8 Nov 2008

One step forward, two steps back

UPDATE: I've added a video clip to the bottom of this post. Please see MSNBC's Keith Olbermann weigh-in on the debate with last night's Special Comment. Olbermann's usual fire-breathing histrionics are absent here...in favor of a heartfelt, sober opinion piece. Good stuff...

On Tuesday, the country took a huge leap forward. An African-American was elected to the highest office in the country and instantly became the most powerful leader in the free world.

While I think this was a great moment in the history of the US (tempered somewhat, though, by the fact that the current administration has been such a disaster that anyone would've looked positively gold-plated in comparison), it wasn't long (less than 24 hrs, to be exact) until we were reminded how backward many Americans (the majority, as it turns out) still are.

A majority of voters in Florida, Arizona and, somewhat unbelievably California, voted Yes to Proposition 8, banning gay marriage in those states and rendering invalid those who had recently gotten married there.

What. The. Fuck.

In a country that goes on and on and nauseatingly on about its "love of freedoms", basic human rights are still denied to a recognised, large minority group. If this isn't irony at its best, I don't know what is. The pursuit of happiness is still being denied to certain people. The right to benefits - monetary, cultural, compensatory, etc., is still being denied to certain people. The right to equal tax rights is still being denied to certain people.

I could go on and on, but I came across two articles this week from prominent figures in the gay community: Melissa Etheridge and Harvey Fierstein. They say it better than I ever could. And before anyone starts banging on about that shit-stirring, war-starting work of fiction known as the bible, remember that state-sanctioned MARRIAGE is a CIVIL contract. It has nothing to do with religion. So the "argument" that gay marriage goes against god or religion or christianity or the bible is, frankly, at worst bullshit and at best, moot.

First, Fierstein's short article. The bold sections were highlighted by me:

Historic for Some, Same Old Shit for the Rest of Us

While we dance in the streets and pat ourselves on the back for being a nation great enough to reach beyond racial divides to elect our first African-American president let us not forget that we remain a nation still proudly practicing prejudice.

I have heard this day described as one of transcendence where Americans came together to prove that we are, above all, a nation of fairness. World witnesses wrote that we rose above ideology, politics and bigotry to achieve a great moment for America. Meanwhile, on this same Election Day, we great Americans passed laws as heinous as any Jim Crow legislation. We great Americans reached out and willfully put our name to language that denies an entire minority group their equal rights.

Of course I am referring to the states of Florida, Arizona and California passing legislation to specifically deny gay people from entering into the contract of marriage. Actually, that's not true. We can still get married, just not to each other. Yes my friends, Florida and California have now made it legal for gay men and lesbians to marry as long as we don't marry our partners. How much sense does that make?

Now, before you rise up on your high horse to holler, "We're not against Civil Unions, just Gay Marriage", let me once again explain that THE SUPREME COURT HAS STATED THAT SEPARATE BUT EQUAL IS NOT EQUAL. And even if it were, civil unions are simply not equal to marriage.

Let me give you a simple example that anyone can follow. John and Jim are registered as domestic partners and so, just like a married couple; Jim is covered by John's employee health care. That's really nice. BUT... since the IRS does not recognize civil unions or domestic partnership Jim has to pay income tax on the value of this coverage. So, unlike a married couple, John and Jim are penalized hundreds of dollars for not being married. That's not fair. That's not in the spirit of the civil union legislation. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of the inequality being offered.

Listen, my fellow Americans, I am only asking that we get sensible about this controversy. Gays are not asking for religious blessings. We are not asking for everyone to come to our weddings. We are not asking the government to force churches and synagogues to perform marriage rituals or even to allow us into their tax-exempt edifices. We are simply and forcefully demanding equal protection under the laws of this nation as tax paying, voting, property owning citizens. I want no more or less protection than granted any heterosexual to control and distribute my holdings.

State sanctioned marriage is a civil contract period. A contract is not a judgment of moral value. It is a legal agreement between two parties that testifies to a meeting of minds between those consenting entities. It is not a religious act or rite and so has nothing to do with Adam and Eve or Steve or even Harvey. I often say that if you want to really want to understand the contract of marriage just ask anyone who has been divorced. The marriage contract is one of property rights. Or maybe you can look in the bible to see what Adam had to say about divorce since Eve was his second wife.

So, while we rightfully celebrate the election of our first African American president, let us take a moment to mourn the passage of three new laws legalizing prejudice. Of course there will be those who claim that voters were only protecting the institution of marriage to whom I would suggest it is just as likely that Obama's supporters were only voting against W. Breaking the lock on my door doesn't make your home any more secure.

And now for Etheridge's article. Again, the bold parts were highlighted by me:

You Can Forget My Taxes

Okay. So Prop 8 passed. Alright, I get it. 51% of you think that I am a second class citizen. Alright then. So my wife, uh I mean, roommate? Girlfriend? Special lady friend? You are gonna have to help me here because I am not sure what to call her now. Anyways, she and I are not allowed the same right under the state constitution as any other citizen. Okay, so I am taking that to mean I do not have to pay my state taxes because I am not a full citizen. I mean that would just be wrong, to make someone pay taxes and not give them the same rights, sounds sort of like that taxation without representation thing from the history books.

Okay, cool I don't mean to get too personal here but there is a lot I can do with the extra half a million dollars that I will be keeping instead of handing it over to the state of California. Oh, and I am sure Ellen will be a little excited to keep her bazillion bucks that she pays in taxes too. Wow, come to think of it, there are quite a few of us fortunate gay folks that will be having some extra cash this year. What recession? We're gay! I am sure there will be a little box on the tax forms now single, married, divorced, gay, check here if you are gay, yeah, that's not so bad. Of course all of the waiters and hairdressers and UPS workers and gym teachers and such, they won't have to pay their taxes either.

Gay people are born everyday. You will never legislate that away.

Oh and too bad California, I know you were looking forward to the revenue from all of those extra marriages. I guess you will have to find some other way to get out of the budget trouble you are in.


When did it become okay to legislate morality? I try to envision someone reading that legislation "eliminates the right" and then clicking yes. What goes through their mind? Was it the frightening commercial where the little girl comes home and says, "Hi mom, we learned about gays in class today" and then the mother gets that awful worried look and the scary music plays? Do they not know anyone who is gay? If they do, can they look them in the face and say "I believe you do not deserve the same rights as me"? Do they think that their children will never encounter a gay person? Do they think they will never have to explain the 20% of us who are gay and living and working side by side with all the citizens of California?

I got news for them, someday your child is going to come home and ask you what a gay person is. Gay people are born everyday. You will never legislate that away.

I know when I grew up gay was a bad word. Homo, lezzie, faggot, dyke. Ignorance and fear ruled the day. There were so many "thems" back then. The blacks, the poor ... you know, "them". Then there was the immigrants. "Them.” Now the them is me.

I tell myself to take a breath, okay take another one, one of the thems made it to the top. Obama has been elected president. This crazy fearful insanity will end soon. This great state and this great country of ours will finally come to the understanding that there is no "them". We are one. We are united. What you do to someone else you do to yourself. That "judge not, lest ye yourself be judged" are truthful words and not Christian rhetoric.

Today the gay citizenry of this state will pick themselves up and dust themselves off and do what we have been doing for years. We will get back into it. We love this state, we love this country and we are not going to leave it. Even though we could be married in Mass. or Conn, Canada, Holland, Spain and a handful of other countries, this is our home. This is where we work and play and raise our families. We will not rest until we have the full rights of any other citizen. It is that simple, no fearful vote will ever stop us, that is not the American way.

Come to think of it, I should get a federal tax break too...

7 Nov 2008

New World Order

It's amazing how many people I run into who actually believe stuff like this will happen now. I mean, I know I'm in Mississippi, but still...

Anyway, I think this is hilarious...

2 Nov 2008

The latest Russell Brand furore: India Knight is again right on the money

OK, snapshot of what happened. BBC Radio 2 (and TV) personalities Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross got into a lot of trouble (Brand had to resign from the BBC, Ross suspended for 3 months) over some prank phone calls they made to the 78-year-old actor and former co-star of classic comedy series Fawlty Towers, Andrew Sachs.

The calls, left on Sachs' answering machine after he'd failed to turn-up for an interview on Brand's show, detailed how (and this is true) Brand had slept with the actor's granddaughter (with Ross yelling, "He fucked your daughter!" down the line) and how Sachs would be so upset at the prospect that he might kill himself. The "jokes" were in bad taste and out of order, certainly (you can listen to them here), but the whole thing was blown completely out of proportion by the notoriously-always-blowing-things-out-of-proportion-and/or-calling-for-someon's-head right-wing UK newspaper The Daily Mail.

Tellingly, the BBC had received only 19 complaints from the millions who listen to the radio show in the first couple of days after broadcast. However, when the Mail got their righteous-indignation train running, the BBC had recieved up to 30,000 complaints as of today (a full week after broadcast).

Once you know some of the finer details of the case (who Andrew Sachs granddaughter is and how she makes a living, how someone from the BBC decided to broadcast the tape knowing the contents, how no-one was really offended until the Mail suggested they SHOULD be offended), you may have a different opinion of the entire brouhaha.

India Knight, the author of the article featured in my previous Russell Brand post, wrote the following article for this week's Sunday Times and again hits the nail on squarely on its head...

From The Sunday Times (original article here)

November 2, 2008

Pity the women who come within range of Brand and Ross
India Knight

I am utterly nonplussed by the Russell Brand-Jonathan Ross fallout. What’s with the insanely disproportionate reaction? Grovel a much-needed apology, by all means, then grovel some more, but why the need for ritual disembowelling?

Brand “resigns”; Ross is suspended without pay for three months; the controller Lesley Douglas, who is revered by her creative stable, falls on her sword; and Radio 2 self-harms in order to assuage 30,000 members of the public - a few streets’ worth - because two clever, talented men made a grotesquely tasteless joke, for which they apologised profusely - if late in the day.

The corporation’s desire to show moral backbone has left it looking spineless. The millions of viewers and listeners who didn’t complain are left deprived of the entertainment that they, too, pay their licence fee for. What on earth is going on?

Let’s just rewind. Two broadcasters with huge fan bases, hired because they are edgy, motormouthed and volatile, make a series of revolting but impromptu (that is, not cruelly premeditated) jokes. The jokes are directed at a 78-year-old man. It’s not nice. But, first: when did the public start equating the elderly with helpless babies?

Andrew Sachs has been completely infantilised throughout this saga, as though he were a simple-minded toddler rather than a man who has spent his life working in show business and is perhaps not unfamiliar with its more robust excesses. But no: here he is, presented as a doddery old gramps who must be protected from the big mean boys on his answering machine, as though 78 years of experience - not all of it spent doing crosswords by the fire, presumably - count for nothing. I find this weird and not terribly realistic.

Also, if my granddaughter was a self-styled Satanic Slut who earned her living by staging peculiar bloodletting scenarios for pervs (Cheerleader Massacre, anyone?) and defined herself on her MySpace page as a “groupie” who loved “partying”, then being told, no matter how coarsely, that she had slept with some celeb would be the least of my worries, frankly.

The granddaughter, Georgina Baillie, has signed up with Max Clifford and obligingly posed en dĂ©shabillĂ© to emphasise the terrible ordeal that Sachs has suffered. She has called Brand and Ross “sickos” and says “justice has been served”. Really? For the millions who downloaded Brand’s podcast every week? For the millions whose weekends were made joyous by Ross? Or for one G Baillie (Ms) who was maybe a bit peeved when Brand, having had his way, failed to bombard her with marriage proposals? Besides, unless Brand is psychic, he wouldn’t have known she was Sachs’s granddaughter unless she told him herself, presumably as some sort of chat-up line.

Second thing: Ross and Brand were behaving like a pair of hysterical teenagers, egging each other on, extemporising wildly, riffing with the joke until it got completely out of control, as though they were round a kitchen table rather than in a studio. This was extremely stupid of them.

However: their brand of humour, which no one is forced to listen to, is what audiences tune in for in vast numbers. Editing the programme so that it doesn’t provoke outrage is what the producers are supposed to do. The failure here was an executive one: someone from the show, which was prerecorded, contacted Sachs, played him the segment and asked if it was okay to broadcast it. Sachs said he rather thought it wasn't. “It’s a bit crude, isn’t it?” he said.

For reasons best known to themselves, the show’s producers decided to ignore his views. This is not Ross’s or Brand’s fault: their “joke” was vile but the buck rolls on.

Third, and most crucial, thing: what lies at the centre of this sorry saga is misogyny. None of it would have happened if Ross and Brand displayed - or were asked to display - even an iota of respect for women. Instead, both men have made part of their living out of treating women - wives and mothers excluded - as though they were pieces of meat. This can be very funny but it sticks in the craw.

Ross has an Achilles’ heel: he is a marvellous interviewer of men, but reduces every single female interviewee to meat status. Basically, his whole shtick boils down to “I’d do you”. Unless the woman in question is ancient or deformed, Ross crushes any spark of opinion until said woman can be squashed back into the box labelled “totty”.

Brand, whose issues with sex addiction are well documented, has a similar problem. I interviewed him last summer. He was, shall we say, attentive, rather distractingly so as I sat trying to take notes and keep the conversation on track. My interview appeared in due course.

Three weeks ago I got an e-mail from a friend suggesting that I listen to that week’s radio show podcast. Now, I didn’t go to Brand’s house batting my eyelashes or bandying killer chat-up lines (“My grandpa was Coco the Clown”, maybe); I went to do my job. I was therefore taken aback to find myself named on air as a prelude to Brand discussing my bosoms with, surreally, Noel Gallagher from Oasis, who insistently asked: “Did you sleep with her?”, a question that caused Brand to speculate in some detail about what sleeping with me might have been like. None of this was mean or cruel, but it was out of order and reductive: woman, ergo piece of meat, fair game, punchline, nonperson.

In Ross’s and Brand’s world, it is assumed that all women are gagging for a bit of the old trouser goodness. I don’t necessarily blame them for this: many male celebrities do indeed find it to be so and this assumption happens to be shared by most men - it's just that most men are more discreet about airing their misogyny, because they have normal lives and engage with normal women in normal places, such as offices. Ross, Brand and others operate from ivory towers, no matter how populist their appeal.

The BBC’s failure was in not identifying the alarming propensity of its two presenters for galloping, off-the-scale sexism and in making no attempt to rein it in.

As the dust settles, Brand is in America, doing stand-up shows and making a movie. Ross is at home in north London, down but not remotely out. Sachs has accepted everyone’s apologies and considers the matter closed. The real casualty is Douglas, Radio 2’s former controller - and a woman. Funny, that.