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Friday, Aug 18, 2006

Last week, the TLS reviewed French historian Elisabeth Badinter’s recent book, Fausse route (or “wrong course”), which, after being a best-seller in France, has made it into English translation under the decidedly more inflammatory title Dead End Feminism. (As far as this critic is concerned it should be called Blame the Victim.) The review summarizes her argument as a denunciation of the alleged “cult of victimhood” among feminists (she perhaps has anti-pornography crusaders like McKinnon in mind, but it seems like a straw woman has been built, a false construction of feminism as a species of political correctness) that leads women’s acheivements to be downplayed in favor of broadcasing the innumerable ways women are exploited or abused. This has the consequence of criminalizing the apparently inevitable expressions of masculinity as aggression, “virility.” Badinter then asserts the somewhat grim proposition that “the principal goal of any kind of feminism should be to bring about the equality of the sexes and not to improve the relations between men and women,” which the reviewer, Biancamaria Fontana, glosses this way:  “Thus the purpose of feminist action must remain confined to the dimension of legal rights and social opportunities, rather than addressing the intractable tensions, incompatibilities and mismatched expectations which exist between the sexes.” This seems a bit drastic and fatalistic, a kind of surrender to a segregationalist approach where the genders are separate but equal, and at best complementary only in the most basic, evolutionarily prescribed ways. It reminded me of the quasi-utopian society imagined at the end of Sarah Scott’s 1762 novel Millennium Hall, which, as Wikipedia piquantly claims, expresses “a pathological revulsion at heterosexual sexuality.” (Essentializing masculine aggression and the male’s evolutionary need to spread seed is just the flip side of the “revulsion” coin.) I’m not sure that these aims can be separated. Isn’t it true that “relations”—social capital—is one of the ways inequality is maintained, and improving women’s access to such networks of power would seem an essential step toward accomplishing equal opportunity? And if we are all to accept unameliorated “intractable tension”, what incentive for change is there? Maybe this is hopelessly Pollyanna-ish, but isn’t the pursuit of economic equality ultimately a means to the end of less tension, less incompatibility, less confusion about expectations, as well as more shared experience, more mutual understanding and appreciation? But then, it could just be my luxury to see it that way, of course, because the current inequalities in rights and opportunities already work in my favor, and only the intractable tensions tend to trouble me personally. My privilege may buy me a lot of optimism.

All this is strange, because in this interview, Badinter seems to agree, rejecting the idea that the genders are ultimately irreconcilable: “If man must be considered an uncompromising enemy, then it’s not worth it to militate for equality between the sexes and a fair division. Then we should preach separatism.” The problem I’m having may lie in my conflation (what Badinter calls “the zero degree of reflection”—not sure what that even means) of “improved relations” between the sexes with their general willingness to comingle. Is the gist of Badinter’s approach that the sexes can coexist without needing to acheive much mutual understanding? Maybe this is where I go wrong: I interpret “improved relations” to mean relating in ways that aren’t ultimately in some way reducible to sexuality, to libidinous impulse—relations not governed by the mating game. Because the status quo, it seems to me, is just that, expressed in When Harry Met Sally as the faux-commonsense notion that men and women can’t be friends without some sexual undercurrent. In other words, men and women coexist only when enacting the roles assigned to them by evolutionary psychology (and later enshrined in tradition and lasting notions of what is “natural”), and divergences from that path create chaos. And no effort to address this eternal truth is worth making; it is inevitably futile if not authoritarian or Puritanical.

Ultimately it seems like the most important issue for Badinter is demonizing “American feminists” and selling books to those in America cheered by the antifeminist backlash. In the interview, Badinter defines her feminism this way:

The feminism that suits me is the one that militates for an equality of power, not the one that demonizes men. That’s why I’m heartbroken that certain European feminists cede to the Sirens of Anglo-Saxon radicalism and often draw their ideas from there. Consequently, no one has really understood the seriousness of a European law that just came into effect this July. Mrs. Anna Diamantopoulou, European Parliament Commissioner for Employment and Social Issues, had a law voted in on April 17, 2002, against sexual harassment, thus defined: “where any unwanted verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature occurs, with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.” Such a definition does not distinguish between the objective and the subjective, the real and the imaginary, and is directly inspired by American feminists. Here’s a great gift we leave to the new generations!

But isn’t it so that to achieve an equality of power will require pointing out those ways in which men contrive to retain more of it—the inequality didn’t just happen; men found ways to advance their interests as a gender and contrived institutional (legal, governmental, cultural, scientific, etc.) ways to preserve it. Moreover, they may have had the best intentions in doing so; either universalist ones (inadvertently universalizing a male perogative) or paternalistic ones (protecting frail womenhood in her pure innocence, etc.). Is that demonizing men to point that out? Some proverbial huevos may need to be broken in order to pursue that egalitarian course of gender equality that Badinter advocates. Sexual harassment laws attempt to institutionalize the parameters for a male-female relationship that exists beyond sexuality; it seems counterproductive to villify the laws because they fail to appreciate the sexual imagination. They may be a blunt instrument, but that is because they haven’t had centuries to become more supple—to become intuitive in the ways patriarchal power has. But one way or another, people should have to opt-in to sexualized relations; women shouldn’t always be expected to have to opt out.

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Friday, Aug 18, 2006

If I had a cell phone, this would make me upset: “After years of hesitation, some of the largest wireless companies in the U.S. are starting to allow advertising on their cellphone networks, with the hope that these small screens eventually will rival the Internet as a powerful marketing venue” (from Wednesday’s WSJ). Though they won’t yet air ads during calls (they will only display them during Internet usage), this would seem to pave the way.

Cellphone companies are eyeing ads as a way to combat declining revenue from voice calls, which have been getting cheaper to attract new customers. At the same time, carriers have come under pressure to introduce advertising from media companies that are investing heavily to bring sports, news, videos and other entertainment to wireless devices. Content providers are looking for a new revenue source partly because many have been disappointed with consumer response to efforts to sell such content for a fee.

Do people really want content on their phone? This suggests they’ll take it if it’s there and free, as a kind of novelty, but they won’t pay. Content has a symbiotic relation with ads, they enable each other and allow them to put each other before the eyes of indifferent consumers, who have no strong attachment or attraction to the content. Content then becomes the alibi, the trojan horse sneaking ads in so that users can be acclimated to their appearance in what companies acknowledge to be the customer’s personal space. At that point the really nefarious part kicks in:

Many marketers are intrigued by cellphone ads because they can target customers more precisely than ads on television, online or in print. Phone companies have a lot of their customers’ personal information, from billing records, and locations where they are using their phones in real time. Carriers can potentially track which wireless Web sites a customer is browsing, for instance, and send them targeted ads while they’re using the service.

With your billing information and by tracking your usage history and (who knows?) potentially your calling history and your global position, your phone company can target you with increasingly “relevant” ads specific to your situation, hitting you with a message when you are most vulnerable in your “personal” cell phone space. Phone service is something that people consider a utililty—so would this come to pass, it would be similar to having to hear an ad for brands related to the foods you cook everytime you turned on your stove. And when we provide billing information, we’re not thinking of it as giving consent to marketing invasions. The only reason they could ever get away with this is because enough people are so habituated to the advertising buyosphere that they are impressed and flattered by me-specific ads. Perhaps they buy into the theory that targeted ads are beneficial to them, that advertisers just want to help them and don’t really want to waste their time and attention. This article from Reason makes the case for the benefits of our personal information flowing freely through integrated databases: “If we want the low prices and consumer choices of a database nation, we may have to tolerate unsolicited sales pitches.” This is a reiteration of the cell phone trojan horse; if we want content for cheap, we need to grant permission to have our consciousness altered by ads. The only benefit that comes from this is that we have our wants generated andd sated with more efficiency, so that we conumse a great deal faster. Then again, maybe low prices and pointless choices aren’t as important as we tend to think.

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Friday, Aug 18, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

Too $hort ft. Snoop Dogg and
Keep Bouncin’ [windows | real]

Skew [Thom Yorke Mix]
The Eraser Erased [MP3]

The Long Winters
Pushover [MP3]

Peanut Butter Wolf
Chrome Mix [MP3]

The Damnwells
I’ve Got You [MP3]

The Winnerys
Big Times [MP3]

Miserable Girl [MP3]

The Shins
Kissing the Lipless [MP3]

The Mountain Goats
Woke Up New [MP3]

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Thursday, Aug 17, 2006

It’s fairly hit and miss this weekend at your favorite pay TV premium channels. Frankly, the fact that there’s anything decent during what is typically viewed as the graveyard shift of the television season is surprising. HBO has a horrible entry, a misfire by two usually gifted big screen performers, while Showtime is repeating Tyler Perry’s first filmed “gospel play”. Then again, Cinemax is premiering its exclusive run of the already aired comic book classic from 2005, centering on that infamous man who loved bat dancing, while Starz delivers a much maligned masterwork from Elf director Jon Favreau. Depending on your particular motion picture bent, it’s either feast of famine over the next few days. Our money is on the fanciful and the fantastic, versus the mediocre and the near-minstrel. Specifically, here’s what you have to look forward to:

HBOTwo for the Money

Bombs Away! It’s August, and yet Home Box Office insists upon serving us turkey. This lackluster gambling thriller from last year featured a decent Matthew McConaughey, a plaster peeling Pacino, and lots of shots of men staring at televised sports. Director D.J. Caruso, a somewhat successful TV helmer, had a minor hit with the Angelina Jolie serial killer film Taking Lives in 2004. This, apparently, gave him the clout to create a rambling, routine story of innocence, and wagers, lost. There is probably a good story about the sins of betting somewhere in this misguided mess. Maybe cable is the perfect place to try and find it. Good luck. (Premieres Saturday 19 August, 8:00pm EST).

PopMatters Review

CinemaxBatman Begins*

Though it’s already premiered on sister station HBO, there’s no time like the present to get acquainted – or for fans, reacquainted – with Christopher Nolan’s exceptional reimagining of the Dark Knight saga. Featuring near perfect casting (something that the just announced sequel seems to be already lacking) and a more psychologically dense interpretation of the Bat/Bruce character, what Tim Burton’s mid-‘80s jumpstart promised, Nolan and Christian Bale definitely delivered. In fact, the former American Psycho might just be the best actor ever to take on the superhero challenge. While Spidey still holds the prize for overall comic creativity (thanks to a certain Mr. Raimi), this is one reborn franchise that definitely deserves to live on. (Premieres Saturday 19 August, 10:00pm EST)

PopMatters Review

Starz Zathura*

One of the most misunderstood and unjustly underrated films of last year, Zathura suffered from something called “The Jumanji Syndrome”. Both marketers and critics decided to buzzword this exceptional fantasy to death, making the connection between Jon Favreau’s fine sci-fi adventure and that long ago excuse for some post-Jurassic CGI more meaningful than it was. True, author Chris Van Allsburg was responsible for the books both were based on (he also write The Polar Express), but that’s where the similarities end. Jumanji was an over hyped Robin Williams vehicle with significant narrative flaws. Zathura, on the other hand, is a new classic. (Premieres Saturday 19 August, 9:00pm EST)

PopMatters Review

Showtime Too Diary of a Mad Black Woman

A lot of critics despise Tyler Perry and his “chitlin’ circuit” efforts, but this critic finds him a deeply compelling, occasionally inventive performer. While Diary doesn’t do his crazed comic character, the gun-toting, pot smoking out of control Grandma Mabel “Madea” Simmons justice (only the stage plays prove her amazing mantle), this racially specific dramedy deserves some respect for reaching out to a demographic not usually in tune with what Tinsel Town has to offer. If you take the entire experience with a huge grain of cinematic salt (yes, you saw right - that is a man playing an elderly woman) you’ll more than likely be able to find the meaning inside this mess. Besides, you have to admit it; Perry is pretty funny, sometimes. (Saturday 19 August, 7pm EST)

PopMatters Review


Turner Classic Movies: August: Summer Under the Stars Month

Leave it to the classic film channel to find novel ways of constantly recycling its catalog of amazing Tinsel Town artifacts. In August, the station will salute several celebrated names from Hollywood’s Golden Age upward, using each daylong promotion as an excuse to screen numerous offerings from the specific star’s catalog. A few of the highlights for the week of 19 August to 25 August are:

19 August – Audrey Hepburn

She was sophistication and urbanity in an era pushing for more realism and Method alienation. That this elegant lady survived to become an icon to both fashion and fame is a testament to her talent, and her radiant charms. Enjoy the following line-up of loveliness:
6:00 am Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)*
7:30 am Children’s Hour, The (1961)* 
9:30 am Charade (1963)* 
11:45 am Love In The Afternoon (1957) 
2:00 pm Sabrina (1954)* 
4:00 pm Always (1989) 
6:00 pm Funny Face (1957)
8:00 pm My Fair Lady (1964)* 
11:00 pm Nun’s Story, The (1959) 
2:00 am Wait Until Dark (1967)* 
4:00 am Green Mansions (1959) 

22 August – Rita Hayworth

To many, she remains a mere pinup, a glamour gal whose far more remembered for being a part of every WWII GI’s barracks (and a certain Shawshank prisoner’s wall) than for any performance she ever gave. But this raven-haired honey made an impact on the silver screen, with a sexual potency prevalent in many of the following features:
6:00 am Rita (2003)* 
7:00 am Renegade Ranger (1938) 
8:30 am Susan And God (1940) 
10:30 am Strawberry Blonde, The (1941) 
12:30 pm Pal Joey (1957)* 
2:30 pm Money Trap, The (1966) 
4:30 pm Only Angels Have Wings (1939) 
6:45 pm Music in My Heart (1940)* 
8:00 pm Loves of Carmen, The (1948)* 
10:00 pm Gilda (1946)* 
12:00 am Lady From Shanghai, The (1948)*
1:30 am Rita (2003) 
2:30 am Affectionately Yours (1941) 
4:00 am Wrath Of God, The (1972) 

25 August – Jimmy Stewart

He’s everyman and no one, a symbol of something beyond our concept of humanity and decency, and yet a performer so slippery he could play almost any kind of character and make it believable. Though the dearth of Hitckcock here is disturbing, the rest of this day’s celebration is sensational, including:
6:00 am After The Thin Man (1936) 
8:00 am Of Human Hearts (1938) 
9:45 am Shopworn Angel, The (1938) 
11:15 am Shop Around The Corner, The (1940)* 
1:00 pm Malaya (1949) 
2:45 pm Far Country, The (1955) 
4:30 pm Night Passage (1957)* 
6:15 pm Naked Spur, The (1953) 
8:00 pm Shenandoah (1965)* 
10:00 pm Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)* 
12:15 am Stratton Story, The (1949) 
2:15 am Bell, Book and Candle (1959)* 
4:15 am No Time For Comedy (1940) 

* = PopMatters Picks

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Thursday, Aug 17, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

“After the Garden” [Windows | Quicktime

Neil Young—Living With War CNN Interview 4-18-06

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