Throbert's Theatre of Thinkologizing main page


21 September 2002

Two items in this weekend's New York Times shining a lamp on the cultural Zeitgeist!

I'll take the one of more pressing personal interest first: According to an article in the Times Magazine, it seems that hairy chests are the new Izod of 21st-century men's fashion. As one who's never been able to stand the cave-salamander texture of smooth pecs -- ideally, any guy I date should be hairy enough up front that, in an emergency, I could judo-flip him to the ground and use him as an impromptu bathmat -- I had to pinch my nipples with alligator clips to make sure I wasn't dreaming!

Zarah Bradford's commentary is [tee-hee!] titillating, and -- for the benefit of preschoolers and foreigners -- accompanied by a few photos that I've already inkjet-printed and taped up in the bathroom for my scheduled Private Time later this evening. Still, I'm not sure how timely it really is. It would take a pro like Paglia to properly... um... deconstitute the piece's... semiotic... endoskeleton, but I'll give it a whirl.

To begin with, Bradford actually finds a way to invoke 9/11 as a contributing factor in the Alley Oop revival, though she wisely evades responsibility for this thesis by slipping into the passive voice: ''In the front row [of a recent fashion show where male models flashed their braidable torsos on the catwalk], this rebirth of butch was attributed to Sept. 11 and the ensuing images of heroic firefighters, police officers and rescue workers.''

Then, she gets in the obligatory fag-hag sucking up, explaining that this ''rebirth of butch'' also has roots in ''the gay community, always the cutting edge for male grooming trends.'' Oh, golly, lady. If you think butch has made some kind of noticeable resurgence in the gay community, what the hell are you using as a benchmark for ordinary middle-of-the-road masculinity -- Jiminy Glick? Richie Rich? At any rate, ''waxed gym bunnies are having to make way for bears.'' Bears being -- are you all you folks on the hetero tourboat taking notes? -- ''those big, ultramasculine men, whose beards and bellies make the local gay bar look like a Crosby, Stills and Nash convention." Har!

I dunno where Carrie Bradshaw -- I mean, Zarah Bradford -- gets this present-tense "are having to make way" stuff, as though bear were a new coinage in the gay argot. I've only been out for ten years, but even then, bears had been around long enough to call themselves a Community, with a capital C. They even had their own flag -- rather a nicer one than the familar gay pride banner it's modeled on, with attractively muted earth tones replacing the garish rainbow stripes. Plus, there was that sitcom way back in the '70s, ostensibly about a trucker and his fun-loving pet chimpanzee, though not in any way derivative of Clint Eastwood's Every Which Way But Loose and its sequel, which were ostensibly about a trucker and his fun-loving pet orangutan. Close analysis of the B.J. and the Bear theme lyrics, however, show it to be little more than a thinly-veiled ode to male camaraderie among professional sword swallowers, if you get my meaning. (Every Which Way But Loose, meanwhile, can be read as an allegory for Kissenger's Cambodia policy.) In what's surely no coincidence, B.J. star Greg Evigan would later appear in My Two Dads, itself an embarrassingly transparent celebration of ''alternative" households.

Where was I? Oh, yeah -- the article's only authentic revelation is that some makeup artist was actually tasked with mowing Sean Connery's pectoral kudzu while The Presidio was in shooting, though it's not clear whether Connery was letting his inner sissy-girl come to the surface or if this was a request of set technicians who found that boom mikes and other equipment were getting tangled in the actor's Sasquatch-like growth.

Stay tuned for part II, when I'll examine the alleged emergence of anti-Semitism at Harvard; I've just got to nip over to the drugstore for Kleenex and handlotion...

posted by Throbert | 9/21/2002 07:23:00 PM | (0) responses

Dagnabbit! As I've been overhauling my Blog template and updating links to other sites, I omitted a very important one: Here Is New York, a companion website to the downtown gallery that houses thousands of photos relating to 9/11 and its aftermath. As the exhibition itself has been exhaustively publicized, I don't imagine that the website's existence will come as news to any readers here -- but I wanted to put in a plug on behalf of my roommate, Juan, who's been a lead programmer for the site from its inception, when he was an unpaid volunteer.

Oh, yeah -- despite having thousands of dollars worth of digital cameras pass through my sweaty fingers each month in my work as a freelance writer, I never managed to get a photo accepted for display in the Here Is New York Gallery. However, I did snap a few good shots of the WTC Light Memorial as it appeared from my rooftop in Brooklyn, some five or six miles away.

posted by Throbert | 9/21/2002 10:43:00 AM | (0) responses

20 September 2002

Hey, readers! As part of our special Fall Promotion here at the Blinkin' Blog, go ahead and help yourself to these original animated gifs! I made 'em all by my lonesome, and I'd be thrilled to see them propagate across the Web like so many dancing hamsters. All I ask is that you click on the Comment marker below to tell me which of 'em you liked best.

posted by Throbert | 9/20/2002 06:34:00 PM | (0) responses

Can any mommies and daddies out there give me some advice on IQ testing for babies? Seriously, I think I may have a budding genius on my hands here with Throbert Jr. (or Throbertina Jr.)!

The hilarious part is that for months now, I'd been concerned that he (or she) might be just a little bit... S - L - O - W. Go figure! I mean, the kid's gotta be over a year old now, judging by size and weight [Important note to new readers!!! Throbert Jr. (or Throbertina Jr.) isn't my natural-born offspring; he (or she) was left practically on my doorstep by (I'm guessing) some unwed and frightened teenage mother who'd (I'm guessing again) been struggling with daily recreational use of aromatic solvents during her first trimester, and who lived near or worked at (yes, this is another guess) a cyclotron or some other nuclear research facility. -- Ed.], but he (or she) hasn't uttered a word yet. What's worse, he (or she) has never spontaneously ''babbled'' the way infants are supposed to -- I read somewhere that all human babies produce the click sounds of !Xao and related African bush languages, the difficult trilled rzh of Czech, the undulating tones of Mandarin or Vietnamese. But not my baby. (Sob, sob!)

Throbby Jr. can't articulate labials or dental plosives at all, for instance -- no buh, no tuh, no mmmmm. Come to think of it, no velar fricatives, no liquid ''l'' or ''r,'' and no distinguishable long vowels, either.

He (or she) is phenomenal with the sibiliants, though -- day and night, Throbert Jr. (or Throbertina Jr.) sits there in the playpen I made out of chicken wire, some Muppet Baby stick-on decals, and the plugged-in cord from an old hair dryer, and just hisses like a moistened cobra on a hotplate. So you can see why any doting parent would've been concerned about the tyke's cognitive development.

But boy, did I get one big shiny ray of hope last night! I'd left Throbert Jr. (or Throbertina Jr.) playing with his (or her) Buttercup® PowerPuff Girl doll. We make a game out if it sometimes -- I'll hold the doll and make her do stuff and talk in a special girly voice:

Daddy: Oh, goodness, Blossom, is that a very special baby I see over there?
Baby: Hisssssss.
Daddy: Such boo-ful eyes the baby has, like scarlet billiard balls glistening in the rain, only with veins and black horizontal pupil-slits instead of numbers, don't you think?
Baby: Hissss.
Daddy: And what a pretty dolly! Wouldn't you like to comb her pretty hai-- no, we do not express our poison glands on the dolly! Bad, bad, bad baby! The doll is all melty now, you see?

Anyway, I'd left Throbert Jr. (or Throbertina Jr.) playing with the doll while I went to the kitchen to whip up some Beefy Mac 'n' Cheese. After a few minutes I started noticing this weird noise -- kind of a soft, fluttery, thumping. At first I thought it sounded muffled because it was coming from an adjacent apartment, but as I walked towards the apparent source I realized that the noises were emanating from the bedroom where my roommate, Juan, sleeps. So I carefully open the door, turn on the light, and -- holy shit, there's a pigeon flapping around the ceiling, stopping briefly to perch on the wall shelving and drop a few feathers before taking off again in a panic. I realized what had happened -- the upper sash of the window was open for cross-ventilation; the bird must've flown in and gotten confused.

Well, pigeons are like Boeing 747s for lice and similarly revolting members of the Arthropod phylum, so as I'm trying to figure out (a) how best to defenestrate this airborne pestilence and (b) whether Juan's bed linens will need disinfecting, I suddenly feel these claws scrabbling up my back. I realize right quick that it's Throbert Jr. (or Throbertina Jr.), but before I can grab the child, he (or she) takes this leap through the air right at the pigeon. Misses, but then alights on the antique wardrobe and before I or the pigeon knows what's happening, the kid slides back his (or her) jaw, the folding secondary mandibles spring out, and ZOOOT, half the pigeon plops to the floor like it had been cleaved by a vivisectionist's scalpel. Now, language difficulties or no, that kind of eye-hand coordination in a child so young has to count for something, I would think.

posted by Throbert | 9/20/2002 03:44:00 PM | (0) responses

19 September 2002

The good captain of USS Clueless suggests that the West, led by the U.S., should undertake cultural genocide against radical Islam. While his particular phraseology was a bit, uh, ill-considered (a point he acknowledges in a follow-up post), he is correct insofar as saying that some elements of some Islamic cultures need to be ruthlessly annihilated as the pathogens that they are.

Steven den Beste's only error, I submit, was sloppy application of the umbrella term ''culture.'' It's not his fault, though, since many people across the ideological spectrum make the same mistake. The problem is that any given ethnic or national culture you care to specify will in fact turn out to be multidimensional, composed of several interrelated but independent sub-elements. A few that come to mind are:

Material culture: The food we eat and the clothes we wear
Artistic culture: The literature we read, the music we enjoy listening to and distinguish from "noise," the artworks we consider pretty
Linguistic culture: Do we speak Danish or Chinese or Swahili?
Epistemological culture: What are the valid routes for obtaining knowledge? Are mystical insights authoritative, or only the reproducible outcomes of science?
Familial culture: Where do "relatives" leave off and "all those other people" begin? And how do we treat those within the household?
Political culture: What are the rules of engagement for dealing with people outside the family? (As an example of how this is distinct from familial culture: consider the notion, accepted in many traditions, that it's not ''rape'' if a man happens to be married to the woman he forces himself upon.)

The list could be longer, but you get the idea. Notice, first of all, that within the context of a specified national or ethnic culture, each of these elements can be split further: We can group speakers of a given language into different regional and class dialect communities, for example. Moreover, a particular cultural inheritance can be considered to fall into more than one of the above categories: For English speakers, the King James translation of the Bible profoundly affected subsequent development in the Artistic, Linguistic, and Epistemological fields.

Now, the failure to recognize that culture is composed of these sub-elements explains not only the unwarranted accusation by den Beste's critics that he wants some sort of Final Solution to the problem of Muslim extremism, but also the endless, unproductive debates between the pinkos and the fascist pigs about "multiculturalism" in our schools. Proponents of multiculturalism are enchanted by diversity in the Material and Artistic categories, and rightly so -- who could object to more choices in the food court or those fabulously garish costumes that folk-dancing troupes gad about in? Meanwhile, opponents of multiculturalism generally sense that such issues as moral standards and political structures also fall under the rubric of culture, but frequently fail to separate these strands from the food 'n' folkart in mounting their objections, and so end up tarred as cheerleaders for white-bread WASP homogeneity.

Diversity's glamorous luster dims just a bit when we get to language, because here there would be an obvious boon to communication and commerce if everyone on the planet spoke the a common tongue. Still, there's no practical reason why a hundred different home languages can't continue to thrive and coexist as long as a lingua franca emerges from the Babel to facilitate cross-cultural exchanges. And there is positive value to maintaining diversity in this category, since some concepts may be more readily expressed in one language than another, and each language has its own distinct features that marry especially well with certain literary or musical forms but not so well with others. Overall, then, diversity remains a winning concept here.

It's when we get to Political culture that diversity loses serious ground to uniformity as a goal worth pursuing: can anyone seriously argue that the world is a richer, more appealing place because it houses not only cultures where Church/State separation is the law (as in the U.S.), but also cultures where people can be made to forfeit their lives for blasphemy? (Blasphemy, incidentally, against a sky-creature who is alleged to be omnipotent and who therefore could effortlessly settle his own scores if the occasional ''Al-Laah swallahs'' really pissed him off as much as his worshippers think.) And would it be a loss to future generations if the legal conceit that a woman's testimony is worth half that of a man's were made extinct? Even without his follow-up clarifications, a careful reading of den Beste's original essay makes it clear that he was concerned precisely with those elements of Islamic culture that deal with individual rights and interpersonal relations. It's sharia that he would see driven from this world, not thoughtful Sufi speculation or couscous or Omar Khayyam or all that marvelous geometric tilework.

Granted, the project is not as easy as it appears on paper, because as I noted above, the different elements of culture are inter-related -- and from an Orthodox Muslim's perspective, inseparable. To this mindset, an attack on sharia -- the laws that govern interpersonal affairs -- is also an attack on the validity of revealed scripture, on the whole body of literature that explicates and defends this scripture, on the superficial trappings of fashion that evolved to meet the requirements of sharia. In short, on the Muslim's entire way of life. But the Muslim who perceives himself as so attacked is myopic. For other Muslims -- Muslims like the ones who testify here -- have concluded that a benign, secular, and distinctly un-Western culture can be distinguished and extracted from from the oppressive politics of sharia and the mental stagnation of Quranic literalism.

And we in the U.S. already have a model to prove that these interwoven strands of culture can be teased apart, the evil elements removed, and the good threads braided back together: a recognizably Southern literary and social culture survived the eradication of Slavery and Jim Crow laws, after all.

posted by Throbert | 9/19/2002 09:40:00 PM | (0) responses

The latest argle-bargle over controversial artwork in NYC has come to a swift conclusion, notes the NY Post in one of its typically subtle headlines. Unlike the legendary poop-splattered Virgin Mary, however, which was inexcusably mischaracterized by Mayor Rudy and other critics, this bronze depiction of a Trade Center jumper in midair-somersault was in genuinely low taste. (Though the Post was possibly being sensational in saying that the sculptor deliberately intended to capture the victim ''at the exact moment her head smacks pavement'' -- the figure needs to be mounted on its base somehow, after all.)

P.S. Wait, did I say the falling-woman sculpture was in low taste? My bad -- I hadn't seen this WTC-themed font yet. (Courtesy of asparagirl.)

posted by Throbert | 9/19/2002 12:00:00 PM | (0) responses

18 September 2002

An article by Jane Galt on the troubling phenomenon of HIV+ people who don't disclose their status to sex partners provoked a little side discussion about the old 1 in 10 of us have limp wrists canard. While I think the number is bogus, it's important for straight people to understand that there's no conspiratorial Ministry of Fagitprop that issues these statistics -- the reasons that gay activists throw this unsubstantianted 10% figure around so carelessly are largely innocent ones. First, the vast majority of people, gay or straight, have piss-poor critical thinking skills; give them a figure from some vaguely scientific-sounding source ("According to the Kinsey Report...") and they won't bother asking for supporting citations. The 1-in-10 number, then, persists in part by the same benign mechanism that urban legends do. Second, despite the visibility of gay characters in mainstream pop culture -- from the aggressively inane Will & Grace to the polished and credible Six Feet Under -- many gay people will testify to how pervasive the ''I thought I was the only one'' delusion remains among those still in the closet. So the 10% figure, even if overinflated, serves a good end by reassuring closeted gays that they have a chance of finding support (and camaraderie, and dates) within their own communities -- no need to sever links with the folks in Peoria and go on permanent Haaj to the freaky-deaky Meccas of NYC or San Francisco.

So what's the real percentage, then? 2-3% seems to be accepted figure if you're talking about fulltime professional 'mos like me. I'm inclined to think that this number is a tad low, however, based on my personal experience as an out-of-the-closet gay man who is usually assumed to be straight, and who has about zero interest in mediagenic gay-pride events. There are a lot of us stealth wand-gobblers roaming around, so I'd probably double the percentage and say 6% of men identify, in the privacy of their own minds, as gay-gay-gay! Now, the interesting question is: What percentage of adult men fool around with other guys occasionally? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that, um, 70% of men have fantasized about polishing their pool cues with a buddy, and that about one-third of these have, as adults, actually followed through on their male-to-male daydreams up to and including mutual masturbation. (Once again, South Park has been the dispassionate voice of empirical Truth.)

posted by Throbert | 9/18/2002 03:14:00 PM | (0) responses

Alert! Bring a paperback the next time you go in to have those opalescent Old Glory nail extensions replaced, ladies, because reading selections at the salon are soon to become a little skimpier. Yes, it's a black armband day for the grrrl-rag branch of publishing, as Rosie O'Donnell has announced the folding of her eponymous monthly mag.

This news hits me especially hard because of Rosie's unflagging self-promotion in an area of deep personal concern to me, namely gay parenting. Returning readers to my blog have probably wondered what's been going on with my adopted foundling child, Throbert Jr. (or Throbertina Jr.). Be assured that he (or she) is in robust health, as always, and that the territorial issues between the baby and my dog, Poochy, are mooted now that I've completed construction of an enclosed toddler play area in my bedroom closet. (Did you know that razor wire is available for free at many car-impound lots in New York City?) A little foam batting, some Blue's Clues bed linens, a staple gun, and presto -- a totally enchanting childsafe space for those times when I'm not around to supervise. Why so many gay men recoil at the parenting idea, I'll never know...

posted by Throbert | 9/18/2002 01:45:00 PM | (0) responses

I've been studying a little Arabic recently; bought one of those Teach Yourself Foobarese textbook-plus-dialogue-cassette packages and learned to read the alphabet while riding the subway or tanning on the beach at Fire Island. The Arabic alphabet seemed impossible to learn for the first few days, until I started writing out the letters myself, and the calligraphic logic of the dots and hooks and upstrokes suddenly began to make sense. I made flash cards for the words that came up in the book's dialogues...

Kareem: assalaamu alaikum!
Nabeel: kaif Haalak?
Kareem: bi khair, al khamdu li-laah...

...and now I have a vocabulary of a few dozen words. But only yesterday did I finally get up the nerve to try it out with the Yemeni guy behind the counter at the deli. (In my neighborhood, all of the delis -- and they average two per block on Brooklyn's Fifth Avenue -- are run by guys from Yemen, for some reason.) His eyes just lit up and he broke out grinning as soon as I greeted him in Arabic; I was relieved that his pronunciation sounded so much like the tape, since the different regional variants of Arabic are said to be mutually incomprehensible, or very near to it. For an encore, I sounded out the headline in the newspaper he had spread across the counter. I didn't understand the noises I was emitting, of course, but in that respect I was probably no worse off than the average madrasa graduate in Urdu-speaking Pakistan.

posted by Throbert | 9/18/2002 12:27:00 AM | (0) responses

17 September 2002

So, perhaps I should introduce myself -- I don't think I ever did, really, even if you dig through my rather lean archives. I'm a 30-year-old man living in a fourth-floor walkup apartment with a roommate and a dog in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York. The neighborhood is so named because it is adjacent to Brooklyn's Prospect Park, from which the streets run downhill towards the harbor in the distance.

My roommate, Juan, was my boyfriend for six years; we broke up, I moved out, the economy soured, I moved back in, and now we're a couple again, but this time strictly of the Oscar and Felix bachelor-buddies type. (I'm the Felix, even though I'm way more butch than Tony Randall could ever be.) Our dog's name is Poochy; he's short and hyper and tuff! Imagine what Joe Pesci would be like after face-hoovering a few lines of Colombian Slim-Fast®, and then throw a fur coat on him -- that's Poochy in a nutshell.

Me, I do my part to keep our little household in meat and potatoes by writing freelance reviews of digital cameras for Popular Photography and I'm still looking for the right man to settle down with, and I'd really like a full-time job again, but overall my life is going well. And that, I guess, is that. More later...

posted by Throbert | 9/17/2002 08:16:00 PM | (0) responses

Aha! Now I've finally figured out how to add a comments link to my blog. Granted, it is hosted by some outfit in the U.K. and doesn't match the creepy Big Brother With Nightvision Goggles aesthetic that I spent so much time creating. (Why did I settle on this design? Oh well, I'll wait and see whether anyone complains.)

posted by Throbert | 9/17/2002 06:28:00 PM | (0) responses

Leonard Nimoy to the white courtesy phone! A friend on another forum sent me a link to a NASA page describing a mysterious book known as the Voynich Manuscript. The book is written in an alphabet no one has ever seen before -- possibly it's just a cyphertext form of a known language like Latin, but cryptographers have so far had no luck in their attempts to crack the code. The manuscript is also filled with illustrations, some of them oddly suggestive of the stuff that a pre-teen Theodore Geisel might've drawn for the school newspaper.

Who did write the Voynich Manuscript, then? My credo is: when in doubt, go with ancient astronauts. It's the only rational conclusion...

posted by Throbert | 9/17/2002 12:53:00 PM | (0) responses

16 September 2002

Okay, this marks the second time my blog has come rising from the ashes much like... like... well, it's like something from the annals of folklore, though I'm drawing a blank on the name just at the moment. Wait, I remember now. Rising from the ashes like some kind of Cinderella, who stirs to consciousness at the hearthside after a coke-fueled, 48-hour bender in the back of the pumpkin limo with Prince Charming and a phalanx of bi-curious bodyguards.

Anyway, I've tried the miscellaneous essays approach; I've tried narrative fiction, and neither of those could really hold my attention for longer than a few weeks. (Which is not to say that nothing good came of the blog's earlier incarnations; I'm still proud of IXOYS: The 'X' is for 'Xenomorph', for example, and some of the animated spot art that I made for the blog is even theft-worthy, if I may be so immodest.)

But I realized, after so quickly losing steam on the "mutant baby" storyline, that I really needed some interactivity to keep me motivated -- so this time I'm gonna try to hitch a ride on the great Blogosphere express.

I guess I'll start with a newspaper column by Aussie blogger Tim Blair, who quotes one Janet McCalman ''about the 'great danger to the world' presented by Americans who 'don't... travel overseas unprotected by tourist buses.'"

McCalman also got in digs at Americans who watch television news sources other than PBS (I'll give her that; The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, by virtue of its analysis-heavy format, is the one to watch) and who read lowbrow newspapers, but it's the comment about the tourist buses that got to me. Here, McCalman sketches a picture of stoopid American tourists whose exposure to foreign ways is limited to quick photo-op drive-bys of Potemkin villages, and contrasts this with the experience of enlightened world travelers who go off the beaten path and get to know the real local culture. It's the superficiality of their contact with foreign cultures that makes Americans such a ''great danger'' to the world -- sitting smugly in their air-conditioned buses, they don't realize that the wogs are people, too, people who luv their children and yearn for universal brotherhood.

I'm forced to wonder whether McCalman has ever gotten off the tour bus, walked through the flies and muck, and chatted up the locals in their own language. And I'm guessing that, in fact, she has never experienced the gut-punching moment of disenchantment that takes so many second-language learners by surprise -- that moment when the hands-across-the-water idealism falls away and you realize, Sweet Jebus, these people are insane!

It happened for me in Moscow, early in my seven-month sojourn as an English teacher in Russia. I'd discovered that men who like men -- golubye, ''blue ones,'' they were called -- congregated in the public toilets around the perimeter of the Kremlin, turning them into ''Russian tearooms'' of a kind unimagined by Manhattan socialites. So, I picked up this guy, we went for a walk under the midnight winter sky, I'm talking to him in Russian about life in America, and then he sez to me: Ty prinimaesh' negra za cheloveka?

''Do I take a black to be a person,'' I thought, and then realized I must've misunderstood his question, because surely he wasn't disputing that black people are human beings...

Ty ikh schitaesh' lyud'mi? he paraphrased, in response to my quizzical look, and I realized I'd understood him correctly the first time, that he really believed negry were just a bit closer to gorillas than to white people, that he and I had been accultured differently, that Rodgers and Hammerstein had it bass-ackwards when they wrote ''You've got to be carefully taught'' -- contempt for the Other is pervasive throughout humanity, it's the ''All men are created equal'' meme that must be carefully taught, and many non-American cultures don't teach it. And for the first time in my life, I indulged in a moment of unembarrassed cultural superiority. ''Folks born and raised in America,'' I thought, consciously including Americanized Russian immigrants in that group, ''are just a bit better, as people, than folks born and raised in Russia.''

Come to think of it, the point I'm trying to make has already been authoritatively delivered by -- who else? -- Chef of South Park. On a transoceanic bus trip to China for an international dodgeball tournament, the Gang of Four starts giving a hard time to an Asian-American classmate. Chef intervenes: ''Childrun, it's very wrong to make fun of other Americans because they're black or white or yellow or red. You can make fun of foreigners, though, because... they're foreigners!''

posted by Throbert | 9/16/2002 02:33:00 PM | (0) responses
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