Perhaps it's the rainy day... perhaps it's the new diet... but I think it's maybe just the times we're now in: with the left back in control of so much of the national political conversation, perhaps it's unsurprising that there's a new "political correctness" in the air.
Just to recap: the PC got an overdue, if overwrought comeuppance in the nineties, led largely by "politically Incorrect," Bill Maher's seminal effort on ABC to have discussions that didn't insist on only showing certain "safe" viewpoints (...and the net result: Ann Coulter). But "politically correct" had been bouncing around for years, an idea that, in certain circles, you were bound to follow unspoken, possibly coded "rules", usually related to appropriate language, that could not be broken - or you would be ostracized. The idea of "PC" was usually met with derision in knowing lefty circles, a sort of "I know the rules, and I don't intend to be bound by them"... but gradually, as these things do, we wound up with "politically incorrect," the annoying capacity of people who'd never agreed to the terms in the first place - such as rabid sexists refusing to moderate use of sexist or derogatory terms for women - to claim some sort of "new freedom" to do just as they'd done all along.
I've come to see all of this as more of a continuum: a little progress on language, followed by a pendulum swing too far one way or another. "Politically Incorrect" was in some ways a necessary reality check for stifling reasonable discourse (and nothing proved how truly politically incorrect Maher was like the show's cancellation). But that went too far as well, and as we moved towards the 2008 elections, it seemed clear that we were returning to some healthy boundary setting and thoughtful questioning (for instance, the way coverage of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin raised issues and greater awareness of how women are treated in the media).
But it's easy to veer in the other direction too: as the internet has changed our ways of gethering information, so too has it created new communities of like minded people who want language to be used in particular ways. One fascinating, recent unfolding of this was a long discussion (you are warned, before clicking through, I'm serious about "long") at Shakespeare Sister about "triggering" language and "safe spaces" particularly in regard to the Blog's leader, Melissa McEwan.
I like Liss; I share her feminist values, and I sympathize with ideas like safe space, and even triggers... but like a number of others - including, I was struck to discover, my closest pals - I felt there was a "new PC" lurking in that discussion. As events and discussions have unfolded, I've become steadily less thrilled with a growing sense of lefty admonishments of "you can't/shouldn't say that" starting to creep back into discussions.
And lately I feel compelled to say a few things, as contrarily as possible, like:
Now yes, this is all coming from a tetchy place... and a politically incorrect one; on better days, I could, probably, argue exactly the opposite of each point above, and mean it - and just as pointedly, I'm not asking anyone to agree with me on anything - I prefer the tension of people passionately advocating for thier point of view, whatever it is. But still. The general failure of conservatives to essentially draw lines - to say, collectively, that something, anything is beyond the pale for them politically is partly why we're here; and it is refreshing to have some commmon sense boundary setting of "no really, that goes too far." But the fine line here is how to "watch what we say" without stifling dissent, alternative points of view, and unpopular noitons that challenge our worldviews. Sometimes, there's a polite way to do this... and sometimes there isn't. Things get ugly, people get mean, they say the "wrong" thing, they take language too far. Insisting on a political correctness, a "here and no further" approach to discourse may seem like a good idea... but I suspect it really isn't; you want a free and robust discourse, you have leave room to let it roam free. Really free... and not caged by correctness. Because mostly, I growl when caged. When really... I'm just a pussycat. Who loves to argue. :)
If I've seemed a little distant... I kind of have been; this weekend was spent visiting an old friend, and helping him out with a big project, one that left little time for regular blogging (though I tried to keep up... but yesterday pretty much got away from me).
Over the past few years - since blogging started, really, for me - much has changed in my life; I've had a lot of time to contemplate friendship, what it means, what one can and should expect in a friend. I've made new friends, lost old ones (and some new ones, even), and I've had friendships come, go, come again, and change.
Through it all, I've come to believe the best you can do is try - you can try to be the kind of friend who shows up, who listens, who tries to go above and beyond when it's possible. At the same time, it's reasonable to expect something in return - a measure of support, a sense of being heard, and understood.
I've said here any number of times, I feel lucky and blessed to have the friends I have; lucky because I'm never entirely sure I do enough on my end to be there for them... and blessed because with their love and support, almost anything is possible.
So the stars aligned and somehow, this weekend, I was able to give something back, to help out, to be there for someone else. That's what friends are for, good times and bad times. It's even worth losing a day of blogging. :)
(Flower - photo by weboy - for... Elizabeth)
... with my biggest fan:
Me: Did you read my post on Michael Jackson?
Mom: Yes, it was very interesting. I read a number of your posts and I thought one (pauses), well, I can't remember which one, but I thought it was really good and memorable.
Me: Ah... thanks for the ringing endorsement.
You have to understand... Charlie's Angels was the world to me.
And I couldn't watch it - I was too young; my parents took "family viewing hour" very seriously, and the idea of watching the "racy" ten o'clock shows... just wasn't happening. But I knew about them. We all did. Three beautiful women, daring adventures... sign me up.
By the time I was watching Charlie's Angels regularly, Farrah was long gone (it was the Shelley Hack year). And yet she was always, for me, the original golden girl, the one who made it. Even when what she made - the odd kind of celebrity she had - was never entirely clear.
Farrah Fawcett was the proof that archetypes exist - she really was the head cheerleader, friendly, beautiful blonde who made it big. A Texas gal who married the top jock (when she was an Angel and Lee Majors was the Six Million Dollar Man... worlds aligned), Farrah was all the stereotypes made flesh.
And she was proof that no one wants to be a stereotype; she never coasted on those looks alone, on the lowered expectations that came with being a cheerleader turned model turned "TV actress." Indeed, she wasn't, really alone: Farrah was part of a generation of very similar women, who'd bounced around the late sixties/early seventies modeling scene, made forays into acting, and often surpassed the artificial boundaries of society's expectations. Beneficiaries, in a way, of feminism's opportunities, they made their own way.
Never mind the Angels (for a moment:) consider Susan Anton, Lindsay Wagner, Lynda Carter, Suzanne Sommers, Linda Evans... even Bo Derek. Then go back, and add in Cheryl Ladd, Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith... even Shelley Hack (I'll admit... Tanya Roberts, not so much, as an actress). I could go on. Farrah Fawcett may have gone farther, faster... but she was a part of something bigger: a moment when women really, for the first time, could up-end traditional expectations, and for some beautiful, talented women... a shot was all they needed.
Fawcett was a better actress than many give her credit for being; like all the Angels (again, except Roberts, probably) she made so-so material shine, made an absurd premise believable, and even, somehow, made a show with especially creepy overtones (women doing just what a male's disembodied voice tells them to) into a surprisingly upbeat showcase of what professional women could do, as professionals, to get the job done. And Fawcett's other work - The Burning Bed, Extremities, her various other vehicles after The Angels - tended to show someone who believed in strong women, and wanted to show what they were capable of doing.
If her personal life was messy - she never seemed to get away from the ideal of a big strong man, deeply flawed - it also tended to show her refusal to be something other than a free spirit (for my money, she's the one who keeps Dr. T and the Women from completely dissolving into easy formula). She was the real California Golden Girl, and it's why her doll was so redundant; the blonde doll with the tan and the Malibu playset... she already existed. And you could always dress her up to pretend all sorts of careers.
I never wanted to be Farrah (or Jill, when we pretended at home); me, I didn't wanrt to be such an obvious blonde superstar... I preferred the quiet, mysterious, yet smart and calm persona of Jaclyn Smith. The one who stayed. The one who honored her full commitment. But Farrah didn't have to - she burned brighter, shot across the skuy, and made the dream real. And clearly, it also took a lot out of her, a lot of energy to make a star shine. Let's not leave her memory to a stereotype, or a suggestion of weakness. She was a heck of a strong woman, and she went out like she lived - brave, beautiful, vulnerable, but still surprisingly resilient, smarter and more aware than many expected. We may never see that again; and we're poorer for it.
I'm not sure we ever really saw Michael Jackson.
But I'm not sure we ever saw what was going on right in front of us.
In the rush to deify him, we're already tidying up inconvenient details - the depths of his drug addiction, the troubled life, the allegations of abuse both to him and by him - and we're overstating much of his musical legacy.
And I say that as someone deeply affected by his life; and his death.
I don't have a lot to say about Mark Sanford; frankly, on the weird scale, I had him pegged as just oddball enbough to actually go hiking the Appalachian Trail alone with no phone. I'm naive like that.
Obviously you can talk about hypocrisy, you can talk about those uptight Republicans and their wacky dalliances (Argentina? Really? Couldn't she fly up?). But really... what is left to say? Of course Sanford has no career left; that's what happens to Republicans, and it's because really, when you teach people to practice intolerance... well, those people will be intolerant when you mess up.
Still, Sanford's confusing press conference, the messy story of an affair and what is obviously a lot of family pain, and Sanford's generally effective skills politically... make me feel just a bit bad for him. He does seem to have, in that real and imperfect way, discovered that the life he had isn't necessarily the life he wanted. And just because conservatives think marriage is some sacred sacrament, and some liberals may enjoy seeing another hypocrite tagged... I'm liberal enough to apply my usual personal liberal notions - which means, while he probably shouldn't expect to be elected again... I hope he picks whatever move is the right one for a happier, more honest life. And if that's some more tango time in Argentina... well, good for him.
Via Shakes, I see that Ed McMahon has died.
It's hard, of course, to talk about him as something on his own... he will always be the guy who worked with Johnny, the sidekick, the almost ur-definition of second banana. Which is unfair. Ed McMahon was a successful comedian, television host and celebrity pitch-person with plenty of success to call his own. Even his own successful stint, for years, as part of the Tonight Show.
It's a shame, really, that our overachieving society insists on measuring success by being out front - being part of, "helping", playing a supporting role... these things are nice.... but they're not being the star, "the one", the First Chair. When I go to the Symphony, I try to look for the Second Chairs, the supporting players. You can't have an orchestra without them; but too often, we look at what's in front, not what's in back. In some ways, it's easy to be the star. You know what's expected, you know what you have to deliver. The supporting role is harder. You have to make it your own, be the best at what you do... and then fit into the larger whole.
Watching the clip that Liss posted at Shakesville, I was reminded of the joy of watching their interplay, Johnny and Ed - the way they finished each other's sentences, knew where the other one was headed, laughed the conspiratorial laugh of two guys in on a joke no one else quite knew. That's hard to find - it's a quality I treasure in my closest friends - and I think it's what made the Tonight Show such a destination for watching. If nothing else, you had to keep up so you would be in, even a little, on the joke.
Over the years, I got the impression that McMahon mellowed, that even he, finally, felt he had nothing to explain or defend; he did something, he was good at it, and it lasted a good, long time. It takes a different skill set to be not in the lead, to be part of, and sometimes, the weight of what society expects can wear a person down. McMahon, though, was a pro. And he deserves respect for it. Just like Carson. Maybe more so.