Monday, April 30, 2007

Schadenfreude: Joe Francis

According to the Washington Post, Girls Gone Wild Mogul Joe Francis is having a hard time of it. First he was charged by a group of women alleging that he got them drunk and videotaped them (or more appropriately their boobs) while they were underage. He was charged for contempt in this case for becoming belligerent and yelling at the defendants, and calling Judge Richard Smoak a "judge gone wild".

This comes in the midst of news that the IRS is nailing him for tax evasion, and recently a new suit has been filed against him for sexual harassment.

I admit that I have not parsed the "Girls Gone Wild" situation very carefully. On a gut level it disgusts me, not particularly because it is pornography, but because like much pornography, it exploits women by

a) paying them very little for their labor, which has turned out to be very lucrative for Joe
b) does not allow women to have a modicum of control over the final product
c) plays on the double standard of women's sexual freedom -- women are liberated to do stuff like this, no matter how stupid it is, but at the end of the day, they are sluts, and Joe Francis gets to be a big man.

At any rate, Joe Francis' likely jail sentence has me thrilled. A relentless exploiter of women is finally getting what's coming to him. Jail. And we all know what happens there. Mwahahaha!

But as much as I'm enjoying Joe Francis' tears, (his punishment appeals to that primal "an eye for an eye" sensibility) I wonder if there isn't some more just punishment that could be meted out -- perhaps he could direct some videos for battered women's shelters? Or use his vast fortune to send girls to college?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Collage of Power or Porn?

The Museum of Contemporary Art in LA is featuring an exhibit entitled “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution.” The cover of the catalogue for the exhibition, co-published by MIT Press, features a collage by the feminist artist Martha Rosler.

The cover is a collage of photos of nude women taken from various advertisements in men’s magazines. The cover has caused quite a stir—feminists can’t seem to agree on whether the art is degrading or empowering. The women in the photos are in sensual poses, smiling, enticing the viewer. Lorraine Wild, the cover designer, noted that each of these women in a photo by herself was meant to be the object of male desire. But grouped together, the cluster of women seem to be the audience, the viewers instead of the object being viewed. Their smiles that individually express playfulness and invitation, when grouped together, signal mockery, playing with the viewer’s desire.

When I first saw the cover, I found it disturbing, and my first impulse was to shudder at the "carnage," as a commenter on the MoCA blog described. It seemed exploitative. On second glance, it almost seemed too heavy-handed, like the artist was exploiting her own status as a feminist and using it to produce controversial art at the expense of the integrity of the women photographed.

I appreciate the creativity and controversy the art has provoked. I like the discussion taking place among feminists in the art world. I do wish the art didn’t so flagrantly expose so many women, who have already been smeared across the pornographic page. But I am conscious and appreciative of the almost sarcastic tone of the piece—forcing the viewer to redefine what is beautiful, what is enticing. Instead of presenting the models as victims to be pitied, the artist re-contextualizes the purpose for their poses and provides a community of empowerment.

It makes me think that there is more to art than what is seen. The motive of the artist can play a significant role in the interpretation of the art. It doesn’t have to—you can look at this collage and just see naked women. Or you can think about Ms. Rosler, cutting out each image, pasting them all together to show her viewers something that couldn’t be expressed with words. I think that this piece is not meant to be quietly observed. What do you see?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Feminist Art

Kudos to the Washington Post for running a feature on feminist art in last weekend's outlook section. I found the section to be well rounded -- it focused on individual artists, like Judy Chicago, the ghettoization of feminist art, and modern female artists as well as the history of feminist art.

Of course, what section on feminist art would be complete without a new action by the Guerilla Girls? This time around, the girls point out the ABYSMAL representation of women in our nation's art museums, and in the chat, GG Frida Kahlo points out "The Hirshhorn Collection for example is 85% male, 15% female yet the art work on exhibit right now is 95% male and 5% female. Women artists, under-represented in the collections, are being further edited out of the exhibitions. It's even worse for artists of color. And these museums are our national museums, supported by our tax dollars. Everyone has the right to complain about it." The stats for white artists vs. artists of color are even worse.

Want to complain? Here are the contact emails for the museums mentioned in the GG Action:

Hirshorn -
National Gallery of Art -
National Portrait Gallery -
American Art Museum & Renwick Gallery -

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What my mother taught me

I grew up in a family with five children (I was the fourth), and we ate dinner together every night around a large square table, two to a side. Early on, my mother started the tradition of "sayings" before each meal. We'd go around the table, and each of us would quote words of wisdom from Ehrmann's Desiderata, If by Rudyard Kipling, the Outward Bound book of quotes, or any place else we could find them.

It was always a challenge to find just the right words to say, because my mother would always ask why we'd chosen that particular quote. Of course, there were "code" quotes. If something bad happened, you'd say "Whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should." and if you were fighting with someone (but didn't want to make a scene) you'd say "discretion is the better part of valor" or "as far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all people." (from Desiderata).

In retrospect, I can see that my mother used this ritual as a way to understand us. We were encouraged to find new sayings and fresh interpretations of the old ones. She was teaching us how to think, how to read, and how to see bits of ourselves in the words of the authors and thinkers who came before us.

As writers, publishers, readers, and citizens of the world, it's our job to look to literature for guidance in our present. If my mom asked me to say a saying tonight, I would have said:

"Seek the lofty by reading, hearing, and seeing great work at some moment every day." --Thornton Wilder

What would you have said?

Day of Silence

A friend of mine passed this on to me and I thought I'd pass it on to all of you. Today is the Day of Silence to raise awareness against anti-LGBT discrimination in schools. Check out the site and print out your own Day of Silence cards to explain to everyone on campus why being silent today is even more important than being your usual charming self.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Marathon Monday Musings

Well, Marathon Monday has arrived here in Boston, along with a huge Nor'easter that has kept me secluded to my studio apartment for much of the long weekend. However, I plan to fight the elements at some point to check out the amazing athletes who are literally braving the wind, rain, and snow to make it to that finish line at Copley Square.

For many, Patriot's Day marks the start of spring in Boston. People emerge from their winter cocoons to check out the runners, the Red Sox, and the BU students partying along the marathon route on Beacon Street. For me, the day is a reminder of how much discipline I don't have when it comes to working out. Recently, as I was riding comfortably in a friend's jeep past a slew of sweaty runners, my companion asked me if I ever had any desire to run a marathon.

"For a hot second," I told him. "Then I realized it would be a horrible idea and I got over it. "

I've never been a real athlete by competitive standards, and thus I admire those who have the discipline and drive to train for such a huge undertaking. Last summer, my younger brother stayed with me while he was marathon training, and he would return from long runs with calves caked in salt from the sweat that had dried on his cooling body. Meanwhile, I spent my days drinking coffee, and sitting by the large window in my apartment, concentrating on a page, a paragraph, sometimes only delivering a single line of workable prose. And so it went, each day, for most of the summer.

As a teacher, the summer is when I get most of my writing done, and I just started reading Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer to motivate myself to write more in the next few months. The first chapter discusses how much a writer can learn from close-reading and analyzing the works of great writers--not a new idea, but one that I think writers often forget in the competitive marketplace. I know that there are times when I feel so pressured to get the work done that I find myself unable to concentrate at all. Prose brings us back to the basics by pointing out that sometimes all we need is a burst of inspiration from those writers who have been down the same road many times before us.

Maybe that is why every year when I watch the marathon I find myself clapping and cheering for the runners as they climb their way up Commonwealth Ave towards the finish. It's a little like reading Nabokov--you can't take your eyes away from the scene. The hundreds of feet pounding the pavement make me think of all the training, the mental preparation, and finally the immense feeling of accomplishment that must come from such a feat. I always vow that I will start running the next day.

Maybe this year I'll start writing instead.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Genre Question

Click on the image to play:

Once you stop laughing, consider this for a moment. Has it become the definition of "cool" to do something different, to refuse to conform to a certain genre? On Fringe, we have a genre called (de)Classified that was created to be a space for experimental work with no set genre. Most often, this is poetry mixed with prose or art, but what else could make something (de)Classified? This is a call to arms. Write something that pushes the boundaries out to the stratosphere, and submit it.

We're listening.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What are kids reading these days?

As a nerd and a teacher, I just read this article in Teacher Magazine about teaching young adult literature in schools, and the controversy that surrounds some of these contemporary texts. It seems that though these recent publications could be more realistic because of their modern settings, I can't help but gasp that some parents could consider a YA novel more violent or disturbing than something like Crime and Punishment--a novel that was part of my high school curriculum, and also one that I loved. Nonetheless, it's an interesting argument.

I'd love to see what the curriculum for high school students does look like these days. Any teachers out there? Or anybody have a particular favorite from their own school days?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Tips for writers

While trolling through my RSS feed reader for tech news today, I saw that Anne 2.1 had referenced Angela Booth's Writing Blog, which is a treasure trove of helpful tips and information.

Booth mentioned that she enjoys writing first thing in the morning. I think I would, too (if I didn't have to run around like a crazy person getting ready for my day job, that is).

What about you? When do you do your best writing? And what would you add to Angela Booth's list?

Friday, April 6, 2007

Geek? Dweeb? Dork? Nerd?

I’m a Geek. Now, don’t go judging me. I remember feeling like a Geek in high school, and loving it. And I love it still. I have spent years perfecting my definitions of those judgey words the popular kids always threw around. Warning: If you’re not a self-proclaimed Geek, stop reading now. You might not like how I’ve described you:

Dweeb: This is the kid who thinks he’s in with the popular crowd, but little does he know, no one likes him, and when he’s gone, they make fun of him. They invite him to their parties, and he always goes, but no one really wants him there.

Likely professions: Assistant high school football coach, middle manager, shoe salesperson, PTA chairperson

Nerd: This kid is really smart. She is so smart that she locks herself in her room on a Saturday night to read ancient Greek philosophy. In Greek. She cares not a tick about how she looks, and strives for perfection in her studies. She can be socially awkward at times, but spends little time with other people that would point it out.

Likely professions: Computer programmer, mathematician, engineer

Dork: This is the socially awkward kid. He makes people feel uncomfortable because he never talks about anything anyone can relate to (unless they’re a fellow Dork, of course), but he doesn’t realize his own social awkwardness.

Likely professions: Data analyst, Tech support, video game developer

Geek: The geek is always true to herself and her interests, which are usually intellectual. She hangs out with other geeks, just like her, who enjoy what they are doing and truly think they rock. She is cool. Not in the stereotypical popular kid way (in fact, she doesn’t want to be popular), but in her own way. She’s passionate and committed to her art, whatever it might be.

Likely professions: Professor, journalist, editor, professional musician, theater director, doctor, architect, and any other profession you think is supafly.

Can you tell that I am biased? Of course I am. Geek is the new Popular. I knew I’d made it when I got orgasmically excited about the new external hard drive that just arrived at my house. I spend my days writing about computer security, and spend my nights designing poetry books, picking art for Fringe, and putting the magazine online. I may have a little of each of these admittedly pejorative personality traits. I know I’ll be on the PTA when I have kids someday, I’ve tried my hand at computer tech, and I could talk about playing Tiger Woods Golf on my PS2 until you’re bored half to death. But that just makes me a better Geek, right?

Think you're a geek, too? Check out these geeky sites:

InnerGeek (Are you a Geek? Take a test to see)

She’s Such a Geek (a blog by and for geeky girls) (stuff for smart masses) (get Geeky gear)

geek! (a clique for proud geeks)

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Writing: The Mix-Tape

I'm one week away from handing in my Master's thesis and writing like crazy. I find a good song can help me set my mental mood, and having to block out some light background noise helps me focus on my writing. This got me thinking about the connections between writing and music, specifically songs about writing. Here are my favorites:

-Paperback Writer by The Beatles (cause I need a steady job, and I want to be a paperback writer)

-Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying by Belle & Sebastian ( is mightier than swords, I could kill ya sure, but I could only make you cry with these words)

-Come Back From San Francisco by the Magnetic Fields(should pretty boys and discos distract you from your novel)

-Cemetery Gates by the Smiths (Keats and Yates are on your side...well,it's about writers, if not writing)

-Jed's Other Poem by Grandaddy (Apparently before Jed had left us, he wrote some poems)

-P.S. I Love You by Billie Holiday (Dear, I thought I'd drop a line, the weather is cool, the folks are fine, I'm in bed each night at nine, PS i love you)

Anybody have other songs about writing? Help me fill out my mix tape!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Fringe Writer of the Month

I recently learned of Lydia Cacho from a Washington Post article and hereby dub her "Fringe Writer of the Month". Cacho, a Mexican journalist, has exposed child pornography and prostitution rings run and patronized by rich and powerful men in Mexico through articles and her current book, Demons of Eden: The Power That Protects Child Pornography. In retaliation she's received death threats and was once kidnapped by corrupt police who threatened to drown and rape her (at the behest of Puebla Gov. Mario Marín).

A strong feminist, Cacho has also started shelters for battered women. Currently, she's facing defamation charges brought by one of the men she unmasks in her book. You can send an appeal to the State of Puebla (where she's being charged) here.

We need more Lydia Cachos in the world, standing up for what is right, and refusing to be frightened into silence.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Sexism and Racism of Book Lists

There seems to be a problem with "Best Book" lists -- they leave out literature written by women and folks of color. To beat an old horse, the New York Times' list of the best 25 books of the last 25 years has room for four Cormac McCarthys, four John Updikes, five Philip Roths, and two Don DeLillos, but only two women total (Marilynne Robinson and Toni Morrison), one of them conveniently being the only non-white person on the list.

Why does this happen? I have a theory. In The Second Sex, Simone DeBeauvoir talks about how women are "othered" by western society. (White) male experience is defined as normative and women and people of other ethnicities are defined in relation to the white male conception of "normal." In our culture, we teach everyone to identify with the normative male experience. Therefore, everyone can identify with narratives that feature white men as protagonists. However, non-white non-males can also identify with the experience of being "othered" and therefore can identify with the othered experience as set out in books and movies.

So what. Most of the serious fiction in America is sold to women, making the male audience an extra bonus. In other words, women will read books by and about men and women. Men are perhaps more likely only to read books about men, because they find it difficult to identify with the "othered" experience, through their own acculturation.

It's not just the New York Times. Check out Random House's list of the top 100 books of the century. Six women made the official list, and as far as I know, no writers of color. As a post on She's Such a Geek points out, of twenty writers nominated for a Hugo, only one was female.

Depressing? Sure. But rather than complain about it, let's give some good press to the writers who deserve it. Who would you have nominated for Hugo? Who belongs on your list of the best 25 books of the century?

Monday, April 2, 2007

Greetings and "Political" Fiction

Hello everyone, and welcome to the Fringe blog! We’re hoping that this area will allow us to interact a little more with our readers, and to discuss issues and other trivia that we’ve been longing to include in our issues. This forum will be run by a mélange of Fringe editors – you should hear from at least one of us every week.

And now on to today’s blog…

Ficton often gets put down for being “political”. In many of my MFA classes, the word has been used as an insult, typically applied to writing that is considered transparent propaganda, such as fables or satires, but is often applied to any story that endeavors to make a political point. The implication is that true art is timeless, and as such must be above the political concerns of the moment. This makes a certain amount of sense – a work parodying the Bush administration will seem more salient now than in, say, ten years. But at the same time, this viewpoint denies the diversity of political literature and forces writers to create art according to the desires of the white heteropatriarchy.

Many great stories include political perspectives. We only need look to Eudora Welty’s “The Whistle,” Gabrielle Burton’s Heartbreak Hotel, James Alan McPherson’s “A Sense of Story,” Robert Coover’s The Public Burning, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and much of Jamaica Kincaid’s work to see that political messages and high art are not incompatible. These writers managed to insert political messages into their writing that reach beyond parable and into complexity. Political messages do not constitute the entirety of each story’s meaning, but are an undeniable and important part of these works.

In a certain sense, the personal is political and so no work can ever be truly free of political content, but there are degrees, and I consider the ability to write apolitical work a luxury that is not available to many of the world’s writers. My experience of feminism is strong – I view the world through this lens, with all of the rage the word can entail. I imagine there are other writers who feel the same way, whether about their gender, class, race, or sexual orientation. When I write fiction, I necessarily bring my femininst experience to bear on it, and I do not think that feminism could be separated from my writing without destroying it. Because my work is feminist, it is necessarily political – I can’t help it, and I don’t think my work should be considered less valid simply because it reflects my view of the world. Here’s to hoping we can change “political” from an insult to a compliment.

Can you name some other great political works? Do politics come out in your prose or poetry, and if so, why?