Friday, 30 January 2015

The Made-up Issue of Religious Freedom

Today a National Post editorial informs us of a “A win for religious freedom.’ The headline refers to a recent decision by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to allow graduates of the Trinity Western University  to practice in that province. Trinity Western University — a private Christian institution in British Columbia — forbids its students to practice ‘sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.’
The notion of religious freedom in North America is a made up issue. We have religious freedom in North America, and have had it for many, many years. Religion is a private matter — between an individual and his or her God (or Gods). Religious freedom is an aspect of freedom of speech. It refers to the right of individuals to hold any beliefs they wish, to publish those beliefs, to speak about those beliefs publicly, and to worship at the alter of their choice. 
That’s it. 
That’s religious freedom — and yes, we do have it in North America.
The religious right in North America, however, has, for the last few years, been desperately attempting to make ‘religious freedom’ an issue — by pretending that we don’t have it. They are referring to instances when religious expression begins to enter the corporate, legal and/or government sphere.
The matter is not a sticky one, it is not complicated or contentious, as North America’s religious  fundamentalists would have us believe. Of course a person should have the right to wear a cross or a hijab in public. However if someone is operating a power tool in their job, they shouldn’t be allowed to wear a cross that could get caught in it. (Duh!) And yes, someone testifying on the witness stand should be required to show their face, as that is part of evaluating the honest of their testimony. 
This is not difficult to understand, is it? It’s quite clear when freedom of speech (or freedom of religion as the fundamentalists would have it) begins to cross over into activities that interfere with other people’s rights, freedoms and the rule of law. 
But ‘born again’ Christians won’t have it that way.
They would have us believe that not allowing a religious university to require it’s students to be chaste is an abridgement of that university’s freedom. No. This is merely requiring that a university not force its religious views on the general population.
Hey — I thought universities were about freedom of thought and exploration of ideas anyway. Not the propagation of one idea.
This brings us to another issue that springs from the Trinity Western University controversy. Some think that the university’s rules against ‘sexual intimacy’ are homophobic. Probably. But it’s  much more upsetting that these rules are anti-sexual.We want everyone to get married and have children and go to church these days. But whatever happened to sex? Whatever happened to sexual liberation? Why would anybody in their right mind want to prevent college age young people from being sexually intimate? Do you have any idea how anti-human that is? How such ideas destroy people’s lives and loves and sexual empowerment?
Human beings are sexual beings. And they need to have sex. Especially when they are young and in the prime of life. 
The folks at Trinity Western University are, in many ways,  a bewildering bunch. But what they are doing has nothing to do with religious freedom.
It has everything, however, to do with oppression in the name of religion.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Universities Must Move to the Forefront of Digital Innovation!

                Contemporary philosophy recognizes the increasing digitalization of our universe, and the consequent and inevitable rise of the trans-human. It is the responsibility of our post-secondary institutions to stand at the forefront of modern knowledge. And yet they have not kept pace with the latest technological advances in digital learning. It’s time for universities to step up to the plate and enter the modern world.
                Recent years have seen qualitative advances in academic awareness.  Sure, libraries and archives are increasingly to be found on line. Students no longer require living teachers; in fact that the old-fashioned ‘lecturer’ – standing behind a lectern and pontificating – has become an anachronism. With interactive interface technologies, students are provided with the opportunity to communicate with virtual instructors — that is, to participate in a traditional Socratic dialogue -- on ‘skype’ or through chat. Most understand that universities of the future will not require attendance to ‘classes’ (now a somewhat antique term) — but instead, will be accessible to everyone, online, 24 hours a day.
                However, we’re only halfway there.
                The focus in recent years has been on coming to terms with the demise of the traditional notion of ‘professor.’ But the future requires a significant re-imagining of the presently outmoded concept of ‘student.’ So what will the universities of the future look like? In the past, students were assumed to be living breathing human beings. It is become increasingly clear that -- in the 21st century -- students will be replaced by machines. To speak quite frankly, post-secondary education will consist of computers teaching other computers.
                This will be a difficult notion for many to accept. Older academics may still feel nostalgic for the dusty domain of textbooks and libraries, where grey haired professors shook their heads, and stretched their gnarled fingers to ‘make a point’ with eager, breathing undergraduates. But those days are over. The future of education will not only see the eradication of professors but the eradication of students as well.
                Think about it.
Humans learn more slowly and less efficiently than machines. It is quite simply old-fashioned to imagine that humans can be entrusted with a commodity as priceless as knowledge.  In addition, it’s important to remember that  in the future most of us will need more time  to complete our arduous shopping and purchasing tasks -- and also more time to consume the massive amounts of digital entertainment that are available to us through various platforms such as itunes, Amazon and Netflix. We are online 24 hours a day anyway -- shopping, flirting, chatting, being entertained and entertaining others -- and ‘de-stressing’ from our complex 21st century lives.  We routinely rely on computers to store, analyze and distribute knowledge, anyway.  Isn’t it time that computers, rather than people, went to school?
                There’s no turning back. The time has come for universities replace students with computers and be at the very forefront of digital innovation.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Death of Edward Albee

                Well he’s not actually dead yet.  But his work is. Obviously.  I just finished watching the first act of Edward Albee’s A DELICATE BALANCE on Broadway -- starring Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Martha Plimpton, et al – and I was outside enjoying the balmy night air. Two clearly bewildered patrons exited the theatre:
“Well I’m going.”
“Well you’re uncomfortable.”
“I didn’t say I was uncomfortable. I thought you were the uncomfortable one.”
“I never said I was uncomfortable. You said you were.”
“Well, I’m going.”
And with that, she (fake leopard skin coat and tight pants) and he (handsomely coiffed) were off. Of course they could have been talking about the lack of leg room at The Golden.  But if they had been watching WE WILL ROCK YOU at the same venue, I doubt there would have been an identical complaint.
Then, when the play was over, I heard this:
“There were an awful lot of lines in that play.”
“Yes there certainly were.”
“I guess that’s why they get paid the big bucks, those actors, for learning all those lines.”
Yes, I sing the sad song of the demise of a great American genius. Edward Albee was once an important playwright. But nowadays people see all too clearly the error of his ways. After all, his work is as dated as hell, because it is dominated by two giant anachronisms of the digital age: words and ideas.
Nobody wants to listen to words anymore. After all, a picture is worth a thousand of them, right? Even tweeting is old fashioned these days-- you can instagram faster.  And, after all – YOUTUB E says in a flash what plays and novels used to take hours to tell you in long, boring, complicated words.
Like, as if anyone is going to mourn ‘the death of language.’
And ideas. Well I think we’ve had enough of them. Especially the ideas in A DELICATE BALANCE. This is a play about -- get this – two neighbours who come over one night to Tobias and Agnes’s house, and say that they are ‘afraid’ and that they want ‘succor.’ (What the hell is succour, anyway?).  And so what happens? Well Tobias, (the’ Father Figure’) is all conflicted about whether or not to take them in. Can you believe it? He spends the entire play wondering whether or not it would be alright to let the neighbors move in! As if! The play is basically suggesting that some people might, conceivably, put their friends above their family.  I mean, come on! If we’ve learned anything by 2015, it’s that ‘family’ is the most important thing in the world.  Mom, Dad, two differently gendered kids, dog, cat. That’s it. That’s sacred, man. Nobody threatens my family -- even if he is Goddamn Edward f-ing Albee!
I know for some old folks, saying goodbye to Edward Albee’s A DELICATE BALANCE will be  tough.  To some, it might feel like saying goodbye to an old friend.
But old friends die too you know, and frankly, they often cease to be relevant long before that.
And listen to me.
Nothing, nowhere,  no how, no way, threatens my family.
You hear?

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Week-End Marriage

Sick with the flu today, I caught Week-End Marriage on TCM with the luminous Loretta Young.
I was sipping chicken soup and happened to notice Loretta swanning about in a negligee with her boobs falling out — a nipple showing through the fabric! And then, a scene with a husband in wife in a double bed, giving each other a kiss!
OMG! This was ‘pre-code’ — meaning pre-Hays code. The Hays Code (which became the Breen Office in 1934) was the system of American movie censorship from 1932 to 1968.
As in most cases of real institutional censorship, though it might seem to be all about cleaning up sex scenes — it’s really about protecting us from challenging ideas.
True to pre-Hays Code form, Week-End Marriage, filmed in 1932, would be radical, even for today. 
The film deals with a question that just doesn’t seem to go away: are working women a good thing? I wish I could say this issue has been decided in the affirmative — and of course it has been if you live in a mega-city like Toronto or New York. But if you move even slightly outside the borders of urbanity, you will quickly come to understand that working wives are still controversial (especially in fundamentalist religious culture).
In Week-End Marriage, Loretta Young convinces her husband to allow her to continue working after they tie the knot. One night she comes home late. Lo and behold, her hubby is angry and goes out for a drunken night on the town. Later, he almost ends up dead. All of this is of course attributed to Loretta Young’s dedication to her career.
I’ve been going on in these blogs about the relationship between capitalism and heterosexuality; i.e. emphasizing why they need each other. I’m sure some of the many people who don’t read this blog — and even some who do — think I’m nuts. So please note that when I speak of capitalism’s dependence on heterosexuality, I am talking about traditional marriages — not ‘weekend’ ones.
What Loretta Young wants to do in Week-End Marriage is reject heterosexuality as we know it — as it has functioned and will continue to function for years to come. In other words she sees marriage as between two NON-co-dependent equals who have no children, and who have fulfilling lives outside from their relationship — and who even flirt with infidelity.
I suppose technically of course this is still heterosexuality; but this is not what our culture tells us that marriage is. Week-End Marriage reveals enormous possibilities for what a modern, open marriage might be.
At the end of the movie a doctor (significantly) sets Loretta Young straight (so to speak). I don’t think I have ever heard such an eloquent and passionate explication of why capitalism needs heterosexuality in order to function. I wanted to share it with you:

Doctor: Haven’t you brought enough unhappiness to your husband without jeopardizing his life?

Lola Davis: I...?!?

Doctor: Let me give you a little advice. One way or another, a man will find a woman to look out for him not only when he's sick but when he's well. That's something you so-called "modern girls" never seem to count on. You talk about freedom, because you think it's something men  
have and cherish. But they don't. They hate it. They get along best when they're not free. It's human nature, that's all. They need old-fashioned women looking after their health, nagging them into caution, feeding them properly, and giving them families to live for. A great many of these women are just as well-fitted for business as you are, but they don't want it. They put their talents to work instead in what people today think of as a narrow sphere. Well, I don't think it's narrow. I think it's the most important sphere of all. Not much recognition in it, perhaps--no spectacular publicity--but it's built up nations before now, and it will build them again.

Mrs. Davis: You hear that, Lola?

Friday, 2 January 2015

Big Eyes and an Open Letter to Mark Schultz!

Big Eyes
I promised a review. Unfortunately Big Eyes is not a very good movie. Tim Burton needs a good writer, and no matter how many pretty, Douglas-Sirkish colours he flashes before us, this can’t make up for dodgy dialogue and a listless plot. But speaking of Amy Adams! When is somebody going to write a movie for her — where she plays Marilyn Monroe? Fuck, she is so gorgeous! And tender! And fragile! And such a brilliant fucking actress! Isn’t she the perfect age right now to star in a movie about Marilyn pre-suicide (when she was fucking Kennedy) — and in Big Eyes  — she is just so Marilyn. 

And re: my review of Foxcatcher…..

An Open Letter to Mark Schultz:

Dear Mark Schultz,

Recently in your Twitter account you attacked the movie Foxcatcher. You said the movie is guilty of: “Leaving the audience with a feeling that somehow there could have been a sexual relationship between du Pont and I” and you said that this “is a sickening and insulting lie…after reading 3 or 4 reviews interpreting it sexually, and jeopardizing my legacy they need to have a press conference to clear the air, or I will.”
Well Mark Schultz, I am one of those reviewers who found a gay ‘subtext’ in the movie. Frankly, I found the gay subtext insulting to me as a gay man.The movie seems to suggest that being gay is a bad thing, because the villainous du Pont lusts after you. But re: your twitter comments. All I can say is, why would you not be proud of being thought of as gay? Okay, let me put it this way. What if somebody assumed you were not only Mark Schultz the Olympian, but also a guy who once saved a child from a burning building. Wouldn’t you be happy about that? Being mistaken for being someone wonderful isn’t a problem. is it? And being gay is wonderful! Any man should be proud to be thought of as gay!
Being straight is okay, but being gay is better. Here are four great things about being gay:

a) You are not contributing to world overpopulation because you are not producing children (you are only adopting them)!
b) You are in great company — people like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Shakespeare were all gay!
c) You have the opportunity to wrench yourself from the horrible sexism that dominates straight culture and leads to to violence against women!
d) Finally, if you are gay, it opens up the possibility of rejecting capitalist culture! Compulsory heterosexuality is a necessary part of the capitalist system because the modern family is an efficient way to deliver consumer goods. Being gay gives you an opportunity to break free of the oppressive capitalist system which is now causing devastating worldwide poverty, and increasing the gaps between the rich and poor everywhere. 

Be gay and set the world free!

I hope this letter will make you your paranoia about being thought of as gay.

Being gay really is a very good thing.

Sky Gilbert

Thursday, 1 January 2015

TEN HOLIDAY MOVIES: It’s the End of the Fucking World!

It’s the end of the world. They used to make good movies. Now they just make lousy fucking products.

The Imitation Game
Okay let’s get the most homophobic one out of the way. Jesus Christ do you think I’m supposed to be happy with this fucking movie about another suicidal homosexual who doesn’t get laid but instead spends this whole weepie pining for some adolescent boy love and chumming it up with his best faghag friend?  Christ, this kind of shit makes me so mad! Didn’t Alan Turing ever have sex with a person with a penis in his adult life? In an alley? In a bed? Anywhere? Are we actually in the 21st century?

Yes, this one is homophobic too. Too bad because it’s such a damn fine movie. What an eloquent fucking statement against American patriotism. Nothing can match Steve Carrell’s over the top constipated impersonation of an American fascist who loves his country so much he decides to (spoiler alert) shoot everybody randomly at the end of the movie. Only one elephant in the room: John du Pont is obviously in love with his young wrestling protege, right? (And don’t tell me I’m imagining it!) That's the other thing that makes his character evil, right? In fact, Carrell’s lust for Tatum’s huge, sweaty, throbbing, body actually trumps the evil of his character’s patriotism, and makes him super evil, right? (Sigh. We’ve come NO WAYS, baby!)

Mr. Turner
I bet you thought I couldn’t find homophobia in Mr. Turner. Well you’re wrong. This is another fabulous movie, but halfway through we suddenly have to put up with a lisping caricature of John Ruskin, who is not only portrayed as an aesthetic dolt, but the one Mike Leigh obviously holds responsible for single-handedly destroying 19th century art. (I’m sure Leigh would have loved to put Oscar Wilde in the fucking movie — only it would have been historically inaccurate, so he had to settle for Ruskin.) In one very eloquent melancholy moment Turner gazes at the sad pulchritudinous colours of the up and coming Pre-Raphaelite invasion — obviously brought on by Ruskin’s aesthetic rants. All fine and good. But does Ruskin have to be such a repellent arrogant queen (even if maybe he actually was one in real life)? Honestly, it’s times like these when I think of that totally anal geek from U of Laurier Press who was the editor of my PH.D thesis, and consequently stopped it from publication. She kept saying “I don’t see any justification for your notion that there are still gay villains in movies these days!” Well wake up and smell the coffee, baby, they’re EVERYWHERE!

The Gambler
Marky Mark is very smart. I think this movie should go down in history for one thing and one thing only. It isn’t that profound (it’s a so-so remake of a 70s hit that starred James Caan). It was quite obviously concocted simply to secure an Oscar for Jessica Lange as best supporting actress. (Mark Wahlberg is not only smart, but is a great producer, and he knows talent.) Don’t get me wrong. Lange totally deserves the Oscar.  But I have never seen a movie before where they actually filmed a scene for the leading supporting lady that was perfectly timed and shaped for placement in the Academy Awards as an acting clip.The moment (on the street) — where Lange yells at her son for borrowing money — is superb; it convenes with anger and ends with tears. Only someone as good as Jessica Lange could pull it off.  But — wow — what placement!

Okay. Enough with The Christians already. It’s not a bad flic — as far as these ‘I got tortured by the Japs’ movies go. (Need I mention that the Japanese torturer is unnecessarily effeminate and girly looking?) Anyway, I was enjoying all the hardship and the balletic squirming from too much sun and solitary confinement, too many sharks and beatings — especially when applied to the pretty eyes/lips/body of the gorgeous Jack O’Connell (it really reminded me of my favourite new porn fad: ‘edging’! ). But the leading character (based on the real, now dead, Lou Zamperini) mentioned his fondness for praying and his ‘faith’ one too many times. Jesus Christ — to coin a phrase — couldn’t we leave God out of this? Then I figured out that Angelina Jolie directed it (she did a very good job) — which confused me further — is Angelina now a Christian too? (God help us!) Then I googled the movie and apparently all the Christians are angry because (get this!) the movie doesn’t mention Christ enough. Jesus, it is the end of the world.

The Theory of Everything 
Don’t know where to start. Lovely lovely, lovely, and again, lovely. But were there not allegations that Hawking’s first wife — who is so lovingly portrayed in the movie — abused him? Why not at least acknowledge that? Or is there no respect for truth anywhere, anymore?

Into the Woods
Yes Meryl you were fabulous. But I really hate Sondheim when he gets preachy. Sorry to all the people who worship at the alter of Sir Stephen, but though a brilliant composer/lyricist, his privileged (‘Oh yes, Oscar Hammerstein was like an uncle to me!’) conceited arrogance is too often beyond the pale. While Sondheim can create perfect musicals like Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music, he can also create crapola psychoanalytic diatribes — like this one that just never ends (or rather, ends several times). As an old friend of mine used to say. “Yes Sondheim wrote the lyrics for ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses,’ but don’t forget, he also wrote the lyrics for ‘Little Lamb’!”

Haven’t seen it. Won’t. Am speechless. This was supposed to be a camp musical. It was supposed to be the opposite of heartwarming. Oh well, that’s what happens when camp gets appropriated by straights who wouldn’t know camp if they fell over it.

Exodus Gods and Kings
Please don’t make me see it. (But perhaps just for Joel Edgertons much remarked upon eyebrows?)

Big Eyes
Am going to see it today. Will keep you posted……promise.