Archive for April, 2014

what bothers me about quixotically-trendy narratives…

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27, 2014 by darryl zero

…Okay, I addressed this before when talking about something slightly different last year, but it’s reached a point at which I’d like to re-address it.

So a friend of mine recently linked this article on his Facebook.  I highly suggest you read it before continuing.

I had a great conversation with my maternal grandfather last month in which we brought up girls’ fashion.  My granddad summed it up perfectly; “I find it interesting that girls make some of the clothing decisions they make, fully aware of the biological reactions boys will have to them.”  Now, mind you, this is a medical doctor making the observation, a white medical doctor whose eldest daughter married a Black man, whose youngest son married a Japanese woman, and whose middle daughter became his middle son, so before you go off on how “conservative” or “old-fashioned” he might be, stop right there, because Grandfather has seen the brave new world in which we live, knows it intimately, and understands it just fine.

The fashion aspect of it isn’t the point (although it’s definitely worth mentioning)–the point is simply that of biology, a biology that well-intentioned (usually white) liberals seem to ignore.  Males and females are biologically different–and yes, I suppose that’s heteronormative or cisnormative to say, but we have evolved as a culture to see two majority genders, so that’s what I’m going with.  Because it’s essentially true.  I have a penis and testicles.  I generate certain hormones more than others and am likely to respond to pheromones in specific ways because I am biologically male.  And, as much as people want to say otherwise, the same is largely true for most people–yes, there are people who don’t fit with binary gender or sex, but those people are still statistically in the minority (although I will acknowledge that there are probably more out there than we know).  To paraphrase a (female) friend of mine: it shouldn’t insult LGBTQ people to acknowledge they are a minority group.

To put it another way: just because there’s also everything in-between doesn’t erase the fact that there are boys, and there are girls, something the McCarroll piece not only seems to forget, but to outright repudiate.

I think the most offensive passage in the piece appears right under Justin Timberlake’s anti-human trafficking photograph–emphasis mine:

Rather than attacking the institution of masculinity itself, several recent campaigns have attempted a sort of masculinity triage, trying to eliminate violence against women, while still flattering men with the label of protector.

While one can’t deny the obvious privilege that comes with being cisgendered, male, and cisgendered male, one can clearly point to language like the bolded text as reasons why people are critical of, angry with, and resistant to what I prefer to call “post-feminism” and immediately write off “feminists” as being “anti-male.”  Especially within the context of what McCarroll is critiquing; while it may offend McCarroll (and possibly others) that males may feel the need to frame themselves as protectors or defenders of women, Amanda Berry probably sure-as-shit appreciated the hell out of Charles Ramsey when he and his neighbor were able to free her from Ariel Castro’s house.  And sure, the argument could be made that Ramsey could have been anyone and that a woman could have done what he did, but Ramsey’s own commentary on the situation (“if a pretty white girl runs into a Black man’s arms, something’s wrong”) suggests a clear establishment of gender roles, at least in the mind of the victim and her rescuer.  Which again brings me back to biology: while Ramsey could have been anyone, his thought process during his rescue of Berry–that he was saving someone from a domestic dispute–is a clearly him as a male wanting to protect a vulnerable female, something McCarroll clearly wants to “attack.”

Now, don’t get me wrong–I’m mature enough to accept that blanket endorsement of “traditional” gender roles is shortsighted and not universally applicable to all people.  But I’m also one to trust evolution.  I’m a shade under six-three and, at the time of this writing, weigh a bit over 250 pounds (about as big as Brian Urlacher; video included to show how much bigger he is than Mike Tyson); big as I am, I’m still tiny compared to my father.  The fact that males have evolved to be as big as I am–and I’m not unusually large, mind you–suggests a purpose; the fact that my body responds favorably to manual labor, weightlifting, and the like reveals it was designed to do them.  In short: I’m biologically predisposed to be big, large, and strong–and I rarely meet a woman as big or as strong as I.  Being male, I’m also biologically predisposed to want to spread my genetic material as broadly as possible to determine its survival, and to protect that genetic material from others that would destroy it.

Fortunately, I’m also human, which means I’ve been cultured by society to realize that such things aren’t socially appropriate, but there are certain traces of that biology that I can’t avoid.  I like women’s bodies; I respond to visual, audio, and pheromonal stimuli in the way a male mammal would.  The sight of increasingly exposed female flesh makes me feel the way a male mammal would.  I think of sex–or, at the very least, I think of women in a different way than I would normally (as Princeton scientists would attest to).  I’ve been conditioned to keep those responses–well, at the very least private.  Whether or not I treat women as equals technically isn’t for me to say; I happen to think I do, considering my relationships with women have generally been pleasant and functional, but you’d have to ask my female friends and acquaintances for better commentary.  Bottom line is that I at least make an effort to understand the categorizable differences between men and women do not indicate qualitative differences between the two.

Which leads me to the thrust of my argument: in their haste to approximate dialectic examination, McCarroll and his ilk insist upon creating some kind of fantasy world using the presence of outliers from traditional roles to suggest that males and females are “the same,” which couldn’t be further from the truth.  While it’s definitely true that gender doesn’t always match sex, sex still exists, and does impact the formation of gender.  Even transgender people recognize this; they would have to in order to determine that their sex (assigned or otherwise) does not fit their gender.

In fact, even McCarroll acknowledges the inescapable differences between men and women, even as he criticizes basic acknowledgement of it:

In these campaigns, the masculine mystique is still very present, albeit a kinder, gentler version. By flattering men’s strength and asking them to use it to protect women, we once again place men in the driver’s seat of culture, asking for them to renounce violence and be less vile guardians.

My response is simple: “well, what would you rather have them do?”  Would McCarroll (and, by extension, the post-feminist difference-denialists he clearly represents) prefer that men leave women to protect themselves?  Would he prefer that men place the responsibility for a woman’s safety solely in her own hands?  Would the slutwalk, sex-positive movement suggest that men leave the protection of women solely to women?  Because, whenever men do try to allow women self-sufficiency and self-protection, we are accused of being part of the patriarchy.  Because there are bad people.  There are bad men.  There are bad men that do not see women as equals, there are men that acquiesce to their biological urge to dominate and conquer, men that are, in fact, provoked by the presence, availability, and vulnerability of the women around them.  And, whenever people make the effort to explain this to women, the post-feminist movement immediately moves to cry “foul” or “patriarchy” as evil, slut-shaming antediluvian control freaks.

I said it before in my post last year: there’s an element of personal responsibility to everything.  If a woman deliberately puts herself in a position of vulnerability, she runs the risk of being preyed upon.  You can’t just say “okay, boys–DON’T RAPE,” and rape will magically stop.  Sexual assault has been vilified for quite some time.  I agree that the fundamental idea of making males realize females are humans deserving of equal respect and rights is something that needs to be approached early and definitively, but essential to that is recognizing that males and females are, at their core, different.  Sometimes, a girl is going to need your protection.  Sometimes, a woman is going to need to be saved.  Sometimes, many times, more often than not, a male is going to be the one doing that saving.

Criticizing people for wanting to make males strive to be protectors instead of conquerors is not only fucking stupid–it runs contrary to biology.

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Zero’s favorite (at the moment) [post-“Homogenic”] Björk Songs

Posted in best of lists with tags , on April 27, 2014 by darryl zero

Okay, let’s be real–Homogenic is the greatest Björk album of all time–and a Zero shortlist for “Best Album Ever.”  It’s just that good.  Every album she’s put out since then hasn’t quite matched how amazing Homogenic was on the whole.

That said, it’s not like she just completely fell off.  While none of her subsequent albums has managed to capture the beauty and brilliance as a cohesive whole, she’s still managed to demonstrate on each album how truly transcendent she is.

So, for fun, I put together a list of ten post-Homogenic songs that still rock my fucking world.

1) “The Boho Dance” (A Tribute To Joni Mitchell compilation, 2007)

Released somewhat quietly on Nonesuch back in 2007, the Tribute To Joni Mitchell comp cobbles together an absolute all-star lineup (Prince, Sufjan Stevens, Sarah MacLachlan, Annie Lennox, among others).  It’s Björk that steals the entire show, though, taking Mitchell’s soft-rock tone poem, stripping it of its lush arrangement and rhythm and presenting it over an abstract, beat-less collage of music box-sounding electronics and glockenspiel.  It’s largely intimate (moreso than the original), subtle and soft but for a handful of trademark explosive vocal runs, and it’s tear-evoking:

2) “New World,” (Selmasongs/ the film Dancer In The Dark2000)

I actually prefer the version that she sings in the film (if you haven’t seen the film, this is a mega-spoiler; regardless of whether you have seen the film, it’s a VERY intense scene, very hard to watch, that not even I cannot watch without sobbing, hence the link, not the embed)–the different lyrics, disturbingly happy and optimistic, juxtaposed against the unmitigated tragedy of the story and its coda, all haunt the listener.

That said, the album version of the song, which plays immediately after the version in the film itself (over the closing credits) and is much happier, is just as solid.  “If living is seeing, I’m holding my breath/in wonder, I wonder what happens next/a new world, a new day to see.”  It’s gorgeous.

3) “Undo,” from Vespertine (2001)

While Vespertine is probably my least favorite of her albums (it’s still good, but not one that I listen to as often as some others), there are a few songs on it that truly blow it up.  Everyone remembers Pagan Poetry (NSFW link–boobs), but I’m more a fan of Frosti and, of course, Undo.  I think mostly the sheer scale of the arrangement–the harp and the orchestra blow my mind every time.

4) Wanderlust (Volta – 2007)

Let’s be clear–Volta was a weird, cluttered, unfocused shotgun blast of a Björk album.  Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, but I do wish we’d have been able to hear the original Timbaland beats that appear in some places.  The album has more brilliant moments than I can even mention here, but they’re surrounded by so much chaos that the brilliance gets lost in the sheer tidal wave of stimuli.

5) “Who Is It” (Medulla, 2004)

Medulla was so close to being as cohesive as Homogenic; the songs featuring largely vocals were glorious and inspirational, and Björk wisely didn’t overuse or lean on Rahzel or Mike Patton too heavily.  The problem arose when she went a little too overboard with the collaborators–the album on the whole is too heavy on Tagaq, and the Robert Wyatt and Dokaka collaborations just don’t feel as good.  “Who Is It,” on the other hand, merges all its bits (especially Tagaq and Rahzel) fantastically.

6) “Desired Constellation” (Medulla, 2004)

The best song on Björk’s largely “a capella” album is actually one of the few with a proper instrumental arrangement.  Some critics link this song directly to her Vespertine period; I, on the other hand, think it sounds more like a Selmasongs-esque cut.  A delightful, intimate love song, the studio recording sounds as if Björk is singing into a single mic in the driest, emptiest room imaginable.  The live versions are also dope:

7) “Amphibian” (Being John Malkovich soundtrack, 1999)

I have absolutely no clue what’s being said or sung here, which I think is part of this song’s appeal.  (I don’t even know if she’s singing in Icelandic, here–if anyone knows, please tell me).  This version of the song plays over the closing credits of the Jonze film, a freaky, abstruse, completely messed-up fantasy.  I love the hell out of it–the simple drum part, combined with the harp and what is either whistling or a singing saw.  The trace elements of bass and strings make this a hypnotic, beautiful abstraction.

8) “Virus” (Biophilia, 2011)

Biophilia was the fascinating culmination of a typically Björk idea–release the songs both as an album and as iPad apps, allowing for endless remix possibilities and, logically, no real definitive vision for what the actual album would be.  That said, the Björk versions of all the songs, while charming, didn’t quite reach the same heights that “Virus” reached.  The love song is vintage Björk: bells, whistles, ascendant harmonies, and contradictory lyrics (she refers to the subject of her love as “my sweet adversary”).

9) “Where Is The Line” (Medulla, 2004)

Björk.  Mike Patton.  Duh.

and, finally,

10) “The Dull Flame Of Desire” (Volta, 2007)

I actually prefer the video edit of this song, which is shorter and less self-indulgent.  What really sells this song for me is not that it’s a duet–while Antony Hegarty is a brilliant vocalist, this song feels more like it was a solo song that simply ended up with her on it as an afterthought–but simply because the voices feel very opposing (Björk’s post-punk sear burns the air even as Hegarty’s elastic vibrato bubbles beneath it).  It’s jazz thrust into an orchestral blossoming, although apparently Brian Chippendale drums on it.  (For the record, Chippendale is entirely wasted on this track, relegated to playing a simplistic rhythm that even I could play.)  The song really takes off around 3:30 or so, when Björk and Hegarty begin to sing each part the same way.