Friday, December 29, 2006

Happy New Years!!!

Another year draws nigh and I’m a year older; I just turned twenty-nine a couple weeks ago. I have resigned myself to the inevitable thirty which looms ahead. Maybe it’s a bit of a death march or an attempt to get over my Peter Pan complex, whatever. What makes me happy is my good skin and the fact that my age startles people at times. What makes me sad is that I recall secretaries at old workplace swapping stories of how they cried when they turned thirty. I want someone to give me a nice snow cake for my thirtieth; big thick lines of Colombian blow curving into a fat number 30. My good friends crowded around singing me happy birthday and at the climax of the song, “happy birthday to you!” me and a nice tight bill taste some fine icing.

So it’s December 28, 2006 and today was around 3 degrees. That’s kinda fucked up. It would be cliché to continue along obvious lines, “when I was a little boy…”, but it really is the most logical exclamation. It hasn’t snowed here yet; I live in Canada and that is strange. The next logical cliché statement, “its global warming”, needs to be taken seriously.

“The people of New Orleans, people in Asia who got hit by the tsunami, they know what can happen. They know how the environment can affect their lives. They have seen it.” T. Diddy says in a recent conversation.

“I know. We think we are divorced from our environment that it doesn’t matter, but if you piss off Mother Nature, she can be one mad bitch.”

“Oh yeah, you don’t want to piss off Mother Nature”

“Well, you know, some people say, that in thirty years most of North America will be covered in water, it only takes a little melting of the ice caps,” I inform T. Diddy in a similar graveness I would use to relate plot developments on Desperate Housewives.

“I’m safe, I live in Kelowna. I’m on a mountain.” I can picture T. Diddy beaming when she says this statement. “That’s why you should come live here.”

“No T. Diddy, all of North America is going to be covered in water, you can’t survive in Kelowna.”

“Yes I can, were very high up here Dutty,” she pauses for a moment. I can hear her voice become fainter as she moves the telephone away and ask her Baby Daddy. “How high up are we here?”

“Eight-hundred feet above sea level,” I here Baby Daddy answer in the background.

“Yeah, see we’re safe up here, we’re are eight-hundred feet above sea level, in Kewlona.”

“Ewww, Kewlona.” I make a puking sound. “I don’t need to survive the end of the world living in a hick town in British Colombia on a mountain. I am going to move somewhere wonderfully tropical, like Brazil.” T. Diddy immediately starts laughing at this.

“Oh of course, Brazil.”

“Yes, Brazil, and I’ll keep some cute cabana boys. Maybe someone named Miguel, and a little Jose Cuervo on the side to keep me amused.”

My current favorite past-time (read obsession) is losing myself into TV DVD set marathons. I don’t have cable and really stopped watching TV in the last year of living my parents house. I’ve missed quite a few of the new cool shows out their in TV land. I love Lost and am so glad that I am watching it on DVD rather than on regular TV otherwise I would have pulled out all my hair in anticipation for the next episode. I thought Heroes had some weak writing and poor acting but an amusing enough story arc to follow through episodes. Weeds is fucking hilarious. The last season of Will and Grace is classic. And currently I am watching Prison Break, which leaves me between a hard on and a heart attack; what with the beautiful Wentworth Miller and the adrenaline pumping storyline. The sight of Wentworth Miller renders me weak and wet. Rumour has it that he is gay, wither it is true or not doesn't matter, he is simply a gorgeous man.

I am currently pondering my options for New Years eve, (a) I go see Diplo (who I have been dying to hear spin for two years, as I always miss him when he comes to town) spin a set of mash-up, hip hop, dancehall and funk or (b) spend a quite evening in with my boyfriend, ordering Chinese food and losing myself in a haze of ganja smoke, mimosas, and Melrose Place. Can you believe that I am actually leaning towards option B? I am getting old.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Racism - 2006 Remix Reloaded

I had started writing my post Racism - 2006 Remix with a different direction in mind. The examples I used, were meant to be anecdotal and introductory, leading to a discussion regarding race and music. I felt the post was complete before I took it any further and honestly I felt too lazy to build further on my point. However, as time has gone by, I realize that the original direction I was headed is still relevant and deserves to be aired.

I was going to intertwine what had happened at Tangos and Crews late this summer into my discussion. For those unfamiliar, Tangos and Crews is a gay club/bar located in Toronto’s “gay village” on Church Street. It was in fact the first gay club I visited upon accepting I was gay. I remember sitting their on a plush dirty couch on their top floor, listening to Alanis Morsitte whining in the background. I felt depressed. Alanis did not move me, she did not inspire me, she did not speak to me, and she certainly did not make me want to get up and shake my ass. When getting ready for the night, I had felt a nervous excitement; I imagined that I was going to be somewhere that I belonged. When going to straight venues, while I may have been with a group of friends, and heard music I enjoyed the fact that I saw boys and girls getting their mack on and I knew that wouldn’t be happening to me, always made me feel out of place.

I hate Alanis Morissette. And, while I don’t mind Ani DiFranco, the artist they played next, she was not what I had in mind, in terms of dance music. It was 1996 and at the time hip-hop was the only music that moved me, in heavy rotation on my CD player at the time was A Tribe Called Quest, Gangstar, and Wu-Tang Clan. I accepted it as my fate, that being gay meant either listening to techno or lesbian folk rock. I gave up on the gay scene. I figured that my taste in music could be not reconciled with being gay and so didn’t investigate further.

Earlier this year me and my boyfriend visited Tangos and Crews. The top floor which a decade earlier had maybe ten people dancing to Ironic was now packed to capacity with at least eighty people bumping to a Cutty Ranks track. My initial instinct is to put one hand in the air, grab my crotch with the other hand, and start moving my hips in time to the music. The crowd is probably a third black, with a strong showing by other ethnic groups. Of course, this isn’t the first time that I have been to a gay jam and heard black people’s music. I slowly discovered that within the gay scene in Toronto, their existed sub-scenes, and that one could go to gay hip-hop night or gay desi night. But, this night at Tangos and Crews was different, because it was not being hosted by someone black. This was a “white” club, which recently had begun to play “black” music. All the other popular gay clubs in the city still played exclusively Madonna, Brintey Spears, and ABBA.

I learned near the end of summer that management at Tangos and Crews had banned the playing of Reggae, Dancehall, Reggaton and Soca at their establishment. Now Magaine which ran a piece on the situation stated that Tangos and Crew’s didn’t return any of the calls regarding their policy. As I see it, the club wanted to get jiggy and play some hip music, but didn’t like the people that came in through the door as a result. The music had begun to change the racial makeup of the club and I think that made people uncomfortable. By controlling the music, they attempted to control their clientele, which is really fucked up, if you recall the history of segregation that black folk have endured. Back in the day, clubs used to have “paper-bag tests” where if a black person was darker than a paper-bag they were not permitted in, or “comb tests” where if their hair didn’t pass through the comb this meant no entry. It’s even more fucked up, given that gay people have their own history of persecution and exclusion, and for a gay establishment to continue in a similar vein is disgusting. The club later allowed West Indian music back in their club, but, it was done grudgingly and half-assed. The West Indian music set lasts twenty minutes, with 2 soca songs being played, then 2 dancehall songs being played and so on and so forth. They do it enough, so that you can’t cry racism, but not enough to get the crowd hyped and excited with said genres of music.

We recently had a “Holiday Season” party thrown by the Big Evil Corporation. It was a big event, with a huge venue being rented, and a big name DJ from Toronto’s popular urban radio station providing tunes. I was having a conversation with one of the planners regarding the event, and I came to learn some disturbing news.

“Yeah, he said he didn’t want to hear any rap music,” the planner informs me. The “he” in question, is one of the top Don’s at the Big Evil Corporation. “He said he didn’t like the rap music.”

“That’s not fair, it’s not for him it’s for the call centre,” I reply back.

“That’s what I told him, have you seen the call centre, its uhm pretty urban. He said he didn’t enjoy himself at the last party and he got lots of complaints.” My mind travels back to the last party. I remember being surprised as to how much fun that night had been. I had gone with low expectations given that it was a work function, but ended up dancing the night away on a packed dance floor.

I actually know of the Don in question. He is queer. And while I don’t think there is a “pink” conspiracy to bring about the demise of danceable music, I think he is perpetuating racism through control of music. A good DJ should cater to his crowd. At a work function it is accepted that their will be a wide variety of tastes in music, and a DJ should be able to feel out his crowd and play to them. But to exclude a whole genre of music, which basically means that you are in essence excluding a whole group of people is discrimination. I understand not liking a genre of music, when I am at “cracker” bars and hear the likes of Barenaked Ladies, I feel any sort of buzz I have being sucked out of me. What I see happening here, is the practice of exclusion, which I feel is based on fear; a fear based on stereotypes associated with black culture.

This makes me sad, and to relive my feelings I will smoke a joint and put on some Marvin Gaye, I think the Whats Going On album is in order.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Gender Bender

I am convinced that if my mother had been able to pursue an education beyond grade four she would have been an engineer or at the least a forewoman. My childhood memories are peppered with instances of my mother sitting with a toolbox fixing and repairing some household item. I.e. The VCR which my father opened and left in a million separate pieces is assembled and brought back to proper functionality by my mother. Since my parents bought their house about four years ago, my mother has concocted and executed several complicated renovation projects. Refusing many a time to hire someone, she would observe men at work, in a similar fashion to how she observed a recipe for the first time, and would replicate their efforts herself. So, if you had driven by our home earlier this summer, you would have witnessed my mother squatting in her cotton shalwar kameez assembling the stone tiles for our front patio and walkway.

“Why do we have to do this?” I would ask my mother.

“Be quiet. You should know how to do this. A man should know how to handy-work around his house”. My mother would retort, huffing as she was making sure a stone slab was level.

“Why, when you can always hire someone to help.”

It is this very advice that I follow to solve my own current home décor challenges that I am confronted by. My designs on my apartment were virtually finished, except for a few touches which were proving difficult to complete. The wall in my new apartment appears to be immune to penetration from my drill and so I had drapes, a mirror, and some shelves which were floundering in the corner. I search on craigslist for a handyman to come and solve my current renovation challenges. A person by the name of Stormy responds and I assume the name is some sort of e-pseudonym and contact the number provided. I am caught off guard when I realize that Stormy is the name this person uses for interaction, and that Stormy is a woman.

"So, I called someone to help me put up my stuff.” I am telling my co-worker Sun King.

“You might as well,” he responds.

“I’m so embarrassed though.” I pause. “It’s a woman. I feel so gay.”

“I bet you ten-dollars that she drives a pick-up”.

When I had first realized that Stormy was a woman I hesitated, I was not sure if I trusted a woman to do the job properly. Still, the other guys that I had found were proving to be more expensive, and so I found myself making arrangements for Stormy to come over the next day to do the job. I do feel a sense of disappointment at not being able to complete the jobs myself. Having watched my mother complete all sorts of jobs, I thought these small installations would be a piece of cake. I felt failure at my inability to drill a hole through the ceiling as my boyfriend sits on the couch and watches. Many a time my boyfriend gently reminds me that he is the lady and that entails me having to worry or take care of certain details. The last time he reminded me I relieved him of his heavy bags and walked them from the car to the apartment. So, if he is the lady, I am the man, and therefore I should be able to drill holes to install my drapes.

My mind travels back to my second year of university to my Philosophy of Gender class. Our professor spent the semester attempting to show how gender, sexuality, and sex were constructed via discourses; where males and females enacted binary codes of behaviour based on subject/object positions. Translating this ivory league jargon, basically what is being said is that what it means to be male and female is not based on biology but rather through social interactions we have had since we were children. So, for example the idea that men are supposed to be strong and aggressive, is something that our society cultivates through popular imagery, myths and various narratives that we tell ourselves. I recall that I play with my little boy cousin differently, making playfull boxing gestures, versus how I play with my little girl cousin who I coo at and keep commenting on her beauty.

“So, if our behaviour as men and woman is regulated by discourses, well couldn’t we solve problems like sexism and homophobia if we tried to get rid of discourses?” I pose this question in our class. The professor contemplates the question, in her usual fashion, with her head cocked to one side and her eyebrow raised in interest.

“But if we were to do away with discourses, how would we construct identity, as identity as we understand it is based on the binary of subject/object positions.” She responds in a cool collected manner.

The answer was a typical post modern response. Answer a question with a question. Revel in deconstructing something, but do not seek solution or resolution to the problem, just make it more problematic. However frustrating her response is, I do see her point. While the theory of social construction to me initially translates into a possibility of a utopian gender free society, I realize it to be just that a utopian dream. Being in relationship, especially gay relationships, I see that we still unwittingly re-enact all sorts of male-female bullshit expectations. Hence, I don’t feel like a “man” for being to drill some holes, and I feel uneasy about a woman doing the work for me.

I eventually grow curious to have Stormy come over and do the handy work. At this point I just want to see what she looks like. Initially the name Stormy recalls to my mind some character from a sordid historical romance novel, who would be presented on the cover of the book in an outfit that would have her bosom hanging out and her hair as flowing tendrils in the wind. But, as she is a handy woman, I realize this imagine is not appropriate, and so imagine her to look like Charlize Theron in Monster. I am mildly excited when there is a knock on the door and I jump to the door and peep through the hole.

I am confused as there appears to be a man standing at my door with a big toolbox. I open the door and am shocked. What stands before me appears like an adolescent young male, with peach fuzz for a moustache and goatee. Stormy is wearing white and orange Reebok basketball kicks, vintage plaid dress pants which hang loosely off her undeniably feminine hips, exposing her black Fruit of the Loom male jockey underwear. For her top, she is wearing a long sleeve red shirt with a faded Pixies concert t-shirt with just the faintest showing of breasts underneath. Her face is covered in unfortunate acne and her short unevenly chopped hair is covered by a bright multicoloured cap. I am left speechless. Stormy is a trans male. I welcome her into the apartment and she starts accessing the work that needs to be done. I am dying to ask her if she is post-op or pre-op, but figure that is a tacky question to ask.

She produces her professional tools and gets to work, while I stand to the side, my arms crossed across my chest, inspecting the work being done. I do like this better, inspecting someone do the work for me, rather than do it myself; I always fancied myself more of a Victor Newman than a Dan Arnold. The ceiling proves to be a challenge to her also, she informs me it has to do with this being such an old building, and the ceiling and walls being cement and something about a lack of leverage. I nod at this information, tapping my cigarette in the ashtray, with a sense of relief. I am not incompetent. It is the building and my lack of proper tools that caused the entire problem. This job is a challenge to a professional; I feel somewhat vindicated.

“Excuse me, I hope you don’t mind, I just want to make sure the shelf is level.” I say as I jump in before she makes permanent holes in my wall. I feel that she is not being exact and careful enough as she is installing things. “I just want to make sure it’s exactly right, or it will slowly drive me nuts.” I say to justify the third time I pull the leveler to ensure accuracy.

“No problem I understand you want to make these things perfect. These are the things in life that you can control,” she says pointing to the one shelf which is already installed. “The other stuff that life throws at you, you can’t control, but this, you have in your power to make sure is just right.” I love this rationale. It justifies my neurotic attention to detail in my interior decorating project.

Late in the evening, I slowly inhale from a joint that I have rolled, and let my eyes lazily roll over the finished living/dining room. I like the effect I have achieved. I stare at the shelf and Stormy’s words come back to me; these are the things in life that you can control. I am high and I imbue this words with more significance than they probably warrant and feel that this is indeed a profound statement. I feel that her statement doesn’t just have to reference my shelves and wanting them straight and perfect, but could also apply to problems that arise out of gender relations. While I may feel caught up in discourses; social expectations of what it means to be a man, I do have agency. While these discourses may be necessary in formation of identity and can not be abandoned, they need not control and bind me. Indeed, just by virtue of me being in a gay relationship is subversive. While me and my boyfriend enact dynamics of heterosexual relationships, we are at the same time fucking with those dynamics by being two dudes in a relationship. There is nothing wrong with him wanting to be treated like a lady and have his bags carried by me, and conversely me sitting on the couch with one hand done my pants hogging the remote control is also fine. When we let such patterns blindly control us, and more specifically lead us to hurt or compromise someone else is when we have a problem. But then again, these are the things in life that you can control.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Phir Be Movie hai Hindustani (Still the Movie is Indian)

I believe something really important must be declared and stated. I love Abhishek Bachan. I adore Abhishek Bachan. I want to worship Abhishek Bachan. That man is one of the finest specimens of Indian manhood that I have seen in awhile. His lips, those dropping eyes, the 5’oclock shadow, the lean body, all make me feel giddy and weak, and actually enable me to sit through a Bollywood film for the whole three hours. His smile simply disarms me. When he pouts when he acts I am willing to give him my whole world. And when he dances I want to do things which would make the Indian Censor Board spontaneously combust. I have loved before and been captivated before by the actors from Mumbai; by the likes of John Abraham, Vivek Oberoi and Salman Khan. Now to me, they all pale in comparison to Abhishek.

Being the old school cat that I am, I only watch new Bollywood films if my sister insists that it is an important movie to watch. So, this weekend my sister came over, armed with Dhoom, Dhoom 2 and Bluffmaster. I thought Dhoom was an interesting Hindi action flick, I absolutely adored Bluffmaster. It was wonderfully postmodern and ironically self ware, which almost never happens in a Bolly! I almost felt high during the last few minutes of the movie. But, while watching both movies, the deconstructionist in me was awakened, and I felt something interesting was going on in this films.

Before I begin any serious analysis, I will caveat that I am not fully up to speed on my Bollywood films, and this analysis is limited to four movies. Still, as I understand it, all these movies were fairly popular commercially speaking, and such I think are useful “texts” to be used for decoding. Now, while watching Dhoom and Bluffmaster (I didn’t watch all of Dhoom 2 but it seems fairly close to the original), I was reminded a bit of Bunty aur Babli, another movie my sister had insisted I watch last year. The similarity being that these movies focused on a couple/group who were running cons/robberies, and where also the moral lines of what defines a hero became somewhat blurry.

Amitabh Bachan did popularize the “angry young man” character type in movies such as Shloay, Deewar and Shakti where his character did stary outside of acceptable social morality. In Sholay he played a thug who lived on the fringes of society and whose definition of morality was questionable. What I find interesting, in the modern Bollywood movies, is the intersection of class with this character type. When you watch the old 70’s Bollywood movies with Amitabh playing the angry male, his character is imbued with signifiers of his position in society. These young angry characters of his were young and angry specifically because of the economic/social climate that existed in India at the time. And, if anything, this character type was a commentary on the lack of opportunity that young men living in urban centers were faced with.While Abhishek’s character in Bunty aur Babli does face a crisis at the start of the movie regarding career choice, his dilemma is more of an existential nature, than one of economic necessity. If anything, the characters of these movies, betray a very urban cosmopolitan finesse, not only in appearance but in acting; as the “Hindi” they speak is sprinkled with a fair number of English words. Of course, I know that what I have described above is common for Hindi films lately, but, what is strange is that the link between class and being the anti-hero has been broken in these new movies. These characters are cunning for the sake of being cunning, not because of social necessity.

At this point I am simply musing, as I have said, that I simply haven’t watched enough Bollywood movies to make do fully educated decoding. But, lines from “Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani”, echo in my head:

Toray anaree hay, toray kilaree, (We are a little amateur, and a little tricky)
Ruk ruk kay chaltee hay apnee garee, (and our cars don't go too fast)Humay Pyar ay chahee yea, (We want some love)
or kuch paysay bee, (and also some money)
hum aysay bee hay, (we are like this)
hum hay waysay bee (but we are also like that)
Hum logo ko samaj sako toe, (If you could understand us)
samjo dilbar janee, (then understand us my honey)
Ultee, seedee, jaisay bee hay apnee yahee kahanee, (Wither we are straight or crooked, this is still our story)
Toree humay hosh-yaree hay, toree hay nadanee, (We are a little smart, and also a little childish)
toree humay sachayee hay, toree bay eemanee, (we are a little honest, and also a little dishonest)
Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani (But still our hearts are Hindustani [Indian])

In this song we see the expression of an Indian identity, and identity which glorified, for lack-of-a-better-term Indian cleverness. The song is somewhat of modern interpretation of the classic, “Mera Joota Hai Japani” from Shree 420, in which Raj Kapoor strools across the Indian countryside singing in Charlie Chaplin-esque mode. Interestingly enough, in Shree 420, Kapoor’s treatise on money, happiness and modern India, his character goes through a classic rags-to-riches story again by being a con-man. Again though, his characters descion to be a card-shark and become rich as a result was based on economic necessisty. Whereas in Bunty aur Babli and Bluffmaster, there is no clear connection made between a life of conning and economic need. But returning to an examination of Indian identity, the archetype of an Indian as expressed by Raj Kapoor almost 50 years ago, appears to be someone who is nadan (childish) and hoshar (clever). This made sense when Shree 420 was released, as India was a newly independent state and was allowed to sit at the big-people table. However, the India of today has come a far way, with cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad being IT capitals, and Indian pharmaceutical firms opening head quarters in the Unites States. So, why still evoke this archetype today?

I think that in contrast to North American culture, which really works to stress the Protestant work ethic, Indian culture exemplifies cleverness and shrewdness. I see these new movies exhibiting an anxiety, in terms of trying to reconcile being the underdog rising to the top by any means necessary, with having already risen somewhat to the top and not needing to rely on cleverness. I think the lack of grounding these new movies have in the economic realities of India is indicative of this, with Bluffmaster being a perfect example where Abhishek’s character reliance on conning seems almost habitual; something forced which he can’t help.

I would be interested in getting peoples response on this, to see if they agree or disagree with my analysis. Or, if I get readers from Bharat, who are really experiencing India rather than vicariously through movies as I do, I would really be interested in your feedback.