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Dear Men: This is How Trump and Sexual Abusers Weaponize Our Silence

Donald Trump, Billy Bush, Arianne Zucker

by Gabriel Valdez

I see a lot of people wondering why Donald Trump bragging about groping women is the instance that breaks his presidential campaign. Republicans already knew who he was. The recording of Trump bragging to Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women is just as violent and misogynist as other things he’s said. So why are Conservatives only backing away from him now? Why not earlier?

A few weeks ago, before the first presidential debate, I was incredibly apprehensive about how it would go. I wrote this to a friend:

“I think Clinton may just win not because she acts human or suddenly becomes likeable to the masses, but because America will be deeply uncomfortable with a man beating up on a woman in that way…and not because America objects to the idea, but because America objects to acknowledging that it accepts the idea.”

Now, I already think Clinton acts human and is likeable, but I don’t think America perceives her that way. More to the point, the U.S….and much more to the point, men are too comfortable with the idea of other men boasting about assault.

The Republican party, the middle independents, the evangelical Right…they already knew who Trump was. This isn’t the objection of a Right wing that can’t accept what Trump said. This is the objection of a Right wing that doesn’t want to acknowledge how much it accepts every day what Trump said. Its Achilles heel is being forced to look in a mirror in front of the voting public.

But that’s how this operates. Billy Bush nervously laughed and added another few jokes for Trump to guffaw at. If Billy Bush had gotten off that bus with Trump and warned actress Arianne Zucker that Trump was contemplating sexually assaulting her, and done so in front of Trump, for all of his braggadocio, Trump might’ve thought twice the next time.

And if other men, over the years, had done that as a regular habit, for all his sociopathy and means, even Trump would have considered the environment hostile toward his groping and the multiple sexual assaults of which he’s been accused. It might not have changed who Trump was, but it might’ve changed the environment enough so that he didn’t feel he had others’ tacit approval when assaulting women. Maybe that means fewer women would have been assaulted.

But Billy Bush didn’t do those things because he doesn’t object to the idea or the act. He objects to acknowledging that he accepts the idea or the act. And if no one forces him to acknowledge that he accepts it, then he’s more comfortable endorsing it, and Trump and all the other sexually violent men who feel they are endorsed by the Billy Bushes of the world go on assaulting, knowing that they are protected by others being much more comfortable with endorsement than confrontation.

This thought has already been said elsewhere, but don’t be thankful you’re not Trump. Think of the times that you paused and chuckled nervously and gave tacit endorsement to someone who is like Trump. Because if you’re a man in the United States, there have been times when you’ve been Billy Bush. That’s because male society teaches us from youth to be quiet in those circumstances, to think of it simply as “the way men talk.”

We’ve all had moments in our lives when we’ve been quiet, or laughed, and not stood up. I’ve done it. Every man has done it at some point. Don’t excuse it and don’t say you haven’t, because you have. Look at that as a failure in your life. Don’t excuse it. Don’t say, “Well, I was younger.”

Look at that as a time when you did not rise to the occasion, when you justified in your own head being a coward because it was more comfortable. That’s how I look at those moments in myself. It’s all right to have failed. It’s not all right to keep failing, and as men, on the whole, we keep failing spectacularly.

We cannot teach others that, “No, I never failed in that way,” because that is just passing on the same endorsement. That is just teaching other men how to justify silence within their own minds. We cannot teach, “Here’s how I can still excuse the moments I chose to be silent in the past.” We can’t always have a reason why we didn’t stand up. We can’t always say, “Well, I didn’t know better.” Because it doesn’t change the fact that we know better now and that we can teach out of our mistakes rather than excusing them.

I’m a man. That means there are points in my past where I should have said something, but didn’t. Yes, I was young. That doesn’t matter. That doesn’t change the fact that I was a coward and I failed.

As men, we have to teach out of ourselves, out of our mistakes. We cannot keep translating to other men that we are incapable of mistakes because that is what they will learn, too, that is what we will endorse in them, and that makes silence in the face of those like Trump easy.

There were times in my life when I was a coward and failed. There were times in your life when you were a coward and failed. Acknowledge it, admit it, and recognize the high cost that this kind of failure can have. Admit to other men how painful that failure can be, so they will know not to sit there and nervously chuckle, and tacitly endorse because it feels safe.

Trump isn’t the scariest part of this. The scariest part of this is how many men will look at Billy Bush’s position in this and feel sorry for him, because they’ve been him and they feel sorry for themselves because they’ve never figured out how to stop being him.

If we as men constantly justify and excuse the position he took, rather than looking at it and calling it a failure, then we excuse those moments when we’ve endorsed the violent through our silence, and we teach other men that it is excusable and to keep on doing it.

There are times in our lives when we were cowards and we failed in this exact situation. That is what being a man is. It is still cowardly and it is still a failure if we cannot admit that, if all we can do is justify our past mistakes. If we can’t acknowledge our own silences, our own nervous laughs, our own failures, then we are not the generation with whom it stops, we are not the generation that truly objects to the social endorsement of sexual assault. If we can’t admit our own failures, we are just translating to the next generation of men the best practices to avoid acknowledging that they accept the idea, too.

I am a man, and because of that, there have been moments in my life when I was a coward and I failed. Comments like Trump’s aren’t unique. We’ve all heard them, and we’ve all had moments when we were silent before them, or nervously laughed before them, or even added to them with the thought that others might accept us better. And with our silences, the Trumps of the world have all the permission they need to injure.

We might think our silences were fleeting, our endorsements at most implied, but the injuries they fuel last a lifetime. As men, we need to take ownership of our failures, individually and as a whole. Without doing so, we’re just side-stepping the problem and pretending we’re solving it better than we are. Doing better starts with admitting to ourselves when we have contributed to doing worse. Period.

Polls and the Polling Pollsters Who Poll Them

I’m writing for Threat Quality Press as well now. I’ll be focusing on articles that deal with politics and social critique. Obviously, I write a lot about film, but I’ve also worked as a campaign manager, PAC fundraiser, poll model consultant, and legislative aide.

I like considering the implications of many kinds of storytelling, and too often we use polls to develop inaccurate storylines that are nothing but fables. These can be harmful and can train voters to look at politics from inauthentic angles. To me, that’s a danger. I explain why in my piece for Threat Quality Press.

Threat Quality Press

Polls and the Polling Pollsters Who Poll Them

One of many victories for the pollsters One of many victories for the pollsters

Hey, you! Stop believing polls. Stop it! Stop using them to argue for your candidate or against another. Stop using them to create underdog narratives about a candidate getting 20% of the vote, or stories about an insurmountable lead by a candidate getting 20% of the vote.

Why harp on creating narratives from polls when you could be talking about the issues your candidate supports instead?

Why should you ignore the polls? Because until it starts to matter, and actual voting is around the corner, polls don’t gauge any true reflection of reality. If they did, we’d be talking about the successor to President Herman Cain right now.

Increasingly, pollsters have created a cottage industry of building narratives for the publications and news networks to which they’re attached. Those publications and news networks ignore what’s…

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AC: The Best Dinosaur Fights in Movie History

I’ve let this blog sit quiet a while, but everyone decided we needed a little vacation. Which for me still means writing for several other places, and I apologize for not sharing what’s been published elsewhere here.

Let me make it up with some of the best dinosaur fights in movie history, which just came out today for Article Cats. Enjoy it here:

The Best Dinosaur Fights in Movie History

News Snapshot, November 11

News Snapshot lead

by Gabriel Valdez

This is a snapshot of what’s on the news 9:30-10:30 AM today. I flip back and forth to catalogue what each channel is showing and who they’re interviewing, and try to give equal time to each.

CNN: White people in Ferguson, MO are buying guns (sales up 50%) because they’re scared of black people, even though the only people shot in the town thus far are black. Here’s a random white person we scraped off the street to tell you why white people are so scared. Later, coverage on one doctor passing through his ebola quarantine.

Weather Channel: Investigative report into the number of deaths suffered by immigrants crossing the border, featuring interviews with relatives, experts, and immigrants themselves. Examines the root causes of illegal immigration, the history of migrant workers, and law enforcement’s response. Later, a report on a lava flow destroying property in Hawaii. Brief breaks for the weather.

FOX: Special report on Ronald Reagan, featuring newly released tapes of him being apologetic to Margaret Thatcher about having to meet foreign dignitaries. Followed by Lou Dobbs telling us why net neutrality would ruin America and Martha MacCallum (I believe) insisting that free internet in libraries is an evil that must be stopped. All interviews are with in-house personalities.

Al Jazeera: Roundtable discussion on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and whether China is being excluded or will have a future role, followed by a report on Nigeria’s upcoming election in the face of terrorism. Later, an interview with a woman campaigning against forced sterilization of the poor in rural India.

MSNBC: Fairly nonstop coverage of one doctor in New York passing through his Ebola quarantine.

Comedy Central: Daily Show editorial on U.S. intelligence basing their assumption of killing the leader of ISIS on a tweet made by Jordanian intelligence pretending to be ISIS. Followed by editorial on President Obama’s placement of 3,000 troops in Iraq despite insisting there are no “boots on the ground.” Followed by an on-site investigative report comparing public uproar when dogs are shot by police to lesser uproar when minorities are shot by police, including three expert interviews and an opening panel discussion.

1 on-site report interviewing 1 expert and 1 man-on-the-street. At least 5 interviews with personalities who work for the same network.

Weather Channel, Comedy Central, Al Jazeera
5 on-site reports including interviews with at least 8 outside experts, as well as 2 roundtable discussions. Zero interviews with internal network personalities.

This is just a snapshot. Please draw your own conclusions.

National Geographic’s Photos of the Year

The Last Great Picture

by Olivia Smith

National Geographic announced their award for the year’s best wildlife photograph, seen above. It’s called “The Last Great Picture.” It isn’t called that because of photographer Michael Nichols’ ego. He’s fought to raise funds and establish 13 new national parks in lion territory. It’s called “The Last Great Picture” because pictures like these may no longer be possible in coming decades. The Serengeti, like so many natural wonders, becomes lesser every year.

Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year is Brent Stirton. National Geographic combines his award-winning photographs with Nichols’ to create a breathtaking photo series on lions and the strange culture that’s grown around their protection:

“Canned” lion hunts, in which trophy hunters pay for the chance to shoot a lion (and in which professional guides stand by to shoot in case the hunter misses) help raise funds for environmental protection. Is the cost worth it, sacrificing one species as a commodity to save the others in danger?

Local Sakuma dancers kill lions only if they threaten their villages or livestock, but they collect tribute for killing lions by going from village to village and dancing the story of their kill. This glorifies the killing, but for the Sakuma, three or more years of this dancing is required after killing a lion to keep from going mad. Meanwhile, Maasai “Lion Guardians” dedicate their entire lives to tracking and protecting the misunderstood predators.

Then there’s the mad photographers taking pictures of it all.

Finally, a lighter note: Nat Geo features Tim Laman’s portfolio: photographing all 39 species of bird of paradise. No one else has ever done this, because the feat took Laman 10 years of dedication to complete.

If you haven’t already, go check out the stunning photo-essay.

Timothy Laman birds of paradise

Readers and Writers are Healthier — Science Says!

Avid Reader

by Gabriel Valdez

As you read this, you are actively staving off Alzheimers, reducing your stress, and training yourself to comprehend the universe better. You’re welcome.

But don’t take our word for it. Mic’s Rachel Grate recently ran a pair of articles about the effect of reading books and the physical advantages of being a writer. Spoiler – being a writer can even help you heal from physical wounds faster. We’re like superheroes.

Even those who write in journals or diaries end up better off (unless you’re starring in Gone Girl) – reflective writing of any sort adds up to making both the body and mind healthier.

Now, one thing she points out is that reading comprehension is better with hard-copy books. We read in a more linear fashion and tend to speed-read less. The Kindle’s great and all, but remember to put it down and pick up a hard-copy if you want to keep your brain working at its peak.

But, you know, come back for us. We’re only on the computer (phone/tablet/brain implants).

Now go click those links and read Grate’s articles. If you’d like to read some of her other work, she’s archived on Mic and you can always check out her older work (like a fantastic article on Beyoncé) on the blog Austen Feminist.

A More Bechdel Blog — How and Why We’re Doing It

Ida Lupino directing

One of my most recent friends is a woman in her early 20s, whose hair hangs over one side of her face because of a scar that runs from the corner of her mouth halfway to her ear. We avoided the topic when we first met, but you could recognize two people under there.

We’ve since discussed that scar, the result of an angry ex-boyfriend who hooked a knife behind her cheek and pulled. His reasoning, as best she came to terms with it, is that if he couldn’t have her, he’d ruin her so no one else would ever want to. Every man from then on would know he’d taken a piece of her that day, had left a territorial marker.

Even after they’d broken up, her future was his to decide. Easy as that. A hand on the head, a knife in the mouth, a flex of the elbow.

She knows her hair doesn’t hide the scar, but it at least communicates to people that she doesn’t want it to be a focal point. Uncover it and we stare, cover it back up and we get the message.

Uncover it, though, and everything’s tilted. Every smile and frown and word only takes place on the side of her face she’s habituated to using. The other side stays still, frozen, trained over the years never to draw attention to itself.

In that way, he did claim a part of her that day. It’s a terrifying idea, to go through life with whole sections of your body and psyche taken away.

When I asked her if I could write this, she asked me why.

Because one of my friends last month wrote that she was given a temporary set of densures, to replace the teeth broken out of her mouth. She said she wept when she looked in the mirror and saw herself with teeth again.

Both these women are strong. Both these women are intelligent. Both these women are extraordinarily kind, despite what’s happened to them. They aren’t victims, they’re damn role models.

I can fill pages with the stories I haven’t asked permission for yet, but they’re not mine to tell. They speak of women who live daily with the evidence that men left a mark they thought they had the right to make.

The truth is, as a man, it’s difficult to figure out the right way to speak out. We’re not brought up – no one’s brought up – to view domestic violence as a regular part of our cultural heritage. It’s the exception. Even those who suffer it view it as an exception. It’s not to be talked about because it’s not normal: that’s the myth.

Several days before my friend had her teeth kicked in, jaw broken, hands stabbed, in addition to dozens of other injuries she sustained, I wrote down this phrase: “Be angry. But don’t just be angry.”

I have no idea what prompted me to write that down or what it pertained to in my head. But now it seems to hold special significance to me, as if the universe just knew I’d need that phrase a few days later. Because I am angry, and I’ve been livid since that day. But I’ve been angry before, and I know it’s greedy and self-serving. It’s a way for me to deal with feeling like I wasn’t there to protect someone I care about. It’s not a way to support and help.

I’m glad we have a voice here. At the beginning of the year, this site might have reached a few dozen people. Now, it reaches thousands. In the big scheme of things, we’re still a very modest blog, but I don’t want to have the biggest film site. I want to have the biggest film site that does things right, that has a social conscience, and that looks at its job as primarily one of creating art, not of tearing it down.

We can’t change something systemic just by being angry. We have to embody the change we want to see, and hope our own example changes the example others set.

With that in mind, we are making some changes to the site.

Nora Ephron directing

The Creative Director

First and foremost, Vanessa Tottle will be our first Creative Director. She’s essentially been moving toward that position for several weeks already while we’ve tested new features. I have final edit, but the idea is that Vanessa will control the direction of the content itself. We’ll still be movie-focused, but articles will be more varied, and features more regular. She’s still getting her PhD and travels abroad regularly, but we’re all so terrified of incurring her wrath, I’m confident we’ll stay on task when she’s away.

We don’t intend to change the pre-existing flavor of anything we do, but we do want to add detail and better realize opportunities for talking about issues like domestic and sexual violence, more open communication, and feminism as a whole. These have a role in art and the media that are drastically underplayed at the moment. If we’re not critics of that, what are we critics of?

We now have a rotating, very-part time staff of six writers including Vanessa and myself who volunteer their time and effort. They are writers S.L. Fevre, Cleopatra Parnell, editor Eden O’Nuallain, and researcher Amanda Smith. This is in addition to more than 20 writers from whom we’ve featured exclusive content. More on our wonderful, newish staff in a later article, because I want to move onto the biggest format change:

Julie Taymor directing

More Bechdel

From now on, every new review posted on this site will have a critique based on the Bechdel Test added at the end. The Bechdel Test rates three simple fundamentals of a movie.

1. It has to have at least two women in it.

2. They have to talk to each other.

3. And that discussion has to be about something other than a man.

Those are fairly basic standards, and some films that pass the Bechdel Test still don’t present women in a good light. Sucker Punch, for instance. Similarly, some films that fail every step of the Bechdel Test feature superb female heroes. Just look at Gravity. The Bechdel Test is not an absolute; it is a tool of measure…so it won’t just be a straight yes/no to each of these questions. We’ll get into why and how each film does what it does.

We realize most people won’t make their viewing decisions based on the Bechdel Test, I often address the portrayal of women in my reviews without it, and there are already good resources for finding out if movies pass the test. It is our hope that visibly including the Bechdel Test at the end of every new review will serve as a reminder for how much work Hollywood still has to do. We also encounter that many still think of the Bechdel Test as a distasteful topic, as if somehow film is too much a creative act to be subject to reasonable social representation. We hope its inclusion will help to normalize the idea in people’s heads – not as some abstract talking point but rather as a useful and informative tool in how we assess film.

We won’t make a big deal of it after this – we don’t want to risk turning it into a gimmick. The review itself will still be the review. It’ll just have additional information for readers to consider.

Kathryn Bigelow directing

Realizing Opportunities for Change

We are also taking smaller steps, but hopefully these are no less impactful. For example:

When discussing music videos, we typically link the video and list its title, artist, and director. We’ve been frustrated that when choosing our top videos of the year, half-year, or month, most are directed by men.

This doesn’t mean they do a better job – our top video of 2013, Arcade Fire’s “Afterlife,” was directed by the phenomenally talented Emily Kai Bock, who notched three music videos on the countdown. Our top video for the first half of 2014, Sia’s “Chandelier” was co-directed (with Daniel Askill) by Sia herself.

Rather, it means that the industry – like filmmaking – is dominated by male directors. Vanessa and I made separate comments that inspired Amanda toward a bit of research. Lo and behold, she found that while the music videos we’ve sifted through (we watched more than 70 for August alone) are nearly all directed by men, the majority of producers are women.

For that reason, when we list a music video now, we will not only list the director, but also the producers. It makes sense – producers have the most important role after the artist and director. Most readers aren’t interested in who produces a music video – we realize that – but we hope highlighting the number of women involved in producing will help readers recognize the power and creativity women can and do wield in filmmaking of all kinds.

We were disappointed when we realized 90% of music video directors are men. We were overjoyed to find that about 60% of music video producers are women. While we realize there’s still a problem to be addressed in that disparity, we hope that readers, viewers, aspiring artists – men and women alike – will also notice that and feel that same joy. Perhaps, it will persuade someone down the road to buck the trend and hire a woman to direct.

This site’s been about melding criticism with social consciousness from Day One. These are the sorts of changes that don’t refocus what we do, but that let us better realize our goal of delivering a new brand of criticism, one that still tells you the basic “is this movie good or not,” but also seeks to make artistic and social statements of its own.

If there’s anything you notice we can do differently, or better, tell us. Thank you for reading.

The women in the photos throughout this article are directors who have each shown why we’d have a better entertainment industry if women had equal opportunity to direct. In order, they are: Ida Lupino, Nora Ephron, Julie Taymor, and Kathryn Bigelow.

If Only She’d Had a Gun


On Tuesday, I wrote about a friend who was beaten and stabbed by her ex last weekend. It’s been suggested to me from several sources that if she’d had a gun, her beating could have been wholly avoided.

I’d like to think these suggestions come from places of concern, and not from the navel-gazing urge to use another person’s tragedy as an opportunity to spout one’s political viewpoints.

Let’s address guns first. Perhaps if she’d had a gun, she could have shot her abuser the moment he broke into her house. If someone you were in a relationship with barged into your home, would you shoot them off the cuff, no questions asked? Probably not.

Domestic violence escalates through phases. There’s no way to tell if this is the time someone’s going to apologize, say they didn’t know what they were thinking, and leave; or if this is the time they’re going to beat and stab you.

The simple fact is that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the likelihood of a woman being killed by 500%. That means a woman is five times more likely to die if there’s a gun in that house than if there isn’t.

Who’s to say, if there had been a gun in her home, that an earlier instance of abuse wouldn’t have turned into his using the gun on her?

When people speak for some level of firearm regulation, it’s not because guns in themselves make someone violent. Violent people will find ways to be violent no matter what. Guns just make that violence far easier and more efficient. Where before you could maim, now you can kill. Where before you could kill someone in particular, now you can kill a dozen or more. He was always the violent one, during and after their relationship. If a gun had ever been present, I guarantee you that he’d have been the one more likely to use it at some point.

If only she’d had a gun? She might be dead, instead of in the hospital.

Furthermore, the idea that all that’s needed to fix the situation is a gun ignores the cause of domestic violence. It treats an effect of domestic violence, a symptom, and it does so about as well as applying leeches treats a flu. The problem isn’t that women aren’t armed to the gills, the problem is that men are brought up to understand that violence is a proper solution when they’re confronted or rejected.

Someone gets in your face? Violence. Someone challenges your authority? You’ve got to out-man him, be bigger and stronger and tougher. Someone rejects you? You’ve just got to push harder and be more relentless. It’s ridiculous. There’s always got to be a winner. Compromise isn’t something we’re brought up to value.

I say this as a 6’3” black belt in taekwondo, who’s also trained variously in ninjutsu, aikido, and kickboxing: I’m far prouder of the fights I’ve avoided than the ones I’ve had. Believe me, there are times I wish the world were run on Conan the Barbarian levels of violence. I’d do pretty well and those loin cloths look damn comfortable, but the problem becomes that the more violent a world is, the more it’s being run by those who lack control and can think of no other way to regain it.

The truth is violence comes from one place – Panic. When you resort to violence, it’s because you’ve lost control over something or someone other than yourself – a relationship, someone’s opinion of your manliness, even something as simple as how your day turned out – and you can think of no other way to regain that control but through exerting your will over someone else.

The problem isn’t that women and others who are put in subjugated or subservient positions in our society aren’t well armed. The problem is that too many of us are very well armed, and have it in our minds that our superior firepower – be it through guns or fists – is all the license we need to utilize it. The better our firepower, the more we rely upon it to resolve our problems.

It’s systemic, it’s cultural, and we see it in every level of our society. We see it in our militarized police forces, such as the one that recently fired on unarmed civilians in Ferguson, MO. We see it in administrations so fearful that public opinion will view them as weak that we send in troops again and again where we once would have exhausted diplomatic compromise. And we see it in the plague of domestic abuse cases, the vast majority of which involve men who feel they’ve lost the control they had or imagined they had over a woman.

I was lucky – I had an instructor who drilled into our heads that the fight was the last solution, only to be used when cornered and no other options were available. To fight without exhausting every other solution was deeply shameful. If it didn’t get you kicked out of the school, he’d work you class after class until you wanted to quit. The better trained we were, the more responsibility we had never to exert that training on someone else unless absolutely necessary. In other words, it’s sometimes better to lose control of something outside yourself than it is to lose control of what’s inside yourself.

But we raise a culture of men trained to never admit defeat. It’s intrinsic to the American spirit – Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone wouldn’t stop, so why should I? All the sidekicks on TV get the girl after years of rejection, just by virtue of staying dutifully obsessed (and showrunners running out of other ideas). That’s what we’re raised to do. Be relentless, not listen, and value rejection and pain as signals that we’re on the right path to getting what we want. One day, rejection will be a story we both laugh over, that pain will be a battle scar we pridefully show off as evidence of how relentless and unforgiving we were in pursuit of our prize. If it weren’t so real, it’d be hilariously absurd.

What I’ve just described is not assertiveness, by the way. Some will tell you it is, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. What I’ve just described is addiction.

Men need to understand that losing isn’t just what happens externally, what other people see. Losing can be internal, too, and it can do far more in damaging who we become. When we control ourselves, our own decisions, when we don’t panic in the face of adversity, when we calmly seek solutions, that’s assertiveness. When we have so little control of ourselves, we seek to control others to compensate, when panic overtakes us so much that our most immediate reaction is violence, we’re just seeking a quick fix, another hit to numb our real loss of control.

Yeah, if only she’d had a gun… How about if only someone had taught him that no means no, that over means over, that women have a right to their own lives, that it’s OK to admit defeat so long as you don’t lose control of yourself, that a relationship means compromise and not control, that rejection at most deserves, “Can we talk about it,” and not broken bones, broken teeth, ruptured organs, and hundreds of thousands in medical bills?

If only she’d had a gun. If that’s what you take away from this, if that’s the lesson you feel you need to impart on others who are going through pain, then you are not part of a solution. You are part of an arms race.

Nine Poems on Video – in honor of National Poetry Month

by Gabriel Valdez

Poets are our most powerful magicians. No one else can summon the Divine with just a handful of words. In celebration of the last week of National Poetry Month, I’d like to share some of the poems that have impacted me the most.

Charles Bukowski

There was a woman in college who would regularly champion Bukowski in our writing classes together. She wrote like him – quite well, in fact – but as an influence, the rest of us would often dismiss him as a mean, drunk misogynist. We failed to understand how, through his work, he constantly faced these great demons that had built up inside of him, interrogated them and didn’t give them the excuses many of us learn to give our own.

Whether he was a mean, drunk misogynist or a mean, drunk satirist will be debated into eternity. Either way, he consciously made himself the great anatomy lesson of poetry’s step into the modern, splayed out with nothing hidden, the worst parts of himself exposed for the rest of us to poke and prod.

The Fury of Sunrises
Anne Sexton

The legend goes that Anne Sexton once told her therapist that she believed her only talent might lie in prostitution. He suggested poetry as an alternative. I don’t know what that says about poetry.

She was a master of imagery and tonal shifts. When I compare her to other writers, the one she most immediately evokes is Ray Bradbury. Both could capture a moment in its stillness, describing it in pages of detail, and both could describe pages worth of detail in a single sentence. But those details all come to a head, to the briefest and most frightening realizations. Neither one ever ended a story. They always left their poems and stories exactly when the reader’s mind was brimming with ideas, conclusions, and questions. In that way, they were each immensely generous writers, masters of handing ownership of their work over to the reader.

Father Death Blues
Allen Ginsberg

Ginsberg wrote this on the flight out to his father’s funeral. In our best moments, this is how we might approach and think of death.

Mayda del Valle

Few poets match the insistency and intensity of Mayda del Valle. She’s housed squarely in the Slam movement of poetry, in which performance can sometimes be as important as the words themselves. Contemporary poetry has long resisted this movement, as if the television and computer are still too new to entirely be trusted as primary modes of delivery. And then contemporary poets wonder why their work is so rarely absorbed outside of academic circles.

And Still I Rise
Maya Angelou

Angelou’s voice was one of resistance and progress through celebration and hopefulness. She’s rarely called upon or referenced as a precursor to Slam and contemporary of the Beat poets because she was so unique a voice, focused on cultural experience and the future rather than personal history and the past.

What Teachers Make
Taylor Mali

Taylor Mali is the funniest poet we have going, but he’s probably most famous for this performance of “What Teachers Make” at the National Poetry Slam several years ago. It’s still a funny poem – and one of my favorites – but it also has a grudge to bear. Perhaps more than any other poet reading these days, he knows how to fold an audience’s reaction into his performance.

Ten Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up’

It’s been suggested to me that this blog talks too much about sexism. I’d like to say, “Damn straight,” but in truth, I publish and write the articles that most interest my closest family of critics and myself. We talk about the things we like in films, and the things we dislike. When half of the films made can’t bother to have two women talk to each other about something other than a man, you can expect me to call out half the movies I see on that point.

It was pointed out to me a week ago that sexism cuts both ways, and that we haven’t written about the negative effects it has on men and our self-image. My immediate reaction – which I didn’t speak – was, “What negative effect on our self-image?” I knew exactly what negative effects, but we’re trained to treat them as strengths and points of pride. In a way, calling out for women to be represented equally on-screen while being relatively silent about the unfeeling, Rambo-esque power figures men are made to idolize is its own form of sexism. We need to be aware that we can’t properly address the one without addressing the other.

Coded Language
Saul Williams

Saul Williams is challenging. His poems reference everything from astrology and ancient religions of the world to The Golden Compass and hip-hop, and his sheer speed gets a 10-minute T.S. Eliot poem’s worth of allusions done in three-and-a-half. It’s common to bounce off the first minute of a reading and fall woefully behind, only to realize a minute later that you’ve ingested a time-release capsule of ideas that spring forth at the same increasing speed as Williams’s words.

Natasha Trethewey

This is our country’s current poet laureate. There’s nothing I can say about her as a poet that this poem can’t say better.


We Need You, Godzilla

Godzilla 2

What drove Japanese film in the 1950s was a national shame at having blindly followed the ruling class into a decade of war and social disrepair. Yes, Godzilla was a manifestation of the fear of atomic weaponry and the lasting repercussions it would have, but he also represented a sort of angry god.

America in the ’50s made monster movies so that we could demonstrate how capable we were at overcoming anything and everything (hint, hint Russia). It was patriotic jingoism and boasting. Japan, on the other hand, has a longstanding tradition of creating monsters that reflect its cultural fears and demons. I think it comes from having so much Animist tradition that made it into their current religion (sort of like Mexican Catholicism’s treatment of spirits and ghosts). In the ’50s, Japan translated that tradition into oversize, culture-wide vengeance demons.

A new American Godzilla comes out on May 16. It’s directed by Gareth Edwards, a bold choice by Legendary Pictures. His only previous feature film cost $400,000 to make; this Godzilla cost $160 million. Early trailers look and sound phenomenal, exciting, artistic…but can he adapt that core spirit of Godzilla (at least in his initial outing) that is so difficult to communicate to Western audiences?

Yes, Godzilla looks a certain way and roars a certain way, but to achieve what the monster initially meant in Japan, he has to be a judgment against our cultural transgressions. He’s not just a monster; he’s corporal punishment on a nationwide scale. Being big and eating trains and making noise didn’t make him terrifying. There was an underlying, creeping sense that no one in particular had earned his wrath, and so no one in particular could beat him. An entire culture had earned him through the hubris of imperialism and turning a blind eye to the actions of their own country. An entire culture could only avoid his wrath again by changing its values.

It’s a unique point in time for the American psyche to have a monster that reflects that. How you translate that sense of fear and responsibility for Godzilla…that’s achievable. How you translate that national sense of shame…well, we’re not a culture that considers shame a valuable emotion. The most overwhelming component of Japanese film in the ’50s was a shame so deep that penance was more often an unattainable pursuit than an achievable goal. When it was reached, it could only be measured in lifetimes (a theme constantly revisited in Akira Kurosawa films like Stray Dog and The Silent Duel, and explored repeatedly by the Zatoichi blind swordsman movies).

If you can get that sense across to a Western audience in a blockbuster film, let alone a Western monster movie, then you’ve stayed true to the original 1954 film. That may be a tall order, but I’d rather see a failed attempt at one of the most impossible cultural translations in cinema than just another monster vs. military ordeal with no real terror to it. I guess we’ll find out soon.

Good luck, Godzilla. We could use you at a time like this.