Glee: Someone wants your thinky thoughts

Since this has been showing up in my mailbox and comments for the last 24 hours, I thought I’d spread the word for the interested on this call for submissions for a scholarly anthology related to Glee.

The Fox television series Glee is nothing short of a phenomenon—hit show, sell-out concerts, extensive merchandising, chart-topping hits (eighth in digital sales), and a very passionate fandom. Glee is also simultaneously celebrated and disparaged for its tackling of timely cultural topics, such as bullying, coming out as gay or lesbian, and teen pregnancy. Much of this blurring of praise and derision centers on the program’s representations of gender and sexuality issues, like those previously mentioned.

This collection aims to illustrate how multiple fields of study inform, shape, challenge, and/or complicate gender and sexuality representations on Glee.

The varying types of diversity represented by the characters featured on Glee, as well as the ensemble cast portraying them, provides the opportunity to examine representations of gender and sexuality from multiple perspectives.

Deadline for abstracts is May 15, and the full call can be found at the Lambda Literary site.

8: Realer than real

I’ve been watching the big star-studded benefit performance of 8 in bits and pieces since it was performed and broadcast on the Internet. I’ve been fighting not just against time zones and travel but a series of remarkably spotty Internet connections to do so.

Obviously, the piece is interesting to me for what it is as its core – mostly actual text from the Prop 8 hearings. While the transcripts are accessible to the public, video of the proceedings has not been and really, who reads transcripts like this anyway? Sure, we all know someone who does, but the fact is most of us just don’t.

What’s really interesting to me about 8 – other than that it exists and that the cast of this particular performance involved enough A-listers (among others) to command some serious attention, is the way it straddles the line between fact and fiction, and the way it reminds us, constantly, about both. 8 is relentlessly knowing about its content and the context of the stars who have performed in it.

I also know that it being a staged reading can throw people. Why don’t the actors know their lines better? and Ugh, I can hear them turning pages. I’m by and large no fan of staged readings myself. They’re a useful vehicle for some material and often enjoyable, even if I personally prefer a more immersive experience when I got to the theater.

However, in the case of 8, I love that it’s a staged reading, because it reminds us, at every moment, that these are the words of real people, not characters, that we are hearing, and that the documents exist for us to find life and truth in. It also means that every moment on stage reminds us that this is what we were not allowed to see.

8‘s casting is also fascinating and chilling. I’m only talking about the recent benefit performance in Los Angeles right now, but watching Jane Lynch (who is openly gay) portray, with a truly ferocious anger that’s as frightened as it is frightening, a leader in the anti-equality movement is just about one of the most wrenching and exhausting things I’ve ever seen.

And while it’s humorous in its way, Lynch in such a role is also a sneaky nod to the suspicion that many of us have that at least some vehemently anti-gay individuals may be struggling with their own experience of same-sex attraction and taking it out on the rest of us.

So 8 is a weird animal. It’s largely a preaching to the choir show that tells us nothing we didn’t already know, at least in the abstract. Were there any surprises in Chris Colfer’s performance as Ryan Kendall, a witness in the case who was enrolled in reparative therapy by his family? No. But did I feel shocked and unable to breathe during those two and a half minutes he was on stage anyway? Yes.

On some level, 8 may be a more effective tool than the video of the actual proceedings we’ll never get. Because 8 is not just an act of information, but of protest, and it makes the courtroom environment as vibrant and dramatic as most people expect from TV but quickly learn it rarely is in non-fiction life after an experience or two of jury duty.

8 will go on to have performances with celebrity casts in other cities in all probability, as well as be performed in smaller cities and towns and colleges as an act of information, protest and fundraising, much as The Laramie Project and The Vagina Monologues have been and continue to be. There is also talk of it being turned into a film.

What I’m curious about is what 8 can do beyond preaching to the choir (and raising money). Do you know anyone who has watched it and gone from silent support of equality to activism or contribution? And more than that, have you seen it change anyone’s minds? I’m really curious to know people’s personal experiences with it.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen the Los Angeles performance yet, it is currently available online for the next few days only. I’d urge you to check it out, even if you are already deeply familiar with this case and its issues.

SAG Awards: Chris Colfer and the smartest tuxedo ever

I haven’t written about menswear here since the great customized pinstripe discussion from almost a year ago, but I can’t stop thinking about what a clever choice Vivienne Westwood’s harlequin-evoking tuxedo was for Chris Colfer at the SAG Awards last night (look, the SAG awards are a snoozer, but clothes are fun and since I get to vote in them I do feel faintly obligated to watch).

Aside from the fact that the man knows how to wear a suit and seeing him going a little more daring in that regard was delightful, the more I’ve pondered the various origins of what we think of as the harlequin, the more taken I am with this choice. A trickster, an acrobat, and a being that runs around with a bunch of demons chasing damned souls to hell is some pretty powerful stuff. It’s also some pretty clever and wry stuff when the person sartorially referencing this bit of theatrical history is a young performer and writer who just happens to be gay in what is still a homophobic culture.

Making it all even more delicious is the fact that the Vivienne Westwood suit’s harlequin details only extend from the shoulders to mid-chest, so what we’re looking at isn’t the full garb of the harlequin, but merely the mantle. All clothes are about playing a role, of course, especially clothes worn for the camera at an awards ceremony, but this particular tuxedo, on anyone, is explicitly so.

I haven’t the faintest idea if anyone in Colfer’s camp thought consciously about the motif of the suit, although I imagine all those people are certainly smart enough for it to be a possibility.

Regardless, I can’t stop being tickled by what I read immediately as a playful and intellectual skewering of a weird business and its intersection with an often cowardly culture. Reception is only within an artist’s control to a profoundly limited degree, and I love seeing that celebrated and played with, even if my experience of such is well outside its original intent.

From Stephen King to The Last Seduction: uncomfortable things about pop-culture, gender and desire

Since I first started saying words on the Internet, over 20 years ago (so weird), one of the things I’ve heard over and over again is some version of women write about relationships, but men write about ideas. It made me angry then, and it still makes me angry now, even if I get that it’s kind of absurd. But, as I’ve written more and more about pop-culture, what I really find myself wondering the most often is, what the hell’s the difference?

Because stories are about the relationships people have: to each other, to power, to technology; to the state, to money, to hope, to loss; to their children, their parents, to a spouse; to neighbors, to jobs; to loneliness; and, of course, to the stories themselves.

Since the evening I met one of my more recent friends, I’ve been sort of vaguely promising to write her a blog entry about something we both know and talk about a lot: that both being a fan and being someone who writes about pop-culture can be complete a minefields for girls, whether they are 16 or 46.

As women, she and I often have a lot to prove. Namely, that our lives aren’t some big-word version of drooling over Tiger Beat; that we’re not starfuckers; and that our affection for our fannish interests is complex and mature, as if there is some terrible sin in being a twelve-year-old about some things at some times.

The boys we know in the many arms of this business don’t tend to face those particular conundrums and are not expected to self-monitor in the same way, and so there’s a game we play, early and often, called “What would people think of so-and-so if he were a girl?”

As a rule, we don’t answer those questions once we pose them. It’s too unpleasant. And besides, we both already know.

But, yet, we also know that Stephen King once told us that the best friends we’ll ever have are the ones we had when were were twelve. He’s not wrong, I don’t think; there was an absolute shimmering perfection to the relationship I had with my best friend at that age. So isn’t there some good in being a certain sort of giddy?

Isn’t it sort of absurd that in writing about pop-culture, which is something structured through the lens of commercialized teen desire even when it is not marketed to or as about teens, that one of the biggest insults and risks to the women who write about these sorts of topics with any ambition is that of being dismissed as a girl-child of that particular age?

Sadly, even as I am writing about this topic here, I am not sure I truly know how to do so comprehensively. It feels too nervous-making, too forbidden. As if there is some terrible fate in confessing that yes, I am a woman who writes about relationships, because that is what pop-culture is: stories, their construction, and how we desire entrance into them, whether it’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the train to Hogwarts, a fight to the death amongst children, or a daydream about what it’s like to be a a celebrity or, at least, be seen by one.

They’re all common enough thoughts, but to say them aloud forces acknowledgements that are largely uncomfortable all the way around. When we write about pop-culture we expose desire, wear at privacy, and betray loneliness, in ourselves and others. It’s like when Wendy Kroy in The Last Seduction says “a woman loses 50 percent of her authority when people find out who she’s sleeping with.”

When you’re a woman who writes about pop-culture, about what turns your emotional, intellectual and aesthetic crank, you’re revealing a lot about who you are, what you like, and what you don’t, necessarily, have. The assumptions, because there are always assumptions (as vicious, vicious Wendy Kroy makes clear) tend to flow from there.

Being a woman in the world of entertainment and pop-culture media — or just in the world of fans who have loud opinions and big readerships — can all too easily mean that anything you say positions you as a complainer or a whore, too affectionate and too greedy. It is always different for girls here. When we love things, it is suspect; in the construction of stories the female magician is a witch (or a bitch), while the male one is Chosen; he may pay a price for those rewards, and a steep one, but at least there is an exchange. I mean, you have read Dune, haven’t you? Or Harry Potter?

But at the end of the day, whether it’s too personally revelatory, too suspect, too much about relationship and desire, or too bound up with how people interpret my body, my face and my motives, these are the stories I want to be telling: about how we love fiction, about how we love things we choose to see as truth, and about how we love them both in public and in private — not just through desire, sexuality and fondness, but also through pattern recognition, remembrance, curiosity and, the greatest gift of all storytellers, lies.

Details: a first fandom, a lost world, & discovering that fame has an architecture

In the 1980s, before it was what it is now, Details magazine was a style bible for New York’s downtown party scene, and it covered the social life of night clubs in dozens and dozens of pages of gossip columns about people with funny names most people had never heard of.

My mother read it religiously, sending my father out to check the newsstands for it regularly. We lived uptown, but my parents had owned an art gallery once and my mother had worn Norma Kamali before anyone had ever heard of her. And so, instead of Vogue, this was what was in our house, and as my mother read it, so did I.

I loved it. I loved its gorgeous over-saturated black and white photos, and the hint of danger and fantasia there was in scurrilous stories about people with names like Kenny Kenny and James St. James and Magenta. I was ten-, twelve-, fourteen-years-old, and I wanted to be a club kid too.

I wasn’t, not really, not ever, but it was New York in the 80s and people my age often got to do things it never should have been reasonable for us to do. I went to Area, to MARS, to the Limelight and Tunnel, the Palladium before it was an NYU dorm; I remember squirming out of the grasp of some 25-year-old med student in the bathrooms at MARS late one night when I was 13; he’d grabbed my wrist and tried to get me to touch his dick, and I ran back out into the crowd and then danced until dawn.

But mostly… mostly I just read Details in my parents’ living room, my mother insisting I just liked it for the clothes, and my father approving because it was so beautifully art directed.

After my junior year in high school, I decided I didn’t want to be in school anymore. Freshman year had been spent at the private school that had dwindled down to a class of eight, and I’d been at Stuyvesant for the following two years.

A selective, hard-to-get into public school focused on science education, Stuy had an intense party culture that overlapped with the world of Details more than any of our parents would have liked. But I was bored, felt at sea in the circle of friends I had managed to develop, and had humiliated myself epically over a boy, and I wanted out.

So I applied to an internship program through another high school. Once accepted, it meant I would work full time and write essays about the experience and then graduate, on-time, with my Stuyvesant class, without having to deal with actually being in school. It seemed perfect.

And so, I set out to become who I had always wanted to be, alternately laying on my living room floor and dancing (when I could find an excuse to be out) alone in clubs, and I called up Details magazine, and said, “I want to work for you.”

Somehow, I secured an interview. I wore this gorgeous suit I had — brown, high-waisted sailor pants with a cropped, black, asymmetrical jacket with bronze buttons. I put a flower in my lapel and geta on my feet and decided I was Oscar Wilde as I took myself off to that interview. I was 16.

And it went well! It really did. It was everything I’d ever wanted, although, to appease my parents and my internship coordinator, I also talked to the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, for which I did a ton of volunteer work in high school and college (that, by the way, is its own set of amazing and bizarre stories), as a backup plan.

And then I heard nothing.

Nothing and nothing and nothing.

And my parents said, “Well, you know, they are all gay boys over there, they probably don’t like you because you are a girl.”

“No,” I said. “It’s not like that. Same tribe. I wore the best outfit.”

Late the next night our phone rang, and I, against house rules (we screened all our calls because of the harassment and prank phone calls I would receive from peers), answered it. It was the man I had interviewed with.

Details was being sold to Conde Nast. I couldn’t tell anyone. It wasn’t public yet. He thought they all might be fired any day. He certainly couldn’t bring me into the middle of that.

And then we talked. For thirty minutes, me on the plastic Garfield phone my parents had bought me for my 13th birthday, sitting on the floor of my room in the dark, as this stranger told me to be beautiful and fabulous and fierce and just as sharp as I clearly was, and to remember that in the homes outcasts make for themselves it’s normal to still feel like an outcast.

Details announced its sale a few days later, and continued as what it had been, briefly. Eventually it was moved to Conde Nast’s Fairchild unit and publication was ceased, before it was relaunched as what it is today: a men’s magazine that anticipated the metrosexual craze and created itself by gutting its original content that was queer in both senses of the word and also ridiculously provincial to this one small corner of my beautiful New York.

I wound up working for the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation for a woman who is younger than I am now, who once sent out a letter to 400 people that accidentally listed her title as “Director of Pubic Relations” (lesson: why spellcheck is not enough). She took me under her wing and showed and told me things about adult life she probably shouldn’t have, and, while grateful, in retrospect I am also embarrassed for us both.

Snippets of what Details once was can be found with some effort on the Internet. WFMU managed to preserve this random sample album of behind-the-scenes celebrity wackiness. The stunning photography of its Hidden Identities series also, thankfully, still exists. And, if you search hard enough, some of the old cover images and table of contents can also be found.

All in all, it was a lovely dream that it was probably for the best that I never achieved in any particularly concrete way. I got into quite enough trouble as a teenager in New York without ever being able to say I worked at Details. But in many ways, Details was my first fandom, my first keen media interest, the first time I sat down and said, “Fame is this constructed thing, how is it made? and what is it about beyond the things it claims to be about?”

From time to time, that magazine and the world it covered pops back to mind for me: like when the Michael Alig murder case happened (a story later made into the film Party Animal) or when the Limelight got turned into a high-end mall. I hate that it is a lost world, a queer one, that was erased by mainstream culture, but I also recognize that it met its end in poetic fashion, as narrative in the mists, and that’s satisfying, not only to who I am today, but to who I was at 16 sitting in the dark of my bedroom, listening to a journalist who, scared about his job, for thirty minutes treated some kid he didn’t know as if she was his friend.

This bit of history no one really cares about anymore brought to you by members of one of my current fandoms cooing over an article in Details as it is today.

But, oh, the things it once was.