Thoughts on the Mass Killing in Newtown, CT: A Rant in 11 Tweets

This is a series of posts I made on Twitter following the shooting in Newtown, CT yesterday. I could flesh them out, but I like them as is, sketchy and  impressionistic as they are. Edited simply to correct two typos and expand abbreviations.

For a Gun Control

Most of the responses to today’s mass shootings, from people I mostly respect, boil down to 1) gun control! 2) crazy people! 3) evil!

Some things I haven’t seen get much attention as factors in today’s killing: 1) masculinity, 2) poverty, 3) individualism, 4) market economics.

Masculinity 1: There’s a reason most mass killers are male. We value men who are visibly powerful and use violence to solve problems.

Masculinity 2: Build your identity around self-reliance, providing, and mastery of violence, and when something’s taken away, boom!

Individualism: We have become a nation where needing help is seen as weakness and dependency and offering help is an affront.

Poverty: There are very few resources for people who need help, and fewer still for identifying those in need: financial, mental, emotional, etc.

Market economics: The market provides, where there’s profit. Much greater motive to provide tools for violence than provide help.

Gun control is probably not the answer to this kind of tragedy, though it might make a dent in the ~10k US gun deaths annually.

Greater mental health resources are obviously needed, but not all mass killers are demonstrably crazy. Killing is often the only sign.

Not all mass killers are evil, either (except by tautology). Killing is a casual part of daily life in our society (e.g. industry, military).

In the end, mass killings are product of a society willing to trade tragedy for low taxes, the illusion of independence, and traditional gender roles.

Things I’ve Learned at BurlyCon 2011 (Final Edition)

[UPDATE: I cut a section which I want to post more in-depth on later. Miss Astrid’s “State of Neo-Burlesque” raised some really important points bit I’m not sure I’m the right person to address them.]

Back home today after an intense, amazing, mind-expanding, soul-filling, heart-warming long weekend at BurlyCon 2011 in Seattle, and boy is my mind racing!  The first two days were great, but Saturday and Sunday were simply magical. I’ve had so many amazing conversations with so many amazing people, I can hardly make sense of it all.

But I’ll try.

1) Despite Neo-Burlesque’s feminist, all-sizes-welcome ideology, big-bodied burlesquers don’t always feel the love from their smaller sisters. They get booked as “token” plus-size performers — a fact brought home when the only two in a show find themselves performing back-to-back, over and over and over. They have to listen to thinner sisters express their own insecurities and body issues in phrases like “uck, I feel so fat today”. They don’t get booked as often as thinner dancers. And people feel licensed to talk about their bodies much more than they do with slimmer women. So here’s the deal: y’all gotta get some self-awareness up in ya. Pay attention to what you say, how you act, and who you book. Because big gals enrich this community. Anyone who witnessed Rubenesque Burlesque’s off-the-hook performance during peer review can attest to that.
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Things I’ve Learned at BurlyCon 2011 (Half-Time Edition)

For the past two days I’ve been attending BurlyCon 2011 in Seattle. BurlyCon is a non-performance burlesque invention, meaning that unlike most burlesque gatherings where the foocus is on stage performances, burlesque dancers gather here to take classes, socialize, and get feedback from their peers on troublesome routines.

Two days in and with two days left, I thought I’d share some quick observations.

1) In a culture that fetishizes youth, burlesque’s openness to older women provides powerful role models on aging gracefully or, as Jo Weldon put it, “DIS-gracefully”.

2) White people can still be horribly insensitive to performers of color. Fellow whiteys: urging a black performer to do a jungle girl act or a Josephine Baker act or anything else simply because she’s black is not ok. A routine should emerge from the totality of a dancer’s experience, not from the incidental fact of her skin color.

3) There is a higher percentage by linear foot of beautiful red hair in the Sea-Tac Doubletree right now than in any other population on Earth.

4) Well-intentioned feedback can be the greatest gift a performer can give another performer. It can also be terrifying. The peer review process here, where selected performers do their routine, then sit silently while a dozen or so peers comment, is almost perfect at emphasizing the gift and downplaying the terror.

5) I already knew this but it has come back to me in a million different ways the last two days: sexy is a state of mind, not of physical appearance.

That’s it for now – gotta focus on the next two days now!

Artist, speak up

David Wojnarowicz

Image via Wikipedia

In a recent post, I explained that artists have no particular insight into what their work means — and in fact are often profoundly mistaken — and so we should stop asking them so often to explain the meaning of their work. Though seemingly directed at artists, that post wasn’t about artists at all — it was about the rest of us and our unwillingness to take interpretive risks, our profoundly undemocratic desire to rest secure in the shadow of authority.

Talking about the meaning of your work as an artist is demeaning — it reduces the artist by forcing him or her to reduce the possibility of meaning in their work. But that doesn’t mean artists shouldn’t speak out, and speak loudly. There are lots of things artists should and even must speak about — the meaning of their work just isn’t one of them.

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Artist, hush

If you’re around me for any length of time, sooner or later you’ll hear me declare that artists should never talk about their work. This may seem a little ironic in an art world where artists are expected to produce an artist’s statement before they are even considered for a gallery show, when artist’s talks are the best way to draw an audience to a show, when visiting artist lectures are a mainstay of the fine arts curriculum, and where much of the appeal of the art world is the chance to meet and talk with artists about their work. But it’s true.

All of which does a great disservice to the art audience, the artists, and to art itself.  [Continue reading] »

Dear Companies: Stop Doing That!


Image by misteraitch via Flickr

Sometimes I get fed up. It seems like every day companies are acting more and more cavalier with my time and attention, wasting an ever-increasing part of my day to accomplish absolutely nothing.

Last night I reached into my mailbox to find a plain white envelope, probably five inches by eight, no logo, no return address, just an expanse of white with my address slightly off-center. Out of the mailbox and whoosh! straight into the trash. I know what it was — a Cox cable ad. The third one I’ve gotten in the last week or so, packaged exactly the same, ostensibly so I wouldn’t know it was a Cox cable ad. Even Cox knows I don’t want to see a Cox cable ad.

The thing is, I already get Cox cable — it’s provided by my HOA. Which is nice, it means my TiVO can record The Daily Show and the occasional movie on TCM. So I’m not going to pay again for service I already get. Meanwhile, Cox is spending what, a buck or two a month, sometimes more, to send me mailings that will never entice me to buy. If I wanted cable, of course I’d call them — who else is there?

Anyway, it got me thinking about the myriad ways companies waste my time, and the money they spend to earn my ill will. Here then, in no particular order, is a list of 10 things companies just shouldn’t do. [Continue reading] »

Anti-Anti-Women’s Studies (An Open Letter to Jan Oller)

Feminism ephemera

Image by cathredfern via Flickr

My former colleague in Women’s Studies, Jan Oller, write an op-ed piece in a local alternative weekly attacking WMST as a discipline and supporting recent budgetary decisions to terminate the program. Since I don’t have a current email address for him, I’ve decided to post my response here as an open letter. I hope he sees it!



I don’t say this very often, but after publishing your anti-WMST piece in this week’s Citylife, you oughtta be ashamed of yourself. First for very personal reasons: you’re trying to take jobs away from nearly two dozen people, many of whom you know and were, at one time, friends with. Let that sink in a bit before we move on to more substantial issues. Next time you see me, I want you to look me in the eye and tell me why you issued me a great big “fuck you” in the pages of the Las Vegas Citylife.

The more pressing issue here is how profoundly and painfully dishonest your piece is. You’ve done, in fact, the exact thing that both you and I have spent so many years trying to help students learn not to do: to abstract and generalize about a group as a whole from the behavior of a limited number of persons at very specific moments. In a department of roughly 20 people, there is one hardcore immigration rights advocate and one hardcore prostitution rights advocate, both of whose activism flows directly from their own research. [Continue reading] »

Teaching WMST While Male


Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I was asked by Laurenn McCubbin, the curator of the show Feminist/Las Vegas which opened at the Barrick Museum last night, to write a presentation for the opening reception of the exhibition. The show is intended as a reaction to the casual sexism that is the bread-and-butter of Vegas tourism and nightlife. Since my interaction as a feminist with Las Vegas occurs first and foremost in the classroom, I decided to write about being a male Women’s Studies professor, and how that effects both my students perceptions of me and the rest of my day-to-day life. This, then, minus any on-the-fly edits I might have made in the performance, is what I ended up saying.

I hear a gasp behind me as I step through the cluster of waiting students and unlock the classroom door. Up until just that moment, I was just some guy, another student maybe, or some other professor. But when I step up to the door and swipe my key card, it comes clear: I’m the professor. The Women’s Studies professor.

The dude Women’s Studies professor.  [Continue reading] »

New Prices for “Don’t Be Stupid”

I’ve lowered prices for both paperback and e-book copies of my book Don’t Be Stupid: A Guide to Learning, Studying, and Succeeding at College!

Paperback copies are not only $14.00 US (previously $17.00) and the PDF version is now only $10.00 US (previously $14.00). A version formatted specifically for Kindle is also available for $9.99 from Amazon.


Discovering the Male Gaze

Cover Girl (film)

Image via Wikipedia

One of my former students sent me a link to an article he’d come across recently called “Worthless Women and the Men Who Make Them”. The post, written on a “daddy blog” called Single Dad Laughing is a few months old and, judging from the over 1800 comments, almost all hyperbolically positive, spoke to a lot of people, men and women. The author, Dan Pearce, argues that the biggest force keeping women down and making them feel bad about themselves is the unreasonable expectations men place on women about their bodies and appearance, expectations that women can never live up to leading to feelings of worthlessness. Having made his case, Pearce calls on men to change the way we look at women, to celebrate women for their individual beauty rather than for their conformity to an impossible, marketing-driven ideal. And he calls on women to help us out.

Which is where it all goes terribly wrong.

But hold that thought for a minute and let’s talk about the central argument about the way men look at women. Basically, Pearce has discovered the male gaze. A key aspect of feminist theory, the male gaze reflects the way that male power is brought to bear on women through the disciplining of the female body. Essentially, men look and women are looked at – and so it behooves women to be what men want to look at, since that gives them some modicum of power in a male-dominated world.  [Continue reading] »