. . . Braymer

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Movie Comment: The Brandon Teena Story

"I wouldn't live there if you paid me to."
- David Byrne
"thinking: I didn't leave them like that! I didn't. It's not real."
- Samuel R. Delany
I went to high school in a crummy small town in rural Missouri. I was a pathetically odd kid, but maybe my flaws didn't glare so much in this setting; anyway, along with bigotry (mostly aimed at the world outside of town) and bored aggression (mostly aimed at teachers and long-standing pariahs), I found deep stores of acceptance, affection, and wit.

The fifty students in my class maintained their allotted Kinsey percentages, but homosexuality by definition didn't exist. The few kids who were active deviants were probably as active as they were only because they were already established as pariahs -- and even they were invisible to all but an inner group of their peers. As a fairly trustworthy peer who'd come from and who was obviously back on his way to "the outside world," I got to talk to a couple of kids whose confusions were particularly pressing. The town seemed (and seems) to me far too dangerous and confusing an environment for either gay or straight sex, and so I always advised caution in leaping to conclusions -- or, for that matter, leaping to anything, though wuddya gonna do? it's teenage hormones.

The kids who later on did get out of town incorporated new experiences and self-definitions in a dazzling variety of ways, some of which involved familiar labels and some of which didn't. The ones who stayed continued to live in a world that included revolving-door marriages, suicides, alcoholism, beatings, and fatal accidents, but not homosexuality. Sexual surveys of the people in town and the people who'd left would give you very different results, but inasmuch as you learned anything of value it wouldn't be about innate sexuality: it would be about the social effects of monoculture.

I believe that a moral imperative for narrative art (including discursive prose) is to present the "strange," the "peculiar," the "monstrous." Not in the professional ooh-aren't-we-naughty fashion that justifies the status quo with supposedly "dangerous" material rather than supposedly "safe" material, but in a way that, whether angry or affectionate or panicked or flat as a pancake, somehow does what it can to prepare its audience for "the outside world."

Of course, all this only matters because there's more than one "outside world" and more than one "monoculture," and as we make our transitions between them the moral imperative can start to get pretty contorted.

The other night I saw The Brandon Teena Story and saw depicted -- pretty much for the first time in a movie -- the familiar landscape, accents, mannerisms, faces.... About as intense a bad nostalgia trip as could be imagined. Just like going home too late to stop something.

Mostly I got to see my peers again. They're not wilfully self-consciously evil or hypocritical or stupid -- that cultural imperative I didn't see in full force till I left town and met America's ruling class -- but they do tend to be breathtakingly (in all senses) naive, in the way any monoculture is. It's a naivete that can easily turn hostile, vicious and violent. It can also be ironically self-aware and astonishingly amenable to argument and experience in a way that, for example, trust funded artists don't seem to be.

The transgender-warriors protesting outside the murder trial acted as if they anticipated a Scottsboro Boys travesty, while inside the courthouse justice was being managed with exquisite (if all too American) care. Righteousness external, righteousness internal; the former enraged me, the latter did not; both were too late to stop anything. What I saw in the documentary were my friends in a monstrous situation: confused, ill-equipped, damaged, but for the most part trying to survive with a sense of morality. What "the outside world" (that I'm now a part of) apparently saw were monsters.

. . .

Fig. 42 42-Ulp

I figured this would be a low-key, even muffled, birthday. Who cares about 42?

So I wake up around 1 AM and realize that 42 is 3 times 14. So this is the end of my third fourteen-year cycle. So I start thinking about when I was 14 and when I was 28.

14 was when my father retired from the Navy and we moved from Chesapeake, Virginia, and its big integrated schools to a little all-white town in rural Missouri and its underfunded all-grades-in-one-building school. My first class was with the eldritch Miz Arms, a senile monster whose buttocks dangled past her ankles, who punished a miscreant by placing him in front of her chair under her desk (from whence we heard theatrical gasps, coughs, and scratchings), and who, after one of her frequent long silences, announced wistfully, staring out the window at some birds, "At least they have the instinct to stick to their own species." I read a lot of Bertrand Russell and the National Lampoon.

28 was my last full year in NYC and, in retrospect, uncomplicatedly blissful in a way I'm unlikely to see again. DINKs on the Lower East Side -- what's not to bliss? It's hard to pick details out, but that might've been when I introduced Laura Yanagi to comics by giving her a couple of issues of Love & Rockets.

So then I start trying hard to pick out more details because I realize that a sonnet has 14 lines, and so I should do a sonnet sequence with each sonnet devoted to one of these years.

So I ended up not getting much sleep before my birthday, but I still got too much sleep to do a sonnet sequence.

. . .

September Gurl    
Although a Berkeley resident, I don't feel much team spirit -- dope-smoking morons and obnoxious rich kids aren't really my crowd -- but it is kind of neat how the harmless blather of our little city has made it a scandalous by-word nationwide, like it was Scottsboro or something....

+ + +

There's nothing coherent enough to call a "Left" in American politics. However, if a "Left" were to exist, it would probably be hanging around the Bay Area and Seattle and Portland; and if we try for an empirically based definition of what we find there, we probably do end up with something like synthetic zero's:

"... in the case of the far left, our side is always wrong. The left becomes a mere critiquer of the faults of our own society, and leaves the problems inherent elsewhere to someone else to criticize."
The Objectivist Party, in other words. No wonder it's so unpopular!

As for s.z.'s main point, I'm all for cultural imperialism. The sooner quaint tribal customs like gay bashing and Creationist teachers are wiped out, the better for everyone. I even love the tools of cultural imperialism -- books, movies, pop music, the Peace Corps, TV -- though I guess a disproportionate amount of my financial support goes to the Peace Corps.

The problems are that, first, despite the interest it holds for scholars and tourists, cultural imperialism alone isn't particularly effective: like, "All in the Family" was broadcast for years to Braymer, Missouri, without local attitudes changing. And, second, that the effort put into cultural imperialism is teensy compared with the efforts put into economic and political imperialism. It's generally less important to the imperialized than as a self-righteousness aid within the community of the imperializer.

Reconstruction was slightly about attempting to bring a nonracist society to the former Confederate states, but as practiced was even more about seizing property and power. European-Americans talked of bringing Christian civilization to our Native American brethren and sistren, but mostly brought eviction papers. Why is Cuba a criminal state and China most favored? The policy pivot in banana republics is the banana, not the republic.

So when those good old liberal humanist culturally imperialist banners are hoisted (long may they wave!), it's sensible to look for what might be hiding beneath them. It usually isn't all that hidden.


. . .

Love Hangover

I just returned from a visit to my home town. I'm still digesting the experience and food, but one immediately regrettable result has been a burst of unsolicited comments to such worthwhile sites as Visible Darkness, UFO Breakfast, IMproPRieTies, Wealth Bondage, AKMA, Body and Soul, Making Light, good gawd almighty and more I can't even remember, betraying a thirst for community almost adolescent in its frenzy. Sheer recidivism. As a pacing mangy teenaged trapped tigger, I bombarded zines with letters, and this impulse is similar enough to make me suspect similarly embarrassing results. Presumably I'll calm down as I re-adjust to a diet containing fresh vegetables. In the meantime, I'll try to consolidate my intellectual debts here in a perfectly matched community of two: me and my very own reader, Ivor.

comments: And do leprechauns fart in the middle of the program? "Addendumdum" as in a fig newton? I in a restaurant: CAPN: [SILENCE] AYE, *HONK* *HONK*, ME NAME IS IVOR [he winks].

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Streets of Braymer
Photo by Ray Davis

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Our dedicated workforce is both loyal and productive. Most of them have been raised on farms so they have learned to work hard and long hours. Our taxes are low.

- Your Guide to Historic Caldwell County Missouri

Photo by Juliet Clark

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Involuntary associations

He says his family's vacation spot in Maine has become more diverse since wealthy couples began adopting African babies. I thought of that Braymer witticism: "I got nothing against niggers. I think everybody should own one."

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View from my parents' home in Braymer, Missouri, 2013 May 3


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.