Tuesday, January 25, 2011

From Fart Stories to Middlemarch - I am Nothing if not Narrowly Focused

My good friend, the wise and wonderful JD Love, is reading Middlemarch after having listened to me rave over it a billion times. And while I'll acknowledge that most of the people who've tried to follow me into Middlemarch fandom have given up a few hundred pages in, I will not tolerate broad besmirchments of my beloved book. And over at JD Love's FB page, folks have hurled invective in the direction of my Middlemarch in a manner that simply Can. Not. Stand.

So, listen up, my brothers and sisters, and I will tell you precisely what it is about Middlemarch that I love so much.

Dorothea, our main character, is introduced to us as, undoubtedly, a total asshole. She is smug, self-righteous and given to preachy, mean judginess (shut up, it's a word). But we're also told, from the get go, that Dorothea's primary attribute is fierce, passionate intellectualism and an idealistic faith in her own responsibility to use that to make the world a better place. What happens to a woman like that when she's stuck in a world that not only doesn't allow passionate intellectualism from women, but doesn't even believe it can exist?

If you're Dorothea, you marry the dreadful Edward Casaubon, because he's some kind of intellectual giant of the time and who is also old and icky (I love it when Celia talks about how he looks when he eats). His winter's age foray into marriage is brought to us by his introduction to a young, beautiful, fawning acolyte. He's excited by the prospect parading around his extensive (and dry, boring, smug) intellectualism as she she gazes up adoringly. In the meantime, Dorothea dreams that in her marriage she can be like "one of Milton's daughters, copying Greek, and even Hebrew, without understanding it." Can you imagine having to live like that? To only be able to hope for such meager dregs of the thing that you're most passionate about? You'd be a total asshole too.

And Casaubon won't even give her that much! Instead he just gets disappointed that his child bride doesn't remain forever fawningly worshipful and instead a grows into an adult woman and wife. Dorothea is a faithful, attentive, loving wife, but Casaubon wanted her to stay the kid.

Every character in Middlemarch is flawed, but flawed in understandable ways; flawed mostly because of the claustrophobic society they inhabit, and are interchangeably victims of and culpable in. And, good googly moogly, does George Eliot make this claustrophobic society come alive. It's drawn so artfully, and wittily and expansively.

But it's the end I love the most. In the end, all our characters (except Casaubon, who left the book after managing to be a dickhead from beyond the grave) are redeemed by Dorothea. But not through some grand act. Instead, Dorothea redeems them all through a simple act of decency; by believing Lydgate for no other reason than that there's no reason NOT to believe him. Because she is too good to descend into the petty, village gossip, Dorothea and Lydgate and Rosamund and Ladislaw and Fred (Mary was already OK) are all made better.

But Middlemarch remains the same toxic, claustrophobic place it always was. In the end, people are still talking shit about Dorothea and no one gets their comeuppance. Because that's the way the world works. Dorothea and Will get to be happy, but they are not happy in a vacuum.

Eliot ends her book with this:

...the effects of her life were incalculably diffusive [I love those two words together more than I love anything else I've ever read]. For the growing good of the world is partly dependent upon unhistoric acts and that things are not so ill with you or I as they might have been is half-owing to the number who lived, faithfully, a quiet life and rest in unvisited graves.

In other words, somewhere in the past, someone did the right thing, was a good person, and we don't celebrate then and there are no statues built to honor them, but your life, goddammit, is better for them having been there. Having read that and having read what led up to it and made those last words resonate, I shit you not and I care even less how grandiloquent I might sound, has enriched my life in a very real, very profound fucking way.

And if you haven't gotten that, than that's OK. But, your loss, motherfucker. Don't put it on Middlemarch. Otherwise, I'll blog again about how wonderful Middlemarch is. And, honestly, haven't I done that enough?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You Are Not, I Gather, the Pride and Joy of Wisconsin

So, many moons ago, I was working the Sunday day shift at Streeter's. It was a very quiet point in the day, which was odd as it was football season. Normally there'd have been quite a few regulars in watching the game. But on this Sunday, I think it was just me, a doorman and a couple of folks.

In walked a group of people wearing either acid-washed jeans that sagged down over their ample bottoms, or Bottafuoco pants. On top, they had on Packer colors. They were tourists in town to watch the Pack amongst a bunch of FIBs. But despite this impish plan, they were a sullen bunch. Not a smile among them. They sat at one of the big round tables in the middle of the room, and surveyed the joint, sourly.

One of them approached the bar and ordered a pitcher from me. He tipped me the change. I believe it was a quarter. He then returned to his table where he and his posse desultorily poured beer into their mugs. They sat quietly for a few minutes until they noticed the chili bar.

We had a chili bar.

It was disgusting.

The group, made up of men and women, made repeated trips to the chili bar and enjoyed their free chili. I believe there was another pitcher of beer. And another quarter tip. They chatted sporadically, between sips of beer and bites of chili.

After a while, the beer and chili began acting aggressively on what I would have assumed was a stalwart Wisconsin gastrointestinal system. But the chili was disgusting. And would out.

And so this group, men and women, began farting. Not embarrassed "oops that slipped out" farting. But buttcheek lifted off the stool, trumpeting farts. And they didn't even laugh. It was like they were farting for poor profit. Assembly line farting.

After a while, they left me to clean up the old chili and spilt beer from the table.

Now, I'm not saying that ALL Packer fans are rude, poorly-dressed, shamelessly flatulent, bad tippers. But when then Bears roll over the Packers on Sunday, I'll remember that table.

And smile.

Go bears!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hopeful than Hopeless than Hopeful Again

So, my pal Paul is running this series on his blog called Hopelessness Watch. I'm going all big word here, and saying that hopelessness is anathema to me. I am like pathologically hopeful. I am always surprised when I don't win the lottery.

So, I was thinking about countering with a "hopefulness watch." The idea struck me while I was watching the first season of Soap on Netflix. If you are not as old as me, you might not be aware that Billy Crystal played a character named Jody, who was openly gay. That show began airing in 1977. It was something, 30 odd years ago, to have a gay character on TV, and the show should be lauded for its historical significance in not only having a gay character but a gay character who had some depth. In my life, it was the first time I'd ever seen a gay character represented pop culturally beyond just bullshit broad stereotype. And the last I'd see for a really long time.

But there was this one plot development: Jody's boyfriend is a pro football player, who is unwilling to go public with their relationship. Jody offers a solution: he'll get a sex change operation. Because in that show, progressive as it was, wanting to have sex with a man meant you might as well be a woman.

So, I thought "look how far we've come!" I was filled with hope in seeing that even a wildly progressive show like Soap could get simple human sexuality so completely wrong. Seeing the errors of our past makes me feel hopeful about our present. There on my tiny computer screen, I could see real evidence of our progress as a nation.

But then, tonight, I watched this show called Rules of Engagement. And, lo and behold, we meet a lesbian character who we know is a lesbian because she's just like a guy. She likes sports and beer and not communicating and being emotionally retarded. Because she likes to have sex with women, every bullshit, hateful, nasty stereotype about men is extrapolated onto her just like it's 1977 all over again.

And, thus, my hopefulness took a kick to the nuts.

And as I mired in the resulting hopelessness, it suddenly occurred to me that no one watches that show. In all my ample facebooking, I've never seen anyone post "OMG, did you see RoE? David Spade LOLOLOLOL" Why? Probably because it traffics in lazy stereotypes like "men are stupid and emotionally retarded as are lesbians since wanting to have sex with women is all that it takes to make you a man."

American TV is not the cesspool it once was, and we've grown to like a little complexity from our characters, a little depth, a little richness.

And just like that, hopefulness reengaged. Schadenfraudingly.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Incivility is Not the Point

I'm pretty much done with mealy-mouthed cries for a return to civility. I'm not sure our political discourse has ever been civil, and I'm not all that excited that it be so. Let's climb into our way back machine: Remember when George Bush was caught on mic calling a NY Times reporter an asshole? I was with old G. Dubya that there was no need to apologize for that. As may be clear from this bloggity, I'm a big fan of calling people assholes. And while I'm not sure that Adam Clymer IS an asshole, I am sure that Bush was perfectly sincere in his assessment.

The problem is not with a lack of civility. The problem is with ginning up anti-government paranoia. Dog whistle at the barely sane with language that lets them know that all their fevered paranoia is RIGHT! Democrats ARE going to take their guns and once those guns are gone, America will become socialist, but not socialist like Sweden but like that movie you saw on TV that one time about how Russia still is and also China, I think.

I don't care how uncivil our political dialog is. But I do care when so many hugely successful political figures have no issue with increasing their fame and fortune by insisting that democratically elected figures are illegitimate and should be "taken out." I care when they speechify about "real Americans," defined as people who share your political views; the tacit follow-through to this being that people who have different political views are NOT real Americans, but pretenders and interlopers. It's not rude to do that, it's dangerous. If we're going to live in this crazy country where any maniac can buy an assault rifle, it seems only sensible that the people insisting that there's a Constitutional right to these assault weapons should take some care to avoid language inspiring their base to strap them on.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I'm Back, Baby

A quick politics bloggity.

So, I was at the gym today and reading the news on closed captioning. John Boehner was being interviewed by Brian Williams. Williams asks him a question like, "What do you hope to accomplish as speaker," or something like that. And Boehner says "I want to get the America I grew up in back."

Look, I know it's too much to ask of our modern American punditocracy, but wouldn't you just give your eyeteeth if some intrepid young journalist could ask John Boehner what the fuck that means?

I know, I know. When a Republican spouts off vapid, meaningless platitudes it's like they fart rainbows and the eggheads in the press ooh and ahh while their lizard brains return to Mayberry where they sipped chocolate malteds with both Betty and Veronica and it almost never rained.

But, I for one am pretty sure I don't want to live in the America John Boehner grew up in. Admittedly, this is probably because I get my history from reality (which clearly has a liberal bias). And I like living in an America that's slowly divorcing itself from the bullshit good old boys club where uppity bitches like me got shoved into whatever tiny box glorious America wanted to shove them in.

In short, I am a fan of genuine liberty and not the utterly vapid, facile fake liberty that the TP GOP waxes rhapsodic over.

If nothing else, I'm leery of living in the America John Boehner grew up in because it clearly turned him into a raging asshole. But a raging asshole with a really big gavel, motherfuckers!

Can't wait until Johnny B's giant gavel runs into Barack Obama's veto pen.