My friend Lindsay tweeted that this afternoon. I had favorited it, but I hadn’t retweeted it, so when I saw the second tweet, I went ahead and did it. Because there’s no reason not to, and—maybe because of this nonsense going on today where a bunch of nerds are mad that Thor is going to be a woman in Marvel’s interpretation of the character for a while—it reminded me of that page from Hitman

Hitman was enjoying its run when I was 17 or so, and it was my jam. It was funny and mean-spirited and violent, but also very smart and about, like, manhood and honor and brotherhood and all of stuff that I was passionately interested in interpretations of when I was trying to figure out what kind of man I wanted to become. (Definitely one who read and wrote about comic books a lot.) 

And these four panels—I remember them very well, even though I first saw them 17 years ago. Because I remember reading that and thinking, “I should never say that word again.” 

Because the character of Tommy Monaghan up there is cool—he’s brave and honorable and funny, someone created specifically for 17 year olds who like swearing and fancy themselves iconoclastic to look up to. So when there’s an entire four-panel sequence devoted specifically to telling those young men that calling a woman a bitch is a bad thing, that if you do that you’re not on the team, that if you want to be the sort of cool guy that Tommy is (and why are you reading the book, if you don’t look up to the character?), you can not use that word. The type of person who would call a woman a bitch is the exact opposite of the kind of guy you want to be.

It’s dumb, kind of, because it’s a comic book about a guy with x-ray vision who kills superpowered bad guys for money. There’s an issue where all of the animals at the Gotham City Zoo become zombies and he clubs a zombie seal to death. It’s not mature. But neither was I, and I knew that this was a thing I needed to give some thought to, because it was treated as something serious. Four panels of making it clear that the sort of guy who calls women bitches is a shitty person. 

Because before that, I hadn’t really thought about it. I don’t think I used “bitch” particularly often, but it was a word, you know? It was in my vocabulary, and it had a definition: “woman or girl who does something that I don’t like.” It’s a teacher who is strict with hall passes, or a friend’s mom who enforces a strict curfew, or a girl who makes fun of your haircut or something. 

It really hadn’t occurred to me until I saw the use of the word made into a huge deal that it was different from any other swear word that was fun to say. And once that was pointed out to me in terms that made using the word “bitch” seem like one of the more shameful things that a man could do to a woman, it stuck with me that I didn’t want to be that sort of man.

So when Lindsay tweeted that she wanted to see her dude friends make that point, rather than just big-ups her for making the point, I remembered this again. Because if you do this, you are off the team. If you use words like “bitch” or “cunt” to describe a woman, you should feel as ashamed and embarrassed and horrible as Tommy Monaghan does in those panels where Tiegel thought he was going to call her that. But if we don’t talk about that—if we don’t make it clear that you’re playing for the team made up of shitty people who think that women deserve their own special class of insults to put them in their place—then that keeps on happening. 

I’m glad I read Hitman when I was 17, goofy as it could be at times. And I’m glad I have people like Lindsay Eyth in my life to remind me that guys like me are responsible for making sure that other dudes get the message. 

Ape thoughts.

I watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes tonight. It’s bad! (Also, these two movies have weird names, don’t they? “Dawn” seems like it should be the very, very beginnings, while “Rise” seems like it should be the apes claiming power. Right?) 

Anyway, I’ve spent a not-insubstantial amount of my life thinking about big apes that talk, in a variety of media, and it’s led me to a conclusion: No spoilers below, at least if you’ve seen the trailer. 

The reason Rise of the Planet of the Apes works so well — and it really does work very well, it’s a pretty terrific sort of blockbuster — is because you have this beautiful, realistic-looking CGI that makes it possible to tell the story of that film as if it really happened: The not-preposterous premise of a scientist testing an Alzheimer’s drug that, in the experiment phase, makes apes so smart that they rise up against their captors only really works if you’re watching apes that look real. If it’s people in ape costumes, the whole thing is absurd. Instead, it’s surprisingly moving, triggers some genuine discussions about the way we treat others (people and/or animals, depending whether the literal or allegorical interpretation interests you more), and has, like, giant apes attacking helicopters. Plus the most fun parts of that movie involve a cute baby ape who is very smart! Lots to like there. 

But then in this new one, the apes are all super smart and chilling in their ape society, and riding horses and hunting with spears, and having conversations, and firing machine guns and stuff. And that shit is ridiculous to watch. An ape who’s been tortured by a sadistic human getting revenge on his captor? That’s satisfying. An ape on horseback hollering Ivan Drago-isms about who he fights for while firing machine guns at Gary Oldman? That is really, really dumb. 

Anyway, I’m guessing that the movie won’t be particularly well-reviewed or successful, because the packed screening I saw tonight had a lot of laughs at parts that were supposed to be dramatic, and the movie is ridiculous-looking enough that what other reaction is even really possible? But the thing that this got me thinking is that if this movie had been made 70’s-style, with people in ape suits and makeup, I’d probably have bought it. 

We can essentially make anything happen visually in a movie now. I saw apes that look like real apes roam around on horseback and annihilate their enemies with machine guns, and the effect was kind of like an uncanny valley thing — it looked so real, but my brain knew that there was no way an ape could ride a horse and fire a semiautomatic rifle, so the disconnect just seemed absurd. 

I think that maybe this will be the sort of thing to watch as CGI gets continually more effective — that there are things that will look perfectly rendered, but totally wrong, because the sight of them doesn’t make sense to us. 

Anyway — mostly, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is just a dumb, bad movie with plodding pacing, a self-serious preachiness, absurd images, and zero sense of fun or irony. (And, okay,  a little bit of racism, too.) It’s probably not worth a whole lot more thought than I’ve just given it, but I’m trying to Tumbl more, and I was trying to figure out what it takes to make me not like a movie about big apes having adventures. This might be part of it.

01 - (don´t worry) if there´s a hell below we´re all going to go - Curtis Mayfield

01 - (don´t worry) if there´s a hell below we´re all going to go

by Curtis Mayfield
album Curtis

150 Favorite Song: #66, “(Don’t Worry) If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go,” Curtis Mayfield (1970)

I used to like to pretend that I knew a ton about soul music, and jazz, and stuff like that. Like when I was 20, I really tried hard to pretend that even though my formative years were spent listening to The Cure and Joy Division and the Afghan Whigs, I was also secretly an expert on Curtis Mayfield and Mahalia Jackson and Sonny Rollins and Cannonball Adderley, somehow. It was definitely posturing of the sort that young white guys who are ashamed of being young white guys engage — I honestly don’t know how or when I would have accumulated a comprehensive knowledge of Tower Of Power’s back catalog and influence given the amount of time I spent practicing how to intone “One hundred yeeeeeears," while wearing a cape made of a clothespin and a bath towel, pretending that I’m Robert Smith.

What I mean to say is, mostly I learned about 70’s music that wasn’t made by sad/angry white fellas by tracing songs the Afghan Whigs covered — which isn’t a shameful thing at all, unless you’re trying to cover it up to seem more worldly — and the Whigs did a blazing version of “(Don’t Worry) If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go,” which is where I discovered Curtis Mayfield. And this is a perfect song, timeless in ways that are unlikely, given the amount of era-appropriate slang that Curtis uses, and the specific references to Nixon, and all of that. But the themes to it are so universal that I understand, looking back, why I wanted to claim deep understanding and expertise of it when I was 20 years old — because it’s  just an epic outpouring of paranoia and and tension and rage and hope and fear and bitterness and sarcasm, all over one of the best bass lines anybody anywhere ever wrote. “Everything is fucked, let’s dance” is an eloquence that I wanted to feel some ownership of, even if I hadn’t earned it. 

Of course, “(Don’t Worry) If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go” is more than just “everything is fucked, let’s dance,” even with that bass line and those horns — those horns! — working their magic. The thing that I love about it is the way that Curtis Mayfield seems to just fly above the music somehow, with all of this glorious noise (I’m not someone who gushes about production, but there’s just so much happening on this song that you can trip out just on the battle for dominance between the horns and the strings) swirling around him. There’s something apocalyptic about the song, even aside from the title and the opening narration about the Book of Revelations, and it’s thrilling to hearing someone in complete mastery of something as big as all of that. There’s so much happening musically, and so much happening thematically, and Curtis Mayfield seems effortless as he steers the ship. I’m not really ashamed that it inspired me to pose out like I knew what I was talking about — why wouldn’t I?

28 plays

Transmetropolitan was prophetic in a lot of ways that have been remarked upon before (digital cameras, Google Glass, “headbutt the weak”-style libertarianism, etc), but in the wake of the Hobby Lobby ruling, the fact that there’s now a precedent for claiming religious justification for things that are illegal for the rest of the population makes this particular scene an unlikely winner in the “what part of Transmetropolitan might come true next” betting pool. 

On Objectivity And Journalism

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of Wendy Davis’ filibuster on the floor of the Texas Senate. You probably remember it — if not (or even if so), go read Andrea Grimes’ write-up on the events that took place in the Texas Capitol last year with the perspective that 12 months can bring. 

Anyway, as anniversaries often do, this one was commemorated with a party. I was busy around the Capitol last year, covering the events for the Austin Chronicleand I made a lot of friendships with people who are really important to me know as a result of that time. Some of those friends organized this party, and brought in speakers — the marquee name being State Senator Leticia Van De Putte, the Democratic party’s current nominee for Lt. Governor, who galvanized the infamous shouting at 11:47pm last year by asking, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”

It was a remarkable moment, made even more powerful by the context of the evening from Van De Putte’s perspective (she had to leave her own father’s funeral to get to the Capitol to vote against the bill). It essentially launched Van De Putte’s statewide career. 

I admire the Senator’s willingness to come to Austin to stand for that moment, at personal sacrifice, and it won’t surprise anyone who’s read much of anything I’ve ever written to know that I’m planning to vote for her in November. 

Which might make the next bit sound a little like a #humblebrag to some people, but it isn’t: During her brief remarks last night at the event, she took a moment to single out some of the people who were at the Capitol, and she closed it out with, “Our number-one guy, Dan Solomon.” Which was a bit of a thrill, because I worked very hard that summer and it is really nice to hear someone with a microphone recognize you for it, especially when that person is someone you admire. 

But it’s also weird, as a journalist, to hear a politician who you are at least nominally tasked with reporting on (I’ve never covered Van De Putte or her campaign, but I have covered the legislature) publicly declare that you’re, like, on the team. Because I don’t feel like I’m on the team.

At least, I’m not on Team Van De Putte. I was on team “let’s talk about how shitty this vile bill that was being railroaded through using arcane legislative tricks designed to make it easier to get hurricane relief to people in emergencies is” last summer, though, and I was glad that the Senator was on that team as well. And I imagine, since I’ve never written about her in any other context, that that’s what she had in mind when she used that possessive “our” up there. But it’s also weird, because there are certainly situations where Van De Putte and I could be on different teams, and a part of me worries that it’ll be hard for people to trust that because of this identification. 

On the other hand, one thing that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in the year since all of the activity at the Texas State Capitol last year is the notion of advocacy in journalism — because it’s unavoidable, primarily, and because I didn’t get into this to pretend to be a convenience store security camera without a viewpoint, guided by a notion of “objectivity” that favors “balance” over truth

One can be balanced, of course — you just interview someone from Side A, someone from Side B, and say, “Who the heck knows what the truth is, you decide.” But you can’t ever really be unbiased — and I’m not sure anyone would want you to be. But advocacy seeps into all journalism, simply because it’s written by people with viewpoints. 

Every sportswriter who covers the NFL is a political writer, because there’s a team in that league whose name is widely accepted by both the public and the courts to be a racial slur. If they choose to refer to that team as “the football team from Washington,” they’re making a political decision; if they choose to call them the Washington Redskins, they’re also making a political decision. If you write about the World Cup and you don’t mention the Favelas that were destroyed to prepare for the event, you’re practicing advocacy journalism; if you write “The Ten Best Episodes Of The Cosby Show" and you don’t include the fact that Bill Cosby has been accused of rape by multiple people, you’re advocating for the idea that those charges aren’t relevant to a discussion of his work; etc, etc, etc. 

So if all journalism is advocacy journalism because it’s written by people who have ideas about the world, it’s probably better to be honest about it. Which is why I was comfortable writing such a baldly first-person piece about the filibuster and HB2 last year — the bias was there regardless, and I wasn’t  more likely to put my thumb on the scale in favor of my “side” as someone who was open about what he believed than I was as someone who tried to hide it. 

I don’t think of myself as Leticia Van De Putte’s “number one guy” (I didn’t know that she had any idea who I was until last night), though, like anyone else would presumably be, I’m flattered by the shout-out — and she may learn why not, over time, as both of our careers continue in Texas. I figure that if you’re going to talk about the importance of reporting honestly and truthfully, part of that is being honest and truthful about how you personally feel about things, so your readers have that information when they read what you have to say, as well — in the end, that’s truth that matters in reporting, too. 

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