Monday, July 30, 2007

Spousal culture curiosity

This past year was very educational for me in a number of respects. Among these experiences was my assignment as a seminarian to a staunchly ethnic Jordanian church. Although I had my issues with the way the church ran and prioritized at times (and who doesn't), I must say that in general I appreciated the assignment and grew from it in a fairly painless way.

Among the many things I learned was that Arabs don't vary much in relations between the sexes, whether they are Muslim or Christian. Generally the sexes are very much segregated in public. Now I do not mean that iron walls are constructed to enforce this separation, nor does anyone think of legislating this traditional arrangement. The entire thing is one large tacit assumption of how men and women interact.

Oddly, though it grates on modern sensibilities on some sectors, I think that this model has a lot to teach us. I bring it up because of issues a good friend of mine is having (ok fine, and I have had similar issues in the past) with considering whether or not he can be with a girl from a vastly different background.

It's odd, because those of us who feel frequently alienated by our surrounding culture, often find that different cultures promote certain values that we appreciate far more than most of our peers. Therefore, we are naturally attracted to those women as potential spouses. Unfortunately there is a drawback: The same framework that ensured a girl who is different than those we are accustomed to also places a wall of disconnect between the two people as if it was a spell cast by an evil wizard.

Seriously, it's difficult to understand a person cross-contextually. What motivates them? Why was this or that joke funny? What are the archetypal characters used in the language of a culture that simply don't translate? (for instance, try explaining "hippie" to someone outside of a context where the 60's, pot, rock, and the sexual revolution were earth shaking events.) I had this experience on a small scale with a girl I liked quite a bit. We had the same value system, but the similarities stopped there. We tried desperately to find connection, because we admired each other (I might even use the word enomored), but ultimately we have to face the fact that the paradigmatic themes, images, and even vocabularies that we existed in were difficult to transcend.

I would say that's the #1 hangup people have about seriously pursuing cross-cultural relationships. No matter how similar a belief system and how intact a person is emotionally, cultures take enculturation, and it's difficult to appreciate a person's full personality if you're removed from a similar enculturation.

But back to the Arabs, I wonder if this wasn't always the case? I mean, men and women weren't always equally educated, nor were they taught to value and appreciate the same aspects of the family. I am wondering if the latent divide isn't the more normal arrangement.

If you are at all aware of internet dating sites, look at a profile. Chances are, one desire that the person will express is that they want to marry "someone who is [their] best friend" and not "just a spouse". Somehow this seems corrupted to me. It seems to me that the Arab method is more natural. Can your spouse really be expected to be a best friend as well? Is it fair to put that on them?

I think perhaps not. Maybe we have taken too much emphasis off of spousal relations that relates to men and women giving one another precisely what cannot be had from the same-sex: fulfilling sexual relations, titillating physical affection, physical and emotional support, and the joint production and love of children.

I wonder when this language of the "best friend spouse" crept in? I'm sure a century ago that such poppycock was not as common. My guess is that it has to do with a more mobile society. Often the spouse is the only person that can be presumed to be willing to move for their other half. It would be deemed societally unacceptable for friends to plan their long-term living arrangements around one another. Imagine telling someone that you had recently moved in because your homies had moved, and so naturally you came along as well! Where it would be considered mildly abnormal for a spouse not to accommodate their other's moving needs. And the constant shifting of locations therefore means that the spouse is the only reliable friend. Whereas once, your relationships with others of your own sex was the primary basis of friendship and social connections. Each sex tended to the family prestige in certain "areas" of life.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Interesting story and a poem

Last night Abood related something very interesting. Apparently in 4th grade he had read a little poem that I had written. Then, later in the day, I threw it away. He thought I'd probably thrown it away because I didn't think it was good enough. Who knows? I have no recollection of the event. In any case... apparently he felt that i'd judged it too harshly. I certainly have never had a high opinion of my poetry, and do not consider myself a poet by any stretch of the imagination. In spite of my opinion, he fished it out of the garbage can, and claims that he saved it for years thereafter. I suppose it's nice to know that someone has always loved you :)

Anyhow, I will entertain the notion that I have always judged my poetry, as well as all other of my endeavors, too harshly. in the spirit of things, I felt that it would be fitting for me to post a poem that I wrote more recently, about 6 months ago, that was going to accompany a blog post. Naturally I felt that the poem sucked, so I saved it to a word file, and it wasn't brought back out until a girl in my church school group needed a poem for her college creative writing class. I let her have this one and one other. I must say that my exegesis of the poem makes it more intersting (so say I), but I would be curious as to what others get out of it on a blank read. Does it kind of suck? Or am I, in fact, judging myself too harshly? Of course, even if I am, perhaps Abood was right. After all, it has been years and years that I have not bothered to cultivate the poetry proficiency. Perhaps it is still decent though... well, he you have it. Anyhow, it's about to be public domain, so feel free to comment:

The Ozarks in Summer (Red Muscadyne Wine):

Gumbo and crawfish,
In a hundred a six.
With Mayhaw jelly
And some biscuits to fix.

Shed the work,
Impossible in June.
The Ozarks are green,
With the flowers in bloom.

Our hills ain’t large,
Not a true mountain one,
But accessible hills,
And a smoldering bright sun.
Yet a true culture’s measured,
By the type of its drink,
The inebriation of the folks,
That soothes them to sleep.

Some need from life,
A classic Red or Merlot,
I say to them France!
And with baguette it should go!

Others need sweet White,
And a fine place to dine,
So go to the city,
stand in your line.

But for the quaintest hills
and the rustic at heart,
heaven has provided
a liquid more tart.

The table is set,
Come friend! Dine and unwind.
A toast to intoxicating angels,
For the bittersweet bite,
of Red Muscadyne Wine.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Gallery of Champions

Gallery of Champions. It's the name of a card, role-playing, and board gaming shop, and never was a place more aptly named. I went in to look at board games and a card game while there was a regional Magic:The Gathering tournament going on. Oh my goodness. A friend of mine was recently feeling dorky that he pre-ordered the newest Harry Potter and couldn't wait for it to come out. Dan... have no fear my son. If Harry Potter was all these guys had to worry about, they would have exponentially more women than they have imagined thus far in their lives.

You have the big fat loud guy (mandatory), the five of six totally scrawny guys. and all dressed purely in black, often with metal shirts. Really pumped about whether or not the Lord of Atlantis could be tapped with enough manna to overcome the Rock Giant's Castle....sweet...

I have a high nerd quotient, but it's pretty clear that I'm not a champion worthy of the gallery. At least not yet.

Monday, July 16, 2007

PC police make another arrest

Oh boy, this time a top founder of a law school is being totally disavowed because he used "the N word" in a meeting due to his frustration at finding quality black candidates. Apparently this single slip from an 80 year old man (who is funding their education) is far too much to bear for the incensed population of the law school:

“Several people e-mailed me that it will be a disgrace to have the Papitto name
on their resumes and their diplomas,” said student leader Matt Jerzyk in an
e-mailed statement.
Roberts also has called for Papitto’s name to be removed
from the law school.

Meanwhile, in other news, some rapper on BET just used to the same word 50 times in one song. I was, in the words of the head of this educational board, "shocked beyond belief and very angry" that such garbage was being publicly displayed for my young sisters which, incidentally, had far more affect on my day than Mr. Pepitto.

Friday, July 13, 2007

This post dedicated to Nathan

Dumbing down American readers

By Harold Bloom, 9/24/2003

THE DECISION to give the National Book Foundation's annual award for "distinguished contribution" to Stephen King is extraordinary, another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I've described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind. He shares nothing with Edgar Allan Poe. What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis.

The publishing industry has stooped terribly low to bestow on King a lifetime award that has previously gone to the novelists Saul Bellow and Philip Roth and to playwright Arthur Miller. By awarding it to King they recognize nothing but the commercial value of his books, which sell in the millions but do little more for humanity than keep the publishing world afloat. If this is going to be the criterion in the future, then perhaps next year the committee should give its award for distinguished contribution to Danielle Steel, and surely the Nobel Prize for literature should go to J.K. Rowling.

What's happening is part of a phenomenon I wrote about a couple of years ago when I was asked to comment on Rowling. I went to the Yale University bookstore and bought and read a copy of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." I suffered a great deal in the process. The writing was dreadful; the book was terrible. As I read, I noticed that every time a character went for a walk, the author wrote instead that the character "stretched his legs." I began marking on the back of an envelope every time that phrase was repeated. I stopped only after I had marked the envelope several dozen times. I was incredulous. Rowling's mind is so governed by cliches and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing.

But when I wrote that in a newspaper, I was denounced. I was told that children would now read only J.K. Rowling, and I was asked whether that wasn't, after all, better than reading nothing at all? If Rowling was what it took to make them pick up a book, wasn't that a good thing?

It is not. "Harry Potter" will not lead our children on to Kipling's "Just So Stories" or his "Jungle Book." It will not lead them to Thurber's "Thirteen Clocks" or Kenneth Grahame's "Wind in the Willows" or Lewis Carroll's "Alice."

Later I read a lavish, loving review of Harry Potter by the same Stephen King. He wrote something to the effect of, "If these kids are reading Harry Potter at 11 or 12, then when they get older they will go on to read Stephen King." And he was quite right. He was not being ironic. When you read "Harry Potter" you are, in fact, trained to read Stephen King.

Our society and our literature and our culture are being dumbed down, and the causes are very complex. I'm 73 years old. In a lifetime of teaching English, I've seen the study of literature debased. There's very little authentic study of the humanities remaining. My research assistant came to me two years ago saying she'd been in a seminar in which the teacher spent two hours saying that Walt Whitman was a racist. This isn't even good nonsense. It's insufferable.

I began as a scholar of the romantic poets. In the 1950s and early 1960s, it was understood that the great English romantic poets were Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, John Keats, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. But today they are Felicia Hemans, Charlotte Smith, Mary Tighe, Laetitia Landon, and others who just can't write. A fourth-rate playwright like Aphra Behn is being taught instead of Shakespeare in many curriculums across the country.

Recently I spoke at the funeral of my old friend Thomas M. Green of Yale, perhaps the most distinguished scholar of Renaissance literature of his generation. I said, "I fear that something of great value has ended forever."

Today there are four living American novelists I know of who are still at work and who deserve our praise. Thomas Pynchon is still writing. My friend Philip Roth, who will now share this "distinguished contribution" award with Stephen King, is a great comedian and would no doubt find something funny to say about it. There's Cormac McCarthy, whose novel "Blood Meridian" is worthy of Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick," and Don DeLillo, whose "Underworld" is a great book.

Instead, this year's award goes to King. It's a terrible mistake.

Harold Bloom is a professor at Yale University and author of "The Western Canon." He wrote this column for the Los Angeles Times.

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Misandry and the popular perception of men

Christine Whelan has written a nice article for Bustedhalo on the negative portrayal of men in popular culture, and the implications of that for our assumptions about maleness, namely that women dislike men. It's funny, I had a similar topical discussion with my mom in the car this past Monday. I basically said that I don't think, on average, that American women like men all that much. Sure, they like to sleep with them, and they fantasize about them, but outside of that I'm not sure if they would have any use for them. I attempted to codify these comments in the reader response letters of the article. Dr. Whelan's question as posed was this:

Guys: Do you feel like your wives or girlfriends aren't recognizing what
you bring to the relationship? Do you feel bossed around? What kind of advice do
other men give you about your relationships?

Ladies: Is this a problem in your relationship? How do you and your
boyfriend of spouse deal with issues of power and equality? Who wears the pants
in the relationship? Do you think this is a problem—or just something for
sit-com humor?

Also, be aware that at a certain point she was talking about the fact that the marriage vows in the Catholic church tell a couple to "honor and cherish each other, but not to 'obey'". Her point was the equality and not dominance was the ideal of relationships.

I have posted my response below, although you can read mine and the others here:

Why shouldn't women emasculate men? In order for emasculation to be a bad
thing there would have to be something unique and drawing about masculinity in
the first place. If you take away the fact that most people in our society still
prefer to have heterosexual sex lives, I don't think that there would be much
left in terms of either masculinity or femininity that we would cherish. If
anything, masculinity is confidence, being the primary provider and guardian,
and also being defered to in times of a tie. I know that's radically
counter-cultural nowadays, but men are programmed for such behavior. Stephen
Goldberg's work on the biological underpinnings of patriarchy are especially
good, and I would encourage anyone who's really interested in the truth of
sexual differences (and how they can be expected to play out in behavior) to put
their social conditioning aside and give his stuff a whirl.

It's an interesting point about the vows. The epistle of Ephesians, which
was once the standard reading in all churches, appears to indicate that women
are to obey the husband, whereas men are to honor and love the wife. The imagery
used is Christ and the Church. Of course, the part that is rarely emphasized is
that men are supposed to earn this respect and obedience through Christ-like
self-sacrifice. Nevertheless, it seems to indicate that relationships are
"equal," but it also seems to dismiss the idea of a democracy of two people. I
would bet that the old readings in the Latin church pre-Vatican II were more in
line with this scriptural verse.
- Ray

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A conservative article on the rise of anal sex in popular culture

What a necessary and poignant, article. I'm shocked that Slate news still allows conservatives to speak in print. Actually, it's such a candid and fact-based article on this topic. Amazing.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

learn it, live it, love it

All of you need to view, and inwardly digest, all of these photos. They convey the highest in human beauty - the bald man.