Masha Gessen writes about a series of recent recent Russian parody videos, started by air-transport cadets as a spoof of the music video for “Satisfaction,” by Benny Benassi, from 2002.
A few weeks ago, fourteen Russian first-year air-transport cadets made a parody of a fifteen-year-old music clip, and now it’s all a lot of Russians can talk about. This is a story of spontaneous solidarity, self-organization, and, ultimately, just possibly, the triumph of freedom over bureaucracy.
The original clip, set to the 2002 track “Satisfaction,” by the Italian d.j. Benny Benassi, is itself a parody: of music videos, erotica, and advertising. It features a series of scantily clad young women working with tools, starting with a hammer and graduating to a masonry drill, a belt sander, and an angle grinder. The screen features names and technical descriptions of the tools while the women pose with their bodies contorted and their mouths open, as though they were in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. In their parody, the air-transport cadets used an all-male cast, the interior of a well-worn student dorm, and the kinds of tools that are found there: a broom, a clothes iron, a spray jar of glass cleaner. Mostly, though, they used their own very young bodies, dressed in underwear, with belts, neckties, and military caps arranged in apparent homage to Tom of Finland.
Netflix’s BoJack Horseman was quickly put on many people’s radars when the newest season released in September addressed asexuality. During the new season, Todd Chavez explicitly comes out to BoJack saying that he is asexual. As someone who is asexual, this representation means a lot to me. Not only am I actually being represented, but he specifically said the word asexual multiple times. Even though it had seemed the series was building to this scene, I still did not expect it to deliver. It was first indicated during the season three episode “Love And/Or Marriage,” when Todd rejected having sex with his friend, Emily. Initially watching this scene I did not have asexuality on my mind. I just came to terms with the fact that asexuality was something that would never be represented in media. Naturally, I explained it away as Todd likely being interested in another person and feeling like he would be “cheating” on said person if he were to sleep with Emily. But this arc gets a more definitive continuation in the season three finale, “That Went Well,” when Todd tells Emily, “I’m not gay. At least I don’t think I am, but I don’t think I’m straight either. I don’t know what I am. I think I might be nothing.” This scene and everything it stands for took BoJack Horseman from a show I enjoyed to one of my favorite shows of all time. Throughout the yearlong wait for season four, I constantly watched this scene. I rewatched it at least once a week, and more often than not, I cried while watching…
This week, a video of a 12-year-old girl coming out as gay to her Mormon congregation in Eagle Mountain, Utah, went viral — and it’s easy to understand why. Savannah is adorable. She wears a red tie, which is already a statement, since wearing pants to church as a woman can be controversial. She stands in front of a room of adults delivering her testimony about how her Heavenly Parents “did not mess up when they gave me freckles. Or when they made me gay. God loves me just this way because I believe that he loves all of his creations.”
On this day in 1999 I sent out the twenty-eighth of my Cool Thing Of The Day To Do In Aberystwyth emails. I wasn’t blogging at the time (although I did have a blog previously), but these messages-back-home served a similar purpose, if only for a select audience. You can read more about them in my last On This Day to discuss them or the one before.
For technical reasons, this particular Cool Things Of The Day appears to have been sent on 27th October, but in actual fact I know that the events it describes took place on 5th November 1999. The obvious clue? The fireworks! I knew that Cool Thing Of The Day as shown here on my blog was out-of-sync with reality, but this particular entry gives a great indication of exactly how much it’s out by. And no, I can’t be bothered to correct it.
Back in 1999 I started as a student at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth (now Aberystwyth University), moved away from home, and had a fantastic time. One bonfire night, I called up two new friends of mine – Rory and Sandra – and persuaded them that we should wander over to nearby Trefechan and climb the hill (Pen Dinas) there to watch the fireworks. It was a wild and windy night, and certainly not the conditions to climb an unknown and occasionally-treacherous hill, but we weren’t dissuaded: we set out!
You know those films or sitcoms where the protagonist (usually through their own stupidity) ends up on a date with two people at the same time, trying to keep each unaware of the other? That’s what I felt like at the time: because (though neither of them knew this at the time) I had an incredible crush on both of them. Of course: back then I was far shyer and far less-good at expressing myself, so this remained the case for a little while longer. Still: my inexperienced younger self still manged to make it feel to me like a precarious situation that I could easily balls-up. Perhaps I should have better thought-out the folks I invited out that night…
A storm blew in furiously, and the fireworks launched from the town scattered around, buffeted and shaken and only occasionally still flying upwards when they exploded. The rain lashed down and soaked us through our coats. We later found ourselves huddled around a radiator in The Fountain (under its old, old ownership), where the barman and the regulars couldn’t believe that we’d been up Pen Denis in the
A little later, I got to have a ludicrously brief fling with one of the pair, but I was fickle and confused and ballsed it up pretty quickly. Instead, I fell into a relationship with my old friend-with-benefits Reb, which in the long run turned out to be a very bad chapter of my life.
Trefechan – exotically across the river from the rest of Aberystwyth – didn’t seem so far away after a few more years in Aberystwyth… only a stone’s throw from Rummers! But for three new students, just a couple of months into their new home, lost and drunk and fumbling their way using an outdated map and seeing by firework-light, it was an exciting adventure. In 2004, SmartData (my employer at that time) moved into their new premises, right over the road from The Fountain and in the shadow of Pen Denis. The Technium turned out to be a pretty good place for SmartData, and it suited me, too. Some days in the summer, when it was warm and sunny, I’d leave work and take a walk up Pen Dinas. It wasn’t the same without the fireworks, the company, or the mystery of being somewhere for the very first time, but it’s still a great walk.
Sometimes I’d go up there in the rain, too.
This blog post is part of the On This Day series, in which Dan periodically looks back on years gone by.
Here are three ideas I’ve had for movies recently. If only the movie studios would stop making pap like Dredd 3D (or as I call it, Judge Dreddful) and take on some of my ideas, perhaps I’d find myself at the cinema more often.
So here are my three pitches:
Knights of the Living Dead
A twist on the Arthurian legends. With zombies.
King Arthur’s trusted White Knight (Lancelot) on a “routine” quest to oust Brandin, a corrupt ruler of a nearby township, who is accused of evil sorcery. Lancelot rallies the townpeople but Brandin escapes to his lair in a cursed cemetery. Lancelot slays Brandin, but – an an effort to decode a riddle Brandin made about the source of his power – lifts an enormous metal plate over a mysterious tomb, exposing the world to a dangerous plague that turns those affected into monstrous zombies.
Under instruction from the Church, Arthur and his knights set out to find the Holy Grail, which has the power to defeat the curse, questing through zombie-infected lands. There’s lots of hacking and slashing and eating of brains, Lancelot shags Guinevere, Arthur dies a heroic death to let the others escape (hinting at the time that he knows about the affair and wants them to be happy together), and ultimately the knights use the Grail to save the world from the zombie plague.
My Daughter’s Hand
A tale of love, homophobia, and the meaning of family, inspired by a true story.
My first thought when I heard this news story was that she should find a man who’s willing to “marry” her, and split the money between the two of them. Hell: for £20M, I’d fly to Hong Kong and marry her for a fortnight. Where’s my plane ticket.
But then I thought of an even better variant on the story. In my version, a (disowned, unless she recants and marries a man) lesbian daughter has her partner dress as a man and pretend to be a suitor. There are slight overtones of the story of Hua Mulan, a legendary Chinese heroine who pretended to be a man in order to take her aged father’s place in the army, during a conscription drive.
In any case, the partner, disguised as a man, succeeds in impressing the father, and the father eventually comes to admire this young “man” and gives his blessing to marry his daugher. But as the wedding approaches, their secret is exposed when they’re caught having sex. However: after much soul-searching the father sees that he liked his daughter’s partner as a person when he believed that she was a man, and so he agrees to accept her into his family as a woman, too.
It’s a story about combating homophobia with deception, I guess.
These gentlemen were in such a rush to get the fame of collecting the most dinosaur bones, that they resorted to ludicrous (and somewhat shocking) measures: using dynamite to blow away hillsides (probably destroying many fossils as they went), spying on one another (to such an extent that they would sometimes operate through fake companies to try to evade each other’s spies), and bribing people to keep quiet about the locations of big finds.
I have a vision for a film in the style of A Dangerous Method, which I enjoyed earlier this year, telling the dramatised story of these men and their rivalry. There’s already been a comic book and even a board game about them: isn’t it time for a movie, too?
You may remember the long-running story of my letters to the Office of National Statistics, and the more-concentrated effort by another blogger, in regard to the automatic “correction” of supposedly-“erroneous” data in the 2011 census, like somebody having multiple partners or identifying as neither gender. You don’t? Well here’s a reminder: part one, part two, part three, part four.
Well: we’ve finally had some success. A response has been received from the ONS, including – at last – segments of business logic from their “correction” code.
It’s hard to tell for certain what the result of the correction will be, but one thing’s for sure – Ruth, JTA and I’s census data won’t have passed their validation! Their relationship validations BP2, BP2a, and BP2b state that it is logically-impossible for a person to have a spouse and a partner living with them in the same household.
I should invite them around for dinner sometime, and they can see for themselves that this isn’t true.
I also note that they consider it invalid for anybody to tick both or neither of the (two) gender option boxes, although again, it’s not clear from the data they’ve provided how the automatic correction occurs. Increasingly, I’m coming to suspect that this might actually be a manual process, in which case I’m wondering what guidelines there are for their operators?
One good piece of news from this FoI request, though: the ONS has confirmed that the original census data – the filled-in paper forms, which unlike the online version doesn’t enforce its validation upon you – is not adjusted. So in a hundred years time, people will be able to look back at the actual forms filled in by poly, trans, and other non-standard households around the UK, and generate actual statistics on the frequency with which these occur. It’s not much, but it’s something.
Raise awareness of asexuality this week by making somebody aware of it, by dropping it into a relevant conversation. If an opportunity presents itself – perhaps somebody says “…if they’re straight, or gay…”, take the opportunity to add a few more to their list, and don’t forget to add asexual.
While asexual people don’t face the same kind of discrimination as other minority sexualities (for example, I’ve never heard of “a-bashing”), they’re still widely-misunderstood and often asked stupid questions like “How do you know you don’t like sex if you’ve never tried it?” (if you don’t know why that’s a stupid question, I refer you to the aforementioned FAQ)
So yeah: go hug an asexual today. In a non-sexual way, I’d suggest.
Following up on my earlier blog posts about how data on polyamorous households is recorded in the census (see parts one, two, and three), as well as subsequent queries by Zoe O’Connell on this and related topics (how the census records data on other relationships, such as marriage between same-gender partners and civil partnerships between opposite-gender partners), there’s finally been some progress!
No; that’s a lie, I’m afraid. We’re still left wading around in the same muddy puddle. Zoe’s Freedom of Information Act request, which basically said “Okay, so you treat this kind of data as erroneous. How often does this happen?” got a response. And that response basically said, “We can’t tell you that, because we don’t have the information and it’d cost too much to work it out.” Back to square one.
Still: it looks like she’s not keen to be beaten, as she’s sent a fresh FoI request to instead ask “So what’s the algorithm you’re using to detect this erroneous data?” I was pleased to see that she went on to add, effectively, “I don’t need an explanation: send me the code if you need to,” which makes it harder for them to fall behind the “It’s too expensive!” excuse yet again.
Anyway: it’s one to watch. And needless to say, I’ll keep you all posted when anything changes…
Friends Dan Q and Paul Mann, of Kennington, decided to mark the [superheroes] theme by dressing as characters from the silver age of comic book heroes, the Flash and Kickass, far left.
Mr Q, 30, said: “We wanted to take part in the march because first of all it’s an excuse to dress up, and also to show that Oxford is home to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and they should be represented.”
Apart from the obvious fault with the age of our characters – Kick-Ass (here correctly hyphenated) is a very new comic book character, designed in from only 2008 – which could have been corrected with a quick Wikipedia search, the article’s not bad. I’m reasonably pleased with my soundbite quotation, there: the journalist we spoke to caught me off-guard so I just reeled off the first thing I thought of, but it’s not bad, at least.
Ruth managed to carefully avoid appearing in any press photographs, but I think she’ll have been hard-pressed to avoid all of the shots my the Pride photographer, who ran around enthusiastically in a pink day-glow jacket, snapping away.
The Oxford Pride parade was fun, with the exception of the Catholic protest on Cornmarket, with their calls to “repent” from our “sinful lives”, and it was nice to lounge on the grass at Oxpens and listen to the music at the fair. Paul came second, by my estimation, in the fancy dress competition, and then I leapt around on a bouncy-castle/slide-thingy and sent all of the alcohol in my bloodstream rushing to my head.
Polygamous marriages are not legally recognised in the UK and therefore any data received from a questionnaire that appeared to show polygamous relationship in the manner that you suggest would be read as an error. It is recognised that the majority of respondents recording themselves as being in a polygamous relationship in a UK census do so erroneously, for example, ticking the wrong box for one household member on the relationships question.
Therefore, the data to be used for statistical purposes would be adjusted by changing one or more of these relationships, so that each respondent is in a relationship with no more than one person. This is consistent with all previous UK censuses, and others around the world.
A copy of the original questionnaire would be retained as part of the historical record which would show such relationships as they were recorded. We do not attempt to amend the original record.
Any mismatches between the indicated sex and marital status of respondents will be resolved using a probabilistic statistical system which will not necessarily deal with each case in the same way. The system will look at other responses for each person, including those for the Household relationships, and will alter one or more variables to make the response consistent. In the example that you propose, it would either change the sex of one individual, or change the marital status to “Same-sex civil partnership”, depending on which is considered statistically more likely to be correct.
Honestly, I’m not particularly impressed. They’ve committed to maintaining a historical record of the original, “uncorrected” data, so that future statisticians can get a true picture of the answers given, but this is about the only positive point in this response. Treating unusual data as erroneous is akin to pretending that a societal change doesn’t exist, and that this approach is “consistent with previous censuses” neglects to entertain the possibility that this data has value that it might not have had previously.
Yes, there will be erroneous data: people who accidentally said that they had two husbands when they only have one, for example. And yes, this can probably (although they don’t state how they know to recognise this) be assumed to be more common that genuine cases where somebody meant to put that on their census (although there will also be an error rate amongst these people, too). But taking the broad brush approach of assuming that every case can be treated as an error reeks of the same narrow-mindedness as the (alleged; almost-certainly an urban legend) statement by Queen Victoria that lesbianism “didn’t exist.”
“Fixing” the data using probabilities just results in a regression towards the mean: “Hmm; this couple of men say they’re married: they could be civil partners, or it could be a mistake… but they’re in a county with statistically-few few gay people, so we’ll assume the latter.” Really: what?
I’m not impressed, ONS.
Update: a second FoI request now aims to determine how many “corrections” have been made on censuses, historically. One to watch.
A conversation I had this morning with JTA, via text message:
Boiler update: this is getting silly. The probability-weighted Markov-chain based predictive text system I’m using this morning saw me type “boi” and suggested “Boiler update:”? /sighs/
On the upside, I’ve successfully arranged for the new distributor valve to be installed on Friday, when I’ll be around.
To give a little background, we’re having trouble with the boiler on Earth. You may have observed that it broke last year, and then again this year: well – it’s still broken, really. Nowadays it’ll only produce a little hot water at a time, and makes a noise like that scene in Titanic where the ship begins to tear in two. You know – a bad noise for a boiler to make. Over the last two or three weeks we’ve repeatedly fought to get it repaired, but it’s been challenging: more on that in a different blog post, if JTA doesn’t get there first.
On the plus side, at least this saga is overriding your phone’s memory of your previous life as a male prostitute. :-)
I was once mistaken for a gay prostitute, actually – by a gay prostitute – but that’s another story, I guess. In any case, I responded:
Until now! you’ve just mentioned that again, which means it’ll be the “last message received” when the paramedics go through my phone if I’m killed on the way to work this morning. And they’ll say, “yeah; I’d pay to have sex with him.”
Quickly followed by:
And his mate will say:
“Now he’s dead, you don’t HAVE to pay.”
If my corpse is raped by a paramedic, I’m blaming you.
To which JTA said:
You’re talking about people who drive blacked out vans full of drugs. I’m pretty sure they never pay.
From prostitution to necrophilia to date rape over the course of only a handful of text messages. What a great start to a Wednesday morning. I do like the image of an ambulance as “a blacked out van full of drugs,” though…
Hang around on any polyamory-themed newsgroups, forums, or mailing lists, and – before long – you’ll see a reasonable number of topics like this:
My girlfriend just “came out” to me as polyamorous.
I don’t feel comfortable being tied down to one person. Am I poly?
My husband is seeing somebody who identifies as mono.
What do all of these topics have in common? In each case, they involve at least one person who defines themselves, or others, as being “polyamorous” or “monoamorous/monogamous”.
That’s a perfectly popular mindset – there are plenty of folks who claim that we’re all hard-wired for mono- or poly-, just like we are for our sexual orientation – but it’s not one that I can get my head around. For me, polyamory is not an identity. It’s not something I am, but something I do. The difference is important: I am not polyamorous (although I’m in a relationship that is), just as I was not monoamorous (when I was last in a relationship that was).
I’m not alone in this belief, although I’m perhaps in a minority. It’s evidently the case for many practitioners of polyamorous relationships that they are “poly”, just like they might be gay, straight, or bisexual (among other sexualities).
We attach a great deal of significance to our personal identity: I suppose that’s one explanation for why people get so attached to the idea that they are something. It’s very easy to claim an identity based on your race, your sexual orientation, your religion, or your political affiliation. It’s clear from these examples that an identity does not have to be something genetic or biological, but can be the result of a choice. However, this still doesn’t “fix” things for me: it still doesn’t feel as though my relationship choices are part of me so much as they are part of my circumstances.
The difference, for me, is one of activity. One can have a sexual orientation without having sexual activity, can have a religious belief without engaging in a religious ceremony; can have a political stance without voting (although I know people who’d throw back at me a No true Scotsman argument about those last two). But I can’t fathom a way that one can “be” polyamorous without having a relationship!
I wonder if, perhaps, those people who identify as “being” polyamorous would claim that they could not possibly be happy if they were somehow confined to exactly one or fewer romantic relationships? That’s the only way that I can conceive that one could justify a polyamorous self-definition. Anything less would seem to be putting the cart before the horse: if it’s not essential to you, then how is it part of you?
And maybe there are some people would answer that question affirmatively; people for whom having a second (or third, or more) romantic relationship is critical to their happiness. In fact, I’m sure there are. Maybe these are the truly “polyamorous” people – the nonmonogamy equivalent of what in sexuality would be a Kinsey 6 (or 0: I haven’t yet decided which way this scale should go).
I can conceive of the existence of these people: I’ve probably even met some. They’re not so dissimilar to those “monogamous” people who are incapable of being happy when they’re single. I’ll admit that the society we live in is horribly biased towards couples, and that we’re culturally stunted in that we’re trained to think of those who are single as somehow “failing”, but I just can’t quite get my head around it. I’ve been perfectly happy at various points of being in intimate relationships with zero, one, or more partners, and I almost never go “out of my way” to seek out a potential mate.
Perhaps I’m the outlier: it certainly sounds like it, in the face of overwhelming evidence. But for me, that’s certainly the most comfortable choice to find happiness regardless of how my relationships happen to be laid out. And for that reason, polyamorous relationships are, when the occur, simply a rational choice for me – not some drive to “hoard” more lovers nor (as is commonly stated by some poly practitioners) a way to have your needs by more than a single person. To me, engaging in an open, polyamorous relationship – where possible – just makes logical sense, and for those capable of it, there seems no reason not to use that kind of relationship as a starting point. Everything else can be bolted on top.
I just thought I’d put some feelers out not for the first time, but for the first time online, to see if my theory is true that I am only only man in the known universe who enjoys the (now-finished) Showtime drama series The L-Word. If I’m not, will somebody let me know!
I have an ongoing experience when I tell people about the series. I explain what it is and why I like it. Evidently my enthusiasm is sufficient to grab the interest of whoever I’m speaking to, because many of them will then go and watch it. What happens then divides strictly down gender lines. Virtually every woman I’ve introduced to the show goes on to watch and enjoy it, and virtually every man – except me – goes on to watch it and hates it. What gives?
I’ve jokingly said before that among my male friends, the gay ones don’t like it because there’s too much lesbian sex, and the straight ones don’t like it because there’s too little. That’s pretty cynical, I know, and I’m not convinced it’s true: after all, if this was genuinely among the major criteria for favouring or disfavouring a drama series, well, then most of my male friends wouldn’t watch any at all, and that certainly isn’t the case.
Maybe I’m just mis-selling it. I’m pretty much following the TV guide description when I tell folk about it: it’s a show about a group of (mostly lesbian) friends in LA – major themes are relationships, sex, sexuality, discrimination, social class, career, and art. That pretty much covers it. It’s compelling and intricate, and I’m honestly at a loss to explain the clear gender boundary between those who do and those who don’t enjoy it.
Ruth proposed to me that it could be to do with the way that women communicate: much of the impact of the show comes from the way that the characters share their feelings – more in subtle ways like choice of language and body language than in the actual face-value dialogue. Her thinking here is that (whether because of our biology or our upbringing), us gents aren’t as capable of picking up on these cues, which form a baseline of the action in the series. It’s possible, I suppose: most of the show’s producers and many of the scriptwriters, as well as most of the cast, are female and so would be expected to have this mysterious superpower. But it fails to explain how the show appeals to me… and to whichever other men enjoy it: I’m hoping that if I hear a positive response back from any, that we might be able to work it out together.
In any case, it’s a conundrum: if you’ve got any ideas, let me know. And if you haven’t, go watch the show and see if you can work it out. Careful with the spoilers, if you’re ahead of me (I’m half-way through season 3, with its fabulous guest star Alan Cumming).
This blog post has nothing to do with my earlier post, Women In Movies, although if you enjoyed this one you might like that one, too.