Friday, October 27, 2006

The Batslap: Then & Now

The Batman has a long, storied history over the nearly seven decades since he was first created. The Dark Knight is both protector of the innocent and bane of those who would do evil. Unfortunately, his behavior towards women hasn't always been, errr, enlightened:
(From Batman #1)

Never mind Bruce Wayne's playboy persona who goes through a never-ending stream of beautiful baubles dangling off his arms to distract people from his closeted secret - that's just rude.

But to be fair, that was nearly 70 years ago: a less enlightened time for the four-color page. These days, Batman is far more -

(From Detective Comics #824)

Why yes. Yes he did.


To be fair, she was trying to stab him in the back. You would think the criminal element of Gotham City would realize by now that this is Not a Wise Move. But perhaps the basic precondition of being a Gotham henchman - sorry, henchperson - is a pronounced inability to recognize that Batman can wreck your shit. That or a desperate need for employment in a tight economy.

Because honestly? If you're stuck working for a short, fat, ugly, beak-nosed, self-proclaimed "criminal mastermind" who takes his nom de crime from cute flightless birds from Antarctica and has a thing for trick umbrellas, odds are you're not Fortune 500 CEO material.

Still, an open-handed backslap without even deigning to glance at her? That shit is cold.

This is Batman, after all. He could've disarmed and incapacitated his female assailant any number of ways which would've been a lot less insulting than the Batslap. A solid right cross is, in its own way, a show of respect for one's foes: proof that you'll confront them face-to-face on equal footing, even if you know you can take them down inside of five seconds - because you're Batman. A good judo throw is a way of taking someone down when you don't really want to hurt them. A swat like that means someone's not even worth acknowledging as a foe.

So let this be a lesson to you, ladies: Batman would never leave a damsel in distress; he would willingly sacrifice his life to save yours; but come at him with hostile intent and he will pwn you like a bitch (pardon my French).

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Happy (post-)Loving Day!

What is this, you wonder? Some exhortation to the era of free love, perhaps? Not exactly, though it does date to the civil rights era.

As this Washington Post article notes, it commemorates the Supreme Court decision on June 12, 1967, in the case of Loving vs. Virginia, in which the Court justices unanimously decided to legalize interracial marriage. As the Loving Day site notes: "In the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, 'Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides within the individual and cannot be infringed on by the State.'"

Well said, Earl.

Honestly, how can you not root for the plaintiff with a name like "Loving?"

That decision wiped out the last of the miscegenation laws in this country barring interracial marriage, which usually focused specifically on prohibiting blacks and whites from marrying, but sometimes targeted other races as well, such as American Indians and those of "Malay" or "Mongolian" descent. Since then, the number of interracial marriages in the U.S. has increased to more than 5 percent of all marriages and the number of children of interracial couples - including, incidentally, yours truly - has climbed to over 3 million, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Marking that milestone with yet another "special day" may cause some to roll their eyes, but the gains of the civil rights movement should never be taken for granted. And while the issue of interracial marriage may seem a minor one in the grand scheme of things, it is very much of importance to those directly affected by it. And people should never, ever forget: no matter what legal rights you've won, there will always be those who tell you that you don't "deserve" them and who will try to take them away.

For those who wish to argue that racism is somehow dead history in this country, a little footnote: despite the Loving ruling rendering them illegal, the South Carolina and Alabama state constitutions were not amended until 1998 and 2000, respectively, removing the clauses which forbade interracial marriage between whites and blacks. Polls at the time showed that 22% of South Carolina voters and 19% of Alabama voters opposed removing those clauses.

For those of us born into interracial families in a world nigh-obsessed with race and ethnic identity, there are ever-present reminders that you are an anomaly, an Other, a platypus who frustrates those seeking easy classifications. "So what are you?" is a question you get tired of hearing. It took me a long time to work it out for myself, but I eventually figured out the proper answer:

"Me? I'm a goddamn American. What's it to you?"

And thanks to Mildred and Richard Loving, millions of Americans get to say the same thing.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Y0uN6 @ <3

Spotted during my annual pilgrimage to that American shrine dedicated to cholesterol, obesity, and chronic heart failure, KFC: an elderly Asian gentleman - short, stooped with age, hair thin and white, face sagging and dotted with liver spots - bouncing a rubber Superball off the floor, a Powerpuff Girl doll dangling off the keychain in his other hand.

[Buttercup, if you care which one.]

Now, there are plenty of explanations why he was bouncing a Superball and holding onto a PPG doll. Maybe the ball is a gift for a grandchild. Maybe the doll was a gift to him or the keys aren't his. Maybe he's just a senile old coot, shuffling through the local KFC.

But somehow, I prefer to believe this frail-looking old man can still find fun in bouncing a rubber ball and watching cartoons.

Like most people my age or younger, I prefer not to think about what I'll be like when I'm that old. There's the belief - justly or not - that one's youth is the "fun" time in your life. That by the time you're old and gray and retired, the best you can hope for is "relaxing."

Which is better than "incontinent and senile," certainly. Still, not the sort of thing one usually daydreams about.

I have a lot of interests and hobbies most people would consider childish: videogames, animation, comic books, scifi - you name it, it's something someone somewhere expects me to "outgrow" and wonders why I haven't yet. And while I don't feel particularly inclined to defend my hobbies - what, like watching NASCAR is a more intellectually stimulating use of my time than playing Half-life? - I do sometimes wonder if I will, in fact, someday lose interest in all the pasttimes which have kept me engaged since I was a wee lad.

So there is something comforting about the notion of being a wizened old man who can still find joy in the simpler things in life. That even late in life, I'll still be rockin' out with my neurally implanted videogames...and probably bemoaning the good ol' days of joysticks and gamepads.

Growing old is easy: go without dying long enough and it happens to any of us. Not everyone grows up, however.

And thank goodness for that.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Waiting for Voldemort

So I saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire recently. It's a fun movie, but I have...issues with certain elements.

Disclaimer: I have not read any of the Harry Potter books, although the first one is on my to-be-read pile (somewhere). I haven't even seen all the movies: skipped the second after finding the first one pleasant, yet largely forgettable. So what follows are inventions based purely on the latest film and my...dissatisfaction with certain elements. It won't make much sense if you haven't seen the fourth film yourself; and if you don't want spoilers (warped though they be), you shouldn't read either.

Or if you're a hardcore Potterhead. You might take offense at what I write.


[At a secret Death Eaters meeting, a shadowy group discusses their latest plans...involving magic.]

Death Eater 1: At long last, the time has come, my brethren, to reveal ourselves! How shall we cow our enemies and announce the Dark Lord's nigh-return?

Death Eater 2: I say we go to the Quidditch World Cup and...and...set fire to things! Like TENTS! MOOHAHAHAHAHA!

Death Eater 1: Oh, I concur. Nothing says "shadowy, secretive eeeevil cult" quite like setting random shit on fire at a sporting event.

[Chorus of voices approving DE2's plan]

Death Eater 3: I'm sorry, but are you people mental? Have you seen a Muggles riot at a football match - over a single point? Now imagine what that would be like if everyone had magic wands . Magic wands which can shoot fireballs. Drunk, rowdy Quidditch fans with fireball-shooting wands - am I the only one concerned by that?

Death Eater 2: Football is such a proletarian pastime, though. Quidditch is a far more genteel sport. We'll be fine.

Death Eater 3: Is this really our best idea? After all these years spent plotting in the shadows for the Dark Lord's return, we can't come up with anything grander than - ?

[Death Eater 1, looking annoyed, turns Death Eater 3 into a newt]

Death Eater 1: Right, now on to the next item on our agenda - the disastrously low crumpet supply.


[Inside Dumbledore's study, the professors discuss events...magic events]

Snape: Clearly, sir, powerful and sinister magic is at work, to have entered Mr. Potter into the tournament. I sense a dark hand guiding these events, placing young Potter in dire jeopardy. Therefore, I would say our only option is to allow things to proceed and see what ill fate befalls that obnoxious little wanker, which we can then prevent. Maybe. Unless we're too late, of course.

McGonagall: Mr. Snape!

Snape: What? We have a PG-13 rating this time. Besides, the Yanks won't know what "wanker" means. Wanker, wanker, wanker. See? They think it's quaint.

McGonagall: Are you honestly suggesting we allow Mr. Potter's life to be placed in danger? That he be used as bait?

Snape: Oh, that. "Bait" has such unpleasant connotations, professor. I prefer to use the term, "lure, with distinct possibilities of deadishness."

Dumbledore: [taking a drag from a joint] Enh, we'll go with Snape's plan. After all, total passivity and inaction under the guise of "thoughtful observation" has gotten us this far OK - how much worse can it get?

[McGonagall's perpetual expression of shock remains in place. Snape practically purrs. Dumbledore is distracted by some purple kitten only he can see.]


[Inside Madeye Moody's study. Madeye gloats over Harry Potter, who is bound to a chair...with magic.]

Madeye Moody: MOOHAHAHAHA! Yes, Mr. Potter, it is I, Madeye Moody, who have plotted against you this entire year! Surprised?

Harry: [looking slightly annoyed] Not really, no.

Madeye: . . . What?

Harry: Well, it's just that in my four years here at Hogwarts, I've run into so many people oh-so-secretly in league with Voldemort, I was starting to think you had your own teachers' lounge.

[Meanwhile, in the Secret Hogwarts Teachers' Lounge for Supporters of Voldemort - says so on the door - shadowy figures gather to discuss their latest plans...involving sweets. I mean: magic.]

Voldemortian: [drumming his fingers on the table impatiently] So...let me get this straight: none of you refilled the crumpet bin?

[Back to Harry and Madeye]

Harry: It was blindingly obvious someone was plotting against me - someone's always plotting against me. And it's not like there were a lot of other new faces who it could've been. Let me guess: you're Barty Crouch Jr in disguise, right?

Madeye: Klaatu, boy, how did you know?! Do you have the sight...of magic?

Harry: No, I've just been seeing your face repeatedly in my dreams, but not in real life. You obviously were up to something, so it was reasonable to presume you were here in disguise. Karkaroff was a total red herring - far too evil-looking to be evil - while Mme. Maxine...well, let's just say I don't picture you a transgender bloke.

Madeye: Barada, you do have the sight, boy!

Harry: [sighs] No, I just have a noggin that's filled with something other than Stilton cheese. What I can't understand is why Dumbledore and the rest let me go forward with the Tri Wizard Tournament. Just how daft do you have to be not to be able to tell a contest - even a magic one - has been rigged?

Madeye: . . . To be honest, I have no idea. But you'd be surprised at what they're willing to buy. Nikto, but they almost make it too easy.

Harry: But let me see if I understand your scheme: you somehow enchanted the Goblet of Fire so it would spit out my name, you manipulated my friends and the other contestants to ensure I would win the tournament, just so I would touch the trophy - also enchanted by you - so that it would teleport me to that cemetary, just so you lot could use a bit of my blood to resurrect Voldemort and, y'know, give him a chance to torture me to death.

Madeye: [beaming with eeevil pride] Precisely!

Harry: OK, then here's my question: what the bloody hell is wrong with you people?

Madeye: . . . What?

Harry: You have that kind of power at your disposal, why didn't you just teleport me directly to Voldemort yourself? Or attack me at school? Or enchant a bar of soap to teleport me the next time I'm in the wash? Hell, an old-fashioned kidnapping while I was home for the holidays and alone clearly would've done the trick, since apparently the only thing I've learned how to do properly here is tuck a magic piece of wood `tween my legs. Why this shadowy conspiracy nonsense? Don't any of you lot know how to take the direct approach? You wait four years to do this?

Madeye: . . . You just don't appreciate how these things are done, young man. Done...with magic.

Harry: [muttering] Bloody hell, I'll be grateful when I'm 17 and allowed to use proper curse words.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Musical Inspiration

So I'm having lunch at my favorite local Indian restaurant, chillin' out over lentils, chicken, goat, potatoes, spinach, and naan, while traditional Indian music plays in the background.

At least I presume it's traditional. Not like I could tell if it wasn't. But if you've ever been in an Indian restaurant, you know the kind of tranquil, string-plucking music I mean.

Anyway, between bites of samosa and chicken tikka masala and sips of my mango lassi, I'm suddenly seized by the urge to leap onto my table, scream "SITAR SOLO!" at the top of my lungs, and start strumming some air-sitar.

Y'know. Get my "Hindu god...of rooock!" mojo going.

I resisted the temptation, of course. No sense disrupting everyone else's meal with my musical interlude. Besides, they usually expect you to tip extra for leaving footprints on the tablecloths, and I'm too stingy for that.

Nevertheless, the need for some air-sitar hung heavy over my head.

Needless to say, there was a pretty Indian girl at the next table.

Pretty girls make me want to do the oddest things.

. . .


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Too Butch For His Own Good?

Coming on the heels of my last post, this seemed too apropos to pass up:

Over on the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus has a column up today entitled "Man Overboard," which postulates that the big problem with the Bush administration is an overabundance of "manliness," as defined by conservative professor Harvey C. Mansfield. She goes on to say that the administration could use some more femininity - and presumably, she doesn't mean Secretary Rice's latest wardrobe.

Does she have a point? Is Bush too manly?

Hmm. I don't think so.

But that's because I don't want the president's flaws to be seen as endemic to men or masculine behavior in general.

Now personally, I find the Bush administration to be arrogant, overzealous, narrow-minded, reckless, manipulative, deceptive - and perhaps worst of all, incompetent. They prize ideological loyalty over experience in their political appointments; and turn a tin ear to all dissent or criticism of their policies. They have a fixed notion in their minds as to How Things Should Be Done, deliberately ignore or reject any viewpoint which contradicts their own, select people with their same narrow viewpoint to run things - and then act surprised when problems crop up which other people predicted. The fact I disagree with their policies is nothing compared to the monumental inability to govern effectively they repeatedly display.

Pretty much everything which has gone wrong in the last five years - from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to the insurgency in Iraq to the expensive conundrum of the Medicare bill to the attacks of 9/11 - has, to some extent, been predicted by others, often within the government itself: predictions which the Bush administration - in its blind devotion to its own absolute certainty - silenced, rejected, or ignored. And while it would be grossly unfair to have expected the administration to be able to prevent all of those problems, a clear pattern of behavior has consistently emerged: the president and his administration don't listen to dissenting voices, often to the country's detriment.

It is highly ironic, to say the least, that the president and his administration have turned their attention towards encouraging democratic reforms in other countries, even as they repeatedly squelch all attempts at honest public debate in this one; that they are critical of the actions of despots and tyrants overseas even as they openly flout the rule of law at home; and they proudly proclaim themselves the defenders of freedom and liberty in the world while seeking to erode the very freedoms and liberties their predecessors - of both political parties - worked so very hard to achieve.

They have even betrayed their own conservative roots: paying them only lip service on hot-button topics like gay marriage, stem-cell research, and abortion; while bankrupting the country with the largest budget deficits in American history and embarking on an ill-fated, quixotic quest to remake the world to their liking. "Big-government conservative" is a paradoxical term, but I suppose it plays better in the red states than "hypocritical compulsive spender."

A century ago, they would've been consummate snake-oil salespeople: they have done a remarkably good job of peddling their wares on an all-too-gullible public; unfortunately, those goods have turned out, by and large, to be utterly worthless.

IMHO, of course.

So what's all this have to do with Marcus's assertion about the administration being too manly?

Simple: because I'm a guy, too.

And personally, I resent having the administration's traits identified as inherently "masculine" - at least in the sense of somehow being genetically encoded - because I sure as hell don't want people to think I am predisposed to sharing those qualities with Bush and Cheney simply because we share the same mismatched pair of chromosomes.

I don't want anyone to think "fat-headed idiocy" is inherent in my genes. That sure as hell isn't part of my personal definition of masculinity.

Personally, I don't like "gendering" behavior too much. But if we need a definition of "true" manliness, let's try this one on for size:

Real men know the difference between tenacity and stubbornness, between loyalty and blind obedience, between idealism and zealotry, between self-confidence and arrogance, between courage and belligerence. Real men know there's a time for planning and a time for action, but there's never a time when you stop thinking. Real men know when to take charge in a crisis and when to pause to listen to others - not because they're weak or indecisive or cowardly, but because they know they need to make informed decisions. Real men know that they're human, which means they're flawed, which means they aren't always right, which makes them humble. Real men know what they don't know, which means they know they need to learn from others. Real men make the public good their primary concern and never let their own pride and ego get in the way of doing what's right.

And real men don't start fights - they end them. Because real men know there's nothing inherently brave about sending other men to fight and die on their behalf; only that sometimes - sometimes - it's necessary.

Bush is too manly?

Not from where I'm sitting.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What's It Mean to Be Macho, Anyway?

I loved James Bond* when I was growing up.

"Wait!" you cry out, "Why on Earth would you write about him for Blog Against Sexism Day? James Bond is a sexist misogynistic relic, how can you possibly love him?"

I'll get to that.

See, I did not love Bond, as you might expect, because he was the alpha male of action who bedded every beauty who crossed his path.

Nope, I loved him because he was smart. More than that, though, he was educated. Refined. Sophisticated. Snappy dresser. He knew his wines. Could play a mean round of golf. Went to the opera. His knowledge of obscure subjects was sometimes encyclopedic. ["It's a Stradivarius - they all have names."] He could travel anywhere in the world and blend in as effortlessly as he slipped into his latest black tux.

And who doesn't dig the accent?

He was never the strongest guy around and he was always outnumbered. Which meant he triumphed through his wit, charm, and cunning, not through brute force. [Though the toys, obviously, helped out a lot.] He took on evil masterminds with their armies of thugs and always came out on top, his good humor - and usually his tux - still intact.

In short, he made being smart, educated, and sophisticated seem cool. He was a dapper English gentleman...but he was still a badass.

And I'm not sure I can express just how important that was to a shy, introverted, scrawny, smart little boy.

See, most heroes in America are of the blue collar / working class persuasion: Cops. Gumshoes. Cowboys. Athletes. Soldiers. Boxers. Gangsters. You get the idea. Sometimes they were clever or streetwise; but few were what one would call "well-educated." They were rough-n-tumble guys, with flinty stares and weathered faces, ready to throw down at a moment's notice, with no use for "book learning" or "turning the other cheek" or any of that other sissy, "girly" nonsense.

Educated guys - when they show up at all - they're usually the wimps. The geeks. The dorks. The pariahs. Weak, effete, cowardly - you probably know the type. If they're lucky, they're the sidekick or a trusted (though secondary) ally or mentor; if not, they're relegated to comic relief, the butt of abuse.

Even when the main protagonist is, say, a scientist or engineer in a scifi story - where you might expect the brain to reign supreme - he usually proves his worth through his physical courage or acts of violence, not his education. In fantasy stories, the main hero usually isn't some powerful mage with vast knowledge of the arcane, it's the brawny warrior...who's usually on a quest to shove three feet of steel into the powerful mage's guts.

You get the idea.

So when you're a little boy and the only thing you've got going for you is your brains - which you keep being told doesn't matter to "real" men - well, it leaves you wondering just what your place in the world is.

"Second-class citizen" is the usual conclusion.

So to find a hero who's smart, who's witty, who's educated - and who succeeds because of all those qualities, not in spite of them? Hell, it's like finding an oasis of cool in a desert of testosterone.

Plus he was the alpha male of action who bedded every beauty who crossed his path. What's not to love?

[Admit it: up until that line, you were wondering, "Does he mean he 'loved' James Bond in that sense?" weren't you? Hey, I like the ladies - Ursula Andress is permanently seared across my psyche, same as many a young lad's - don't see anything to apologize for there.**]

Of course, I've come a long way since I was a kid. My tastes have evolved since then, while Bond hasn't, really. And I've discovered other smart, educated heroes over the years. But he was the first to tell me it was cool to be a smart guy. And in a lot of ways, he is still the benchmark I use for judging heroes.

So what does all this have to do with Blog Against Sexism Day?

I'm getting to that.

See, the overwhelming majority of blogs today will be about all the bullshit women have had to put up with for ages. And that's totally appropriate, because that's where the focus should be. I've seen and heard about all the crap women have had to endure from men and have been pretty appalled by it. But I've got nothing to add to that conversation that others can't express far better. All I can say is: I'm so sorry, but don't give up hope - we aren't all pricks.

But I still wanted to take a moment to point out: it isn't just women who get shafted by gender stereotypes in society. It's also the smart scrawny boys, who are told they don't matter because they don't have buff physiques. It's also the gay boys, who grow up being told that being a fag is, at worst, an unholy abomination; and, at best, a good way to become an interior decorator or fashion designer. [And man, how much must it suck to be a gay man in America who doesn't look fabulous and have a great wardrobe?] It's also the pacifists, who get called cowards for not wanting to fight.

In short: it's everybody who gets marginalized for not slipping neatly into their pre-defined, gender-based grooves. It's women who don't act feminine...but it's also guys who don't act masculine.

Hell, just the funny looks I've gotten from admitting I dislike football...

I'm a guy. And I know I get a pass on a lot of things because I'm a guy. And I know women are placed under a lot of pressure because of their gender. And I know I'll never experience it***. So this isn't some woe-is-me rant about how feminism has "oppressed" men or some crazy-ass conservative bullshit like that you sometimes hear from aging dinosaurs.

I don't mention this issue because I think it's more important than all the shit women go through - it's not. I mention this because I doubt anyone else will. And in the great and noble effort to improve women's lot in life, it's the sort of detail that can get lost in the background. To me, sexism is about the unfair social demands, attitudes, and constraints placed on someone because of their gender - which means it affects both men and women. [And, of course, everyone who doesn't slip neatly into either category: these days, gender isn't an either-or question.]

Women get it worse; but that doesn't mean men don't get it at all.

I don't have any grand vision or proposal here. I guess I'm just saying: while engineering the great social changes necessary to redefine women's roles in society, perhaps we can spare a few moments to work on men's roles too? Maybe reconsider what it means to be a guy?

Pretty sure my fellow outcasts would be grateful for the effort.

*Connery, of course. Moore was a creepy middle-aged guy by the time he assumed the mantle. Though I concede a soft spot for Dalton. But that's neither here nor there.

** Of course, if you presume that means I only like the ladies - well, that's on you.

*** Well, not without some major surgery, which is hella expensive. Besides, my ass is too fat for dresses - what would be the point?