Thursday, April 11, 2013

4/11 - The Austenian Approach

As it is quite clear that L2 merits full attention this week, no preamble is required. I shall be content with saying that this is just the sort of letter that would work well in Homocentric August, as LW2's being a woman, while not flatly stated or incontrovertibly implied, here seems established beyond reasonable doubt, so that it would be great fun to twist the letter into male-writer status.

My husband and I are both politically liberal, support public radio, donate to the ACLU, and both have gay and lesbian friends.

Oh, dear. We can already tell what's coming. A few thoughts:

Politically liberal = our daughters are going to be Democratic-voting virgin brides?
Support public radio/donate to ACLU - side issues

Both have gay and lesbian friends: Now, this is a good one. It has many possible meanings. Right off the bat, one notices that LW2 says "both" instead of "each". If all the LG(BT?) friends are "their" friends, a highly plausible interpretation is that LW2 knows one or both halves of a lesbian couple or two, invites them to social functions, and H2 has no objections. Is that not just Standard Operating Procedure for many couples? That, therefore, marks the first point of cross-examination. How many LG friends are specifically his or at least were his originally if LW2 happens to be the sort of wife who takes on all her husband's friends. Then, too, there is the question of what actually constitutes a friend in his eyes. Perhaps the office lesbian is in the football pool, or someone's gay cousin fills in every couple of months in the neighbourhood poker game. Or he could be the sort of straight man who legitimately has a number of reasonably deep friendships with those who don't share his sexual orientation. It's not that rare. But it is worthwhile to establish the point with some exactitude, as it makes a difference whether this is just a blind spot in H2's sincere attempt at liberality or whether LW2 is reading her beliefs as theirs and covering for a bigot.

He thinks it's funny, however, to adopt a stereotypical gay lisp from time to time when telling a story or a joke.

Gee, nobody else has ever thought of that in the history of the universe!

 I hate it and have told him so every time he does it.

Not very well, apparently.

 I tell him that it sounds bigoted and I don't want our kids to grow up thinking that making fun of gay people is OK.


 He says that it's done in good fun, and the fact that he has gay friends proves he is not prejudiced.

Even the Prudecutor can handle this softball.

 Is there any way I can get him to stop, or do I just have to put up with it and try to counteract its effect on my kids with some well-timed lessons on respecting others?

If your lessons are as effective as your getting him to stop, keep your breath to cool your porridge, as Elizabeth Bennet once cited.


Unless your husband is Sacha Baron Cohen, he’s got to drop this act.

Classic Prudecutorial potential homophobia - Mr Cohen needs to drop it more than anybody. Does the Prudecutor find Mr Cohen amusing?

 From the sound of it, being flamboyantly gay is not even germane to the story he’s telling, which makes his adopting this persona all the more uncomfortable for people listening.

Actually, it sounds as if it is germane, because it's what's getting the laughs from the people he wants to laugh at the story.

 It used to be that imitating racial or ethnic dialects of a group you didn’t belong to was the height of humor. But the days of Amos 'n' Andy are over, and comedian Bill Dana himself killed off his Jose Jimenezcharacter. Given your NPR proclivities, I’m sure your husband has heard that there’s a revolution afoot in the perception of gay and lesbian people.

The last sentence smacks of Chief Justice Roberts and his declaration that same-sexers are so powerful that they don't require nondiscrimination protection.

 It doesn’t matter how many nonstraight friends your husband has, his humor is going to leave everyone cringing and wondering what subliminal message is he trying to deliver.

Not everyone is cringing, apparently. And wondering? subliminal? trying? It's pretty clear.

 You obviously can’t stop your husband, but you can tell him you’re not going to be able to rescue him socially when he does it, and that you hope the awkward silence gives him the feedback he needs.

That response is about as weak as a teabag that has been used to brew five cups.

 As for the kids, if he starts lisping in front of them, you can just shake your head and say, “This is something Dad does that should not be imitated.”

Isn't that the nudge, nudge; wink, wink seal of unofficial approval?


What is missing from the Prudecutor's response is any mention of using H2's actual gay friends in LW2's response to this situation. It is as if either the Prudecutor doesn't believe in them and doesn't want to admit it, or she desperately wants LW2 to conceal H2's bigotry so as not to cost him his same-sexer friendships. But there are so many creative solutions. One of his LGBT friends could be enlisted to explain to him exactly how belittling his conduct comes across as being to his LGBT friends, especially in the context of his doing it to score points with the non-LGBT members of his audience. Or such a friend could, on hearing one of these stories, especially in the presence of C2's children, decline to stifle a natural reaction to flee the room (in tears?) to provide the kiidies with a concrete example of just how this bad behaviour hurts people's feelings.

I'm also inclined to wonder about the context of H2's stories. I could easily guess that, if he maintains that his LGBT friends hear these stories and don't mind them, many of them are told in a work environment in which the LGBT hearers don't want to rock the boat.


Moving on to Miss Austen:

In Northanger Abbey Henry Tilney is really the only person who seems to have much sense of humour. He provides a reasonable antidote to the idea that the world is nothing but killjoys and any remark one makes will be twisted into an assertion of prejudice by someone so motivated. He manages to tease Catherine Morland from the beginning of their acquaintance along gender lines, beginning with the "perfect" style of letter-writing among women, and perhaps reaching its peak with his line during the country-walk with Catherine, Henry and his sister Eleanor that nature has given women so much understanding that they never find it necessary to use more than half. Context, people, context. Here, unfortunately, it seems highly unlikely that H2 is using his lisp voice in any form of flirtation.

In Sense and Sensibility, we see how Lady Middleton copes with then problematic behaviour of her husband when Sir John invites the Miss Steeles to Barton Park, to be compared to Marianne Dashwood's reactions to the vulgar attempts at humour of Mrs Jennings. Which of the pair LW2 might prefer to emulate is open to interpretation.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mr Bennet might provide H2 with some useful lessons in effective humour, particularly in the example of his extricating himself from Mrs Bennet's insistence that he force Elizabeth to marry Mr Collins.

The only real wit in Mansfield Park is Mary Crawford, who comes rather a cropper and occasionally goes a little far for the Edmund-Fanny inquisitory panel. Perhaps H2's LGBT friends might take a lesson or two in lemon-sucking from Fanny Price in particular, although they would want to be a bit more effective than Fanny in expressing their displeasure.

On to Emma, LW2 could perhaps take lessons from Miss Woodhouse in the art of soothing over a loved one's questionable behaviour, as we so often see Emma hard at work when dear overly-concerned Mr Woodhouse would deny any of his guests the best fare of his table out of genuine concern for their health.

As for Persuasion, in which Anne Elliot's sense of humour is very moderate at best, we might point out that H2's jokes would go over so much better if he were a baronet (it certainly accounts for much of the response received from Mr Shepard and Mrs Clay by Sir Walter). If, unfortunately, LW2 is not inclined to divorce H2 over this, C2 could take a lesson from Anne and Lady Russell in being able to smooth over a serious difference of opinion while remaining on such good terms.


"The style of letter-writing among women is perfect, except in three particulars... ...a general deficiency of subject, a complete inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar."

 "As it was no longer possible to prevent their coming, Lady Middleton resigned herself to the idea of it with all the philosophy of a well-bred woman, contenting herself with merely giving her husband a gentle reprimand on the subject five or six times every day."

"An unhappy alternative lies before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you do."

"Of Rears and Vices [referring to Admirals] I saw enough. Now, do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat you."

"Thy ready wit the word will soon supply. The man must be in love to see ready wit in Harriet."

"Mr Shepard laughed heartily at this witticism, as he knew he must."

Thursday, April 4, 2013

4/4 - Looking to Tuesday

The only real point of interest in the Thursday letters this week was the almost thrown-away sentence towards the end of L1. LW1 summed up that she and BF1 had discussed the matter at length, he had realized how and why he was wrong, and he had apologized. What about answering the telephone during intimacy would necessitate a lengthy discussion? Either BF1 could not get why  it was so serious an infraction to LW1, in which case LW1 has potentially good grounds for dumping, or perhaps LW1 ought to make over BF1 to Gina from the Tuesday collection. Clearly BF1 can be dominated by women. He may well have a taste for it. And LW1 has a man who is amenable to lengthy discussions of his infractions and she still wonders if she ought to flee? She lacks the taste for dominance which would make her the best match for BF1. Gina from Tuesday ought to suit him a great deal better.

But it is the main Tuesday letter, which the Prudecutor almost gets right, that is the true gem of the week. This time, we shall not go back quite so far in time as to revisit Miss Austen. L1 is a variation on a plot line from Queer as Folk.

It was fortunate that, during the run of the series, the supportive parents (Michael's and Justin's mothers) appeared far more often than the non-supportive (Justin's father, Brian's and Lindsay's parents). Of the parental backgrounds, Lindsay's parents, of the country club set, have the highest in social status. They first appear when Lindsay and Melanie attend Lindsay's sister's third (all parentally financed) wedding in five years, and somehow agree to bring male escorts. Clear favouritism has been established. The Petersons' final appearance marks the most outrageous act of Lindsay's mother. During the period when Lindsay and Melanie are separated in the final season, Mama P convinces her daughter to return home, arranges a little dinner party including a divorced male contemporary of Lindsay's, and not only turns out to have tried to set the two up, but is also revealed to have informed her desired-potential-son-in-law that Lindsay had just broken up with a man.

In the second season, when Lindsay and Melanie marry, they have the temerity to ask the Ps (we never meet any of Melanie's relations, who apparently aren't much or any better) for financial assistance towards the grand day. They are flatly refused; it isn't a "real" wedding, as Mrs P explains during a tension-laden restaurant meal. In a second attempt, the couple plan to throw a very WASPy brunch, so that the Ps could meet their friends and perhaps feel more at home in such a group. A harp appears. Lindsay dons a WASPy blouse that makes her breasts appear about a third of their usual size. The Ps phone to beg off on grounds of Mr P's back trouble. Melanie secretly slips away, goes to the parental home, find the Ps preparing to play mixed doubles, and gives them a more honest assessment of their conduct and character than she permits herself to do in Lindsay's company, along with an account of how much effort Lindsay had put into the party. Back at the party, Brian drugs the punch. The atmosphere lightens, the assembled company loses considerable inhibitions and clothing, and a raucous good time is in progress when the Ps finally show up after all. Mrs P sucks four dozen lemons and walks out at once; Mr P gives an almost wistful look as he follows. No aid for the wedding, alas.

Presently, in another episode, another conflict arises with Mrs P on the telephone. Lindsay has all her life been promised that, when she marries, she can wear Granny Faye's wedding dress. But Mrs P thinks that the promise would only apply if it were a "real" wedding. Lindsay and Melanie then decide to go over when the Ps are out and take the dress without permission or notice. There they find a packet of letters from a woman named Vera. Vera and Faye became lovers during the war while their husbands were in the army. They planned to leave their husbands and live together, but Vera funked it when the time came. The final letter in the series, written decades later, explained that Vera had had a good enough life and marriage but had never stopped loving Faye. Strangely, that letter had arrived two year after Granny Faye's death, and been put with all the other letters from Vera. How had that happened?

Now, to this LW. I was pleasantly surprised by the Prudecutor, who had in the past advised LWs uncovering controversial materials among the belongings of the dear departed to burn such articles. I certainly agree that the LW ought to take steps to prevent the destruction of the letters. Sooner or later, there is bound to be an LGBT member of the family, for whom the letters would make a grand present. Those members of the commentariat who advise keeping the secret but not destroying the letters are basically just passing on the problem to whoever happens to go through the effects left behind when the LW dies in future. (Vague hints of Sir Quentin Oliver and his plan to lock up the autobiographies of the members of his little association for seventy years.) It is true that putting the letters away for a period of time may result in their coming to life when nobody who knew Granny will be affected personally; would such a thing be good or bad?

It feels a little like splitting hairs to inquire into the nature of the death, as some among the commentors have done. There's not enough that can be inferred about the wishes of the deceased. I'd advise a subcommittee drawn from the supportive members of as many branches of the family as possible. An inquiry might better be directed towards whether there is a hierarchy within the family that would give the LW and her mother more of a say about Granny's legacy than other relations. The Prudecutor's advice to share first with Mamma leaves open the possibility that Mamma may bring about a stalemate by insisting that the matter never be mentioned. Much safer for the LW if others who share the LW's viewpoint know about Granny first. There is also the question of whether to contact anyone in Maude's family. The Prudecutor and her commentariat completely miss that issue entirely; nobody considers it at all. And yet, as Granny and Maude were acknowledged as lifelong (best) friends, it would be rather odd for their families to be complete strangers each to the other.

And I can't help but wonder whether the LW bears some resemblance to Senator Portman. It might  have been "hurtful" to hear homophobic slurs at family gatherings, but the LW doesn't appear ever to have done or said anything about that before, and only feels inclined to speak up now because the issue has hit home. This is not exactly the stuff of a ringing endorsement.

Moral: "Granny Faye was... a dyke!"