“I Cannot Imagine My Freedom Without Women”

Richard Rodriguez recently sat down with “On Being” host Krista Tippett for a conversation about “The Fabric of Our Identity.” The entire exchange is worth listening to, but this passage from Rodriguez about women and religion, and their influence on his life as a gay Catholic, stands out:

[A]s a Catholic, I was surrounded by an iconography, which was luscious and physical, and there was the bleeding Christ on every cross that I ever saw. And the eroticism of the religion was, to my imagination, very, very rich from an early age. At some level, this church which denied me also gave me a great deal. I want to be clear about that. Um, I do not want to present myself in any way as oppressed. It did teach me, and this is the point of Darling. I’m — Darling in the book is not Richard Rodriguez. Darling in the book is a woman, a friend of mine, who has lunch with me in Malibu, California, on the day her divorce was finalized. She has since died of cancer. The chapter really is about women and religion. And I think that I came upon that theme, that subject, because I am gay.

Uh, I don’t want to talk about myself. But all I want to say to the Christian churches, is that the man that I’m with, I will say not even — I won’t even give myself the grandeur of this word. But his achievement and his importance to me is that he has loved me. And he has taught me the import of that word. The church will not give us that word. I date my emancipation as a homosexual man with the women’s movement. And I notice that Susan B. Anthony came to this place to argue for the vote for women. When women begin to call for the vote, it is a revolutionary act, and it liberates me.

And I’ll tell you how. For the first time, women are saying I don’t want to be identified merely with what I am at the house. In civic society, I don’t have to be somebody’s mother, or wife, or grandmother. I want to be judged equally with any man in the voting booth. And when women get the vote, they move out of the kitchen in something like the way that they allowed me several decades later, to move out of the closet. These movements are related to each other. I cannot imagine my freedom without women.

Listen to our Deep Dish podcast with Rodriguez here.

Pop Questions

What makes a pop song a hit? David Samuels talked to music exec Mike Caren, who maintains there are nine rules:

“First, it starts with an expression of ‘Hey,’ ‘Oops,’ ‘Excuse me,’” he begins. “Second is a personal statement: ‘I’m a hustler, baby,’ ‘I wanna love you,’ ‘I need you tonight.’ Third is telling you what to do: ‘Put your hands up,’ ‘Give me all your love,’ ‘Jump.’ Fourth is asking a question: ‘Will you love me tomorrow,’ ‘Where have you been all my life,’ ‘Will the real Slim Shady please stand up.’” He takes a deep breath, and rattles off another four rules. “Five is logic,” he says, “which could be counting, or could be spelling or phonetics: ‘1-2-3-4, let the bodies hit the floor,’ or ‘Ca-li-fornia is comp-li-cated,’ those kind of things. Six would be catchphrases that roll off the tip of your tongue because you know them: ‘Never say never,’ ‘Rain on my parade.’ Seven would be what we call stutter, like, ‘D-d-don’t stop the beat,’ but it could also be repetition: ‘Will the real Slim Shady please stand up, please stand up, please stand up.’ Eight is going back to logic again, like hot or cold, heaven or hell, head to toe, all those kind of things.”

The ninth rule of hit songwriting is silence. Why?

Because most people who are listening to music are actually doing something else, he explains. They are driving a car, or working out, or dancing, or flirting. Silence gives you time to catch up with the lyrics if you are drunk or stoned. If you are singing along, silence gives you time to breathe. “Michael Jackson, his quote was ‘Silence is the greatest thing an entertainer has,’” Caren continues. “‘I got a feeling,’ space-space-space, ‘Do you believe in life after love,’ space-space-space-space-space.”

Meanwhile, Gillian Turnbull, a music professor, worries that young music fans grow disenchanted when they can find any song they like on YouTube:

For older listeners, we reached a pinnacle in genre fragmentation in the form of satellite radio: if you like rock n’ roll—but not Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, or Little Richard—you can tune in to a station that only features Elvis. Perhaps you’re especially into 1970s proto-metal? There’s a station for that. In many ways, satellite radio is the ultimate expression of the increasingly narrow, and genre-defined, markets that new radio stations had to create through the 1980s and 1990s. By contrast, younger listeners mostly go to YouTube, at least to test out any music they might actually buy. They can go on an unexpected journey through related acts and styles, opening their minds to genre diversity far more than any radio station would allow.

Still, while exploration can’t be a bad thing, I’d argue that being unable to zero in on one style of music and dig into it deeply means that music is being treated too superficially. Maybe we’re obsessed with categorization, but I think categorization matters. Genre exists for a reason: we privilege difference; it is the means for personal and collective expression. My students come to class with a catalogue of Bee Gees and The Police swirling in their brains. They have encyclopaedic knowledge of Grateful Dead bootlegs. I hope they start digging more, learning what made genres sound like they did and their practitioners and listeners act like they did. I hope these kids create new genres and music subcultures, encouraging their peers to not treat music like it’s a throwaway product waiting to be replaced, but that it tells us everything about who we are and what matters.

Associating Against Prejudice

Leon Neyfakh points to the work of Calvin Lai, a social psychologist who studies how to fight bias. Recently he tested a variety of strategies to get people to change how they view racial minorities:

The most effective, Lai found, involved exposing people to so-called counter-stereotypical images. In one intervention, which echoed the breakthrough study by Dasgupta and Greenwald from 2001, this took the form of showing people photos of widely admired black celebrities like Bill Cosby alongside notorious white evildoers like Charles Manson. In another effective approach, test subjects listened to stories, told in the second person, about a white assailant attempting to hurt them and a black man coming to their rescue. The emotional pull of the experience seemed to be key. Researchers found that making the story longer and more vivid—changing it from “With sadistic pleasure, he bashes you with his bat again and again” to “With sadistic pleasure, he beats you again and again. First to the body, then to the head. You fight to keep your eyes open and your hands up. The last things you remember are the faint smells of alcohol and chewing tobacco and his wicked grin”—was doubly effective at reducing bias.

Another approach that worked well when Lai tested it involved telling participants to imagine a scenario in which they were playing a game of dodge ball in which everyone on their team was black while everyone on the opposing team was white. A similar effective intervention also had participants imagine themselves navigating a highly threatening post-apocalyptic scenario, before being shown photos of their “friends,” who were mostly black, and their “enemies,” who were all white.

A Congress Representing The Rich

K. Sabeel Rahman unpacks Nicholas Carnes’ White Collar Government, which documentsthe dominance of upper class individuals in the composition of legislatures”:

The intuition that class skews politics is mainstream by now, but Carnes provides a novel account of the mechanics of class identity in public policy. The issue for Carnes is not income levels so much as occupational background—the ways in which policymakers have earned their living in the past. Work, in his view, is what most centrally shapes daily life, and as a result, political attitudes. Carnes shows that working-class backgrounds—having the experience of working in occupations that provide little material security and generally require less formal education—characterizes 65 percent of American families, but are vastly underrepresented in Congress. This has major repercussions for Congress’ political views and outcomes. Even when controlling for differences in party affiliation, constituencies, campaign contribution sources, and demographic factors, legislators with working-class backgrounds are systematically more liberal on economics—in both their individual voting records and political attitudes towards issues like the role of government and the importance of social safety net policies. …

In real-world terms, turning the tables would have a major impact. If Congress’s class composition reflected the country as a whole, Carnes estimates it would be more labor-friendly and less business-friendly—enough to flip approximately six major legislative policy issues per term. If we were to reweight the last few Congresses to reflect the country’s actual class composition (while retaining other partisan and geographic features), a host of corporate-friendly liability shields and tax incentives would have failed, as would the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 and the financial bailout.

Chivalry Is Stubborn

Joe Pinsker asks why the tradition of men paying on first dates with women persists:

A [new] survey … found that about 77 percent of people in straight relationships believe men should pay the bill on a first date. The survey, put together by the financial website NerdWallet, polled roughly 1,000 people who had been dating their partners for six months or more.

The company’s survey indicates that, in the early stages of courting, the pressure to pay falls primarily on men, but this imbalance hardly dissolves as the relationship progresses. Fifty-six percent of men foot the bill in full once they’re in an established relationship, and, even further down the line, 36 percent of men pay all of household bills, versus 14 percent of women. There’s not much in the way of historical data on the question of who pays for dates, but the findings of a 1985 poll suggest that very little has changed in the past 30 years. …

Who’s expected to pay for a date may seem trivial—some would even argue that covering the tab is a form of respecting women—but there’s reason to believe that this minor, “benevolent” form of sexism can lead to a fraught question of what the man is then owed.

Authoring Anxiety

Ben Mauk sums up The Emerald Light in the Air, the new story collection from Donald Antrim:

These stories appeared in The New Yorker over the span of about 15 years. Yet how conspicuously consistent their interests! They are at once many stories and the same story, with slight but ultimately trivial differences among the various shades of alcoholism, childlessness, parental ambivalence, dead mothers, artistic ambitions, mood-stabilizing medications, and myriad other signifiers of middle-class “anxiety and suicidality.”

This arresting sameness … I would attribute not to any creative drought on the part of Antrim (whose novels are enormously fecund, fun, and surreal), but to the peculiar ambition of the collection: it wants to be a miniature mythology. Its stories don’t aim to delight us with rare and precise Flaubertian details, or to present a wide and sparkling array of humanity. Instead, the book wants to wash over us in waves of familiarity. We are made to recognize the human hubris at work in each story precisely because the humans depicted are sketchily, almost indifferently drawn.

In a profile of Antrim, John Jeremiah Sullivan offers insight into the roots of the author’s “art of anxiety.” He relates the story of how Antrim got over his fear of electroconvulsive therapy – with the help of a phone call from David Foster Wallace:

On the phone, Wallace said immediately, without prompting: “I’m calling to tell you that if they offer you ECT, you should do it. You’ll be all right.”

Wallace, who had undergone the procedure himself, spent at least an hour telling Antrim that he shouldn’t be afraid, that he would still be there when it was over, that it would still be there. He was saying it as one writer to another, giving the only kind of reassurance Antrim could possibly take seriously at that moment. Wallace told him that the treatment was going to help him, he would see. “He just kept repeating his own story,” Antrim said, “sort of cycling through it, because he could tell it was comforting me. When we hung up, I walked straight to the doctors and told them I was ready to start.”

A month passed in the ward, while nothing happened — not nothing, only flickerings. “Green conductive gel dried on my forehead. Weeping.”

Around the 11th time he underwent the shock, Antrim said, something shifted. Not subtle, dramatic. “The color came back on.”

It wasn’t a permanent fix — he went back into the hospital again, in 2010, and again underwent ECT. In all, between those two pe­riods, he submitted to the procedure 55 times. He is unequivocal in his belief that without it he would be dead.

In another review of The Emerald Light in the Air, David L. Ulin returns to this theme of mental illness:

Depression is a theme, and also suicide, or not suicide so much as the threat, the possibility of it, like another form of solace to be called upon when the living gets to be too much. “Some days, he’d curled in a ball on the floor,” Antrim writes of the protagonist in the title story, “and promised himself that soon, soon, soon — it would be his gift to himself — he’d walk up to the barn and lie down with the rifle.” That he never does is something of a Pyrrhic victory: survival, yes, but at its own psychic price.

And yet, the title story is in its way the most upbeat in the collection, ending on a note of reconciliation, if not quite hope. As the final effort … it suggests an arc or movement: from the surreal to the real.

Why Shame The Messenger?

In a review of Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide, Andrew O’Hagan shakes his head that “crazily, it was often journalists who opposed Snowden’s actions and hated what Greenwald was writing”:

On the not at all ironically titled CNN show Reliable Sources, there was a discussion about the leaks with a dramatic onscreen graphic carrying the legend ‘Should Glenn Greenwald be prosecuted?’ Walter Pincus of the Washington Post felt it was all Julian Assange’s doing (which it wasn’t), while Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times used his CNBC show to say he would arrest Greenwald for seeming to want to get Snowden to Ecuador.

Perhaps we should just be grateful that these commentators didn’t form the wellspring of journalistic endeavour in the darkest days of apartheid. But Greenwald brilliantly describes the period they have brought into being under Obama’s extended wing. We learn that journalism, perhaps in imitation of Western governance itself, has ripped up the rulebook since 2001. It’s less a question of ‘What’s the real story?’ as ‘Whose side are you on?’ That this should be a disaster for the generally liberal-minded will not occur to these bin-rakers and text-inspectors, who think warriors for digital privacy are not that different from the men who would cut off your head. Such commentators are building the dark places they claim to hate – they spread their own kind of terror and advocate their own intolerance – and for such people, no matter what cave or desert or studio they reside in, the truth is always the enemy.