s affection, with Andre’s attempts much more pathetic, further emphasizing the shameful nature of a heterosexual man playing the submissive role of a female. Their competition ends when Pete and Claire come back to the room to have sex and find Andre watching Pete’s sex tape with his ex-wife, establishing Andre as the hollow victor because Claire’s delicate feminine sensibilities require her to storm out in disgust.

The rape “humor” occurs near the middle of the episode. Pete and Andre are taking advantage of the couple’s massage previously scheduled for the married couple. In this vulnerable position, Pete begins to work on a fantasy football trade with Andre, who cries out in opposition, citing Pete’s “trade-rape” of the previous season. Much like an actual rapist, Pete protests this assessment, repeatedly attempting to undermine and invalidate Andre’s experience. Eventually, he half-apologizes, proceeding to compliment Andre and cite their friendship in an attempt to get his way, again. The transparent attempts work, of course, because Andre’s feminine desire for love far outweighs any semblance of reason, and with attraction his sole focus in life, he hasn’t had the time or inclination to research football despite participating actively in this fantasy league. He doesn’t even realize that he has, once again, been “trade-raped” until the other guys show up at the spa and mock him for not knowing that Plaxico Burress is in prison and won’t be playing this season. Andre protests, explaining that Pete told him that the well-publicized story of Burress bringing firearms into a club was about a different player, but the “real” men shame him until he discovers that he was victimized again. The scene is rife with rape-apologies, never blaming Pete for his metaphorical raping of a friend because Andre, like actual rape victims, should have more effectively protected himself. Pete was just being a “real” man, one who aggressively takes what he wants, regardless of whom he hurts in the process. The audience, like Pete’s friends, is expected to admire him for his tenacity and to regard Andre with derision for not being smarter and more aggressive, thus allowing himself to be made the [haha] “rape” victim.

Rape metaphors tend to rely on these motifs of victim-blaming and gender-role reinforcement. The message, however, remains clear: real men (and their occasional emulators), through their superior strength and wit, admirably identify weak people and rape them without remorse. Hilarious, right?


A&E’s Faux Altruism

September 29, 2009

A&E has a new television series in the reality-sideshow genre about compulsive hoarding, Hoarders. So far, The Husband and I, both children of hoarders, have watched two episodes, and I am mostly disturbed by the fact that this is yet another example of superiority porn masking as an exercise in altruistic concern.

The format for each episode is fairly typical. Two hoarders in different parts of the United States, each having recently been given some sort of ultimatum regarding his or her hoarding, are provided with guides (psychotherapists or organizers specializing in compulsive hoarding) and a professional cleaning team. Throughout the show, they give brief information about the fact that compulsive hoarding is caused by one or more underlying mental/emotional disorders. The aftermath of the experiment/treatment is relegated to a brief paragraph posted on the screen at the very end, often startling the viewers.

By profiling two separate hoarders and their families per episode, precious little time is available for honest analysis and reflection. n one episode, a couple has had their children removed by social services (and placed with their grandparents) until their house is cleaned up. Throughout the episode are shots of rats living in the garage and basement of this upper-middle-class home as the mother/wife is shown obsessively picking through garbage from the bathroom or otherwise slowing down the clean-up process in a compulsive attempt ensure that nothing she deems important has been thrown out. However, despite all of this, the home is clean by the end, but the basement is positively stuffed with more than 1400 boxes of possessions she has found herself unable to let go. While the fact that she is not “cured” is obvious to the audience, the mini-paragraph at the end detailing what she faced after the cameras stopped is shocking: social services refused to return her children, largely because of the fact that she retained so many possessions in storage; her husband filed for a divorce and moved out, helping him to get one child placed with him. That’s it.

A&E can tell themselves that this and its other “educational” reality shows (e.g., Intervention) provide a healthy alternative to standard reality-show fare, but by failing to provide any depth of analysis in the twenty minutes allocated to this woman’s situation, they have achieved no such goal. Rather, they have created on this screen a one-dimensional caricature of a selfish, hysterical woman unwilling to give up her possessions for her children, more likely to cause the audience to spew vitriolic criticism than enlightened compassion. As a daughter, niece, and great-grandaughter of hoarders, I felt some compassion but was mostly wracked with a fear of becoming “like those people.” The positive side is that my desire to pursue a life of voluntary simplicity was reawakened, but only through an air of condescension that reminds me that I may be able to recognize the flaws in A&E’s brand of faux altruism, but I am not above it.

Formal Dullness

January 26, 2009

Chaperoning the high school formal recently has inspired much contemplation on the topics of ritual, sexuality, feminism, and drug-induced escapism. (Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like without this almost compulsive desire to deconstruct and otherwise critically analyze the majority of experiences in my life. I’m going to go with the theory that my life would be much less interesting and leave it at that.)

Though it’s been many years since I last delved into Huxley’s Brave New World, I can’t help but note the similarity of this event to the orgy-porgy of the World State. These young adults are ostensibly forbidden from natural sexual exploration and experience but expected to participate in this ritual of pseudo-release that is more about group assimilation than authentic sexual connection and pleasure. Luckily, their lives have centered, since birth, around rites and observances guiding them to become participants in dulled, mass customs, rather than to explore life with any sense of depth, their teachers and clerics focused on fleeting emotions or the legality of gay marriage and abortion while largely disregarding the fact that they are producing thought-avoidant adults willing to imbibe whatever metaphorical Kool-Aid offered. (On second thought, perhaps this is actually the goal, though perhaps subconscious, of both religious and public education – to dull desire and promote apathy.)

Both the subjugation of females and heteronormative attitudes are present in this ritual, as in all good examples of the persistence of the patriarchy. Ignoring decades of feminism, the process leading up to the ceremony for girls seems to be taken straight from the Future Repressed Housewives of America handbook: wait for a boy to ask (and base self-worth on this), choose dress and painful shoes to please the male eye (revealing or modest, depending upon the ideals of the boys or on the father), spend hours painting face and manipulating hair (to please boy), take pictures in heterosexual couples with parents, go to dinner (eating little and letting him pay). Wait, I didn’t mention the possibility of non-heterosexual couples? Oh, right, well that’s because they are not part of this equation. Almost worse than being overtly rejected, they remain invisible, condemned to non-existence.

Upon arrival, the gyrating mass forms where girls assume their submissive positions (slightly bent over in front of the boys), and the orgy begins. For the next three hours, the mass tightens as the boys grind their pelvises on the girls, careful to never concern themselves with even the possibility of a feminine desire for physical, sexual pleasure, for the girls are merely objects. Occasionally, the boys will simulate such behavior on one another, in an attempt to emphasize both the absurdity of homosexuality and their won heterosexuality (odd, considering this entire affair is a shining example of heteronormativity; one wonders why they feel such a need but then remembers the societal implications of being labeled anything else). The chaperones stand blithely by, representing a range of reactions from apathy to frustration at the display before them.

The pill-popping that takes place in the bathrooms at high school dances further emphasizes the desperate desire to avoid any semblance of the truth, even when it means limiting physical sensation and pleasure. Chemicals, like social conditioning, can keep participants from potentially painful experiences, and this is a major impetus behind the societal structure in Brave New World (which looks less and less like the future and more like the present). People (myself included, at times) miss the fact that this dulling of consciousness requires sacrificing the pursuit of truth – first temporarily but often permanently, which is disturbing on several levels. After all, if people are trained to be happy-ish with their dull lives, the dominant paradigm remains in place, thinking stops, and, in my estimation, life ceases.

Cart Wheels and Shaved Ice

January 11, 2009

Recently, some abnormal test results coupled with my ever-confusing chronic illnesses commanded a look into the eyes of my own mortality. Of course, this sounds rather desperate, as though I fully expected my physician to bring in a representative from the Make-a-Wish foundation, willing to extend the age limit to twenty-nine because my situation was so tragic; even my most frightening research results didn’t turn up that sort of impending doom. My interview with mortality was more of the “holy-crap-I-really-DO-have-a-serious-illness-that-can-significantly-shorten-my-lifespan-and-with-the-option-of-medications-that-can-also-kill-me” variety of which I’ve become increasingly familiar in the past seven years.

Research and a discussion with my primary care physician helped to assuage some of my fears, but ultimately, I do have significant health concerns that must be handled with care and will continue to remind me that I am not invincible. This is troubling to me at times, particularly when I am [self-]sleep-deprived and researching such matters in an attempt to be an empowered patient. However, in the light of day, with the help of a dose of rational thought, I find gratitude, again, in what I’ve learned through my experience with illness beginning so early in adulthood. The truth is, all of us are mortal. We could die today or live for over a century, but it’s easy to forget that when we’re young, and forgetting ones mortality (or drugging oneself up with notions of reincarnation or a better life after death) makes floating through life all that more likely, something I feel is a tragic waste.

This has been a common theme in my writing and reflections over the past year, this focus on accepting life’s brevity and living accordingly. I suppose that was my greatest and most liberating realization in 2008, though, so its frequent exploration is to be expected. Thankfully, I recognize signs of my traditionally slow personal growth in this area; therefore, it appears my broken record syndrome isn’t in vain.

So as 2009 gets underway, I’m resolving to live with the phrase “carpe diem” at the forefront of my mind, drinking in as much of life’s beauty and wonder and mess as possible. Beyond that, I have some physical-health-related goals (complete the 100 push-up and 200 sit-up challenges, build up to walking/jogging at least three hours per week, eat more plant-based foods, sleep 7-9 hours per night, indulge in alcoholic beverages very rarely and only one per sitting), financial goals (kick my daily Starbucks habit, build up a four-digit savings balance, pay down credit card balances), and personal enrichment goals (arrive early for social engagements, learn a few songs on piano, become a competent ukulele player, practice flute regularly, write daily, re-learn advanced mathematical concepts, read several books).