Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tik Tok On The Clock But The Party Don't Stop, No, Especially Not With These Kinds Of Terrible Comments on Facebook

If I were you I would probably be more worried about waking up feeling like a misogynist, slur-using, sexual-behaviour-policing asshole but maybe that's just me.

P.S. I have included some subtle iconography for you to work out how I feel about the person who left that second comment.

Friday, January 21, 2011

I Appeared in a Play on Saturday Night

The below post is written by Jonny Potts, the actor who played the 'morbidly obese' Galen Widders in the play No Taste Forever by Paul Rothwell, currently playing at BATS Theatre. I wrote about the big fat related problems that I had with the show here and this is Jonny's response. Even though I don't agree some of the stuff he is saying, I still think it is pretty cool that he has written this and wants to further the discussion around the show. I think the comments could be a really good place to keep the discussion going. So good, in fact, that I am probably going to write one.

I appeared in a play on Saturday night. This is nothing new, of course, because I am GETTING OLD though intermittently FRESH and FREE-ISH if not as CREATIVE as I should be. I like to spend my time in the capital city sitting in cafes drinking beer and coffee and going to artistic events and immersing myself in CULTURE. The play was called No Taste Forever!. It was written by Paul Rothwell and it was performed at BATS Theatre and Ally had major problems with it. I am now going to write about it.

The first thing I would like to say is that I appreciate how Ally has gone about expressing her feelings about No Taste Forever!. She has not railed against the lot of us for putting the thing on, and in fact praised elements of the production. She's been kind to me in particular. It's easy, when something rubs you up the wrong way, to dismiss the kit along with the kaboodle, and I would like to acknowledge her even-handedness in dealing with an emotive issue. And look, she's giving me the space on her own blog to throw in my two cents. I appreciate the opportunity to post here a great deal, as I was at the centre of an experience which left her feeling so disappointed in another space where she felt at home. So, thanks for the trust, Ally. I am going to disagree with you over some things, and I am going to defend the play. Of course, I'm too close to the show to offer an objective take on it, so I am not going to address whether or not the production is worth anyone's time or money. Having said that, y'all should come down to BATS and see it, because it's not going to get a DVD release.

I apologise if this response seems scattershot. I had to write it in snatched moments between work, play-acting and the little extramural eating I am doing over these couple of weeks. I really hope that in my haste I have not said anything which offends. I am aware that some may consider defence of a production which features a fat suit an indication of the systemic marginalisation of fat people which Ally cites in her post. I do not want to be seen as someone siding with the people responsible for this or this or this. So let me denounce all that shit right now, and acknowledge unequivocally that there is indeed a problem with the way bodies are presented in the wider media, and it causes real damage to people. I am not comfortable that something I am doing is being seen as a continuation of this prejudice. I am not active in the fat acceptance movement, nor very familiar with its history or goals, but from the little I have read I find myself in agreement with its principles. I do feel a bit out of my depth posting on a blog which is read by people with more knowledge of the field. So, if you consider my arguments to be naive or wrongheaded, please point that out, dear reader. I have no desire to have the last word on the matter.

OK, I'm going to take a look at some of the points raised by Ally. I suppose I should SPOILER WARNING this.

Though he can be an insufferable blowhard, I am with critic Robert Hughes on this: the role of art is not solely to enlighten. Art's primary function is not to change society for the better. Peter Brook's Manifesto for the Sixties contends that 'no work of art has yet made a better man'. I am not saying that it is impossible for art to have a positive effect on the world or individuals, but art need not always do good.

Mention was made in Ally's post of the predictable roles for females in No Taste Forever! I was surprised to read that 'dead child' is now considered a predictable, 'yawn'-inducing role for women to play. Then there are the 'lesbians'. The two lesbian characters in No Taste Forever! are lesbians and... well, that's that. Their sexuality is not an issue in the play, merely present. It certainly does not serve to titillate the audience, nor does the play encourage condemnation. But let's consider the representation of men also. A husband and father so consumed by his profession that he neglects his wife and son. A psychopath. An arrogant cock. Yawn? Perhaps. We are dealing with types here, not realistic, fully rounded characters. The types stand in for various issues the play raises, much the way things worked in MINGE, where the type identification was taken a step further. In this play, as in most of Rothwell's work, NOBODY comes off looking good. He's an equal opportunity annoyer. With Rothwell, you get an awful lot of agitation, but not much propaganda. His plays angry up the blood and refuse to ease the mind.

At the end of NTF!, Malcom's magical pill is just an idea without form, an ideal which seeks to deal with a problem by eliminating it entirely. John Smythe's review raised problems with the pill solution, and was right to. I mean, it wouldn't work and people wouldn't want it. Rothwell isn't seriously suggesting we find a pill to replace all food. he is presenting a character so overwhelmed by food that it's the only way out of the whole mess he can see. Hate Crimes and The Blackening also end with characters essentially throwing their hands in the air. All three endings hint as hope, but are largely resigned to helplessness. The problems are just too big, and too much blood has been shed. NTF! is the first time Rothwell has had a play end with the hope/hopelessness cocktail being presented to so many.

Ally writes that NTF! was 'a play that demonised food and that vituperated the audience about their eating habits'. Yep, it surely demonised food, and it dealt abrasively with various attitudes towards food. Food is presented as an antagonistic force and nobody has a healthy relationship towards it. NTF! plays on people's fears about not just obesity, but allergy, eating disorders, manners, ethics, medication and sundry other related issues not by exploringthem as such, but by having them collide into each other inside a dramatic framework. Rothwell does not want to solve anything. He wants to scare you.Ally writes, '[m]ostly, my problem is that in a play about food and food issues, the crying and the KFC were the only depiction of fatness, thus rendering fat as a problem that needs to be solved'. She is right to say that Galen is the only representation of 'fatness', but it is an extreme form of 'fatness': a man who is one chocolate thin away from death. His problem needs to be solved, or it is going to kill him. And the problem is not that he is merely fat, it is that he is supremely unhealthy. Again, EVERYONE in this play comes out bad. EVERYONE has a 'problem that needs to be solved', and nobody can solve any of them. It's not a nice play and it is not supposed to make anyone feel proud of anything. If there was a representation of fatness on stage and there wasno problem attached to it, it would seriously fuck with the dramaturgy. In NTF! anything to do with food is problematic.

Fatness isn't inherently funny, no, though many fat performers have given us lots to laugh at over the years , often using their size as an integral part of their act. There is a cultural familiarity with the jolly fat man. However, Galen does not really fit this, he is more of a sad clown. In playing the part, I do try to elicit some sympathy from the audience, not just have them laugh at the fat man. When I was talking with director David Lawrence about the play a few months ago, I said I would be keen to play Galen (I read the part at the play's first airing in 2008), and pointed out that there is really nobody big enough to play him. Even if we had used a very fat actor, the actor would not have been fat enough. If he was fat enough, he probably would not have had the ability to play the part. Galen is not merely fat, he is so fat he is on the verge on death. If a fat actor should have been employed, which one?

The crux of Ally's post, as I read it, is that this is the straw that broke the camel's back. After being exposed to many negative depictions of fat people in the wider media, here was one in the place she felt at home, and it made her uncomfortable in her own skin. Am I able to say that I respect both Ally's reaction and the rights of Paul Rothwell to write what he did? I am not a fat activist, but I think the world might need them. I am not a controversial though celebrated playwright but I think the world might need them too. To quote an Assange-themed cartoon posted elsewhere on Ally's blog, 'See how I can think both things without my head exploding?'

I would also like to point out that there are actually very few 'fat jokes' per se in the script. Something that might qualify is this exchange, in KFC:

GALEN: Come here often?

PETRUS: What? No.

GALEN: Me either.

PETRUS: You look as if you have.

It's worth noting here that the character of Petrus, a former chef whose taste buds have been ravaged by an surfeit of marching powder, is a dick. He's a nasty, nasty fuckhead and the playwright has him killed in the final scene. I don't think anyone mourns his death. The scene in question shows a character we know to be mean and destructive taking a cursory glance at Galen and judging him for his size. He then snubs him, precipitating the crying-into-the-chicken moment to which Ally took exception. The way I read the scene, we are supposed to feel sympathy for Galen as he is being judged unfairly at face value. He is socially inept largely because when he tries to connect people can't see past his size. This is a pretty tragic way to live your life, and a phenomenon with which I would imagine those in the fat acceptance movement are familiar. When Galen cries it is not supposed to make the audience laugh, and it doesn't. It is the moment in performance when I feel most connected to the audience, despite the fact my head is buried in my hands. The injustice is up there on stage. It is then compounded by a further humiliation. It is tough to watch because the audience actually cares about Galen.

I do think it does the play a disservice to equate the fat character with the laugh-at-me-I'm fat types portrayed by Eddie Murphy. Having discussed the KFC scene, I'd like to shed a little more light on the other scenes Ally mentions early in her post, not to deny that they happen or are uncomfortable to watch, just to give them their proper context:

'[T}he same fat man, whimpering in the foetal position, lying on the floor in a nest of junk food wrappers' - This is a murder attempt by food, which we learn later in the play is attempting to enslave the human race. Galen says that the food 'won't let me stop stuffing it in'. He is in a victim of, as the marketing material has it, 'an insidious force'.

'[H]e carries with him a bag of sweets, a bag that eventually explodes because it is so jam packed with candy' The bag does not explode because it is overstuffed with candy, the candy jumps out as part of its evil plan to knock Galen off. Yes, food is demonised.

'[T]he fat man being so socially inept that all he does at a birthday party AND at a food festival is eat, continuously and voraciously?' The food festival first. Galen makes his way to the festival, resolves to abstain from eating and is then overtaken by the 'insidious force' which hisses 'DIE WITH US! DIE WITH US!' at him before he is overtaken once again. Galen is present at the birthday party because he is trying to escape the force in his fridge. When he arrives at what he hopes will be sanctuary he is overtaken by the force again. This has nothing to do with him being 'socially inept'. He's kind of like Karras in The Exorcist, targeted by an evil, supernatural force. Unlike Karras though, there is still some hope for Galen at the conclusion of NTF!

Galen is not standing in for every fat person. He is so unhealthy he is nearly dead. There are examples elsewhere in the play of characters who do not eat enough and suffer the consequences. Rothwell has taken fears about food and given them form. The play is fantasy. The idea of food operating as some kind of hive-minded supervillain is really quite silly. It is not healthy to demonise food in life, but there is nothing wrong with satirising that rather widespread tendency in a play. And that is really what this is at the end of the day: a satire on our preoccupation with food.

People bring their own experiences and opinions into the theatre with them. Anyone with a strong or particular experience or interest in obesity, bulimia, allergy, anorexia, comfort eating, organics, body image or, for that matter, children who have been run over and killed is going to have a keen reaction to various parts of the play. The play certainly challenges the notion that 'every body is a good body'. Is Daryl's body, which is mathematically fed and exercised, really healthy? What about Fliss, who eats every second day and subsists on Lucozade and multi-vitamins until she gets 'the faints'? Sonya is convinced she is growing a tumour due to her ingesting fertiliser so only eats oragnic food. Petrus has no sense of taste. Baby Emma's delicate frame is crushed. And food has pushed Galen's body to the brink of expiration. Health of bodies and body image are themes in this satire, and the plays joins a long tradition of art which plays on fears we have about our bodies being beyond our control.

There is a play to be written about acceptance of bodies in all forms, but this isn't it. What this play does, among other things, is draw attention to prejudice and fear around the way people view bodies.

I'd like to thank Ally again for giving me the platform to talk about how something I'm doing on stage has affected and could affect people. It's not often an interest is taken to such an extent in anything we do at places like BATS, and Paul certainly wanted to get people talking about the issues raised by the play, even if those issues are in fact the ones he can be seen to have neglected. The thing about Ally's post which I found most unsettling was the idea that Ally did not consider BATS her place any more as a result of a part I played. There is no reason that one play should have any effect on how anyone sees the venue. BATS is still Ally's, but it is also Paul's and David's and mine. It was not the intention of this production to vilify fat people. In rehearsal Galen was never held up as a figure of fun, and the playwright is quoted in the Capital Times expressing affinity with him. I hope those who found the play unsettling will find something of value in the wider discussion.

[Image credit: Photo taken by Vanessa Fowler Kendall, and sourced from the Bachanals Facebook page.]

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Went to See a Play on Saturday Night

I went to see a play on Saturday night. This is nothing new, of course, because I am YOUNG and FRESH and FREE and CREATIVE. I like to spend my time in the capital city sitting in cafes drinking soy milk and going to artistic events and immersing myself in CULTURE. The play was called No Taste Forever. It was written by Paul Rothwell and it was performed at BATS Theatre and I had major problems with it. I am now going to write about it.

After seeing the play I was unsure about whether I was even going to do this ‘writing about it’ thing. I've got problems with the script but I definitely do not want to minimise the hard work that those on stage have done and are doing. My whole heart, every fucking-last-ventricle, goes out to every single person involved in organising the full throttle, on-stage food fight that ends the play. I wasn't going to write about it but then after the show my beautiful, warm-as-the-very-best-oil-heater friend Jean and her boyfriend Jackson came over for a drink. Jean and Jackson were in No Taste Forever, and we drank cider and we talked about the show in the delightful company of Stevie and our wonderful friend Hannah. We had a really great discussion, with Jean and Jackson making some great counter arguments in defence of the production. When Jean was leaving she encouraged me to write about the play, and put into words some of the things we had been saying. So a thank you must go to Jean because as well as being as warm as a heater, she’s as supportive as a very expensive bra. I think I have to write about No Taste Forever because it was the depictions of fatness in the show that I mostly had a problem with. And like, that’s my thing. It feels cowardly to shy away from writing about. It would feel even more cowardly not to write about it because dear friends of mine were involved in the project and because the Wellington theatre community is small. So, I’m writing. Here goes nothing.

Imagine, for a second, the very worst possible depiction of fatness that you can.

I’m serious, I want you to imagine it.


I’m not kidding.

Make like John Lennon and imagine.

Are you imagining a fat man sitting at a table, eating KFC and crying? Because, in No Taste Forever, it happened!

Are you imagining the same fat man, whimpering in the foetal position, lying on the floor in a nest of junk food wrappers? Because it happened!

Are you imagining the fat man to have so little self control that he carries with him a bag of sweets, a bag that eventually explodes because it is so jam packed with candy? Because, you know what, that happened too!

Are you imagining the fat man being so socially inept that all he does at a birthday party AND at a food festival is eat, continuously and voraciously? Because it happened!

Are you imagining the fat man dribbling a huge gob of spit, just at the sight of a table laden with party food? Because, you can bet on your nanny, that it happened as well.

It happened, not even in some kind of fantastic and deliberate parody of how fat bodies are usually portrayed, but as a major part of the story line. I want to stress, at this point, that my problem wasn't at all with my friend Jonny Potts’ portrayal of the ‘morbidly obese’ Galen Widders. Jonny is a beautiful actor, and his liquid-gold voice was wasted in this role. He did a good job with an absolute shocker of a script. At first I thought that I wasn’t even particularly offended by Galen. Galen was merely just one little part of a show where the most obvious and the most stereotypical of food clich├ęs were left unpacked and unexplored. In No Taste Forever vegans are so militant they wear camo pants; male bulimia is a joke and a food replacement pill is seen as a pragmatic problem solver, a cure not just for world hunger but for obesity as well. My girlfriend also pointed out how tired the female roles were in the show – a nagging mother, a dead child, a power hungry anorexic, a sexed up temptress, and two lesbians; one socially inept and the other a breaking-and-entering psychopath? Yawn.

It was a play that demonised food and that vituperated the audience about their eating habits. Surprisingly, mental health wasn’t touched on in this play about food issues. No real effort was made to explore how mental illnesses can manifest in over eating and under eating and comfort eating and obsessive eating. And like, eating issues are serious. I am a great believer in the importance of comedy as a tool for social change, but I really don’t think that the use of a fart soundtrack for an anorexic character quite cuts the mustard. My problem is not, necessarily, that No Taste Forever featured a fat man, crying over his bucket of fried chicken. This has probably happens, all the time, in many KFCs all over the world. Plenty of fat people hate their bodies and then don’t eat nutritiously and they have an unhealthy relationship with food, just like many thin people hate their bodies and don’t eat nutritiously and have an unhealthy relationship with food. As I’ve said before, many times, on this blog: weight can be no real indicator of health and the concept of ‘eating rubbish and not exercising’ needs to be separated from the concept of ‘being fat’. Lately I’ve also come to realise that health shouldn’t be a prerequisite for respect.

Mostly, my problem is that in a play about food and food issues, the crying and the KFC were the only depiction of fatness, thus rendering fat as a problem that needs to be solved. My other problem was that No Taste Forever was performed by a thin to average sized cast, and the ‘morbidly obese’ character was played by a thin to average sized man in a fat suit. I wish Director David Lawrence had made more interesting choices when casting his show, to deliberately contrast the fat hatred inherently present Rothwell’s script. I wish he had cast more fat people. I wish he had cast a fat person. I wish he had cast a fat person in another role to contrast with Galen. I wish Ms. Chocolate had been played by a beautiful fat woman, as some kind of fabulous food goddess. When I was talking to Jonny about this he confirmed that there was even a line in the script about the ‘voluptous-ness’ of Ms. Chocolate. My hankering for Ms. Chocolate to be played by a rad fatty has nothing to do with Jessica Aaltonen’s lovely performance in the BATS production. It’s more that I think a fat Ms. Chocolate would have shown that fat isn’t the enemy, and that Galen’s problem was not his fatness, but instead his troubled relationship with food. And BEE TEE DUB, Galen's character was wearing a t-shirt which read 'More of Me to Love'. Pretty sure that Galen was crippling-ly lonely and self hating, so I can't really imagine him wearing that kind of t-shirt. Way to make light of his mental health issues and insult the fat acceptance movement all in one foul swoop! (I'll have it after the play is over though, if you like.)

Wait, did I just say fat suit up there?

Ah, fat suits. Is there a word combination that raises my hackles more than the word ‘fat’ when teamed with the companion of ‘suit’? I mean, as soon as I see ‘Extra Sauce’ + ‘$1.00’ or ‘Product’ +‘Discontinued’ or ‘National’ + ‘Party’ I start to get hot and bothered. But fat suits, man. They really rile me up.

I can’t think of fat suits without thinking about these ladies:

Or about this:

Or about this:

And now, I have this fat suit to add to my collection.

A collection that I’ve built up over the years of watching things and realising that dressing thin actors up so their bodies look more like mine is supposed to be a joke. I can see that sometimes fat suits might be useful, perhaps when a thin performer is so brilliant and well suited for the part that nobody else on the face of planet could ever play that particular role. Or when the director wants to create some kind of distance between the action and the audience, like casting a white person as Othello or using an all female cast. Mostly though, when I see a fat suit I just want to scream one and/or the other of these two things:



I think that what bothers me most about No Taste Forever is that possibly up until I walked into the theatre and saw Jonny crouching there in his fat suit, up until that very moment, I had thought of BATS as being my space. I realise that this is a little self indulgent and that squillions of theatre makers and theatre lovers and theatre haters have thought the same thing about the very same theatre, and hopefully squillions more will continue to do the same. I don’t even really consider myself to be a ‘proper’ theatre maker, especially because I’m terrible at devising. I’m more of a ‘one show a year actor’. But BATS just feels like mine. I’ve laughed in the audience and I’ve cried in the audience and I’ve also had to stuff my whole fist in my mouth in the audience, in case I sobbed so loudly it disturbed the performers. It’s the place that I’ve witnessed some of the best acting I’ve ever seen, with Sophie Hambleton’s Katy and Erin Bank’s Helen and Jonny Pott’s Friar all immediately coming to mind. It’s the theatre that I made a New Year’s resolution to act on the stage of, and then did that, the very same year. I’ve eaten countless Phoenician kebabs and Deluxe sushi rolls in the dressing rooms. I’ve touched up my lipstick a thousand times in that bathroom mirror. I’ve been useless at many a pack in and many a pack out, and so have ended up cleaning that dressing room toilet, every single time. The best-slash-definitely-worst of these cleaning experiences was when I cleaned menstrual blood off the toilet seat during MINGE, and I thought to myself LONG LIVE FEMINIST THEATRE. I’ve drunk the bar dry of cider. I’ve attempted to drink the bar dry of house sav, and probably made a fair dent in the stocks of Emersons Pilsner. I’ve been fingered in the toilets there and I’ve been to a Saatchi and Saatchi planning meeting and if I’m feeling sad or lonely I know I can just go to an opening night at BATS because it will remind me of how many wonderful friends that I really have.

So there I was, sitting in the back row, amongst an audience tittering at a plethora of fat jokes. Jokes mainly centered on how lazy and ugly and unmotivated and weak and socially inept and uncoordinated fat people are. Not on Channel Two or in the YouTube comments section, but performed on the stage at BATS. A place where I thought that I was safe; where I thoought my body was safe. It sucked. I was bitterly disappointed, especially at how this play was affirming to the audience that it was acceptable to laugh like this at fat people. Before I went into the show I counted the number of fat people lining up for tickets, just in case I was terribly offended by the show or so bothered by the fat suit that I wanted to write about it and I needed some kind of point-making statistic. Always Be Prepared and so on. There were at least eight other fat people in the audience with me. During those fat jokes in No Taste Forever I wasn’t just thinking about my body, I was thinking about their bodies as well. I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to feel positive about my body and in the last eight months or so I have been actively concentrating on trying to nourish my sense of self worth. I consider myself part of the fat acceptance movement, for fucks sake, and during that show I felt uncomfortable in my skin. I don’t know whether those audience members have read about reclaiming the word fat or heard about Health At Every Size. I hope they have. I hope they know, that as my friend Jessica said, every body is a good body, no matter what it looks like.

I was offended, during No Taste Forever, yes, but I think it’s about something bigger than that. It’s about how the constant slew of media representations make people feel about their bodies, and the cycle of self loathing that eventuates. I will never understand, as long as I live, why some people think that shaming fat people helps anybody. Fat people end up hating their own bodies, and why would anybody want to love and nurture and strengthen something they hate? It’s not just about me being offended, it’s about how, en masse, these kinds of representations are actually just fucking damaging.

Because it’s never about just that play or that one movie or that one advertisement. It’s systemic. It’s about how every villain in every book ever is described as having a ‘puffy face’ and it’s about how tired the weight-as-a-metaphor-for-greed thing really is. It’s about being ten years old and Camryn Manheim clutching her Emmy and proclaiming “This is for all the fat girls” and feeling like she was talking directly to me. It’s about how Tiggie Tompson loses the weight at the end of The Tiggie Tompson Show. It’s about trying to think of positive representations of fat bodies on screen and asking whether Sooki off Gilmore Girls can really count, because she’s a chef, and you know, can we really keep counting Roseanne Barr, because it’s 2011 now and if the millennium isn’t even considered new anymore then how can TV shows from the 90’s still be relevant? It’s about the headless fatties in infomercials. It’s about how there will never be a fat Juliet.

I wasn’t able to pick up a programme when I was at BATS, as they were fresh out, but in John Smythe’s review of the show, he writes that in the programme Rothwell has claimed that “the play is really about hunger – hunger for control, hunger for company.” Interesting. I’ll tell you what, Paul. Fat people are hungry. We’re hungry for representation. Fat actors are hungry for parts to play. We’re hungry to be depicted in any way that doesn’t depict us as slovenly or unattractive or as the butt of the joke. We’re hungry to turn on the television or go to theatre or pop down to the movies and not be told that we ought to hate our bodies. And we’re not just peckish, Paul. We’re fucking starving.

(Edited to add - Jonny Potts, who played the 'morbidly obese' Galen in the show will be writing a guest post in response to this piece. I am really excited about this, so make sure you check back in a couple of days.)

[Image credit - No Taste Forever photo taken by Vanessa Fowler Kendall and found on the The Bachanals Facebook page. Images of Monica/Gwyneth and Mike Meyers found here at The Daily Beast. Image of Eddie Murphy found via Google Images.]

Sunday, January 9, 2011

An Ode to Hate on a Sunday Afternoon

I hate lots of things. I'm not even ashamed of it.

I hate organised fun, including cards and board games and team building activities and team sports. I hate savoury muffins and savoury scones, and actually I hate muffins in general because they are just ugly cupcakes. I hate when people try and put sweet toppings on bread, because BREAD IS A SAVOURY FOOD. I hate when people use the word 'Kiwis'. I hate when people use the word 'Aussies'. I hate the Air New Zealand Rugby World Cup safety adverts. I hate Jetstar even more than I hate Air New Zealand. I hate when people tell me to 'check out' something, because I will more than likely NEVER CHECK IT OUT if you use that phrase. I hate it when beauty products are discontinued. I hate dried fruit and fruit cake and marmalade and jam. I hate the Phoenix Cola that is flavoured with honey. I hate when restaurants don't have a chocolate flavoured dessert. I hate mixed berries and blackberries and black currant and sometimes blueberries, because obviously the raspberry is the queen of berries. I hate when things are raspberry and white chocolate flavoured, because it is such a fucking waste of raspberries and WHY CAN'T YOU GIVE ME THE REAL CHOCOLATE. I hate wearing a cotton top AND a cotton skirt. I hate not having enough condiments. I hate getting charged extra for condiments. I hate when people put celery in potato salad. I hate it when there isn't enough feta. I hate the rubbery stalky bit on portobello mushrooms. I hate shittake mushrooms. I hate sow crates. I hate that rapey Christmas song 'Baby It's Cold Outside'. I mostly hate the Simpsons and I fucking hate Family Guy and I hate animation. I hate Science Fiction. I hate the Big Bang Theory (the show, not evolution). I hate when people say that 'hate is a strong word' because that is the fucking point, actually. I hate that Ben Harper song about stealing kisses. I hate Paul Henry. I hate John Key. I hate the rain. I hate noisy construction work. I hate buskers. I hate camping. I hate tramping. I hate the outdoors and usually I hate scenery because I maintain that it's just rocks and water (and I could look at that from inside thank you very much.) I hate adventure tourism. I hate when cafes don't have hollandaise and I hate paying extra for soy milk. I hate moths. I hate Matthew McConaughey and Kanye West and Jennifer Garner. I hate outer space. I hate top sheets. I hate bok choy. I hate the noise that skateboards make. I hate the new lids on super pump drink bottles.

And I fucking hate this fucking billboard.

I am fucking unimpressed with this billboard. It makes me want to use all kinds of ableist language (like stupid and lame and idiotic) that I am really trying not to use anymore.

This billboard also makes me feel violent, which isn't exactly helpful.

This billboard (or whatever you call an advertisement placed in one of these weird shell things) makes me want to run straight to the dairy and buy a pack of Malboros so I can chain smoke them all in a row, even though I haven't had a cigarette in like, two years. I do not care about your relationship criteria at all, Ido Drent. I don't want to be your girlfriend. THE VERY SLIGHT POSSIBILITY THAT ONE DAY YOU VERY WELL COULD MAYBE BE THE GIRLFRIEND OF A B-GRADE CELEBRITY IS PROBABLY NOT GOING TO MAKE ANYONE GIVE UP SMOKING. I am insulted that this would be considered such a valuable prize.

I get that Smokefree has already advertised about health benefits and lung cancer and tongue cancer and throat cancer and second hand smoke and saving money and gangrene and heart disease and the tobacco industry and every other fucking thing under the sun and that people are still smoking and it is their modus operandi to get less people smoking, so they tried something new with the Not Our Future campaign. Fine. Mostly. That advert where the celebrity-who-I-can't-remember complained about cigarettes being kept beside the milk was kind of annoying, because anyone who has been into a dairy ever knows that they're actually in pretty different parts of the shop. Like, nobody keeps cigarettes in the fridge. But that's cool, it even seems like the campaign might have been kind of successful. Which is good, I think. (Even though I'm kind of confused about where I stand on the anti-smoking lobby, because obviously smoking isn't great and tobacco companies are manipulative, lying, terrible, money-hungry fuckers and that information should be circulated so people can make their own choices BUT often those adverts are really patronizing and some of the BAD FOR YOU rhetoric comes uncomfortably close to a lot of the obesity panic rhetoric, and I really don't think that health should be a prerequisite for respect. Oh wow, that sentence is long. I just thought about deleting it. I'm not going to though, I don't think, because isn't stream-of-consciousness-writing very popular and doesn't it give you a valuable insight into my brain on a Sunday afternoon?)

What was I saying? Oh yeah. Ido Drent. Smoking. Girlfriend. Get to the point, Ally. Advertising to young ladies about how they would be more dateable and girlfriend worthy if they gave up smoking? I hate it. Placing so much cultural currency on relationships? I hate it. Assuming that every girl wants to be in a relationship with Ido Drent? I hate it. Three of the Not Our Future adverts with themes about relationship-criteria-slash-increasing-your-dating-potential-slash-smoking-is-a-turn-off adverts being aimed at girls and only one being aimed at boys AND all of them being predictably heteronormative? I hate it. I can think of a million reasons to give up smoking, if you want to, and Ido Drent isn't one of them.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A New Year, And A New Sweet Bitch of the Week

Hi internet! It's 2011 now. How is that working out for you? Mine is okay so far. I wore leopard print to a barbecue on New Year's Day but also my girlfriend and I had a fight over a pineapple, so as Robbie Williams would say: win some, lose some. Did you make any New Year's resolutions? I made a couple, but I like to call them New Year's aspirations. At best this sounds more encouraging, but I guess at worst it also makes me sound like a commitment-phobic flake. Case in point: Getting my learner driver license has been on the list of aspirations for the last seven years. While we're on the subject, how weird does it sound when you say learner driver license? I wrote "getting my learners" initially but then I realised that this might not make sense for my international readers. (Yes, I actually have some. This is not wishful thinking. A girl from Ireland even sent me an email once.) So while I might not know how to drive, at least I know how to comprehensively write about my experience of not knowing how to drive. Thank God for that. Thank you Bachelor of Arts degree!

Anyway, my aspirations. I made some. Some of them deliberately achievable (read at least twelve books) and some of them are hopeful (spend some time outside of New Zealand) and some of them are inane (spill less food on my clothes) and there is one that is worth writing about outside of parentheses. So, in 2011 I aspire (not resolve, mind you) to be more like Sady Doyle.

This is a photo of Sady Doyle, who come hell and high water, deserves the title of Sweet Bitch of the Week. This is a photo that I found here, where there is also an interview with Sady, so that's nice isn't it. More words! For you to read! On the internet!


Sady Doyle has been one of my blogging heroes for awhile now. She writes for the blog Tiger Beatdown; a blog which was once recommended to me as being "actually feminist" because I had been lamenting (read: complaining) at the downward spiral of Jezebel, a downward spiral where they now give me advice about how to keep my (non-existant) suede shoes clean and where they actually posted this. Sady writes electrically, and she has written things that have punched me in the gut, like this and this. I mean, she even writes compellingly about her dog, okay.

But (segue alert!) as well as being a really great writer, Sady Doyle started a twitter protest, using the hashtag #MooreAndMe, in response to comments made by Michael Moore and Keith Olbermn about the legitimacy of the sexual assault allegations made against Julian Assange. For the uninitiated, there is a brilliantly thorough recap of events over here, with lots of screen caps and links and documentation of the trolling that went down. For those who are under time pressure there is also a briefer recap here, published on the Guardian. I don't really want to write about the actual events of the protest, because the internet has done that. So if you want more background information, here Sady's initial post on #MooreAndMe, and here is a timeline of events written by Sady and here is the so-moving-I-cried-at-my-desk post that she wrote after Moore and Olberman eventually apologised. If you're interested in any further reading on I highly, highly recommend Kate Harding's fantastic explanation of her involvement with #MooreAndMe; Marianne Kirby's critique of comments made by Naomi Woolf and the commentary at Spilt Milk about rape talk and the WikiLeaks allegations. If I worked at Borders these three blog posts would be the books that I would stick little 'Staff Choice' stickers on, and write little notes about how they are important and about how they are worth your money or the click of your mouse or whatever. Jessica Valenti has also done a pretty great #MooreAndMe link round up here, and for any readers unfamiliar with the term 'rape culture' I give a similar Borders type endorsement to Rape Culture 101, published at Shakesville.

As well as not wanting to write about the actual protest, I'm also not interested in talking about whether Julian Assange is guilty or about how creepy he is or the stupid things he said about Sweden or about the substantial merits of WikiLeaks itself, because really, the internet has done this as well. Well and truly. My feelings on the subject can pretty much be summed up in this Conniptions comic:


And this tweet by Feminist Hulk:


I'm more interested in talking about the bravery and the tenacity and the dogged persistence that Sady showed in keeping that fucking hashtag going. Because Sady didn't just it, she fucking kept at it. For days and days, up against Michael Moore's silence and up against Naomi Of-All-People Wolf coming out and saying that it isn't rape if you penetrate an unconscious woman and up against some of the worst, vitriolic, triggering, slut shaming, victim blaming trolling that I had ever seen on the internet. And by talking about it, by lauding her efforts, I don't intend to minimize the harm or the considerable emotional distress that Sady incurred over the course of the protest and probably will continue to experience. Because she wrote about it, and she wrote about getting death threats because of it, and that shit is fucking terrifying and celebrating her as my feminist hero doesn't make it any less terrifying or upsetting.

The reason, though, that I apsire to be more like Sady Doyle this year is because I tweeted that fucking hash tag like three times and then I gave up. And one of those times, one out of those three fucking times, was a self-servicey tweet I sent yesterday (long after the hash tag had pretty much died) looking for the link to that comprehensive #MooreAndMe recap for this very blog. I mean, could I make this tweet more about me if I tried?

The main reason that I gave up tweeting to that hash tag was because of the trolls. Even my stupid, weeks-too-late, narcistic tweet looking for a link did not go un-trolled.

Yeah. Be careful trawling the internet this week folks, because when you are looking for a link it means you are having a cunt spasm. So like, be careful in public places or whatever.

Weeks later, there are still trolls hanging around that hash tag, looking to frighten and deter and silence those who believe that all rape allegations should be taken seriously, and if that isn't rape culture then I don't know what is. Before this, maybe about three days into the protest, back when Michael Moore still hadn't apologised and when things were looking dire I sent a tweet to Michael Moore (MMflint is his Twitter name) under the #MooreAndMe hashtag.

And this tweet was trolled as well:


And all of a sudden, I just couldn't fucking be bothered. So I didn't tweet to #MooreAndMe again, apart from when I needed a link, because I couldn't be bothered.. I couldn't be bothered tweeting to the hashtag anymore and I couldn't face dealing with rape apologism and mansplaining and a patronising cockwipe telling me that I needed to 'learn' about rape from Julian Assange and that because I am a woman and I felt passionate about something, I therefore must be having a cunt spasm. I didn't have the emotional strength to deal with it, even though I knew that GoldenScepter had ADMITTED to deliberately trolling the hashtag and even though I really wanted to support Sady Doyle and even though I really fucking care about giving rape/sexual assault victims a voice. And Assange and WikiLeaks and #MooreAndMe is inherently linked to giving those victims a voice, because in the words of Sady herself:

"No matter what the actual truth of the Assange case may be, the effect this has on women who are raped is profound, and profoundly terrible. Because it teaches them that, if enough people like your rapist, it is literally unsafe and unacceptable for you to report your own rape."

So the reason that this year I aspire to be more like Sady Doyle is because she kept going when I gave up. It isn't because she started the hash tag in the first place; it's because she didn't stop. And this year, I want to be more like Sady. I don't want to stop. And so, I end the first post of a new year through the immortal genius of not the Bay City Rollers, but of Sady Doyle.

"That’s the most important lesson of #MooreandMe, for me, the most important take-away: The next time something is this fucked up, and we feel like we have to fight it, we will. The next time we feel like we have to fight something, we will know fighting can make a difference. The chief thing #MooreandMe gave me, the girl who started out a week ago just writing an irritated Tweet and then eventually hearing a “thank you” from Michael Moore, was faith in the idea that activism can change things."
[Quoted from here.]