Alondra Nelson and the Black Power Mixtape

I’m watching this installment of Mark Anthony Neal’s Left of Black, in which he interviews Columbia sociologist Alondra Nelson about her forthcoming book Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination.  Although my copy of the book hasn’t yet arrived (I pre-ordered it!), I saw Nelson speak at Temple last spring about her work on genealogical testing and African American identity, and her thinking on race, medicine, and the human body is really interesting, and speaks to my own work on black AIDS activism.  Check it out, and when the book arrives I’ll try to write more about it here.


RIP Dame Liz

Two clips, from Historiann and Towleroad, respectively, to commemorate the passing of actress, icon, and AIDS advocate Dame Elizabeth Taylor:

The latter video lays it on a little thick, but Taylor was an early and important celebrity advocate for AIDS research when many were fearful or ignorant of the disease.  Today, we pour out some White Diamonds in her memory.  Rest in peace, Liz.

James Buckanan? Isn’t he a porn star?

I’ve been intermittently following the Times“Disunion” series, not to be confused with Elizabeth Varon‘s masterful book of the same title, via Facebook, and yesterday’s post by Jean Baker caught my attention.  She describes why James Buchanan deserves recognition for his extreme awfulness as a U.S. president, and she’s not alone in her opinion.  The Siena Research Institute’s 2010 poll found Buchanan in the second from bottom slot, whereas a 2007 U.S. News and World Report poll found him in dead last.  For Baker, Buchanan’s cronyism and the corruption that marked his administration are damning enough, but his Southern sympathies and failure to stave off sectional crisis really do him in.  (As an aside, it’s no accident that the bottom ten in the USN&WR ranking is populated by men who held the office leading up to or immediately after the Civil War.)  It’s worth pointing out that (anti-)slavery politics leading up to wartime were quite complicated, with a range of possible positions from anti-racist abolitionists to anti-black free-soilers to colonizationists to pro-slavery firebreathers.  Abraham Lincoln, who consistently rates at or near the top of the list of best all-time U.S. preisdents, himself moved among anti-slavery positions.  He supported plans to repatriate former slaves to Africa and to simply prohibit extending slavery into the western territories, expecting that it would die out on its own, before coming to abolitionism during the war.  Whether or not he would have been able to secure black rights during the postbellum period is impossible to say, although the historical record suggests that he was more of a pragmatist than an idealist; it is likely that had he survived, freed blacks would not have fared much better than they did in our timeline.

In any case, the article caught my attention initially because I enjoy the lacunae of popular history, but stayed with me for what Baker says at the end.  Our failed presidents, she argues, have much to tell us, and Buchanan failed “because he used that power with such partiality as an activist, ideologically driven executive.  He had chosen sides in the great crisis and did not listen.”  With an issue like slavery where morality is crystal clear in hindsight, her criticism of Buchanan makes sense, but what lessons about our current political dilemmas are we to draw from this?  Is this an implicit criticism of Obama, who many on the right condemn as just such an activist executive, or of Republican congressional leaders recently returned to power in both state and federal governments, who seem hell-bent on settling ideological old scores?  Or is this just an argument for centrism?

P.S. James Buchanan was a “confirmed bachelor” who lived in the White House with former Vice President William Rufus DeVane King, who just edges out Hannibal Hamlin for the title of Best-Named U.S. Vice President Ever.  Here he is, in all his daguerreotypic glory:


What a hottie–no wonder Buchanan couldn’t pull it together.  I think we have a new explanation for the outbreak of the Civil War: FROTTAGE.

My favorite things.

The following video brings together some of my favorite things, namely Simian Mobile Disco, early 90s Madonna realness, and lesbians.

Yeah, so it’s a little bit camptastic in vein of a film production/GLBT studies double major senior project, but I.  Love.  It.  And Beth Ditto’s putting out an EP with Simian Mobile Disco?  Between that and there being less than two days until the release of new Radiohead, I’m so happy I could burst.  Oh yeah, and more temperatures in the 60s here tomorrow.  That’s it.  I’m done.

Thanks to hot bish Maria E. Allain Corzo for giving me an excuse to show off the fact that I finally (after a year and half) figured out that I can put YouTube videos DIRECTLY IN MY POSTS.

UPDATE: Embedding disabled by request; you still have to watch it on YouTube. Whatever.  Don’t rain on my parade.

UPDATE x 2: YouTube took the video down!  You can still watch it here, on the Gossip’s official site.

Everything old is new again.

I get tired just looking at him.

There’s a reason I don’t read the Wall Street Journal, and it’s pretty much the same reason I don’t watch Fox News: I’m not particularly interested in antediluvian op-eds.  This recent article from WSJ is a great example.

The article describes a recent study in which researchers found that women from countries with better healthcare systems preferred less masculine men, which they measured by showing (white) women from different countries two “subtly different” pictures of a man, and asking which they found more attractive.  Okay, right off the bat, those two faces are about “subtly different” as Bill O’Reilly or Michael Moore (fair! balanced!) are “subtly opinionated.”  Moving on to the the text of the article, we find some well-worn ideas about what it means to be masculine, and it’s no great shocker that this entails “fitness, fertility, and dominance,” which are all the by-products of elevated testosterone levels.  I’m certainly not trying to argue that hormones don’t influence behavior, but it seems that a study like this (not to mention the article) reduces an incredibly complex process (like attraction) to a single variable.  That this variable is biological only serves to reiterate and reify old stereotypes about virile primitive masculinity versus decadent overcivilized Western manhood.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries such pervasive cultural tropes served as the basis for denying political rights to people of color and justified the imperial reach of America and Western Europe across the globe.  With in mind, perhaps it should be no surprise that here a marker of global class (healthcare, although the U.S. is… well, that’s a different story) is fused with and masked by biology and heredity.

The author keeps the late Victorian gender anxieties relatively at bay until near the end of the article, when she unleashes them with full force:

The big question that comes of the study is this: Is it possible that modern medicine—and by extension modern life—inadvertently devalues masculinity? Possibly. Is the Marlboro Man, that smoking-hot icon of American manhood, under threat of being extinguished? Given American women’s apparently strong masculinity preferences, the answer is no. We are not ready to get rid of our macho men. (Then again, we also have yet to improve our health index ratings.) Yet there are some smoke signals that suggest change is just over the horizon.

Sounds like somebody’s been reading The Strenuous Life.  But the really astounding thing here is just how fabulously the author misrepresents evolutionary process in the very next paragraph:

As the social environment shifts, so may women’s mate preferences. While Stone Age forces once wired women to associate strong cues of masculinity with their children’s chance of survival, times are changing. The promise of improved health care in America could be one example of a shift.

Let’s first just take notice of the implied parallel between “Stone Age” women (were they also tracked through their IP addresses?) and women in the developing world.  That aside, evolution is a slow process–public policy does not have a measurable effect on hereditary traits, at least not in the way the author suggests.  That is to say, healthcare reform is not going to spark an instantaneous shift in American women’s dating and mating patterns such that testosterone and “manifest masculinity” (no relation?) will go into decline.

Or maybe my good friend and sometime-commenter Catherine said it best: “I feel pretty confident we can provide humane medical care to the citizens of this nation without threatening my almost pathological attraction to large burly men.”

Amen, sister.

Here’s something that sucks.

Perhaps you’ve seen the latest series of Dockers ads, imploring today’s men to step up and “wear the pants.”  The man-centric campaign actually rolled out a few months ago; I figured it had foundered on the shoals of its own ridiculousness until a link to the “Men Without Pants” commercial showed up in my Facebook sidebar.  I’m not sure what Pantsformation is, but it has replaced “Man-ifesto” from a previous version of the Dockers website:

It feels a little like shooting fish in a barrel to bring a critical eye to this, but here goes.  The lynchpin sentence seems to be “But today, there are questions our genderless society has no answers for,” which trades in the old anti-feminist canard that combatting gender inequality leads to the “unsexing” of both men and women.  The monstrous specter of androgyny-cum-thwarted-adolescence in the previous sentence underscores this point.  References to disco and the “foamy non-fat latte” suggest that homosexuality, laced with effete European masculinity, additionally threatens the ideal American man, rolling gender presentation, sexuality, and national identity into a single package–no pun intended.

What I find interesting (besides the “Shop Women’s” link at the end of ad) is the commercial short I mentioned above.  It features a group of (mostly) paunchy, pantsless men marching through a field, singing about their lack of pants.  They are the replaced by a trim, muscular, bekhakied male figure, the clear antithesis to the emasculated others.  Their literal softness represents a loss of (implicitly national) strength which, coupled with their “pantslessness,” conveys a clear message: loss of male privilege goes hand in hand with the loss of American prestige.

The nation has often, if not always, been represented in explicitly gendered terms, and throughout the modern age the human body has presented a handy metaphor with which to delineate the boundaries of political and national belonging.  Dockers is certainly not the first to perceive a threat to masculinity, but they offer interesting evidence of this in their reference to a 2006 article in the Journal of Clinial Endocrinology and Metabolism that indeed demonstrated an age-independent decline of serum testosterone in men over about a decade and a half.  This may very well be true, and the authors of “A Population-Level Decline in Serum Testosterone Levels in American Men” suggest that environmental factors may be the cause.  However, the Dockers campaign features a video on its Facebook (I couldn’t find it anywhere else) that purports to explore this “crisis” (how else could you describe it?) by having an actor travel the country doing “manly” things: riding a bull, killing a deer, and pumping iron at the Jersey Shore.  By framing clips of wo/man-on-the-street interviews discussing the state of men’s lifestyles (men are obviously a homogenous group) with the crisis represented in the above article, the video makes the most dubious of all possible propositions: that larger cultural changes, like disco-dancing, latte-drinking, and feminism, have weakened the hormonal foundation of masculinity.

Is this not ridiculous?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section.