Monday, October 3, 2011

Are You There Blog? It's Me, Ally.

Hello little blog. Hello little corner of the internet that I created, over a year ago. Hello little corner that I have been ignoring. Hello little website that I haven't written in for months. And my, what a difference a couple of months can make! How DATED does Blogger look right now? Do you think that if I moved this little blog over to Wordpress I would be tempted to update more often? Perhaps, if I 'blogged' (and I use that term loosely) at Wordpress I would become the kind of blogger who organises some kind of reader giveaway on the birthday of her blog, instead of forgetting such an important date while being too busy with wintery/windy/woebegone activities like illegally watching MasterChef Australia and trying to determine, once and for all, how much butter can physically be absorbed into a potato. (Answer: heaps.)

I'm sorry, blog. I don't really know what's up with me at the moment? I've been feeling weird about you and about our relationship and to be honest, weird about myself in general. And I'm sorry, but I think I'm about to be self-indulgent for a bit. I can't imagine my self-centred-ness will come as a surprise to you, because really, only somebody with some kind of narcissistic personality would feel comfortable sharing as much about their sex life on the internet as I do. (Sex life, in case you're wondering, is just fine. Fine as in had sex this morning. And yesterday.) I guess I started feeling tired and burnt out from arguing on the internet. And like I had less and less energy for being called a moo cow on heat and having to deal with moderating comments like these:


I felt tired at how vehement people on the internet were about defending their right to make rape jokes and I felt tired of being c-o-n-s-u-m-e-d by arguing on the internet, that mixture of adrenaline and urgency and dread every time you click 'refresh'. I've been tired in real life because I moved house and got to do all of this new stuff at work and then I did a little bit of acting in a play for my friend Freya and STUFF and THINGS and EXCUSES. I felt tired and I stopped writing. Now I think I feel less tired, especially now that the sun has come out, but I'm still not writing. (Actually, I am right now, as you can see, but at the moment nothing is stopping me from sending this blog post to live with all of the other blog posts Who Never Made It. Perhaps one day they will all visit me in a dream like that time on Six Feet Under when Nate meets the ghosts of all of his aborted children?)

Another thing. I don't know if you've noticed but I tend to think about things quite a lot. Heaps. Maybe even too much. During the time of Not Blogging I thought a lot about the name of this blog. I Am Offended Because. I Am Offended Because. What does it mean, this setting myself up as someone who is permanently offended? At some stage, during the Not Blogging and the Over Thinking and the Potato Buttering and the I-Should-Maybe-Be-On-Some-Kind-Of-Anxiety-Medication I read some articles about positive thinking and the powers of attraction and I became paralysed with fear that by being offended all the time I was setting myself up for a miserable life. And then I thought how it is a privlege to even entertain the idea of the powers of positive thinking. I told you I was serious about the over thinking thing. There is a reason that my red haired, balsamic vinager loving friend Scarlett sends me emails that say:

"You have a tendency to over think, and you talk yourself out of things. Time to DO. Time to BE."

Right now I'm thinking about whether it is 'overthinking' or 'over-thinking' or 'over thinking'. I guess if I can over think the word itself I can probably over think this blog. This thing on the internet that I made and that belongs to me. And trust, I've over thought this blog until every fucking cow has well and truly come home. I've been feeling weird about the waxing and waning popularity of this website and I've been feeling weird about the more-people-than-I-can-count-on-four-hands (yours-and-mine) who deleted me off Facebook when I started writing this, out of fear of my inane little screen caps and I've been thinking about how stupid it is to measure your friendships through social media in the first place. I've been thinking about the people who have deleted me who now want to talk to me about politics at dinner parties, and how confused that makes me feel. I've been thinking about the people who I definitely hurt by screen capping them in the first place and I've been thinking about whether that's even a productive form of activism. (Is it? Is it not? I don't know.) I've been thinking about how I don't really have any authority on anything, let alone on being offended, when I know I can be just as ignorant and hurtful as the next white cis-lady with a place on the internet that she made. I've been thinking about that stinging feeling of ownership, the feeling that rears its ugly-feeling-head when I introduce a friend to a concept like fat acceptance which they reject and then go on to preach at a later date, with no mention of our initial conversations. I've been thinking about the bitter self-importance of associating any kind of ownership whatsoever with concepts that are tied to equality and kindness and human decency. I've been thinking that this blog wouldn't even exist in the first place if my friends Sarah and Meg hadn't introduced me to Definatalie and Kate Harding and Fashion Hayley while we were sitting at Sweet Mother's Kitchen. I've been thinking and I've been thinking and I've been thinking. And I don't have any answers. Apart from the fact that these thoughts feel less ugly and less absorbing now that I'm writing then down.

So there it is, little blog. The anxiety and the arrogance that has kept me away. But look, even though I haven't been writing very much on the internet, I've actually been doing quite a lot of reading. Bloggy mine, I thought that I could maybe leave you with a few links? Of all of things that I have been reading on the internet? Because I kind of had this idea that maybe by the time you finish reading them, maybe, just maybe I might feel like writing something again? You never know right?

And lawdee, do I have links for you. What kind of links do you want? Do you want travel blog links? Because at the moment Sophie is writing possibly the best travel blog ever. And my old friend Natalie is eating her way through Asia. And my friend Erin made the cutest travel Tumblr while she was away, at my insistence.

Or maybe you want nice things to look at/potentially buy? I can maybe help you there. How about this ring that looks like salad? How about Nadia Aboulhosn, who might be the sexiest woman on the planet? If hot women wearing clothes are your thing then you should look at Amelia and Bronny and Gabi. Maybe a gif of a cat rapidly changing outfits might be more your style. And you should most definitely look at these pictures of Jessica and Erin because these pictures are so sexy that they make my eyes fall out of my head. I like looking at Fashion Hayley's apartment and teranium while imagining that one day I might be organised enough to keep an apartment tidy/keep a plant alive. I also die a little bit for Jamie Lee's nails and Nicolette Mason's jacket and skirt and these sequinned slippers. Speaking of those slippers, my gawd there are a lot of things on the internet that I want to buy. Like this and this and this and this and this every single little thing that Gisella designs.

Or are you here to do some serious reading? You probably are if you like reading my long form (read: long winded) writing. And I have read so many good articles since the last time I blogged in April. There are some articles that I'm never going to forget, like Mac McCLelland's piece at GOOD or this piece at Daddy Dialectic. I discovered Martha Polk's writing, most notably this at the Hairpin, and her review of Black Swan which describes ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of my feelings about Black Swan, much more eloquently than I could. I've read a lot of great things at the Hairpin actually, like this and this and this. Some of my friends have written great things as well, like this piece on sex work and Coley's take on the Rugby World Cup. I loved what Blue Milk had to say about Madison Young's exhibition and surely everyone by now has read Roseanne Barr's article, which was everywhere a couple of months ago, but it still gives me goosebumps. I love this piece on productivity. I love Susannah Breslin's letter projects, Letters from Johns and Letters From Working Girls. I love Tavi's new website Rookie, especially her piece Getting Over Girl Hate and this bit of writing called Hands Off by Miranda July. I like this Paris Review piece by Emma Straub. I like what Glitter Politic have to say about activism. I think Kat George is funny. This is smart and thoughtful. I love that Sady Doyle gave me even more to think about, in terms of feminism and blogging. I agree with this and with this, at the same time. Do you want to do some long form reading that will shatter your heart into little tiny pieces and then put it back together, in a comforting and inspiring way? Then there is nothing better than Dear Sugar on the Rumpus. I am yet to find a column that does not make me weep. Try this and this and this.

Maybe you want links to some kind of creative project? If you do, you should go and paint your nails like this. Or like this. Or take some inspiration from Leah. If you're feeling ambitious you could cover your floor in glitter. Is cooking creative? Because I recommend both of these recipes from Smitten Kitchen, which I made over winter and made me think I was the best cook in Wellington. Do you live alone? Then Jane has cooking tips for you. Or you could get some strongly worded recipe ideas from here.

Do you want some new people to follow on Twitter? Because you should follow my friend Di, who has the smartest Twitter in town. You could even follow my Twitter, which is less smart and features approximately double the number of food related tweets. Or you just read this article about cats tweeting, which probably usurps all of the good people that I follow on Twitter, even Josie and Laura.

There's also just some stuff that I downright love on the internet. Like, I love ANY video that features Louis CK. I love This American Life, but I love this episode the most. And any blog that combines nail art and burgers is basically my dream. One day, I'm going to eat an ice-cream from here. And I'm probably never going to drink this, but that's okay. And Scarlett, the friend that I mentioned up there, writes things sometimes that are just so clever. And Definatalie draws things that are just amazing. I love Nancy Upton's American Apparel protest Tumblr and I love her xoJane interview. I love it when my friend Freya raps, topless. I love these horoscopes and I love the nineties and I love this Tumblr and I love this dad and I love how much this wikipedia entry gives me the creeps. I love this cat. I love these guys. And maybe, more than anything, I love this video and I don't even think it's because I may have been under the influence of some kind of green substance when I first watched it. A green substance that wasn't spirulina, WINK WINK NUDGE NUDGE.

There are even little bits of me in other places on the internet. You could read my Tumblr, if 'read' is synonymous with scrolling through pictures of scantily clad chubby girls and gifs of desserts melting. You could even go and read some of things I've been writing for Salient. People especially seemed to like it when I got a bit gooey over my girlfriend. If all else fails, and if none of these thinks appeal to you, then maybe you just want to watch me dance. This is the rhythm of my life. My life. Oh yeah.

Monday, April 11, 2011

My Unlikely Motherhood...

I'm pretty sure I'm never going to have children.

That sounds flippant I know, and I don't mean to trivialise the hurt that so many uterus-bearing people (and their partners) feel when their body won't do the things they desperately want it to do. This isn't a blog about infertility. This is a blog about a young woman's choices. (The young woman being me, in case you were confused. Which you probably shouldn't be because I haven't-even-written-any-sentences-like-this-yet.) And as far as my choices go the baby making is looking pretty unlikely indeed, what with the lesbian thing and the lack of any solid career or even vague financial stability thing. There's also the fact that I tend to not really like kids very much, and have actually made statements in the past like "I hate children" and "a great business plan would be to start up a child free airline"; statements which I am starting to see as being perhaps ever so slightly problematic with the help of feminist motherhood bloggers, my favourites being Blue Milk and Spilt Milk. (Tis true, to make my list you must include the word 'milk' in your blogging handle.) Also, children tend not to like me very much, which is probably due to the fact that my armament of social tools (over sharing information about my sex life and wearing statement head wear) isn't entirely appreciated by those under twelve. There's plenty of other reasons for my not wanting children: my phobia of needles, my low pain threshold, my dislike of having sticky hands, my hatred of all things animated. The list does go on. (My vehement refusal to play any sort of game, my dislike of doctors, my irrational fear that my breasts are so large they would suffocate my baby mid-breast feed....)

Mostly though, I'm just worried that if I had children they might turn out like Ben Simpson.

I'm worried that they might be the kind of person who would see a Facebook event for the Wellington Young Feminists' Collective Launch Party and decide to post this:


And then upon reflection, decide he hasn't sought quite enough attention and then post this as well:


You can thank me now, dear PIV loving readers, for the best contraception I have ever come across. Run out of condoms on a bush hike? Just think of Ben Simpson. Forgot to renew your pill prescription? Just think of Ben Simpson. Stuck overnight in Vatican City? Just think of Ben Simpson. Just think of Ben Simpson and think about giving birth to a son and changing his soggy nappies and covering his school books with duraseal and then seeing him use 'lesbian' as an insult on the internet! Imagine reading to him every night and washing his sticky wet dream bed sheets only to be slapped in the face by his trolling of a feminist Facebook group! Imagine raising a son so steeped in his own privilege yet so insecure about his masculinity that he chooses to spend his Monday evenings insulting the social justice movement on the internet!

I think I would possibly die of embarrassment. And so I remain childless. If any accidents happen (unlikely, due to both the lesbian monogamy and the lack of phantom sperm floating around Aro Valley) my son will be raised with this picture of Christina Aguilera super glued to his wall:

Post Script Part One - These screen caps were taken earlier in the evening on the WYFC event page. After I went to bed I understand that Ben Stimpson stuck around being boring and nasty resulting in his banning from the event page - thus the comments have now disappeared.

Post Script Part Two - If you are reading this and you would like internet fame for your brilliant witticisms leveled at Ben Simpson just let me know and I can remove your MS Paint anonymity.

Post Script Part Three - If you live in Wellington... See you on Friday!

Post Script Part Four - WYFC Event Poster designed by Natasha Sawicki Mead. Photo of Christina designed by Google Images.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

This One Time I Decided To Blog About Going to See a Movie

I've been feeling kind of lackluster about this blogging thing lately. I've also been feeling a little bit lackluster about cleaning my side of the bed and cooking meals involving vegetables and returning things to the DVD store on time, so blogging, don't take it personally okay. I still love you. I PROMISE I'LL NEVER LEAVE YOU BLOGGING. MARRY ME BLOGGING? I'm not sure if the lackluster is kind of natural disaster related or maybe that lately I've been a bit distracted by writing some stuff to deadline for Salient or (to co-opt a phrase I saw used by the lovely Lesley Kinzel) I just have a case of "activism fatigue" and it's natural for these things to come in ebbs and flows. I just had to look up ebb in the dictionary (my dictionary of choice being Google, and therefore, not actually a dictionary) to see if it is a real word, and you know what, it is! Great. It means something to do with the sea in case you wanted to know. This is as technical as I'm getting. Remember, I'm feeling lackluster. I don't plan to write my my first blog in weeks on the inner workings of wave mechanics.

When I first began writing this post my sister was up here in Wellington going to a different school, while she waited for hers to reopen, after the earthquake. The extent of my blogging procrastination sees that my sister is now firmly back in the South Island and having to learn things in tents, which all sounds fairly traumatic to me as the closest I have come to camping is putting up a marquee last weekend. A very small marquee. To sell lolly cake out of. That I only really helped to put up. And I probably only really helped if you consider making jokes about 'pegging' to be helpful. I went to the school that my sister now goes to and I can tell you that the only good thing to come out of the earthquake was the sheer unadulterated joy that I felt when I saw this photo of the St. Margaret's College gym mid-demolition:

If I could have actually shown this to my chubby, awkward eleven year old self OR my eyeliner-ed, anti-social thirteen year old self OR my broken-legged-after-an-obstacle-course fifteen year old self all would have been alright with the world. I could have smugly sailed through those pointless gymnastics/trampolining/cricket lessons knowing that those barbarous PE teachers would get their comeuppance. DON'T WORRY ALLY, I would say, ONE DAY THERE WILL ACTUALLY BE A BULLDOZER IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS GYM. AND NOT JUST SITTING THERE EITHER, IT WILL BE DOING ACTUAL BULLDOZING WORK. THEY CAN CHAIN YOUR BODY ALLY, BUT THEY CAN'T CHAIN YOUR MIND. Fuck I hated PE. I've always been a vehement opposer of those who spout the saying that 'those who can't do, teach' but my GAWD I love saying that 'those who can't teach, teach PE'. How did I end up talking about PE? Deep seated psychological problems? I don't really know but while we're here any sanctimonious PE defenders in the house should probably go and read this by the Fat Nutritionist. The beginning of this blog post however was supposed to be about my sister, who I assume is legitimately sad about the demolition of the gym because of her love of 'working out'.

When my sister was here and she wasn't working out we decided to go to the movies on a Sunday afternoon. We ended up in that dismal movie no man's land where none of the movies you actually want to see start for at least 2 two hours so you have to go and see either Gnomeo and Juliet or 127 Hours or Conviction. I vetoed 127 Hours because I couldn't deal with 'that whole arm thing' and Gnomeo and Juliet was never really up for consideration, I just wanted you to really understand the MOVIE TIME DESERT in which we found ourselves. My sister and I decided to see Conviction due to my unwillingness to watch anything about amputation but also due to our mutual love of low brow, Jodi Picoult-esque suspense rubbish. Conviction is based on the Incredible True Story of Betty Anne Waters, a single mother who went to law school for ages and ages so she could become a lawyer and then try to get her convicted-of-murder brother Kenny Waters out of jail. The trailer is right here and you should probably watch it because I am going to talk about the movie for a little bit now. (IMDB here for those who are more text inclined.)

When I was watching the movie I had quite a nice mindless time, just the kind you want when you're watching some low brow, Jodi Picoult-esque suspense rubbish. Once, I caught myself wondering if the conversations between Minnie Driver and Hillary Swank meant the film passed the Bechdel Test but mostly I found myself thinking about things like:

'Hrm, Hillary Swank's character has quite nice leather gloves clothes for a single parent lady putting herself through law school by working in an Irish bar at night.'

'Hrm, my lips are a bit dry, I wonder where my lip balm is?'

'Oh look, that guy from the OC still has those great eyebrows!'

'What should I eat for dinner?'

'Man, I love Juliet Lewis.'

And then the movie finished and I was pleased it ended the way I knew it would and I was totally ready to go and get my kumara fries but THEN my friends, and I'm really trying to build to a point here, THEN there was the epilogue and THEN there was the kicker, because during the epilogue I saw this picture of the real Betty Anne and Kenny:

And THEN I realised that I had been been watching a movie about a fat person without even knowing it. Surprise! This seemed really weird to me, especially because I thought that I was watching an Incredible True Story.

This 'Incredible True Story' thing is kind of important. When you're watching an Incredible True Story the stakes seem higher. The fact that Betty Anne Waters the character decides to become a lawyer for her brother is so much more powerful because Betty Anne Waters the person actually became a lawyer for her brother. So it makes sense that this 'Incredible True Story' thing was amplified for the movie. Hillary Swank was cast, who looks kinda similar to the real Betty Anne Waters. She spoke with an accent. She wore a wig. The movie was filmed in Michigan in an attempt to recreate locations in Masachusetts, where Waters was initially convicted of the murder of Katharina Brow . And while Conviction has been criticised for legal inaccuracies, the movie claims to tell the story of the real Betty Anne and the real Kenny. The film uses this realness, this Incredible True Story-ness, to its advantage. Tickets sell because everyone loves a biopic. Tears flow, because this shit really happened. So, you could say that it surprised me that Sam Rockwell was cast to play Kenny Waters. It surprised me because after all of these attempts at authenticity somebody must have made a concious choice not to cast an actor that looked like the real Kenny Waters. Sam Rockwell gave a really solid performance (and my friend Jean says he is a really great actor) but he looks like this:

And not like this.

I kind of want to know why this decision was made. I can speculate of course. Is it because Kenny in the film is kind of roguish and sexy and charming and we all know that fat people can't be any of these things? Is it because at one point, when Kenny is being sexy and roguish and charming, he does a little strip tease and we all know that nobody wants to see a fat person in any state of undress? Maybe Sam Rockwell was cast because the plot requires two of Kenny's girlfriends to give evidence in court, and obviously fat people are so undesirable they are never in relationships, ever. Or is it because during the film Kenny is seen as being physically violent? Everybody knows that obviously a person's size must directly correlate to a person's strength, so therefore a fat Kenny would have been more threatening. Is it because a fat person would be less sympathetic? After all, the success of the movie really does depend on the viewer wanting Kenny to be released from jail and nobody likes a fatty. Is this enough though? Are the stigma and the stereotypes enough to justify casting Sam Rockwell and not a fat actor in a movie that claims to be authentic? A movie that claims to be an Incredible True Story?

I've written before about the total and complete lack of positive or actually even NEUTRAL representations of fat bodies in the creative media. I've read a lot about how the people that are presented in the movies and on the telly are the people that have the most power. So it makes sense that the people who I see the most of on screen are white, able-bodied, cis-men. But also,when I watch the movies and the telly I see mostly thin people getting the good story lines and thin people getting to play characters with agency and with flaws and with interesting lives. I see fat people playing a whole deck of miserable stereotypes: fat people who can't stop eating candy, fat people who hate their lives, fat people who can't stop eating donuts. Of course, fat people should be able to eat whatever the fuck they want, including candy and donuts, but when two out of three fat girls on televvision at the moment have a humorous eating crutch... it's time to cry stereotype. Usually I attribute the lack of fat people in the media to the fact that writers and producers and advertisers and those with the mega producer bucks assume that people don't want to see movies or television programs about fat people. Therefore movies and television programs about fat people don't usually get made, and if they do fat characters are usually cast as the best friend or the villain or a main character who happens to provide donut munching comic relief. And I get that movies are sometimes supposed to be escapist and glossy and glamorous. People go to the movies and they want to sit in the dark and switch off and be somebody else for awhile. I do it. That's why we went to see the uplifting lawyer movie and not the uplifting chopping-through-your-tendons-with-your-pocket-knife movie.

James Franco was cast in the pocket knife movie, and maybe I should be angry about this too. James Franco is a little bit more conventionally attractive than Aron Ralston and this Hollywood-ising of people's stories is also about the glossy and the escapist and the eye candy. I am angry, a little bit, and I could write about my anger that so many movies give people unrealistic expectations of how they should look. I could write about my anger that being attractive is usually part and parcel of being a successful actor. But right now I'm too busy feeling furious at Conviction. Conviction was supposed to be about Kenny Waters, a fat man with a life story interesting enough to be made into a block buster film. But the stereotypes about the unsexy and the scary and the donuts are so pervasive that even REAL LIFE STORIES about REAL LIFE FAT PEOPLE are being told by thin actors. Stereotypes about fat people are leading to the erasure of fat stories. I don't think it's good enough. I'm sick of people assuming that I won't want to go to the movies and see people that look like me. I'm sick of people saying "it's just a movie" and ignoring how media representations prop up systemic oppression. I'm sick of it and I think that whoever made the decision not to cast a fat actor is a coward, because as the late, great Heather MacAllister said:

"Any time there is a fat person onstage as anything besides the butt of a joke, it’s political. Add physical movement, then dance, then sexuality and you have a revolutionary act."

I'm writing about Conviction because seeing that picture of Kenny and Betty Anne smiling at each other weirded me out. I was weirded out by the fact that just when I was trying to take it easy for an afternoon and just go see a movie about lawyers because SURPRISE THIS MOVIE IS ACTUALLY ABOUT A FAT PERSON. I can't escape the fat stigma and the body surveillance culture just for an afternoon. And no matter how lackluster I might feel at the moment about blogging, I can't escape from the political. Life is political. My body is political.

[All images sourced from Google Images or screen capped from the YouTube Conviction trailer.]

Saturday, February 26, 2011

This Week

I lived in Christchurch until I was eighteen. There was a really big earthquake there on Tuesday. The death toll stands at 146 and around 200 people are missing at the time of my writing this. My dad was rescued from the collapsed Provincial Chambers building two hours after the quake, having spent the last two hours trying to keep his PA calm who had broken her back in the impact of the quake. When I learned about the collapsed buildings I was sent home from work and the hour I spent, detached and nervous and on an entirely different island, waiting for news about my dad was terrible. I'm really, really lucky that all of my friends and family are alive. A girl whom I went to school with has lost her fiancé, the father of her two children under three. The mood in Christchurch, and in Wellington where I live is understandably bleak. My grandma cries to me on the phone about all of the reporters she watched on the television every night for years, lost in the collapsed CTV building. My sister's best friend was given one minute to run into her house and grab her cellphone before it was demolished. Upon seeing my grandparents sitting in the dark, drinking long life milk and listening to the radio my dog fell to floor and cried for ten minutes. Both of the heritage buildings that my parents work in are in ruins. This explains my blogging silence this week because I sort of can't bring myself to post the trivial things I have been writing about. It seems heartless and tactless to post about offensive Facebook groups and insipid New Zealand television shows right now. I will again, in a few days, but I seem to feel guilty about everything right now.

[The Provincial Chambers building where my dad works. Photograph taken by Asher Trafford.]

In the last week I've been to three plays (it's the Fringe) and one gig (my friend Bryony had a plus one) and turned twenty three and had a party (my girlfriend and I had already created the Facebook event and people seemed to need some kind of catharsis because we were noise controlled and the washing line fell down and a pole in our kitchen was broken) and at that party I danced to S Club 7 and the Rhythm of the Night and Blink 182. I've tweeted irrelevant things about lentils and I changed my girlfriend's Facebook status to read "Ally Garrett is the princess of the earth" when she left her profile logged on. I had a massage and ate Pizza Pomodoro and watched Zoo Babies and New Zealand's Hottest Home Baker and had sex (twice) and received gifts and went to work every morning and tonight I'm going to make cannelloni for tea and all the time I've been thinking about Christchurch. I can't stop feeling guilty no matter how much I tell myself, in the words of my friend Sarah, that self care is a radical act. I guess this is normal because I'm grieving for the city I grew up in, probably, and it least it means that I have thrown all my spare change into every Red Cross bucket I've seen and donated to the SPCA and Paw Justice. Kent, Stevie and I have taken tampons and deodorant and toilet paper and things to Wellington Women's Refuge, to re-balance the load, as there has been an increase in domestic violence in Christchurch since the earthquake.

[The other side of the Provincial Chambers. Photograph taken by Asher Trafford.]

In part, this post is selfish, because it feels wrong to write anything here without acknowledging what has happened. I've been humbled at the number of people who, at my suggestion, have donated the cost of buying me a birthday cider to the Women's Refuge or to the SPCA or to the Red Cross. (These links will take you to websites where you can donate for readers who have any pennies to spare.) For those who want to know more about the earthquake for me it has been this piece of writing and this set of (very triggering) photographs that have brought the magnitude of the disaster home for me. I know that life does go on and that soon, a return to as much normalcy as possible is important because in a way this means there is hope for the future. But for now, Christchurch, I am thinking about you.

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 clichĂ©s 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.]