Friday, November 19, 2010

Fag Discourse: That's So Gay, No Homo, and Childish Insults

I think kids are quite hysterical. They say the darndest things. But, in education kids are disciplined to not say certain things while being encouraged to say other things. The comical kindergarten technique of addressing an upset kid by asking them to “use their words” illuminates the power and precarity of language. The teacher wants the kid to “use his/her/hir words” but what words that kid can use are already, most likely, limited and if not limited will garner some form of discipline very quickly. By this I mean, if a teacher told a kindergartner to “use your words” and that kid told the teacher to “fuck off,” the teacher would while being highly amused and laughing on the inside find it necessary, due to professional standards, to inform the kid that such a phrase is inappropriate and discipline the student accordingly. We do not want little kids running around cursing because that would show poorly on them, their family, and the community in which they were raised. One could reference Paul Rudd's Role Models where we see a little black boy (shocking I know) who seemingly only knows how to cuss (and garners significant laughs from the audience since we rarely see the kid as black minstrel).

But, my concern is not with cussing kids. Rather, my concern, or perhaps interest is when kids - students - use phrases often labeled as “homophobic” such as “that's gay,” “no homo,” or “fag.” These phrases are common parlance on the playground, hallways, and classrooms. Homework is referred to as “being gay,” compliments to other same-sex classmates are ended by saying “no homo,” and refusing to do something seen as cool is met with “don't be a fag.” Pre-service teachers are often told that it is necessary to address such phrases when they hear them uttered, but GLSEN's research shows that unfortunately such phrases are rarely addressed by teachers. According to the 2009 report "62.4% of students who were harasseed or assaulted in school did not report the incident to school staff, believing little to no action would be taken or the situation would become worse if reported" while "33.8% of the students who did report an incident said that school staff did nothing in response." This finding is not unique to this study, but has been consistently found in various studies on school climate. And this finding speaks directly to teacher preparation. What type of preparation do pre-service teachers receive in their programs and what are the complexities of such preparation?

There seems to be a particular fear about addressing phrases and harassment hinged on sexuality. Some teachers - new and old - comment about being unsure what to say or how to address such phrases. Other teachers - new and old - note how they just address the comment head on, informing the student who said it that such a phrase cannot be used and will not be tolerated. Often though, the intervention ends here with the student not being informed as to why they are not supposed to use that phrase. And still other teachers - new and old - address the utterance and discuss why such an utterance is inappropriate. Within education, I would argue, it is this third option that is seen as the “gold-standard” practice. It addresses the language and teaches the user of such language of the problems using such language.

However, I find such interventions quite problematic - perhaps because I find most forms of pre-packaged advice problematic. I find it problematic because it does not take into account the context - who is saying it, how they are saying it, who they are saying it to, and why? I can't but wonder if a gay student speaking to another gay student and using, for instance, “fag” in an endearing way is ever told not to use that phrase. I imagine that this will become more prevalent in schools as Gay-Straight Alliances become more visible in high schools and middle schools. If schools provide a space for gay students in the form of GSAs, how does that space disrupt the traditional hetero-normative ways of addressing homophobic language? At an earlier time it seemed to be adequate to simply make certain words off limits. But as the times change and "gays" receive more legitimacy within the political realm, do schools have to alter what language counts as appropriate?

What do I mean by this? If a gay student utters "faggot" and is told not to use that word, what does the gay kid learn? Does the gay kid learn that they just cannot win? That schools are simply too straight for their gay ways of recuperating words? Do they learn that as they find words to use within their group of friends that allow them to "recuperate" injurious speech and create a space to survive that in fact, their survival space is not the "right" kind or not "appropriate"? Are they straightened out and re-oriented towards the more acceptable approach to language? I am not sure, but I think it is an important issue to deal with.

We might also think about the use of the phrase "no homo" as not only does it allow us to engage issues of sexuality, but also race as this is a phrase that is racialized - most often heard within the African American community. Many people find this phrase problematic. I think this phrase is interesting because it illuminates the inability within masculinity to compliment another "man" without being accused of same-sex attraction. It illustrates the limitations of masculinity. But, it also produces a space for compliments to take place. Rather than remaining silence and not telling another boy that his shoes are fabulous, "no homo" allows a different form of intimacy to emerge - an intimacy that is distinct from an intimacy that is associated with "homosexuality." So, while this phrase, on one hand, can be read as being homophobic. It might also be read as challenging the homo-hetero divide allowing for some "same-sex love" that is not "gay." And I think we should produce more forms of intimacy - ways of relating to others that are understood outside of sexual attraction...but this is quite difficult and is not a move to ignore the violence that "no homo" and other "homophobic" insults can inflict when uttered in particular contexts or dynamics.

Moving in a different direction, recently I heard the use of “fag” in a way that seemed new to me. The use of “fag” was in reference to being jealous. The person being called a fag was the person whom the person uttering "fag" was jealous of - “A football game already…ugh fag…you're so lucky”. In this comment, the fag is not the abject subject it seems, but rather the subject that is supposed to be admired for being able to “go to a football game already”. The fag is the lucky one. Of course, this is quite obvious. Fags are rather lucky. And I am quite interested in this lucky fag. Fag is most often used in a derisive manner, but this moment seems to completely challenge the derision and instead deride the alternative position - the position the utterer is in - namely the "straight" position or the "not-fag" position.

Now, I am not sure if the person using this phrase thought about the use in this way. But, that is really of no concern because you are reading my blog post about this and hopefully now might think about how words are quite complex and must be explored within the context they are uttered...and perhaps this illuminates why grammar and sentence structure is so important. Recognizing how words operate within a sentence impacts the possibilities instilled in that sentence. When "fag" becomes the "subject" of a sentence instead of the object of that sentence's derision, I think that is significant, but I will let you decide as you are more capable than I...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Disappoining Glee

I am a fan of Glee. I am not sure if I am a “gleek,” but I do, every Tuesday, get excited for 7pm (CST) to roll around so I can enjoy me some Glee. But, this week I found myself disappointed even though all the commentary around me, notably Facebook, was heralding this episode as one of the best ever. I think it was a good episode. I think it addressed some interesting and very pertinent issues, but it really did so in very traditional ways providing no space to imagine life in a different way. I want to begin thinking about my disappointment with the scene that provoked it the most, moving to the second scene that disappointed me and then perhaps bring these scenes in relation with the episode as a whole and other scenes similar to this in recent television.

We saw in this episode perhaps the most violent harassment/bullying against Kurt in the show at this point. And in one harrowing scene, Kurt confronts his bully, following him into the locker room, yelling. At one moment we are sure that Kurt is about to get pummeled, but instead we see him forcefully kissed. The bully is a bully that likes boys, but cannot seem to admit it. We see, as we often see, the repressed homosexual who instead of engaging his feelings, acts out against those who do engage such attractions. This is done to distance himself from that which he seems to be – seen later when Kurt’s new gay friend helps Kurt confront this bully. After this kiss, we see Kurt stunned at what just happened and I was stunned that Kurt’s first one-screen kiss was non-consensual, forced through a moment of bullying.

One might say that we expect the first kiss to be romantic, but most often they are not…allowing this scene to be “real.” I understand that logic, but in the time/space of this show, this is the only time we have seen a gay male kiss. We have of course seen Santana and Brittney kiss numerous times, but such kissing operates, I think, on a different plane than a scene of gay male intimacy. As Martha Nussbaum points out in From Disgust to Humanity, it is more often than not the scene of gay male intimacy that provokes the most disgust AND numerous commentators on “lesbian” porn have noted that such porn – lesbian porn – is produced for “straight” men. The lesbian scene of intimacy is a rather strong fantasy for “straight” men and does not produce the level of disgust that two men kissing does.

And this is where I want to think about this scene and my disappointment. In this episode titled, I believe, “First Kiss” we see the two “queerest” characters experience their first kiss. Kurt experiences his first kiss from his bully – the repressed homosexual. And Coach Beist experiences her first kiss from her former bully – Mr. Shue. “We” could not see a romantic first kiss with these two “queer” characters for similar reasons – our disgust at scenes of intimacy that are not “normative”.

We could not see Kurt have his first kiss be the ideal, romanticized first kiss because that would not have made him sufficiently the victim. It would have made the gay scene of intimacy as romantic and legitimate as the scenes of straight intimacy we saw between all the “straight” couples. And this is just unacceptable it seems. Instead, we can only imagine the gay male as victim as we most often see Kurt OR as we saw him in the first season as the “predator” trying to turn his straight crushes gay. Now, Kurt’s presence on TV is significant. He is a significant representation to see on TV as GLBT students are present and visible in high schools more and more in contemporary society. And do face a constant barrage of harassment and bullying, often left unaddressed by teachers and administrators. This was seen poignantly when Kurt confronted Mr. Shue.

However, I wanted to see a space made for us to imagine a world where the gay kid is not solely understood as a victim. Sociologist Laura Essig noted in a recent article about LGBT youth suicide that:

“The fact that way more than five queer teens had an amazing month, had their first love, their first encounter with the richness of queer culture—from drag to politics—is not a story we want to hear as a culture. The fact that hundreds or even thousands of queer kids stood up to a bully, injected queer consciousness into a classroom or a family dinner, and generally lived technicolor lives over the rainbow rather than locked down in some black and white Kansas is lost in the news cycle. We prefer our queers as victims. They're easier to support and much less scary that way.”

So, while we do see Kurt stand up to his bully, which were fantastic scenes, we still cannot see Kurt experience the pleasure of a first kiss. We are still uncomfortable with the scene of gay male intimacy, in part, I think because of feelings of disgust that pervade our understandings of intimacy and sexuality. Of course, this intimacy will occur eventually on the show – hopefully as Kurt finds other gay teens in the area. BUT, I think it is significant that before we can get to where other forms of intimacy are in the show, we must first degrade, violate, gay male intimacy. We seemingly cannot imagine a world without the queer as victim…And I think this is extended in the use of the figure of the repressed “homosexual” who in many ways is a victim himself. He is a victim of a world that has a severe lack of imagination – that cannot imagine multiplicitous forms of intimacy. He may not be a “homosexual” or he may not want to identify as a “homosexual” not because he is homophobic, per se, but because he wants something else. He wants to create a world where he can be intimate on his own terms – not the terms presented to him through Kurt or his straight counterparts.

My disappointment was furthered when Beist admits she is a “40 year old virgin.” This rather mannish woman is seen as disgusting enough to work better than a “cold shower.” And upon learning this – that her players are using compromising images of her to “cool” down while having steamy make out session with their opposite sex partners – she quits her job. Luckily for her, the saving grace and dreamy Mr. Shue steps in to give her that first kiss and the audience feels all warm and fuzzy…after all who wouldn’t want to get kissed by Mr. Shue? Yet, who is Mr. Shue to step in and give this woman her first kiss? Is he the knight in shining armor who gives hope to all the wretched female creatures, saving them from themselves? But more importantly, who wants their first kiss to be one out of sympathy at best, pity at worst? Is Mr. Shue’s kiss really any different than the repressed bully? Is his sympathetic kiss to “build” Beist up and get her to stay really any less violent? After all, it was not consensual either…and while the two of them joked about it afterwards, I think it is important to step back from the “warm and fuzzy feeling” to think about this moment.

I think it is significant that the first kisses of Kurt and Beist were qualitatively different that the first kiss of Artie and the scenes of heterosexual intimacy seen between the “straight couples” of the show. But, this is not unique to Glee. I am not a tv critic, but these moments also brought me back to my disappointment in ABC Family’s now cancelled show Huge. In one episode we see the only gay character become the butt of a joke. And the joke – operating through a dare – was for another seemingly straight boy to kiss Alistair, the gay camper. And in doing this, Alistair experiences his first kiss with the audience seeing again the impossibility of the gay character having a first kiss that is not a violation. We cannot seem to imagine a first kiss between two men that is consensual, romantic, and intimate. Rather, it seems that to protect “ourselves,” we must first imagine that this intimacy emerges out of a victim status.

I recognize that bullying and harassment are real experiences of many youth – gay or straight. My disappointment is that the “gay” youth seemingly can only operate as victims. They are never successful, always haunted by bullying and violence against their body. And, to a certain extent this violence is an important constitutive element of being a “gay” subject. But, I think investigating and thinking about ways to read this violence is important. I think Glee does a fine job at illuminating the struggles of all the characters. No one is completely innocent, everyone struggles and the Glee kids are challenged to encounter their otherness – perhaps simplistically at times. But, I am disappointed that Glee could not be more radical in showing the possibilities for their queer characters…

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It Gets Better?

With the current spate of LGBT youth committing suicide, we have seen campaigns emerge that seek to, it seems, “save lives.” The first to emerge was Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” youtube channel and from that has come notably the “Make it Better” campaign. One campaign reminds us that it gets better (or at least we are meant to hope that life gets better which I am not sure is a productive hope) WHILE the other provides us insights on ways to make it better, in the here and now. One is primarily adults showing the child that “it gets better” while the other is youth showing that it is or might already be “good” and ways to make it so.

I imagine both campaigns are having an impact in the world - even if it is only by making us cry at the stories being told or the inspiration being offered. Some comments I have seen contend such campaigns “save lives” and I suppose I can hope that maybe they will. I am, of course, not opposed to saving lives unless they are lives that do not seek to be saved. I am however interested in these campaigns. We have known for years, decades, and even centuries one could argue that “queer” existence has been plagued with suicide and violence. And it would seem that such historical evidence itself might show us that it may not get better. But, we also know that there have been significant changes with “gay rights” during the 20th and early 21st centuries. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM III in 1973 after years of gay activists fighting for such depathologization. Anti-sodomy laws have been struck down. Pride parades are marched in yearly. Gay characters are visible in TV and Film.And so on...

So...on one hand we see that “it gets better” while on the other hand seeing that “it doesn’t get better.” That “better” is itself a precarious concept where what is better for some, might not be “better” for others. We are always grappling with finding ways to “make it better” while also recognizing such a grappling never really ends because someone will always find what’s “better” to in fact not be so, to be problematic, damaging, violent, etc.

In watching various videos from the "It Gets Better" channel, I’ve noticed in many of them that we have adults re-telling their own experiences with bullying and how they overcame such bullying - allowing them to now be fabulous persons (e.g. Adam Lambert, Kate Bornstein, Dan Savage). I think such re-tellings are inspiring and in some cases made me tear up a little bit - I do actually have emotions. However, I think such videos are less about telling “kids” it gets better (although that is still a component) and more about having a cathartic release to an unknown audience. I think these video testimonials are about the person working through their own traumatic experiences whereby the camera becomes the unknown analyst allowing the person to talk, tell their story, and perhaps learn about themselves in the process - perhaps even convincing themselves that it has in fact, "got" better.

This is perhaps most evident in Joel Burn’s testimonial - a heart-wrenching story that he had never before told until this moment. In the video we see him recount the current epidemic of suicides, giving names and faces to those lives lost. It is difficult to hear and see these youth who did not, in fact, know it gets better. But then, Joel, like others who have done videos, moves into his own traumatic past, recounting harassment and violence against his own youthful body. It is here that he breaks down and also where I believe we catch a glimpse of the purpose of this video campaign. The purpose of this video campaign is not to save lives of youth, although that is a secondary hope, but to save the lives of those adults who, in the moment of telling have on the surface “great” lives, but who struggle themselves with their traumatic past. These videos have become a space and time for those who did not have voice before, who could not “speak” up then, to finally speak up now against their bullies - those fantasmatic bullies that haunt them, us, in our dreams, in our stories we tell about being victims as queers.

We, of course, do not hear stories from individuals who grew up “queer” but did not experience this type of harassment, in part because if it has always been "good," then there is no need to say "It gets better." But, beyond this we don’t want to here such stories. Such stories disrupt the solidarity we can feel around victimization and provoke feelings of jealousy or envy because such lives “don’t know what it was like.” In such a move, of course, the victims become the bully, unwilling to allow the “queer” with a non-traumatic experience with their sexual orientation or gender performance to tell their story because that story does not count. And in not allowing it, it becomes a story that is itself not seen as possible. We cannot imagine a "queer" experience without the violence, the bullying, the harassment...

As Laurie Essig in a recent article in The Chronicle notes:

“The fact that way more than five queer teens had an amazing month, had their first love, their first encounter with the richness of queer culture—from drag to politics—is not a story we want to hear as a culture. The fact that hundreds or even thousands of queer kids stood up to a bully, injected queer consciousness into a classroom or a family dinner, and generally lived technicolor lives over the rainbow rather than locked down in some black and white Kansas is lost in the news cycle. We prefer our queers as victims. They're easier to support and much less scary that way.”

So, we can tell stories about our own victimization as youth in order to make an emotional appeal and show that it gets better. We are drawn to, fascinated by the victim narrative because it affects us in some way that a happy narrative does not. For instance, when someone tells of a happy occurrence the conversation usually stays at a very basic level of statements. “That’s great.” or “I’m so happy for you.” whereas when we hear a story of victimization the conversation moves to concern and wanting to be a part of the persons recovery in the form of questions...”What can I do to help?” or “How did that happen?” We are willing to assist those who are struggling but when it comes to people who are leading “happy lives” or had an “amazing month,” we do not care to hear, to discuss. We care to distance ourselves because, perhaps it is less scary that way.

Do we not actually want it to "get better" because if it did, we might have to learn how to be happy? How to relate to the other that we do not know, do not like, do not understand? Do we not want it to get better because it can't get better as we ourselves struggle to make sense of our own traumatic past, hoping to make it through the day? Might we start there, on the self, and how the self might get through the day not to find a better future, somewhere out there...but to survive and relate to the strangers, the family, the friends that we, at times are strangers to ourselves?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Critique of Lady Gaga and her Politics on DADT

Lady Gaga has morphed, as a "pop" performer, into a "pop" politician these days as seen in her recent speech about Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT). And I appreciate her attempt to merge the "political" imagination with the "popular" imagination these past couple weeks beginning notably with her famed "meat dress" and her guests at the VMAs.

Yet, while I appreciate her as an artist (which some will contest), a performer (which some will contest), and as a political commentator (which some, including I, will contest)...I want to take on her engagement with DADT. I, of course, will be critiqued for my critique because it is rather unpopular. To not argue for the repeal of DADT as a "gay" individual is unintelligible because it puts "me" in the camp of the "homophobe". There are in this debate, much like the marriage debate, only two sides creating a dynamic reminiscent of Bush's argument that "you are either with us or against us." I am neither with nor against though. I seek a different path illuminating that Lady Gaga is a better liberal than I am. As such, I want to re-frame the debate to perhaps open up space closed off by Gaga and her opponents (e.g. McCain).

Gaga notes in her speech, a rather thoughtful speech, that there should be a new law that actually "kicks" out the homophobic soldiers. The homophobia of individual soldiers is the problem here. The problem is not that homosexual soldiers threaten the morale of troops, but that homophobia and homophobic soldiers threaten the morale because it is their "fear" of the "homosexual" that are the issue. The issue is not the homosexual soldier - they are there to do their job - but the homophobic soldier who cannot do his/her job because of a (irrational) fear they have of homosexuality.

This makes sense and is quite compelling. Yet, it maintains the logic of shame. Gaga's "new law" maintains that shame should occur and this shame is always inevitably related to (homo)sexuality and the individual. There is no engagement with the homophobia except to remove it, to shame it. The difficult task of engaging homophobia and inevitably the issues surrounding "homosexuality" are still left untouched - namely the military. With Gaga's hypothetical law then, the logic of shaming is maintained only with the "now" the good people being restored to the place of honor.

The new law, instead of marginalizing the gay soldiers, marginalizes the homophobic soldiers (who could also be gay as homophobia is not absent from the "gay" community). The homophobe becomes the "queer" outsider while the homosexual becomes the acceptable insider whereby the homosexual soldier can feel like the "good gay" finally with the homophobe finally taking his/her place of shame. I, of course, am not arguing in support of homophobia. DADT is discriminatory, but the methods by which such discrimination is engaged are strange. What I am arguing though is that Gaga's solution is inevitably no different, no more ethical than the old law she seeks to contest.

This is not my biggest concern. My biggest concern is the irony of Gaga's position. A few months back when Gaga was being protested by the Westboro Baptist Church she told her monsters that "Although I respect and do not judge anyone for their personal views on any politics or religion, this group in particular to me is violent and dangerous. I wanted to make my fans aware of my views on how to approach, or rather not approach, these kinds of hate activists." Gaga did not seek violent reactions, but sought inaction against the protesters - allowing them to "be" outside - while inside love won out and the monsters sang. I admired Gaga's nonviolent stance and her ability to provide political commentary that did not use violence against violence.

Yet, in her talk she notes that "If you are not honorable enough to fight without prejudice, go home." The main concern of this statement is with prejudice. If you cannot fight without prejudice than you should not fight at all, you should go home. This concern is rather curious to me, in light of Gaga's oft dislike of fighting and love of, well, love. Gaga's position is strange because it does not address the issue of fighting. It argues for honorable and non-prejudical fighting. Fighting is ok, as long as it is "honorable" and without "prejudice". Gaga does not challenge the need to fight, nor does she critique the too numerous to state problems with the US Military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations that are far from without prejudice and some might argue, far from honorable. This is of course not to say that soldiers are not honorable, but the rhetoric used by the military via the media are problematic, limiting, and drenched in racism/xenophobia/sexism/homophobia.

It seems then that Gaga maintains an allegiance to the military in order to allow gay and lesbian soldiers to openly serve. She does not, unfortunately, argue against the military's use of sexual shame in its own campaigns against the foreign other. She addresses the homophobia that impacts individual soldiers while leaving in place the homophobia that structures the military mentality. What do I mean by this? One only has to look at Abu Gharib photos to see the ways in which the military has used sex, sexuality, and sexual shaming for its own benefit. So, while Gaga may be comfortable arguing for the inclusion of Gay and Lesbian soldier in the military, I have a problem following. I am not a good liberal. And I cannot support granting access to an institution that is fraught with problems. I see a major ethical problem arguing for people's rights to fight in battles that have in recent times been waged.

Of course this is probably an unpopular stance to take. It can be read as being disrepectful to soldiers and their families which it is not intended to be. My hope is, my argument is, that rather than merely granting access to gay and lesbian soldiers, a broader movement is necessary that challenges the necessity and operations of the military itself...because inevitably the issue with DADT as represented by Gaga is not with the miliary (and its homophobia/sexism/xenophobia), but with individual soldiers. The "military" remains untouched, uncritiqued while individual lives are shamed - be they the ousted gay/lesbian soldier under DADT or the homophobic soldier ousted due to Gaga's new (hypothetical) law.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday for years. It is the best of holidays, in my opinion, because all you have to do is cook, eat, and presents to buy or worry about taking back, no tree to decorate or lights to put up. Just and more food and the knowledge that the day after one can go out in the craziness that is "Black Friday" and shop 'til you drop. But this Thanksgiving just got better because it is on Thanksgiving Day that what might be the "gayest" film of the year, perhaps decade, is released. Starring Cher, Christina Aquilera, Alan Cumming, and Stanley Tucci it couldn't get much gayer, unless Bette Midler, Celine, Gaga, or Liza make cameos. And conversations about the film have already that it is going to be gay, it might turn people gay as expressed by Gawker and Defamer notes that this might be the advent of the "new gay Christmas".

And so it is with gaiety that I myself am anxiously awaiting the arrival of such a wonderful present. Before then though, I want to think about Burlesque rather quickly and perhaps rather crudely. Burlesque, by definition, is a type of theatrical entertainment - humorous - that is parodic and highly exaggerated. It does not seek to be "real" but to parody the dignified and respectable, providing one might think a social commentary. It's etymology is itself from, depending on one's dictionary the Italian burlesco "to jest" or the Spanish burla "to joke." Burlesque then is a joke, a jest, it mocks solemn subjects.

Of course, I have not seen the film yet...but from the commentary I have read, it seems that Burlesque is already doing it's job. Some have commented that it looks so bad, it will be great. Others that it might be the "campiest" film this year. From the brief preview, the film is already performing "burlesque". It is a pastiche of characters with the legend that is Cher, a gay icon with a rising star X-tina, a new gay icon struggling at first to only become pals. And it performs Burlesque at the meta-level while performing Burlesque on the literal filmic screen. We see Burlesque and our very comments about how that Burlesque is being represented expose that perhaps the joke is on us or hopefully with us. Burlesque does not seek to be taken seriously (although it is a serious form of theatrical performance that takes talent and practice) but in doing so provokes and provides commentary and aesthetic enjoyment.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Drag University and the Figure of the Drag Queen

Judith Butler in her landmark book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity utilizes the concept of drag to illustrate, what she proposes, gender performativity. In her analysis she argues that "in imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself - as well as its contingency" (175). Drag, she argues, reveals how there is not an "original" gender, but that that the parody of drag is "the parody of the very notion of the original" (175). Drag in its excessive, parodic performance illuminates the complexity of gender, anatomical sex and gender performance whereby the gender does not align with the sex but with a particular performance creating an allusion or illusion of something that is idealized, but unattainable by any one.

Butler's use of drag was quickly taken up, but in problematic ways as Butler herself discusses in her later book Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. Here Butler re-articulates or clarifies her arguments, bringing to light that she is not arguing that gender is voluntaristic - that we wake up in the morning and simply don whatever gender it is we would like. Rather, gender is complicated by the discourses available and the possibilities within such discursive structures. Drag, simply put, is only a helpful illustration. It illuminates the ways in which gender is performed and relies on particular performances structured within particular symbolic systems but gender is not the same as "drag," in that drag queens and kings can don persona in ways different from the everyday. Drag is a performance, but gender performativity rests on the reiteration of norms, of performances that upon constant reiteration and repetition become seen as the norms.

Of course Butler's engagement with drag and gender are far more nuanced and complicated than I have written...but I begin by thinking about Butler because of the re-emergence it seems of the figure of the drag queen within popular culture - notably the return of RuPaul in Logo's 1st and 2nd seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race and the 1st season of Drag U. Both of these shows are fascinating for a variety of reasons and arguably bring drag to a broader audience in intelligent and thoughtful ways (as in, drag is re-presented as an art, a performance art, with a history AND not simply a spectacle...but of course it is not drag without the spectacle for sure).

My interest in this however, is the strange dynamics with gender that emerge in the new Drag U where biological woman come on the show and are taught how to be fierce like a queen by the former contestants of RuPaul's Drag Race Seasons 1 and 2. The women and their drag queen professor(s) help them overcome certain barriers and upon doing so draguate with one of the women winning top honors.

Yet, who are the women that come on the show? The women that come on the show thus far seem to fail at being women - they are tom boys, they are single, they are blue collar. They are not the idealized woman that is beautiful, fashionable, and taken (or at least having sex). They are failed women. But, as advertised, they are everyday women making it seem that perhaps the everyday woman is a failed woman. And, she needs help from the drag queen who in her parody of gender simultaneously seems to illuminate the failure of gender while reinscribing what it means to be a "real" or "successful" woman. I should note that call the "everyday woman" a failure is not meant to be an insult to the everyday woman...I know in the current time no one like to be a failure, but I think the notion of the fail perhaps provides critical space to think about gender. I also utilize the notion of failure because this is a university and the women are graded in order to see who draguates with the highest DPA.

The everyday women come to the University presided over by RuPaul to learn how to be powerful women and they are taught how to do so by as Ru refers to them as "Lady-Boys". Queens and the everyday women join together to learn about themselves and the power of the feminine. Yet, both the professor and the student are at the outset, failures. The women are "everyday," they are not exceptional like a queen must be. But the queens are parodic and failure to meet the ideals by which they base their performance off. They will never be "biological women" even as they perform the "woman" better than any "biological woman" on the show. Yet, in this, the individuals illuminate the power of the feminine and at times the "everyday women" seem to take back ownership of their lives. Of course interestingly, we never see the queens break down and discuss their own traumatic pasts that have propelled them to drag and to teaching...but that is of course, not the premise of the show.

What I found interesting watching the show at this point in the season, very early indeed, is the looks on the women's faces when they received a "poor grade" and lose the competition to have "top honors". What happens when one begins a failed woman in need of a drag-make-over, only to fail at that very endeavor? Or is it not failure, but a jump up in one's grade of being "female"? What happens when one "passes" perhaps, but not at the top of one's class? Does this produce a hierarchy of "womanhood" whereby a woman's performance of her gender is graded...and the everyday woman is simply a failure?

The dynamics of the show further complicate this issue as there are drag queens, RuPaul in her male form, and guest judges who are biological males and females. The grading then of the performance of these women is done then by a diverse group of bodies. Experts in drag (e.g. Lady Bunny and RuPaul) and experts in other realms of performance come together to grade the performances of these ladies who are not creating a new "gender" for themselves, but performing something new "one night only." One must ask then if this one time performance is capable of changing the women, of transforming them, or if come the day after, the women fall back into the repetition of their own gender pre-university training? Does RuPaul's Drag U actually illuminate the misreadings of drag a la Butler's theory of gender performativity whereby it becomes an issue where the "performance" of drag is believed to represent the possibility of disrupting gender norms...when it is actually a voluntary performance that fails at addressing the ways gender is discursively created? Does this show "drag u" back into beliefs that we can simply change our genders over night OR does it "drag u" into an uncharted path that allows these women to be "new" and "improved" as opposed to the failed women they were before the show?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sex Tours and Spanking

Chicago is home to supposedly the only sex tour in the United States. And since I think sex is quite interesting for a variety of reasons - personal, political, philosophical, and ethical - and am new to Chicago, it seemed appropriate to go on such a tour. I was quite excited by the prospect of such a tour. I anxiously awaited its arrival and could not believe when the day finally arrived. I, of course, was a bit concerned that it would be cheesy and sanitized, but I let go of my concerns and toured the history of sex in Chicago.

I was not that impressed by the tour. I was, in fact, more disappointed in the tour than I was impressed...but this, I did not fully realize until after the tour ended and I discussed it with others. Yet, the tour was not a complete waste. I learned where the Leather Archive and Museum is located and was able to talk with Mistress Xena, a professional dominatrix, and see her BDSM dungeon. As a side note, in the dungeon, a volunteer was requested to illustrate how a particular piece of equipment worked. Since I cannot handle the awkward tension when such a request is made, I raised my hand and was to my surprise spanked by a professional dominatrix...which may potentially be the highlight of my time in Chicago.

Back to the tour though. I was disappointed in the tour because it seemed to rely on the glitz and glamor of being a "sex tour" without having much substance beyond this. The tour guides clearly knew what they were talking about (e.g. the history of prostitution in Chicago) and were practicing members in different sexual subcultures. They practiced what they preached. However, there is a balance that in my opinion needs to be struck in such instances so that the tour does not become personal story time about one's own sexual practices...after all I did not pay the money I paid to simply hear about someone else's sexcapades nor feel like it is a competition to see who is the "kinkiest" person...after all, fetishes abound and one could argue it's all a fetish. We all choose particular things to focus on - some are just seen as more "normal" than others - but all sexual desires, from "kinky" to "vanilla," are fetishistic.

Yet, this is a minor concern and a preference. My larger concern is what felt to me to be mild misogyny on the part of one of the tour guides. To some, it may seem odd on a tour that requires open-mindedness that misogyny might rear its head, but with the complexity of sexuality and its history such is perhaps not that strange. Here is where I saw misogyny rear its head. On the tour, we played a game called "Spot the Ho" where we were supposed to point out prostitutes. It seemed problematic to me that the guide would ask us to "Spot the Ho" - a game that singles out a population that is already ridiculed and "spotted out" - on a tour where we are supposed to be open-minded about sexual possibilities.

However of course, since it seemed rude to point and yell "there's a prostitute" we were to instead yell "CVS" which stood for "Common Variety Skank." The ingenuity of CVS is not lost...I do have a sense of humor. And I am not sure how the tour guide was using such terminology - so my accusation of the guide being a misogynist is perhaps a bit "early". Yet, since sex - especially prostitution and particular sexual subcultures - is so complicated, it seemed to me rather problematic to not at least footnote the ways in which the tour guide is using such terms (i.e. I am using the term "Ho" in reverence). Such a move, seems to me to then at least allow for a pause and for the participants to think about why reverence should be given to "ho's" or "skanks." To note that, we are spotting hos not to ridicule them and win a free ghost tour, but to make them visible, to see them as persons, persons who deserve respect and legal protections carries a drastically different purpose and feeling. It does not fall into the pointing prostitutes already experience, but into a category where such pointing might fleetingly be seen as a point that says "I see you, I recognize you, I respect you." Of course, how others seeing the pointing complicates this and gets us into bigger issues about perception, intention, and meaning...but I will not go there.

Now of course this may seem minimal and a bit idealistic...I am a philosopher though and I like to think about the symbolic meanings and possibilities. But what furthered my concern was the guide discussing how he knew more high-end call girls - individuals who clearly would not be victim to the came of "Spot the Ho." He did not, at least how he discussed it, know or talk to a lot of street walkers. I wonder then, would he play this game if he knew he might be pointing and inevitably laughing (because that is what we did when we first learned about the game) at friends or acquaintances?

Was the sex tour then merely a story telling about the guide's sex life? Was it what it's description said it would be? I think it was a combination of bordered on being more glitz than substance. Yet, sometimes glitz is good so I don't want to downplay it. But the tour seemingly failed at providing depth and thoughtful engagement with a complicated subject matter. It at times seemingly maintained the problematic gaze at the "freakish sexual other" that it sought to challenge by calling for open-mindedness. But, of course such things happen. We are not immune to falling into such norms...the task though is to recognize it and through critique open up possible ways of touring sex without making it a tourist trap.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Queertopia: A Strange Place

What is queertopia? Can such a place exist? And what is its future? Who is in such a place? And who is part of such a future, a rather queer future - perhaps? These are questions that are raised in a show I recently saw entitled Queertopia. According to the description of the play it is "based on true stories" that are "youth-driven oral histories" that "investigate[s] violence within and against the LGBTQA communities in America while imagining and performing a future just beyond our grasp." It is a show, an organic show whose script, as the cast discussed in the talk-back after the show, is constantly evolving and changing. It tells stories of youth, different kinds of youth, queer in different ways, but in such stories there emerges a haunting of the past - a past that haunts the lives of LGBTQA persons. Yet, such haunting propels forward uncharted possibilities not seen in the show itself, but imagined in the time and space after the show ends and the dance party begins. It is a play between the past, the present (as performed), and the future always "a day away" or "just beyond our grasp".

Within the show and perhaps the future it imagines, performance and dance become the modes not only of cathartic release, but of imagination, of not thinking about the real, but of thinking about the imaginary - about images that could someday be a part of the real images we see in our lives. It is a reach for, a dreaming of a queertopia.

Within the show, space and time is changed over time and time impacts what space is available and how such space is seen. And a part of this dynamic relates to the bodies involved in such space and time. How are bodies oriented within the space and time and what amount of time does it take to orient bodies in particular ways within a space? How do the stories of the characters illuminate different paths for "queer" bodies and different responses to the violence of existence?

But back to the concept of queertopia...

I think it is necessary to begin in the present thinking about queertopia by looking backwards to the past to the etymology of what seem to be important terms - namely utopia, dystopia, and then finally the etymology of the queer in queertopia. Utopia is a neologism, first used in Sir Thomas More's book Utopia (1516). It emerges from Greek to mean broadly "good place." More used the term allegorically, noting such a place could not actually exist, but imagining such a place offers potential critical insights into possibility. Dystopia, a modification of utopia, is according to its etymology, first uttered by John Stuart Mill in 1868 in a speech in the British House of Commons. It means broadly a "bad or ill place." Utopia is founded on the "good life" while dystopia is its negative counterpart, a utopia with a problem. So, what about queertopia? I had not heard of the concept "queertopia" until this let's look to the etymology of queer to begin an understanding of such a concept. Queer means "strange" or "peculiar" or "eccetric;" "off-center" or "oblique". And in the 20th century becomes associated with (homo)sexuality - an association that cannot be avoided with the utterance of "queer" as noted queer theorist Eve Sedgwick notes in Tendencies. So a queertopia is a strange or peculiar place, but a strange and peculiar place that is intimately connected with sexuality - particularly non-normative sexualities. It is perhaps a space and time where non-normative sexualities exist in a different paradigm BUT is neither good nor bad, it is is ambivalent about good and bad.

It is this ambivalence of the queertopia that I find quite useful and quite well engaged in the show. Depending on how one might read "queertopia" there are perhaps two immediate responses. One might imagine the show as playing with the notion of utopia - providing an overly positive spectacle of same-sex lovin' that imagines a world without violence, filled instead with love and gaiety. Or, one might imagine the show as playing with the notion of dystopia - imagining a future that is filled with violence, with queer bashing in order to provoke rage and calls for queer resistance. Both readings while somewhat present in the show, are inadequate for what happens. Instead, the viewer gets a merging of these two and in such a merging the show engages ambivalence where the good and the bad, the right and the wrong become much more complicated. The "queer bodies" are not merely victims, but also violators. Violence is not only inflicted from the outside, in BUT also from the inside out as the psychic wounds and the social wounds dance to produce the queer subjects.

And it is this production - both the literal production of the show and the metaphorical production of the lives such a show re-presents - that creates the queertopia. A space, a place and therefore a time somewhere and nowhere fleetingly showing the world we live in, the world as it once was, and how the world might be always struggling with the violence of existence and the (in)ability to escape such violence. This (in)ability both opens up the space to counter violence (an ethics of non-violence) while recognizing the presence of violence in the constitution of the human - we are violated by coming into existence (e.g. through naming, through being slapped on the butt by the doctor, or having our sex determined for us in the case of intersex babies). We cannot become subjects, we cannot become bodies, without violence but as Judith Butler argues "it is precisely because one is formed through violence, the responsibility not to repeat the violence of one's formation is all the more pressing and important" (2009, 167).

Lady Gaga: The Politics of Artifice and the Ethics of Gaga

It seems that the world has fallen for Gaga - some have fallen in love with her, some have fallen out of love with her, some are falling trying to grasp who or what she is. And in recent weeks, the Gaga has made significant appearances in the New York Times. Feminist Philosophy Nancy Bauer in "Lady Power" (20 June 2010) takes up the cultural phenomena of Gaga in relation to feminism - noting that one must only look to Gaga to get the "bead on feminism." In Bauer's astute reading of Gaga, she notes that Gaga "keeps us guessing about who she, as a woman, is" because for Gaga "woman is a matter of artifice, of artful self-presentation." Bauer's assessment of Gaga, through a reading of Beauvoir, is ambivalent concluding "Lady Gaga and her shotgun companions should not be seen as barreling down the road of bad faith. But neither are they living in a world in which their acts of self-expression or self-empowerment are distinguishable, even in theory, from acts of self-objectification." From Bauer's reading, we cannot be sure of not only who Gaga is (a part of Gaga's style) but also what Gaga means for gender. Does she disrupt gender norms by exposing them as artifice or does she re-entrench such norms? Or does she do both and more, depending on the space/time in which any given individual sees a Gaga performance?

Caramanica in his New York Times article (22, July 2010) "Girl Pop's Lady Gaga Makeover" looks at Gaga's influence on contemporary "Girl Pop" and its move away from the images of the Girl Power of Lilith Fair. It seems in his reading that there is something much more authentic in the granola, confessional style of Lilith Fair that has been lost to the "post-absurdist sexual theatre" of Gaga (taken up in the work of Katy Perry, Kesha, Beyonce, and Nicki Minaj). Gaga's style and those influenced by her artificial, inventive, and aesthetic imaginations focuses not on political critiques around female sexuality (seen in Madonna's early work) but rather focuses on "distraction as an end itself." For him, Gaga's emphasis on the performance, on the self-styling of the artist through her art where her art is her and she is her art is uncomfortable for it fails to show that there is someone, underneath the costumes that is Lady Gaga. Caramanica seeks a confession from Gaga, a confession of her origins, of her self, of who she is.

I find something strange with these recent engagements with Lady Gaga. It seems strange to me that there is this desire for Gaga to be pinned down, to be defined and her artifice finally shown as being truly artifice with a "living, breathing creature beneath." I find this call strange for a couple of reasons.

First, it is a desire that imposes itself on Lady Gaga..."you must confess who you are because in such a confession, you will be intelligible to me. I will finally know you. Your confession will allow me to finally see who you are." Such a confessional mode while allowing "me" to see Gaga, in itself changes Gaga though. It forces her to tell a story she is not wanting or willing to tell about herself. It, in my reading, negates the challenges she poses to notions of identity (gender, sexual, political). Gaga refuses to identify most of the time, although at times makes such a move to allow the play to continue - to keep us guessing and to keep others playing. Yet, her challenges are not mere "distractions" or rather she uses these distractions to open up the imaginary of what one can be or what the world itself could do in its constant re-emergence. She asks us, allows us, makes it possible for us, to get lost in the pastiche of worlds she creates - worlds that are not all rosy but encounter the strange, the horrific, the monstrous and illuminate the beauty of such perversities.

Second, such a call, such a desire, fails to recognize the possibilities in Gaga's artifice. Gaga does not define what woman is nor man. She does not seek to limit what women or men can be and she even engages the idea that persons are objects and in being such an object can find pleasure (a reason I think the S/M imagery plays a role in numerous videos). Gaga does not make nice, but neither does she make mean. Rather, she makes ethics. Ethics is a part of her project and her ethics is not simple. Relations between beings and perhaps even between things are complicated by the artificial, by the artifice. What stories might one tell and how do such stories open up possibilities while also, as they must limiting what stories can be told. Caramanica notes this, perhaps unknowingly, when he criticizes Gaga's images as becoming a "mite too ideological." While I do not oft use the word ideological - I think his comment illuminates the Gaga does not move to far out of a particular imaginary position. She has her limitations BUT such limitations are not a counterpoint to her politics, showing how she fails...but rather such limitations illustrate that she does not operate outside of the world she seeks to expand. Gaga does not invent, she re-invents. She pays homage to (e.g. Warhol, Madonna) and in paying homage, she re-invents, she creates anew. She is not original because there is no such thing nor is she simply mimicking her predecessors. She is re-performing, re-telling, and as such re-creating stories that we might tell about ourselves.

And, it is this that illuminates Gaga's ethics - Gaga seeks to tell stories and open up the telling of stories that create a world for monsters that is based in love. She tells a story of love using the imagery of monsters, rarely associated with love, in order to allow the monstrous to love itself and to love others. This might be seen poignantly in her recent response to the Westboro Baptist Church's protest where she told her monsters "Although I respect and do not judge anyone for their personal views on any politics or religion, this group in particular to me is violent and dangerous. I wanted to make my fans aware of my views on how to approach, or rather not approach, these kinds of hate activists." Gaga did not seek violent reactions, but sought inaction against the protesters - allowing them to "be" outside - while inside love won out and the monsters sang.

Such love though is not is does not seek to be authentic or even real because, once it becomes those things, it loses its critical capacity in the imaginary. And to lose the imaginary is to lose the potential to re-create the real, to recreate the images that are possible in the real world.

Friday, January 29, 2010

I recently received the below story as a forward from a family member...Because of my own politics and my enjoyment of political banter...I replied all to the e-mail sending what appears after the story to a large number of family members...I share it hear because it amused me...

One Light Bulb at a Time

A physics teacher in high school, once told the students that while one grasshopper on the railroad tracks wouldn't slow a train very much, a billion of them would. With that thought in mind, read the following, obviously written by a good American …Good idea .. . . one light bulb at a time . . . .

Check this out . I can verify this because I was in Lowes the other day for some reason and just for the heck of it I was looking at the hose attachments .. They were all made in China . The next day I was in Ace Hardware and just for the heck of it I checked the hose attachments there. They were made in USA . Start looking ..
In our current economic situation, every little thing we buy or do affects someone else - even their job .. So, after reading this email, I think this lady is on the right track . Let's get behind her!
My grandson likes Hershey's candy . I noticed, though, that it is marked made in Mexico now. I do not buy it any more.
My favorite toothpaste Colgate is made in Mexico ... now
I have switched to Crest. You have to read the labels on everything ..
This past weekend I was at Kroger. I needed 60 W light bulbs and Bounce dryer sheets . I was in the lightbulb aisle, and right next to the GE brand I normally buy was an off-brand labeled, "Everyday Value . " I picked up both types of bulbs and compared the stats - they were the same except for the price .. The GE bulbs were more money than the Everyday Value brand but the thing that surprised me the most was the fact that GE was made in MEXICO and the Everyday Value brand was made in - get ready for this - the USA in a company in Cleveland, Ohio .
So throw out the myth that you cannot find products you use every day that are made right here…
So on to another aisle - Bounce Dryer Sheets…yep, you guessed it, Bounce cost more money and is made in Canada . The Everyday Value brand was less money and MADE IN THE USA ! I did laundry yesterday and the dryer sheets performed just like the Bounce Free I have been using for years and at almost half the price!
My challenge to you is to start reading the labels when you shop for everyday things and see what you can find that is made in the USA - the job you save may be your own or your neighbors!
If you accept the challenge, pass this on to others in your address book so we can all start buying American, one light bulb at a time! Stop buying from overseas companies! (We should have awakened a decade ago…) Let's get with the program and help our fellow Americans keep their jobs and create more jobs here in the USA.

Adam's Response...
I love the idea of buying "American" but I'm not passing this on.

My concerns with this approach are that this "call to action" fails to recognize the context of globalization and seems to place the blame of our economic system not on us BUT on the abject other - the Mexican or Chinese factory worker. The factory workers who have produced our goods for us are not to blame as they took up the jobs US Corporations (i.e. GE, GM, Ford) shifted their way because they would work for less than "we" were willing to work for. They, the factory workers, are working, often in in-humane working conditions to, do what we do here in the US, provide for their families. They did not take jobs from the US, their governments in cooperation with our government and the corporation wheeled and dealed so they could get industry and we could get our cheap goods (without the worries of those "pesky unions" that are concerned about the little guy and yes, I recognize that unions are implicated in these issues also)...Those factory workers worked in wretched conditions while we worked on our over-inflated gadgets (my MacBook included) and sat in our clothes they produced for a tiny paycheck.

Simply choosing to buy US goods (without asking what working conditions those good are produced in, as US factory conditions are not always the friendliest either) or arguing that doing so provides our "neighbors" jobs refuses to recognize or denies that doing so also makes the worker "there" (in Mexico or China) to lose their job and potentially no longer be able to provide for their family...perhaps echoing the lines from the musical "Spring Awakening" "that we're fucked alright and all for spite, you can kiss your sorry ass goodbye" because the ways in which labor and capital have been positioned over the last decades has now begun to faulter with no solution to "go back to the ways things were." Not buying from "overseas" companies is rather ludicrous since many of the products listed in this are actually products produced under the name of a US even buying a GE Lightbulb is supporting a US Company that does have employees in the US...and buying Hershey supports a US Corporation that has done some amazing things for schools in Pennsylvania...

So, it seems the situation is that we had no problem (myself included) buying cheap products made from these countries before our economic situation soured. We allowed the corporation and much of "American" life to be privatized because of fear of the "public" (i.e. public health care) and now see those at the complete top (Bank CEOs, Corporate Presidents) still bringing in their paycheck while the "everyday" American is left to fend for themselves (to eat, to pay hospital bills, to go to a movie)...and one response of this "fending" is to rather than blame and revolt against the corporate monster, is to blame the other "everyday" global citizen for taking jobs that we freely allowed our corporations to ship to them. And We could also blame the government for "bailing out" banks but without such a bailout things would, according to many economists been much worse. To me, this seems to say that the "corporation" has become the new monster in the world, overpowering government(s) but utilizing those governments when its system can no longer sustain itself...seen most poignantly perhaps in the recent Supreme Court decision on campaign funding that will shift the very democratic policies of our supposed "Democratic" country.

The questions I ask then, not because I am morally superior as I operate in this same system and am implicated in my own critique or because I am smarter because I am at the upper levels of education, but because I simply like to ask questions. Why place the blame for an economic crisis on the weakest and most abused populations? Who is a good American and why does being a "good" American mean buying goods made in the US...does this not assume that "Americans" are not a multi-cultural and "multi-national" people that cross national borders (and we are from a family that generations ago immigrated to this nation)? Why does all this type of "rhetoric" about buying in the US always focus on China or Mexico...Did grandma in the story instead by Cadbury (made in England) exposing that her concern is not really about where her products are made, but the skin color of those making it?

I don't know. I don't know this grandma...but what I do know is that trying to place the blame on 3rd World Nations for the problems of the 1st World "SuperPower" is weak since it was the 1st World "SuperPower" that got into the business of shady politics and economic dealings. I do know that I live in Michigan and it has been dealing with these issues for a long long time and that I deal with students on a weekly basis who are not sure they can stay in school because of funding cuts to education (but not the military) and their parent's losing their jobs. I do know that the state of US Public Education is rather dim because of these issues and fear the day that public schools give in to the corporation (what happens to knowledge when the corporation decides)? I do know that I don't have good healthcare because I can't afford it and I do know that I haven't been to the dentist in years because "dental" is not covered by my already "weak" health insurance. I do know that these issues are not as simple as "buying" US goods because goods are no longer a "neat and tidy" concept NOR does buying this message address the lack of healthcare for so many, the failing education system allowing children to fall in the cracks, and so many vital issues that cannot be pinned on any "one" population...