Saturday, May 26, 2012

Familiarity Breeds Contempt? Not Hardly

Several members of my online writing group are in that most frustrating part of the writing cycle where they are sending work out to agents and publishers, waiting on pins and needles and dealing with the inevitable slew of rejections that are, hopefully, the prelude to eventual offers of publication or representation.  This has led to a spirited discussion of the role of “gatekeepers” in the rapidly changing publishing world.  Are they really interested in bringing new voices to readers, or are they only interested in higher profits?
Without claiming any special knowledge, I would assert that they are interested in both, but the two are sadly less compatible than they once might have been.  It’s always been the case that everyone wants to find the next big thing, but once they do, everyone else feels the need to jump on the bandwagon and not get off until diminishing returns force them to look elsewhere.

Star Trek was nearly cancelled
after one season
I would also posit that some combination of the increasing homogenization of our external world and the insecurity caused by environmental, social and economic upheaval makes people crave the familiar, which thanks to the internet, is always at their fingertips.

Last week, a virtual earthquake shook the radio station where I am a chattel worker – um, I mean unpaid producer.  Our Interim General Manager announced a new morning lineup, including a slightly revamped version of the old Morning Show, which was taken off the air a year and a half ago.  The former Morning Show producers and hosts have made it their single-minded focus for the last year and a half to bring it back, blaming its cancellation for every problem the station has ever had, from lack of money to declining listenership.  This despite the fact that the show was cancelled in the first place because the station had a half million dollar budget shortfall – which has now been made up, and that the station’s subscriber base has remained relatively constant (and low) since the 1950s.  Film critic Pauline Kael, who volunteered at the station, complained when she left in 1963 that management was not doing enough to increase listener sponsorships.  At that time there were about 17,000; at our peak in 2003, we had about 28,000, which had dropped to around 20,000 before the most recent layoffs.  In the same period, California’s population grew by 225%, and KPFA is heard through one-third of the state.

In their campaign to get the Morning Show reinstated, the producers and their supporters had viciously and publicly attacked Interim General Manager Andrew Phillips.  They also embroiled the station and its parent network in costly lawsuits (which were thrown out), picketed the station repeatedly, and at times encouraged their supporters to give money to a separate Morning Show fund instead of to the station.  Andrew had said very publicly several times that the show would not go back on the air.  Many staff on the other side of station politics reacted to last week’s announcement with shock and horror, feeling the message it sends is that bullying pays.

Staff also feel that we’re moving backward rather than forward.  The Morning Show was a traditional news magazine, produced and hosted by paid staff, covering the issues that are important to KPFA’s core audience, which is 65% white men over [50].  Its replacement was a show called The Morning Mix, produced by a diverse, rotating group of unpaid staff.  The style and issue focus of the Mix vary, depending on who is producing and hosting.  The paid producers at the station have refused to help them, so the production quality also varies.  Some listeners like it much better than the old Morning Show, some stopped listening altogether, some like certain hosts and hate others.  The show has steadily built both audience and fundraising capacity over the last fourteen months.  It has definitely brought in new voices and listeners.
When the new-old show, “Up Front” debuted last week, in the middle of the fund drive, it raised three times as much money as any other single hour during this drive.  However, there’s some indication that the new show might be pulling money from similar shows.

I recently heard George Lucas talking about how he could not get a studio to make “Red Tails.”  I mean, this is the guy that made Star Wars!  But studio execs didn’t believe he could get people to go see a movie about Black fighter pilots.  When the film did well, these executives were shocked.  “Hollywood studios were stunned by how well the No. 2 film, George Lucas banner film Red Tails, did in matinees today. Until they discovered that the Lucasfilm/Twentieth Century Fox movie’s marketing inside the African-American community resulted in busloads of schoolkids and midday filmgoers for the Tuskegee airmen’s story.”

Brenda Chapman had to fight
to convince Pixar to make a film
with a female action hero
It is true, though, that you cannot build an audience overnight.  You have to do it over time.  In bygone days, television and radio stations could sometimes take the time to do that, because people did not have that much choice.  When I was growing up, we got four television channels.  If you didn’t like a show, you had a strong incentive to give it a chance to grow on you, if it was on at a time when you wanted to watch television.  Some of the most popular shows ever were nearly cancelled after their first season.  Star Trek was saved from the ax by a letter-writing campaign after its first season, but cancelled after three because of low ratings, only to live forever in late-night reruns and spinoffs.  “Cagney& Lacey,” which caused hours of angst for me and my politically correct feminist friends (because we all loved it), was renewed only after CBS replaced too-butch Meg Foster with the more “feminine” Sharon Gless.  The show was cancelled again after its first season, and again restored by viewer organizing.

Now, no one would take such a chance on a show that was losing market share.  They can’t afford to, because not only will they lose audience during that time slot, but they might lose it permanently.  If people flip the dial, they will probably flip it back, but if they turn off the TV and turn on their computer or download something on their Kindle Fire, they may never come back.  Check out "The 15 Best TV Shows That Were Canceled Too Soon" to find out what you've missed because of this instant make-it-or-break-it mentality.

That’s why authors, performers and producers have to spend so much time “building platform,” something else we talk a lot about in my writing group.  If you want anyone to take a chance on you, you have to show that you already have an audience.

We like what’s familiar.  That’s why series do so well, whether in print or on film.  I have to admit, if I have a choice of a show I never heard of or a rerun of “Law & Order,” I’m likely to pick the rerun, even if I’ve seen it five times already.  I do watch new things, I read books by new authors, but I like to mix them liberally with things I’m accustomed to.  Obviously, this is not unique to me, or “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1”, “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol” and the all-important “Cars 2” would not have been the top grossing movies of 2011.

What is it about us, I wonder, that makes us seek the comfort of what we know, even when we realize that everything familiar was new once?  How do you decide to try something new, and how long do you give it?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A dialogue on Gay Marriage

I turned off the TV in disgust on Sunday night.  I knew it was going to be a week filled with a subject I can't stand talking about.  But you can't fight a rising tide ... I had an interesting email discussion with some friends (one here, one in India) -- see below -- and found a few interesting things to read.

I made this poster decades ago, but
it just never goes out of style.
-----Original Message-----
From: Preeti
Sent: May 11, 2012 12:46 AM
To: Lisa, Kate
Subject: so what do you two think about this? Kate I expect you will blog about this :)
President Obama Supports Same Sex Marriage
Yesterday, during an interview with ABC News, President Obama said, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
On May 11, 2012, at 11:06 AM, Kate R. wrote:

I'm sure it is a good thing in general.  There's no upside to some people not having equal rights.  The problem is that people keep talking about it as "the last bastion" and even pretty savvy African Americans like Cory Booker talk about how racial inequality is now unacceptable in this country, and no one in the mainstream is talking about the massive racial inequality that exists and persists and is getting worse.  (The Oakland cops just killed another kid in East Oakland the other day.)

From what I heard, it's all about money.  I heard someone say, "Gay money has replaced Wall Street money," meaning that as Wall Street has abandoned Obama, even though he's been great for them, gay fundraising has stepped up to fill the voice with big bucks.  And that is just so depressing.  It's very much like the Jews, not at all like African Americans, who never had that ability.  It's proof that you can get the equality you can pay for.  But as I say, it makes no sense to lament equality.  I can lament that people want to be equal in an unequal society, but they do.
What do you think?

-----Original Message-----
From: Lisa
Sent: May 11, 2012 11:49 AM
Subject: Re: so what do you two think about this? Kate I expect you will blog about this :)

I actually think gay marriage has helped to kill  gay community.. and the more people are being pushed into making a single relationship paramount and primary the less people make  friendship and community important..  or perhaps the opposite that the less community has met people's needs the more they have turned to primary relationships to do so.. personally i feel gay marriage has been a detriment to all lgbt people and is just a symbol of how far we are from creating a vision of  what we want that is separate from the mainstream society.  i would like  to talk more openly about what  our real needs are and what kind of society or  community we want to meet them   and whether marriage or  raising a one on one relationship over other relationships is really going to meet our needs and desires..

On May 11, 2012, at 12:40 PM, Kate R. wrote:

But you can't fetishize gay marriage for that.  It's not that people made a choice to push for marriage and that killed community, it's that as gay people became more accepted -- and acceptable -- in mainstream society, they felt less need for community with one another.  That happens with all marginalized groups in this society.  You see it with the Jews -- I keep bringing that up because I know it intimately -- as we got more social power and experienced less discrimination, people stopped living and socializing in predominantly Jewish communities and started intermarrying in much higher numbers and Jewish communities got weaker.  And sadly, the two main forces against that have been the rise of religious fundamentalism and Zionism, and the third has been white flight to parochial schools.
Gay people are not more pro-marriage or less communitarian than straight people.  It's just that not having access to the nuclear family for a while forced queer people to look for alternatives, but it's always easier to fit into mainstream society than to fight it.  If there's one thing that I think is responsible for the hegemony of marriage and the nuclear family -- in the face of the fact that most people are not living within them -- it's the death of the women's movement.

At May 11, 2012 11:34 PM
Preeti wrote:

I think listening to the news on radio and tv stations here outside the US makes it seem much more larger and historic than it probably is within the US, as this article attests. It is definitely a boost for gay groups  working in very marginalized, homophobic context to get this affirmation from the US govt. I heard some really interesting debates and discussions on BBC radio here in Muscat where I am now (visiting my parents) and to be able to talk about/hear about gay rights being discussed so openly is quite liberating.

May 12, 2012 12:30 AM
Lisa wrote
i appreciate everyones input on this..  seems like we all are really agreeing that marriage is a problem that needs to be re-examined whether we are gay or straight. and   while we may differ on some of the specifics i think what is important is what is our common vision and how we can articulate that and implement that vision. 

one thing i would phrase differently is that I don't see gay marriage as about equal rights.. rather as creating benefits for another small privileged group of people.  statistically those in long term relationships in the queer community are most likely to be well off white people and least likely to be poor african americans.  so it is just creating another privileged class and to me is much more about class privilege.    

while i can't read people minds it does indeed seem like the emphasis on marriage is  about the desire to assimilate whether that be for parental approval or for economic benefits or societal approval.. i don't know if it is  about feeling more assimilated and thus feeling less need for community or a feeling that there is no community that is providing the emotional support people need and turning to marriage to provide it.   maybe it is both and for those who are feeling privileged they feel less need for community.  and for  poor queers, queer foster youth,  etc  i think there is a feeling of  a lack of community and family and they are desperately looking for that.  . either way the emphasis on marriage seems to  ultimately lead to less community  both for queers and straights and generally in my experience seems to  lead to people devaluing their other relationship for a relationship and institution we  know is an illusion.. just as the whole romantic myth of forever after  is a myth  that we are feed from childhood and just  seems to end up leaving people feeling bad about being single or divorced or confused why they haven't found happiness in their marriage.  …


Is It All About Money?

Yasmin Nair
I have no partner and have been against all kinds of marriage, gay or straight, since the age of 8. If I were to die or even begin to do so, most of my friends would not be able to come and take care of me simply because their ultra-progressive workplaces have policies in place for “partner/family leave” but none for friends, no matter how close. I can see R., flying into the U.S from Montreal, confronted by a US customs officer who smirks with one eyebrow raised, “You're here to take care of... a sick friend?” Or K. going to her department for leave and being told, “But you already live with a partner and S. isn't sick. Whom do you need to take care of, again?”
Ralph Richard Banks
The title comes from a young African American boy in Washington, D.C.. When a journalist visited his 6th grade class, one of the other boys said he wanted to learn about being a good father. The journalist volunteered to bring some married couples to talk about child rearing, but the boy said he wasn’t interested in learning about marriage. Then his friend interjected, “Marriage is for white people.”
The title asks not only whether marriage isn’t for black people, but also whether it isn’t for white people. An understanding of the marriage decline as a society-wide development is a central point of my book.
“African Americans are the most unmarried group of people in our nation. Black women are more than three times as likely as white women never to marry. And when black women do marry, they are more likely than any other group of women to marry a man who is less educated or earns less than they do. In fact, more than half of college educated black wives have less educated husbands who are not.
While Banks highlights the implications of the black experience for people of all races, he also explores a puzzle particular to African Americans: Why, amid rising rates of interracial marriage, so few black women wed someone of a different race. Successful black women typically remain unmarried or marry down; they do not marry out.”

Leanne Italie
Marriage Rates Declining in the Developed World
"Men's real wages have fallen and they face a lot of job insecurity, so a woman who would have found a high school graduate a pretty damn good catch in 1960 now has to say to herself, `Would it really be smart of me to marry this guy?' She's choosing to focus on her own earning power."
A separate Pew survey released last year found that while nearly 40 percent of respondents said marriage is becoming obsolete, 61 percent of those who were not married would like to be someday.
"I need to support a future family," said Vince Tornero, a 23-year-old senior at Ohio State University in Columbus. "I want to have kids but I can't have kids if I don't have money."
Pew also found that marriage statistics vary by race, with 55 percent of whites, 48 percent of Hispanics but just 31 percent of blacks married.

MSNBC’s Chuck Todd then shared a story about Biden having been moved after attending a fundraiser at the home of a gay couple with a child.
“Well, is that the first time he’s ever been around a gay couple?” joked Scarborough. “‘Oh, my gosh, they did not eat the child’s head! Maybe this is ok.’”
“This is the story they’ve cooked up to explain the evolution?” he added.
Explained Todd:
They are so sensitive to Biden doing this because, number one, gay money in this election has replaced Wall Street money. It has been the gay community that has put in money in a way to this President that is a very, very important part of the fundraising operation for the President Obama campaign. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Give Mom Some Justice

Mother's Day is a Hallmark holiday, but its roots are radical.

I can't quite figure out how Julia Ward Howe went from writing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," which was inspired by meeting Lincoln at the White House in 1861, to issuing the Mother's Day Proclamation in 1870:
Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice." Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
Howe was an abolitionist and a woman suffragist before the Civil War, but after the war: 
Howe focused her activities on the causes of pacifism and women's suffrage. In 1870 Howe was the first to proclaim Mother's Day, with her Mother's Day Proclamation. From 1872 to 1879, she assisted Lucy Stone and Henry Brown Blackwell in editing Woman's Journal.  (from Wikipedia)
Less well known is the story of Ann Maria Jarvis, who was even more instrumental in the official establishment of Mother's Day.  According to the blog allvoices:
Ann Maria Jarvis organised women in her area of West Virginia in 1858 to deal with the poor sanitation and health conditions in her town of Webster. She was attempting to combat high mortality rates. Only four of her own twelve children survived to be adults. The women's group coordinated care for families whose mothers had tubercolosis, provided medicine for the poor, and inspected food and milk.

When her county was occupied by both Union and Cofederate soldiers her Mothers'Day Work Clubs provided basic nursing for both sides when typhoid and measles epidemics broke out. They also provided food and medicine.

A decade later after the war in 1868 Jarvis arranged a Mother's Friendship Day at the local courthouse. The gathering of soldier's and families was from both sides of the war and was an attempt to have them come together in peace. The event helped to heal community division and was continued for several years.
Ann Jarvis actually withdrew her support for Mother's Day in the 1920s as the florist industry and other business began to commercialise the holiday and depend upon it for sales. Jarvis initiated lawsuits, and was even arrested for creating a public disturbance as she attempted to stop commercialisation of the holiday.
Today I decided that the only Mother's Day present I'm giving this year is justice for women.  From the evisceration of welfare benefits to the erosion of abortion rights to assaults on equal pay, mothers, potential mothers, women who want to be mothers and women who are being forced to be mothers are the front line of the war on women, labor and poor people.

Honestly, I don't always give Mother's Day presents or send cards at all.  I'm very hit and miss about it.  But this year, I decided I'm giving the moms I love the best presents I can -- donations to organizations that are fighting to protect the (few) rights that women have left.  I chose Virginia Organizing for my mom, since she has spent almost her entire life in the state which happens to be led right now by Governor Ultrasound, our wannabe but hopefully-never-to-be vice president.  I know she'll appreciate it.

For my mom-friends in California, I donated to ACCESS-Women's Health Justice which does direct advocacy, case management and policy work to "remove barriers and build the power of women to achieve reproductive justice."  I was one of the earliest ACCESS volunteers in the nineties and helped to create its first of its kind practical support network, to bridge the gaps in access to reproductive health care in California.  It's a truly grassroots organization with a radical vision.

This year, Say It With Justice.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Who trashed Valencia Street?

Monday night, on the eve of big May Day protests signaling the hoped-for resurgence of Occupy, a planned “pep rally” in San Francisco’s Dolores Park turned into an ugly riot. Dozens of small businesses and cars on Valencia Street were trashed and smashed and painted with circle As.
Valencia Street is some of the mostly hotly contested territory in San Francisco. When I moved to the Bay in 1980, it was one of the first places in San Francisco that I ended up. It was at that time the hub of the lesbian/feminist community in the West Bay. Between Amelia’s women’s bar at 18th and Artemis CafĂ© at 23rd were Womancrafts West and Old Wives Tales, across the street from one another and right by Modern Times Bookstore, an anarchist collective that included a number of queer people. Osento women’s bath house was at 19th. Half a block up 18th Street toward Guerrero was and is the San Francisco Women’s Building, home to a dozen or more feminist organizations and one of the only wheelchair accessible spaces where you could hold a public event for not too much money. Next door to the Women’s Building, the Dover Club was one of the last vestiges of the time when the Mission was heavily Irish and German.

The white lesbians, feminists and queers who flocked to the Valencia strip knew we were the leading edge of gentrification in the primarily Latino neighborhood. We tried to be conscious and supportive to the Latino businesses and neighbors, while realizing that good intentions were not necessarily enough. It helped that the major focus of the left in the eighties was U.S. intervention in Central America, so there was some political crossover.

Lesbians and Gays Against Intervention in Latin America, which I joined in 1986, used to meet in the back of Modern Times, but when the group dwindled to eight or so, we moved to a restaurant called Puerto Alegre near 16th and Valencia. I always ordered the same thing: a veggie tostada with rice, beans and tortillas and a Dos Equis beer. The bill, with tip, came to $5 – a great deal, even then. The comfortable booths were never that crowded and they didn’t mind us sitting there for two hours. Since I lived in the neighborhood, I went there at other times too. The waiter-owner would recite my order for me. In the mid-nineties, as hipsters began to pour into the neighborhood for the clubs on 16th Street, Puerto Alegre suddenly started to have lines out the door. I’ve been there like twice in the last fifteen years. The last time was the day I got deported from Palestine in 2005. The food was neither as good nor as cheap as it used to be, not surprisingly.

courtesy @marymad
Since I could not spend much of Tuesday in the streets, I spent a little of it on Twitter. That’s how I got to see the armored personnel carrier roaming around downtown Oakland before many of the people who were actually in Oakland did.

It’s also where I ran across a link to a blog post from someone named Scott Rossi. He writes:

I don’t know who, the people I’ll dub as the ‘ringleaders’ of the march were exactly. Nobody did. Yeah some of the aggro people we always have to deal with were there, but these guys weren’t it. You remember those asshole jock bullies in high school? Well that was who was leading the march tonight. Clean cut, athletic, commanding, gravitas not borne of charisma but of testosterone and intimidation. They were decked out in outfits typically attributed to those in the ‘black bloc’ spectrum of tactics, yet their clothes were too new, and something was just off about them. They were very combative and nearly physically violent with the livestreamers on site, and got ignorant with me, a medic, when I intervened and reminded them that I was there to fix them from police violence, not protester on protester violence.
Now I’m not pointing a finger at SFPD, although it would not surprise me if certain elements were clued in on it. Generally, the officers seemed as upset and bewildered as we were. Remember that article that just came out about the banks cooperating against Occupy? They have hired Pinkerton, those fucking goons, the scourge of the labor movement from back in the day, to coordinate against us. It could be that they are the Feds, it could be that they are some corporate assholes or even some of our right wing blogger friends who stalk us at events. It very well could be SFPD, as apparently there were no arrests, yet several cruisers drove past myself and a few other people with what I assumed were protesters in the back seats. Bandanas still up over their faces.
The other thing that bothered me is the level of destruction and the targets.…Black Bloc goes after state or corporate property not that of the working class and poor. …This wasn’t directed against corporations or big banks, with the exception of one single ATM I saw smashed. This was specifically directed against mom and pop shops, local boutiques and businesses, and cars. Lots and lots of cars. I won’t weep for the hipster dives or the WASP nests for nouveau riche white trash, but the working class, poor and immigrant owned places I will. At first it was a few luxury cars, but as I followed the march down Valencia from a distance, it was all types of cars.
Okay, now there are some internal inconsistencies and leaps of logic there. I have to say that the theory about it being right-wing bloggers seems a lot more plausible than that it’s SFPD. Why? For one thing, the SFPD, of all the police departments around, has been one of the least gung-ho when it comes to busting Occupy. Not that they haven’t done their part, but they don’t seem nearly as personally invested as police in Oakland or even Santa Cruz. Participants in last week’s blockade of the Wells Fargo stockholders’ meeting talked about how downright friendly the cops were. Secondly, SFPD is not a small organization. A few angry cops couldn’t just decide to do something like that. An SFPD counterintelligence operation like that would, I assume, have to be okayed by the chief of police, and likely the mayor, and both of them I think would know that people are going to investigate and probably discover the truth and there would go their careers.

But if it was right-wing bloggers or other private forces, then that calls into question the story about seeing the masked guys in police cars, when they were not arrested.

Last night on my way out of work, I stopped by the Occupy SF General Assembly. They were discussing whether to fundraise for the Mission businesses that were damaged, which it seemed like they would agree to do. A guy named Carlos mentioned that Wells Fargo Bank has pledged $25,000 to help the shopowners repair the damage.  After saying, “I usually stay far away from conspiracy theories,” he suggested that Wells Fargo might have had a hand in hiring the people who did the damage in the first place, so that they could both discredit Occupy and show it up by offering to help. I have to say, I’ve heard crazier ideas.

If this all sounds like paranoid fantasy, consider a few things:

  • We know that the Koch Brothers considered hiring thugs to infiltrate the crowds in Wisconsin last year
  • We know that the biggest banks in New York were helping the police with surveillance in preparation for May Day, comparing themselves to "innocent elk hunted by wolves."
  • Business and government interests have shown themselves willing to commit violence in order to frame activists in the past, as in the 1990 bombing of environmentalists Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney, where the FBI attempted to blame the victims
  • We know the FBI has been setting up activists, including recruiting people to blow up a bridge in Cleveland
  • We know that the tendency of some local Occupy groups to cover their faces and commit property damage provides a good opportunity for counterintelligence to move in and confuse casual observers
Like Scott Rossi, I am not saying I know who did this. Like Carlos, I am usually very reluctant to endorse conspiracy theories. What I am suggesting is that most of those businesses probably have video cameras. The city itself has video surveillance cameras on the street. Every ATM has a camera or two. Some intrepid investigative reporter or group of activists with more time and guts than I have should be able to go up and down Valencia Street and collect a ton of video which could prove or disprove this theory once and for all. I sure hope someone decides to do it. (If you want help, you know where to find me.)