Sunday, April 21, 2019

Paul: It's Not About Shame

Note: This is scriptural exegesis. For more about belief, go here.

The best way to understand the letters of Paul in the New Testament is to understand that Paul's Road to Damascus moment entails an entire shift away from the idea of a shaming or vengeful or punishing God.

The God and gods of the ancient world were calmed through propitiation--that is, in order to not be blasted, one had to perform certain sacrifices. Paul distinguishes (understandably, considering his background) between the fair-minded God of his upbringing and the capricious gods of paganism. However, in the end, he denounces the entire concept as no longer relevant.

Instead, Paul presents a fairly basic theology: God loves us. We should love Him. We know He loves us because of Jesus Christ, who performed the ultimate act of propitiation, making it no longer necessary for us to do so. 

Unfortunately, the desire to propitiate or appease for the sake of reward is very strong in the human soul--and it doesn't start or end with religion. Take a look at various political parties, organizations, and groups who insist on absolute obedience to forms, rituals, and language, all for the sake of insider status. (High school cliques run amuck.)

Paul is upending this--and it is a total shock (people still fight very hard to defend you-break-my-rules-you-are-punished ideologies). 

Take 1 Corinthians 6. Many Christians interpret Paul's passage about the body being a temple as an act of propitiation by humans towards a God who may, at any hint of a mistake, remove his grace. Do good and pure things, good and pure things will happen to you since your body will remain a temple. Do bad and impure things, bad and awful things will happen to you since your body will not remain a temple.

But that's not what Paul is arguing. (Note: I use the King James Version because I like how lovely it sounds--I have compared the KJV to other translations and to the original meaning of several words).

Paul starts by discussing lawsuits between members of the Christian community. He is understandably ticked.

His initial argument: Don't do this in front of other people! It makes us looks bad!

Then, as is typical with Paul, the argument veers. Not only are all these lawsuits making the Christian community look bad, suing each other is bad behavior itself.

He has a point. People who purport to be loving and forgiving are yelling at each other in front of Judge Judy? I mean, come on. (Keep in mind, neighbors are more likely to sue neighbors. Still...)

Paul asks, Why not take the hit? (Seriously--that's what he says, "Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?")

Then--following the thread of the argument--he begins to discuss types of behavior that  disqualify a person's character not only in a worldly court but in the kingdom (court) of Heaven: "fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners."

People who like to create groups to blame stuff on (and ignore the tenth verse mention of "revilers") point to this passage as being against homosexuals. It isn't. In the context of ancient societies, "effeminate" would have referred to men (and women) who preen and flaunt themselves to attract members of the opposite sex (all those teens shopping at the mall!). "Abusers of themselves with mankind" most likely referred to quid pro quo associations between men: money and political favors for sex (Paul created a new term to describe what he was referring to; the closest translation I've found that captures both denotation and connotation is "dirty old men" but the truth is, nobody really knows what Paul meant although ancient writers after him, who did apparently know what he meant, use the term in the "dirty old men" sense; in any case, the KJV translation is quite accurate). 

What the angry, blaming people (and often, the defensive, antagonized people) usually ignore is that Paul is grouping all these behaviors together. The common factor? Instant gratification for the sake of personal convenience at the expense of the social contract: I need that, I take it; I want that, naturally someone should give it to me; I'm in a mood, yeah, whatever, let's scratch that itch. I must be noticed and admired--where's my social media? I want to get ahead? By whatever means! Then I'll call people names because I feel like it. By the way, I want to get back at my neighbor; how soon can I sue him?

Paul then begins a debate on ownership. In other words, what should stop us from simply taking what we want when we want it because, hey, whatever, we feel like that today? What belongs to whom? Does something belong to me due to the time I spend? Money? Need? Inherent right? Emotional upheaval? If I feel strongly enough about something in a particular moment, does that justify my behavior?

The problem, Paul determines, isn't the outcome--the problem is focus. So to the argument "all things are lawful unto me," he adds "but all things are not expedient." (You CAN sue your neighbor because you covet your neighbor's view or because you despise your neighbor's taste in politics--doesn't mean it's not a total waste of time plus kind of tacky.)

His conclusion is stunning. He does not conclude that pursuing/focusing on instant gratification will ban people from God's sight or shame them into submission. Instead, he completely switches gears and begins to ponder, What does God buy? Not instant gratification obviously. Instead, He bought us through Jesus Christ (apparently, He thought we were worth it).
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. (my emphasis)
In other words, in the realm of price and cost--money and time--wasting one's means on lawsuits is frankly embarrassing and petty. But, hey, Paul adds, so are a lot of other things. Buying those shoes (or, in my case, those DVDs) when I'm already in debt in order to get my instant entertainment fix (especially when I have plenty of stuff to watch at home) is a tad short-sighted.

Paul points out, It's not like God wastes His buying power on such temporary stuff. If God bought us, then why not be less of a jerk about what we buy (focus on)? It's not like all these mortal problems aren't temporary anyway (that's Paul's fatalism showing). God wants us to love him, so why not try loving Him rather than, you know, suing people, getting drunk, and making other people's lives miserable with our reviling? For that matter, why not try loving others in the same way that God loves us?

This is miles and miles away from shame.

Context is a wonderful thing.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Why Yaoi: It's Less Exhausting

In my ongoing deliberations on why women read yaoi, I've so far proposed four main reasons: Reasons 1-4 (see below).

My reason here, call it Reason 5 (since so many of my extra reasons can be grouped together), deals with courtship rituals; namely, in nature (and humans are part of nature), men and women perform acts that indicate interest, a desire to mate. They dance. They call. They fight. They display their beautiful sides. They build nests.

This entails competition with members of the same gender for the attention of an individual of the opposite gender. For humans, this competition is mixed with semi-awareness. The wrong attention. The wrong kind of attention. Disrespect. It all hurts. It can even be mean. Animals are more likely to kill each other than call each other names. Humans, however, can definitely think of another person as a jerk, picky, frigid, arrogant, etc. etc. etc.

It's exhausting.

At this point, I should make three points:

(1) It can be as exhausting for men as for women. Speaking as a heterosexual woman, the advice that I received in my twenties--dress up, look nice, speak to the guy, be really really extroverted, get his attention, show interest--all of it was the intellectual equivalent of telling me to inspect the male gifts, applaud the winner, check and display my ornamentation, vocalize the right responses, and crowd out other women.

Likewise, men have to collect the gifts, make the advances, check out the ornamentation (appearances/signs of being fecund), come up with the right calls and lines, and crowd out other men.

(2) Although the animal world is obsessed with procreation, humans are not. Displays of this kind go on even when procreation isn't on the table, including on gay dates (even if the wiring isn't quite as evolutionarily ruthless).

(3) Many non-competitive people--I know plenty of them--find sexual satisfaction with a companion. We may be biological entities. We are not fated to be only biological entities. (And the truth is, within the animal kingdom, companionship, affection, and even monogamy do exist.)

Clever men and clever women make all these rituals work for them. Passionate men and women do too. Sometimes people fall into relationships. Sometimes the best match occurs at the best time for the best reasons (the "one and only" is a true possibility).

I have no argument with men and women who go out there and play the game and play it well. Kudos, guys! Congrats!

But I thoroughly understand the draw of yaoi and M/M. Referring back to the second point, it isn't that gay men (and I'm sure lesbian women--and transgender people, just to cover all my bases) don't flirt and peacock and form expectations based on internal requirements. But the literature is surprisingly free of it.

Note: I am referring to yaoi and M/M romance specifically, not gay literature. Maurice does involve more efforts at courtship. Both Clive, unconsciously, and Alec, deliberately and consciously, are in competition for Maurice's affection. Maurice has no idea.

Yaoi and M/M romance--despite tropes like jealousy and miscommunication--is blessedly absent the competitive need to either showcase one's right to be loved or applaud the other person's showcasing. In yaoi (occasionally in M/M), specifically high school-based yaoi, the "mean girls" may pose competition to the less competitive of the males (Yoshida in His Favorite, for example). But since the more competitive of the males isn't in the running (despite what outsiders believe), the "mean girls" are noisy rather than effective.

And a huge amount of yaoi and M/M doesn't deal with the issue at all. Competition is off the table (except for the ordinary competition involved in work v. relationship, family v. relationship, etc.).

The characters are friends--which I will discuss in a later post.

Why Yaoi, Reasons 1-4: 
Reason 1: Women like romance; yaoi allows women to read romance without instantly suffering the indignity of being told, "You're desperate!" or "That's wish-fulfillment!" (At least not in America, where nobody knows what it is.) I tackle the issue of wish-fulfillment here and here.  

Reason 2: Yaoi takes gender roles off the table. It gets tiresome to be told, "This is what you supposed to think as a woman" (something that I hear as much from so-called progressives as I do from so-called conservatives).

Reason 3: Yaoi (specifically) allows single women (specifically) to read about people on the fringes of society who still work and function within society (rather than running off to live on an island and hate everybody).

Reason 4 applies to the writer side of me. Reading yaoi reminds me of when I first started listening to audio books. Hearing a book versus reading a book gives one a fresh perspective. As I listened to mysteries that I'd read dozens of times before, I began to "hear" how the plots were put together--how the various parts fit. Likewise, reading romances without the expected plot cues helps me see how romances work.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Lorry & Clark: Season 4: Assassinations & Ghosts

Early-August, Year 4: “People versus Lorry Lane-Kent”

Lorry and Clark move into their own place.

While pursued by villains, Lorry is forced to kill to protect himself. This is a gendered difference from the original in which Lois “mistakenly” killed the villain. Frankly, sometimes the original writers went too far to preserve our heroes’ perfect natures. Blue Bloods is okay with female nurses shooting people who want to kill them. I am okay with a male reporter killing to keep himself from being stabbed.

Lorry is an inherently non-violent person, however, and this event sends him into a tailspin. He sees himself as no longer worthy of the pacifistic Clark. Clark protests that Lorry had no choice and adds, “I wasn’t there.”

“This isn’t about you!” Lorry snaps.

“No, it isn’t,” Clark says in smug satisfaction.

Lorry gets his point: he, Lorry, did what he could in the moment.

Despite acting in self-defense, Lorry is placed in jail. Clark visits Lorry in prison as Superman.

When Perry White is manipulated on the stand into saying Lorry held a grudge against the snitch he killed, Lorry is found guilty.

Late-August, Year 4: “Dead Lorry Walking”

Clark as Superman frees Lorry from prison. They go on “the lam.”

They catch the bad guys and clear Lorry’s name.

Lorry has been rather flattened by the entire experience. He finally regains his mischievous side when he carries Clark across the threshold of their new home.

September, Year 4: “Bob and Carl and Lorry and Clark”

Lorry is not thrilled about having to make friends simply because he and Clark are now married. “What is up with that? Is this some kind of 50's suburbia thing? Get married: here are your friends who will come to dinner and have cocktails.”

Later, he complains, “Nobody is that eager to see us!”

It turns out that Bob is an assassin and Carl his loving partner in crime. Clark and Lorry stop the assassination and send the villains off to jail.

October, Year 4: “Ghosts”

Lorry and Clark get a ghost when a skivvy con-man tries to scare them out of their home. The skivvy con-man's efforts to pretend to raise a ghost actually raise a ghost! (The con-man is Drew Carey with Drew Carey cast member Kathy Kinney as the ghost--once again, I like these people even if I don't really understand their humor.)

The housewife ghost is startled to find her once-home occupied by a gay couple, but she grows to like them. She even starts to help Lorry cook (Lorry is in competition with Clark, who is a decent cook, on “house husband” status).

Lorry states to the ghost: “I belong here. You can see the logic: I pay the mortgage.”

The ghost likes Lorry but she likes the idea of being Clark’s “husband” more and tries to bond her spirit with Lorry’s body. Clark and Lorry fight her off.

Lorry’s cooking has not improved at the end, relieving Clark since it means Lorry is no longer possessed.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Overprotective Fathers as a Trope: Does It Exist in Manga?

On Votaries, I discuss overprotective fathers as a trope. I conclude that 21st-century television fathers have become far more nuanced in their reactions to their families.

My plan was to write about overprotective fathers on Romance & Manga, particularly overprotective fathers in shojo & yaoi manga.

There are some--the fathers who protest when their sons or daughters move away from home or start dating someone they don't know. However, overprotective boyfriends abound far more. Well, except for all the times they decide that reserved, deliberate, almost aggressive inaction is actually healthier for their mates.

It would be most accurate to say that in manga, over-protection is a trope in the negative--that is, lots of manga volumes present situations where the heroes or heroines are left to figure out things on their own. Growth is predicated directly on alone-time introspection.

Over-protection isn't cute in manga. It's dangerous.

Shojo

In Hana-Kimi, Mizuki Ashiya makes a father figure out of Hokuto Umeda, the school doctor. He is sarcastic, aloof, self-interested (he claims). Yet he keeps her secret (she is a girl pretending to be a boy in an all-boys' school) and gives her reluctant advice. His advice almost always takes the form of pushing her to think out the problem for herself: What do you think you should do? He consistently refuses to take the matter of choice out of her hands.

Yaoi

In Honey Darling, the "bear" boyfriend offers Chihiro a place to stay, then is quite clear with him about his duties. This speech is the climax of the romance (I'm not kidding):
If you keep giving up on everything so easily, you'll eventually give up on yourself. Why don't you take your time to decide. Don't rush it. You said this job has been worthwhile. If you feel that way about it, then you'll eventually gain the necessary knowledge and experience to carry you through. 
Of course, there are those manga where individual self-reliance is taken to such extremes that the main characters have to learn to at least tell each other where they are going (think 127 Hours). But that's a post for a different time.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Romance Stories Throughout Art: A Great Marriage

A great marriage is the Carlsons from WKRP in Cincinnati.

Gordon Jump plays the sweet-tempered, often waffling manager of the radio station (ostensibly--the station's finances are controlled by his mother). He is not quite a canny dope since he knows what is going on almost all the time; he just doesn't want to be involved (most of the time). He has a strong moral sense, however, and will make tie-breaking decisions on occasion.

His wife, Carmen Carlson, played by Allyn Ann McLerie, is sweet, gentle, and practical. She exhibits a thorough understanding of her husband and an utter lack of jealousy regarding receptionist Jennifer (played expertly and smartly by Loni Anderson).

What makes them such a great couple is that they are so totally compatible. Many great television couples get along but have different interests. Vanessa Baxter, for example, loves her outspoken, down-to-earth husband Mike--but still wishes he was more neighbor-friendly.

Not the Carlsons. The episode "A Simple Little Wedding" highlights their compatibility regarding people and interests. Back in the day, they eloped. To make up for that elopement, they've decided to remarry. However, just like the first time, they find themselves contending with people who insist on throwing them bachelor and bachelorette parties plus a controlling mother (mother-in-law) who wants to force them into a huge wedding with thousands of high society guests.

They decide to elope again. Neither of them value high society, forced gaiety, or uninvited attention. They are quiet, unassuming, kindly people who want to live out their quiet, unassuming, kindly lives together.

Great couple!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Assumptions Made About Singles #4

Assumption about Singles #4: Single people have lots of free time on their hands and/or no worries. 

Married people will often complain about their kids and their spouses (though they presumably wanted all those kids and spouses to begin with). The underlying implication to their complaints is that single people don't have "real" problems or responsibilities. The truth is, I've met immature single people. I've also met immature married people. Everybody fills their lives with something; whether those "somethings" involve responsibility is entirely up to the individual as is the degree of responsibility.

The oddest corollary to this assumption is the inability for a certain type of married woman to have a conversation with a single woman because the single woman doesn't have a husband or kids (or for a certain type of single woman who desperately wants to get married to have a conversation that isn't about dating). I've worked on committees with women who could talk about nothing but their husbands and kids (or dating). I didn't mind. I talk to people about their families (and dating) all the time!

But I might as well have been a talking parrot for all the interest they evinced in my life as a teacher, writer, reader, cat owner. I would put down their lack of interest to simple indifference (it's not like people have to show interest in the same things!) if that lack of interest wasn't accompanied by the attitude that only a life with husband and kids (and dates) could be of interest.

This behavior has nothing to do with whether a woman works outside the home or not. I've met homemakers who love talking about books, movies, politics, religion, history (and are sometimes desperate for a non-child-care conversation). And I've meet working women who define everyone's importance and purpose as "does that person have a husband and kids?" ("Does that person have a boyfriend?")

And I've met people who got offended when I compared their kids to my cats--yeah, I've learned not to do that.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Lorry & Clark: Season 4 Continued

Early June, Year 4: “Swear to God, This Time We’re Not Kidding” (which title was obviously an apology to the fans)

Lorry and Clark get married (by “Mike”) despite the Wedding Destroyer. The Wedding Destroyer is envious of all marriages, including a marriage between two men: “Everybody gets a happy ending except me!”

At the end, Lorry and Clark get their wedding—a wedding without clones or bad guys or whatever. (Otherwise, as Dean Cain as Clark says, “There would be a riot!” A reference to fans, yes?).

Mid-June, Year 4: “Soul Mates”

Lorry and Clark are joined throughout history. In every reality/time in history, Lorry gives Tempus what he wants (money, position, land) to spare Clark. Also, sometimes Lorry and Clark are female and male or male and female or even female and female. As well as male and male. (This is the "souls are bigger than biology" concept, which I personally find a tad dull, but it makes this particular plot work.)

In medieval times, Clark as The Robin-Hood-like Fox encounters Tempus and Lorry, a young aristocrat. Tempus intends to ransom Lorry back to his parents. The Fox (Clark) “steals” Lorry, which robs Tempus of his trump card.

Tempus goes to his resident witch to request a curse to “separate” The Fox and Sir Lorry, not realizing the romantic implications (for the sake of historical accuracy, if he had, his reaction would not automatically fall in line with modern reactions or, rather, modern assumptions about people's reactions in the past; sodomy was often considered a crime in medieval Europe but not necessarily homosexuality itself; "sodomy" as a crime also rather depended on one's sect or philosophy since the "we hate sex no matter what" philosophers made the term about, well, everything, including men and women having sex for any reason that wasn't strictly procreative).

In any case, if the curse is cast, it will become operational when the two heroes are in flagrante delicto. The curse's ramifications will continue through the centuries, kicking in whenever the Clarks and Lorrys' souls “co-mingle.” To stop the curse, Lorry throws up his hands and agrees to whatever Tempus wants.

Unfortunately, this means that back in the current day, Clark and Lorry have created a Tempus-owned universe. By changing the past, they established a pattern of always giving in to Tempus. (Think Back to the Future, i.e., the McFlys relationship with Biff.)

H.G. Wells takes Clark and Lorry to the Wild West to set things right. There, Clark is the Lone Rider (Ranger) while Lorry is in an unfair business arrangement with Tempus. This time, they win against Tempus! Since they already prevented the curse (by giving in to Tempus in the medieval era), they have now set history right. (I did not write this plot--hey, time travel is complicated!)

That's Dean Cain carrying an original Jimmy Olsen
Clark and Lorry are able to restart their honeymoon. They have sex right after Clark states, “Didn’t spill a drop” in reference to the wine (and yes, that original line made it on to mainstream television).

July, Year 4: “Brutal Youth”

Young people are getting old. Lorry realizes that Clark will not age alongside Lorry. He throws out a comment to Clark: “Hey, I’ll end up with my own toy boy.” Clark is more disturbed than Lorry about the possibility of a gap in age.

After restoring an aging Jimmy Olsen to his youth, Clark discovers that he will in fact age (though more slowly than most humans).