Month: January 2014

Triviality in Women’s Athletics: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That

While writing this piece for Role/Reboot last week, I thought about something that Simone de Beauvoir realized as she began what would later evolve into The Second Sex.  “One day I wanted to explain myself to myself…And it struck me with a sort of surprise that the first thing I had to say was ‘I am a woman.'”

<a href=”http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2014-01-why-eugenie-bouchard-wasnt-asked-about-tennis”>Why Eugenie Bouchard Wasn’t Asked About Tennis, Role/Reboot on January 26, 2014</a>

After 19-year-old Eugenie Bouchard became the first Canadian in decades to make the Australian Open semifinals, reporter (and former tennis star) Samantha Smith decided to ask her…about celebrity crushes and Justin Bieber?  Because like Beauvoir, Bouchard isn’t a person first, or an athlete first — she’s a woman.  And despite the fact that she was history in the making, the first thing on her mind must be her fantasy dating life, right? 

I didn’t want to so much join the Internet masses in beating a dead horse (yes, Internet, Smith’s question was totally ridiculous) as I wanted to examine why we are still reluctant to take women in sports seriously, or even female sports fans.  Plus, I relish any and all opportunities to talk about Carol Gilligan and her gendered identity development theories. Good stuff.

 

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Teaching a Robot to Love: A.I., Social Networking, and a “Her” Movie Review

Let me start off by saying that no one does quirky quite like Joaquin Phoenix.  I’ve loved him ever since he transformed into the scheming, incestuous emperor Commodus in Gladiator nearly fifteen years ago, and his uncertain, offbeat demeanor was perfect for this film.

Her takes place in the not-so-distant future, in a grey and dingy Los Angeles where Theodore, Phoenix’s character, writes personal love letters for a web-based company.  I loved the use of color throughout the film — the interior scenery is a cross between the sterility of a white hospital and the inside of a sherbet carton, bursting with pastels and the occasional neon pink or orange.  The future is also very geometric (the dangling origami boxes above Theodore’s desk were a nice touch) and everyone, for some reason, wears very ill-fitting high-waisted pants.

The driving force of the movie is Theodore’s blossoming relationship with Samantha, a personal operating system that adapts and evolves through its interaction with its user.  Theodore, who we learn is going through a difficult divorce with Is That Really Rooney Mara?!, instantly bonds with the program.  Though there were a few parts that made my best friend and me squirm in our seats (especially the scene with the sexual surrogate), Theodore’s love affair with a sentient, bodiless being somehow makes sense.  Theodore is profoundly lonely — one of the most heartbreaking moments is his resignation that he will never again experience feelings at full capacity.  Joy and love, he declares, will be “lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”  Samantha fills the void of a failed romance, but comes without the obligation and physical awkwardness that Theodore clearly has trouble with (as demonstrated by his unsettling date with Olivia Wilde’s character).

Her left me thinking about the future of technology and social networking in particular long after I left the theatre.  Back when the Internet was only a few years old, I joined my first blogging site and a Canada-based forum that no longer exists called “Koolplace.”  Through these mediums, I made my first two “Internet pal” connections with a girl in the UK and a boy in Wisconsin.  That girl and boy are now 30 and 27, respectively, and I’m pleased to say that we’re still frequently in touch over ten years later.  My friend from Wisconsin and I have traveled to visit each other three times; my friend from the UK and I talk about doing so in the future.  They’re both real people, but before meeting face-to-face, they were no more physically “real” to me than Samantha is to Theodore.  Yet I grew to care for them very much.

Of course, I’m cognizant of the fact that these e-buddies are real people with real bodies.  Theodore “knows,” that his new girlfriend lives inside of a machine, but his heart hasn’t quite caught up with his head — often the case in actual relationships.  The film’s biggest preoccupation for me was with authenticity: the “reality” of our interactions; the “reality” of human or personal identity.  After all, Theodore’s very livelihood is a fraud — he writes letters to loved ones who have no idea that they’re reading a stranger’s words.  Would we prefer the lie?  The blue pill or the red?  The living flesh of a person or the reassuring resemblance to one?  Regardless, Her suggests that we’re all social creatures, no matter what form “social” takes.

More Great Films on Ontology and A.I.:
Inception
The Matrix
Memento
Abre Los Ojos (or its English remake, Vanilla Sky)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Being John Malkovich
2001: A Space Odyssey

Gay Rights: The Final Frontier of NFL Activism

I may or may not have a big ol’ crush on former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe.  Here he is being adorable on Ellen:

Shaggy hockey hair and unapologetic social activism. Is there anything sexier?

Chris Kluwe has been in the news quite a bit recently after his firing from the Vikings — a move he claims was directly related to his very public activism in support of LGBT rights.  Deadspin.com published this letter from Kluwe outlining all the harassment and orders to keep quiet he received from various Vikings staff members, two of whom were coaches.  No stranger to Deadspin, Kluwe previously published a letter through the site in 2012 defending fellow NFL player Brendon Ayanbadejo, a Ravens linebacker who was told to curb his own gay rights activism by a Maryland politician.  Personally, I’m an instant fan of anyone who uses the terms “clusterfuck” and “cockmonster” in the same piece.

Activism, by and large, is encouraged in the NFL.  Volunteering for the United Way?  Right on!  Speaking out against domestic violence?  Considering that a lot of our players have problems in this department…sure!  Breast Cancer Awareness?  Let’s paint the gridiron pink!  Somehow, the only support off-limits is that of gay rights.  By stifling LGBT activism, professional organizations like the NFL are contributing to the kind of homophobic hypermasculinity that drives men like Ritchie Incognito to spout hatred.  Chris Kluwe, on the other hand, has repeatedly demonstrated that he is the kind of “real man” role model American boys need. The fine people over at Role/Reboot thought so too:

“Why We Need More Gay Rights Activism in Professional Sports” — January 12, 2014 on Role/Reboot

 

On Being An Adult Child of Divorce During the Holidays

The holidays were tough for me this year.  There were days that I felt like a bundle of nervous energy and days when I could barely muster the motivation to get out of bed in the morning.  I told myself repeatedly that if I could just make it through the month-end calendar change, I’d be okay.

Of course, Thanksgiving and Christmas weren’t always like this.  Growing up, I had the meals and present exchanges with my nuclear family, the visitations with relatives, but it was always routine that we followed together — the three of us.  Since my parents’ split in 2011 and my dad’s moving three hours away, the holidays have left me feeling very much like a [wo]man without a country.  There were abandoned traditions, and then there were new traditions, and then there came the question of where and how to spend which. 

Further propelled by coffee, I wrote this piece for Role/Reboot on one of the “nervous energy” days in a little over an hour flat.  It’s the fastest I’ve probably ever written a thousand words, and one of the most cathartic releases through writing that I’ve ever experienced.  There was very little editing done:

“Stop Telling Adult Children of Divorce to ‘Get Over It'” — December 27, 2013 on Role/Reboot

My experience of having a nuclear family and then watching it fall apart is very different from the experience of never having had a nuclear family.  Both are absolutely worth talking about.

The Friend Zone, and a bit of breaking news.

It has recently occurred to me that this blog, despite all intents and purposes, isn’t very bloggy. For those of you who are following this on the regular (and thanks, by the way!), you’ll see a new format from here on out. Instead of simply posting the text of all of my articles for Role/Reboot and The Good Men Project, I’m going to link you to the page itself and actually type up a little supplementary paragraph about process and context. I’ll also probably go back at some point and adjust previous entries to the same format, being the stickler for consistency that I am.

I’m also going to branch out and start posting movie/book/TV show reviews and already typed up a short review on “Her” that I’ll probably share this week. As embarrassing as this is to admit what with me being an English instructor and all, I’ve learned over the years that my reading retention isn’t as good as it could be. My hope is that by actually writing about all the lovely media I consume, I’ll improve my retention and hopefully start a dialogue at the same time, yeah?

“How The ‘Friend Zone’ Harms Opposite Sex Relationships” — December 10, 2013 on Role/Reboot

I had been itching to write about the ‘friend zone’ idea for quite a while, in a way that (if possible in <1200 words) took up not only the issues of male entitlement and our cultural "understanding" of the sexes being from two different planets, but the very real toxic relationships and bad behavior that can develop between two people. From what I've heard (mostly from male friends), the "friend zone" refers to the space into which a pursuer is placed after being rejected by a friend, i.e. never "achieving" a romantic or sexual connection with said friend. Two friends who enter into an undefined sexual relationship is something else entirely to me — it's either "friends-with-benefits" if the two aim for mutual respect, or, if one person decides to be a complete wad and use or manipulate the other…that's using or manipulating.

All in all, "the friend zone" isn't real, and if you think that it is, you're probably just feeling entitled to another person whose fault it isn’t if they can’t conjure feelings for you out of thin air. If they know that you’re into them and deliberately using you for sex or money or season tickets, well, then that’s a bit of a different story.

It’s clear that I still have a lot of thoughts on the “friend zone” myth, even a month after writing the piece. My Baltimore-based friend Rob (who creates beaaautiful illustrations on his website http://www.thethirdrlm.com/ – check him out!) and I briefly talked about setting up a kind of Skype chat in which we tackle some of the issues present in opposite sex friendships, so that’s still a possibility. Stay tuned.

C.