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Best of Both Worlds: The Transsexual Revolution


 
Here’s a piece from my old Disinformation TV series. It originally aired in the UK on the C4 network as part of their “4Later” late-night TV programming block in 2000 and 2001 (The Divine David came right after it). There were sixteen half-hour episodes that featured people like Robert Anton Wilson, Joe Coleman, Douglas Rushkoff, Genesis P-Orridge, Kembra Pfahler, and Grant Morrison as well as some more obscure underground figures like Rocket Boy, “Uncle Goddamn” and Brice Taylor, the self-described “mind controlled sex slave of the CIA.”

It was then purchased by what is now Syfy, who never aired the series (for reasons you won’t wonder about, if you’ve seen it) despite them paying a fair whack of money for it. Eventually it came out on DVD (Netflix also has it).

In any case, this segment, “The Best of Both Worlds” was going to be the first thing viewers would have seen in year two, but I ended up shuffling that around a bit after several people warned me not to come on that strong and that I might want to ease into it with the C4 lawyers, so it ended up airing towards the end of the second series. When that episode did air (dealing with themes explored in Adam Parfrey’s Apocalypse Culture II book) there were tons of angry letters and viewer complaints. One memorable letter accused me of trying to “create mass social deviation” using the airwaves (the best compliment I’ve ever received, btw). I was later told that criminal fines were levied on a broadcaster who showed that episode in Thailand due to the piece on transsexual porn.

The thesis of the piece—and it’s something that was also written about by George Petros (who you’ll see in the segment in an interview that we shot in my then apartment in the West Village) in a provocative essay titled “The New Hermaphrodite”—is that what seemed to then be an eye-popping explosion of “chicks with dicks” porn, was not really something being marketed towards gay men at all, as might be expected, but at straight men, as a sort of “kink.” Gia Darling, a well-known director of transsexual pornography who I interviewed says this explicitly to me, that gay men are not even remotely interested in seeing depictions of femininity—especially the sort of hyper-femininity associated with transsexuals—in their porno. So who was renting all of the shemale porn that started coming out in the late 1990s then?

When the answer to this actually dawned on me—before I knew there was a question, I should say—I was walking around lowlife XXX video stores on “The Block,” Baltimore’s sleazy red light district at 7 am on a Saturday morning in 1998 (it’s actually two blocks long and at the time, still a pretty seedy spot). Perhaps a little explanation is necessary: that very weekend was one of those times in my life where my bank account went from having like $200 in it, to having quite a bit more by the following banking day. But this was the weekend before that money got deposited into my account and I found myself staying in what might be charitably have been described as a “crack hotel.”

I had taken the train to Baltimore to see Joe Coleman do a lecture (Hasil Adkins also performed) and I think I had an overly optimistic idea of what sort of reasonably priced accommodations I might find in the downtown area. The shithole I stayed in didn’t even have towels and the bed sheets (which I used as towels in the morning) smelled strongly of Pine Sol. Two morbidly obese women with their hair in curlers sat outside the place on the sidewalk on lawn furniture watching a B&W TV and chain-smoking. The clerk who checked me in did so from behind a two-inch thick bullet proof window. It was a fucking dump. The worst.

The second I woke up, I made to get out of there, but there’s not a whole lot to do in downtown Baltimore in the very early morning hours (at least not that I knew of) and so I ended up getting coffee at a 7-Eleven and wandering around until the bookstores and record stores opened. Then I bumped into “The Block.” Having read about it in one of John Waters’ books, I knew exactly where I was when I laid eyes on “it.” So I walked in—and then rather quickly out—of the stores and the strip bars that were open at that time of the morning. “The Block” lived up to its depraved reputation, but there was something I noticed that, at the time, seemed quite remarkable…

In every Baltimore porn store, there was a disproportionately high percentage of the floor space—25 to 40%—devoted to “shemale” DVDs. Mostly straight porn, then the transsexual porn and only then a very small amount (5-6%) of gay porn. Baltimore, if you’ve never been there, is more or less a hillbilly and poor black city (that doesn’t describe the entire city, no, but it will suffice). Even at that early hour, these places were pretty crowded. The men who were perusing these wares were all working class guys, the sort of dudes who carry lunchboxes to work with them. As “normal” as you could get. Why all the interest in “chicks with dicks” (at 7am) and yet the apparent disinterest in the “regular gay” DVDs?

It seemed to me that the answer to that question would make good television.

Another thing that’s worth mentioning about this piece is a sort of “oh duh” epiphany I had when I was doing some interviews at Gia Darling’s apartment. Alyssa, Gia’s downstairs neighbor (who I assumed, until I was told otherwise, was a biological female and Gia’s zany “fag hag” friend) was trying to explain something to me about the difficulty for her to find a straight boyfriend because she wasn’t herself interested in being with a gay man (in fact, she seemed to look down on the idea with great disdain). 

Later, when we were editing the piece and I was watching the raw interview footage, I could hear myself not quite getting what she was trying to communicate to me, like it just wasn’t computing in my brain, and Gia can be heard off camera trying to patiently explain it to me. It seemed to make a lot of sense to cut it around Alyssa’s poignant remarks because I didn’t want the piece to seem lurid or unsympathetic (For the record, I wholeheartedly agree with what Gia Darling says towards the end about the daily heroism of a transgender person. It made me happy to be able to include that part).

When the show aired and I sent videotapes to all the participants, I was pleased to see how positively Gia, Alyssa and everyone else felt about the piece and how jazzed they were to be able to say the things they got to say on network television.

Shot and edited by Nimrod Erez, music by Adam Peters and Chris Brick (Family of God). (Don’t blame me for the distorted audio or the typo, it’s not my upload).
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Rocket Boy: Intergalactic Space Mercenary (and out of work porn actor)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Shameless Tory Lies?: A spoonful of Twaddle helps the Clap-trap go down

a_spoonful_twaddle_alan_rogerson
 
It was George Orwell who explained that “Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Well, there’s certainly been a lot of wind expelled by the Conservatives this week in their lap dog press.

The Daily Twaddle-graph has been putting about a bogus claim that two-thirds of British millionaires have become tax exiles because of the last Labour government’s introduction of a 50% tax on salaries over £150,000.

The paper quotes Tory MP, Harriet Baldwin who claims the 50p tax led to a “cull” of millionaires and has cost up to £7billion in lost revenue.

Since most of us have never heard of Ms. Baldwin, let me explain who she is: “the backbencher with blond hair and a brown nose,” who once presented “a magnificent display of oleaginous toadying” during prime minister’s questions when she inquired of Mr. Cameron, ‘Can I praise the prime minister’s staunch support …?’

Ms. Baldwin’s tax claims are loosely based on figures released by the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, which apparently reveal a disparity between the number of millionaires paying tax on their incomes.

The figures show that more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million for the 2009-10 tax year.

But after the previous Labour government introduced the new 50 pence in the pound top rate of income tax shortly before the 2010 General Election, only 6,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million.

This figure has now risen to 10,000 after current Chancellor George Osborne announced in his budget speech in March 2012, there will be a reduction in the top tax rate to 45 pence commencing in April 2013.

Sniffing the whiff of a story, the Conservatives seized on this information to claim that “increasing the highest rate of tax actually led to a loss in revenues for the Government.” As the Daily Telegraph reported:

It is believed that rich Britons moved abroad or took steps to avoid paying the new levy by reducing their taxable incomes.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, announced in the Budget earlier this year that the 50p top rate will be reduced to 45p from next April.

Since the announcement, the number of people declaring annual incomes of more than £1 million has risen to 10,000.

However, the number of million-pound earners is still far below the level recorded even at the height of the recession and financial crisis.

Last night, Harriet Baldwin, the Conservative MP who uncovered the latest figures, said: “Labour’s ideological tax hike led to a tax cull of millionaires. Far from raising funds, it actually cost the UK £7 billion in lost tax revenue.

“Labour now needs to admit that their policies resulted in millionaires paying less tax and come clean about whether they would reintroduce this failed policy if they were in power.”

This is a case of 2 + 2 = 5.

Which is something we may come to expect from Harriett Baldwin who, as a novice MP, has previously been corrected on her spurious claims about workless households.

But it’s not just Baldwin, the Daily Telegraph has to take a good part of the blame for printing such a “bizarre”, “bogus” and misleading story.

As Richard Murphy, at Tax Research, points out that although there was indeed 16,000 millionaires in 2009-2010, and only 6,000 a year later, this is because:

...£18 billion of income was ‘forestalled’ from 2010-11 unto 2009-10 to avoid the 50p income tax rate. That meant income was simply shifted from the later year into the earlier year to get round the additional tax charge.

In round sums the above data shows those earning more than £150,000 paid tax of £33 billion in 2010-11, implying taxable income of about £88 billion, based on the data (not all will be taxed at 50%, of course).
The previous year the income of those earning over £150,000 was about £121 billion.

Forestalling would explain maybe £18 billion of this change. Even the Treasury agreed that. But remember that means an adjustment is needed to both years. In other words 2009-10 was overstated by £18 billion. It should have been £103 billion as a result. And 2010-11 was understated by £18 billion. It should have been £106 billion after the forestalling effect was removed.

So there was actually an increase in income in 2010-11 for those earning over £150,000 but for a massive and one off exercise in tax avoidance. And there was no impact at all of people leaving the country.

And the Telegraph story is utterly bogus.

The Tory government was aware of this forestalling on the £18 billion of income, and as far back as March 2012, Faisal Islam explained this in his his report on George Osborne’s budget speech for Channel 4 News:

Here’s an amazing fact. Apart from the leap in the personal tax allowance, what was the largest annual tax cut today? Expected tax avoidance this year.

In fact you may have missed the mini fiscal stimulus at the heart of this Budget. There will be a £3bn fiscal loosening over the next year, followed by a £3bn tightening in the following years. What may be surprising is that this is almost entirely caused by £2.4bn of tax avoidance from Britain’s rich this year, that is then unwound in later years. Yes, this is the OBR’s expectation in this financial year that the rich will not pay out £6.5bn of dividends and bonuses in this tax year, but shift it into April 2013 when it attracts the 45p tax rate. Perfectly legal.

This follows on from that truly amazing staistic that I revealed on Channel 4 News on Monday. The Chancellor confirmed in his speech that Britain’s rich moved a staggering £16bn of dividends and bonuses. The HMRC report says £16-£18bn. My report on Monday put this “forestalling” at £18-20bn.

So the fact remains that the decision on the 50p rate was made on the basis of one year’s highly distorted data. Now the chancellor’s take on this was that avoidance at this level shows that the tax didn’t work. But what he didn’t say was that the forestalling effect was a one-off. The HMRC report does try to strip out the impact of forestalling and analyse other “behavioural impacts”.

Harriet Baldwin’s comments are not only misleading they are actually false.

There has been no “cull” of millionaires.

Two-thirds of British millionaires have not become “tax exiles.”

It is in fact - shock horror - Harriet’s party, the Conservatives who are helping Britain’s millionaires avoid tax, by allowing them to forestall until the 45p tax rate arrives in 2013.

This means the any lost tax is solely down to the forestalling of taxes due on £18-£20 billion.

So, it the Tories’ “policies resulted in millionaires paying less tax” NOT Labour’s 50p tax rate.

Worse, while the Tories allow their rich chums to forestall on paying the correct rate on tax, they are brutally cutting financial support to essential welfare services.

All of this tax avoidance may be legal but it hardly sits with Cameron’s view of “Big Society”, and his hopes to make “poverty history.” Well he’s certainly a long way from ever achieving this fantasy, when he supports tax cuts for the rich and welfare cuts for the poor.

Let’s not forget as the Guardian has pointed out, Cameron has already sanctioned a series of £20 billion welfare cuts by 2014 that will, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies:

...throw 80,000 children back into poverty each year, or 300,000 over the lifetime of the parliament. The Department for Work and Pensions puts the number of children currently in poverty at 27%, or 3.6 million children, two thirds of them living in working families; by 2020 it will be 4.2 million.

...

The IMF global outlook reported [in October] that for every pound that is cut, GDP will contract by up to £1.70. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the annual cost to the UK’s GDP of child poverty is £25bn, while only £200m will be saved by limiting child benefit to two children. If it sounds like madness, it is.

If the Tory press has to stoop to publishing “bizarre” and “bogus” stories to convince the public that the Rich should not be taxed, then the Conservatives are not only morally bankrupt, they are NOT fit to govern any country. And that’s the real story the Daily Telegraph should have published.
 
Illustration (and inspiration for headline) by Alan Rogerson.

You can see and buy more of Alan’s excellent work at his site Baggelboy.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Rivers of Dickheads (The Rise and Fall of Tommy Robinson and the English Defence League)


 
Last year, the British Islamist and all-round comedian Anjem Choudary (“Fox’s Favorite Muslim Radical”) popped up alongside three of four local Islamists in Walthamstow, East London to declare, before of a press audience pushing double figures, the instigation of Sharia law in the surrounding borough of Waltham Forest! This, to be sure, had as much meaning as would my declaring the legalization of methamphetamine in New York State, but a couple of tabloids duly trotted out the story all the same. Choudary laid it down in his usual disconcertingly suburban tones.

“This will mean this is an area where the Muslim community will not tolerate drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, usury, free mixing between the sexes – the fruits if you like of Western civilization. We want to run the area as a Sharia controlled zone and really to put the seeds down for an Islamic Emirate in the long term.”

A year on, I can testify (as a relatively hard-livin’ resident of Walthamstow) that the Islamic Emirate of Waltham Forest looks a fair old way off regardless of last year’s stunt, while the local Islamist movement remains more depressing than intimidating.

Take my local Internet café (please!) which has the following admonition on the wall: “PLEASE NO MORE LOOKING AT TERRORIST AND PORNOGRAPHY SITES. POLICE WILL BE CALLED IMMEDIATELY.” The impression is of a minority of “armchair Jihadists” –losers paying a pound an hour to haunt chat-rooms almost certainly observed by (and likely moderated and maintained by) Anglo-American intelligence agents.

Many–including many Islamists–consider Choudary himself to be an embarrassingly obvious British Intelligence Asset. You can see why. There’s something distinctly phony about him, while his associated groups (such as the snappily titled Islam4UK) seem solely focused on generating supremely banal controversy rather than advancing any sort of Islamic agenda.

For example, Choudary first acquired widespread notoriety when he led a small group in heckling soldiers’ coffins back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, this upset a lot of people, among them Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka “Tommy Robinson,” a seething Islamophobe from Luton, who decided, along with some like-minded berks, to surf the wave of public outrage and announce the formation of the EDL, or English Defence League, the self-styled “street protest movement,” predominantly consisting of angry rough white working class men–many of them former soccer hooligans–who up to very recently have regularly descended on various English towns by the coach-load to get pissed and chant about Mohammed being a pedophile (this is literally what they do).
 

 
Initially identifying “radical Islam” as the object of its drunken ire, the EDL has since expanded its scope to include Islam in general. (It’s like I always say, if you’re gonna pick a fight, pick one with a billion people.) Robinson–a surprisingly baby-faced monomaniac–explained the reason for this on Newsnight a couple of years back.

“I didn’t know anything about the Koran when this first started. I didn’t know wot left wing or right wing woz. I never even turned the computer on. I just knew things were seriously wrong.”

It ain’t every day someone admits founding a political movement in a state of total ignorance! Rest assured that Robinson’s computer has since remained very much on, and his prejudice blossomed into the full-blown Islamophobic ideology recognizable the world over. As such, Robinson publicly eschews many of the traditional hatreds of the British far right–gays, Jews, women–so as to concentrate entirely on Muslims…

Hence the intermittent presence of right wing Californian rabbi Nachum Shifren–“the surfing rabbi”–at various EDL outings. That the fundamentalist Shifren (no less a comedian, in his own way, than Anjem Choudary) advocates the stoning of gay people arguably complicates the EDL’s LGBT pretensions, but then the following extract from a Shifren EDL speech suggests there might be number of crossed wires here.

“I’ve a question for you today. Is there a man or a woman here–I want you to step forward if you are here–if there’s anybody here that wants to forever forgo reading Locke, Chaucer, Dickens or Goethe, can we hear from them now, because that’s what you’re gonna get if the Islamists take over!?!”

Got quite a small cheer, that–the likelihood of any of Shifren’s audience knuckling down to some Locke, Chaucer, Dickens or Goethe (or even knowing who they are) being pretty darn slim.
 

 
Tommy Robinson, of course, much better understands the EDL demographic, and began a recent speech with the following, more attuned opening gambit:  “At half four this morning, I was in a strip club in Slovenia…” (banging on, you suspect, about Muslims, while a bored blonde wriggled her ass in his crotch). ““I was at my mate’s stag weekend… I got a taxi from the airport.” Got a big cheer, that, the stag weekend representing a kind of hoodlum Hajj, the central pilgrimage of an inverse Islam.

It can seem that there is something antithetical about Islamic and British culture (the EDL’s version of it, anyway). Which is to say that the latter seems founded almost solely on what the former deems haram –“forbidden.” First of all, you’ve got booze… haram. Then you’ve got the fried breakfast, with its fifty-seven different uses for pig flesh… haram. Random naked women (whether in a strip club or the pages of a tabloid newspaper)… haram. The bookies… haram. The gram of sniff… haram. Headbutting your mate in jest… haram. Even soccer (according to many Sharia scholars I came across)… haram.

Might it not be credible that, beneath all the cant about clashing civilizations, beneath even the tacit aversion to anyone that isn’t bright pink, the EDL are motivated by a fear of having absolutely fuck all to do in the extremely unlikely eventuality of a Sharia UK? This, they must figure, is why Muslims pray five times a day. It kills time!

Anyway, obediently following Anjem Choudary’s breadcrumb trail of provocation, September saw the EDL undertake a day trip to the aforementioned “Islamic Emirate of Waltham Forest”… where they were told, by a very wide cross section of locals, to fuck off. In fact so many people turned out to deliver this message, that the whole demo was disrupted, the speeches were cancelled, and the entire “street protest” approach was thrown into contention among the EDL rank-and-file.
 

 
Adding to the fall-out was a campaign from Nick Griffin–leader of the British National Party and the traditional big kahuna of the British far right–accusing the EDL of being some kind of dastardly Zionist ploy (the presence of “the surfing rabbi” presumably giving the game away there). Robinson took to YouTube to brandish an assortment of mortgage arrears and unpaid bills, apparently at breaking point. “If I’ve got all this rich Zionist funding,” he shouted, “why’s my phone been cut off for two bloody weeks?”

Shortly after, and with a view to regaining the whole race-hate initiative, Robinson led a bunch of EDL goons in an attempt to occupy a mosque. Fortunately, the cops got wind of it and nipped that scheme in the bud, arresting over fifty potential participants. All were bailed apart from Robinson, who was remanded on a charge for having accessed the US with a fake passport in order to attend an anti-Islam conference hosted by the lovely Pamela Geller. Locked up and facing extradition to the US, Robinson can do little to prevent what looks like the final disintegration of his movement. Ah well, Tommy, at least you were indirectly responsible for the immortal “Muslamic Ray Guns” (see below).

And what of that old fraud Anjem Choudary? He’s got some pretty big fish to fry, let me tell you. Remember that young lady Malala Yousafzai, the fifteen-year-old shot by the Pakistani Taliban after she campaigned for education rights for girls? Well, never one to miss an opportunity to humiliate his supposed co-religionists, Choudary latest organization–Sharia4Pakistan–is reportedly holding a conference in Islamabad to call for her execution! Comedians, the lot of them…  
 

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Discussion
Cabinet of Curiosities: Steven Arnold, greatest American artist you’ve probably never heard of?
11.28.2012
03:06 pm

Topics:
Art
Queer

Tags:
Steven Arnold


 

My angels
Please don’t take me for granted – I’m a rare
Freak of nature and now is the time to appreciate
What I am saying to the Earth
Love, Steven Arnold
September 10, 1990

I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m someone who lives for outsider art and culture, and like the other contributors to Dangerous Minds, it’s fun for me, as that kind of extreme “infomaniac,” to be able to marquee for our readers in some way the various weird things that I know about, stumble across acidentally or that gets submitted to us. A big part of the enjoyment also comes from seeing what everyone else comes up with—I get it at just about the same time that you do—and the most fun of all is when I get to discover something that’s totally unknown to me that perhaps I should have known about, but didn’t.

I’m usually pretty hard to stump, but it’s the best thing ever, as far as I’m concerned, when that does happen. Like with the work of Steven Arnold. Prior to March of this year, I’d never heard of him. For a straight guy, I actually happen to know quite a bit about 20th century queer underground art films (Warhol, Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses, John Waters, Jean Genet, Kenneth Anger, Thundercrack, Andy Milligan, Black Lizard Jack Smith’s Beautiful Creatures and Normal Love, the Kuchar Brothers, Pink Narcissus, etc.—it’s not all that long of a list). But Steven Arnold? Nope, doesn’t ring a bell.

Steven Arnold, who died in 1994, is one of the greatest—albeit, admittedly rather unfairly obscure—avant garde photographic geniuses America has ever produced. First I stumbled across his 1971 cult movie Luminous Procuress—a jaw-dropping surrealist film praised by both Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol—on Vimeo (I was researching something on The Cockettes) and then I was positively stunned by what I saw on display at the exhaustive website about his work, The Steven Arnold Archive, maintained by Stephanie Farago (a wonderful artist in her own right).
 

 
Here’s a slightly abridged version of Arnold’s bio from the site:

Steven Arnold (1943–1994) was a California-based multi-media artist, spiritualist, gender bender, and protegee of Salvador Dali. His work consisted of drawings, paintings, rock and film posters, makeup design, costume design, set design, photography and film.

Steven also played an instrumental role in giving The Cockettes, the famed psychedelic San Francisco drag troupe, their first chance to perform on stage in exchange for free tickets to his “Nocturnal Dream Show” – which was among the first-ever Midnight Movie showcases. This launched The Cockettes into underground fame.

Early in his career, Steven also nurtured a prolific creative relationship with pioneer of the wearable art movement Kaisik Wong which lasted until Kaisik’s death in 1989. Their work together included the production and design of a play titled Dragonfly, and several tableaux vivant photography collaborations. Throughout his life, Steven’s eccentric modes of expression led him to the upper-crust of both coasts, including encounters, in some cases lifelong friendships, with the likes of Vogue’s Diana Vreeland, actress Ellen Burstyn, psychedelic explorer Timothy Leary, Jay Leno, The Cars, George Harrison, Blondie‘s Debbie Harry, Divine, and Warhol Superstar Holly Woodlawn.

Among Steven’s most notable early works is a rarely-seen film gem titled Luminous Procuress, starring Pandora and featuring The Cockettes, which was lauded by Salvador Dali, and Andy Warhol, among others. In fact, Dali was so impressed with the film, that he invited Steven, Pandora (Steven’s muse, and the film’s star), Kaisik Wong, and their entourage to help him open his Dali Theater-Museum in Figueres, Spain. Luminous Procuress was edited and scored by electronic music forefather Warner Jepson. The film continues to be screened worldwide, including showings at the Tate Modern, London, and CPH:DOX, Denmark. Steven’s films have been recently featured Museum of the Moving Image, the Tate Modern, London, and the List Visual Art Center Film Night at MIT.

Although his early film work garnered him much attention, Steven was best known for his exquisite, surreal, black & white tableau vivant photography produced from the old pretzel factory he called Zanzibar Studios in Los Angeles. His photography has been exhibited at the Tate Modern, London; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; among others. Steven Arnold’s works are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany; the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; Cinematheque Francaise, Paris, France; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MoMA); the Oakland Museum of California; and the Cincinnati Art Museum. His works are in the private collections of: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ellen Burstyn, Cher, Salvador Dali, Goldie Hawn, Yves St. Laurent, Diana Vreeland, and many others. Steven published three books of photography during his lifetime: Reliquaries, with a foreword by Ellen Burstyn, Epiphanies, with afterword by James Leo Herlihy, and Angels of Night. Steven Arnold Stemmle Edition, a photographic retrospective, was published posthumously.

 

 
Steven Arnold’s work exists at a delicate intersection of Luis Buñuel, Ken Anger,The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 50’s Hollywood glamour photography, Pink Narcissus, Joel-Peter Witkin and Jack Smith. I’ve never seen anything else even remotely like it, although I can also see an influence Arnold’s work might have had on Rocky Schenk’s wonderfully artsy portraits and the highly-styled portraiture landscapes of Josef Astor.
 

 
Steven Arnold, in his own words:

“I interview myself all day long – Doesn’t everyone? Rant and rave about bliss, the creative process angels listening to higher message-appreciation of one’s gifts. The best way to elevate consciousness is to do the work with love. Love is sharing the message.”

 

 

“Art is revolution or it’s nothing.”

 

 
For more information on the life and work of Steven Arnold, visit The Steven Arnold Archive. I recommend downloading the PDF file of the proposed coffee table book on Arnold which you can find here.
 

 
A new exhibit, Steven Arnold: Cabinet of Curiosities, a retrospective of this groundbreaking yet under-recognized queer artist will be on display through January 12, 2013 at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, 626 North Robertson Boulevard in West Hollywood. The exhibition celebrates Arnold’s radical imagination, presenting many of his tableaux vivant photographs alongside never before exhibited drawings, sketchbooks, paintings and original poster art. In conjunction with the exhibition, ONE will screen Arnold’s four films, including Luminous Procuress on the exhibit’s closing day, Saturday, January 12, 2013

Below, Luminous Procuress (you can purchase all of Arnold’s films on DVD and support The Steven Arnold Archive):
 

 
Arnold’s 1967 short, The Liberation of Mannique Mechanique:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
A brief primer on Black Power Christmas music

album cover
 
Turkey Day has passed us by, and it is officially the Christmas season. And, as the Pamplona of Black Friday reminded us, this means an onslaught of fevered consumerism, fetishizaton of commodities, conspicuous consumption, and all that other icky stuff that turns our red little stomachs stomachs. Exacerbating that nausea is the hallmark corniness of the holidays. “Peace on earth and goodwill towards men” can feel so cliched and forced when contrasted with the materialism of the spectacle. It’s easy to get a little contemptuous at Christmas.

It’s all reminiscent of George Orwell’s essay, “Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun.” A self-identified socialist, Orwell begins the piece with an anecdote on Lenin, who was, as the story goes, reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on his death bed. It’s said that communist revolutionary denounced the feel-good classic as full of “bourgeois sentimentality.” A fun guy, that one.

Orwell goes on to bemoan the kind of cynicism exhibited by Lenin and his ilk, noting that we dour anti-capitalists can’t seem to enjoy anything nostalgic or sentimental. I think anyone with much experience in radical circles has recognized the tendency. So in the interest of subverting our fuddy-duddy dispositions, allow me to show you one of my favorite Christmas music sub-genres: The Black Power Christmas Song.

Now, I’m not just talking about a Christmas song performed by a black artist, or even a Christmas song performed in a black genre. I am talking about a Christmas song that portrays Christmas itself as explicitly black. Let’s start with “The Be-Bop Santa Claus,” by Babs Gonzalez.

 
This 1957 update of T’was the Night Before Christmas starts out with the line, “T’was the black before Christmas.” Now Babs was a bebop pioneer and poet, and used to go by the name “Ricardo Gonzalez” in an attempt to get into hotels that discriminated against black people; that coy little line is an incredibly personal one. What follows is a perfect depiction of the Reaganite’s boogeyman, complete with suede shoes, Cadillacs, and Applejack; it’s fantastically subversive, unapologetic, and totally self-aware.
 
Of course, I can’t resist including the 1958 white hipster rip-off, “Beatnik’s Wish,” by Patsy Raye & the Beatniks.
 

 
It’s quite the (ahem) “homage.” Paging Norman Mailer…

If “The Be-Bop Santa Claus” alludes to urban poverty, James Brown’s “Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto” leaves nothing to the imagination.

 

 
“Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud” was released as a two-part single in August of 1968. This song was released a few months later on James’ full-length, A Soulful Christmas, which was the first LP to feature “Say it Loud.” Meaning James Brown, already a floating signifier for the Black Power Movement, released “Say it Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud,” on a fucking Christmas album. Take that, Lenin! It acknowledges black poverty as a pressing matter of social justice in a seemingly incongruously celebratory song. Second, the song applies radical Black Power politics to something as traditional as Christmas. (If I could add a third, I’d also say that this is just a sick jam, but I digress.)

This one, however, is my absolute favorite.

 
Performed by Teddy Vann and his daughter, Akim, “Santa Claus is a Black Man” is arguably the most adorable product of Black Power. I mean look at that album cover! Look at her wee little Black Power fist! Listen to her sweet, spastic, bubbly little voice!

Not only can I not overemphasize the significance of radical children’s art being sung by an actual child (we so rarely give children the reigns, so to speak), “Santa Claus is a Black Man” is a brilliantly executed piece of kid-sized politics. You have a black child satirizing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” which was originally sung by Jimmy Boyd, arguably the whitest damn child in the world. And the hook is, “and he’s handsome, like my Daddy, too,” an joyous assertion of “Black is Beautiful.”

Interestingly, towards the end, Akim says, “I want to wish everybody Happy Kwanzaa.” When Kwanzaa was first introduced in 1966, founder and activist Maulana Karenga promoted the holiday as a way to “give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday, and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” Much to Karenga’s surprise, African Americans were rarely willing to give up the holiday of the oppressor, and eventually Karenga softened his position to allow Kwanzaa to be celebrated alongside Christmas, though not before “Santa Claus is a Black Man” was released in 1973. In the grand scheme of things, people don’t really want to be sectarian when it comes to Santa Claus.

Of course, none of this music succeeds in making Christmas cool. Even though these are great, subversive little songs, they’re also rife with the exact sort of schlocky sentimentality we’ve come to expect from Christmas music. And why shouldn’t they be? What’s so bad about sentimental and schlocky, anyway? Does Wal-Mart win if we enjoy a little syrupy holiday cheer? Will a few tender moments soften our anti-capitalist resolve? These songs are all navigating a very old tradition in order to reflect the radical ideas, the radical ideas we hope will become our new traditions. They use Christmas to represent the underrepresented and condemn racism and poverty, and they do it all with a little bit of mawkish sincerity and delight.

This Christmas, let’s resist our inner-Lenins, and let’s wallow in a little sentimentality. Hey, it was good enough for James Brown.

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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