Em oi! #382: Make Good Choices

No bare bodkins here, sorry.

We went and saw the new Hamlet out at American Player’s Theatre in honor of my cousin Keith graduating from his PhD program. It was a pretty good show–the fellow playing Hamlet reminded me of David Tennant’s Hamlet, to some extent, and the guy playing Polonius reminded me of Bill Murry’s turn at that role. Jim DeVita, who played Claudius, was quite good, and I was reminded of the first Hamlet I saw there, with Mr. DeVita in the title role then. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were good and not portrayed as idiots, for once, which was very refreshing.

There were some more interesting things about the casting this time–for example, Horatio, Fortinbras, and a few other parts were played by African American actors; I don’t recall seeing that previously. It does kind of raise some other questions about race in casting (like: Couldn’t you cast a Black Hamlet?). But it’s a step, right?

The costumes were sort of surprisingly loud–the ball gowns and capes were made from some shiny material, maybe taffeta, and there wasn’t any wind, so as the actors went sweeping across the stage, we could hear the silken, sad, uncertain rustling. (And it didn’t thrill me.) But I do like a period dress Hamlet. I’ve been trying to put a finger on why modern-dress Shakespeare kind of bugs me, and I think it has something to do with the fact that when the actors are in modern dress, we have to pretend that the plays themselves are modern. What do I mean? Well, of course the plots are incredibly dynamic and, with a few exceptions, speak to us as much today as they did four hundred years ago. But not every sentiment in them is exactly an upstanding modern sentiment. For example: “Frailty, thy name is woman.” “Then weigh what loss your honour may sustain,/If with too credent ear you list his songs,/Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open/To his unmaster’d importunity.” Or how about Ophelia, speaking of the play, “Tis brief, my lord.” Hamlet: “As woman’s love.”

I could keep going, but I think I’ve made my point. I should add that I would rather see a modern dress anything than another “Hamlet wears tights and a dress tunic because that’s kind of like the way people dressed in the 1600s right?”

Interestingly, while I was drawing this comic, two people (neither of whom were aware of my researching J.P. Sartre) sent me the following joke:

Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a French cafe, revising his draft of Being and Nothingness. He says to the waitress, “I’d like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream.” The waitress replies, “I’m sorry, Monsieur, but we’re out of cream. How about with no milk?”

Why is this funny? Because Sartre focused on the idea of choice. His thing about “authenticity” was that everyone should live the life that they want, so long as they do not negatively affect/exploit others, replacing ego with a “spontaneous selfness” he refers to as “ipsity.” As part of being in the world, we are free; choices represent a problem because they limit our freedom. But in order to really make a choice, you can’t just follow the path of least resistance–you need to actually make a choice. Since there’s no cream, he can’t really choose not to have cream, since he couldn’t choose the opposite (to have cream). (Quote from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Wikipedia also has a nice summary.) Anyway, Hamlet’s choice to either get revenge or spare his father is problematic in Sartre’s terms.

This one is filed under PR2807.A8 L86 2013 for English literature–English renaissance (1500-1640)–The drama–Individual authors–Shakespeare, William–Separate works–Hamlet–Criticism.

The process of choosing titles is a bit troublesome. I almost went with “Authenticity” (after a Harvey Danger song) but only my brother S. would have gotten it, since he and I are the only remaining Harvey Danger fans. As it is, perhaps he will appreciate this one.

Anyway, changing topics, here is the first comic I ever drew with Shakespeare in it:

Men in Dresses is my Queen cover band.

This one I’ll file under PN56.H83 L86 2013 for Literature (General)–Theory. Philosophy. Esthetics–Relation to and treatment of special elements, problems, and subjects–Other special–Topics A-Z–Humor.

Also you should know that the Library of Congress has reserved the heading BF1311.S5 for Parapsychology–Spiritualism. Communication with discarnate spirits–Mediumship. Psychometry. Channeling–Spirit messages, inspirational records, etc.–Special, A-Z–Shakespeare, William. So. You know. That.

Scott Walker and the Abortion Law

If you have read my comic for a while, you may have gotten the feeling that I am pro-choice. This is not something I have talked about much on the blog, because I think that it is a complex topic with many ethical gray areas that cannot really be well-discussed in a short amount of time. But recently, the republicans in the Wisconsin legislature began to push through some anti-abortion laws that made me very angry.[1]

I thought, when I was younger, that we lived in a pluralistic country founded on the principles of freedom of religion and separation of church and state. Increasingly, however, that seems to not be the case. But passing laws based on evangelical Christianity to govern a diverse country just isn’t cricket.

I only want to protest if there are sock puppets involved.
I only want to protest if there are sock puppets involved.

That isn’t to say that I feel like abortion is a straightforward question. There are certainly arguments to be made that there is a point in a fetus’s development where the ethicalness of an abortion (in most situations, but not all) tips to the “don’t do it” side. But I want this debate to be played out by bioethicists.

After all, there are things that doctors can legally do but they don’t, because it would be unethical (like the kinds of experiments Andrew Wakefield did). And there are other things that actually are unethical (like promising someone that they can be cured by homeopathic treatments) that are also legal. So why should abortion be singled out as the medical treatment that the government decides to legislate on? And why should legislators, who are not by and large doctors, nor are known for the depth of their scientific knowledge, be allowed to pass judgment on this?

I do understand why they’re doing it, sort of. In theory, evangelical Christians believe that abortion is murder (which I think is mostly wrong, but I’ll let the point stand for the sake of argument). If thought that people were being routinely murdered in the US, I would be against it (and I am–against the death penalty, and against uncontrolled, unregulated gun ownership). But laws like this ultrasound law don’t actually speak to the sense that murder may be going on–it just says, “There are reasons for getting an abortion, some of which are OK and some of which are not, and we want to police women’s sexual and reproductive agency by being the ones who get to decide what constitutes a reason.” It turns out that I have a problem with old white men telling me what I should do. In reproduction. In art. In life.

The problem is that the governor has repeatedly showed that he is motivated only by money, and is unwilling to listen to dissent or debate. There were protests about these laws, but–no one cared. Somehow during the 1960s and early 70s, there were enough people protesting the Vietnam War that the government had to take them seriously. But protesters in the US have not held that kind of sway since. In addition, Walker has been so outrageous on so many topics–busting collective bargaining, trying to disenfranchise huge numbers of voters, opening Wisconsin to environmental piracy and more–that most people are pretty tired of being angry. We’re just resigned. So I decided to write a letter to him to vent spleen.

Dear Scott,

I hope you don’t like me calling you Scott. I know it is not the preferred address for someone in your position, but I assume that because you feel it is acceptable to legislate about my internal organs, we must be on a first name basis. I also hope to come across as mildly condescending, because I believe that the recent bill requiring women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound prior to receiving an abortion is predicated on the assumption that women are stupid, an assumption with which I take issue.
The bill, nicknamed the “Woman’s Right to Know Her Unborn Child Act,” seems to rest on the belief that women who go for abortions don’t really know that they have a fetus in their uterus. “So let’s show them the fetus!” the reasoning goes. But in fact, women who seek abortions are quite aware that there is a fetus in their uterus—that is why they are seeking an abortion. If there was ever a chance of there being something different in there—a new car perhaps?—I would not be as opposed to this procedure as I am.[i]

But in fact, the truth is that this bill is not designed to induce women to have fewer abortions. If you wanted to make it easier for women to raise children, you would consider projects that could reduce poverty such as making sure women get paid the same as men,[ii] increasing funding for daycare, or improving welfare payments for women with children. You could even offer a guaranteed paid leave for women and their partners.[iii] If you wanted to decrease abortions on the other side, you could increase funding for comprehensive sex education, make birth control more readily available, and offer family planning clinics to help women make informed decisions about when to have children.

I don’t believe the rhetoric about “every fetus is a gift” either. If you really believed that, why not move condoms behind the counter in the drug store or institute mandatory waiting periods for men seeking vasectomies? You could even require they undergo a trans-anal ultrasound to check the health of their prostates.

This bill is designed to shame women; that is its sole purpose. That is made clear in the exceptions allowed for cases of rape and incest. The truth is, they only make sense when you consider the bill in this manner. Perhaps a case study will further prove my point. Consider: Two women require abortions. Sally was raped. Molly had sex with her husband, but his vasectomy failed, and they have determined they cannot afford to raise another child (they already have two). Sally filed a police report and is as such exempt from the ultrasound. Molly is not—but isn’t she equally blameless for her situation?

Scott, I am tired of the rhetoric in the Republican Party that suggests that women are second class citizens who deserve to be treated as little better than gestational carriers who are capable of making sandwiches. I will not stand for such a message, and I hope that I am not the only woman who is hearing it. The next election is coming, and we will remember what you have done. 2014 is coming, and the people of Wisconsin will no longer tolerate your placing the “needs” of your rich donors above the well-being of our state’s people and economy. So enjoy your political career now. It is my dearest hope that it will not continue much longer.


[i] That’s a joke. I would still be opposed.
[ii] You don’t care about this, either—remember when you repealed the equal pay act? I do.
[iii] Did you know that the US is one of the only countries worldwide that doesn’t require some amount of paid parental leave?

Walker is, for some reason, occasionally referred to as an up-and-coming republican wunderkind of some sort, possibly because he is good at 1) taking money and 2) kissing asses. I don’t really get it–he’s not presidential material (he didn’t finish college; even George W. Bush had a graduate degree), and he looks like a version of Paul Ryan where he slept on his face and it stuck that way, so he doesn’t have Dan Quayle’s reported appeal to FEMALES either. (Although, I just looked up a picture of Dan Quayle and all I can think is, maybe he looked better standing next to George H.W. Bush? Eech.)

Personally, I’m hopeful that someone even a little bit charismatic will come out of the woodwork for the 2014 elections and beat SW. In fact, I’m hoping to volunteer for whoever’s campaign that winds up being.

My letter was cosigned by nine people.[2] I was very grateful for the support. The letter is even now winging its way to the capital (well, it’s in the mailbox). I don’t expect a response, but writing it made me feel better.

Now to make everyone happier, here’s a picture of my dog being cute. Next time I’ll write about kittens.

When you're made of pillow, who cares where you sleep?
When you’re made of pillow, who cares where you sleep?

[1] The article only talks about the ultrasound law. There was also one allowing religious organizations to opt out of covering birth control on their health insurance.

[2] I won’t list their names here, because I make it a rule to not mention people in Google-able ways unless they give explicit permission.

Em oi! #381: First as Farce

First as farce, then as farce again.

“Philosophy does not solve problems. The duty of philosophy is not to solve problems but to ridify problems–to show how what we experience as a problem is a false problem.” –Slavoj Žižek, Zizek! (dir. Astra Taylor, 2005)

I have been busy getting to know Slavoj Žižek. He is an interesting guy–looks like someone’s weird uncle, keeps his socks in his kitchen, talks about popular culture, and is extremely funny. It seems as though American intellectuals are in love with him because he hates Americans and he is very well spoken. Also he once wrote the text for an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog (NSFW).

The thing is, I’d guess, none of them read his actual philosophy, which tends to be very concerned with Hegel and Lacan. Which leads me to the question: Why is everyone in Continental Philosophy so obsessed with Hegel?

I will file this under N84.L86 2013, for Visual arts–Theory. Philosophy. Aesthetics of the visual arts–Theory. Philosophy. Apparently Žižek is not yet famous enough to have his own LCC number. (I just checked–Chomsky has one, but it’s Z8168.18, a bibliography heading).

I wanted to write a bit about the Syttende Mai 20-miler and the Ice Age 50k–my last two races. But it’s already 22:30 and I’m pretty tired and I have to get up early tomorrow. So for now, enjoy this awesome panorama Bryan took of me finishing the Syttende Mai. I’ll write something up later in the week.

Bryan took this awesome series of me finishing the race.
Bryan took this awesome series of me finishing the race.