Archive for October, 2009

‘Tis the season for the annual handwringing about Slut-o-ween – the “sexy” costumes that have become de rigeur for women and now, it seems, prepubescent girls, too. Trixie at The American Virgin posted a picture of Miley Cyrus’ nine-year-old sister dressed up as … a dominatrix? Hard to say, but as my own nine-year-old Bear likes to say: “It’s a little inappropriate.”

I don’t really care how bare people want to go, though tonight’s massive street party in Athens will be chilly, and I’m not at all sad to be home writing and filching my kids’ candy, instead. It becomes a problem when “sexy” costumes are virtually mandatory for women, while scantily clad men are both rare and liable to take abuse for it. One of my former students told me her boyfriend was harassed on the street when he wore a half-nekkid costume.

Also, hasn’t it all been done by now? Sexy nurse, sexy schoolgirl, sexy vampire, sexy Minnie Mouse? (Really! And Minnie is on sale, so stock up for next year, gals, before that link goes dead.)

This year, I went trick-or-treating with my kids as “sexy grapes.” I did all the sexed-up costumes one better: I didn’t have just two large, squishy globules on my chest, I had dozens of them! All over me! And people could squeeze them!!

Seriously, what if we decided that costumes didn’t have to be sexy or scary? What if we just had fun with them? Zippa writes that all the fun has gone out of Halloween for her since she grew up, and I get why she’d feel that way. Having kids is one sure way to put the magic back into the holiday (though I wouldn’t advise tossing the birth control for that reason alone). But what if imagination were more important than being sexy? Hmmm … a good imagination is actually sexier than “sexy,” any day, in my book.

Those grapes are a very fine vintage, by the way. I sewed them myself from felt and polyester batting my last year in college. I probably spent more time making that silly grapesuit than on studying for exams that quarter. The grapes sag a bit but they’ve held up pretty well. I guess 1985 was a good year for Merlot.


(Behind me: the tulip and lavender bed, done for the year.)

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The German Democratic Republic built a lot of apartments from prefab material in an effort to alleviate their perennial housing shortage. They had a great name for it, Plattenbauweise, which is only a long word when you consider the technique is called “Large Panel System building” in English. Basically, the builders took a bunch of concrete slabs and tacked them onto a frame. If you were really lucky, you lived behind a slab equipped with a balcony. I saw a lot of them in Berlin when I lived there, but I was lucky enough to never live in one myself. The apartments tended to be efficient (read: cramped and utterly lacking in character). And they were almost infinitely modular – so interchangeable, in fact, that you can play Tetris with them:

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

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Transformer Porn

[Update, months later: Dudez! I am amazed at how many hits this post still gets. If you're looking for erotic inspiration and you're over 18, may I recommend you go off and google Erika Lust or Tony Comstock or "Beautiful Agony" or even Abby Winters? (None are safe for work.) If you are looking for transformers, go look for transformers. The world of transformer porn is impoverished. And if you're curious about sex but still under 18, please check out Scarleteen, which I promise will help you navigate the sometimes alarming, sometimes miraculous shoals of sexuality. Srsly - I am in my 40s, and I still learn good things from Scarleteen.]

The other day, a friend of mine mentioned that her son and a friend of his (both in middle school) had been discovered searching for porn on the Internet. Now, that probably describes a few million teenagers in this country, but they were searching specifically for transformer porn. It sounds like the parents were admirably cool in their reactions – no shaming, just a talk with the kids about how porn really, really doesn’t reflect the real world.

I have to admit, though, that I was curious if such a thing exists. It does! The Internet truly has everything! Transformer porn is apparently part of the whole strange-to-me genre of fan fiction. You can go here for an index of not-safe-for-work still illustrations.

These images all seem to feature transformers in their humanoid guises. It makes me wonder how their vehicle-like states could get it on. Would we even recognize it as sex? Or would their erotic machinations just look like a bumper-to-bumper collision?

Anyway, I think this clip says it all:

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The Political Cat posted this clip of Al Franken questioning Mark de Bernardo, an arbitration lawyer and apologist for Halliburton subsidiary KBR. I was blown away by Franken’s intelligence and empathy. The clip is longish but it’s worth watching the whole thing to see him make mincemeat of Mr. de Bernardo in the last third.

Al Franken is definitely is ready for prime time.

I love how Franken uses “Sir” to punctuate his questions. He manages to be perfectly dignified even as he wreaks devastation on de Bernardo’s pathetic excuses for denying justice to survivors of workplace harassment and assault. I love how de Bernardo’s face collapses like yeasted dough that’s just been punched down (at 6:39, for instance).

The clip doesn’t show as much of Jamie Leigh Jones, but you see enough to appreciate her determination to make sure that what happened to her can never happen again with impunity.

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My next-door neighbors, who just welcomed an infant daughter into their lives, had to make a trip to the ER today because she appeared jaundiced. She’ll be fine, the doctors said. She won’t need to be readmitted. They were lucky.

I was glad for my neighbors. But as I heard their story, I also flashed back on my Tiger’s first days. (This may be why parents sometimes seem overeager for their friends to reproduce: through them, we relive moments in our lives that might otherwise be lost forever.)

The Tiger, too, was slightly jaundiced as a newborn. But while today was a sunny, crisp slice of fall, he turned yellow in the late days of a golden June. The treatment was to take him outdoors, naked but for his diaper, and let him bask in the sun. The sky was cloudless. The air was dry and hot. I basked, too.

Medically, it worked. We, too, were lucky,. I was grateful. But what really sticks with me is the memory, etched into my flesh, of snuggling with him as he relaxed entirely into me, as if he were trying to approximate the warm watery cave he’d just left a few days before. In some ways, I felt closer to him than before his birth – maybe because he was now clearly his own person, and I didn’t take our closeness for granted. I no longer assumed a symbiosis. And that made the momentary  blurring of boundaries all the sweeter. Also, it surely didn’t hurt that I, too, was finally warm enough.

Sometimes I think it’s those body memories, intense but often buried under the sediment of visual and verbal memories, that make us who we are. I realize I’m privileged to have had lots of good body memories. I would wish that for everyone, because the habits and memories of the flesh constitute our deepest selves, and yet we are largely at their mercy.

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Ever heard of “family voting”? I hadn’t, either, until I came across the term in a translation project on Eastern Europe. It might sound warm and fuzzy at first blush. It’s anything but.

Here’s what the UN has to say about family voting:

A particular issue that often affects women and merits attention in voter education efforts is the confidentiality of the vote. According to United Nations standards and international human rights law, each ballot must be secret and independent. Most national laws also have provisions to this effect, though such provisions are not always enforced. Men and women must both understand that “family voting”—a practice in which one family member casts ballots on behalf of the entire family, or in which a husband and wife enter the voting booth together—is not an acceptable practice in democratic elections. Family voting is particularly likely to detract from women’s ability to cast individual and secret ballots. In its worst form, family voting constitutes a type of fraud in which women are deliberately deprived of their right to vote. If perpetrated deliberately and on a large scale, family voting can bring into question whether an election outcome reflects the will of the people.

[emphasis mine]

You may be thinking: Okay, we know things are screwed up in Afghanistan. But wait! This is happening in Europe.

I ran across the issue of family voting while researching elections in Macedonia, where it appears to be a particular problem, but it’s not confined to one country. It happens elsewhere in Eastern Europe, too. In Macedonia, though, it seems to occur on such a large scale that it could tilt the outcome of elections.

The various NGOs working to eliminate family voting advocate better voter education, more professionalized training of poll workers, and enforcement of sanctions. Penalties could range from annulling a family’s votes to invalidating the votes from an entire polling station. Experts on the Macedonian situation observe, however, that such drastic measures would likely just be gamed by politicians, further skewing election results and creating new opportunities for fraud.

You won’t hear me say this often, but it seems to me that the root problem here is patriarchy. In Macedonia, the male “heads of households” are evidently powerful enough to dictate their wives’ behavior – and possibly that of other relatives, too). That doesn’t render the problem completely intractable, but it does make me wonder if it might be as deeply rooted as some of the ethnic hatreds in the region.

Update, 10/25/09, 11 a.m.: MM – who posted with a Macedonian IP number – remarks that “It only happens amongst the Muslims in Macedonia (especially the Albanians), not amongst the ethnic Macedonians.” None of the Internet sources have found address ethnic and religious differences. However, I’ve learned that family voting is also a significant problem in Kosovo (according to the UNHCR), so MM’s comment makes sense. Family voting is a rural phenomenon, which further makes sense because urbanization tends to undermine full-scale patriarchy.

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Caturday: Scary Clown Edition

My kids are more creeped out than amused by clowns. They must have got it from me. One of my worst childhood memories dates from when I was 10 or 11. I was in the church basement with my Sunday school class, watching a movie in which a white-painted, bald mime was pursued by a violent mob. The mime was evidently supposed to represent Jesus Christ, but the scene made me, too, want to run away screaming. I was haunted by it for years. Some of the other kids mocked me for nearly as long. No wonder I grew up a skeptic.

Lately, the Tiger has been having lots of bad dreams. He’s been chased by ravenous giant caterpillars and attacked by pteronodons, but the clowns have left him alone. So far.


Insomiacat from ICHC?

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So I read in the New York Times that the Baby Einstein company is offering a money-back deal for those of us whose kids watched their silly videos and didn’t turn out to be the next Stephen Hawking … yet. I’ll confess to owning the original Baby Mozart, plus Baby Shakespeare and a couple more. I didn’t let either kid watch TV during the first year of life, but once the Mammary Channel went dark, they seemed to be casting about for new entertainment. The alternative was Teletubbies or Barney. Einstein was a no-brainer. So to speak.

The jury’s still out on whether my kids are geniuses (evil or benign), but I’m pretty sure a critical mass of my brain cells dissolved while watching those puppets and hypnotic mechanical toys. (It says something about our kid culture, I’m afraid, that one last refuge of mechanical toys is the television.)

So I’m thinking about demanding money back – not because the kids haven’t yet managed to fold gravity into the grand unification theory, but because my repository of names is shriveling and the rest of my brain is sure to follow. I figure my gray cells might be worth 4 x $15.99. But that would require me to remember where I stashed my stamps.

I will say one thing for the Baby Shakespeare video: It had the wonderful W.B. Yeats poem, “The Cat and the Moon”:

The cat went here and there
and the moon spun round like a top,
and the nearest kin of the moon,
the creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
for, wander and wail as he would,
the pure cold light in the sky
troubled his animal blood.

Minnaloushe runs in the grass
lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
what better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
tired of that courtly fashion,
a new dance turn.

Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
from moonlit place to place,
the sacred moon overhead
has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
will pass from change to change,
and that from round to crescent,
from crescent to round they range?

Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
alone, important and wise,
and lifts to the changing moon
his changing eyes.

Oooh, that makes me shiver – with the beauty, not fear.

But then again, there’s that line about spinning ’round like a top:


Moon kitteh from ICHC?

In all other ways, though, the big “baby video” winner at our house was the highly obscure “Baby Babble.” Next to the slick Baby Einstein series, its production values were based on string and chewing gum. “Baby Babble” showed two speech therapists playing with toys and puppets, making noises like “pop pop pop pop pop pop.” The intent was to get your kid to talk – to the TV, which seemed a little twisted – but hey, the Tiger had no stable words at 18 months and we were getting nervous. We tried “Baby Babble” when the Tiger was two years old but still not even saying “no.” And guess what? He started to say “pop pop pop pop pop pop.” From there it was a short skip to “cookie” and then “Mama, can us eat some candy for desert? Why not? But you said I could have a Tootsie Pop! You did! Did you know there’s Tootsie Roll inside?”

That goofy “Baby Babble” video did more good than all the Baby Einsteins put together. It might even trump the year of speech therapy that the Tiger put in as a small cub.

Now, I’m just wondering where’s the video that would get my kids to listen when the grow-mutts talk?

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I really appreciated Melissa’s fierce post on fashion earlier this week at Shakesville, wherein she pillories the industry for selling shame as much as clothes. She laments long-mothballed bridesmaid dresses and this recent shopping tribulation expedition:

We go to a plus-size store. Immediately upon entering, I feel overwhelmed and anxious. I hate shopping. I hate clothes. The entire process of shopping for clothes brings me perilously close to hating myself. So many of the clothes are cut in ways that don’t flatter my body, because they are designed to conceal it. I am reminded at every turn that I am meant to be ashamed of my fat body. We leave. We go to another plus-size store. Everything is too old for me. Iain says, “This is stuff for women twice your age.” He’s right. My anxiety increases. We leave. We go to another plus-size store. Everything is too young for me. Weirdly, it somehow still all feels the same—and I realize the three stores are all owned by the same company. …

I complain about the cuts of the clothes; I point out how the biggest sizes are the first gone; I grouse that the prints aren’t flattering to large bodies; I note the preponderance of empire waists and the lack of diversity in lengths and shapes of clothes, as if fat female bodies are all shaped the same, as if fat women shouldn’t even try to make their bodies look good. I’m trying to be analytical, to intellectualize what, precisely, about this experience is anxiety-provoking.

When we get to the car, despite my best efforts, I cry.

Melissa’s experiences are especially awful because of the extra shame reserved for fat women. But they illuminate more than just her personal struggles, because her quest for stylish, flattering “fat clothes” reveals the shopping experiences of women of many sizes – writ large. Despite having what you might call slender privilege, I too have cried in anger and shame. I’ve ranted about my frustration finding pants that fit. My latest foray into the pants department was fueled by a massive adrenaline/endorphin rush in the wake of a nasty medical test, and even so, I barely got past the first rack.

I just do not understand WTF anyone would need “tummy control” on size 2 or 4. And yet I saw just that at Target. Coldwater Creek, where I eventually found some stretchy, flattering jeans, markets the stretch as slenderizing. I do not require slenderizing. I require pants that are fitted enough to wear ‘em to work while still letting me breathe free. Big bonus points if they don’t give me a massive wedgie or make me look like I’m going as a Sexay Plumber for Halloween.

I’ve noticed that I’m a tad more neurotic – pinched, if you will – when I’m being squeezed by my clothes. But it’s not just the literal squeeze of recalcitrant flesh. It’s also the emotional squeeze that says our bodies are always shaped wrong no matter how hard we try. The squeeze is harsher on large women, but scarcely a woman escapes its clutches. Today the HuffPo made a fuss about Katie Holmes wearing a sheer shirt over a black bra
… as if women didn’t routinely bare far more at the beach! I’m down with the bra and shirt, and I think this “article” proves that HuffPo deserves an award for Baseless Titillation. It might be hilarious if it weren’t so routine and mind-meltingly stupid.

There is a problem with Holmes’ outfit, though. While it likely cost her thousands, it still hasn’t stopped putting the squeeze on her. The elastic waist is constricting enough to make even an actress with a presumed personal trainer look, well, lumpy. The ruffles don’t help one bit.

To be clear: I’m not criticizing Holmes (except for her religion and choice of husband, ’nuff said). I’m criticizing a fashion industry that manages to relegate even the richest and thinnest women to a fashion lumpy-proletariat. The logic of the system dictates that it will penalize poorer and larger women far more harshly. But no one gets away scot-free, not even the size twos.

So is tummy control – camouflage – ever okay? Well, I’m not much interested in camouflaging my figure flaws. Nor am I eager to dress my little boys in camo before they have any idea about what military service can mean. But yes, there may be a time and a place for camouflage … it just requires us to love our butts and bellies and, well, chill out. Then again, if you’ve evolved such a zen approach to your body, you’re probably already wearing a perfectly fitted, always stylish fur coat …


From ICHC?

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I haven’t been very bloggerific lately. Real life – teaching, grading, watching kids’ soccer – has cut way into my time for writing. So in lieu of my half-baked thoughts, this (via Jim Yeager at Skippy the Bush Kangaroo):

Tommy Emmanuel shows his virtuosity, but his technical brilliance is never overshadowed by the fire of his interpretation. There must be a lesson for us in there, somewhere.

Four and a half years ago, right after my husband was sprung from chemotherapy, I got to hear Tommy Emmanuel play live at the paradisiacal Fur Peace Ranch, Jorma Kaukonen’s place a few miles outside of Athens, Ohio, near the oddly-named town of Darwin. (I always expect to run across the HMS Beagle on the drive out).

Whenever I’ve heard him on CDs since then, I wonder why I don’t just assign random grades to my student’s work and spend two hours a day on the piano. I’ll never ever be transcendently good; I’m not even in the same universe. But if you play enough music, however ineptly … well, once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.


Plasma ball from Flickr user naughty architect, used under a Creative Commons license.

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One reason I remain fascinated by the Heene “balloon boy” spectacle is that you don’t often see such a blatant case of father-blaming in the media. I can easily name famous mothers who murdered – Susan Smith, Andrea Yates – but I can’t think of a father who killed his kids and drew similar media attention. We all know that the mother of Britney and Jamie Lee Spears is a lousy mom. I can recall the name of JonBenet Ramsey’s mother (Patsy). Who are their fathers? No clue. [Update 10/22/09, 12:30 a.m.: I'm not suggesting Patsy Ramsey murdered her daughter, and in comments Mandolin notes that she was exonerated. My intended point was the media and much of the viewing public - myself included - forged a broad consensus that sexualizing one's child prematurely and letting them be judged on appearance is not healthy. The media blamed Patsy for this almost exclusively.]

And even if you’ve forgotten who Nadya Suleman is, you likely remember “Octomom.”

I’m not defending the actions or judgment of any of these women, just observing that it’s unusual for media attention to focus on fathers’ misdeeds. To be sure, not every last commentator is pouncing on Richard Heene. At the HuffPost, Norman Lear expresses empathy for Heene, saying he just wanted to grab his 15 minutes. Lear conveniently ignores the fact that most fame-hungry adults neither break the law nor drag their kids along for the ride.

It’s telling, though, that Lear doesn’t see any need to defend the kids’ mother, Mayumi Heene. Why, exactly, is the media focusing on the “bad dad” this time, and practically giving the mother a pass?

Well, for one thing, in their TV interviews Richard has done almost all the talking. Mayumi has hovered at the edge of the spotlight. That makes him appear more culpable, even if they both agreed to the hoax.

For another, his overbearing attitude makes it easy to believe that he hatched the balloon scheme and bullied the rest of the family into going along with it.

Racism just might play a role, too. Tracy Clark-Flory of Broadsheet reports that when the Heenes were on Wife Swap, Richard yelled to his ersatz wife:

“You’re a man’s nightmare. I’m so glad my wife was born in Japan” — presumably because Japanese women like his wife, Mayumi, know how to be appropriately obedient to their husbands.

It’s possible that the media are cutting her more slack because she’s assumed to be stereotypically subservient. If so, that’s the kind of “understanding” that mothers really don’t need.

More optimistically, it’s even possible that our culture is starting to turn allergic against the sort of toxic hypermasculinity that Richard Heene exudes. (Jeff Fecke of Alas just beautifully dissected this brand of masculinity.) We can hope, right?

And then there’s the fact that Richard Heene is an obvious whackaloon. He calls himself a research scientist though his last paid job was laying tile. He believes the world is due to end in 2012. His motive for doing reality TV is evidently to raise enough money to opt-out of world destruction, possibly by building a bunker.

Am I missing anything? And can you think of other “bad dads” who’ve captivated the media? Surely there must be some that I’m forgetting.

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Maybe it’s just ’cause I’m the daughter of a mother who has sung in barbershop quartets for the last quarter century. Maybe it’s because I remember Jaw, ET, the original Star Wars trilogy, and Indiana Jones from their big-screen debuts. Maybe I’ve got a secret Wookie fetish, but if so, it’s hidden even from me. Anyway, via Renee of Womanist Musings, here’s a tribute to all that. I am impressed – knocked flat on my  behind – by the creative arrangements and the singer’s kick-ass vocal range.


Oh man. Upon hearing this for the fourth time, I’m starting to worry that I do have a thing for Wookies. Here I thought I’d moved up from Luke Skywalker to Han Solo as I grew up. But Chewbaca? This is very concerning.

Update, 10/20/09, 10:30 p.m.: In comments, Sugarmag pointed out that this video is lip-synched – so much for that Bobby McFerrinish vocal range! – and KRS posted a link to the (apparent) original version by an a cappella group called Moosebutter (if, indeed, the concept of “original” still exists on the Web). Here it is:

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Why does it take two of our comedians – Al Franken and Jon Stewart – to show how there’s nothing funny about rape?

I’m impressed at the great job Al Franken has done so far. He just authored and won passage of an amendment that will stop the government from awarding contracts to companies that bar their employees from seeking legal redress for sexual assault on the job. His amendment targets Halliburton, which had a clause in its contract that stipulated employees can only use private arbitration to seek recourse – an issue that came to light only after Jamie Leigh Jones was brutally gang-raped while working for subsidiary of Halliburton in Iraq.

Franken’s esteemed colleagues? Well, 30 of them made laughingstocks of themselves by voting against the Franken amendment. I’d say that they’re the real comedians, except that there’s nothing funny about them. (With the possible exception of David Vitter.)

posted with vodpod, via Jill at Feministe

Jill at Feministe has the full list of senators who voted against Franken’s amendment – that is, in favor of employers who allow rape to occur with impunity. They’re all Republicans. To his credit, my Republican senator, George Voinivich, wasn’t among them. But note that John McCain voted no, to his everlasting shame. I spend a lot of time fretting about the Obama Administration’s mistakes – its tepid support for a public option, its giveaways to the big banks, its refusal to hold Bush officials accountable for crimes – but this vote reminds me how much worse things could have been under a President McCain.

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Endless Backlog Caturday

My dear departed Grey Kitty was the queen of hairballs. No sooner had she ejected one than another was in the works. My husband used to liken her digestion to a busy airport.

That’s an unfortunate but apt description of my endless pile of grading. No sooner have I ejected one set of papers … well, you get the idea. And by the way, dear students past and present: this analogy is all about me. It says nothing about the quality of my students’ work, which is generally pretty good.

But things could be worse …


Ominous kitteh from ICHC?

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So you’ve probably all heard about the balloon boy, even if you watch as little TV news as I do (zero, that is). Yesterday, Falcon Heene, a six-year-old boy in Fort Collins, Colorado, went missing. His family reported that he had apparently floated away with an enormous helium balloon that they kept tethered next to their home. A massive search-and-rescue effort was mounted before Falcon was found a few hours later, hiding out in the rafters of the family’s garage.

I know that plenty of people would question the wisdom of keeping something akin to a weather balloon in a place where a kid could get to it, and I do wonder, too. It’s not so different from having a swimming pool, which also requires increased vigilance from parents. But I’m not quick to condemn on this score. After all, lots of parents have swimming pools, and virtually all parents of six-year-olds let them out of sight on a regular basis.

The media are now questioning whether the whole incident was a hoax, intended to gain publicity for a couple who’ve already done reality TV, appearing on Wife Swap. Here, too, I’m inclined to be agnostic unless more damning evidence comes out.

So why do I think Falcon has lousy parents? This:

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

If your child starts to vomit on national TV, you stop the interview! You do not carry on! At the absolute minimum, one parent takes the child off the set while the other continues.

And if you’re not a media pig, maybe you don’t put your kid on TV in the first place. Especially when he’s surely been traumatized.

Update 10-16-09, 6:30 p.m.: In comments, erniebufflo fills in the details and gives an all-too-persuasive interpretation:

The poor kid was on two different morning shows today, puked on the first, and then went on to puke on the second.  So not only did they go through the first interview, they made the kid do another, KNOWING he was very sick. Which is obviously why they had the puke-receptacle at the ready, because they knew it was going to happen.  But this is a dad who made a rap video in which the kids decry “pussification” which includes, to him, time-outs and using toilets. And this is a dad who called TV stations before he called 9/11.  And this is a dad who created a “bitch o meter” for a “nagging” wife he was paired with on Wife Swap, who thanked God his wife is from Japan, I guess because he feels Japanese women are more properly subservient.  And this is a dad there is video tape of launching the balloon HIMSELF, video which makes it clear that the boy could have never been inside. Bonus? He throws a little hissy fit in the video because his wife accidentally let go of the balloon’s tether.

My theory? The balloon got away, and post hissy fit, he knows that there’s going to at least be some fuss over the UFO he’s just released, so he calls the news channels and claims his kid is inside, to at least use the publicity to his own benefit rather than being the guy who freaked some people out with the big balloon, so he can be the poor storm chasing dad instead. This guy sucks at everything.

Uff da. I got a bad vibe from the father, and now I guess I know why. Pussification? Geez, I’d hide in the rafters, too.

Update 10-18-09, 11:30 a.m.: Here’s the “pussification” video. I can’t understand half of the lyrics, but what I do understand just makes me sad. Heaven help these boys if they ever need to cry.

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Figleaf is asking what folks think are the creepiest old song lyrics, as viewed from our (now hopefully enlightened) present-day perspectives on gender and power. I have to agree with him on Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night.” (Virgin child indeed! How can you think that line these days without picturing Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson’s hot tub, and a vat of Quaaludes?) Ditto on Paul Anka’s “Having My Baby.” Eww. Whose baby?? But it’s easy for me to despise the ideology in those songs, because I’ve always thought both of them were sappy, treacly, and musically insipid.

Other songs are easy pickins, too, even if I like and respect the musicians: “Under My Thumb” from the Rolling Stones romanticizes abuse. I can no longer hear “Wicked Uncle Ernie” from my beloved Who without wondering exactly what Pete Townsend was searching for on those child porn sites he visited (ostensibly for research). And then there’s the Gershwin oeuvre. “Someone to Watch Over Me,” indeed! I love Gershwin, I enjoy playing the songs on my piano, but some of the lyrics are just retrograde.

But back to figleaf’s list. I’m not ready to call “Baby It’s Cold Outside” a straightforward date-rape story, as he does. Let’s look at the lyrics. In case you don’t know the tune, it’s sung by alternating female and male voices, with the woman starting off first:

I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice
My mother will start to worry – Beautiful, what’s your hurry
My father will be pacing the floor – Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry – Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Well maybe just a half a drink more – Put some music on while I pour

The neighbors might think – Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink – No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how – Your eyes are like starlight
To break the spell – I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no, no, no, sir – Mind if I move closer
At least I’m gonna say that I tried – What’s the sense in hurting my pride?
I really can’t stay – Baby don’t hold out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside

C’mon baby

I simply must go – Baby, it’s cold outside
The answer is no – Ooh darling, it’s cold outside
This welcome has been – I’m lucky that you dropped in
So nice and warm – Look out the window at that storm
My sister will be suspicious – Man, your lips look delicious
My brother will be there at the door – Waves upon a tropical shore
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious – Gosh your lips are delicious
Well maybe just a half a drink more – Never such a blizzard before

I’ve got to go home – Oh, baby, you’ll freeze out there
Say, lend me your coat – It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand – I thrill when you touch my hand
But don’t you see – How can you do this thing to me?
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow – Think of my life long sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied – If you caught pneumonia and died
I really can’t stay – Get over that hold out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside

Baby it’s cold outside

Brr its cold.
It’s cold out there
Cant you stay awhile longer baby
Well…I really shouldn’t…alright

Make it worth your while baby
Ahh, do that again.

(You can read the lyrics and hear them sung here.)

So let’s start with a couple of lines that I do find creepy, sung by the man:

What’s the sense in hurting my pride?
Baby don’t hold out

This is definitely manipulative. The “hold out” prase is repeated later, too. It’s also icky because pride has no business in a make-out session. If his pride is that fragile, then he needs to get over himself. If pride is the only reason he wants her, then she has every reason to want to run back out into the cold. I don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the line about “no cabs to be had out there,” either. While it’s probably factually true in a blizzard or ice storm, the man’s using it as an argument, conveying the possibility that the woman may be trapped against her will.

More ambiguous is this line:

How can you do this thing to me?

Is the male singer lamenting the woman’s possible departure? If that’s how you read it, the line is manipulative. But might he also be marveling at how much she turns him on? If so, that’s not necessarily pernicious at all.

I’m sure some people will read the cocktails as evidence of date rape. That’s only the case, though, if you assume that a couple of “half drinks” are going to render the woman incapable of consent. I’m not willing to read that much into the scenario; if you count every sexual encounter where alcohol is present as “rape,” then you’ve criminalized upwards of 90% of the sex that occurs on my university campus. (Whether that much drinking is desirable is another question.)

But along with the couple of definitely manipulative lines, the male singer also says some things that are solicitous and just plain warm:

Been hoping that you’d drop in
I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice
Beautiful, what’s your hurry
Listen to the fireplace roar

There’s a sweetness in those lines, as well as in the various compliments he gives her. (Quick! Somebody please tell me my hair looks swell!) But the really unexpected line comes right before the really objectionable one about his pride:

Mind if I move closer

Wow. He’s asking for explicit verbal consent! How often do you see that in a song – of any era? How often does that happen in real life, even today? This doesn’t neutralize the icky line about his pride, but it certainly complicates the potential date-rape narrative.

Turning to the woman’s lines, you see a lovely example of what figleaf likes to refer to as the first of his Two Rules of Desire: The woman is presumed not to have autonomous desires, and she comports herself accordingly.

But!! Look at why she’s resisting. It’s not because she’s not interested. She’s just playing the gatekeeper role. And she’s doing it for the same reason many of my students still do it, 60 years later: because she doesn’t want to be slut-shamed:

I ought to say no, no, no, sir
At least I’m gonna say that I tried …

My sister will be suspicious
My brother will be there at the door
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious …

There’s bound to be talk tomorrow
At least there will be plenty implied

That’s the voice of a woman who knows darn well what she wants – she wants him! – but she’s hemmed in by the double standard. She ought to say no, no, no. She’s gonna say she tried – because she knows that otherwise she’ll be seen as easy.

And look at the social control! Her whole family has got her under surveillance. The reference to the maiden aunt is partly just reinforcing a stereotype of the shriveled up, sexless old maid, but it’s also describing one of the real ways that women have historically policed other women’s sexuality. In doing so, they may have thought they had the young woman’s interest in mind, but they ultimately, collectively helped enforce the patriarchal control of women’s bodies and sexuality. And the singer sounds as though she’s perfectly aware that this is more about family honor and community standards than her own well-being.

Maybe I’m a little soft on this song because I like it. There’s no question that the two singers are pressed into roles that undergird a rape culture. She means yes, and yet she says no no no – under duress. This is obviously some seriously fucked-up communication, and it’s just as obviously a way of navigating repressive social norms.

And yet – the song is more complex that the date-rape scenario suggests. I’m not nominating it to become the new third-wave feminist anthem of sex positivity, but there is that one shining moment where he asks permission. And there are those flying sparks of her fiery, authentic, and potentially autonomous desire, if only she didn’t have to fear slut-shaming. For the young woman, it’s cold outside, but it’s not the weather she fears; it’s the icy, judgmental reaction to girls who say yes. That raging blizzard? It’s the storm of shame she can expect the next morning.

Update 10-20-09, 10:45 p.m., better-late-than-never edition: Right after I wrote this, I checked out a bunch of different versions of it, and it’s amazing how different musical interpretations can slant the sexual politics of the song. Here’s Doris Day and Bing Crosby:

Poor Doris Day. I don’t think she was actually the prude that her reputation made her out to be, but she sure did play a lot of characters whose job it was to “hold out” while the male lead tried to whittle down her resistance. You can hardly hear her sing without those good-girl characters resonating in every note.

But when it comes to vocal mannerisms, I think Cerys Matthews (here with Tom Jones!) works harder than Doris Day to play the passive coquette. There’s also a clip where Jessica Simpson outdoes Matthews with the breathy girlishness of her voice, but it’s too insipid even for the standards of this lowly blog. Matthews sounds like she’s about eleven years old and Tom Jones is what he is, but they’re backed by a snazzy big band, which is really the saving grace of this arrangement:

Now, Dolly Parton brings a tartness to the song that makes you believe she really does want him. That is, until you realize what she wants is Rod Stewart. Given the choice between Tom Jones and Rod Stewart … well, I’d take Bing Crosby.

It’s striking what a difference the tempo makes. Just slowing it down can take it from chirpy coquettish to sultry. I like it slow. (Read that as you will.)

And then there’s the sole clip I found where the “male” singer acts rawly aggressive instead of suave – except that here, a woman (Selma Blair) takes on the “male” part and practically ravishes her partner.

It’s silly in its own way, in the tradition of “let’s destroy the patriarchy and replace it with a matriarchy!” But it’s worth noting that if Gap had made the same ad, with the same choreography, without reversing the sexes, we’d much more likely see it as a straight-up rape scene.

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If you’ve been reading Kittywampus for a while, you know that I’ve had some weird health problems ever since Inauguration Day (a coincidence that still amuses me, when I’m able to laugh about my problems). For a while there, I thought I was losing my ability to think straight. Maybe I did lose it; you be the judge! Where I’m sitting, nearly nine months into this, I feel less foggy and stupid, and my energy is better, though still not great.

Still some problems persist, including “proximal muscle weakness” – that is, weakness in my shoulder and thighs – and a strange, mildly unpleasant tingling sensation in those same areas, plus tingling around my mouth and on my scalp. Odd tingling often signals MS (says the Google), except that an MS specialist at OSU already ruled that out. (Beware: the Google will correlate almost any symptom with MS.) The tingling could even be due to lingering anxiety from last winter’s scare. But the proximal muscle weakness can’t be so easily explained.

So Friday I traveled to OSU in Columbus for an EMG. If you’re squeamish, this might be where you stop reading, because the test is one that Dr. Frankenstein himself probably invented. It has two parts. First, electrodes are attached to your skin above nerves and you get zapped with a current; instruments measure the transmission of electricity through your nerves. And that’s the easy part. In the second half of the test, “thin” needles (described thusly in the patient info package) are inserted deep into your muscles to measure conduction in those nerves that can’t be reached with the electrodes alone. The needles pick up on your nerves’ electrical impulses. And even this is not the hardest part. The doctor has to wiggle the needles around and (as far as I could tell) push the needle successively deeper. In order to get a reading, the needle logically has to be next to your nerves. Then you’re asked to move and contract the muscles while the needle is still buried in your flesh. Then you’re told to relax. (What?????) This continues for somewhere between 45 minutes and infinity, with brief periods of rest while one needle is removed and a new one is inserted.

The patient info sheet describes this process as “uncomfortable.” Ha ha ha ha ha! Always be very suspicious when a medical test is described as uncomfortable. It’s code for “this may hurt like a sonofabitch, but it’s not officially ‘painful’ so you won’t be offered any pain relief.”

I’d had an EMG once before in the late 1990s, when I was having carpal tunnel-like symptoms from too much laptop use, so I knew the code. When I told the neurologist I’d experienced an EMG, her face fell. She knew that I knew. And what I knew was this: Apart from having a baby, this is the most pain that I’ve ever voluntarily submitted to in my life.

But oddly, once she got down to work, two things were true all at once: The needle section of the exam did hurt like crazy. And it wasn’t so bad.

Here’s what I think helped. Birthing two babies helped reset my pain-o-meter. An EMG can cause pain as locally intense as labor pains, but it’s in a much more confined area. Breathing slowly and deeply helped, even if it mostly just kept me from yelping or keening. The worst of the EMG pain is also comparable to bad back pain, but unlike when I was in labor or had back pain, I wasn’t expected to walk around. Also in contrast to labor or back pain, the EMG was scheduled to end at a particular time.

I think that my recent experiences with acupuncture helped, too. I’ve gotten accustomed to needles piercing me every other week or so. The EMG was quite a lot more painful, but I imagine it also released more endorphins as a result. I asked the neurologist if anyone had ever tried using acupuncture prior to EMG for pain control. She didn’t think so but agreed it would be an interesting study. I think it would be a pretty hard sell; most people would vote for minimizing the needles by any means.

It helped that I know enough about dread neurological diseases to be grateful that my nerves are capable of feeling pain.

It helped that the tech who did the zapping portion of the tech and the neurologist who wielded the needles were both kind people with a Zen-like aura. The same was true of the neuro in Berlin who administered my first EMG. I wonder if there’s something about the field of neurology that attracts calm and gentle souls.

So I talked with them whenever I wasn’t breathing through the pain, and I asked a lot of questions, because I know that distraction is my friend in managing pain.. I learned that the big, tough, muscle-bound men have the hardest time with the electrodes, because the muscle serves as an insulator from the nerves, and the current thus needs to be stronger. I learned that neurologists are deeply divided even on how to categorize some diseases. I learned that my doctor believes we’ll someday look back on EMGs and today’s cancer treatments and wonder how humans survived such barbarism.

I learned that my hand and foot can be made to leap and twitch without my volition, which raises thorny questions about free will: If we’re ultimately a collection of electrical impulses, how can we conceive of self, morality, and free will? Couldn’t we be made to love, nurture, and kill by means of electrodes implanted in our brains? This sounds like the stuff of sci fi – until you’re watching your foot kick without any control over it.

Most of all, it helped that I am desperate for an answer to why I’m still sick. The neuro said she’d start with a study of my left leg, and if I was able to continue, she’d check my back, and only if I was still all right would she look at my left shoulder and arm. It helped, too, that I knew I could withdraw my consent at any moment. So we kept going, and by the time she got to that tender flesh at the side of the hand below the pinkie, I understood why she hadn’t started with my arms. She pulled that needle out, and for five minutes I couldn’t tell it was gone.

I have to say, I was brave. This is unlike me; I am tender and juicy, like my nom de blogue, Sungold. I am not tough. And yet, I did not whimper. I did not cry or swear. And I stuck it out until the doctor ended the exam, pronouncing it perfectly complete.

In the end, we did know more. We still don’t what is actually wrong with me. (My wacky thyroid remains the most likely culprit, but lots of evidence doesn’t fit). We do know that I don’t have nerve compression near the spine, nor do I have any of the diseases of the peripheral nervous system. There’s a whole family of disorders (for instance, chronic inflammatory demyelinating neuropathy) that slowly disable and potentially kill you by destroying the myelin that normally protects nerves.

Most of all, best of all, there’s no evidence that I’ll get progressively worse, rather than better.

And so, even though it took the whole weekend to stop feeling achy all over, and not just where I’d been poked (can you spell T-E-N-S-I-O-N?), I’m feeling so grateful and lucky. I celebrated like any good post-9/11 American – and went shopping. I felt so elated, relieved, and brave that I even bought pants and bras. If you see me around town this week, you probably won’t get a peek at the bras, but I’ll likely be wearing my new red cords. Yes, red – on my bottom! – proof positive I was feeling invincible.

Or to put it another way: It all could have been srsly worse:


From ICHC?

Fortunately, NOT my experience.

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Once upon a time, long, long ago, I spent a couple of years outside of academia, working for the state of California at a regulatory agency. This was the mid-1980s, and so deregulation was en vogue, even though most of my coworkers were Democrats who’d never voted for Reagan. The day after the SCOTUS nomination of Douglas Ginsburg went in flames because he’d had the temerity to inhale, it was clear that 1) most of my colleagues in the policy division had a libertarian streak, and 2) none of us were viable candidates for higher office.

Maybe that slightly libertarian climate allowed for other mild indiscretions, too – or maybe it’s just that workplaces always breed sex. One of my colleagues, a very bright woman in her late twenties, was dating the executive director, who was probably fifteen years her senior. I was mildly shocked when I realized they were together. He was her boss, after all, though not her direct supervisor. But they were both single. They were in love. They were upfront about their affair but didn’t let it interfere with work. Though I lost track of them years ago, a quick internet search revealed that they’re Facebook friends, so I’m guessing they’re still a couple or at least real-life friends.

That was twenty years ago, but in principle, I still think it’s not desirable for a person with any supervisory authority to date a subordinate. As a university instructor, I believe it’s wrong for professors and TAs to get sexually involved with students who are currently in their classes. If the connection is real, it can wait until after finals to be consummated. There’s just too much potential for abuse of power on one side, and for infatuation with power on the other.

If the instructor is the student’s adviser, that’s a stickier situation. The best solution would be to set the student up with another adviser. In some cases, though, this isn’t possible, especially if a graduate student is doing specialized work that only one faculty member can advise. Similarly, my colleague and our executive director could only have eliminated the boss/subordinate relationship if one of them had left the Commission. He was the top cat, after all.

So I think allowances sometimes have to be made for love. It would be a shame to condemn serious relationships, because sometimes, you meet the right person in the wrong place. It would be a shame to stand in those cases where the meeting of two people is a small miracle. Obviously it’s not possible to know in advance which relationships will be “serious,” and reasonable people disagree on what “serious” even means, but at a minimum, both parties should have intentions beyond a hot fling. Besides, I’m talking about ethics here, not rules or laws, so there’s room for individuals to interpret their own situations. And just to be clear, I’m only addressing scenarios where there’s an imbalance of power; I don’t see any ethical problem with two employees hooking up, however casually, if neither is in a direct line of authority over the other.

Now, how does this pertain to Letterman? Well, since he was the top cat, any workplace affair would involve a subordinate. That’s always inherently problematic. He seems to have had a sustained affair with the one woman whose name has been revealed, and if that were the end of the story, I’d be inclined again to give it an ethical pass. (Of course, if he and his then-girlfriend, now-wife Regina were ostensibly monogamous, that presents a whole ‘nother ethical problem, but here I’m only considering the sexual ethics of the workplace.)

However, Letterman also apparently had a series of affairs. As Echnidne puts, it he appears to have harvested his subordinates for sex. And that’s a crucial distinction from a boss who has a single liaison with a subordinate, because such “harvesting” is toxic to the workplace climate. People start to wonder if sex is being exchanged for favoritism. They wonder who’s doing the boss, and who’s not. The talents of women who’ve been promoted come under scrutiny, especially if they had a public affair with the boss. But even those who never slept with him may be undermined, as Tracy Clark-Flory notes at Salon:

A friend raised an excellent point in an e-mail to me: “His apology to his staff raises an under-covered feminist issue: Bosses who are hound-dogs taint the reputation of their women subordinates who don’t sleep with them,” she wrote. “I won’t mention names, but when I had a boss like that, a lot of people assumed that of me, yuck, and I fucking hated it. To this day, I think people think that helped me.” There is no question his staff is currently playing a game of whodunnit; all female employees are now suspect. That’s especially true for those who have climbed the ranks, and many have at the “Late Show”: Three of the five executive producers are female and Letterman has a reputation for promoting women. How sad that instead of celebrating that, many will start questioning it.

So the activities of horndog bosses can harm all of their underlings. And while I know horndogging isn’t an exclusively male activity, I’m pretty confident that this is overwhelmingly a problem of heterosexual male bosses and female underlings. Most such situations aren’t actionable under sexual harassment law (unless there’s a clear quid pro quo trade of sexual favors for workplace perks), but that doesn’t make them ethically or politically okay. Horndog bosses set back the cause of workplace equality.

There’s also the little issue of age dynamics. As Suzie points out, Letterman was known for dating interns. These are women who would have been fresh out of college, or maybe even still students, thirty to forty years younger than him. I know an awful lot of women that age. Few of them are secure and mature enough to hold their own with a man so much older and more powerful. That’s not to say the women who had sex with were incapable of consent, only that the situation is inherently coercive, especially when, as Suzie further notes, these women may have wondered if their career hinged on saying yes. Melissa at Shakesville worries:

If there is an expectation, even an implicit or oblique expectation, that sleeping with the boss may be part of your job, whether there can be genuine and undiluted enthusiastic consent is a serious question.

We don’t know the answer to that question, but that shouldn’t stop us from asking it.

And yet, there’s been a lot of shoulder shrugging at the big feminist blogs. Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon, Jill at Feministe, and Vanessa at Feministing have all argued that Letterman probably didn’t break any law, and thus his behavior oughtn’t raise our feminist hackles. But the legal standard alone is a mighty low bar. At a minimum, we know that Letterman’s conduct was unethical and potentially harmful to all of the women who worked for him. Sure, if an extortionist had never forced the issue, we wouldn’t know about his affairs  – but now that they’re in the public eye, we shouldn’t give workplace horndogging a free pass just because Letterman isn’t a hypocritical Republican, or because his offense is much lesser than Roman Polanski’s, or even because he’s still a funny, basically likable guy.

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Caturday: Baby Lions in Columbus!

Congratulations to mama lion Asali and daddy Tomo, parents of three cubs born on September 22.

ColumbusBabyLion(Photo: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, via the Columbus Dispatch)

A few days ago, zookeepers finally got to check them out, acccording to the Columbus Dispatch:

The triplet lion cubs born at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium two weeks ago got their first well-baby checkups Monday and zookeepers report that they’re healthy and adorable.

The cubs, one male and two females, weighed between 5.7 and 6.7 pounds each.

Assistant curator Harry Peachey said they’re developing quickly and will be on display as soon as keepers feel they’re ready to go into the lion yard. The weather, too, will play a part in when the public gets to see them.

The African lion cubs are the first born at the zoo in 24 years. They spend most of their time in an indoor den that keepers created for the births by first-time mother Asali. Zookeepers at first only could see them through the lens of a video camera.

The zoo has posted time-lapse video. It’s not great quality. Still, you can see that Asali is an attentive mom, behaving much like any mama cat would do. (Nurse, groom, nurse, groom, ad infinitum.) The keepers held off on checking the babies for the first two weeks so as not to disturb the bond between mama and cubs.

I’m hopeful that all three cubs will survive and thrive, since they’ve made it this far. And I’m hoping for fair weather. I want to see them while they’re still little!


This might be Asali, or it could be her sister, Kazi. The picture is from August 14, 2009, so if it’s Asali, she would have been a little more than halfway through her pregnancy.


This is the dad, Tomo.


This is Tomo, playing with his ball.

(First two pictures taken by me, Sungold; the last one is my husband’s.)

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I’m not so sure Letterman’s confession – possibly the most-discussed since St. Augustine’s – deserved to be held up as a model for future public figures who cheat on their partners. I agree with Fran Langum (aka Blue Gal) that Ensign, Sanford, and Vitter could learn a little something from Letterman in the “don’t be an effin hypocrite” department. Then again, Sanford could teach Spitzer a little something about how to face the cameras alone, unshielded by the woman he done wrong, and I agree with figleaf that Letterman can be commended for keeping his wife out of it. But I don’t quite agree when figleaf gives Letterman credit for “acknowledging and lamenting the potential consequences but neither whining about nor denying responsibility for those consequences.” And I really take issue when sharp people whose writing I value – such as Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon – seem to take Letterman’s confession at face value:

There were no Mark Sanford-style tears. No John Edwards-esque denials. No John Ensign-y contrite admissions that it was “absolutely the worst thing I’ve done in my life.” No shame or blame.

Just some straight-up, self-deprecating honesty. What a pleasant change of pace.

Yes, it was a pleasant change of pace. It was also a highly manipulative bit of television that worked precisely because it was pleasant, self-deprecating, and funny. It was a masterful example of spin. And so a little amateur deconstruction (no need for Derrida, just a little skepticism) is in order.

Consider how the confession begins.  Letterman asks the audience if they’re up for a story. Of course they are! Williams gives a very accurate description/transcription of what comes next:

Coming in from a commercial break, Letterman detailed how one morning a few weeks ago, he’d discovered a package in the back seat of his car containing a letter. It read, “I know that you do some terrible, terrible things.”

The audience, still assuming this was just another jokey setup, continued to laugh. But as the story progressed, it became darker and weirder. A “phony” $2 million check to ensnare the blackmailer, testimony before a grand jury, the blackmailer’s eventual arrest. Letterman then cleared his throat and said, “The creepy stuff was: I have had sex with women who work with me on the show.” He paused again and continued. “Now, my response to that is, yes I have.” And what did the audience do when their cantankerous, beloved and married host sat before them confessing to his dalliances with his colleagues? They applauded.

But a lot goes on between Letterman’s revelation of blackmail and the audience’s approving applause. Not far into the story, he says that he’s been accused of doing some “creepy things.” The audience guffaws because, well, he’s our Dave, right? Why, he’s just a nice cornfed Midwestern boy! He’s the same Dave my very own grandma watched faithfully during the last years of her life!

A moment later, he mentions the “creepy things” again. More laughter. My mom’s take on this is that the audience was tittering with embarrassment by then, but I don’t think that’s quite right, because unlike us viewers at home, they wouldn’t have known the denouement just yet. Besides, it’s only Dave, and he’s not warning the audience to hold their laughter, so his actions can’t really be all that creepy, can they?

Meanwhile, the blackmail story is absolutely compelling. We’re transfixed by the blackmailer’s greed, his audacity, the idea of a $2 million check. (How do you cash one of those, anyway?) In the face of such overweening evil, there’s no way Dave’s pecadillos can even rate.

And so, between the drama of blackmail and the ludicrousness of Dave calling his own behavior creepy and his self-deprecating humor … why, he didn’t do anything so wrong at all! We can keep laughing! Maybe we’re even cheering because our pal who’s always joked about never getting any, finally got some!

Now, I’m not saying that Letterman is the new Leni Riefenstahl. That would be silly. But I do think that he very skillfully framed his behavior in the most benign light possible, and that this has deflected a lot of criticism. He’s also been shielded, as Tracy Clark-Flory points out, by the fact that he’s no Roman Polanski; no one is accusing Letterman of giving Quaaludes and champagne to a child and then raping her. That shouldn’t stop us from thinking seriously about the ramifications of workplace affairs. (Update, 10/11/09: See this follow-up post on the ethical and political problems caused by horndog bosses.)

I’m skeptical that anyone is ever well served by dramatic public confessions of sexual peccadilloes. We rarely need to know about them, unless there’s a real public interest angle such as a governor simply skipping the country for a few days. When people’s sexual misdeeds go public, I’d rather they deal with the fallout in private. But the media will keep serving them up as scandals, and we’ll continue to be fascinated, and as long as that’s the case, we’ll be better off if we don’t mistake great storytelling and droll humor for actual honesty. With clever framing, it’s possible to tell all and still be disingenuous.

(The video keeps disappearing from YouTube, which is why I cited Williams’ description instead. I’m embedding it below but fully expect that this version, too, will be pulled. If so, try going to YouTube and searching on “David Letterman confession.”)

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