Thursday, April 16, 2009

Yankee Doodle's Response to C.S.A.

This film was amazing. I had no idea what to expect before I got to class. I thought it was going to be more of a narrative - but the format was actually much more like a History Channel special on American History. The Confederate States of America, that is.

The most offensive, painful (and therefore the most interesting and useful) parts of this film were actually the "commercials." Items like "Nigger Hair Cigarettes" seem horrifying, until you learn at the end of the film that this was an actual product. In the commercials there were suggestions about how to own your slaves - how to keep them from running away by drugging them. There were references to black slaves being treated by vets, as opposed to actual doctors. During these scenes, the entire room either giggled, or got uncomfortable. I think most of us were thinking how outrageous and preposterous this was.

But it isn't so far off. It isn't hard for me to believe that had the Confederacy won the Civil War, we could have very easily stayed a slave nation. Even worse - all of the richest countries in the world have slave trades - still to this day. Sex slaves and indentured servant-domestic workers exist in this country - it's just no longer sanctioned by law.

I thought it was really funny that this was supposedly a British television program (from the BBS, as opposed to the BBC) - because it gave both sides to the story. There was a very eloquent black woman (from Canada) who did some of the narration, and she made no secret of how f*cked up the Confederate system was.

I think this is an important film, and I know I will insist that many of my friends watch it. I think that it is, at times, offensive - but in a way that enables us to laugh, and also really think about race in this country. The pain of slavery is far reaching. Gigi and I discussed that upon leaving the classroom, we felt badly about ourselves. Not that Gigi nor I have ever owned slaves, black or otherwise, there is a terrible guilt that follows many conscientious or sensitive white Americans. I can't ever really understand what it might be like to deal with slavery as a black American, but I have to imagine it's probably more painful from that end. Films like C.S.A. make us all remember that our country was doing overtly racist things until, like, yesterday - and only now is trying bit by bit to make up for it.

Watching this film also makes me re-love Walt Whitman. I think I'll go read some Whitman now, as it is a sunny Spring evening and I've been thinking dark things for far too long.

Something Aesthetic

This is a painting that I photographed while in London this past summer. I can see a lot of pain in this image. It is interesting that it was done by a Brit - or at least I assume so. Would the painting seem different if it were done by an American? Or - going back to our discussion of 9/11 art - how do you think this would have fared?

Thursday, April 9, 2009


The amount of pain people suffer to complete an Iron Man Triathlon is completely beyond me. I feel like this has to become a complete obsession. I don't feel the same way about the sprints and shorter triathlons, even though the training for even a half Iron Man must be tough. I don't just think people do it for the title. There is something inherently masochistic about the rigidity of the training and the massive endurance challenge the Iron Man represents.

I love sports, but I don't really love professional sports. I like playing sports, or watching people actually having fun playing. There doesn't seem to be any fun in an Iron Man Triathlon. I may be wrong - but the footage we saw in class would certainly make that argument. Like I mentioned in class, many of the female Iron Man triathletes looked to me like AIDS patients. The bones all poking out - it was ghastly. Especially watching these corpse-like figures struggling to get up and go on after their bodies give out time and time again.

Now - I am all for shaking it off and playing. I've been hit in the eye with a softball hard enough to see stitch marks, and I kept playing. But the kind of pain a body must experience after eight hours or more of hard labor is on another pain plane entirely. I also wonder what effect this kind of race must do to a person's psyche. Obviously it's intense enough to convince women (and men too, I suppose) that they have to emaciate themselves for the cause. But what about the other issues inherent in competition? To battle for twelve hours or something, just to see yourself passed by someone older, or seemingly less fit - this sport seems to be about almost nothing BUT pain.

To me, I guess, it really boils down to limits. Our own - psychological and physical. I have no desire to prove myself on the Iron Man course in Kona, Hawaii - but I do set some pretty intense goals for myself. My own perfectionism in some areas of my life could be considered masochistic, too.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Feel the Burn

I was so surprised by Professor Claycombe's presentation this tuesday. When I thought of pain and performance previously, I had thought about only circumstances like in "Angels in America" - actors portraying a false or mimed pain. I was alarmed and perversely interested in the other pain performances he showed to us.

"Sick" represents many things that are hard for me to imagine. The artist's Cystic Fibrosis, for one thing. To me, this is one of those insidious diseases that I know causes incredible pain for the sufferer, and there is no way for me to adequately wrap my mind around that level of pain. However - some of these acts of masochism performed by Bob Flanagan helped me to get a better (if horrifying) idea of the amount of pain he suffers. Seeing the images of his beaten, torn, shit-smeared body, I feel closer to him than I probably have a right to. He lets us, the audience, into his pain - so we can wallow there with him.

There is also that element of showmanship. He is a performer, after all, and he is definitely "taking it like a man." Who cares if he never played lacrosse or ran a marathon - he is taking cigarette burns to all of his most delicate parts. I think it is particularly interesting that he refers in his poetry to "taking it like a man" - and yet he is a male who has completely humbled himself before his mistress, Sherri Rose. She even sodomizes him - which lends a very interesting twist to that phrase. He sure is taking it. We saw that in all of its glory.

For me, it was less disturbing (yet even more interesting academically) to see Ron Athey's performances - probably because his masochism was displayed so differently. He was more concerned with the true "art" of the pain - and his religious tableaus (such as him playing the pincushion St. Sebastian) are representing pain on more than one level. There is his own pain and illness (HIV), there is the pain of St. Sebastian, and also a representation of a kind of religious/corporeal ecstasy that is missing in Rob Flanagan's work. I see Flanagan's pain performance as necessary for him, but I have no real need to be a part of it. Athey's work, however, has a beauty (in my opinion) that transcends physical pain and tries to tell more of a story.

I don't know much about art, but I know what I like. I do tend to like representations of pain, but to me - Sue Williams taking her pain and turning it into incredible paintings is more my speed.