Saturday, January 21, 2006

Virginia Creeper: Kaine pulls a Clinton

Less than a week after he took office, Virginia governor Tim Kaine has managed to betray his Gay and Lesbian supporters by pledging to sign a marriage amendment referendum bill. (This bill will determine the form by which this amendment will appear before voters in the fall. It is a byzantine process.) If this marriage amendment is approved by the General Assemble and Virginia voters, it will place the draconian language of Delegate Bob Marshall's "Marriage Affirmation Act" into the constitution of the commonwealth. Unless Kaine grows a spine before then, we can't expect him to take a principled stand against the measure.

To be fair, Kaine did express some perfunctory concern over the amendment's broadness, as well as the possibility that it might deny Gays and Lesbians the right to private contract. He's right to note that it may strip same-sex couples of even the most basic legal protections. Attempts to limit the amendment's scope to marriage and civil unions have failed repeatedly in the General Assembly -- hardly surprising, since official recognition of same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships was prohibited under Virginia law long before this amendment (or for that matter, the Marriage Affirmation Act) was first proposed. Still, in an astonishing display of political contortion, Kaine has announced that he will give his blessing to the new marriage amendment even though he opposes it.

Flip, meet flop.

Gays and Lesbians supported Kaine overwhelmingly in the 2005 elections. Virginia Partisans, an organization of Gay and Lesbian Democrats, even touted his win as "a terrific victory" for the GLBT community. I wonder how they feel today. For my part, I've expressed reservations about Kaine, noting that he followed the Clinton playbook all the way to the Governor's Mansion. Now that he's elected, Kaine continues to follow the Clintonian example -- by betraying his Gay and Lesbian supporters first.

I frequently tell my heterosexual friends to keep an eye on Gay politics, because what happens to us will eventually happen to them, too. Gays and Lesbians were the first people to whom George W. Bush shut his doors, denying Gay Republicans access during his 2000 campaign. He relented later so that he could appear more tolerant, but he never took back his statement that "An openly known homosexual is somebody who probably wouldn't share my philosophy." From the start Bush has believed that those who weren't with him were against him, and Gay Americans were the first to learn what Bush would do to people he believed were against him. I doubt many of us were surprised to discover that after five years in the Oval Office, Bush has stopped listening to all Americans who don't seem to "share his philosophy." (Listening to American citizens, it seems, is the NSA's job.)

If anything, Bill Clinton was worse. He lied to his GLBT supporters throughout his presidential campaign, then attacked us outright with measures like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the "Defense of Marriage Act." As it turned out, Gays were only his first victims. By the end of Clinton's second term, there was literally -- as Christopher Hitchens put it -- "no one left to lie to." Of course, it took Clinton about a month to hop on the Gay-bashing bandwagon (with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"). Governor Kaine did it in a few days. Whatever else we can say about Kaine, he's certainly not wasting any time. If this amendment passes (as it probably will), second-class citizenship for Gay and Lesbian Virginians will be a major part of his gubernatorial legacy.

By pledging support for a broadly worded constitutional amendment -- which he also claims somehow to oppose -- Kaine has finally shown his true colors. He has demonstrated that he will sacrifice the rights of others for perceived political gain, even when he thinks it's wrong to do so.

Virginians, beware.

Monday, January 16, 2006

We Are Overcome

At long last, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin has lost his mind. According to an Associated Press report, this is how he celebrated Martin Luther King Day:
Mayor Ray Nagin suggested Monday that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and other storms were a sign that "God is mad at America" and at black communities, too, for tearing themselves apart with violence and political infighting.

"Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country," Nagin, who is black, said as he and other city leaders marked Martin Luther King Day.

"Surely he doesn't approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves."

Surely he can't be serious. Nagin has now joined the extremists and demagogues who have stated that Katrina was God's judgment on everything from Gay rights to Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. I don't think I've heard Katrina described as a punishment for the Iraq War, or "black-on-black crime," though. (Perhaps Nagin figures God doesn't mind interracial crime as much as He does the intra- variety.) Frankly, this seems a bit wonkish for the Almighty.

Nagin also claimed that he's held a few imaginary discussions with Martin Luther King, Jr. on the subject of race. (I wonder how many other imaginary friends he's discovered over the past few months.) As it turns out, the mayor has a dream, too:
... "It's time for us to rebuild New Orleans - the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans," the mayor said. "This city will be a majority African American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."

To paraphrase Langston Hughes, "What happens to a delusion deferred?"

Vintage Dog: "Mohandas and Me"

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I'm posting my annual link to "Mohandas and Me," a vintage My Stupid Dog essay in which I confront the folly and shame of my liberal past.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Narnia: Bad Faith (sarcasm, spoilers)

In the world view of Christian fundamentalism, the most important thing is power: God has it, no one else really gets a piece of it, and if you don't want to burn in eternal hellfire, you'd better go along with The Boss. Other potential qualities of God -- such as love, mercy, benevolence or self-sacrifice -- are shoved aside in the worship of His complete authority. To my mind, this isn't exactly faith, but a sort of cosmic brown-nosing. If some of those devout Bible-thumpers I grew up with began to think that the devil was more powerful than God, they might throw out the grape juice and drink goat's blood instead.

Which brings me to Andrew Adamson's film Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the C.S. Lewis books that inspire it. Fellow fantasist J.R.R. Tolkien reportedly hated the whole Narnia series, and Adamson's all-too-faithful adaptation of the first book makes it easy to see why: It's a facile Christian allegory that chokes on its overbearing whimsy.

At least the device of the enchanted wardrobe struck me as relatively plausible: I know plenty of people who tell me they found Jesus in the closet. But Lewis's land of Narnia seems cobbled together from bits and pieces of half a dozen other mythologies, without much thought as to how the pieces might fit. Even Santa Claus puts in a cameo, with a sleighful of lethal weapons. (Santa Claus -- as an international arms dealer? I suppose stranger things could happen, but I can't figure out how.)

The first problem, of course, is that Lewis's protagonists are the four Pevensie children, and their age makes this fantasy scenario difficult to take seriously. Particularly troublesome is little Edmund (Skandar Keynes, apparently a descendant of Charles Darwin) -- who doesn't seem like a bad boy so much as an understandably petulant one, especially since he has been forcibly removed from his home during the London Blitz and doesn't know whether his mother and father are alive or dead. But never mind the Nazi menace or any lingering psychological trauma: Edmund has fallen into the clutches of the White Witch of Narnia, an evil queen who has usurped the throne and plunged the land into eternal winter. (The White Witch is Tilda Swinton, who started out as the androgynous heroine of Derek Jarman films. She struts and preens like a glam rocker in concert, and her wild costumes should inspire future drag queens throughout the American heartland.) Naturally the White Witch wants to kill little Edmund. Who wouldn't? Still, I wonder if she's heard of the recent Supreme Court decision against executing juveniles.

In case you're wondering, Edmund's mortal sin consists of eating a few pastries while seated in the White Witch's coach. The other three children don't even get to have that much fun: Six-year-old Lucy (Georgie Henley) gets to smile and look cute; older sister Susan (Anna Popplewell) fights a little, but mostly stands and watches; eldest brother Peter handles the big battles and bosses his younger siblings around. The denizens of Narnia refer to them as "sons of Adam and daughters of Eve," which shows a remarkable familiarity with Hebrew scripture.

The true god of Narnia is not Jehovah, but Aslan the Talking Lion. As voiced by Liam Neeson, he's impressive enough, even sort of regal -- except that he is, after all, a talking lion. There are also talking wolves, beavers, rhinos, bears, centaurs and fauns, all of whom appear laughably implausible in their photorealistic detail. We also have Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), a naked faun whose attempts to kidnap and seduce tiny Lucy are just too creepy for words, and Oreius (Patrick Kake), a centaur who acts as the head general of Aslan's army (a thankless job if there ever was one). When all the characters assemble for the climactic battle, it looks like an episode of When Animals Attack!

Of course, there's that little matter of Aslan, and his willingness to die (sort of) on behalf of the slightly sinful Edmund. Adamson stages this scene dramatically, with the lion tormented brutally by a hook-nosed dwarf. Of course, the lion comes back from the dead, in a plot development that makes no sense whatsoever -- unless, of course, one is aware that Aslan is a Christ figure, and that the Narnia series was written as a Christian allegory. Film is not a verbal medium: It tends to emphasize events and spectacle -- and the more this film concentrates on the plot of Lewis's book (not exactly its strong suit), the more incoherent and logically inconsistent it becomes. Although one can enjoy the charm of Lewis's books without being aware of their Christian origins, one cannot do the same with this film, and presumably most audience members don't want to. After Aslan's return from the dead, he resolves his conflict with the White Witch in a matter of seconds, killing her with a single pounce (and rendering the protagonists completely irrelevant in the process). If the balance of power was always this lopsided, surely that lion could have been dispensed with his adversary long ago.

Narnia has tried to attract the same evangelical audience that turned out for Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. It may lack Passion's gratuitous violence and brutal anti-Semitism (which made the film such a smash in the Middle East), but at least it offers plenty of candy-colored CGI effects for American kiddies. For my part, I couldn't get past one brief scene near the beginning: As the Pevensie children prepare to leave their mother, eldest brother Peter espies a man in uniform who is at most a year or two older than he. The idea that Peter may be about to enlist in a real war -- a war without talking lions, hospitable beavers, or magical armaments supplied by jolly old St. Nick -- pretty much ruined the show for me. I kept imagining Peter a few years after his adventures in Narnia, lying face down on a beach in France.

Alas, the evils of our world are not easily vanquished.

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