Disclaimer: Some content is inappropriate for readers under 18 years of age or those offended by swear words, references to sexuality, atheism, and libertarianism.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

If You Ever Get Busted By The Fuzz...

...Don't get caught dressed like this.

Suffer the Little Girls.

I'm rather pleased to see that the UAE is formally addressing the incidence of child rape and molestation and has proposed this 12 step initiative:

12 Recommendations by International Women’s Forum

  1. Provide sex education in schools
  2. Parents should delete ‘sex taboo’ from their dictionary
  3. Inform children about what is good and what is bad
  4. Awareness campaigns to tell people about the dangers of sexual harassment
  5. School sociologists should play a more effective role in supervising and controlling pupils’ behaviour and problems.
  6. There should not be gender segregation in the primary level to establish a natural communication between boys and girls
  7. Mothers should not leave their children alone with maids
  8. Grandmothers’ experience has a great role in raising children’s awareness about life’s dangers
  9. Children should wear decent clothes when going out
  10. Daughters should be with their mothers when interacting with outsiders and mothers must have an open communication with daughters
  11. Girls should have their private rooms at home
  12. Children should live their childhood to the maximum, by keeping them busy with activities

I agree that gender segregation at the primary level impedes the kids' abilities to form appropriate relationships with the opposite gender. Making something forbidden even in a context that's innocent is going to lead to misconceptions, the seeding of prejudices, and the creation of a taboo that never should have existed in the first place. I basically think points 1-6 are fairly easily done and reasonable.

I'm guessing since this was drawn up by the International Women's Forum they focused more on what the women and girls can do and not so much on what needs to be done on the male side of things. That's understandable as we are better able to influence our abilities to protect ourselves than to influence the actions of perverts who may not even be in control of themselves.

The problem is that a dark cloud still pervades my thoughts... I think that as long as there is any indication that women are lesser citizens, boys will learn pretty early on that they have the upper hand and automatically view the opposite sex in an unfavorable light.

Now of course rape and molestation still takes place in countries where women, frankly, get more rights than men. I don't think the Middle East is some sort of breeding ground for rapists and child molesters, but it would be a little more respectful of the women and girls if they weren't constantly reminded of their second class position and if rape was finally seen as a crime of the rapist and not the victim. Let's consider what most Middle Eastern boys are exposed to right from the start:

He sees his sister not being allowed to do the same things he can do in a social context (ie. going out).
He sees how his sisters inherit a smaller share because they are female.
He sees very few female politicians.
He sees mostly female maids running around doing everyone's bidding.
He sees stories of honor killings where the men may face no consequences.
He sees news stories where victims of rape may be punished.
He sees a news story of little girl who gets raped and the rapist is left unpunished because she wore a "see-through dress".
He is taught that women who dress immodestly are deserving of whatever abuse they get. (Now I don't think little girls should be allowed to dress like Bratz dolls or anything, but if she wears a summer dress that may appear see-through if the sun shines through it, is that really an open invitation to a violent sex act? Seriously? Seriously. However, I really wish parents would pay more attention to what their kids wear in some cases... While it shouldn't be an excuse for men to molest them, it really doesn't do anything for her empowerment or self-esteem. Oh God. I said "empowerment". Am I really a bra-burning feminist? I hope not.) This also leads to the boy's understanding that a man isn't held accountable for his actions if the woman was clearly "asking for it". Come on. How patronizing is that to men? You can't control yourselves if you see a bit of leg? I give you more credit than that.
He sees his older sister not being allowed to travel alone or go to college abroad while his brother goes to Amsterdam for the the third time.
He sees that the testimony of two female witnesses is required in court because the word of one woman isn't enough.
He sees men who have the right to more than one wife because one may not be good enough, but women are not permitted the same right if her man is infertile or if she fears she may stray (both valid excuses for men to take a second wife).

So with all this and more, how can he not come to the conclusion that women's thoughts, feelings, and pain are worth less in society's eyes?

Luckily, I grew up with a lot of boys and men who respected their mothers and that respect extended to other women in their lives. All of the Arab, Indian, and Pakistani guys I hung out with were very respectful of women and I never felt that they thought any less of me. They were educated, had traveled, and hung out with women socially. I wish I'd thought to tell their mothers and fathers that they'd done a good job raising their sons!

Despite the negativity of this post, I do think they're doing a wonderful thing by pursuing this and I hope the results save at least one child from suffering.


I've said it before, and I'll say it again... I love my colleagues (you sexy, beautiful people, you). Another example of why I hold my peers so near to my heart happened the day before yesterday. I've started studying for my citizenship test and so they've taken it upon themselves to randomly question me on American civics.

BlueEyes literally leaped out from his hiding place and into my classroom shouting "NAME THE ORIGINAL 13 COLONIES!" He must have passed the word around because, while walking down the hall, HotHistoryGuy's voice quietly muttered "Uhm. How many... Uhh... Senators can each state have?"

I like it. It's keeping me on my toes, although I'm beginning to develop a Pavlovian reaction and shout out things like "George Washington!" or "The Bill of Rights!" whenever I see them.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

There's No Substitute for the Real Thing.

Today seems to be the day for subs. It seems that two out of the four teachers I work with on a daily basis have otherwise been engaged and sadly, the remainder of us has to pay the price. Mainly me. I split my time between working one on one with my guys in my quiet little room and venturing out into their classes to provide help to anyone who needs it. On the days the subs are present, I may as well get their damn pay. I've seen some good subs, it's true, but more often than not HR seemed to have dredged the bottom of some club for the socially inept and mentally unstable to furnish the building with the enormously unsettling number of subs we require.

I walked into science with a spring in my step... A spring that stopped so abruptly, I almost sprained my ankle. I spied BabyFaceSub behind the teacher's desk. Awgoddamit. For having a baby face, the man sure knows how to lose his cool as he's quickly resorts to shouting at the kids. These chaps don't respond well to shouting, so they get even more obnoxious. With the discretion of a waiter in a swank restaurant, I fluttered past each student and quietly whispered as soothingly as I could to them in an attempt to avoid having to later document exactly how they grabbed his head and stuffed it in one of the sinks while one of them turned on the tap. It seemed to work and they got going on their assignment.

Disaster averted, I was able to direct my full attention to the small group of more moderately retarded students in the class. They're an interesting bunch of kids and do damn well considering how uncomfortable they may feel to be in a regular science class when some of them can't spell "water" let alone "heterogeneous mixture". Over time, the other students have grown quite tolerant of their presence, though I often see the hurt in their eyes when they assume they were put in the special class, and not that these kids with special needs are being incorporated into their class. Not often working with kids this low functioning, I'm often at a loss to know what to do if one of them starts to have a rather loud conversation with me about ponies while the rest of the class is quietly taking notes on the nature of wave refractions. I always pray none of them will start laughing, so I tend to respond to them as quickly as possible in the hopes of drowning out any giggles or at least to divert the kid's attention away from them to me. I've decided a quick indulgence and then back to business is the best way to avoid hurt feelings.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand... Subs. Having drained myself in science running around putting out fires (metaphorically speaking, thankfully) and modifying the assignment down for those who needed it, and making sure the kids on my caseload got started because I'll be damned if I'm letting "my" boys and girls hand in shite since he wasn't very effective at getting them to work AT ALL, I was totally unprepared for a sub in English class too. I got there late, having had to run a number of errands first, and walked in to find most of the kids up out of their seats, jostling each other, shouting, listening to mp3 players, making fun of each other with foul language, and obeying the strict order of General Mayhem and his Army of Chaos. I've already worked with this sub before... I had made the mistake of telling a kid to put away her mp3 player only to be given the dreaded: "HE said I could use it" and look over to see him nodding. GAH. This is the same man who brought his X-Box to work and shooed anyone away who came to his door while he was playing. He DEFINES professionalism.

LoudMouthGirl (With The Poorly Spelled Name): Peanut head. I'm sicka you, fag.
PeanutHead: Shucho mouth, Dick Lips.

Dick Lips? I looked at X-BoxSub who was on the far side of the room, just watching them. Fantastic.

TeacherLady: I would appreciate it if you were all to stop chatting so I can help you all with this assignment and not with your personal problems. Thank you.

I physically placed myself between the aforementioned PeanutHead and LoudMouthGirl and waited until they ran out of steam at not being able to see each other, because I wasn't entirely sure they could even hear me when I asked them to stop talking to each other. Within a minute, they were out of ideas and I was able to get them started on the assignment. Heck, it's only 15 minutes into the class, why am I surprised that 90% of the class hasn't even cracked open the book to the right page. I address each student by name, tell them what page to open up to and read the first question to them to get them going. I looked around the room and was satisfied to see that even though they continued to chat, they were all working on the assignment. I came close to pulling out a rapier and slashing a Z onto the white board before departing from the room. He's getting paid to do it, so I wasn't going to hang around all bell doing his damn job for him.

I've just found out a third teacher of the four is leaving so there'll be a sub in math too. I think I'm going to crawl under my desk with a bag of M&Ms and not emerge until this madness ends.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Although I don't usually read contemporary "Best Sellers" due to my bizarre tastes in literature, I was delighted to finally get around to reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

While Kite Runner followed the companionship between boys and men, A Thousand Splendid Sons dealt with the feminine perspective of life, love, and friendship set against the backdrop of tumultuous Afghanistan. As a testament to the enduring spirit of those who experience the hardships of a politically unstable land, the characters in both novels endure. Some flourish, some fall victim to, and some grow as a result of their circumstances.

The named antagonists of both novels are slightly stylized as the typical Hollywood villain, bearing no redeemable qualities and pretty much "bad to the bone" where the reader has little insight into their complexities. Ironically, I feel the lesser antagonists are given a little more explanation as to their motives in carrying out actions that make the protagonists lives a misery. This doesn't detract from the story-telling, however, as sometimes it's just as powerful to be exposed to a character who personifies evil than to have one you can invest some sympathy into. After all, there are some people in this world who really don't have any redeemable qualities and were doomed by birth or circumstance to make no positive contributions to this world. (And no, getting the trains to run on time doesn't really count as a weighty contribution to the positive).

In my hormonal, maternal state, I'm quite easily moved to tears by anything involving children or the suffering of women and so it came as no surprise to me that this novel would turn on my waterworks, but it was the relationship between the daughter and father that brought me to tears more than any other part of the book. Other parts concerning horrors I have never known made me need to take breaks to absorb what I had read, but this part that touched me personally was so evocative that I had to shed some cathartic tears as I struggled to read. I won't go into detail as I wouldn't want to ruin it for the few people out there who intend to read it and haven't yet.

This would be an interesting novel to study alongside The Swallows of Kabul as both offer vignettes of various depths into the lives of those touched by the emergence of the Taliban but with vastly different story-telling styles. Hosseini comes across as a more readily accessible American movie, and Khadra as a nihilistic French art house film. Neither is meant as an insult, though it was the best way I could think of comparing the two in one sentence! Both are splendid authors and I look forward to reading more from both!

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Gentleman's Duel.

Imagine how Jane Austen stories would have played out had her arguing gentleman fought their duels thus...

Urban Chillers

A long time ago, I found a website called Urban Chillers and it had very few short films to offer, but upon revisiting the site, I've found they've expanded to include many homemade short movies of the thrilling or silly varieties (and with varying levels of success). However, my favorite ones continue to be some of the first films they put up on the site...

Here's my absolute favorite: Home.

And here's an old classic we would tell each other at sleepovers: Dog.

And here's another: Stalker.

I'm not too keen on the overly busy redesign of the site, but I'm hoping to find other gems amongst the lot.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Question of Origin.

Loud Mouth Student: Ms. TeacherLady? Are you from the Philippines?

TeacherLady: No. You've already asked me that before and I said no the first time too.

Quieter Student: You're from Russia, right?

Loud Mouth Male Student: No, stupid, she's from... Persia!

TeachLady: No, and no, but you're getting warmer.

Loud Mouth Female Student: Eye-raq!

TeacherLady: No. Opposite there.

Loud Mouth Female Student: Eye-ran! Eye-ran is the opposite of Eye-raq!

Are they antonyms now? I don't even bother explaining the whole "Persia-Iran" thing. After all, we've got math to do. I'm keeping my answers brief to satisfy their curiosity and then get back to business.

Teacherlady: No, but you're vaguely in the right area.

Loud Mouth Male Student: Afghanistan! You're an Afghan... Afghani... Af...

TeacherLady: No. You're getting colder now.

Loud Mouth Male Student: Is it cold in Afghanistan?

TeacherLady: Yes, it can be... But... That's not what I... Yes. Yes. It can be cold in Afghanistan.

Loud Mouth Male Student: So you're Arabian?

TeacherLady: Yes.

Loud Mouth Male Student: Like Aladdin?

TeacherLady: Sure. Just like Aladdin. I left my magic lamp in my other pair of khakis.

Loud Mouth Male Student: So is your country like all castles and towers and stuff?

TeacherLady: (Had I been better prepared for this conversation, I would have totally said yes and gone into great detail of how I'm actually royalty but was forced to escape with my pet tiger and live amongst this plebeian population and learn how to use utensils such as forks and knives because I was so accustomed to being fed from the fingers of my virgin handmaids. Instead, I said:) Er. No.

He looked a little disappointed. Maybe I should have gone the virgin handmaidens route.

TeacherLady: I'll show you pictures some time.

He seemed to perk up again. I got back to helping them out with math.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Host.

My husband and I recently watched The Host (also entitled Gwoemul) and while I wouldn't go so far as to agree with Harry Knowles' comment: "On a par with JAWS", it's one of the best monster movies I've seen in a while. Granted, I don't go to the movies that often so I've yet to see the current slew of monster movies I've heard are very good indeed.

Director Joon-ho Bong did some wonderfully creative things with perspective (seeing only the top of the concrete base of the road sign as it bobs above some trucks on its way to its target, the panic of the crowds from their various points of view to name a couple of examples) and he brought out the most wonderful performances from the child actors.

To describe it in its most basic plot, it's about a dysfunctional family desperately trying to hold everything together when a monster rears up out of the Han river and tears them apart by stealing away the granddaughter of the family, most capably portrayed by Ah-sung Ko.

Oddly, I'm reminded of Little Miss Sunshine in the fact that a family of misfits must overcome their limitations for the sake of a young girl in the family who may have a small chance of not being the disappointment the rest of the family sees themselves as being.

Also, be aware that the little English that is spoken in this movie will be delivered very slowly, as is custom in non-English speaking movies, so it tends to make the English speaking actors look crappy. They're not. You'll notice the same in a movie like Lagaan, too.

Overall, a thrilling pic that doesn't fall victim of the many trappings of the more traditional monster movie (no gratuitous T & A, no "what's that noise?" moment) and falls in nicely with the more recent generation of monster flicks that dabble with a little politics and a little humanity. Oh, and now I'm totally craving Korean food. Nothing with fish, though...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Big Girl.

I've taught some obese students, and I've taught some mentally unstable ones. Big Girl is a sad, lumbering bundle of the two. She's got a smile that can brighten anyone's day, but spews such ludicrous lies that would test the patience of the Pope himself. What's scary is that she seems to believe them too.

Big Girl: I hate gay women. There was this one gay girl, and she was runnin' down the hall after me, trying to kiss me and touch me...

Now, this would imply that Big Girl was running too. This, coming from the girl who is so grossly obese that she no longer takes the stairs in the building and walks with that painful gait that comes with having to maneuver such enormous weight in a sort of pivoting motion from one foot to the other. It hurts just to watch her make her slow way down the hall. Besides the fact that it would be physically impossible for her to run, bless her poor heart, I don't think there are many people -gay or straight- who would take it upon themselves to chase after her in a fit of amorous passion.

I had taught Big Girl when I worked at the Junior High, and had twice caught her trying to get into my purse when she thought I wasn't looking. Her claims that she just wanted to clean it out were less than believable, especially when she had stolen from two other teachers within the space of two years.

She would make up stories about friends I knew didn't exist, events in her past that never happened... But one day she was bawling her eyes out and I felt I couldn't dismiss her story-telling that day.

Big Girl: They're killing my brothers and sisters... They're just babies. They give this medicine and then they die!

She wailed like this for quite some time, and I sat with her and tried to piece together what she was saying, but with very little success. Regardless of whether or not she was speaking the truth, something was wrong. We've moved from a lonely girl making up stories in an attempt to create a fictional life full of friends and excitement to something very dark and disturbing. "Luckily", she had stolen for the last time and was up for expulsion, so I was invited to attend the meeting. I brought up my concerns to the mother. She chittered with a nervous laugh and mopped at her sweat with uncertain hands.

Big Girl's Momma: Oh... Hehe... Oh that! Oh... Hehehehe... Well, you know, she knows about her brothers and sisters. I mean, she knows when I'm pregnant because the smell of KFC make me sick, but any other time it don't make me sick, then when she see I'm not sick no mo', she know the baby's gone. She knows, she watches me, and she knows.

After the meeting was over, I escorted her to the front door and casually struck up a conversation about contraception...

TeacherLady: Have you considered your options? Perhaps getting the tubes tied?

Big Girl's Momma: Oh I did that. I guess they came untied!

TeacherLady: Ah. How unfortunate.

We parted amicably and it was made clear to me just how many factors are involved in how messed up Big Girl's life is. I didn't even tell you about what the mother had said about the candy Big Girl keeps stashed everywhere including the toilet cistern, despite her mother's efforts to remove all candy from the house (or so she says, her waistline spoke volumes of the possible existence of an Hershey storage room she may have in the home).

Big Girl got bigger, her steps are more pained and she's told such outrageous lies such as showing a picture of a toddler and telling her teacher it's her own child when I've never known her to have any time off of school to have one, and the supposed stomach stapling she has undergone doesn't seem to be very effective...

The other day I bumped into her English teacher and found out she'd written an essay in which she had said lovely things about me. It's nice to hear things like that because sometimes you never get to find these things out. She wants to be a child carer, and may whatever deity exist please forbid that from happening, but please give her some happiness. And a few less obvious lies.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Groucho Marx!

Proof that Groucho is still the best "playa" there ever was. I hate rap, but Groucho is so cool I could actually watch the whole thing.

If I'd lived back then, I so would have been his groupie.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Not "Mentally Retarded" Anymore.

In the short number of years I've been teaching, I've seen disability labels come, go, return, then vanish again as people invest a lot of time and money in deciding what sounds the least offensive. Some of the decisions confound me... About 10 years ago, a child could have been identified as "Emotionally Disturbed", then it switched to "Severe Behavior Handicap", and now it's back to "Emotionally Disturbed"... Doesn't that just sound like someone who kills kittens in between smearing feces on walls and stabbing voodoo dolls of his mother? It's also abbreviated to "ED", which is rather unfortunate as that is also used for Erectile Dysfunction. Not that "Severe Behavior Handicap" sounds that much better... In these days of inclusion of students with handicaps into regular classes, you could imagine a regular ed. teacher looking at that label and getting a tad upset that they can't bring pepper spray to school to defend herself.

So what term could describe the disability without making everyone leap to hideous conclusions? Emotionally Unstable? Nah, sounds like a woman going through menopause. Appropriate Behavior Deficit? That could apply to far too many kids... Socially Handicapped? That one could apply to me and my friends, to be honest...

and back to And as for the mentally challenged... It's gone from "Mental retardation" to "Cognitive Disability" and back to "Mental Retardation", though some still hold onto "CD", but then no one knows what the hell you're talking about until you clarify: "It means he's mentally retarded."

When I have the annual meeting with the parents to go over the goals for the student, I like to have the student present. It's only fair since we're talking about him/her that he/she should be there, but then we get to the signature page where the child's disability is written... Often, the kids I've taught who are classified as "Mentally Retarded" had no idea they were because they'd never attended these meetings before and never seen any forms about themselves. Some of them don't notice the print and I'm relieved. One did and asked me what "Cognitively Disabled" meant. I explained to her that although she was smart, she sometimes needed a little more time than others to think things through. She was satisfied. I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked the fates that at the time we weren't using the other term.

To these kids, "Mentally Retarded" means drooling, slow speech, and spastic movements. It would never occur to them that the kid next to them who has ten less IQ points than them is "retarded". What a fine line. One number means you're labeled for life, but at least you get the support you need to get by. The other number means you'll most likely not get much help and will probably fail. What a price to pay...

I'm reminded of the kid who got "cured" of being retarded... Simple. One state deemed an IQ of 80 to be "Mentally Retarded", another state selected 70 to be the lucky number. He moved from one state to the other and VOILA! He was cured, gods be praised.

The label is there for convenience, but it does mean that kids get pigeon-holed before they even open their mouths. We could define a child by their strengths and weaknesses and interests to get a better idea, but then isn't it much quicker to say "Emotionally Disturbed with bi-polar"? Obviously, the label is also essential for funding purposes as schools get more funding per student with an identified disability.

Anyway, I strayed from the fact that I wanted to share this article on a bill to remove the term "Mentally retarded" from State Law in Virginia. I'm not too crazy about their suggestions for better terms, and if it's going to cost $75,000 to make the change, I hope they pick a good 'un.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cow Bits In Your Chocolate.

And all over Britain, you can hear vegetarian chocolate fans retching... And probably some non-vegetarians too... Twix bars have bits of cow stomach in them...
Now ask me if I'd stop eating 'em...? Nope.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

"Could Be a Crack Head..."

Okay, so St. Patty's day isn't here yet, but I finally got to see the footage that Tim Henson often plays an excerpt from and it made it even more entertaining! I espectially enjoyed the amateur sketch of the leprechaun. "Amateur" being the operative word...

And can you imagine being the reporter on this one? I would be convinced the studio was pushing for me to quit my job giving me a story like this one to cover...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Honor Killing. Again.

I don't even bother trying to post about every honor killing I read about in the news because there aren't enough hours in a lifetime to do so, but I try to honor the memory of those treated like sub-human creatures by occasionally drawing your attention to their sad, shortened existences and remeber that these crimes are being carried out all over the world. Here is Shafilea Ahmed's story.
Don't forget to visit Stop Honor Killings.

Woman Poses as Teenage Boy.

Tell me this isn't one of the weirdest news stories you've ever read... A woman in her thirties escapes from child abuse charges by disguising herself as a 13 year old boy and fools school teachers in the process.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ambitious Puppetry.

This must have been impressive to see in person. The show is entitled The Sultan's Elephant. A blog post giving details about it can be found here.

Meanest Mom On The Planet.

I read more and more stories like this every day... Parents who want to expose their children's selfishness, greed, or lethargy, to the nation and beyond, to teach them a lesson. Mostly, I congratulate the parents (especially the ones who make their kids carry signs on busy streets, those are my favorites), but then part of me hopes they did everything they could to avoid getting to that point and the kid is just not hearing the message loud and clear enough until the press in involved.
There must be a point when the parent isn't a hero for airing their child's shame over the news and is just an "attention seeking whore" (as my sister would put it). The mother in this situation is even keeping the ad up after the car was sold because she wants to get more of the "feedback"... Why? The point was to teach the child a lesson, the car was sold, the lesson taught (if not learned) and now we move on. She wants more pats on the back for being a great mother? I don't think it would psychologically damage the kids to do this, it just may be the case that 10 minutes of fame were prioritized over effective parenting to avoid the need for drastic measures.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hava Nagila!

Perhaps not something I would listen to too many times, but I think this video illustrates yet another similarity between Jews and Arabs... They've got hot chicks too. The singer's name is Lauren Rose and she's 17, and the mother in me thought "that skirt is awfully short."
I agreed with some of the people who posted responses to the video in the fact that I felt the English bits ruined it a little.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Does Porn Reduce Rape Numbers?

This report by Anthony D'Amato says it might do. As a sexually harassed teenager I often wished some porn had been more readily available to the men so they'd find a juicier alternative to a thirteen year old who was already sick of the years of harassment by that point and just wanted to live out what little remained of her carefree days, thank you very much!

I'd have to see more studies to prove the correlation to exist, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was one element of many to contribute to the dropped rate. Obviously not all rapes are reported, however, and sexual attacks on infants and children may not be included either if they are left unreported for various reasons. Not only that, but as the report points out, there are so many other factors that could be influencing the numbers... However, I had to laugh at the bit about boys being taught that "'no' means 'no'"! Does someone really need to be taught that? Does saying it explicitly really make a difference? I guess I shouldn't mock it if it really has resulted in fewer rapes, I just figure that those who have no intention of rape would figure out the negative response of "no" and it just wouldn't matter to the ones who don't care anyway.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Goodness Gracious Me- Gay Son and Arranged Shag.

I guess I mis-remembered this one... They aren't Muslim in this sketch... Or this one... I'll look for more later.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Gay Middle Eastern Scene... In Berlin.

SO36, a gay/bi/transgender nightclub in Berlin is playing host to the gay Arab and Turkish scene. Frankly, with the kind of music they play, I'd have a merry old time there! Funny how, even today, Berlin still has a rocking gay scene

I always wondered about the obviously feminine guys I knew back home, and how they must feel to have expectations of marriage always hung over their heads. Of course, I may have missed the mark entirely and they may simply have been feminine but not gay... But then there was the guy who wore women's shoes, wore women's perfume, and had hearts all over his room... Hmm... He also did my hair a lot. Sweet, sweet guy...
I don't think any of my Muslim Arab girl friends were gay or bi, but who knows...?
I wonder how that compares to my situation of having married a non-Muslim guy. Which do they perceive to be the bigger threat? I bet some would assume homosexuality as a phase that they can be talked out of, whereas marrying an infidel pretty much seals one's fate, does it not?

I can't help but think of a Goodness Gracious Me sketch in which a young man reveals himself to be gay to his Muslim parents and that the English boy at his side was not just his roommate, but his lover. His parents despair and then the mother finishes off the sketch with "And you couldn't have found a nice Muslim boy?"

If only it were that easy!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Attend The Tale of Sweeney Todd: Comparing One Barber To Another.

*Warning: Contains some very minor spoilers. Not big huge ones like telling you 'Rosebud' is a sled.*

I don’t usually enjoy comparing a movie to its original stage or literary incarnation too deeply because I like to look at each as a separate work of art where one is inspired by the other. I especially don’t like leaping on the “the original was better” wagon, because that’s not always the case... But in the interests of highlighting the strengths of both versions, I took pleasure in comparing the original stage production and big screen versions of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

In its Broadway manifestation, Sweeney always seemed to be cast in a burly, brutish form with the likes of Len Cariou and George Hearn in contrast to Johnny Depp’s more lean appearance. Either works for me, though it was a little more convincing that a slighter man would use Sweeney’s means of dispatch that required no great amount of force to overcome his victims- just a quick slash and a mechanical chair that removes any physical obligation to lug the corpse to seclusion.

In going back and watching a few scenes from the stage play version starring George Hearn, the first obvious contrast in their characterizations of the Demon Barber is that the stage Sweeney arrives with an obvious note of cynicism but also a remainder of humanity as he smiles and supplies social niceties in his farewell to Anthony. Burton’s Sweeney arrives on the scene an empty shell of a man with one thought in mind: Vengance… And pretty much nothing else. I assume that Tim Burton wanted this to be Sweeney’s sole motivation and so it could be perceived that Depp’s portrayal of Sweeney is pretty limited in range as he emotes the gamut of moods from anger to searing rage, but it certainly got the message across to me that this Sweeney was obsessed to the point that he would conceivably prioritize revenge with the judge over reunion with his daughter, which is what he did.

Obvious and stupid jibe: Wonder where the inspiration came from for Sweeney's hair...?

To be honest, as much as I enjoyed the film, I felt that Burton seemed to be holding back. There wasn't as much as I would have liked to remind me I was watching a Tim Burton film in terms of direction, but then there was Mrs. Lovett’s dreams of living by the sea, which had Burton stamped all over it as a mixture of whimsy and the Gothic. I enjoyed the most notably Burton-esque visual treat of having all the color bled (hyuk hyuk) out of the characters as though they were all already dead and the only evidence of their life is in the gushes of outrageously red waterfalls of blood that reminded me of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. I don’t know if it was to emphasize the automaton nature of a broken, heartless, merciless Sweeney but it looked as though each of his bloody murders were filmed in pretty much the same way. I think the point could still have come across but with more visual variety by showing him eliminate each hapless victim using a different angle, creating a fluid montage in a sort of visual waltz.

I know there’s not much you could do to lighten up such a horrific scenario, but some visual humor opportunities were entirely lost in the movie… Especially when he doesn’t kill the one victim who brings along a wife and child. They were so ethereal and poorly represented in the background that they could very well have been “ghosts” of his own past and not the family of his present customer.

One great opportunity to lift the audience from the gloom and doom of the story was also missed… The lyrics for “A Little Priest” are delightfully corny in their puns and gives the audience a moment to laugh at how outrageous the idea of baking people into pies is, and yet so many of the lines were cut from the movie and the remaining ones were sung with barely a hint of a smile on the lips of either protagonist. I was pleased, however, that Depp didn't overdo his disgust with the pies because however much I felt a little humor could have balanced the movie out a little more, I wouldn't want goofy camera-mugging faces.

Two cheery protagonists.

On the topics of cuts (I know, I know), it was a shame the “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and its reprises were shorn from the movie (Ugh. Cut. Razed. I was doomed from the start to use a stupid-ass pun like that. Sorry. Really.). The music was still there, which I was greatly glad of, but then Anthony Head’s solo bits and those of others were left for the DVD special features (I hope) which is a shame. The Ballad added to the notion that we were watching a Penny Dreadful story play out on a Gothic Melodramatic Victorian stage where you expect to hear the words “murder most foul” or something of that ilk. But I guess in its transition from stage to screen, the story could be presented in a less theatrical manner.

Also a little subdued once his true identity is revealed, Sacha Baron Cohen was quite good as Pirelli. I had a feeling he would do just fine despite apparently going out of his element to play such a vastly different role from his usual fare.

Poor Timothy Spall rarely gets to play anything other than period piece caricatures, but he does it so well! The sad thing is, while everyone else played their roles in a more muted, intense manner, his role was played more theatrically converse to the stage play which has everyone else as loud, exaggerated and maniacal while the Beadle seemed to be the most grounded in reality. He pulled off "creepy" very well.

In defense of the "muted" acting of the rest of the cast, I was glad they didn't take it way over onto the other side of the tracks by being overly theatrical and pompous. They seemed almost humbled by such enormous roles and that satisfied the part of me that feared they were going to get their Hollywood claws into the characters and turn them into screeching heavy metal modern versions of themselves. They limited the modernity to the denim vest and leather coat Depp wore, but that wasn't offensive to me, as I wasn't looking for by-the-book contemporary accuracy of the 1800s (though I'm glad they removed the House of Parliament's Clock Tower from his window's view, because the setting of Sweeney Todd predates the Clock Tower's completion by about a decade, and anyway, it would have been awfully hard to have such a great view from Fleet Street. Only nerds say stuff like that. It stifles artistic license and should stop immediately. And anyway, who really likes those idiots who point out "He never said 'beam me up, Scotty' or 'play it again, Sam'. No fun at all, I tell you.)

I was quite pleased with everyone's singing effort in the movie despite their not being classically trained for years as are their stage counterparts. True, better ability would have meant more powerful notes and less of what sounded like a timid approach to the songs, but they imbued the character with such real tragedy and they did it in tune, that I was willing to overlook the less than perfect singing. I don't mean that to sound like a pity vote, I really think they did quite well.

I always tease that it certainly pays to be sleeping with Tim Burton because you're always guaranteed a great role in a movie, but Helena Bonham Carter earned this role, and to be honest, any of his previous partners were always right for the job too. Nepotism with good judgment behind it! And it was quite something to see that amazing cleavage the whole time! Makes me wish I could wear my corset-tops in public again... Without looking like a sad pathetic woman yearning for her carefree days when she could wear corsets in public and actually pull it off... Not literally... Oh you know what I mean.

I can't believe I almost neglected to mention Sondheim's fantastic score... Sweeney is one of my favorite shows of his for a number of reasons, and the orchestration of it in the movie was beautiful.

Anyway, despite my apparent heckling of the direction, I really do think Tim Burton was the best man for the job and he did it well enough to make this musicals fan happy. Or at least, morbidly entertained and vicariously gloomy and pensive.