Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Drama Queen (and almost proud of it)

By Kristina Campbell

I have a weakness -- well, it's one of many, of course. But this one is particularly vile and causes me special shame when I am forced to admit it to others.

But we're all friends here, right? We share our stories. We tell each other our deepest, darkest, most hidden secrets. Fine, twist my arm -- I'll go first.

I am addicted to bad movies. Really bad movies. The lower the star rating, the better. I'm talking one star, maybe two. More than two and it's iffy -- less than one, well, I don't think I've had the honor of laying my eyes on such a spectacle.

Fortunately, I work a weird schedule, which means I'm up late. And sometimes I get a touch of the insomnia, so I'm often up really, really late. If you think late-night television is all about paid programming, think again. At this writing, I'm about three-fourths of the way through a 180-minute movie that Lifetime Movie Network has managed to stretch into four hours. It's OK, this movie -- but it's three stars, and it's not bad enough to make up for the horrible, lengthy commercial breaks.

Mostly these movies are background noise for me; I'll have one on while I'm working or engaged in a worthwhile pursuit such as a Sudoku puzzle. (In that arena, more stars are better.) I'm never engrossed to the point of not being able to leave my house and I've never intentionally recorded one of these movies so I could watch it later. (TiVo occasionally works in mysterious ways; hence the "intentionally" caveat.)

Lifetime Movie Network isn't my only source, but it's a rich one. And all ye who cast aspersions toward or show disdain for this channel, thinking it takes itself seriously, think again -- they air commercials mocking the movies they show.

There are other channels geared toward the fairer sex that show the lamer movies; I know their channel numbers by heart -- and in the age of digital cable, this is no small feat. They are on my surfing circuit when I'm looking for something to watch. Rarely do they all let me down at the same time.

Even when the chick channels fail me, there are the forty-eleven HBO and Cinemax options, where I can usually find something crappy. Of course, if one of my less-crappy standards is on, I'll usually put that on for the 80th or 90th time, but there comes a time when it just makes sense to watch Omen IV: The Awakening from start to finish, pausing and rewinding the especially ridiculous scenes.

If a movie is a docudrama, based on actual events, that's super. If it's just inspired by actual events, well, that's even better. If it's somebody's idea of being creative, based on nothing at all (see Omen IV -- you won't regret it), that's stellar. It's the pinnacle of all that is wretchedly wonderful in the made-for-TV industry.

Anything with dramatic scenes in slow-motion automatically qualifies for the suckfest that I call entertainment. Anything with particular actresses in it -- Meredith Baxter and Kate Jackson come to mind -- is worth a couple of hours of my time. Almost all of these stories are about women who overcome adversity of some sort -- a stalker, an abusive lovers, a kidnapped child, rape, parental beatings. If I'm having a really lucky day, there's a movie on about a kid who was locked in a basement for several years. (Inspired by actual events!)

Ideally they're at least 15 years old, or are poorly enough made so the film quality looks that old. If there's '80s hair in the movie, it's an automatic hit.

Don't get me wrong; what makes them so fabulously foul is not the subject matter; it's the effort these actors make to appear as if they take their roles seriously. They spew forth ridiculous dialog and contort their faces into expressions that would make Mr. Potato Head laugh. They lunge at their attackers in slow motion, the giant butcher knife glistening in the air. When they hit someone with their hands, they wouldn't dream of using a fist -- they slap or bat like angry kittens.

It's simply delicious.

Occasionally, of course, these movies venture into the realm of the gay. (Not Omen IV, unfortunately.) Stereotypes go flying -- or stereotypes are boldly defied. Either scenario is rich.

Sometimes the portrayals are just matter-of-fact, which is great, but apparently we're not ready for that as a society. A recent showing of What Makes a Family -- the Brooke Shields movie about a lesbian fighting for custody of her child after the birth mother has died -- included a warning after each commercial break about the sensitive nature of the program. Nobody was stalked on that movie; nobody was beaten. No mistresses were shot in a jealous rage. Yet that one merited the "sensitive content" flag that I've rarely noticed before one of these other movies.

My entertainment venues are not perfect. They could learn a thing or two from GLAAD. I could stop watching them in protest, but then what would I do? Watch the Sci-Fi Channel? Hardly. Become a student of the past and spend my hours watching the History Channel? No way, no day. C-SPAN? Only for playing "Name That Senator" (and it's hard to find friends who want to play that with me).

My daytime rotation, when I have the luxury of watching television in the early part of the day, includes dramatic re-runs of recent television series that would merit more than a couple of stars. I enjoy them, but they lack something. Or maybe it's what they have -- an appalling supply of tact. But from them I get perspective on just how crappy my bad TV choices are, and that's important.

Besides, the decent drama stars of today might be the crap TV movie stars of tomorrow. I've been known to glue myself before the TV set on Thursday nights to watch ER just because Maura Tierney is that easy on the eyes. She's a good actress, but so was Meredith Baxter once, back in her Birney days.

Maybe we have hope for a future, Maura and I. She'll have to practice contorting her face into ridiculous expressions, but I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here waiting, flipping between three or four reliable channels.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Bad-Ass Lesbians: Progress or Just Thugs

By Kristina Campbell

I knew when I boarded the Metro and saw them that the two women sitting near me, dressed in a fashion that is way more street-savvy than I will ever look (even on Halloween), were bad-ass lesbians. You know, do-rags, tattoos, multiple piercings. The real deal. I was immediately frightened.

Bad-ass lesbians have always scared me. So have bad-ass straight people, and bad-ass gay men (although I haven't seen too many of them).

The fact is, anyone could beat me up. I had countless opportunities during my youth to learn to defend myself -- presented repeatedly by my older brother -- but I never prevailed. I've never been qualified to be a thug or a bully, and as a result I've always been intimidated by them.

But the bad-ass lesbians intrigued me. I knew that most people would see them and think, ''Those women are bad-asses,'' and they'd probably try really hard to look like they were reading their newspaper, noticing nothing and striving to be absolutely unnoticeable, meanwhile clutching their purse or briefcase more tightly against their body.

I, however, saw bad-ass lesbians, emphasis on the lesbians. I was sort of entranced by them and how great it was that there are bad-ass lesbians in the world, that we really do come from all walks of life. I was really impressed that these two women were sitting on a Metro train having no qualms about showing affection for each other while they looked menacing and talked loudly about whatever they wanted, using any vulgar language that pleased them.

I had to remind myself not to stare, and to try really hard to look like I was reading my book, noticing nothing and being unnoticeable.

The bad-ass lesbians let me down when a man boarded the train as the doors were closing and somehow managed to get one foot caught in the doors. As any savvy Metro rider knows, the train doors are not elevator doors. They do not pop open when they detect something between them. Several people tried to pry the doors open while the man pulled at his shin desperately.

The bad-ass lesbians thought this was hilarious. They burst out laughing, saying how stupid the man was in the loudest voices possible, saying how Metro doors aren't elevator doors, and using obscenities as they vocally pondered why people are so dumb. As the man struggled to free his foot, they laughed even harder, mocking him as other passengers tried to help the hapless foot-in-door victim, who could barely keep his balance.

I wanted to help the man, because I felt bad for him (even though I resent it when people treat the Metro doors like an elevator -- more often than not it just inconveniences everyone else on the train). But he didn't need my help; I'm not clever about getting doors to open or coaxing a stuck foot out of a tight space. Besides, I was afraid of the bad-ass lesbians. If I stood up to help -- risking the loss of my comfy seat, mind you -- the bad-ass lesbians might set their sights on me and start mocking me.

There's plenty about me to mock; just ask the various bullies who plagued me at different times throughout my life. The bad-ass lesbians would have had no time zeroing in on something that made me uncomfortable, and they would have exploited it, tossing around profanity. And here's what I would have done in response: I would have blushed , and I would have cried. The bad-ass lesbians would have just loved that.

Meanwhile, the man with his foot in the door would have been relieved to have the focus taken off him and, once his foot was out of the door, would have moved as far away from me as possible to make sure no one suspected that we were allies. During all of this, while the bad-ass lesbians were distracting and humiliating me, other bad-asses would have appeared and stolen my luggage. (I was traveling home from National airport when all of this happened, see.)

So there was no way I was going to stand up and help the foot-in-door man. There was no way I was going to so much as shoot those bad-ass lesbians a dirty look.

The whole thing soured my initially giddy experience of being on the train with bad-ass lesbians, though. I'd started the ride being proud that my people come in all shapes and sizes, all colors and creeds, all types of platitudes and attitudes. But in the end, I was pretty mortified on the lesbian world's behalf, appalled at the utter lack of sensitivity being shown by these women -- who should have known the sting of public disdain.

But bad-asses never care about the effects of their actions on other people. That is, by definition, what makes them bad-asses. These bad-ass lesbians were bad-asses first, lesbians second. This is where I went wrong -- my moment of identifying with them. In the end, I am meek, not a bad-ass. Any thoughts I had that these lesbians looked at me and saw a fellow lesbian are laughable; they saw a meek person who wouldn't dare challenge their attacks on a Metro-illiterate person. They saw the anti-bad-ass.

Lucky for me, I alighted the train before I did anything to draw attention to myself.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pondering Betty Friedan's Mystique

By Susie Bright

Yes, I've been mulling over Betty Friedan's death the past couple days. I feel so little pathos, as if I barely knew her.

I kick myself a little. I understand that The Feminine Mystique was one of modern feminism's milestones. But during my coming-of-age in the '70s, Friedan was ignored and disdained by my peers.

There was a tremendous gap between her milieu and mine.

She seemed so old, so distant, rich and removed. Bored housewives? I couldn't relate. When I first heard her described as a "bourgeois feminist," that seemed to sum it up. I didn't know that she was once a "Teenage Marxist" (as I was), until I read her obit yesterday.

Her antagonistic comments about lesbians, (The Lavender Menace!) and sexual revolution, were anathema to those of us who felt like sexual politics were the beating heart of feminism. And we certainly were the ground troops.

I associated Friedan's feminism with the right for a married woman to get her own name listed in the White Pages, to not be "Mrs. John Doe."

But those priorities didn't speak to my passions at the time. I thought NOW meetings of the '70s were "racist, classist, heterosexist," and worst of all, "liberal wusses." I'm using the words I would have used at the time! Plus, their members were all twenty years older than me, which made me squirm.

As years went by, I would read a quote by her and realize she was very sharp, always considering things from a woman's point of view. She recanted her homophobia, apologized for being a "square," and was a fierce free-speech advocate.

She thought all the energy poured into fighting "pornography" was a complete waste of time. Her anathema to Dworkin/MacKinnon was partly because she thought the women's movement was doomed if it got involved with sex, positively or negatively. The very word "orgasm" just made her mad; she saw it as a distraction from matters at hand.

In her latter years, she used her extraordinary influence as an advocate for elders. But I still can't see her as a Gray Panther.

Friedan was someone who pushed the capitalist crowd to realize that it could embrace a great deal of feminism's prerogatives to their own advantage -- and come out smelling like a rose. Equal rights don't have to be continually at odds with profit motives. You see the same strain in all civil-rights movements.

It's funny that I would identify more with Dworkin, given our differences, but it's a cultural thing. Andrea was an artist, and a self-styled revolutionary, and had this "off-the-pig" thing going on that was very hot with 16-year-old radicals at the time!

Betty seemed like someone's stuffy old mom. In retrospect, although I correctly identified our differences, I was irreverent towards her, dismissive. Her greatest crime, to my adolescent mind, was that she was a woman over 40. Today, I'm more respectful to anyone who gives a damn, and to any woman who has the stamina and passion to write such an influential book. She was a firebrand, and there's nothing stuffed about that.

When I think of all those articles I see today about Ivy League babes giving up their careers to get "The Perfect Trophy Wife & High Achieving Mother Award," I feel like sending them a dog-eared copy of The Feminine Mystique. I'm sure they, too, will be experiencing "the problem that has no name,"' and could use a little eye-opener from Betty:

Over and over, women heard the voices of tradition and of Freudian sophistication that they could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity.

Experts told them how to catch a man and keep him, how to breastfeed children and handle their toilet training, how to cope with sibling rivalry and adolescent rebellion; how to buy a dishwasher, bake bread, cook gourmet snails, and build a swimming pool with their own hands; how to dress, look, and act more feminine and make marriage more exciting; how to keep their husbands from dying young and their sons from growing into delinquents.

They were taught to pity the neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women who wanted to be poets or physicists or presidents. They learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights -- the independence and the opportunities that the old-fashioned feminists fought for. Some women, in their forties and fifties, still remembered painfully giving up those dreams, but most of the younger women no longer even thought about them. A thousand expert voices applauded their femininity, their adjustment, their new maturity...