Thursday, December 29, 2005


-Or, What I saw at the movies-

Once upon a time there was a little cartoon character with the perfectly goofy name of Spongebob. Spongebob was a humble little guy in shirt and tie, and though he worked at a fast food joint, he also championed the temporary victories of staying young in the face of impending adulthood. While this sounds at first blush to be just another push towards the elongation of childhood, it is in fact very much more.

Spongebob, you see, has the distinction of being very successful. He also has a best friend, and their relationship earned their movie a heaping ton of outcry from the carping culture-crappers of the religious right.

The fun thing is that the movie earns it. Especially if you are a guy, I strongly suggest seeing this movie. What a wonderful warping and playful twisting of the half-knowledge of incipient sexuality. What a really, really gay-and-straight-friendly film. What a bunch of very bizarrely adult visual gags. What a feel good film, and in all the borderline ways implied!


There are three big thematic movements that I see shaping the development of our culture (may be more, but these three at least). Number one is the very dangerous and dramatic gyrations of political form that accompany the late stages of empire. It's the one I usually write about. Number three is the curious and oft-underestimated persistence of spiritual emergence throughout the populace. That's for another time. Second, though, is the ever increasing tolerance and understanding prevalent within our culture.

Not sure about that last one? Consider, my lady love and I recently watched Notorious, the 1946 Hitchcock film starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. A wonderful movie. There was so much wrestling with and suppressing of emotion that you could have mapped the waves of psychic energy had you sand to dance across the space between those actors. They were that tense. Of course, Hitchcock, 1946, etc.. but still, have you heard of the Eisenhower years that followed? Notoriously repressed, haha.

Today, consider, I work (in produce at a goofy, high-end, natural foods grocery) with a fellow, a family man, a few years older than me, quite the character. He tells this story one day, about the neighbor girl who comes over because her family ignores her, watches TV a lot with his family. Says to my friend that she thinks she might have an STD (she's 14). He kicks his kids (11 and younger) out of the room and goes through this very dense, emtionally laden territory in a sensitive, caring way, takes her to the clinic. A gut wrenching story, but in a big way it's really about the neglect the girl is suffering at home. I bring it up here because later on, while there's nobody else in the cooler, I take the moment to tell him I think he did exactly the right thing, and he just opens up, starts talking, sharing his worries and cares. We talk it over a bit, and later he thanks me. This would've been all but impossible in 1985, much less 1945. In 1905 our middle class jobs barely existed. Our liberal bourgoise clientele certainly had no equivalent as sizable or prominent.

Today, I still hear people use the the word 'gay' as a derogatory adjective for things or actions, and of course the hate fest of the 2004 elections is another topic entirely. However, my gay family members are not only tolerated, they are openly integrated into many folds of society. Friends and relatives who are inter-racial couples are met with nothing worse than infrequent glares, at least in my fair northern clime (another co-worker just went to visit in-laws down south and said they were not served at a restaurant on the road). What I'm getting at is that I know that prejudice and bigotry are not dead, but they are losing, and have been, steadily, for quite some time.

Once upon a time (the 1990's) I liked to reflect on how powerful I thought it would be that a whole generation was being raised without any cultural endorsement of bigotry. From "The Real World" to "Will and Grace," "American History X" to "The Bird Cage," amazing work was going on, culturally. And everywhere bigotry was a shameful thing. There were no notable examples of a proud bigot other than the extremely marginalized, for example David Duke. Then came Karl with a K, and well, the rest is recent history. All the same, though, this recent blip of backlash cannot come close in real power to the trends that have shaped popular entertainment since the birth of mass media.

There are a lot of reasons for a lot of different parts of this that I would love to get into here (and bore my one or two readers,) and I should loudly note that the popular acceptance of misogyny is profoundly, disturbingly and puzzlingly harder to combat, but I try to limit my rambles to two major topics at a time at most. Enjoy the good mood, friends, and go rent the Spogebob Squarepants Movie.