Mission: school


› johnny@sfbg.com

REVIEW When I walked into the Berkeley Art Museum for a first look at Alicia McCarthy’s contribution to "Fer-ma-ta," the 37th annual UC Berkeley MFA graduate exhibition, I was given a small stash of pencils — the kind you use to mark scores in bowling or putt-putt golf. Note-taking is allowed in museum spaces, but pens are a definite no-no. The self-consciousness brought about by such a rule and the gift of the pencils only served to enhance the direct address of McCarthy’s work. The artist has a flair for such modest tools — in fact, her prismatic use of colored pencils counts as one of the most imitated and influential Bay Area art practices of the past decade. Also, she isn’t one to kowtow to the conventions of art-market packaging and presentation.

That trait again became clear the minute I approached McCarthy’s section of the group show. She has 11 works fixed — sometimes nailed directly — to the museum walls, but in addition she’s placed an old wooden chair before them in a manner that presents viewers with the option of sitting on one piece of art to view others. The chair is, like most of McCarthy’s material, a found object, and it isn’t going to be brought to Antiques Roadshow anytime soon. Perhaps it’s a piece of classroom furniture from a bygone era — though, curiously, it’s on rickety, small wheels — and its surface is marked with rings. A collector or consumer would view those marks as water damage, but in McCarthy’s art, such wear and tear only adds texture. Here, as in other shows, her drawings are on already used surfaces: construction or packaging paper and slabs of wood. The use of found material, while welcome in an ecological sense, has become a cliché in Bay Area circles and beyond in the indie pop Found magazine culture. But McCarthy still does it better than others who’ve come in her wake. Even more than the forebears who practiced assemblage in the ’60s, she taps into the expressiveness of an object’s wrinkled history, so the splatter pattern of a coffee stain can function like a splash of watercolor.

What happens when an artist associated with the core of the Mission School — and perhaps the most undersung — goes back to school? Some of McCarthy’s livelier contributions at BAM bounce free from that question’s limitations to play with the very idea of education. Amusingly, I found myself using the little pencils given to me by the museum to take notes on — and even re-create to a degree — a trio of McCarthy pencil and ink drawings that could be categorized as classroom notes and doodles. In McCarthy’s hands, the idea of turning one’s study notes into art isn’t smart-ass or lazy but critical, humorous, and kinetically lively, producing words and scrawls that dance across the page. Andy Warhol’s churchgoing habits, characteristics of fascism and Marxism, and ideas about theories and practice orbit around various forms of the show’s chief motif: a series of snaky lines that almost but don’t quite form a ball shape similar to that of tangled yarn or metal coils, most featuring a depth of field that it’s easy to become lost within.

As Artforum welcomes the return of op art with a pair of cover essays about large survey shows in Columbus, Ohio, and Frankfurt, Germany, it’s worth contemputf8g the op art undertow that’s long been present within some of McCarthy’s (as always) untitled work. While it isn’t as noticeable or dominant as in the drawings and other pieces made by her friend Xylor Jane, it is there, particularly in a black-and-white doors-of-perception piece at the BAM show that might be rendered in Magic Marker. For McCarthy, fine execution isn’t the point so much as dedication to vision. She achieves a lo-fi and distinctly low-key — some might say junior high Trapper Keeper — version of the hallucinatory effect achieved when one gazes too long, and thus long enough, at the waves of lines in Bridget Riley’s famous 1964 polymer–on–composition board piece Current.

The upfront or subliminal presence of Riley-like op art — and color theory — elements within work by some of the main female artists associated with the Mission School is worth noting in light of the enjoyable pair of May Artforum essays that single Riley out for praise while suggesting that op art has been absent, aside from pure kitsch manifestations, since its ’60s heyday. In fact, a case could be made that artists such as McCarthy and Jane have knowingly or unknowingly taken up some of Riley’s practice in modest ways, adapting it as one aspect within their own work. Kitsch has nothing to do with it, but feminism and a shared creative sensibility might.

Among the work by developing artists at the UC Berkeley MFA show (Jenifer K. Wofford’s impressive graphic novel–like wall of paintings; Ali Dadgar’s screen prints on stones), McCarthy’s section doesn’t call out for attention so much as reward those who are present enough to pay it, and in that sense, her closest kin within the exhibition is probably Bill Jenkins, whose contributions confront the blindness of an average seven-seconds-a-piece stroll through a museum. Like McCarthy’s chair, they suggest that the world needs heightened perception more than it needs another dazzling, hi-fi, expensive work of art. *


Through Sun/10

Wed. and Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.–7 p.m.; $4–$8 (free first Thurs.)

Berkeley Art Museum

2626 Bancroft Way, Berk.

(510) 642-0808




› duncan@sfbg.com

True to the post-postmodern hyperreal world of the inner-Web, I hit the Trucks’ MySpace page before I’d heard their 2006 self-titled CD (Clickpop). Browsing through their photo pages, I saw toy xylophones, lots of keyboards, underwear on the outside, leg warmers, pigtails, and more stripes than a Quiet Riot promo photo. A brief listen to their posted tracks left me feeling old and arrhythmic. I felt my receding hairline burn, like youth was talking behind my back.

Determined to find the dark lining in even the fluffiest of pink clouds, I kept the disc in heavy rotation while driving. At first it felt like a guilty pleasure — infectious synth pop–dance punk, with a menagerie of female voices singing choruses and cracking wise in concordance with or contradiction to the main vocal line. The issues are put out there on the opening track, "Introduction": "I’ve been in therapy for five years / I’ll be in therapy for five years more," Kristin Allen-Zito sings. (I think it’s her — three out of four Trucks are credited with vocals.) "I wake up depressed, I wake up manic / You never know what you’re gonna get."

Still, as the opening beats of the unequivocal dance jam of the decade, "Titties," come through the speakers, it’s hard to feel that there’s any kind of subliminal bum-out happening beneath the Peaches-esque query "What makes you think we can fuck just because you put your tongue in my mouth and you twisted my titties, baby?" "Titties" is one of a series of songs touching on the theme of failed relationships and inept lovermen. The poignant indie pop perfection of "Messages" has Allen-Zito serenading an absentee boyfriend whose voice mails are more attentive than he is: "Well, I save all my messages from you / Just in case you’re not there / When I want you to be."

A dozen tracks in, the concept of a boyfriend has been jettisoned for the much more accommodating vibrator in "Diddle Bot," which is closer to a lover than any mentioned heretofore: "You made me feel brand new / You love me through and through." The album ends with "Why the ?," an indictment of a beau who’s prepared to woo with everything but his tongue, and an a cappella request: "Dear Santa, please don’t bring me another boyfriend for Christmas / Oh no! / The last one sucked." Or didn’t, as the case may be.

Never do the Trucks jettison humor for histrionics in their tales of love gone awry in the great wet Northwest: the band members, who share songwriting duties, get their point across in a way that transcends merely grinding the storied ax of feminism. Sisters are doing for themselves, sure, but it’s not a girls-only joint: everyone’s invited to dance their woes away. Thematically, the disc gets heavier than the tales of missed connections and inept sexing. "Shattered" has implications of rape: "You could not keep your pretty hands off me … You shattered my image of love / While I was naked in the tub." "Man Voice" is call-and-response song play touching on predatory types, with a gothic-baroque feel that resembles Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies meeting Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Finally, "Comeback" tells the tale of love turned obsession turned homicide from a male point of view: "You don’t have to run away / I’m gonna kill you anyway."

"It’s pretty standard turning pain into comedy, trying to somehow make peace with things that have happened to us or to people that we’ve known," Allen-Zito says on the phone from Seattle.

Does the fact that their songs are still fun and danceable lead people to dismiss the Trucks as fluff? "That’s what I enjoy the most," she explains. "I think it’s really great when we play shows and there’s a mixture of people in the audience. There’ll be dudes who are, like, ‘Play the titties song! You guys are hot!’ They’re obviously not getting the lyrics at all. And then, on the other hand, there’s these two feminist friends of mine who are definitely a little overboard. Just seeing them next to these dudes that were just falling over themselves — it was hilarious and perfect. This one woman came up to me outside and put her arm around my neck and was, like, ‘Kristin, they just don’t get it. They don’t get it!’ It’s kind of funny, because maybe she doesn’t get it."

And for me, that’s what I enjoy most. The fact that you can get it on one level and miss it entirely on another. Free your mind, and your ass will follow. Or, perhaps, free your ass, and your mind will follow. You can have just as much fun missing the point as getting it: the Trucks are simultaneously above your head and below your knees. *


March 24, 9 p.m., $8


1600 17th St., SF

(415) 503-0393


Barbara and Angela socked it to ’em! Keep it up!


By Bruce B. Brugmann

Last Thursday, Jan.llth, when Sen. Barbara Boxer confronted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over the casualties in the Iraq War, the San Francisco Chronicle reported four more soldiers died in the civil war.

On Friday, when the right wing commentators yelled “slime” at Barbara and tried to change the subject by updating the swiftboat routine, the Chronicle reported “At least l9 people were reported killed or dead nationwide Friday, including l0 bullet-riddled bodies found in Baghdad and an Iraqi journalist who was killed in a drive-by shooting in the northern city of Mosul. KhudrYounis al-Obaidi was the second journalist killed this year.”

Meanwhile, even the Chronicle helped change the subject by playing the Boxer/Rice story big on on its Friday Jan. l3th front page. Carla Marinucci lead posed a naive and irrelevant question: Was Boxer’s “heated confrontation” with Rice “a case of ‘vicious feminine politics–as some critics have suggested–or merely the politics of frank talk in tough times?”

Marinucci wrote that Boxer, during her questioning of Rice, said she wanted to focus attention on the human consequences of the decision.

“Who pays the price? I’m not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young” to serve, Boxer told Rice. “You’re not going to pay a price, as I understand it, within immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families.”

Boxer’s statement was right on target, as were those of many other senators (Democrat and
Republican) who attacked the war and Bush when she appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But the swiftboaters were out in gale force, not to discuss the Bush casualties or the issues of a war gone to hell, but to try to change the subject and attack Boxer, whose major sin it appears is that she happens to have been right about the war almost from the beginning. The New York Post/Murdoch called her comments “a low blow.” Tony Snow, the White House spokesman and former Fox News/Murdoch personality, said the comments were “outrageous” and said that Boxer had made “a great leap backward for feminism.” Fox News/Murdoch commentator Karen Hanretty whacked Boxer for talking about Rice’s “breeding history.”
Fox/Murdoch ran screaming heads all day Friday saying “Will Boxer Apologize?” and “Boxer slimes Rice.”
And Bill O”Reilly, the FoxNews/Murdoch star of slither and slime, took up the issue Friday night with Angela Alioto.

Boxer, to her immense credit, refused to apologize in the Marinucci story. “This is just typical of what they do…
the Bush administration always goes after me, and anyone who has been against the war from the start,” she said. “It’s ‘kill the messenger.'” Boxer said she will continue to be tough on the issue of the war because the “focus (on casualties) is crucial.”

Alioto, to her immense credit, stood up to Reilly on his Fox program, ably defended Boxer, got in some nice punches and kept making the casualties point by saying that “we fight wars with other people’s children” and “if everybody in Congress had a child in Iraq, we wouldn’t be in Iraq.”

The back and forth was delicious: O’Reilly: She (Boxer) denigrated Secretary Rice because Secretary Rice…

Alioto: That is not true.

O’Reilly: …doesn’t have any children.

Alioto: She would have said the same thing to a man. She would have said the same thing to a man. (See the full transcript below.)

Good for Barbara. Good for Angela. Keep it up. Keep the pressure on.

Meanwhile the Ballis report came in this morning with this count:

+U.S. Military killed in action in Iraq today (l/l5/O7): 2

+Current Total: 3,029

+Wounded total to (l/l0/07): 22,834

Wounded (l2/28 to l/l0/07): 120

See the Guardian editorial “Cut off the war money” in our current issue and on our website. We will regularly publish a snapshot of the statistics of military, civilian, and journalist casualties that tell this tragedy that grows grimmer by the day. B3

Boxer comments to Rice draw fire from the right – Senator says she won’t apologize for ‘strong message’

Friday Night Fights: Bill O’Reilly Takes on Liberal Extremists Over Boxer’s Statements | NewsBusters.org

Wikipedia vs. women


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Two years ago tech entrepreneur Joi Ito was spending a lot of time with the managers and editors of the collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia, and he noticed that there were far more women wikipedians than women bloggers. In late 2004, Ito wrote in his blog:
Wikipedia seems much more gender balanced than the blogging community…. I wonder what causes this difference in gender distribution? Is it that the power law aspect of blogs is inherently more competitive and appeals to the way men are “trained” in society? Or is it that we’re just talking to the “head” of the blog curve and that the more interesting blogs are actually by women in “the long tail”? Or is it something about Wikipedia that attracts powerful women?
He received a handful of comments, almost entirely from men, which all boiled down to “I don’t know” or “maybe women are just more collaborative.” As far as I know, Ito never got any good answers to his questions.
But last month a group of women finally provided an unexpected rejoinder to Ito’s long-ago musings. Dozens of long-term contributors to Wikipedia formed the WikiChix, a group modeled after the female-dominated Linux Chix. WikiChix, who of course have a wiki (wikichix.org/wiki/WikiChix), say they are sick of how male-dominated Wikipedia has become.
One example of this problem, which isn’t explicitly discussed on WikiChix, is the “feminist science fiction” entry on Wikipedia. All wikis like Wikipedia are Web sites that can be modified by people browsing them. Contributors create an account, hit an edit button on any page, and then add their own information. Certain entries, however, get ensnared in “revision wars” — battles between editors who keep changing information back and forth to reflect what they consider true. “Feminist science fiction” was one such entry. Although this is a legitimate genre of science fiction and many famous SF writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin and Kim Stanley Robinson consider all or part of their work to be feminist, the entry was subject to such an intense revision war that at last administrators determined that it should be removed and replaced with “women in science fiction” in 2002. Obviously, “women in science fiction” is hardly the same thing as feminist science fiction, in the same way an entry on “operating systems” could hardly be said to replace an entry on “Linux.” It wasn’t until June of this year that the category “feminist science fiction” was created again, after a great deal of agitation.
As I said, this particular entry wasn’t cited specifically by the WikiChix as their reason for creating the group. But many issues like this one led them to form a women-only wiki to discuss Wikipedia and wiki management more generally. The question their move raises is as old as feminism itself. Is it better for women to segregate themselves or stay in the male-dominated realm of Wikipedia and fight to be given an equal voice? In the WikiChix FAQ, the group writes to men who don’t like the idea of separatism:
Instead of feeling excluded, try to see [WikiChix] as an opportunity to hear a conversation you would not hear otherwise. If men are not talking, what women say to each other becomes a different conversation. When we as women can stop defending ourselves and explaining that bias, sexism, or patriarchy exist, then we can move further in discussion and support of each other.
Is it really separatism if these women are posting in a public forum? I think not. They’ve simply created a public forum where all the speakers are women.
More than that, though, I want to know what happened between 2004 and 2006 that turned Wikipedia from gender-balanced to gender-imbalanced. Glancing at the gender distribution of contributors who list themselves on Wikipedia, it looks like the ratio is nearly equal (as of this writing, there are 77 women and 80 men). That only captures the people who bother to list their names and genders, however. Still, I want to know: Did something change? Or was it just that there were problems all along and the only change is that women are finally speaking out about them? SFBG

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who thanks Laura Quilter for fighting to keep feminist science fiction in Wikipedia.

Girl talk


› kimberly@sfbg.com
The Gossip’s first show of 2006 in San Francisco wasn’t as likely to get tongues clacking as one I saw several years previously, the night mod, bobbed fireball Beth Ditto pulled a cute, bare-skulled baby dyke from the audience to twist and grind to the tune of “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” But on Jan. 27 the mixed queer-straight crowd was yelling just as loud anyway, singing along like budding blues shouters and bopping up and down atop broken glass as a long-haired Ditto wailed through the sweat streaming down her face, swayed us and slayed us. Her best friend during her Alabama school days, Nathan Howdeshell, tugged as many sharp, shocked punk-blues lines out of his guitar as he could while drummer Hannah Blilie pounded home Ditto’s words: you’re standing in the way of control.
Control … undergarments? In women’s circles, control can be such a dirty word, but self-described fat activist Ditto would probably differ and describe it instead as a cry for seizing power, calling for a new team after half a decade of Republican-dominated government.
According to the US Senate Web site, 1992 was the year of the woman — the first time four women (Barbara Boxer, Carol Moseley Braun, Dianne Feinstein, and Patty Murray) were elected to the Senate in a single election year, following the highly combustible Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. The sight of an all-white male committee laying into law professor Anita Hill apparently led many to question the dearth of female senators. I’m sure some powers-that-be would rather that be the sole “year of the woman,” officially mandated by the federal government. But for me, 2006 could have just as easily have fit that descriptor. Even if we didn’t spend its closing month fussing over celeb thunderwear.
This year began with the typically fire-starting “say, ah-women, somebody” salutations of Ditto at Bottom of the Hill and continued through the strong musical showings of local all-female combos Erase Errata and T.I.T.S., the splashy emergence of girl bands such as Mika Miko and Cansei de Ser Sexy, and the newly revived ESG and Slits, which proved to be some of the most exciting musical reunions of 2006. In the fourth quarter, life seemed to rhyme with art, as Nancy Pelosi assumed her role as the first female House speaker and leaders such as Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa, entered the picture. As 2006 ends with five Grammy nominations for the Dixie Chicks and the girl-group-loving gloss of Dreamgirls, the pendulum of public favor seems to be swinging toward the double–X chromosome side of the block. We’re not even counting the onslaught of Latin pop princesses à la Shakira and Nelly Furtado, reading into Beyoncé’s strident awakening on B’Day (Dreamgirls probably hit a little too close to home for destiny’s chosen child), and paying heed to the escapist serenade of Gwen Stefani. Could feminism be in again?
Perhaps — because you can smell the stirrings of discontent and brewing backlash in the winter wind. The demise of fem-firebrand groups like Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre foregrounded the question “Is the all-girl band dead?” — as the latter’s Kathleen Hanna complained about not getting radio and MTV play on the basis of gender. How else to explain complaints of pretension surrounding the release of Joanna Newsom’s Ys and the fact that the biggest gossip of the year — talked up louder than the Gossip’s Ditto — came in the form of the pantyless pop-tart triad of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan? Even TV’s would-be feminists tut-tutted about the trio’s shaved, bared crotch shots, proliferating online like so many revamped, vamped-up NC-17 Hollywood Babylons and Celebrity Sleuths. Is the image of pop stars flashing cameras news? No, but then most of us never actually saw Jim Morrison’s lizard king or GG Allin’s scabs. Spears’s career was built on the promise of pubescent sex — how does that change when her paycheck is splashed all over workplace monitors? What is celebrity when the highly controlled PR mechanism breaks down and the most intimate component of fame, tabloid poonanny, is served up, C-section and all, in a bucket seat?
So as pop’s eternal girls go wild and skip the thong song and we muse over whether Pelosi and company’s new roles could be the best thing to ever happen to Dubya, especially if he aims to avoid impeachment (mainstream media hand-wringing over frosh Demo centrists possibly going wild is disingenuous — does anyone really expect Pelosi to be as much a partisan pit bull as Newt Gingrich?), we have to wonder how we might transform this turning point, the second (or third or fourth, etc.) coming of the Woman, into something greater than the sum of its disparate, far-flung, all-girl band parts. It’s tempting — and perhaps nutty — to draw rough, symbolic comparisons between the national discussion around Hillary Clinton’s and Barak Obama’s possible presidential runs and the Bay Area’s most arresting musical developments in 2006: the insurgent interest surrounding all-female bands and the buzzy rise of Bay hip-hop and hyphy. Is it time to lay siege to the turf of the Man. Even the oldest schoolee in rock’s girls academy, Joan Jett, can point to Broadcast Data Systems statistics on how more than 90 percent of the songs played on rock or alternative radio are still by men. “It’s institutional, and I’m not quite sure where to attack it,” Jett told me this fall. “Except with the audiences. The audiences forced stations to play ‘I Love Rock ’n’ Roll.’ So we got to get to that place.”
That place — my space or yours — is wherever women (and men) put together bands to make their own “user-generated content,” as a social networking site might dub it, or “art,” as I prefer to call it, and find the will to take control. Of how they sound and how they get their music out. For a sample overview of that cutting edge, see Chicks on Speed’s recent sprawling triple-CD comp, Girl Monster, Volume 1, with tracks by artists ranging from Kevin Blechdom, the Raincoats, Tina Weymouth, and Boyskout to Pulsallama, Cobra Killer, LiliPUT, and Throbbing Gristle’s Cosey Fanni Tutti. Rewrite musical history and promise you’ll be on volume two. SFBG
•Folk talk: Bonnie “Prince” Billy, The Letting Go (Drag City); Beirut, The Gulag Orkestar (Ba Da Bing); Joanna Newsom, Ys (Drag City)
•Hot rock: Awesome Color, Awesome Color (Ecstatic Peace); Erase Errata, Nightlife (Kill Rock Stars); Snowglobe, Doing the Distance (Makeshift); Om, Conference of the Birds (Holy Mountain)
•Interstellar explorers: Akron/Family, Meek Warrior (Young God); OOIOO, Taiga (Thrill Jockey); Grouper, Wide (Free Porcupine); White Magic, Dat Rosa Mel Apibus (Drag City)
•Live, with love: 7 Year Rabbit Cycle, Coughs, Citay, Gossip, Sonic Youth and Mirror Dash, Neil Hagerty, Flaming Lips, Liars, Radiohead, Grizzly Bear
•Odds and ends: Tom Waits, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards (Anti-); Marisa Monte, Universo ao Meu Redor (Blue Note); Girl Monster, Volume 1 (Chicks on Speed); Art of Field Recording: 50 Years of Traditional Music Documented by Art Rosenbaum (Dust-to-Digital)
•Party jams: Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury (Re-Up Gang/Arista); Girl Talk, Night Ripper (Illegal Art); Beck, The Information (Interscope); the Knife, Silent Shout (Rabid)
•Pop nostalgists: Camera Obscura, Let’s Get Out of This Country (Merge); Pelle Carlberg, Everything Now! (Twentyseven); Essex Green, Cannibal Sea (Merge); Pascal, Dear Sir (Le Grand Magistery)
•Solo mio: Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti-); Jolie Holland, Springtime Can Kill You (Anti-); Thom Yorke, The Eraser (XL)
•Reissue korner: Cluster; Karen Dalton; Delta 5; ESG; Ruthann Friedman; Jesus and Mary Chain; Milton Nascimento; Ike Yard; What It Is!: Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967–1977) (Rhino)

American lie


› johnny@sfbg.com
One of the many refreshing aspects of Kirby Dick’s This Film Is Not Yet Rated is that it doesn’t focus on an obvious topic. Documentaries have begun reaching more viewers in recent years, but few take on the many-fangled foibles of the Bush era in an imaginative manner. Dick’s new film does, in addition to providing a lesson about the intersection between film history and American history, a convergence that isn’t as petty or easily dismissed as one might think. This is a smartly comedic private-eye movie with a feminist, even lesbian sensibility. It’s just dressed up in doc clothes.
Leaving aside Dick’s last name, in This Film Is Not Yet Rated the real private dick is Becky Altringer, a PI the director hires to spy on the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) — to reach inside its seemingly impenetrable gated fortress and help reveal its inner workings. Taking a cue from Michael Moore, Dick foregrounds Altringer, a woman normal enough to admit that she gets a thrill (necessary amid the waiting and drudgery that make up most of her day) out of spying on people who don’t know she’s watching them. It also sets her portrait against the entitled eccentricity of the MPAA’s oft Republican and rich members, who discriminate against the likes of Altringer on a daily basis in the name of their own supposed normalcy. Needless to say, they’re a pretty kooky bunch.
Dick’s strongest subtext is female pleasure. Here is a filmmaker who has read his Laura Mulvey yet somehow not wound up with a starchy collar. Considering his past work on subjects such as artist and masochist Bob Flanagan, it isn’t a stretch to say that a Bay Area brand of feminism informs Dick’s latest work, which devotes a lot of time to female (and often queer) filmmakers whose visions of sexuality have made the MPAA uncomfortable. Sitting before a movie poster that spells out her attitude toward recently retired MPAA president Jack Valenti, a Peppermint Patty–rasping Kimberly Peirce tells how the ratings board was much more threatened by a close-up of Chloë Sevigny’s face in orgasmic bliss from lesbian oral sex than it was by, say, Boys Don’t Cry’s protagonist getting a bullet in the head. Mary Harron is even more perceptive in her discussion of the organization and its reaction to her American Psycho. A scene in which the killer literally chomps cannibalistically on a woman’s crotch bothered them less than an orgy scene.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated moves rather quickly through the Hays Code clampdown, a very conservative period in Hollywood. But it does take the necessary time to dig into the ascent of Lyndon B. Johnson underling Lew Wasserman. His influence lingers: for decades under the Wasserman-appointed Valenti’s command, the MPAA has worked in tandem with the major studios to squash individuality and independence. Bearing the IFC and Netflix stamps of approval, Dick’s movie arrives at a time when home video receipts dwarf theatrical box office numbers, and thus the ratings system (outside of Blockbuster country) might not matter as much as it once did. But right now is better than never when it comes to tarnishing a corrupt institution’s legacy.SFBG
Opens Fri/15
See film listings for theaters and showtimes



› andrea@altsexcolumn.com
Dear Andrea:
I’m a 50-year-old man who has gone without sex for too long now. To me, my ex-wife’s 35-year-old niece is the true personification of the “MILF.” She’s had her two kids, got divorced, and still looks as hot as she did at 18, when I first developed an incredibly deep infatuation. Since I was still married to her aunt, I couldn’t indicate this in any way. Now I can’t stop thinking about her. I know it’s holding me back from pursuing other opportunities, but I’ve found that I really need her … bad! I guess my questions are, how appropriate would it be for me to make my thoughts and overwhelming feelings known to her? If appropriate, how should I approach this? I don’t want to freak her out, but how should I tell her that I’ve had the hots for her for 17 years now and would do anything to go to bed with her at least once?
Not Really Her Uncle!
Dear Unc:
We’ll get to your questions, but first, “… the true personification of the ‘MILF’”? She “still looks as hot as she did at 18”? Can we talk about this? I know that new parents are notorious one-note bores and I swear I’m not one and will keep writing about other topics, but while I’ve got you, this MILF business has got to go. First off, nobody looks as good as they did at 18 (and frankly, we could all live without the pressure) and second, what does it even mean, “MILF”? By specifying the “mother” in “mother I’d like to fuck,” does the speaker intend to make a distinction between the rare mother worth fucking and the unfuckable masses? Or is it really the “mother” part that intrigues, that sexy whiff of fecundity, that milkshake that brings all the boys to our yard? My personal suspicion is that it’s the latter masquerading as the former, that the fascination with the pregnant or baby-toting Heidi Klum or Angelina Jolie is not fueled so much by the fact that they still look “hot” as by the implication that if somebody knocked them up, then so, by extension, could you. But I may be getting a little theory-addled here.
I bring all this up not so much out of a wish to render my readers walleyed with boredom, but because I was so touched by a new blog called “Shape of a Mother” (shapeofamother.blogspot.com) that I’d take pretty much any opportunity to mention it, even in a column about wanting to fuck your ex-niece-in-law (which, by the way, whatever). The concept is elegantly simple: have a baby or have had a baby or in a few cases don’t have had a baby, take a picture of your transformed body, write a few notes about how you feel about the changes, and Bonnie, the blogger, will post it. The result is an extraordinarily moving document, whether you see it as political (I surely do) or as mere documentation or even as art. It reminds me, in a gut-punch way — not a “wasn’t feminism fun?” way — that sisterhood not only was but can still be powerful. Also, when my absolute best self is not in ascendance, that my own recently ravaged body is not really so ravaged, comparatively. In your faces, stretch-marked bitchez, I got off easy!
No, seriously, this sort of normalization by exposure — see Joanie Blank’s pussy-picture book, Femalia, for a similar and similarly successful tool for fostering self-respect and even self-love among women who may have been feeling freakish, ugly, and ashamed of their perfectly normal bodies — works. It may be the only thing that does work, and it’s way cheaper than therapy. All it takes is seeing unretouched women (two- or three-dimensional, either way) who don’t have a modeling contract or sex with Brad Pitt. It works on men too, although men as a group seem less inclined toward this sort of collective feel-betterism. They can still be cured of a lifetime of self-loathing by mere exposure to the unglamorized truth (it’s five and a half to six and a half inches, dudes).
Let’s get down to it: this woman is not your relative, your ex-wife is not your wife, and nobody cares. Oh, and she doesn’t want to fuck you, so it’s time to give it up already.
What you have here is not a crush or a fancy but something verging on obsession and by definition unhealthy. If you insist on trying to get somewhere with her, you should really leave out the part about thinking dirty thoughts about her since she was 18. That’s pretty skeevy, pops. If I were her, I’d change the locks.
Ask her out, decently. Emphasize interest over obsession. Try not to sound like you have a secret room in the basement plastered with her photographs, and then take no for an answer. We can only hope that her rejection breaks the spell. She isn’t the one holding you back, you know.


A band of sisters


› kimberly@sfbg.com
Cast your eyes on the Billboard chart and it seems like summer 2006 will go down in history as the season of the Latin diva, with Nelly Furtado doffing a soft-focus folkie-cutie image by declaring herself “Promiscuous” and Shakira holding on to the promise of, well, that crazy, sexy, but not quite cool chest move she’s close to trademarked via “Hips Don’t Lie.” Rihanna and Christina Aguilera brought up the rear of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart last week — solo singers all. But with the on-again, off-again slow fade of Destiny’s Child, the imminent demise of the explicitly feminist Sleater-Kinney, and the earlier evaporation of the even more didactic le Tigre, one has to wonder, what has happened to all-girl groups?
Was it a gimmick? Did Newsweek and Seventeen leach riot grrrl’s genuine grassroots movement of its “authenticity” and power? Was Sarah McLachlan lame? Was Courtney Love insane? Perhaps the answer is on today’s pop charts, where the sole “girl group” — if you don’t count the manly guest MC appearances — is the frankly faux Pussycat Dolls, a sorry excuse for women’s empowerment if there ever was one. Their ’90s counterparts the Spice Girls baldly appropriated “girl power” as their own marketing slogan, but at least they gave 30-second-commercial-break lip service to the notion.
The scarcity of all-female bands — particularly the variety whose women do more than simply lip-synch on video — has perhaps spread to supposedly more progressive spheres. Erase Errata bassist-vocalist Ellie Erickson notes that when the band recently played Chicago’s Intonation Music Festival, she was shocked to discover that their all-female trio made up almost half the total number of women performing among about 50 artists. Even at a more down-low, underground gathering like last month’s End Times Festival in Minneapolis, where Bay Area bands dominated, only one all-girl band, T.I.T.S., made the cut, observes the band’s guitarist, Kim West. “When we were in Minneapolis there were so many girls who came up to us and were, like, ‘This is so awesome! There are no all-girl bands here and it’s so rare to see this,’” she recalls.
Girl groups do persist: the news-making, stand-taking, chops-wielding Dixie Chicks among them. But for every Chicks there’s a Donnas, now off Atlantic after the Bay Area–bred band’s second major-label release stumbled at takeoff. Is Dixie Chicks credibility forthcoming for commercial girl bands like Lillix, the Like, and Kittie? Some might argue that feminism’s gains in the ’70s and ’80s — which led to the blossoming of all-female groups from TLC to Babes in Toyland, Vanity 6 to L7, and Fannypack to Bikini Kill — have led to a postfeminist moment in which strongly female-identified artists are ghettoized or otherwise relegated to the zone of erotic fantasy (e.g., Pussycat Dolls). Gone are the days when Rolling Stone touted the “Women of Rock” in their 1997 30th anniversary issue and Lilith Fair brought female singer-songwriters to every cranny of the nation.
“I think that with the demise of Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre, it’s a very sad time for girl groups,” e-mails Evelyn McDonnell, Miami Herald pop culture writer and coauthor of Rock She Wrote. “It seems like the end of the ’90s women in rock era, an era that unfortunately left fewer marks than we hoped it would 15 years ago.”
Radio’s known resistance to women-dominated bands hasn’t helped. Le Tigre’s Kathleen Hanna told me last year that despite the best efforts of her label, Universal, to get her feminist trio’s first major-label release, This Island, out to the masses, “MTV didn’t play our video and radio didn’t play our single either. Some of that is that we’re women and they’ve already got Gwen Stefani. So we just have to wait till she stops making music or something like that.” She was told that a group of three women was less likely to get play than a band of men fronted by a female vocalist.
Perhaps feminism is simply not in vogue, speculates Erase Errata vocalist-guitarist Jenny Hoyston. “I think any woman who’s a musician is going to have people say she’s only getting attention because she’s a woman,” she says. “It’s gonna be assumed that they don’t know how to work their gear, that they don’t necessarily play as well. That kind of typical stuff…. A lot of people aren’t taken seriously, especially if they get too queer or too gay in their songwriting, and I think that people get judged a lot for being too feminist, for sure, and I think there’s a major backlash against feminism in scenes that I’ve been a part of in this country. I think people are cooler about it in the UK definitely and in some other countries in Europe.”
But how does one explain the strong presence of all-female (or female-dominated) bands in the Bay Area such as Erase Errata, T.I.T.S., 16 Bitch Pileup, Blectum from Blechdom, Boyskout, Vervein, and Von Iva? “I think San Francisco is a big hub for women bands,” offers West, a veteran of Crack: We Are Rock and Death Sentence! Panda. With a provocative name and costumes (“It’s sexy from afar — and scary once you get closer,” West says), the band — including guitarist-vocalist Mary Elizabeth Yarborough, guitarist-vocalist Abbey Kerins, and Condor drummer Wendy Farina — reflects a kind of decentralized, cooperative approach to music making. “There’s no lead,” West explains. “I think that’s a really big element. We all sing together and we all come up with lyrics together. We each write a sentence or a word or a verse and put it in a hat and pull it out and that becomes a song. No one has more writing power than anyone else — it’s all even. I think girls are more likely to like some idea like that than guys.”
And there’s power in their female numbers, West believes, discussing T.I.T.S.’s June UK tour: “It’s funny because it was the first time I’d ever been on tour with all four girls. When I’d go on tour with Crack, guys would be hitting on us, and with T.I.T.S., guys were a little more intimidated because I think we were like a gang. We had that tightness in our group, so it’s harder to approach four girls than one girl or two girls, especially when we’re laughing and having a good time.”
In the end, McDonnell is optimistic that feminism could make a comeback. “I see a revival of progressive ideas in general in culture, largely in reaction to war and Bush…. The Dixie Chicks are arguably the most important group in popular music, and they’re fantastically outspoken as women’s liberationists,” she writes, also praising the Gossip, Peaches, and Chicks on Speed. “And the decentralization of the music industry should open avenues to women, making success less dependent on cruelly, ridiculously chauvinist radio.”
Ever the less-optimistic outsider, I’m less given to believing file sharing and self-released music can dispel the sexism embedded in the music industry — or stem the tide of social conservatism in this country. But that kind of spirit — as well as going with the urge to make music and art with other women, from our own jokes, horrors, and everyday existences — is a start. SFBG

“The Man Box and Beyond”


REVIEW Postfeminism — which is not the death of feminism so much as an effort to examine how culture creates gender differences in terms of how femininity and masculinity are defined — is a good place to start when thinking about the work included in "The Man Box and Beyond." The exhibition was inspired in part by an exercise from the Oakland Men’s Project, a violence-prevention program that asks men how they feel when they’re expected to "act like a man." The 15 participants in this show approach and extend this question through a range of responses from the humorous to the serious. Perhaps the most compelling response is Hand to Hand, a large, wall-mounted installation by Ehren Tool of ceramic mugs with photo-transferred imagery and text related to war. The material is culled from different sources and represents the various ways war imagery shows up in our culture. All the mugs are unique and feature skulls, gas masks, insane quotes by President George W. Bush ("I just want you to know that when we are talking about war, we’re really talking about peace"), naked women holding assault weapons, naked men in military hats holding their cocks, people with their faces blown off, children who have been disfigured by war, and on and on. The mugs also have images of the artist, a former marine, and his family members who have served in the military. By locating himself in the crosshairs of war’s absurdity, Tool critiques himself and his identity, which has been both handed down to him and constructed by others. "People need to see this stuff with their coffee," is how Tool explained his project to me. To that end, the artist has given away 6,000 mugs — some of which have been mailed unsolicited — to politicians and other people in positions of government and corporate power. Deconstructing masculinity: one mug at a time. (Katie Kurtz)

The Man Box and Beyond Through Sat/6. Wed.–Sat., 1–6 p.m.
Closing reception Sat/6, 5–7 p.m.
The Lab, 2948 16th St., SF. (415) 864-8855, www.thelab.org

So much flesh, so little personality


Madonna. At Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, Monday, July 20th.

During the encores of the first of her two spectacular shows at Shoreline Amphitheatre last week, Madonna, the fantasy idol of American youth, finally asked the musical question lurking in the shadows of her extravagant performance. When the saucy Ms. Ciccone sang “Who’s That Girl?,” the title song of her forthcoming movie and just-released soundtrack album, she made the riddle of her career explicit. But after more than 90 minutes of relentless razzle-dazzle, after Madonna had revealed so much of her flesh and so little of her personality, the question should have been, why do so many people care?

Clearly they care a lot. Over two nights, nearly 40,000 people trekked to Mountain View for their close encounter of the absurd kind. This “Material Girl” made them willing to part with huge chunk of their disposable income for the privilege of watching her cavort through 16 entertaining but uninspiring production numbers masquerading as songs. The largely post-teen concertgoers paid up to $22.50 for an unscalped ticket, before service charges, and had the chance to fork over ten bucks for a slick program, $16 for a T-shirt and untold pocket change for food and drink from Shoreline’s amusement park-style concession. Scores even hired limousines to carry them to the show.

The power of Madonna’s appeal should be the envy of movie and pop stars alike. Even the most charismatic screen idols don’t attract so many people to one place at one time, and only a relative handful of music performers ever develop such commercial appeal. By successfully straddling both pop culture realms, Madonna doubles her draw. She is no ordinary icon.

How does she pull it off when she’s such a transparantly ordinary talent? The quick answer is that she sells sex, but her current show is remarkably unsexy. Nearly every song was punctuated by lacivious moves, from bumps and grinds with her male dancers (including salacious routines with a boy who looked less than half her 28 years) to teasing masturbatory gestures. And the foundation of her costuming — the black merry widow corset with gold sequined breast tips and twirling tassels — was part Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot and part Gypsy Rose Lee. But Madonna’s precisely programmed dancing was little more than a second-rate rehash of Flashdance (from the same choreographer) and her attire came off like a dress-up game, not a seduction. Nor was the secret of her appeal in the music. The seven-piece band and three back-up singers, under the direction of Madonna’s co-producer Patrick Leonard, was loud and punchy, rhythmically sharp and note perfect. But the musicians, shunted to the sides of the elaborate staircase set, were beside the point. Their routine neo-disco grooves varied little throughout the night and only a few of Madonna’s songs, such as “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Like A Virgin” and “Holiday,” get beyond the busy beats with catchy melodic hooks.

No, Madonna must send other kinds of messages to her fans. In “Papa Don’t Preach,” her big hit from True Blue, she seemed to be picking up a social cause, defending a pregnant teenage girl’s freedom of choice. Presented in concert, however, the song became an overcrowded bandwagon for a mishmash of socio-political themes. Giant projected images of clouds in a blue sky gave way to those of thunderstorms, the menacing face of a surgeon, the entrance to a giant cathedral. A nightmarish Monty Python-style slide montage hinted at the horrors of abortion and careened through bizarre juxtapositions culminating in a giant blowup of the White House, then Reagan’s face, the faces of happy, healthy children and, finally, the words, SAFE SEX.

Whatever Madonna was trying to say in “Papa Don’t Preach,” her fourth song in concert, was quickly forgotten in the onslaught of MTV-style production numbers that followed. Indeed, the show was little more than an overblown “live” music video, full of silly props and simplified physical interpretations of the songs.

At the center of it all was a vaguely attractive young woman who projected nothing of her real self yet represented a kind of between-the-cracks liberation from the creeping conservatism of the 1980s. After all the dressing up and stripping down, nothing of the performer’s inner nature was revealed. But “Madonna” represented the freedom to act out the most outrageous fantasies without fear or guilt. During “Like A Virgin,” a New York Post front page was projected on the huge screen with the headline “Madonna: I Am Not Ashamed.”

She can be a material girl, a party girl, an innocent harlot in red lace undies and a black leather jacket, a rebel without a cause clothed by Frederick’s of Hollywood. She takes a stand against post-feminism by strutting, leaping and groveling on the stage, declaring that if there’s going to be any exploitation in her career, she’s going to control it. She confounds the objectification of womanhood by adding more layers. One of the few female role models that the mass media has coughed up in pop music during this regressive decade, Madonna is merely making the most of it, and making over her image in as many ways as she can within the narrow range of options. She leaves it to her fans to create their own answers to the question, “Who’s that girl?”*