Monthly Archives: March 2013

Which came first, the bunny or the egg?

Which came first, the bunny or the egg? It is a question which has baffled philosophers1 since the dawn of time4.

The real question is: which came first, the quaint custom surrounding a particular commemoration or the highly unlikely5 explanation of its origin which insists said tradition is far more ancient than it could reasonably be? Which may seem a silly question, because obviously the post-dated fantastical explanation of a custom or tradition wouldn’t have any need to be concocted until after the custom or tradition had come into existence, right9?

I don’t have a good answer, other than to say there is no such thing as too many excuses to indulge in chocolate22.

1. Or at least preschoolers2.

2. And smart-ass bloggers3.

3. Who, maturity-wise, often lag far behind the average preschool child.

4. Or, at least since the 19th Century, which is when the first contemporaneous reports of giving children decorated eggs at Easter are found, as well as the invention of the first “Easter Card” when one publisher first offered for sale stationary pre-printed with a drawing of a bunny and an Easter greeting.

5. Don’t get me started on just how ludicrous the various Ishtar/Mithra/Ēostre6 explanations are.

6. Bede’s Latin was superb and he is generally considered a good historical source, don’t get me wrong, but he wrote De temporum ratione with at least two political agendas in mind: a) the unification of the various ethnic groups of Britain into one nation7, and b) his animosity to the British method of calculating the date of Easter8.

7. Which was far from a foregone conclusion in the year 725 AD when Bede wrote that treatise.

8. A controversy which has divided the church for much of its history. Just last night our waitress, who was raised in the Eastern Orthodox Church, was commenting on the fact that her relatives back home aren’t celebrating Easter until May 5, as the resolution adopted at the Summit of Alepo, Syria by the World Council of Churches in 1997 has still not been put into effect.

9. Trying to inject logic into a discussion like this is clearly a fool’s errand10.

10. Mind you, as foolish as it may be, it can also be a lot of fun. Not unlike the debate about whether Jesus was a Zombie or a Lich which my husband interrupted my writing to give me a play-by-play of11.

11. At the time, the Lich partisans were deeply engaged in a discussion of what object functioned as his phylactery1216

12. The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons form of a horcrux13.

13. The Harry Potter-verse version of a muo-ping14.

14. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer-verse version of a soul jar15

15. A container or object which holds all or part of a person’s soul (or life, or heart) outside of their body, thus makes that person immortal and/or invulnerable so long as the Soul Jar remains intact.

16. The leading candidates being the Cross itself, the chalice that caught his blood, or the enchanted bread17 he fed his disciples at the Last Supper. All of which are, of course, incorrect20.

17. Which had spawned a mini debate about whether that meant that each of the 12 disciples as a Soul Container, or was the bread enchanted somehow to be indigestible21.

18. In which case, is the real reason Judas hung himself19 to try to thwart Jesus’ revivification?

19. Assuming you believe he did hang himself. Or was it murder?

20. Because obviously the place he hid his soul was the Keys that he gave to Peter. Why else has the elaborate system of selecting who gets to hold those keys evolved into the bizarre ritual of the Conclave of Cardinals that gather to select a new Pope?

21. Which leads to gross implications that I do not want to contemplate!

22. Make mine dark, please!

Oppression Olympics

As a gay person, I am aware of (and have experienced) a certain amount of discrimination. In many situations I have been in a category that could be described as “second class citizen.”

As a white male, I am aware of the privilege that society confers on some people just because of outward appearances and how easy it is for us to not even notice it is happening. I have no doubt that I have found doors open to me that weren’t to others because I happen to be pale and male.

It is very easy, while discussing any issue involving rights, discrimination, and related topics to fall into an unproductive cycle of arguing with each other about who does and doesn’t benefit from various areas of privilege and which among them is “truly able” to understand the oppression of others. This form of circular firing squad is sometimes referred to as the “Oppression Olympics.” Arguing over who is the most oppressed, or just trying to explain that one is properly aware of the oppression of others, wastes an incredible amount of time and energy.

Because two cases involving one aspect of non-heterosexual rights were before the Supreme Court this week, and because people determined to deny certain rights to those non-heterosexuals have staged marches and rallies in the nation’s capital in response to those cases, every news outlet has been covering the cases, the rallies, and so on. Every organization involved in the battle for or against non-heterosexual rights is posting videos, news releases, and so on. Everyone of us who follows this thing are linking to those stories, videos, and other postings—including me.

I understand it can get a bit tiring for people who are not invested in the story du jour. I do.

So a bunch of people were linking to a particular tumblr post this week whose purpose was to make sure the debate about equality doesn’t just devolve to marriage equality. This is a noble goal that I support, but one of the points made on the post epitomizes a major flaw in this ongoing internal debate:

examine what marriage as an institution has historically looked like. marriage isn’t even good for most white folks if they don’t fit into a heteronormative, able-bodied supremacist, upper-ruling-class, nuclear family frame

This is a nod to the argument that some people make that marriage is bad because it’s only useful to people who what to mimic or pass as straights, or only useful to people who are not racial minorities, et cetera.

There is more than one argument going on in this, some of them contradictory. Let’s tackle a couple of them:

One of the implicit points in this boils down to: “your proposal [marriage equality] does not solve this host of other problems, so we should not pursue it.” This is the equivalent of the FDA saying, “Your new antibiotic doesn’t cure cancer, Parkinson’s disease, or celiac disease—it only treats infections by some bacteria that have grown resistant to other antibiotics—therefore we cannot approve your drug.” Marriage equality removes only one barrier to a host of legal rights in our system, and it’s true that there are a lot of rights that aren’t effected, and it’s true that there are a lot of people who still can’t get at those rights or have no interest in those rights, but that doesn’t mean that that particular barrier should remain in place.

The more obvious part of the argument, “what marriage as an institution has historically looked like” is even more ridiculous. This argument is virtually the same false argument the anti-gay people make: cherry-picking some aspects of the historical and religious meanings of marriage, and insisting that any discussion of civil marriage is exactly the same thing. The anti-gay people argue that allowing same-sex partners to access the legal rights associated with civil marriage will somehow magically destroy the sacred power of the religious meaning of marriage. These non-anti-gay folks argue that allowing same-sex partners to access the legal rights associated with civil marriage will somehow magically force all the nasty bad aspects of the historical meaning of marriage onto people who don’t want it. Neither is true. Because we are not talking about going back in time, and we are not talking about any religion’s sacred vision of marriage. We’re talking about civil marriage, which is the legal recognition of a decision citizens make as to who counts as their legal next-of-kin, and a collection of legal rights and responsibilities that go along with that designation.

The entire “it’s not even good for” argument is based upon this historical aspect, rather than on the actual practice or laws of marriage today. To return to my FDA analogy, claiming that marriage is only of interest to “able-bodied supremacist, upper-ruling-class” people is the same as someone saying, “I oppose the use and development of antibiotics because the medieval practice of bleeding proves that all medicine is harmful.” The folks who spout this argument about marriage are the anti-vaxxers of the civil rights movement.

Another argument implied in there is the notion that too much energy is going to the marriage equality fight when there are other, more important problems we could be solving. The “more important” argument has been used forever to thwart civil rights progress. It has probably been the most common argument thrown in the face of feminists for decades. There will always be something someone thinks is more important, but that’s not sufficient reason to halt all pursuit of this. Besides, many of those more important, more complicated issues will be slightly easier to tackle after achieving victory here. After each incremental improvement, society at large has to get used to the new normal. Once used to one change without the collapse of society, it is easier to see the ridiculousness of other forms of discrimination. It’s like each improvement lowers all the other hurdles a fraction of an inch.

I’ve ranted plenty about the frustrations of an incremental approach. But I also recognize that every now and then, when enough of the little improvements have accumulated, a kind of tipping point is reached, and society is ready to take a much bigger leap. I’d love to have the leaps happen more rapidly. That isn’t going to happen if we don’t take the baby steps when we can get them.

There are reasons that the first couple in line to get a marriage certificate when Washington, D.C. recognized marriage equality was a pair of working class African-american women. They were not trying to transform into white heterosexual elitists. They want the legal protections (hospital visitation rights, medical decisions on behalf of partner, housing lease transfer, all the rights with joint parenting, sick leave for care of partner, bereavement leave, wrongful death benefits, et cetera) that come with marriage. Yes, it’s about choosing who to share your life with, but it’s also about the law respecting that decision.

Occasionally someone does the math to calculate what it would cost a gay couple to have drawn up and properly registered the legal documents—power of attorney, durable power of attorney (which is not the same thing), property deed with right of survivorship, wills, and so on—to grant the fraction of those rights that the law allows for someone other than the spouse. The last one I saw was $15,000. And that is for only some of the rights that come with marriage! Compare that to the $64 Michael and I paid for our marriage license, and it becomes crystal clear that marriage equality is not an upper-ruling class supremacy issue. In fact, it is the opposite. Not fighting for marriage equality is pro upper-ruling class supremacy.

So while, yes, there are people in the lgbt community who aren’t in favor of marriage equality, they are no less wrong to do so than the screaming Bible-thumpers.

But enough of this serious talk! I’d much rather listen to Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart break the marriage equality debate down, wouldn’t you?

Music, part two

There’s enough heavy, serious stuff going on in the world that I wanted to keep track of, that I have been listening to less music than usual, lately. So I thought rather than ranting more about marriage equality or any other news of the world, that I should share some music.

This is part of a project to create mixtapes covering forty years of music (1972-2012). The final project will not just include remixes of songs from the varies eras, but other sound clips. Whether you are interested in a big project like that or not, this remix of Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al” is fun:

I was looking for another song, entirely, but happened across this interesting cello number that I couldn’t stop listening to:

And this one is fun:

This is just fun (even if they won’t let me embed it):

And finally, no music post this week could be complete without Black Simon & Garfunkel:

Skewed polls and secret money

A few days after election night, when the leader of one of the local anti-gay groups conceded that voters had approved marriage equality, he groused about how the pro-gay groups had outspent them three-to-one. Just a week earlier he had been insisting that the polls which were all predicting passage of the referendum were skewed. “People are reluctant to say what they really feel to a pollster, because the pro-sodomy side has tricked the media into calling support of traditional marriage as bigotry. But when those voters are in the privacy of the voting booth, they will vote their true feelings.”

They did vote their true feelings. Fortunately for those of us who believe in equality, they had also been telling their true feelings to the pollsters. Surprise, surprise!

Sadly, I believe it was a complete surprise to the opposers. It shouldn’t have been. They had other evidence, and it was right there in that hypocritical comment he made about spending. It was hypocritical because it had only been four years before, during the Proposition 8 campaign in California that the anti-gay side had been doing the outspending. And for years before that, each ballot measure that came up in any state related to marriage equality or civil unions, it was the anti-gay side that always seemed to have the money advantage.

This time around, in Washington, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota, the forces of hate came up short both in the ballot box and fundraising. And it wasn’t simply a matter that suddenly our side was better at raising money. No, the big story is that they have, in just the last few years, experienced a serious drop in donations.

It isn’t just the amount of money. What’s more significant is the number of donors. The national organizations have been very secretive about their funding. They have refused, again and again, to reveal their donor lists, even when they appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost, they have tried to keep that secret. Eventually, some details are beginning to emerge:

Each year, according to [the National Organization for Marriage]’s tax filings, two or three donors give NOM between $1 million and $3.5 million apiece; another two or three give between $100,000 and $750,000; and 10 or so others give between $5,000 and $95,000. In 2009 the top five donors made up three fourths of NOM’s budget; in 2010 the top two donors gave two thirds of the year’s total donations; and in 2011 the top two donors gave three fourths of NOM’s total income. But those funders’ identities are a mystery. Their names are redacted on NOM’s federal tax returns.

My emphasis added. Whoever those mysterious top two donors are, their donations have became a larger and larger proportion of the pot, as the thousands who gave less than $5000 dollars a year have dwindled to hundreds.

Statistics tell us the the most vehement opposition comes from the oldest voters, so a percentage of that drop off represents to reality of demographics. As elderly opposers die off, without a compensating proportion of supporters coming up in younger generations, some of that is just inevitable. But the drop off in support to the anti-gay cause in the last three or four years is far in excess of what could be accounted for by mere demographics.

People are changing their minds.

There will always be a hardcore group opposed to equal rights for gay, lesbian, bi, and trans people. Just a couple weeks ago at the big conservative conference a guy stood up and argued in favor of slavery because he believed it was a self-evident truth that whites were superior to blacks. He wasn’t an invited speaker, and to their credit, panelists and audience members challenged him on it, but during the ensuing back and forth he also made a comment to the effect the women shouldn’t have the right to speak up in public, either. So, just like that unrepentant racist and misogynist, there will always be homophobes among us.

But as more of the moderates and non-hateful conservatives come around, that view will be limited to the lunatic fringe where it belongs.

In the months since the vote in Washington, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota went our way, the opposers’ spokespeople have gone from saying that they were outspent 3-to-1 (which turned out to be a small exaggeration in our state) to claiming they were outspent 4-to-1, then 5-to-1… the last quote I read was “more than 7-to-1.” I believe their exaggerations get worse due to desperation. They hope that skewing their claim of victimhood will prompt more people to donate more money, which they think can turn the tide.

What they don’t understand is that the only skewed “polls” were their own. They fell into the common trap of thinking that because most of the people they know and like agree with them, that it absolutely must be the case the most people, period, do so. They think that since they still manage to raise a lot of money that there is still a lot of support, ignoring the fact that it’s a smaller and smaller number of people sending in the money. Because they are convinced of the truth of their cause, they believe that the only reasons polls and voting can be going against them is some kind of chicanery. They think that calling us pedophiles, comparing our relationships to bestiality or incest is “civil discourse,” but if we call them bigots we’re being bullies.

Most of all, many of them believe all the lies and distortions that they tell about us. Lies that other people can no longer believe once they get to know us:

Skipping the convention

This will be the first time in 26 years that I have not attended NorWesCon (the Northwest Science Fiction Convention). Technically, the first one1 I actually attended was not NorWesCon, but was called Alternacon (the notorious NorWesCon IX2 having had so many disasters3 that the hotel canceled the next year’s contract, forcing the con into a smaller hotel, and a limited membership.

I’ve been to every one since. a couple of them I only attended for a day or a part of a day6.

Seventeen years ago at a NorWesCon I met Michael7. We didn’t see each other again until the next NorWesCon. It was a couple months after that that we started hanging out, and nine months after that before we went on our first official date. The next NorWesCon after that was the first we shared a room, and we’ve been to all of them since.

So while I think of the anniversary of our first date as our official anniversary8, he always considered NorWesCon as our anniversary9.

All of which leads to why I’m feeling a bit odd and sentimental about skipping NorWesCon this year. There are a few reasons—most of them just personal timing things, though also we haven’t really enjoyed ourselves as much as we used to the last couple of years. Certainly we both had a lot more fun at EverfreeNW last year.

Maybe we just need to take a year off.

I was shocked to realized today that the convention is this next weekend. Just a few days away10.

This also means that this is the first time in many, many years that we will be home for Easter. I should probably make some plans for that.

Of course, it is the first time that this particular anniversary has not happened while we were at a convention. Maybe we should just celebrate by ourselves…


1. I had been wanting to attend the con for a few years before that, having several friends who regularly attended. It sometimes feels as if I vicariously attended a few earlier than my first.

2. When NorWesCon IX rolled around I was attending college nearby, but I couldn’t afford to chip in on a hotel room and so forth. The con happened during Spring Break, so I was back at my Mom’s (after spending a few days with friends caravanning down; it was a strange week). When we arrived at Mom’s place, she barely let us get unloaded before she and my step-dad were loading us in the car and dragged us to a nearby Community College. They wouldn’t say why, just that it was a surprise. The Guest of Honor at NorWesCon that year was Anne McAffrey, and she had flown into Portland to visit friends before going up to Seatac for the convention. And she was doing a reading and book signing that night. So I got to see the Guest of Honor that year, in addition to hearing about all the experiences of my friends who attended the con.

3. In addition to the stories from my friends attending, and people I’ve since met who attended or were staff for that convention, I also got to hear about the con from a classmate who, at the time he was telling me about it, didn’t realize I was one of those “freaks.” He was a fundamentalist, and his wife worked in the management office at the hotel. She was also a fundamentalist, as were many of the employees there, because the Assistant Manager was a member of a very large nearby church, and had heavily recruited among the congregation for his hiring. When the Assistant Manager saw some of the costumes and pagan imagery on t-shirts and such early in the con, he had become convinced that the attendees were all Satanists (not to mention all those godless atheist science types, et cetera), and had instructed the employees who he trusted to go out of their way to document any bad incident that happened, because he was determined that those sinful freaks would never come back to their hotel.

The organizers of the convention were unaware of this. They were too busy dealing with about a thousand more attendees than their wildest dreams had expected, and they were woefully understaffed to deal with them. The physical layout of the hotel (it’s really a complex of several buildings interconnected with enclosed walkways, rather than one building), made patrolling difficult for con security4.

A bunch of bad things happened, such as damage to the rooms, people sleeping in the hallways, drunk people making a lot of noise very late at night, et cetera.

4. There are always some people attending any type of convention5 who do stupid and/or very inappropriate things. Sometimes it’s just being thoughtless. Sometimes it’s because they’re drinking. Sometimes it’s just because they are in their late teens and this is the first time they’ve been that far from parental supervision.

5. I can tell you stories from a high school journalism conference that will make your toes curl. And equally disturbing ones from a Bible conference I once attended.

6. While I was going through my divorce, a friend who had been through a few more serious breakups than I had advised that sometimes it best to let your ex “have custody” of fandom for a while, so that mutual acquaintances don’t feel awkward, if nothing else. So for at least two years I only made those brief appearances, rather than attending for the entire convention.

7. We have different recollections of where we met. I remember meeting him at a room party on the Saturday afternoon. He remembers meeting me at a specific panel on Friday morning. I remember participating in the panel, I just didn’t recall him being one of the other people there.

8. I can never remember the date of our commitment ceremony. For one thing, it was extremely informal. If you insist, I can go dig around in the filing cabinet and find our paperwork.

9. Of course, now that we’re officially married, rather than domestic partnered, I suppose our official anniversary should be December 9. Or maybe we should just celebrate all three.

10. Which means that a whole bunch of our friends will all be gone this weekend.

Forgotten or Unknown?

Our collective memory can be frightfully shallow.

Take, for instance, an on-line discussion I was in recently where there were people who weren’t aware that not that many years ago it was illegal to be gay. By which I don’t just mean that the notion of gay marriage didn’t exist, but that if the authorities found out you were gay, they could send you to prison. I had to tell them of an acquaintance who had been arrested for indecency back in 1970 for kissing his boyfriend in the wrong neighborhood. That meant that he didn’t just have a criminal record, but a sexual offense (albeit a misdemeanor).

Note that he was not arrested for rape, attempted rape, or anything like that. Chris was 21 years old, his boyfriend was 24, they were consenting adults who had just left a gay bar together. It was late at night, and they were making out in the boyfriend’s car near Chris’s dorm at the University of Washington. Yes, they were here in a city with a reputation as being ultra liberal. But they were two men kissing, and that was something society could not abide in 1970!

If I recall correctly, Chris said his boyfriend lost his job because of the arrest, and had a difficult time finding a new one. Chris didn’t begin to run into problems getting hired himself until a few years later, after he graduated and started looking for more substantial jobs than the starving-student-type of employment he’d had before.

He wound up working as a hair stylist, saved up his pennies, and eventually opened his own shop. It hadn’t been what he’d meant his career to be, but he made do.

Contrast that with something I witnessed during my own college days (some years later): one of my dormmates convinced a bunch of us to go with him one night to a park that was near the school. I have completely forgotten what the purpose of the excursion was, now, but we got a bit lost and stumbled upon a guy and a gal who were having sex under a tree.

It was long after dark, they were off of any paths, behind some bushes, and they were clearly trying not to be seen or heard.

We hurried away before the angry guy could do more than yell at us.

Not much further, we encountered a cop, who stopped us and asked us what we were doing in the park after dark. There was a point where I thought we were all going to be showing him our student IDs or something, but something one of the guys said made the cop grin and ask us if we had run into anyone doing something they oughtn’t. And then he made a reference to the size of the girl’s breasts.

It was clear he had seen them, as well, but had decided not to do anything about it. I think he implied that he had been sent to the park because of complaints about such activity, and he thought it was a waste of time, since no one was being hurt.

I suspect the cops reaction would have been very different if it had been two guys.

I’ve been running into a lot of people, when discussing issues such as marriage equality, the Violence Against Women Act, or wage disparity, who are completely unaware of just how recently things that they currently think of as mere fruatrations were either mandated or at least aided and abetted by the law.

For instance, up until the mid 70s, a married women did not have a legal right to withhold sex from her husband. Even if they were living separated, in the midst of divorce proceedings, and he had been witnessed physically abusing her many times, if he forced her to have sex she couldn’t get him convicted of rape. Heck, most of the time she couldn’t get him charged. Finally, a woman who had attempted to get the rape included in the assault charges against her husband (ex-husband by the time it went to trial), managed to appeal the decision not to include the charges up to a federal judge who agreed: if she says “no,” it’s rape.

That didn’t cause a sudden change in the law or practice in this regard, but it was the very first recognition that in the U.S. legal system that a wife’s body wasn’t literally and entirely the property of her husband to do with as he pleased. And that only happened a mere 36 years ago.

There are still laws on the books related to that notion. My favorite are the “alienation of affection” laws. If you look up the topic online now, all you will find are articles that refer to the versions of the laws as they have been altered in response to legal challenges. So wikipedia, for example, says that the laws allow a spouse to file a lawsuit against a third party alleged to be responsible for the failure of the marriage.

The original laws allowed only the husband to file a lawsuit against another person for “malicious conduct that contributed to or caused the loss of affection.” The most common malicious conduct was, of course, seducing her into having an affair. For a long time a wife could not file a similar lawsuit against someone she believed she could prove had acted to alienate her husband’s affections. In the last several decades, most of these laws that have remained on the books have been revised to be gender-neutral, which I suppose is an improvement.

The problem is that while the original justification of the laws was assumption that a wife’s body (and affection, et cetera) were the property of the husband and he could expect the legal system to protect his property rights, the gender-neutral versions still assume a property rights relationship. If you need the law the force your partner to love you, that is not love. Okay, successful lawsuits under these laws don’t end up with orders to anyone to go back to loving their spouse, but when the law is able to inflict punishment because someone has fallen out of love, the principle is the same.

There’s going to be a lot of talk on the news and around the web this week where people are emphatically insisting the marriage has been an unchanging institution for all of human history, and that’s pure nonsense. In the last five decades alone in this country we have redefined marriage in several ways:

  • so that it includes interracial couples,
  • so that it includes persons previously considered less than full citizens because of certain mental and medical conditions,
  • so that even prisoners on death row must be allowed into the institution if they want, and,
  • so that a wife’s body is not treated as the legal property of her husband.

Over the course of five decades before that we have legally redefined it so that a couple who have realized the marriage was a mistake could end it without having to prove that one spouse was abusive, or go through other legal hoops to satisfy society that the marriage was over.

In the century before that we have legally redefined it so that people didn’t have to get the approval of a church (and before that, the official state church) in order to get married, allowing people who were raised in different faiths to get married, as well as allowing those of no faith at all in.

In the last few centuries we’ve redefined marriage in a way that almost no one realizes was never an integral part of the institution: we made marriage about love. For most of human history marriage has been a matter of creating/reinforcing family alliances, securing the orderly inheritance of property, and/or politics. The notion that two people would meet, fall in love, and decide all on their own to get married has only been around for a few centuries.

So any so-called defenders of traditional marriage who mention a relationship of mutual love and respect is not talking about a very old tradition, at all.

Yes, the notion that two people of the same gender might be the ones who fall in love is new for a lot of people, but when looked at in comparison to all the other ways that marriage has changed, it’s actually only a very minor refinement.

A real pink-neck sensibility

It happens to the best of us: trying to write is a complete bust, and when you try to read your brain just can’t seem to hold the thought from the beginning of a paragraph to the end. You can’t concentrate, but you’re not sleepy, and so you wind up either surfing the internet or surfing channels.

A few years ago I was doing that one late weekend night and I came across a comedian doing standup. He was a big guy with a shaved head and wearing a football jersey telling a joke about why he loves the series, Cops. Cops happens to be one of my least favorite shows, for exactly the reasons he was joking about it, but he made me laugh, so I kept watching.

A few minutes later he mentions that he’s gay, and then makes a bunch of self-depracating jokes about how difficult it is for a gay guy who looks like him to get a date. Which made me laugh a bit more—and not just because my equally non-stereotypical look had made dating unpleasant back in the day. He made some more jokes about growing up in Texas in a Baptist family, then summed up the routine with a comment, “Folks look at me and think I’m a real redneck, but I’m really a pinkneck, which isn’t all that different.”

I had to do a little on-line sleuthing to find out who he was, since I had missed his introduction, and the show went to a commercial break and moved on to the next comedian without repeating his name. Scott Kennedy, it was a name I hoped I would remember.

Sometime after that I read a story online somewhere about how Scott had formed a group to entertain troops. He had worked with the USO a few times, being the son of a veteran and a military school graduate himself, he felt strongly about supporting the men and women serving their country. He called it, “Giving them a piece of home.”

But the USO organizers didn’t like to take the entertainers into dangerous places. Scott thought those were the troops that needed it most, so working with some officers he’d met during his USO tours and some comedians back home, he formed Comics Ready to Entertain (CR2E) in 2007, and started doing tours.

The last time I’d heard anything about CR2E was a short video interview after his (I think it was) 47th tour, talking about how he’d gotten his father to go along with him on the tour, which included some comments from his 70-some-year-old dad talking about what it was like to see his son entertaining troops from the same unit he had served in (back in the 50s), now somewhere deep in Afghanistan.

I’ve caught Scott’s act a few times since on cable. It wasn’t that he made me laugh so hard my sides hurt—maybe I watch too many comedians, because that seldom happens any more—but his act reassured me that it was okay that I was a gay man who occasionally watches football, likes some country music (in between the glam pop, dance, musicals, and all my other weird music tastes), doesn’t like RuPaul’s Drag Race, and will never, ever look like a gym bunny.

Scott Kennedy died a bit over a week ago. I’d seen no mention of it on any of the many gay-related news blogs I read before one blog post today. I would have rather been reading tributes to him than some of the news I did read (and amplified and ranted about on my own blog).

Scott was a funny man who did what he could to make people laugh. We need more laughter. And we need to spend more time recognizing heroes such as Scott:

That isn’t what irony means

The words “irony” and “ironic” get thrown around a lot in places that they shouldn’t.

This is not a pedantic rant asserting that words can only be used in the way prescribed in my favorite dictionary, or that the meanings of words never change. Words change over time as people use them in new and different ways. And what’s most important is whether or not the listeners understood what was meant, rather than whether a particular utterance followed someone’s notions about proper grammar and usage.

We will talk some other time about usage and the misuse of language (and about people who think they are correcting other people’s misuse when, in fact, they are the ones who don’t understand usage). No, today I want to talk about the abuse of the word irony.

My biggest dictionary with the magnifier
Checking with the Compact Oxford English Dictionary.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a post by me if it weren’t at least a bit pedantic: the very oldest instance of the use of irony in the English language, according to the Oxford Dictionary, was in the year 1502. In that instance, it was describing a debate tactic by which a person pretended to believe one thing in order to engage a person in conversation and argue him around to the opposite belief. This is sometimes called Socratic Irony because it resembles a method Socrates used to teach and persuade.

Through the five hundred and eleven years since, irony’s meaning has expanded to include any situation in which someone says or acts the exact opposite of what is actually meant or expected. Similar to sarcasm, though sarcasm more often has a malicious intent. In a play or other work of fiction when the audience is made to see an incongruity between the situation and the words or actions of the characters and the characters are unaware of the incongruity we call that dramatic irony. Irony is usually poignant, rather than mocking.

In the last few decades the types of incongruences that have been described as ironic have become broader, to the point where virtually any incongruity at all gets called ironic.

But there have to be lines. Otherwise why do we need the word irony at all? I believe, in order for an action to be ironic that the incongruity has to have something to do with either the intention of the person performing the act or the expectation of the people who will see it. Preferably both.

So while it might be ironic to name an enormous dog Tiny, it is not ironic for someone who considers themself a sophisticated intellectual to name their dog Cat. One can argue the second one a couple of ways, but the main reason it isn’t ironic is that anyone who literally thinks of oneself as a sophisticated intellectual is exactly the sort of pretentious prat to do something like name a dog Cat and think he’s being clever.

A beard can’t be ironic. No matter how much that pretentious young man you met at the coffee shop insists that it is. His facial hair can be sexy, ugly, well-trimmed, embarrassing, or a number of other adjectives, but it can’t be ironic. People don’t have sufficiently specific expectations about the facial hair of strangers for any beard incongruity to qualify as ironic.

If you’re talking about something, and then that thing happens, that is not ironic. It’s a coincidence, which is a form of congruity. Irony is about incongruities, not congruities.

If you say something stupidly offensive and then:

  • people react with more hostility and scorn than you expected, you insist that you were right,
  • but then when that doesn’t work you insist you were misquoted,
  • but evidence to the contrary arrives, so you insist you were joking,
  • then when no one finds it funny but rather even more scorn you for it,

…you can’t claim that you were being ironic. Sorry, if you had originally meant the opposite of your actual words, that would have been your first excuse, not your fourth.

Finally, if you are an entertainer who does that, and then your career takes a nosedive? That’s not irony. That’s called just desserts. And we’re not talking about pie and ice cream

Part and parcel

A pop musician or movie star gets arrested for driving under the influence and being in possession of an illegal controlled substance. When he or she is sentenced to nothing more than some hours of community service, there may be a bit of an outcry from the public, but thousands still attend the concerts, buy the music, see the movies.

If questioned, the fans might claim that you have to separate the art from the artist. They’re more likely to simply say, “Yeah, but I love the music/movie.” But it’s the same argument. Things that an artist does in their real life has nothing to do with the quality of product itself. Just as it would be inappropriate to claim that a painting is less than worthy of appreciation because the artist happens to be a member of a race other than the majority, a particular piece of art should stand upon its own merits, alone.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t argue that the celebrity doesn’t deserve special treatment before the law. We can compare the punishment given to the celebrity to those typically given to non-celebrities charged with the same crime. We can point out that this prominent person was given a punishment at the very lowest end of the first-offenders sentencing range, even though this is their fifth or sixth or twentieth run-in with the law over substance abuse issues.

We can demand that the special treatment stop. Yes, maybe that movie we’ve been waiting for will have to be delayed (or more likely, made with a different actor), but crimes and irresponsible actions should have consequences, and sometimes those consequences impact people other than the perpetrator.

The aforementioned situation is pretty clear, and not likely to draw a lot of argument on the principles.

It gets less black and white if the actor, musician, or artist is arrested for assault, or worse. How much that changes our perception of his or her work depends upon the nature of the crimes and the nature of their work. It may become difficult to listen to a singer crooning love songs when you know he has been convicted multiple times of domestic abuse against multiple partners, for instance.

Painting is an infinitely minute part of my personality.—Salvador Dali

So far our hypotheticals have been about what an artist does during aspects of their lives that would otherwise be private. What happens when it happens on the stage? Say, for instance, that you’re a C- or D-list singer-songwriter who, early in your career, made statements indicating you were lesbian, and for a couple of decades your fanbase has been predominately lesbian, and you’ve continued to cater to that fanbase even though in your private life you’ve married a conservation fundamentalist Christian man and joined an evangelical church.

And then one night, on stage in a city that most of the world equates with gay people, in between songs you start going on a long, screaming rant about how gay marriage is going to destroy the world, how decriminalizing abortion is the signal of the collapse of civilization, and screaming at the audience members who start walking out that “God hates fags!

I don’t think anybody would argue that other venues you were scheduled to appear at are within their rights to cancel your shows. Politics aside, no one wants to deal with all those angry customers.

Issuing statements afterward that it was meant to be ironic (yet another assault on that poor, abused, misunderstood word), or taken out of context, afterward isn’t going to undo the damage. Particularly with the full video available on the internet and it is quite clear the the context is only hate, hate, more hate, and crazy.

And you can insist you have freedom of speech all you want. Freedom of speech means that you can say what you want without intrference from the government. It doesn’t mean freedom from people being so offended that they choose to stop listening to and buying your music. It doesn’t mean freedom from being criticized. It doesn’t mean freedom from being seen to be a hateful hypocrit whose career is based almost entirely on milking an ambiguous statement that you might be a member of a group of people you despise. Nor does it mean freedom from being labeled a self-loathing closet case in addition to the hypocrit charge.

Assaulting your audience and essentially admitting that you’ve been scamming them for years is another case where things are pretty black and white. There is no reason to separate the art from the artist, because the art is an inherent part of the crime the artist committed.

While I think that Ms Shocked’s tirade was deplorable and revealed that she is a reprehensible, malicious, vulgar louse deserving of our scorn, that wasn’t her biggest crime.

The most awful thing she has done is to produce all that disingenuous music. It is a sin to be a hateful bigot. It is a bigger sin to intentionally produce crap that you don’t believe and call in art.