I finally saw Saturday Night Fever, and was surprised to find that while the music and dancing certainly played a central role in the film, the movie was so much more about class, race, religion and sex in the 1970s than it was about the music.
For a movie to take on rape, abortion, quitting the priesthood, suicide, gang wars and racism the way this film did would still be a bold move. Frank, with whom I saw it as part of a double feature (the first film was Pulp Fiction), said he thought a movie couldn't do something like that today.
After having a couple of days to think about it, I don't entirely agree. I think a movie wouldn't do something like that today, unless it was going to tackle them in the past, the way A Bronx Tale did. Frankly, I think the major studios are chickenshit.
If you haven't seen Saturday Night Fever, or if you haven't seen it with an eye toward the political context, do so.
Inasmuch as it's possible these days, I live under a rock when it comes to pop culture. I don't own a TV, I have two radios, each set to a different NPR station, and if I'm listening to music, it's probably on my laptop when it's not connected to the Internet. I make it to the movies about twice a year.
But even I had heard the singer Rihanna was allegedly beaten by fellow-performer boyfriend Chris Brown, accounting for the pair's sudden and unannounced absence at a Grammy Awards pre-party (and the awards show itself).
To say the least (and perhaps the obvious), this is awful. And while the domestic violence itself is certainly the worst part of it, there's more going on here.
Police departments generally have a firm policy on not releasing the names of alleged domestic violence victims. News outlets generally have a loose policy on not disclosing the names of alleged domestic violence victims when they find out.
So why did the entire world know who both the accused and the alleged victim were? Well, arrest records are public information. But Rihanna's name? That should have been kept under wraps.
And tight ones.
The fact that she's a celebrity does not make her public property. Some things the public simply does not need to know.
But wait, there's more.
In these days of information, information, information, everybody just had to know, right?
So sometime Thursday, a well-known celebrity Web site (which I will neither name nor link to here) published a photo of a bruised and bloody Rihanna that the Los Angeles Police Department says appears to be a leaked evidence photo.
Of course, other sites just had to hop on it as well, re-posting it.
I haven't seen it, I'm not interested. And I'm not going to link to the other sites I've learned second-hand have re-posted it, either.
It's disgusting, really, and goes to the basest part of human nature. It's the part of us that (a) hands over the fork and says, "try this, it's awful" along with the part that (b) thinks we own people who have become famous.
And it's getting worse. We can surely blame the Internet as a disseminating technology – which isn't to condemn the medium, just those who use it for ill. But more than that, we need to smarten up about what we're willing to see, what we're willing to distribute, and what level of respect we expect of ourselves.
It's positively awful that someone at the LAPD sent this photo out. It's even worse that some Web sites had the bad taste to post it.
Some quick reactions from my favorite feminist bloggers:
I suppose there's a hint of silver lining: It's possible that the photo will spark a national conversation about domestic violence. But shouldn't Rihanna get to decide whether she becomes the literal poster child for the cause?
"What are you doing, studying chauvinism?" my brother asked.
We were visiting our parents for Thanksgiving and he saw the two paperbacks I had been reading simultaneously sitting by the bed. The were Women by Charles Bukowski and He's a stud, she's a slut, and 49 other double standards every woman should know by Jessica Valenti.
My love of Valenti's (bio) work is well-documented. I do, however, approach her material with the knowledge in mind that I am not her target audience.
One thing I really liked about her first full-length offering, Full Frontal Feminism, is that she was reaching for young women, and I think she found them with her voice. She writes personally and informally, and with an educational but not preachy tone.
Like many people, I first came across Valenti's writing through the group blog Feministing, which she founded, edits and co-authors (also, I love when people take nouns and turn them into gerunds, but that's probably just me). Between her and my friend Catherine, I've probably learned more than I learned through most of the first 18 years I was in school – and what I've learned from them is stuff that every guy (especially every white guy) should learn.
I didn't enjoy Double Standards as much as FFF, and some of that had to do with the format: essentially, each chapter is three pages of setting up a problem with examples, and then a one-to-two-paragraph solution on a facing page (the title double standard begins on page 14, and the final one ends on page 213, so the book is faithful to this format throughout).
Some of it is the fact that I'm predisposed to disliking books of lists.
That's not to say I didn't get anything out of it – I definitely did. Valenti points out the discrepancies in health care costs and availability, wage inequality, and double standards in everything from rape culture to the daily makeup-or-no-makeup decision.
I'm very much looking forward to her next offering.
But me being me, I had to be contrarian. Or maybe I just couldn't handle one viewpoint at a time.
So I grabbed a copy of Women.
My enjoyment of Bukowski's work has come much slower, much harder. He has proven through his writing – and his alter-ego recurring main character Henry (Hank) Chinaski – to be an unapologetic, well, pig.
Women chronicles his drunken sexual exploits as a 50-something-year-old writer who drinks heavily at his readings and corresponds with female fans. He is constantly getting laid by women less than half his age, and even wins them over when his drinking leaves him impotent for the night.
His occasional recognition that he is a disgusting human being and his even less frequent moment of remorse do not redeem him, although his closing to this novel makes it clear he disagrees.
So, umm, Josh, you liked this book?
Well, yes, I did, thanks for asking. Bukowski writes plainly, if brutally (if you can't stand to read the words "fuck" and "cunt" repeatedly, skip this one). He hates fame, he hates other writers, he prefers boxing and horse racing, he despises other people (but still admits to loneliness once in a while).
If you're looking to ease into Bukowski, start with Post Office (OK, no one eases in, but still), and be sure to skip his poetry – it's godawful.