Thursday, July 26, 2012

Batman, Superman, and Political Philosophy

My Owner took me to see Dark Knight Rises a couple of days ago.  It’s a fantastic movie.  And, since I have had a Catwoman fetish since I was 13 I have to say up-front that Ann Hathaway rocked!  Woof!!!  (But Michael Phiffer is still my favorite.)

Chris Nolan is one hell of a writer/director.  I love his take on the Batman character… even if it’s not a character I, personally can entirely get behind.  He definitely draws a lot from the Frank Miller Batman.  In the mid 1980s, during the middle of the Reagan-Thatcher era, Miller re-created Batman as a violent, gritty, neoconservative super-hero.  The elements were always there, but Miller brought them more to the foreground.  Miller overtly drew attention to the difference between Superman and Batman.  Superman was created in the Depression and spent his early years fighting against slum lords, greedy industrialists, and corrupt politicians.  Michael Chabon called him “FDR in a cape.”  What’s more, Superman was created by a couple of first generation Jewish-Americans as an allegory of the immigrant experience.  This was and era when you had lots of different European minorities (Jews, Poles, Irish…) arriving in America and living in urban ghettos.  Superman is an immigrant w/ a Jewish name (Kal’el is Hebrew) who comes to America… and assimilates, wrapping himself in the flag, the American dream, and mom, and apple pie.

Comics artist Dave McKean has said that he never liked Batman b/c of this whole idea of, “a billionaire who uses his wealth and power to beat-up on the urban underclass and the mentally ill.”  (And it could be noted that most of the crime victims Batman protects are upper-middle or upper-class socialites.)  Batman and Superman represent very different social philosophies… those of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke respectively.  Hobbes, who endured the English Civil War of 1642-1651, had a bleak view of how human beings would act if they were unrestrained by society and civilization.  He’s famous for his summation of the quality of life men would lead in an anarchist “state of nature” (i.e. without the constraints of civilization): “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  (Think of Lord of the Flies here.)  He developed the notion that we sacrifice individual freedoms in order to guarantee the wellbeing of the whole community.  Now, Hobbes believed that human nature was so base, so greedy, and so vicious that only a totalitarian state ruled over by an iron-fisted monarch could keep us out of bedlam.  John Locke took a more sanguine view of human beings, and he made it the responsibility of the government to legislate for an uplifting environment for the improvement of its subjects… so his social contract was a two-way street, and he argues for the right of the governed to revolt if the government is not upholding its end of the deal (and we know what Thomas Jefferson and his buddies did with that notion).

In Chris Nolan’s second Batman film, he really introduced this neoconservative subtext by having Batman build a machine to illegally spy on every cell phone in Gotham.  This was an obvious parallel to the Patriot Act’s warrant-less wiretapping and domestic spying.  The film presents an authoritarian Batman trampling on people’s rights b/c it’s the only way he can protect them from the terrorist Joker.  Even the end w/ Batman slinking away hated and hunted by the people of Gotham (in favor of the hope-inspiring, change you can believe in, Harvey Dent), I thought it was a deliberate analogy of George W. Bush leaving office w/ the lower approval ratings than Nixon had when he was forced to resign… and smugly saying, “You might not like me, you might hate me and love Dent/Obama, but I protected your asses from terrorist by any means necessary.”

In Dark Knight Rises Chris Nolan continued to (I think correctly) portray Batman largely as a Hobbesian, authoritarian, neo-con.  The movie does an excellent job of drawing on imagery from the French Revolution – which was history’s classic example of liberalism run-amok… pushed too far the 99% rose up and overthrew the 1%... and then degraded into a tyrannical bloodbath.  (It’s interesting to note that one of the first masked superheroes was the Scarlet Pimpernel, an English aristocrat who helped protect French aristocrats from the murderous thugs of the French Revolution and reign of terror.)  It was in reaction against the French Revolution that Edmund Burke outlined the theory of conservatism Reflections on the War in France.  In the new film, Bruce Wayne even looses his house, and I feel like we’re supposed to feel bad for all those multi-billionaires who lost some of their vast wealth in the financial crisis.

One of the most troublesome questions raised in this film (particularly in light of the Colorado mass-shooting) is the question of guns.  Batman is famous for his hatred of guns.  Dennis O’Neil even did a well known pro-gun-control Batman story in the comics called “Seduction of the Gun.”  In Nolan’s film, Batman is still depicted as anti-gun but Catwoman is not, and there’s a little debate between them about “the no guns thing.”  Well, (w/o giving much away) at a climactic moment in film, Catwoman saves Batman’s life by using a gun, and she even says, “I’m not so sure about your whole no guns thing.”  (I couldn’t help but wonder if the line was specifically inserted to make NRA enthusiasts cheer.)  The film seems to want to say that Batman is wrong in his stand and w/o using guns then he would have failed to save the city.  Needless to say, I prefer my Catwoman with a whip...  ;)

Neil Gaiman said about Frank Miller’s neoconservative, authoritarian super-hero, “I don’t agree w/ those beliefs, and I don’t even know if Frank holds those beliefs, but it made for an interesting story.”  I don’t know about Chris Nolan’s political beliefs… but I do think he correctly captured the political/philosophical subtext behind the Dark Knight… and he told a damn good story!  I give his films an A+.  But I’m worried about the upcoming Superman film written and produced by Nolan and directed by Zach Snyder (300, and Watchmen).  It’s not the team I would have chosen for a Superman film.  I just don’t want to see a dark and gritty Superman.  I don’t want to see a bloody, violent Superman.  I don’t want to see a realistic Superman.  Superman isn’t realistic – he’s idealistic!  Superman is the stuff of fantasy.  And, while it worked appropriately for the Dark Knight, I certainly don’t want to see a neoconservative Superman.  Please, no!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fifty Shades of Going Mainstream

NPR did a story the other day about the Fifty Shades trilogy.  Now let me say right here, I have not read these books and have no interest in reading these books.  I have heard them described as “This does to BDSM what Twilight did to vampires!”  *Ouch!!!*  And “mommy porn”  (which is very funny at first and then kind of gross the more you think about it).

However these books have (and this astounds me) sold faster than either The Girl w/ the Dragon Tattoo or the seventh Harry Potter book!

So… this got me thinking… Just how out in the open do we (the kink/leather/BDSM community) really want to be?

To some extent, this is a very generational split… and I (aged 37 and first started sniffing around the scene in the late-90’s) am pretty much right on the hinge.  On my left I see those older and more experienced than me who had to enter the community by having the balls to walk into a bar or club like the Eagle, the Woodshed, or the Sanctuary…  They had to earn their way in, and were (in general) accepted gradually.  You had to prove that (a) you were the real deal and not a “weekend warrior” and (b) you weren’t an asshole.  Reputation was gold, respect came gradually… and the members of this community (many of them still gun-shy from the pre-Stonewall days when the scene had to stay in the shadows) didn’t want any public attention.  If you were serious about it, then you’d find your way in… if you were just a weekend warrior, you weren’t welcome in.

Then I look to my right, and I see TNG.  The 20-somethings are hyper-connected and social networked.  They are out and open and have pictures of their tits and dicks online.  They probably first discovered the scene online.  They probably began by Google-ing (every time I say “Google-ing” an IP litigator loses his wings :) ) and made their way to social networks like FetLife.  I can tell you… I have felt the impact of Fet since it appeared about 5 years ago – it really has re-shaped the community.  We’re now in a flat-world (as per TomFreidman), and everybody is everybody’s business.

Now we have Fifty Shades… a mega-bestselling, mainstream, book that revolves around a BDSM relationship (that sparkles in sunlight!).  Awwww… how cute!

So, just how big, visible, and mainstream do we want to be, really?

On the one hand… as the gay community has learned, that is the path to acceptance.  Rosie, Ellen, and Will & Grace did more to move the gay-rights cause forward than every Pride parade ever.  Marvel & DC comics have both introduced gay superheroes.  (I think marvel actually had the first one back in the late-70’s w/ Northstar… but he was a minor character, and his homosexuality was only hinted at until the 90’s.)  Certainly, Fifty Shades will make the job of NCSF a lot easier I would think.

Also, the more open and inviting scene has advantages for bringing new people… and the expanded population is certainly a boon for those looking for partners.  When I first came in, it took me a year or two to build-up some regular play-partners… and it took a couple years more to find a 24/7, romantic partner.  I don’t thing TNG today faces quite the same level of obstacles.

On the other hand… When I think of the ComicCon messes or the hoards of housewives fantasizing over Fifty Shades and identifying themselves w/ us… I honestly feel a bit “cheapened.”  I’ve had the same issues since Fet took off 4-5 years ago.  Suddenly we had “experts” appearing and calling themselves “Lord God Master Hugedick,” who had NO realtime experience.  There was one kid (about 24 or 25 I think) up here in NC who started his own group who had NEVER been to a single, actual BDSM event – not a class, not a play-party, not a dungeon, a con, or anything!  I admit… I was a little bit disgusted.

While Fet has made it easier to bring new folks in… it’s also made it a lot harder to identify and remove the creeps and predators.  Things are too democratic now, and the genuine predators can hide in the noise of the internet “drama.”

It was as well, partly in-response to the rise of Fet that Shdwkitten and I started teaching out “Avoiding the Kink Ghetto” class… which we’re doing this weekend for Charlotte TNG, which is another reason why this is on my mind.  Fet certainly exploded the population of the kink ghetto – those so stuck in the (mostly online) kink community that the rest of their life becomes sadly neglected.

I know that for me – and I think also for a lot of the older BDSM/leather crowed – we really don’t particularly want to “go mainstream.”  I’ll admit, some of it might be childish, but, damn it, it feels “cool” to be in-the-know… to be one of the guys who know the secret handshake and all…  I think that now masses of people are Google-ing all about what we do, and it, again, feels somehow “cheapened.”  And mind you, I’m someone who’s made education the main focus of my activities in the community… but still…

It’s a question I don’t have an answer for: How mainstream do we want to grow?  And… it’s probably a moot point anyway since the flat-earth is here and we’re not going to be able to stay in the shadows much longer even if we want to.  Part of me thinks that’s good… and part of me thinks that’s bad…

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pet Pics

Not much going on over here other than spending a lot of time in my hamock reading.  (Not a bad thing.)  I can recomend a graphic novel by Grant Morrsion called Joe the Barbarian.  It has a bit of a dark tone to it... but it's still fun enough to make a good summer read.  It's described as "a cross between "Alice in Wonderland" and "Lord of the Rings," but with more steampunk."  But I think in order to fully enjoy it you probably had to be a boy in the early 1980s.  (The setting of the story is a bit ambiguous b/c the boy has a cell phone, but his toys and the decor of the house are circa 1980, so...)

Since I don't have much else to say, I will entertain you w/ photos of some of Shdwkitten's pets.  Here's the wolf (Thunder) and the wolfhound ridding in the back seat of the car:

And here's the kittens, Thing 1 and Thing 2, making a new friend.

See, we promote all kinds of tolerance and multiculturalism around here.  We have wolves and wolfhounds, cats and squirrels... all happily living together.  We're like a Disney cartoon...  :)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Just Chill'n

The pup spent the last two days at a professional conference (7:30am-5pm).  My brain is tired.  So today is a lazy, lazy day...

(One cool thing I learned at the conference: a children's book I helped-out with on the writing and illustration is being used state-wide by elementary schools as part of their character education initiative.  That feels pretty good.)

Monday, July 9, 2012

My First Tattoo

As you may have read here, my family and friends in the CAPEX community honored me last month by giving me a tattoo in recognition of my decade of service and personal growth.  I am still just blown away that they did this for me.  It's such an honor! 

Ma’am was in charge of making the arrangements to get my ink done… but then we had to reschedule it twice already.  Ma’am wanted to have the person who did her wife’s tattoo do mine, and CF (my wife-in-law) wanted to be there w/ us when I got mine done – which meant a trip down to Atlanta.  We were going to do it last Monday, but that was right before CF’s surgery, and so it wasn’t a great time.  So we rescheduled for next Monday… but that was right before Ma’m and I go to the beach and Atlanta is in the opposite direction, so we realized that to do it then was going to add a lot of extra drive time.  In addition, I learned that the artist who did CF’s tattoo (while her tattoo looks awesome!) apparently he doesn’t work in color, and I wanted my hound to be green, which is my favorite color and it matches my pretty, green eyes.  So we did an online search, and checked out Facebook, and we found a place we liked only 20 minutes away, and decided to go ahead and go up there and get the work done.

My artist’s name was Eric, and Kitten and I both really liked him.  He was humorous, friendly w/o being chatty, open-minded & intelligent (when Ma’am told him she had a husband and a wife, he responded, “I think polyamoury is wrong; I don’t think you should mix your Greek and Latin word roots!”  LOL), a Wiccan, a comic book collector, and a gammer geek.  So we had plenty to chat about while he worked.

This was my first tattoo.  It hurt.  I’m a very skinny puppy (6’3” and 160 lbs.), so I don’t have much padding, and that meant he was tattooing right over bone.  On top of that, he was also tattooing over a bruise still left from a Saint Bernard bight from last weekend (Thank you ever so much for that, Sir), and that added an extra bit of ouch to the experience.  (Even from 250 miles away, Loki can still hurt me…)

In addition to being a cool guy, Eric also proved to be a very skilled tattoo artist.  We were so pleased w/ the work he did on me (My hound looks awesome!!!) that after he finished we decided to ask him to do some touch-up work on Kitten’s second tattoo (which was okay… but not fully realized).  He spent an hour working over her tattoo and it now looks much better.  (I think she’s putting before-and-after pics on Fet.)  Ma’am has already made up her mind that she wants Eric to do her next tattoo (the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland in the center of her back).

One other note:  The Kitten got her first I-phone a few days ago, and while I was getting my tattoo done her text alert went off several times.  Then while she was getting her touch-ups done the text alert started going off every couple of minutes.  When she got out of the chair and looked at it, she had 30 messages in an hour!  This is why I’m a ludite… b/c if my friends sent me 30 messages in an hour I’d have to disown the lot of them.  I think it’s not technology in general I’m against so much as all this social networking stuff.  I am simply too much of an introvert to ever want to feel that connected! LOL.

That being said, however, this amazing tattoo makes me feel connected to my community in a very meaningful way.  Thank you, again, to everybody who thought me worthy of this reward.  I think of you every time I look in the mirror.  You guys rock!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Over-Educating the Community???

Race Bannon recently posted an interesting opinion about ways our education efforts in the kink community are backfiring.  It definitely gave me something to think about.  My home group (CAPEX) is primarily an education group, and I have served as the Education Director – as has my Owner, and now her wife is E.D.… so we’re keeping it in the family.  Shdwkitten and I have, ourselves, presented classes at various clubs and cons in the Southeast.  In two weeks we’re teaching at Charlotte TNG.  So I have always been serious about the education side of the BDSM community – I think it’s always been where my focus has resided.  So Bannon’s challenge has really got me thinking.  I will quote part of his post here:

The educational model that’s been adopted is also becoming an outdated one. The typical kinky class uses the standard industrial model of pushing out “education” in the form of lecture and demonstration. Education research has consistently shown this is a lousy way to learn most things. Informal learning, mentored learning, project-based learning… and other more innovative and effective ways of teaching should be employed if the goal is actually to educate kinksters rather than simply give them yet another voyeuristic opportunity to view a type of play many of them will never bother exploring anyway.

“We’ve wholeheartedly adopted the standard business conference model for many of our educational events… What we do is not always so easily presented in such a format. What we do is more about interpersonal connection than it is about information and skills… Why not create learning play parties with an interactive and mentored approach? Why not foster socializing settings where kinksters feel empowered to share knowledge, insights and experiences with each other as learning and growth mechanisms.

I agree w/ Bannon in part.  But I think there is a place for lecture-style classes – if they are done well (and I’ll come back to that)… but I also think that they need to be supplemented w/ a mix of other approaches.  That’s the model we’ve been using at CAPEX for a number of years… and it’s helped make us (in my not unbiased opinion) one of the best education groups in the region.

  • CAPEX offers a monthly 2-hour class by a feature presenter.
  • CAPEX has a monthly dungeon party which includes a BDSM 101 class (usually a hands-on mini-workshop that doubles as an icebreaker).
  • CAPEX offers a monthly Gateway meeting: a discussion-only munch group for people who are brand, spanking new to the scene.
  • CAPEX used to offer a number of monthly SIGs (special interest groups).  These have all fallen by the wayside now… mostly due to the expansion of the scene in and around Charlotte since CAPEX started 12 years ago.  Charlotte now has two rope groups, a monthly polyamory discussion group, a Fem-dom group, a TNG group, an interrogation play group…  Since these have all sprung-up there’s really no longer a need for the CAPEX SIGs that used to fill those niches.

 If we look at Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning (pictured above), we get the idea that a mix of different teaching techniques are appropriate depending on what level of learning you are seeking to achieve.  Our monthly 2-hour feature class is usually very lecture/demo based… but for introducing new information (the bottom part of Bloom’s) that’s sufficient.

Higher levels of learning can be reached through other avenues that CAPEX and the other (specialized) groups offer… including the opportunities to link-up w/ individual mentors.  So, from a 2 hour interrogation play class at CAPEX, you may gain access to the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  But if you then decide to start attending the meetings of NCInterogators, then you will have the opportunity to grow towards the top of Bloom’s pyramid.

It’s true that, as Bannon says, the lecture format is one of the least effective ways to teach… On the other hand, it does have its place.  If you want to communicate some basic (introductory) information to a lot of people really quickly, it’s a good way to do it – provided that the speaker is a good speaker!  Which brings me to another one of Bannon’s points:

Instructors at events are rarely vetted at all. Often they are invited to teach based entirely on their longevity in the scene, their star status or some other criteria other than demonstrating the ability to teach (not everyone can), their knowledge, the solidity of their reputation, and so on. I have far too often seen people schedule an instructor simply because they have a time slot to fill rather than because the instructor rises to the level of providing true value to those in attendance.

Amen to that!  Having been around the scene for a decade, I can tell you of a number of “big name” presenters and title holders who SUCKED.  Some were boring.  Some were incoherent.

Since the 1-2 hour lecture/demo presentation only access the lower 2-3 levels of Bloom’s anyway, then the presenter doesn’t really have to be a grand master.  They just have to be competent at it.  It’s much more important that they be an engaging and cogent speaker.  Generally, at CAPEX, we try to get recommendations from people who have actually seen this person teach before we even approach them.  If they can’t teach, then we don’t book them, no matter what kind of a “draw” their name might be.

What’s the big draw at Charlotte TNG this month?  We are doing two classes (I think):
Avoiding the Kink Ghetto (How to Say No and still be Kinky)
And  Puppy Play