Documenting Jack Wrangler & Peter Berlin Saturday, Nov 29 2008 

Last week, PJ and I watched two documentaries about 1970s gay porn stars: Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon and That Man: Peter Berlin. Both documentaries trace their subjects from childhood to success as gay icons to their more recent lives. I thought that they were both excellent and informative documentaries.

Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon looks at the life and career of Jack Wrangler, who became famous for embodying the butch, masculine gay role model that dominated the queer subculture of the 1970s. Here’s the trailer:

Born Jack Stillman in 1946, Wrangler became one of the most famous gay port stars of the decade. In the 1980s, he crossed over into straight porn and eventually became involved with Margaret Whiting, a cabaret singer. Despite his marriage to her, Wrangler continues to identify as a gay man, which makes this documentary, which is narrated by Wrangler himself, an interesting study of identity and sexuality during the last four decades.

That Man: Peter Berlin explores similar territory, in a way. Its subject is another icon of butch 1970s gay culture: German born Peter Berlin, who became a celebrity figure in San Francisco. Here’s a clip from it:

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Jane Fairfax: A Review Friday, Nov 28 2008 

I love reading rewrites of Jane Austen novels. The best of them manage to capture the spirit and time of Austen’s works while bringing something new and fresh to the story. These works are very much like a variation on a well-known theme.

Today I finished reading Jane Fairfax: The Secret Story of the Second Heroine in Jane Austen’s Emma by Joan Aiken. The novel retells some of the events of Emma from the point of view of Jane Fairfax, the young woman who competes with Austen’s heroine for the affections of Frank Churchill.

In Austen’s novel, the reserved and somewhat cold Jane is little more than a foil for Emma. When Emma briefly flirts with Churchill, Jane is the woman who becomes the subject of Emma’s unkind speculations.

In Aiken’s novel, Jane is the orphaned daughter of a military men who is taken in by Colonel Campbell in return for her father’s good deed of saving his life. While Colonel Campbell does his best for Jane, she is nevertheless destined to become a governess and earn her keep, unless she can manage to find a husband for herself before the Campbell’s daughter and Jane’s best friend, Rachel, finds one. Jane and Rachel grow up together; when they fall in love with the same man, Jane must choose between making herself unhappy by giving up the man she loves or making her friend unhappy by marrying him.

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Twilight: A Review Tuesday, Nov 25 2008 

Last week, I read Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, the first novel in her series about star-crossed lovers Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. Then, PJ and I went to see the movie last night. Here’s the trailer:

While I can’t say that the novel is a masterpiece or that the movie is the best one I’ve seen this year, I enjoyed both of them more than I thought I would.

Like everyone else, I’ve felt bombarded by Twilight advertisements recently. I had heard about the books for the past couple of years, but I wasn’t particularly interested in reading the novel. That changed after I read the first three Sookie novels by Charlaine Harris. I needed a break from plowing through those novels, and one of my friends mentioned that she was reading Twilight, so I decided to give it a try.

As everyone probably already knows, Twilight follows Bella Swan as she moves to Forks, a small town in Washington. Soon after enrolling in Forks High School, Bella becomes fascinated with the modelesque Edward, who seems to take an instant dislike to her. When Edward suddenly and miraculously saves Bella’s life, her crush becomes a quest to find out just who he really is. A little googling uncovers the truth (as usual): Edward is a vampire. The rest of the novel deals with the consequences of falling in love with the undead.

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Hottie of the Month: John Milton Friday, Nov 21 2008 

November’s hottie of the month is John Milton, the seventeenth-century Puritan poet, polemicist, and civil servant who wrote one of the great epic poems of all time, Paradise Lost (1667).

Milton was born in 1608 in London. He studied to become an Anglican priest at Cambridge University, where he earned an M.A. in 1632. As the English nation seemed poised for civil war, Milton began writing tracts in favor of the Puritan and Parliamentary cause. In return for his support, Milton was appointed the Secretary for Foreign Tongues, a position in which he translated the government’s correspondence in Latin. Throughout the Commonwealth period, Milton used his writing to support the government and articulate Puritan positions on important issues of the day.

After the Restoration, Milton was arrested for his beliefs, but his friends in Parliament, most notably Andrew Marvell, intervened on his behalf, and he soon released. The last decade of his life was lived in relative quiet in London.

His waning years were, of course, most notable for the publication of Paradise Lost in 1667 and its expansion and revision in 1674, the year of Milton’s death.

I selected Milton for this month’s hottie because this week marks the end of OU’s fall quarter, which began for me with Paradise Lost. This is the second time this year that I’ve taught this poem; I also taught it in my graduate class this past winter. This quarter I taught a new honors tutorial, which was designed to introduce our first-year students to the methods and theories of reading critically at the college level. The course’s content was largely put together by a committee earlier this year, and one of the things we wanted this tutorial to cover is a narrative poem. For me, this instantly suggested Paradise Lost as one of the core texts in the class.

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Diva (1981): A Review Sunday, Nov 9 2008 

Last night, PJ and I went out to dinner and a movie with friends. We decided to see Diva, a 1981 French movie that was playing in our art house theater. None of us really knew what to expect, but we knew that the film had been well reviewed, so we decided to give it a try.

Diva is about Jules, played by Frédéric Andréi. Jules is a delivery man in Paris who loves soprano Cynthia Hawkins, played by Wilhelmenia Fernandez, who refuses to make a recording of her performances. Jules, however, creates an illicit recording of each of her concerts for his own private enjoyment. In the opening sequence, he also steals her dress, also for his private, though not so alone, enjoyment. While dealing with the ramifications of his piracy, he also accidentally becomes embroiled in an international prostitution/drug ring when a prostitute slips a taped confession/accusation into his mailbag. While Taiwanese “businessmen” and the international crime lord begin pursuing Jules, he is befriended by a pair of bohemian artists who may hold the solution to all of his problems, if they don’t sell him and his tapes to the highest bidder. In between chase sequences, Jules has time to court his favorite diva, who becomes intrigued by his obsession with her.

Here’s the trailer:

While our two friends and Paul were less than impressed by Diva, I loved it. (I temporarily took back that statement, but after thinking more about the film, I’ve decided that I’m back to loving it.)

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Election ’08 Part 2 Saturday, Nov 8 2008 

What a week it’s been! It’s taken me a few days to process it all. First, Barack Obama became our president-elect, earning more than 65 million votes, the largest for a Democratic candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Second, the Democratic Party increased its majorities in both houses of Congress. And finally, three states — most notably California — voted to enshrine discrimination and prejudice against gays and lesbians into their state constitutions. The first two were certainly occasions for celebration. For me, the third almost takes away all of the joy from the first two victories.

I spent most of the day on Tuesday in Portsmouth visiting Shawnee State University. I got home around 5:30. After the past two presidential elections, I was afraid to get my hopes up. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want John McCain to become president after the terrible campaign he had waged, but you never know what’s going to happen on election day.

It was with both great hope and great fear, therefore, that PJ and I started watching the election coverage. It was especially frustrating that the media wouldn’t call any important states — Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida — for Obama. We were relieved when Pennsylvania was called. That meant that McCain’s chances were greatly diminished. Then the results for Ohio came in and everyone knew that it was basically over. I can’t even begin to explain how joyous that realization was! We had won!

I haven’t always been a Barack Obama supporter. In the primaries I supported Hillary. I liked the Clinton years, and I thought that she would make a great president. When the campaign first started, though, I had hoped that Obama would run. While I like Hillary, I worried that America didn’t really want to return to the past. I feared that the Republican Party had effectively tarnished the country’s memories of the Clinton years and reduced them to a blow job in the Oval Office. I thought that Obama’s effort to turn the page on the past and make a new beginning would be a better platform for winning back the White House.

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Election ’08 Part 1 Tuesday, Nov 4 2008 

Perhaps Walt Whitman sums today up best:

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,

‘Twould not be you, Niagara – nor you, ye limitless prairies – nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,

Nor you, Yosemite – nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyserloops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,

Nor Oregon’s white cones – nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes – nor Mississippi’s stream:

This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name – the still small voice vibrating -America’s choosing day…

(Borrowed from Dailykos.)