Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: A Disorienting Post for a Disorienting Year

 2012 was a strange year, but then I suppose that even our best years contain a certain amount of undeniable weirdness. I don't really do cultural retrospectives that well, mostly because I'm far too indecisive to come up with a "Top Five ____s of 2012" list. For Will Danger, though, this year really piled on the major life changes. At the risk of overly-lame sentiment, my life is mind-blowingly different than it was 366 days ago (leap year, after all). As the dutiful readers among you might expect, my blogging practices have changed just as radically -- though my tragically inconsistent posting habits have remained steady.

The past year has held for me a number of resounding failures and unexpected graces. For starters, this year was my first full year doing battle in the real world, a shift that has brought me as much comfort as terror. None of you are surprised to learn how much the real world loves to kick us in the teeth, usually when we're least expecting it. Nonetheless, optimism abounds in the strangest places. My experience with the so-called real world so far is that it shifts the scale and intensity of our pleasures. In a monstrous work environment that was sucking my soul out through my ears, starting the morning with a song I haven't thought about in years could put a smile on my face that lasted the rest of the day.

If you'd told me a year ago that one of the highlights of my summer would be discovering an occasionally overwrought new musical, I'd probably have started crying over the smallness of my life. But some time in the trenches has shifted my perspective; I'll (probably) never again undervalue the luxury of a perfect soundtrack to an otherwise wretched day.

I've learned a ton about career stuff, about job things, about how to get by in the real world, and about how "getting by" isn't all it's cracked up to be. It might not even be real. Perhaps the most massive lesson of the year is mow much I don't actually know about any of these things. Even lesson-learning in the real world is a continual, endlessly repetitive, and vexingly unstable process that has me discovering and forgetting the same information many times over. The mind is a strange place, isn't is? People -- all people, really -- live in varying states of precarity that are never as stable or glamorous as they outwardly seem. We're all a mess, some of us are just praying harder to be found than others. I might quote Ms. Regina Spektor to remind myself that, "People are just people, they shouldn't make you nervous."

In the shadow of my resounding failure to earn grad school admission this year, I've decided to reapply a second time. And in spite of my decision to reapply to grad school, I've come around to the idea that there are other strains of intellectualism in the world. More importantly, there are other ways to be a writer. 2012 was actually a good year for me in terms of publication. I landed two radically different writing jobs (one at Conservativetown, USA and the other at a glorified porn blog). I freelanced in a bunch of other places, and am now actually getting paid to blog. Bizarre, right? I hit a ton of snags along the way, of course. The Cardinal Super-Sad Rule of Freelancing which I learned and relearned all year is that for every piece you manage to publish, there are 145,000 other submissions that get unceremoniously turned away, usually accompanied by a chortle or a scoff. Comes with the gig, I guess. Or maybe that's just what I tell myself to make rejection more palatable.
I caught an extreme case of wanderlust this year; As of this month, I will have lived in four different locations in the past year. Four! Call me flighty or tell me about my borderline-pathological inability to settle into anything, but I'm enjoying my bee-bopping around the country. My sneaking suspicion is that settling into things catches up to us all, eventually. I'm just enjoying my time until it finally gets me.

Without a doubt, my drive across country was the best event of my year. Even if I still don't understand why anyone lives in the middle of the country, except to participate in Willa Cather cosplay, the scenery is absolutely beautiful and nothing quite compares to the almost religious experience of driving past the cornfields of Iowa at sunset, belting the song of your choice out an open window. Give it a try sometime, readers.

We also survived the apocalypse which, if Mad Max is to be believed, is kind of a big deal.

A short summary: 3 jobs, 2 states, 1 district, 4 apartments. Sagging boxes of lovingly worn books; the anxious and unbalancing pleasure of new friends; the unflagging warmth and support of old ones. I didn't love 2012, but I can almost convince myself in writing that I did. We're not dead yet, friends, and I'll drink to that.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mariah Season 2k12

Just checking in briefly to make sure readers know what time of year it is. Sure, sure, December 1 is World AIDS Day, which you should all celebrate by going out and getting tested, by telling all your friends to get tested, and by refusing to fuck anyone who doesn't get tested. However, December also marks the start of Mariah season here on the Block. Mariah is a singer we love to make fun of, mostly because she's a giant mess. More seriously, she was also a precursor to the Christina Aguilera "tasteless bullshit" style of singing, which we worry has irreparably damaged popular music. However, because the holidays are a time of giving and forgiving, we are willing to put aside our malice for a short time. December is the one month a year that Will Danger will throw on the Mariah Carey Christmas album and listen along in earnest. She's just so wonderfully tasteless! She even manages to cram some cowbell into Joy to the World, which we didn't think was possible! Join us in stretching the upper registers of our hearing, wont you?

So, in honor of Mariah -- who, rumor has it, played a recording of applause while giving birth to her twins, so that it would be their first sound other than the bell tones that her uterus naturally produces -- let's all put on some ten inch pumps, hop on a stair master, and make the Yuletide really fucking gay.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Lazy Blogger's Guide to Post-Holiday Blogging

Holidays are tricky. Spending that much family time can't be healthy. Deep cynic/spoiled brat that I am, I usually reserve the dirtiest of looks for anyone who appears to be winding up for a "Today I am thankful for..." moment. Plus, any Thanksgiving dinner that involves going around the table and having everyone say what they're thankful for generally makes me want to die. Has anyone else noticed that it's usually uppity white folks that do things like this?

At any rate, we all deserve a medal and some cigarettes for surviving a sustained encounter with family members. While you're out traipsing over the corpses of fellow Black Friday shoppers and tearing out a stranger's weave for 40% off your new washer/dryer combo, here's a quick list of things I am actually thankful for:

1. Rise Up With Fists!!! -- Jenny Lewis

2. Triumph of a Heart -- Bjork

3. Asleep -- The Smiths

4. Abducted -- Cults

5. Girls -- Marina and the Diamonds

6. How Did We Come to This? -- from The Wild Party

7. Rid of Me -- PJ Harvey

8. Science Fiction/Double Feature -- Me First & the Gimme Gimmes

If nothing else, you can do a little listening around inside Will Danger's noggin and maybe take this opportunity to judge him for his questionable taste in music. I'll also offer you this pricklingly hilarious Slate article about the logistics of porcupine fornication.

Jokes aside, Black Friday is one of my favorite holidays because of the people watching it affords. There's an unparalleled frenzy to the whole affair, like going to the mall on Christmas Eve. It feels very much like worshiping at the altar of America. And we all know how obsessed I am with that kind of messiness.

Hope you had a good holiday, folks.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Too Much TV Two: Asylum

Ryan Murphy and I have a contentious relationship. When he is on point, he's one of our strongest and most important television writers, surpassing even Joss Whedon, New Queer's patron saint of quirky ass-kicking.  American Horror Story and Nip/Tuck both contain some of the best television moments out there; the writing is often sharp and mercilessly smart. And, ok fine, Glee is an important show, even if the writing is questionable and the fanbase is increasingly obnoxious. Unfortunately, Ryan Murphy is unpredictable, almost as good at missing the mark as he is at hitting it. He's also produced some of the worst television out there, very often in the same series that's just dazzled us. Sometimes even in the same episode.

It's worth mentioning that in spite of Glee's queer legacy, Ryan Murphy's worlds are wildly homophobic and especially transphobic, in an overtly violent way. Just ask Nip/Tuck's Cherry Peck (played by Willam, one of my favorite Drag Race contenders). Before Glee, queer characters had almost never done right by Ryan Murphy. Nevertheless, this season of American Horror Story is turning out to be surprisingly worth the investment. After last year's sudden decrease in quality, I was ready to declare American Horror Story a wash.

In a sequel to one of New Queer's greatest hits, I'm taking another moment to revisit/rewatch American Horror Story. Spoiler Alert: I spoil stuff. Read at your own risk. Most of my writing should probably have this disclaimer in front of it.

This season, subtitled "Asylum," takes place in a criminal asylum (duh) run by a religious order and headed by a terrifying nun named Sister Jude. It follows the adventures and foibles of nuns, doctors, and inmates, some of which are clearly crazy, some less obviously so. There's some thematic overlap between this season and the first, with a few important differences. This first is that with the exception of a demonic possession (I'm not convinced we can assume this possession is really happening), there is nothing truly paranormal occurring. This year, America's horrors are all home-grown. Serial killers, medical experimentation, and terrifying pseudo-treatments abound, but the inmates aren't actually haunted, except by each other and the downright weird narratives they've invented to account for their various crimes. American Horror Story: Asylum's monsters are products of mid-century American culture and are all the more terrifying for it. These monsters are real, kiddies.

The second strangeness of this season is that its plot has absolutely nothing to do with season one. Many of season one's actors are back in new configurations, playing entirely different roles. If I'm being generous in my thinking (and why wouldn't I be?), maybe Ryan Murphy is playing with the kinds of continuity that we take for granted in television, disrupting the concentric episode/season/series temporalities of development that are so familiar to TV viewers. Jessica Lange has described the phenomenon as very much like belonging to a theatre troop, and maybe she's onto something. Does the refusal of continuity and development expand the scope of Murphy's horror story? There may be precedence for this, but I can't think of any because I'm an inadequate TV scholar unless it involves Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Real World.

Storytelling, a particular focus of the first season, takes center-stage in the second. Murphy asks us even more explicitly to think about the stories we tell, the narratives we invent which enable us in certain ways, and the places where these revisions start to break down. There's a wonderful line from one of the inmates about stories, but I'm afraid my mind isn't what it used to be and I'm not in the position to re-watch AHS in the middle of the day, so this is becoming an increasingly less helpful paragraph. I was reminded of a line from Michael Cunningham's A Home at the End of the World, though: "We become the stories we tell about ourselves." Again, not a particularly helpful detour.

Asylum tackles storytelling at the institutional level, positioning Sister Jude's forced religious fervor alongside Dr. Thredson's faith in downright monstrous psychology and the fantastic narratives the patients invent to excuse their crimes. Where/how does (horror) story become faith, become dogma, become institution? What are the limitations of these distinctions and why do we insist on them? Though these overlapping modes of storytelling achieve different levels of plausibility and cultural legitimacy, at one point or another they all falter. Much like Dr. Arden's Frankenstein-like monsters, the narratives begin to fail their inventors, mutating unpredictably. Sister Jude's religion, once the source of her authority within the asylum, quickly becomes a source of torment as another nun threatens to expose her past indiscretions. What happens to us when our narratives fail us, take on life we'd never imagined, and become monsters beyond our control? Murphy uses the individual psyche as a framework for understanding organized memory and cultural amnesia (a parallel that holds up better in some places than others).  Asylum tangles with the instability of memory, the impulse to pathologize, and the slipperiness of sanity in importantly historical ways, an examination that is especially relevant in the wake of this summer's string of violent shootings that people continue to insist are individual exceptions rather than cultural products.

Timely television from Ryan Murphy?!?! I'm as surprised as you are.

Asylum feels all the more American precisely because it deals in real histories. Where season one set its sights on the family, Asylum sinks its claws into America's questionable history of institutionalization and diagnosis. Murphy reminds us that much of our self-evident faith in modern psychology has roots in terrifying medical practices that begin increasingly to resemble contemporary ones. One character's lobotomy (which turns her into the perfect 1950s housewife) reminds us that the history of the nuclear family and the mythology of post-war America is always one of medicalization and always brushes up against the technologies of pathology and identity-formation that are central to 21st century America. Involuntary ECT feels clearly wrong when applied to a fictional lesbian character, but remains a significant treatment for severe depression, often applied involuntarily for the same "criminal" reasons present in American Horror Story. An overwhelming percentage of ECT patients are women, by the way. Ryan Murphy holds us accountable for the gritty history of pathology in 'Merca. The show suggests that though asylums have revised their criterion for entry (slightly), the fundamental narrative framework that creates the need for asylums and that emerges through the inside/outside tension of normalization remains in place. In many ways, Asylum's American horror story is still unfolding.

Give it a watch, readers. Though it still feels like it's missing some of season one's strange intelligence, American Horror Story: Asylum continues to unfold in downright compelling ways. Of course, now that I've vouched for it, Murphy will almost certainly turn off his brain, make Kit Walker's alien story real, and have the aliens blow up the asylum, a la Independence Day. If the aliens turn out to be real, I will break my TV. I SWEAR IT.

Be good, folks.

Friday, November 2, 2012

PSA: November is National Finish Your Shit Month

October's over, and I'm happy to report that as far as I know, all of my friends survived Sandy. For those of you that don't know, November is National Novel Writing Month. Though I'm generally skeptical of anything longer than a blog post that only took a month to write, I'm staunchly in favor of this unofficial national holiday. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, tons and tons of people are putting pen to paper that wouldn't have otherwise. I'm told that Water for Elephants was a product of NaNoWriMo, and now it's a Reese Witherspoon movie, which is a good indication that you never quite know what's going to happen when you start typing.

Nevertheless, I'm pretty convinced that Will Danger doesn't have a novel in him. Some people just don't, ya know? So, riffing on this sentiment slightly, I'm declaring an official state of emergency on the Block. For Will Danger, November is National Finish Your Shit Month. I'm the absolute king of half-finished projects, and it turns out that public shame is one of the few things in the world that I still find motivating. So I'm hopping aboard the motivation train and by month's end, I am holding myself publicly accountable for the following:

1. A completed and workshopable draft of my play that's remained neglected since June.

2. A better handle on, if not draft-quality manuscript of, the short collection of essays that's somehow sprouted out of my neck, with one or two polished and loaded up for publication in some far-flung location.

3. Oh, and grad school stuff, but pfft. Pfft. Pfft. NOT NOW, GRAD SCHOOL, I'M WRITING.

nah throw it back you don't need that
Something that makes this goal all the more ambitious: The other half of this post is about writer's block. I haz it. It's not that I've been incapable of producing, just that I'm completely unenthusiastic about the shit I've been turning out. And I've been chowing down on Activia like it's going out of style. (A short aside: Those Jamie Lee Curtis Activia commercials have completely ruined the movie Halloween for me. THANKS A LOT JAMIE LEE.)

It's just one of those weeks where you turn your nose up at every sentence that comes out of your pen and think to yourself, "No, that isn't right." Could it have anything to do with the amount of time I've spent with RuPaul this week? Or my turn to Latrice Royale/Sharon Needles fan-fiction? Maybe it's the surprising political depression I'm feeling this election season. At any rate, no amount of James Baldwin essays, Natalie Dee, or The Guild comics has been able to turn my frown upside-down. Hopefully this semi-public declaration of ambition will create the tiniest sense of urgency for me. Fingers crossed.

To do list for November:

1. High-five Barack on his sweeping victory.
2. Be super cynical about gay marriage because it's legal in my state now.
3. Remember how to write.
4. Finish my shit.

At any rate, the election is almost over. Take a deep breath and remember to bring glitter-bombing supplies with you to the voting booth, because that bible-thumper with the "No on 6" sign is just begging to be fucked with and you could probably use a good laugh.

Be good(ish), folks, and happy NaFiYoShiMo.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Entry from My Writerly Morgue

Well, readers, I think it's safe to say that we've entered the rejection portion of my writing career, where I plan to stay until the day I die. I'm definitely not bitter. Thanks to 21st century self-publication, I can pawn off my failed writerly projects on you folks! WHO NEEDS AN EDITOR?! (Answer: Me. I need an editor. Always and desperately.)

The following isn't an overly original marriage piece, but it looked like it was going to run in a certain Washington periodical that shall remain nameless, until they pulled it at the last minute. Since the piece's relevance pretty much expires on election day, I thought I'd post it here. There are a few lines/strains of thought that I want to see the light of day, in one form or another. I hate writing about my own writing, but I'd hoped this might help make the terms of the marriage debate a little less self-evident and start to get at the larger stakes of marriage equality, especially for collective citizenship.


For those of you living in a hermetically-sealed bubble for the past several years, I bring breaking news: there’s a marriage debate being staged across the nation concerning the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people to marry. The right exists in a small number of states (plus one district), and a few additional states now recognize the same-sex marriage certificates issued by other states. This election season, though, the question is appearing as a ballot initiative in four states – Maryland, Washington, Maine, and Minnesota. It seems timely, then, to take a moment to root around a little in the business of both marriage equality and state-sponsored love in 21st century America.

Perhaps we should stop swaddling ourselves in inherited marriage bullshit, whether religious or cultural. Let’s be clear: Marriage, within the realm of government legislation, isn’t about love. Marriage isn’t about creating healthy environments for children. (After all, America’s ever-expanding foster care system suggests that nuclear families fail their children every day.) Present-day marriage doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus either, much though that diva would like it to. The nuclear family, crafted in the furnace of marriage and government-sponsored love, is a technology by which the state organizes and exercises power over its citizens. Through the institution of marriage, the state acknowledges specific kinds of relationships, glues in place patriarchal gender relations, and fortifies the structural economic inequality that has become the calling card of 21st century America. Marriage is more about the selective distribution of privileges than it’s ever been about love.

In light of my emerging cynicism, maybe you won’t be surprised to learn that there are divergent strains of thought within the LGBT community about whether or not the ability to marry is even a desirable right. After all, marriage is a deeply sexist institution that has a long history of overt racism. Plus, many LGBT people have spent years, sometimes generations, forging unconventional community ties whose perceived legitimacy hasn’t a single thing to do with one-on-one marriage. We also might wonder if the enormous resources spent passing marriage legislation, by organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, might be better spent on more pressing issues like healthcare and workplace discrimination. Does the fact that in 2012, LGBT rights automatically equals civil marriage keep us from recognizing both the landscape of possibilities that LGBT politics might present to the American imagination and the larger economic problems that make marriage a necessity in the first place?

But if we’re going to have the marriage conversation, and by now it’s very clear that we are, none of this is really the point. That isn’t what is at stake for either the state-specific ballot initiatives or the larger campaign for marriage equality. The black-and-white reality is that one set of American citizens can achieve a basic set of rights and privileges that another cannot. Denying LGBT citizens the right to marry creates a system of tiered citizenship that values certain Americans over others. The fact that Sharon Stone can marry, but Sharon Needles can’t means that Sharon S. has access to fuller citizenship than Ms. Needles, having absolutely nothing to do with whether or not either has any business getting married at all. Flat-out, this is not the democracy on which America prides itself.

What’s more, this debate has an effect on our collective citizenship. Where you, good fundamentalists of the world, love to argue that homomatrimony would weaken the value of your “traditional” marriage, I’m going to suggest that denying a specific group of Americans the right to marry cheapens your citizenship. And honey, in most cases you’ve been American much longer then you’ve been husband/wife.

Will marriage be good for LGBT people? Sorry, the cynic in me started laughing before you even finished asking the question. However, at this particular political moment, it’s possible to be against marriage, but for marriage equality. Hell, it’s even possible to be against LGBT people, but for marriage equality, because voting for equality doesn’t have anything to do with marriage. It isn’t even a statement about how you feel about homosexuality. Fundamentally, it’s a vote in favor of democratic equality for all citizens.

Discuss. Oh, and vote. Be as hipster-trendy as you want, there’s nothing cool about not voting.


Now, Will Danger, your questions are irksome and perhaps you should take your furs and your literal interpretations to the other side of the river. Sashay away.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hot Glue, Halloween, and Hilary Fucking Clinton

I know, I know. On this cold, rainy Friday morning, you've come to New Queer looking for sharp, extremely relevant political commentary. I shall not disappoint you, loyal readers. Today is Hilary Clinton's 65th birthday, a holiday second only to Tyra's birthday in this corner of the internet. To honor of the birth of America's first lady of ass-kicking, and in lieu of absolutely nothing, here's a birthday/Halloween post that ended up looking more like a love letter.
The editorial staff at New Queer suspects that Ms. Clinton, rock star that she is, has been too busy saving the world, teaching Barack and Joe what memes are, and looking fabulous to come up with a proper Halloween costume. Worry not, Hilz, we've come up with several options for you. Some may be more or less appropriate, depending on which of the hundreds of potential parties you're going to attend. (We won't be too offended if you don't come to ours; you can still have our presidential vote whenever you want it.) Will Danger is also a wizard with a hot glue gun, if you need any help executing these costumes.

1. Cheetara from Thundercats: Because she was always way more awesome than She-Ra. And let's face it Hil, you'd look downright foxy.

2. 1980s Hilary Clinton: Just to remind people of the time you tricked them into believing that Bill was the politician in the family.

3. Regina George from Mean Girls: Teach the boys of the White House that they can't wear a tank top two days in a row, along with, like, the rules of feminism. And let's be honest, you already have a White House burn book.

4. Amy Poehler: Turn the tables on this comedy goddess. She how she likes it, for once. 

5. Couples Costume #1- Hilary and Michelle Obama as Columbia and Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Because I could do your sequin gluing for you and because I would really like to see Michelle with giant Diana Ross hair. And I bet you could do a pretty great Time Warp if you got Raul Esparza to sing the Riff Raff part.

6. Ann Romney: How much fucking fun would that be? You could talk about dressage horses all night.

7. Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty: It might be too late to rent a raven by next Wednesday, but this would still be a strong costume idea, especially if your Halloween plans involve standing atop the White House and cackling at how you run the world.

8. A giant pantsuit: Because fuck off, 2008 political commentary, you're Hilary Clinton and you'll wear what you damn well please.

9. Joan Jett: Because you're a fucking rock star and "Bad Reputation" is your pump-up song before every public appearance. You don't give a damn.

10. Courtney Love: You'd get to chain smoke with Barack all night and, admit it, "Doll Parts" is your ringtone when Bill calls.

11. Governor Chris Christie: Sure, you'd get in some great digs at this possible future presidential contender. Mostly, though, you'd dress up as the Governor to remind people that his future defeat has absolutely nothing to do with his body-type. 2016 belongs to you because you eat politicians like Chris Christie for breakfast.

12. Couples Costume #2- Hil, Michelle, and Ann Coulter as Baby, Scary, and Sporty Spice: Because she's the devil, poor Ann often gets left out of group costumes, and even when she's included it's usually because Sarah Palin needs someone to play bass in her Kiss cover band. Reach way way way across the aisle and invite her to join you for a little Girl Power. You'd look great. Plus in those giant platform shoes, you'd tower over all the dudes in the room.

What do you think, readers? I know most of you prefer to be silent blog spectators, but weigh in here. Surely I've missed some really fantastic costumes. Anyone want to do their patriotic duty and help me glue sequins to the Secretary of State? Your country needs you!

Seriously, Hilz. Please come to the New Queer Halloween Party. Our friends would just die.