Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Digital Panty Raid

I recently read a Salon article limning an upswing in so-called "Upskirting" in which cell-phone technology allows perverts easy access to captured-for-posterity beaver shots on the street. Litigation on behalf of the victims has yielded mixed results. It's no surprise that Oklahoman women are shouldering blame for wearing skirts in the first place (wait, aren't women required to wear skirts in Oklahoma?) Less clear cut cases of video violation involve women signing off on their own exposure, e.g. Girls Gone Wild, and then balking when the humiliation proves more extreme or reaches a wider audience than had been anticipated.

Here in Deutschland, as per ushe, observing cultural phenomena such as the confluence of exploitation and technology is like looking backwards through a telescope. Voyeurism is virtually celebrated -- in fact, virtual voyeurism is celebrated. To wit: they're peddling a new gizmo on Deutsch TV called "Naked Scanner" which supposedly shows you the naughty bits of anyone who gets within range of the thing. The commercial features a young woman on a beach, fully clothed, being "scanned" in a POV shot by some dude, directly implicating the viewer in the cartoonish perviness of it all. Indistinguishable at first glance from a regular cell phone with a cam, the scanner, when passed over a fully clothed body, produces an image of an airbrushed looking female nude Korper with suspiciously pneumatic breasts and a preternaturally groomed vajajay. I was reminded at once of the old "X Ray" glasses sold in the back of comic books. Sure enough, it wasn't long before a second device, "X-Ray Scanner", popped up on the screen. It comes in the same handsome packaging as "Naked Scanner", but enables one to actually see, instead of the boner under their jeans, the actual "bones" underneath the skin of one's friends! Viel Spass fuer die ganze Familie! The mind boggles.

These ads may be viral and ubiquitous, but it's the flipside of this smarmy surreal permissiveness which suggests a wicked sense of humor. The TV spot that really flipped my whig was the one for some kind of fresh-smelling detergent. A woman strays from her own backyard, enticed by the fresh scents of her neighbor's laundry on the clothesline. So buzzed is she by this aphrodisiac of a soap that she absent-mindedly plucks a pair of panties from the line and proceeds to massage them into her face, inhaling deeply. Naturlich, at that very moment the owner of said panties enters the backyard: sniffus interruptus. Cue freeze frame with "geschockt" expressions on both parties' faces, one still covered in fresh undie. The latter in abject horror beats a hasty retreat to the safety of her own backyard, presumably where she can do all the consensual laundry-huffing her fetish for all things fresh-spring-scented requires.

Now anytime I feel blase with ennui or jadedness, I flick on the TV for the antidote, of which there seems to be a bottomless supply. OK, maybe it's not that surprising that there's a sitcom ("Saint Pauli Blues") which takes place entirely in the Reeperbahn section of Hamburg, probably the world's most famous red light district. But I'd love to see how the Germans would have reacted to, say, Janet Jackson's Superbowl "wardrobe malfunction" a few seasons back, in which the act of voyeurism was reversed into an act of exhibitionism, the audience as noncomplicit victims. I'm guessing the Krauts would have foregone the smelling salts and histrionic litigation and seen it for what it was, canny advertising.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fresh from the Inbox: Butt Magazine Berlin Xmas Party -- See You There, Bitches!


Save the date! On Friday, 26 December 2008, Pet Shop Bears and BUTT Magazine present a Second Christmas Day/Boxing Day dance party to celebrate the release of BUTT’s 25th issue.
Hosts Open Mike & Justin Case as well as guest deejays Wolfgang Tillmans, Andy Calorie, Discodromo and Gymnasticos will be on hand. From 00:00 to 7:00 at the Berghain Cuntine in Berlin.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Brown Shelf

Joscha put on his fleece hoodie, a sketchpad and ruler tucked under his arm, a sense of purpose in his bearing. "I'm going to buy it now." He'd been taking measurements all day for his new toy. Now he was all but rubbing his hands together in anticipation.

"It's 8 o'clock at night. You're going to buy a toilet now?"

"Hellweg ist still open. Besides, I don't want anyone to see me carrying a toilet around, you know?" It was this oddly demure, anal retentive quality which led him to the idea of purchasing a new commode to begin with. It wasn't that the old Klo was broken. He'd recently split with his actress girlfriend, and in an industrious sublimation of grief or sexual desire, set about making an arbitrary list of home improvements. "I want to focus on myself for a change." A few days later, a fancy new flourescent light appeared over the cooking area, and a sleek new top for the counterspace opposite.

He had a charming way of calling my attention to each improvement, like when he proudly explained the pulley system he had set up to open and shut the bathroom window, which was nigh-on unreachable by hand. Then one morning came:

"I'm going to buy a new toilet. I decided I don't want to look at my shit."

What about mine? I guess he wanted to sweep it all away, along with any traces of the ex-girlfriend's DNA. Who can blame him? It was the usual post-breakup cleaning of house, only taken a step further. A symbolic act -- a sort of mental colonic, if you will, bringing new meaning to the phrase "Get your shit out of here!". Furthermore, this metaphorical act would allow him to deal with his own shit, rather than having to pay a therapist.

The architecture of the German latrine (I can't think of too many more words for toilet...WC anyone?) is unique. Each model harbors a small abutment onto which the feces lands with a thud, direct from the bowels. Ostensibly this is so that the fresh turd can be poked, prodded and inspected in the name of Gesundheit, before being sent on its merry way with a downward flush. As opposed to the U.S. version, where we never even have to be faced with the harsh truth of our own shit if we don't want to (the insidious phenomenon of "backsplash" notwithstanding). It just mysteriously goes away, never floating, sucked into some netherworld between here and the Atlantic. In Germany they positively celebrate this product of peristalsis.

"Yeah. What is it with this shelf? Why is it there?" I asked, trying to be diplomatic. "We don't really have that in the U.S." I really couldn't hope to plumb the depths of the German psyche without some Hilfe. Joscha was his usual reticent self, yet laughed off this cryptic cultural quirk with blithe disdain, as if this attitude alone would make it go away, or somehow separate him from his scheisse-scrutinizing countrymen.

"I know, they don't have it in France either. And I don't want to have it." He shook his head. That night, he rejected his cultural mandate.

For some reason though, the new toilet sat in our hallway for several days before he ultimately installed it. Maybe he got cold feet, feeling some eleventh-hour nostalgia for this vestige of his heritage. Or perhaps he felt ambivalent about replacing the crapper he had shared with his girlfriend for over a year. She had even put next to the TP dispenser a small tab of tape with a diagram of a toilet lid, a perforated line indicating the downward motion of the seat: "Bitte die Toilettendeckel schliessen"(please put down the lid) it read.* I can only assume it was she who wrote the inscription, because if it was he, he was forever breaking his own rule and urinating pell-mell in piss arabesques over the rim and base. But hey, that's another story.

*While a perfectly reasonable request, I have encountered much more exotic and threatening rules in certain households. The ill-fated Moabit place, for example, required one, whether "Mann oder Frau", whether going number one or number two, to plant one's hairy ass down regardless. I found this to be incredibly insensitive and emasculating (and a bit rich coming from the schmutzig Frau Buschmann, who had mold growing over everything in the flat, and a collection of insect traps, completely filled up with long-dead bugs, dangling from the kitchen ceiling like Christmas decorations). Unfortunately, the problem was irremediable due to the broken state of the seat, so often I would flee to the guest toilet for a furtive slash.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Further Reason to Take Heart

Here's one from the archives, proof positive that, though the assholes may have won this round, eventually, if you give a religious bigot (i.e., the douchebags who funded Prop 8) enough rope, he will hang himself...(auch: the new Bruno film is in post-production!!)

Back to the election fallout...there were some kooky hijinks involving a silly, self-destructive grandmother, clutching a styrofoam cross, who had the blind nerve to head right for the epicenter a group of very emotional male protestors in Palm Springs. The media are now holding this up as an example of the meanness of queers. What the hell did she expect, to find salvation at the White Party? In the name of Christ, you don't mess with a bunch of angry middle aged 'mos with time shares, who've just had their ink-fresh marriage licenses revoked! It's this kind of idiotocracy that proves that fags should reproduce! It's like Aunt Ida hyperbolized in John Waters' Female Trouble: "If they're smart, they're queer; if they're stupid, they're straight. The world of heterosexuals is a sick and boring life."

The religulous right may crow about queers' childish and petulant (and according to "Walker Texas Ranger" Chuck Norris "anarchic") response to the passage of Prop 8, and its concomitant threat to "religious freedom", but I plead self-defense on behalf of these queens: the mere sight of a cross scorches my eyes.

Mild-Mannered Army

Re:fracas in the wake of and neo-con gloating around the passage of Proposition 8:

Many of us will be ringing in the holiday season this year with visions of sugarplums and burning Mormon churches dancing in our heads, but before we add another Yule log to stoke the flames of our resentment (because let's face it, many of those who voted for the passage of Prop 8 and its ilk were center right/left, meaning that chances are those "near and dear" to us stabbed us in the back at the booth), take heart that eventually conjugal parity will prevail. Right now, Obama's win may feel like a Pyrrhic Victory, but there are already lawsuits being lobbed at the California legislature challenging this insidious measure, which has been widely condemned, even by centrist Governor Schwarzenegger. The nationwide protests show a group driven from complacency to action -- it's the clarion call of injustice. Unfortunately, the protests should have taken place before the election in a better-organized campaign.

See the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk for some eerie parallels to the current situation, as well as a counter-example of some rather ingenious political organizing. Harvey Milk, an openly gay man and community organizer in San Francisco's Castro District, had risen to the City Supervisor position on the back of a clever campaign to purge the city of doggy-do. Harvey won local hearts and minds with his everyman demeanor, which put a human face for local voters on the love that dare not speak its name. Enter the progenitors of Proposition 4, another bill based on fear, ignorance and religious hatred, with a view to banning any openly gay teachers from California classroom. This measure, like Proposition 8, was predicated on the notion of "protecting the children" from fear of molestation and indoctrination into the homosexual "lifestyle" (nevermind that statistically nearly all perpetrators of sexcrimes against children are heterosexual males). Milk then launched a vigorous grassroots campaign, sending his staffers, articulate and passionate gay men and women, out to canvas local neighborhoods. You can actually see them at work changing the minds of undecided voters. At one point, a genteel Asian couple admits on camera they hadn't much thought about Prop 4. The activist plants a tiny seed for them, convincingly tracing a through-line of discrimination that affects all minorities, and you can see on an infinitesimal level the forces of social change at work. Because, guess what, folks? If you slam one minority, you slam them all, and if you take away the rights of one group, it's a slippery fucking slope. Much to the surprise of everyone -- remember, this was a time when gays were still seen as sinister, and this was pre-AIDS -- Proposition 8, I mean 4, is defeated, with commensurate celebration all around and Harvey being elevated to anti-hero status.

Of course, what follows is a Greek Tragedy of staggering proportions, which was really reduced a footnote in history because of the simultaneous mass suicide of 900 followers of the People's Temple in Guyana. Dan White, a right-wing conservative and champion of "Family Values" who served on the Board of Supervisors with Harvey,resigned over the Prop 4 defeat. Increasingly unstable, White eventually approached Mayor George Moscone at his City Hall office to ask for his job back. When Moscone refused, White pulled out a gun and shot him five or six times. He then repaired to Harvey Milk's office and plugged him several times in the torso and head. Neither men survived. Dan White eventually received the bare minimum sentence for his crimes --6 or 7 years, for killing two men in cold blood. White's lawyers had employed the infamous "Twinkie defense", claiming that White's diet at the time of too much junk food had contributed to the instability leading to his actions. The message was abundantly clear: the murder of a gay man was a nominal crime at best, a theme which has inspired generations of hate crimes. The eve of the sentencing gays took to streets in droves, storming City Hall in a violent protest known as the White Night Riots, smashing windows, overturning and setting alight police cars. It was a truly galvanizing moment in which the grief so touchingly displayed in Harvey's mammoth candlelight vigil mutated into white-hot anger.

The situations then and now are similar,but different. In Harvey's time these men and women were fighting for their lives and their jobs. We are fighting for something less tangible and crucial, but if we really want it, we need get a fire under our collective ass. The current protests, although more than the religious right bargained for, feel like too little, too late. Current gay voters and our brothers and sisters should take a page from the book of Harvey, learning foresight and how to fight, fight, fight channeling all of your resources.

Although the Yes on 8 Campaign was effective, the train to Auschwitz isn't leaving just yet. It passed by a small margin, showing that in addition to churchgoers, many undecided voters who probably advocate civil unions were swayed by specious, unforgivable "doing it for the children" arguments. I hope many people on both sides of the Prop 8 fence see Gus Van Sant's upcoming operatic version of the Harvey Milk story, Milk, so they can learn from the humanism, skill and optimistic spirit he represented. His rational, well-spoken comportment threw into stark relief the straw man arguments, factual gaffes and logical jumps of the Religulous Idiotocracy.