Grey Areas

I have thoughts about a few things, and all of them fall under my frustration with the current tendency of both the internet and society as a whole to force complex situations into absolutes.  Right or wrong. Black or white. Good or bad.  There are no more allowances for the in-between, which is a huge problem because that is primarily where all living things operate: the many, many shades of grey between the absolutes.  We are so quick to either condemn or glorify each other, so intent on judging each other that none of that matters.  There is no forgiveness, no discussion, no LISTENING anymore, and I hate it.  If you defend the behavior of someone who has been deemed “problematic” or downright wrong, then YOU are immediately also wrong.  If you point out some potential issues in someone’s thoughts or behaviors, you are the enemy.  

Folks, this is a TERRIBLE way to be.  Now, I’m not saying that we need to sit and listen to the Nazi point-of-view or have some sympathy for a child molester.  There ARE some behaviors and thoughts that need to be condemned, just as there are some of those that should be commended.  But there also needs to be a much acceptance of everything that lies between that.

1) Aziz Ansari.  Let’s start this off with the easy stuff to recognize: Aziz was kind of being a dick and the girl was right to call him out on it.  Done.  

But I want to talk about something important that I haven’t seen discussed during this whole conversation about men/women/sexual advances.  And I want to bring it up because of a specific experience I had in college: a woman, ignoring my non-verbal cues completely, made aggressive sexual advances on me until I literally had loudly deny her and push her away.

Now, granted, I have ALSO had men who I wasn’t interested in try to kiss me (or more-- one guy actually spit water on me and like… even if I WAS interested, that would’ve turned me off completely so like, what was your play there sir?).  And while I agree that rape culture, toxic masculinity, and the general behaviors and attitudes that society teaches men to have towards women are causing a lot of these circumstances, I think that we ALSO have to examine how we are raising not only our women to behave, but how we are treating the subject of sex/physical intimacy in general.

Women are generally raised to be docile, agreeable creatures.  It’s better than it was, obviously, but it’s still a very prevalent thing in female culture.  We are apologizers. We are meek.  We are subservient, still not considered the “dominant” gender. We are weak and need someone to protect us. We should be soft-spoken and demure.

One of the things that stuck out to me about the Aziz story is the woman’s use of non-verbal cues.  Please understand: I am not, in any way, blaming this situation on the woman.  But honestly? Non-verbal cues for ANY situation have got to go, and I feel like they’re PRIMARILY taught to women to use so that we don’t bother anybody.  I personally think this is wrong.

And YES, I have seen the argument that non-verbal cues are used because there is significant proof that a blunt and honest “no” can cause men to become violent.  This is true, but to be honest? I don’t think the NON-verbal cues are working either, and Aziz’s situation is proof of that.  Men’s violence is the thing that needs to be fixed, and forcing women to find multiple ways of saying no that DO NOT WORK ANYWAY isn’t the solution.

I mean, how many of us have tried to be polite and tried to use non-verbal cues to express… whatever?  Displeasure with a friend, discomfort with a topic or situation, a negative reaction to something?  

And how many of us have MISREAD non-verbal cues?  I’ll admit that I definitely tried to kiss a guy friend back in the day because I thought his affection was of the romantic nature.  I’ve also COMPLETELY missed someone’s discomfort in a situation, too.  And my reaction has always been, “Why didn’t you just TELL me?”  Because the thing is? We SHOULD be able to tell each other these things.  We should be able to say no to WHATEVER without fear of repercussion.

The fact is, this girl said no and Aziz stopped, and apologized.  Does it suck that he didn’t pay attention to her non-verbal cues? Definitely.  But I also believe that if anyone who is not okay with any physical advances in a sexual situation should ABSOLUTELY verbalize that (and IMMEDIATELY, not as a last resort).  We SHOULD be teaching our children to SAY “no”, not expecting them to rely on non-verbal cues so that they don’t offend, just as we should be teaching our children to ACCEPT that “no”.  Should we also be teaching our children to recognize non-verbal cues of distress or displeasure? Yes, but I think that it’s way too easy to misread those cues.  Speak your mind.  The time of being seen and not heard is over.

There’s also the issue of how we view sex, and how we are taught to deal with our sexual urges.  For women, we are taught to guard our virginity until marriage, or at least “the right guy” comes along.  We are urged to be “ready” for our first sexual experience, even while we are given false information and expectation from all angles.  We are threatened with pregnancy, STDs, and cancer risks instead of being shown how to have sex safely.  We are taught to smother our urges rather than act on them.  We are punished either way for our attitudes towards sex: if we enjoy it we are sluts, if we wait for the right moment, we are prudes.  

For men, it is almost the exact opposite.  Sex is everything, sex proves your manhood.  Masturbation is openly talked about, joked about, and accepted, from an early age.  Men are allowed to let their hormones control them. And most importantly, men are taught that women play hard to get-- that no means yes, that we need to be “taken”, that our pleasure is not important.  Straight male sexuality is normal, welcomed, forgiven.  All others are not.  Quantity of partners  and penis size are all-important and things to brag about.  The ability to grant pleasure or even last long enough to hope for that are not even discussed.  Protection is the woman’s responsibility.  Basically, the male attitude towards sex is all about me, me, me.

With such ideas, it doesn’t surprise me that BOTH sexes feel no issue with taking what they want before asking permission-- hell, sex STILL isn't really considered a topic to be openly talked about.  We see, we want, we take.  It’s only recently that emphasis has been put on consent, and it’ll be much longer before it becomes part of sexual education as a whole.  This is why it’s so important for both parties to BE vocal about what their intentions are, so there’s no confusion.  Because the thing is, I don’t think the men OR women who made advances on me because they misread non-verbal cues are predators.  The majority of them stopped when I voiced my disapproval (now, the ones that DIDN'T? THEY'RE the predators).  The same goes for the two boys I have kissed when I misread our relationships as more than friendship-- they voiced their disapproval, and I apologized and stopped.

I believe the woman who released the information about Aziz, and I support her.  I think she has everything right to feel exactly the way she does.  But (and I think we should be ALLOWED to say “but”) I also think that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Aziz simply made a mistake-- a mistake that he apologized for.  Should he have checked with his partner before moving forward? Definitely. But I think what is getting lost in the yelling about the whole situation is the lessons that EVERYONE can learn from it, and the discussions that we SHOULD be having.

2) “The Greatest Showman”.  I saw this movie over the weekend.  I put up some comments on Twitter, but I’ll reiterate it here.

I thought the cast, music, choreography, and direction were fantastic.  However, I couldn’t shake my discomfort with the subject matter and how it was handled, which sort of ruined the experience for me.  I’ve had a few conversations about this and it encapsulated so perfectly how I feel about “not dealing in absolutes” that I wanted to discuss it a bit.  

Listen, I understand that the reason MOST people turn to books, movies, TV, whatever is to escape reality.  I TOTALLY get that.  But I also think that we all have complex enough brains to question and study the material that is placed before us, AND we can have conflicting ideas about said material.  What I don’t really understand is refusing to confront or accept any potentially “problematic” aspects of the material (or, on the other hand, passing judgment on those who are involved in/with the material in some form, particularly if they’re not the ones who caused whatever was problematic).

Let me explain.

P.T. Barnum was a real person. His story is greatly fictionalized in “The Greatest Showman”, however, and that’s where I find issue with the movie.  We’re meant to glorify this real-life person, believe that he is Hugh Jackman’s character in the movie, when he was… well, an asshole.  In real life, Barnum exploited both people of color and people with disabilities for profit.  He used blackface performers in his shows, and literally bought a blind slave to parade in front of audiences.  In fact, MOST of his performers were “bought”, not “paid”.  He tortured the animals in his shows with hooks to make them cooperate (a standard that is still used today), killed many of them due to mistreatment/malnutrition, and kept them in subpar, too-small enclosures when they weren’t onstage.

He was also a master of advertising and promotion-- hell, I learned about him in the one PR class I had in college.

So while the P.T. Barnum in “The Greatest Showman” white-saviored it up onscreen, it was a far cry from reality.  And I think that’s a problem.

Sure, some of us know enough to realize that Hugh Jackman’s character is NOT anything like the real Barnum, but the thing is? Not everyone does.  There were tiny children in my theater watching this movie.  And hey, there were probably a good amount of adults that might not have been aware of Barnum’s true past.  Now, to them, this fictional, glorified version of him is the real one.

The question here is: why? Why was this tale, one that’s already been told many times (even in musical form, too), chosen?  Why are we not creating these gorgeous musicals of glorification for better people?  Or, why are we not creating original, fictional characters since it’s 95% fiction already?  Where does the responsibility lie?

And if the responsibility lies with the audience, why are we not being encouraged to HAVE these conversations?

So while I totally understand those who chose to boycott the movie…

The cast IS, genuinely, sensational.  Keala Settle is the star of the show, Hugh Jackman is fantastic, and the music is perfectly orchestrated pop.  

So, yeah, I ALSO understand the people who genuinely liked the movie.  And this is where we have our gray area when it comes to entertainment, and I wish that more people weren’t so keen on shying away from it.

I think it’s perfectly normal to take issue with a movie while still enjoying the performance of it.  I think you can blast “This Is Me” in your headphones while still being against P.T. Barnum and everything he did.  And I think all of us should be able to TALK about our conflicts with this type of entertainment, both with each other and the filmmakers, without resorting to attacking each other.  I think that’s the only way we’re going to IMPROVE things, honestly, because as much as it’s happening nowadays, no one responds well to being attacked.

Sure, part of me feels like the filmmakers, particularly the writers and directors, had a responsibility to make it clear to the audience that Hugh Jackman’s character was not really P.T. Barnum and vice versa.  I also think they could’ve just made a more realistic movie.

I also wish that, during the press for the film, the cast was (professionally) questioned about their feelings about presenting Barnum in this manner, specifically those who played the performers.  I go back and forth about the responsibility of actors, but hey-- let’s have those conversations! They’re important.  

While we’re at it, instead of attacking every actor that’s been in a Woody Allen movie, let’s talk to them about it.  Let’s bring up the pay gap between men and women in interviews and ask for their opinions.  Let’s talk about the lack of diversity in entertainment.  But let’s also allow these actors to be HUMAN.  Let’s understand that it is possible for someone to believe Dylan Farrow and still be unable to deny their love for “Midnight in Paris”.  Let’s understand that working for a monster is not the same as accepting their behavior.  Hell, I work for one of the Big Four-- I’m sure there’s TONS of behavior going on above me that I wouldn’t be okay with, and I’m sure many of us have worked for awful human beings, too.  Why are we wasting so much energy on attacking actors who took a role instead of the companies that are continuing to give these people jobs?  Like, a movie can continue to be made if an actor drops out, but it won’t be made in the first place if it can’t find funding.  

A person can be prolific and horrible at the same time.  Hitler was downright evil, but you can’t deny his talent at public speaking.  Bill Cosby was a HUGE influence on comedy and black folks in entertainment, but he was still a rapist.  But just as we can admit their talent or influence, we can’t just forget about their wrongdoings because of it.

And being conflicted about that is NORMAL.

Please, start having conversations.  Be open to being wrong.  Listen as much as you talk.  Learn.  Recognize your privilege.  But also forgive yourself and others for being HUMAN-- for loving a movie that has a problematic person involved in it.  For being a little sad when your or someone else’s hero turns out to be a villain.  

We are ALL existing in the grey shades.  We are ALL problematic, to one degree or another.  We all make mistakes, we all fuck up, we all forget our privilege.  We are HUMAN.  Let’s start treating one another that way.