Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why I'm Ok with Driving to the Oil Disaster Protest

I’m teaching composition this summer and I’ve told my students that I would be attending some protests about the oil blowout this week. They wanted to hear about the protest (or just avoid more talk about active and passive voice). “Do you have signs and stuff?” “Are you all angry and screaming?” “Do you, like, carry a pitchfork?”

A pitchfork? I tried to explain to them that while I was angry about what was going on, I didn’t stand around screaming. From the back row came the comment, “It’s too hot to be mad.”

And it is.

I’ve been to two events this week on at the Baton Rouge capitol – one organized specifically for the workers and about the use of Corexit on Tuesday and a loveyourcoast event put together by a couple student organizations and some others (Sierra club was one). C and I only lasted a little more than an hour.

It was so hot and so bright on the white capitol steps that it felt surreal. There were a couple singers with guitars. I recognized some faces from Tuesday. A line of about eight people held signs. I admit I was expecting a massive crowd of hundreds. I think there were between twenty and thirty people there. I’m wondering how much that would change if the protest were scheduled for 4pm?

I’m amazed at the people who were out there before we got there and who stayed out there after we left. I’m still dragging from standing on those steps. Some of the legislators saw us. While I was there we got some curious glances, but mostly the capitol workers walked around us. At one point the cops told people to take down a shade tent.

While it is legal to protest in Louisiana, apparently all protesters should suffer in the sun.

Enough with my negativity. Seeing Dr. Riki Ott speak was amazing. She’s worked with Valdez survivors for thirty years and is one of those rare people who can witness suffering and injustice, be angry enough to try to change it, and remain enthusiastic. She warned us that BP was using the same tactics as Exxon had with the Valdez. She told us we were doing the right thing being there. She knew about those awful feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness. Organizing and coming together, she told us, would lift us up.

And she’s right. But that’s something I’ve struggled with in regards to activism: does it make a difference to show up? My urge is often to do something really big. And often I think that if I can’t develop superpowers and fix it, why bother? Dr. Ott reminded me of the importance of bearing witness. Sometimes the most we can do is stand with an umbrella behind some people holding posters in the 100 degree heat.

This disaster has a whole other layer added to the problem of showing up: I’ve thought more deeply than I ever have about how I get to the protests. I’ve wondered if it is counterproductive to drive to an oil disaster protest. Or if the fact that I’m driving there means I shouldn’t be complaining about oil companies.

Nope. As a person living in an oil dependent society I better be complaining. If it means I have to drive to do it, so be it.

My options were for today: drive or don’t go. It’s too far to walk. I don’t have a bike I can ride that far right now.

I’m glad I went. They needed people there today and I’m proud that I was one of them. Don’t get me wrong: I hate being so dependent on fossil fuels. I wish gas cost a lot more because I think that’s the only way public transportation in Baton Rouge and the rest of Louisiana will be a viable way to get around. I’d like my next car to have the engine modifications done so it can run on vegetable oil. But this disaster doesn’t mean I’m going to stop going to work (driving or buses are my only way to get there). Why would it mean I wouldn’t go to a protest?

Dr. Ott suggested we meet every week on the capitol steps. I hope people do and I’d like to be a part of it. I hope some days I’ll be able to ride a bike or take the bus. But if I can’t, I’m still going.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sex and The City 2: We know it was bad. Here’s why it is my top film of 2010. And oh yes, Spoilers Galore!

I might not enjoyed the movie as much as I did if I hadn’t read this io9 review of it, so I knew what to watch for. . Time was indeed tricky throughout the film and The City does control all. For example after Carrie and Aidan have kissed and Carrie frets over whether or not to tell Big, she says, “We’re eight hours ahead of New York, so it hasn’t happened there yet.” Carrie then decides if she tells Big it won’t be a secret she kept from him because it hasn’t really happened yet. Bad writing or a commentary on the fluid possibilities of time and fate? Can I really decide that after just one viewing?

Perhaps I enjoyed it so much because Sex and the City 2 was a testament to the power of objects to control our identities. And instead of the second rate objects which control my life, the women of SATC-2 are controlled by designer and vintage objects. Like the butlers who can’t leave the $22,000 a night hotel suite until they are dismissed by their mistresses, the women of SATC-2 do the bidding of objects.

Carrie’s kiss with Aidan was clearly caused by an eyeliner she bought at the Souk (along with some genie shoes). Carrie’s voice over notes as she puts on the eyeliner that she “wasn’t herself.” The dark eyeliner liberates Carrie’s past self which Carrie later notes is a insecure, affection starved self. Luckily for Carrie, she has a gold purse, after which she grips frees her from her past self and brings her back to her present self who is married to Big and doesn’t want to be kissing Aidan. Whew!

Objects are in charge of the sex act as well. Samantha’s two sex scenes are tame compared to the television series; we see Samantha’s legs and her face and hear her shouts, but Samantha’s most graphic sex in the film takes place her and a hookah. Samantha goes on a date with a Dutch man, says something tasteless about how good she is at sucking, then briefly performs fellatio on the hookah. It’s the most graphic moment of the whole film. The sex-scene finale takes place on the hood of a jeep, on the beach on the forth of July. Samantha appears more intimate with the jeep than with the man, as she grabs onto the windshield wipers while she moans.

And in the end it is objects rather than Samantha’s flashing of flesh that gets her into trouble. Samantha’s condoms turn up at all sorts of inopportune times, culminating in a dramatic scene at the souk. During the call to prayer, Samantha’s purse is torn and condoms spill all over the ground. Dressed in a tank top and shorts (she’s having hot flashes) Samantha begins waving the condoms at a mob of Arab men in white robes. The men surround her – she screams she’s American and she has sex, then thrust her hips while she shakes condoms at the men.

The foursome is rescued by a couple of burka clad women who unveil themselves behind a shop. The women are wearing the Spring Prada beneath their burkas, and are reading the same book about menopause that Samantha plugged earlier in the movie! Is the pairing of these holy capitalist vestments with the call to prayer a coincidence? I think not – it’s a glimpse towards the post-colonial church of the future!

I’m worried that it sounds like I’m only dissing SATC-2. I loved it because it showed just how cultural colonialism works so transparently. And entertained me with wonderfully hideous outfits in the meantime. Even when the plot was predictable, there were so many exciting clothes to look at that I didn’t care. And Liza Minnelli! During the dynamic foursome rendition of “I am Woman” in a nightclub -- and there’s so much more to say about that – the club belly dancers even get in on the liberating action --Samantha wears a red jacket with spiked silver epaulets. She looks kind of like Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Or like Bowser from Super Mario. Is this a commentary on a spiky exterior that protects a vulnerable core? Or is Samantha truly a sexual warrior?

There’s so, so much more to say about this movie. I’ll think this email I wrote to a friend sums it up why I loved it: It’s a snapshot of gender, race, class and colonial racism balanced on designer stilettos, delivered with bad sexual jokes. It's the best type of satire there is: one where the creators didn't know they were mocking themselves. I think the whole movie was taken hostage by the American collective unconscious. It was written by the spirit of colonial capitalism itself. It was like reading good theory, but watching it. With glitter.