We’re Here, We’re Queer, and We’d Like to Watch Some Movies!

I’m bisexual, and my favorite movies are comedies. Today, I counted how many Gay & Lesbian comedies there are available to stream on Netflix, since there’s no film category for bisexuals. There were 43, out of the total 161 movies classified as Gay & Lesbian. I also spoke to a Netflix customer service representative, who told me that there are currently upwards of 36,000 titles available to stream. That means that movies about queer people are about .45% of what’s available to watch on the Netflix website.

It’s difficult to say how this lines up with the percentage of the American population that identifies as queer, given the very large range of results different studies have turned up. In the 1970s, Bruce Voeller of the US National Gay Task Force said that 10% of the population was gay, a statistic which he based off of Alfred Kinsey’s surveys. This statistic was largely contested, which was logical given that the basis for it was 30 years old and dubious in itself. The National Bureau of Economic Research says about 20%. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.6% of the U.S. population is gay, lesbian, or bisexual. A poll conducted by Gallup says 3.8% of adults identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Interestingly, a researcher named Gary J. Gates has found that younger people are much more likely to identify as non-heterosexual, which certainly rings true for me. Ultimately though, there’s no consensus and no clear answer.

However, even if we work under the assumption that Gallup, with the lowest estimate, is correct and only 3.8% of Americans are queer, the number of films available for us to view on this extremely popular website is entirely disproportionate. It’s bugged me for a while to see how few choices I have when I want to watch a movie about someone like me. This doesn’t just matter, though, because I’ve already seen The Itty Bitty Titty Committee and I can’t stream Better Than Chocolate or Kissing Jessica Stein (both of which I really do want to watch at some point). This matters because research has proven and proven that representation matters. For example, the 1947 study by Kenneth and Mamie Clark, which showed that, across races, children view whiteness as superior. The results of this study held true when Kiri Davis imitated the experiment in 2006. The marginalized group may be different, but the effects are the same.

This isn’t to say that Netflix is a horrible, anti-gay corporation. They do appear to make a concerted effort to be representative, such as with Orange is the New Black. This speaks to a larger cultural issue, though. If a streaming service that’s known for being inclusive, as well as for having an incredibly vast selection of titles, can only muster 161 Gay & Lesbian films, what does that say about our culture as a whole? If 3.8% of people watching Netflix are queer, then a fair share of films would be at least 1,368. So, there theoretically should be about eight and a half times as many movies about us as there currently are.

Personally, I’m just glad that I was able to watch But I’m a Cheerleader before it was removed.


Capital Power: Post Script on Joseph Nye’s Soft Power Theory

In 2003, on the heels of the United States invasion of Iraq, professor Joseph Nye delineated two distinct applications of United States foreign policy as a recommendation to shift Middle East strategy, that has since served the realist, state-centered view of American global action. On one hand: hard power – the carrots and sticks of coercion that utilize bombs, sanctions, and arm twisting deliberations to force a nation to respond to the interests of the United States government. On the other, a new concept: soft power. According to Nye, soft power spreads hegemony from the heart of the people. He hypothesized that spreading our culture abroad through products and principles can make our liberating mission a more popular one. Nye postulated that an effective balance of both was critical to defeating Islamic terrorism and smoothly transitioning Iraq under the American sphere of influence. What he failed to realize was that his dim view of foreign policy grossly over played the hand that the United States has in the application of “cultural hegemony.”

Nye’s analyzation of power may have been apt a century ago but, in the Iraq War, he simply heeded a whisper of the past. To categorize militaristic power and cultural power as distinct entities that the state can strategically shift its application of is, at best, an optimistic notion. It’s the notion that the state has control over the proliferation of ideology after it has used its military might . Even better, it’s a hope that the American state itself is not already under the spell of the capitalist sovereignty that builds the McDonalds’ and controls the airwaves through private television stations abroad. It seems deliberately clear that the pixie dust was sprinkled down on us while we slumbered. The flow of capital has always oiled the machine of American empire, and in turn the American empire kept avenues for the flow of capital open. Interventions in Latin America in the early 20th century didn’t shroud their nature as “Dollar Diplomacy”. To draw heavy irony from the use of the term diplomacy may be an understatement to the tens of thousands of Hondurans who died from the bullets of American marines and the dictatorship that was rectified in the sake of reinstalling the United Fruit Company’s banana monopoly. In turn, the eye of industrial power floated in the federal governments orbit. So called “soft power” could be strategically initiated to increase the effect of coercive actions, as the federal government controlled the rules of America’s international trade and put forth companies into markets where they saw fit. The productive factories that synthesized the collected resources gathered by our military were based in the United States and their money was in American banks. If corporations grew too large or too powerful, threatening the sovereignty of the nation state, they could be forcibly broken up by utilizing extensive anti-trust laws. In short, corporations were subject to the same state-discipline as any other American institution.

However, the recent developments of the flow of capital has allowed the corporate entities to free themselves of this national centralization creating drastic consequences to the role of the nation state and international power. The post-Cold War era of globalization has seen the creation of international institutions and the expansion of existing ones that seek to regulate the world of international commerce. The rebalancing of the public domain was set in stone through the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that reverberated throughout the late 20th century. They utilized the contradictions of state capitalism itself – inevitable inflation, a disciplinary government, a dependent welfare class – to turn the liberating potential of the commons into an enemy of “individual liberty” and centered the competitive market as the heart of human freedom. As this ideology, dubbed “neo-liberal”, escaped the fringe economics classrooms of the University of Chicago, it became the driving force of policy making. The transformation of the role of the state took a revolutionary turn – dismantling and fragmenting itself. As the state attempted to re-focus its purpose it centered itself in international institutions such as the World Bank, which postulate the role of the state as a ‘limited but effective’ apparatuses used to ‘build institutions for the market.’ [1] Purged of a purpose of common ownership and collective action, the state, gasping for a reason to justify its own power, served to the definitions written by transnational bankers.

Non-Governmental entities like the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary fund, originally created to allow states to centralize the rules of interaction between one another, have found independent power in the ability to develop post-colonial nations along economic parameters that are affable to their profitability [2]. Although northern capitalist countries control the voting procedures and rule creation, securing the influence of homegrown operations, capital’s flow is now borderless. No longer is the basis of American capitalism in the factory, but the one-click internet stock market where money is never engaged in a singular fund or investment; always-already reassigned nature and purpose. In short, nations have become more loyal as customers of corporations, as the corporation has in-principle abandoned loyalty to any nation state. In turn, the state has in-principle abandoned loyalty to itself.

Nye’s formulation that the American government is “engaged in a tug of war over how to work with other countries” implies that the federal government can have effective interaction with other central states, vacuumed from the non-territorialized actors that have emerged in the 21st century from cyber hedge fund managers to the radical anti-state ‘terrorist’ groups. The flow of capital has so delineated itself from the interest of “America” that the state’s struggle is to find where its legitimacy lies any longer. Surely it is not in pure militarism, but what else have we left? The United States diplomatic decisions for three decades have consistently based themselves off the expansion of trade – only furthering the obsolesce of itself– rather than taking advantage of a globalizing world to develop principled democracy. Even democracy promotion is a show for private interests as the National Democratic and World Republican Institutes received state backing to privatize the “destined” mission of the United States. That the remaining effective utilization of U.S foreign policy is now as a military tool to pry open markets is clear in our obsessive spending priorities. The federal government will spend ten times as much on its military spending in the 2016 fiscal year, at $579 billion, as it does on the state department’s foreign development and aid programs, at $50.3 billion [2]. Meanwhile, we heed the recommendations of voting-member corporations in the International Monetary Fund to give out high interest loans to developing states in accordance with mass privatizations and deregulation of trade that consistently shocks fragile southern countries’ economies. In the same pivot, we brush aside the pertinent crises of environmental destruction and rampant poverty as the solvable end points of economic reforms, things the market will eventually work out if the government backs off, instead of utilizing the potential for multilateral cooperation that was the intention of these assemblies. But that’s distant to our consumerist interest, we think, until we recognize the truth of Nye’s thesis on soft power – that corporations synthesized these strategies here before taking them abroad.

Nye may have touched truth when he postulated that, “The military victory in Iraq seems to confirm a new world order.” But it was not the re-coronation of American Empire. Rather, present de-stability in Iraq is proof that coercion is now an irrelevant policy; there are no security dilemmas when the consumer is disarmed from self-defense against the upheaval put forth by invasive multi-nationals. To state that the federal government must adopt a non-coercive cultural policy in response to other nation states is to assume too much potential to our ability to influence anyone without using the existing institutions, who are doing an effective job at shaping the global order in their own right. To chart a future where individuals have power of their collective futures then we must realize the obsolete nature of old debates, and the new nature of power, use our dwindling influence within international institutions to reform international economic policy to favor fair-democratic resolutions, and radically reanalyze the role of the state and capital in a new, globalized, realm of international policy. It is up to us to recognize what our community is becoming and seize its creation. Fluidity may be fleeting, but it follows properties the common man is familiar with.

[1] Lee, S., & Mcbride, S. (n.d.). Introduction: Neo-Liberalism, State Power and Global Governance in the Twenty-First Century. Neo-Liberalism, State Power and Global Governance, 1-24.
[2] Lee, M. (n.d.). Multilateral Institution-Building in a Neo-Liberal Era: The Case of Competition Policy. Neo-Liberalism, State Power and Global Governance, 187-199.
[3] Congressional Budget Justification Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2015.

-Dean Patterson

Uncoupling Gun Violence and Mental Illness

There was another mass shooting on the morning of Thursday, October 1. This time it was at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, and the shooter was Chris Harper-Mercer. Nine people were killed. President Obama gave a statement in which he said “…it’s fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds.” In a CNN article about the shooting, it says “Two officials said that after the shooting, the gunman’s family told investigators that he suffered from mental health issues and had sought treatment.” An article on oregonlive.com says “There are a number of indicators that Harper-Mercer had mental health or behavioral issues.”

It is absolutely not fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds. It seems as though every time we see these horrific acts of mass violence saturating all of our news outlets, which is all too often, there’s significant focus on the mental health of the shooter. Why don’t we talk about how men commit about 90% of all murders? Why don’t we talk about the racial component? Why do we have to focus on mental illness?

Simple— it gives us something to blame. In actuality, women are up to 40% more likely than men to experience mental illness. Not only that, but mentally ill people are significantly more often victims of violence rather than perpetrators of it. Still, when all of these young men heinously murder people, all anyone wants to talk about is how ‘troubled’ they were.

Between January 1 and October 1, 2015, there were 294 mass shootings in the United States. Do you really want to tell me that all of those killers were mentally ill? 18.2% of adults in America are mentally ill. As of 2014, 80.7% of the U.S. population was age 15 or older. With a population of 318.9 million in 2014, that would mean we would have nearly 46.9 million mass murderers, or people with viable potential to become mass murderers. That doesn’t seem quite right.

Isn’t it so much easier, though, to blame mental illness than to face the fact that we have a gun violence problem? We know definitively that more regulations regarding firearms mean less violence. Let’s compare and contrast. The state of Hawaii requires a permit and a universal background check before someone can purchase a handgun. Handguns must be registered, there is no form of a “stand your ground law” in place, it’s difficult to get both concealed and open carry permits, and there’s a 14 day waiting period for obtaining handguns. Alaska requires no permit, no universal background check, no registration of the weapon, and no permit for concealed or open carry. As of 2013, Alaska has a “stand your ground” law, and there’s no waiting period for obtaining handguns. Unsurprisingly, Alaska has 17.2% more gun related deaths than Hawaii.

In our collective discussions of mass shootings, we talk endlessly about how tragic it is, how we’ll send love to the families of the victims, yet comparatively, we hardly talk about gun control at all. The exception to this, of course, being Republican politicians talking about how we don’t need more laws, we need to focus on mental illness, like Chris Christie this past August after two people were shot on live television. We don’t talk about the absurd ableism at play, and the way dismissing the motivations of the murderers by saying they were mentally ill contributes enormously to the stigma surrounding mental health and psychiatry in our culture.

We need to shift our focus and look at how to prevent people like Chris Harper-Mercer from accessing firearms, and we need to have an honest dialogue about the realities of mental illness and mental healthcare (which, by the way, is largely inaccessible in the United States) in order to take care of and protect ourselves and each other.


Kim Davis and Conscientious Objection

Fifty years ago, few establishments welcomed openly gay people with the exception of bars, which police frequently raided, leading of course to the Stonewall riots.
In 2001, a majority of Americans opposed same-sex marriage (57% to 35%). Since then, support for same-sex marriage has steadily grown across all divides including gender, race, political affiliation, and religion. Today, a majority of Americans (55%) support same-sex marriage, a 25% increase from just fourteen years ago.

On June 26 of this year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage nationwide.

Despite these great social changes, we still have those in our society who are not only against same-sex marriage, but adamantly so. On September 3, only a couple months after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, Kim Davis, a Kentucky clerk, was held in contempt of court for repeatedly refusing to issue same-sex couples marriage licenses and subsequently jailed. Kim Davis, county clerk, refused to do her job. She acted discriminatorily and imposed her own values over the ruling of the Supreme Court. She might be entitled to her beliefs, but she isn’t entitled to not do her job and expect to keep it. It would have made sense to fire her. Jailing her for five days, however, seems a little extreme. What seems even more illogical is that after being released from jail, Davis remains as county clerk and remains refusing to sign same-sex marriage licenses.

The American Civil Liberties Union pressed the charges against Davis requesting a fine to encourage Davis’ adherence to the Supreme Court ruling. However, Judge David L. Bunning, after learning Davis’ supporters were planning on fundraising to pay the fine, decided to penalize Davis with jail time instead, hoping this would provide more incentive for her to adhere to the ruling. On the contrary, Davis did not apologize or agree to adhere to the Supreme Court ruling even after spending five days in jail and her jailing has not only failed to send a message of adherence, but has stirred up a passion for protest.

Others wonder why Davis continues to serve as county clerk even as she continues to refuse to sign same-sex marriage licenses. This is because she would have to be impeached by the state legislature since she holds an elected position. Not even the governor would be able to fire Davis on his own. To remove Davis from her position, the General Assembly would have to call a special session, which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money. Even if a special session were called, there would be no guarantee of Davis’ impeachment. Davis also refuses to quit, asking instead for accommodations to remove her name from the marriage licenses on the basis of religious exemption.

Despite the controversy Davis initially stirred up, the issue had quieted until this past week when Pope Francis visited her. Pope Francis is known for his left-leaning positions on poverty, immigration, the environment, and inequality. However, in his meeting with Davis, he reportedly told her to “stay strong” and thanked her for her courage (The New York Times). Given Pope Francis’ trend for moderation, for preventing extremism and promoting interfaith tolerance, many have interpreted his meeting with Davis as seizing on the issue of conscientious objection rather than making a religious stance on homosexuality.

Although Pope Francis makes an interesting point, it is important to note that neither Christianity nor the label of conscientious objector absolve Davis. Jesus never speaks about homosexuality, God speaks with multiple voices, and the church certainly has support for both sides. Furthermore, the term “conscientious objector” does not mean that Davis’ actions were in any way noble. Conscientious objection comes from the military, referring to a person who refuses enlistment based on moral or religious grounds. We often associate the term with social justice and the civil rights movement, but in its most basic form, conscientious objection refers to a person who objects based on closely held values. In this light, Davis is indeed a conscientious objector as she is objecting to issuing marriage licenses based on her religious convictions. However, by this definition, teachers who refused to admit children of color in the 50s and shooting ranges that refuse to let Muslims participate are also conscientious objectors. In these examples, we can see that conscientious objection is not inherently noble and in fact is often used as an excuse for discriminatory action. If anything, the label of conscientious objector incriminates Davis even more assuredly as it ties her to her actions. She is not a victim, but a conscientious actor. She has made her stance and must face the consequences of her actions whatever they may be. Davis may be entitled to her beliefs, but her beliefs do not entitle her to remain as county clerk without objections or further consequences.

Olivia Ensley





Pay Inequality and Race: An Intersection

Intersectionality, a term originally coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, is critical in the examination of social hierarchies and the power structures which govern our lives in many ways. It originated in the discussion of race within the feminist movement and how women’s experiences of oppression can vary based on their race. This is often still overlooked in what is known as White Feminism (example of a White Feminist: Taylor Swift). I’m very much a feminist, and I exist in a lot of feminist circles, both in my “real” life and online. Within these circles, I see that the wage gap is a consistently popular topic in feminist discourse, which it should be. However, shockingly few feminists— even intersectional and all-inclusive feminists— seem to understand the complexity and intersectionality of the wage gap. Given that we are often the ones to draw attention to issues such as the income disparity between men and women, it’s a major problem that we’re excluding so many women in these discussions.

One facet of the issue, as discussed in a blog post from The Hendrix Delano about a year ago, is what feminist author and blogger Jessica Valenti refers to as The Mommy Wage Gap. The Mommy Wage Gap is often ignored in discussions of pay inequality. Another point about the wage gap that should be considered much more frequently is that the eternally cited statistic of women making 78 cents to every dollar a man makes is only a partial truth. In fact, only white women make 78% of what a white man makes. Latina women make only 54% of what white men make. Black or African-American women make 63%, Native women are paid 59%, and Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women make 62%. Oddly enough, Asian American women are paid 90% of what their white male counterparts are paid. The gap is less severe, but still very real, between women of color and men of color. This range sees women being paid between 78% and 90% of each dollar earned by men of their same race.

Fortunately, the complexity of the wage gap is gaining more and more attention as people begin to pay more attention to the racial components, as well as whether women are mothers, their marital status, or what field they work in. Our government has repeatedly and directly addressed the issue, with President Obama making statements about wage inequality and the need for government to address the issue. In short, progress is slow, but we are making progress. I suppose that’s something to give us a little bit of hope. Maybe we’ll see The Equal Pay Act actually enforced.
Just as a note, I feel the need to stress that while oppression and marginalization are not a competition, they do affect individuals to varying degrees. In order to be effective in creating social change, inclusivity is very important for every movement. We need to stop watering down our activism in order to make it more palatable for people who don’t want to recognize, much less relinquish, their privilege.

http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/epa.cfm (summary of the Equal Pay Act) http://www.cnbc.com/2014/04/08/obama-on-gender-pay-gap-its-not-a-myth-its-math.html (article about Obama vs GOP and gender wage gap) http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/07/05/the-importance-of-intersectionality-multiple-forms-of-discrimination-and-health/ (how intersectionality is important in so many different capacities) https://roosevelthdx.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/the-slow-and-unfair-pay-gap/ (previous article I mentioned) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jessica-valenti/full-frontal-feminism_b_47031.html (Jessica Valenti, Mommy Wage Gap) http://www.iwpr.org/initiatives/pay-equity-and-discrimination (wage gap varies based on career) http://www.academia.edu/4894646/The_Concept_of_Intersectionality_in_Feminist_Theory (about Crenshaw Williams and intersectionality) http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/jun/21/barack-obama/barack-obama-ad-says-women-are-paid-77-cents-dolla/ https://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/equal-pay (online government stance on wage inequality) http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2014/04/president-obama-vows-zero-tolerance-of-pay-secrecy/ (about Obama signing executive order in 2014 meant to equalize wages) http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/09/taylor-swift-white-feminism/ (why Taylor Swift is disappointing as a feminist)