I hope, dear reader, that you find joy and happiness in 2011. Thank you for reading my blog.
Last night I finished watching Beautiful People. I have a very (very!) long post coming. It’s been written, but is in the editing stages. I’m not sure when I will be able to get it posted, because it is going to require a lot of thinking.
Needlessly to say, I am devastated the series is over.
Two weeks ago I watched “The Game of Their Lives” (distributed on DVD as “The Miracle Match”, but I will go by the original title) about the United States Football Team’s shock victory over England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. As a fan of the World Football Phone-In, it was great to see Tim Vickery on screen (and I guess also Sean Wheelock, although his role was kind of unnecessary.) The movie is mediocre, and got quite a bit wrong–particularly the insulting “noble savage” image of Joe Gaetjens, the Haitian national who scored the winning goal (Voodoo? Really?). Because this is Hollywood, the English had to be made into villains. The character assassination of poor Stan Mortensen (portrayed by Gavin Rossdale) would be laughable if it were not outright slanderous.
The United States team’s upset of England in 1950 was epic. As I mentioned in a previous post, even when I knew nothing about the beautiful game, I knew about this victory. However, the match was no Miracle on Ice. For one thing, the Americans lost their other two group matches and finished at the bottom of the group. For another, despite its magnitude, the upset did nothing in the long term for football in America. The United States would not return to the World Cup for 40 years.
The United States actually had performed well at the World Cup before 1950. The Americans placed third at the first World Cup in 1930. Granted there were at least five or six Brits on the 1930 squad (mostly expatriate Scots.) And also granted almost all of Europe’s strongest teams did not participate. That should not however, take away from the fact that the United States was at one time, very much a participant in the world’s game. Despite what The Game of Their Lives would have its audience believe, the 1950 United States squad was not some makeshift team of players with no international experience (or knowledge of the World Cup) called up a week before the tournament started. In 1950, just as today, national squads have to qualify for the World Cup. Some of the players had represented the United States at the 1948 Olympics. This is not to say that the Americans were of the same caliber as the rest of the world. It just means that the movie tried too hard to make the 1950 team like the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team by underplaying the Americans’ experience.
As I mentioned above, the movie turned Stan Mortensen into a pantomime villain. In the movie Mortensen toasts to the American squad after playing them (and beating them) while on an exhibition tour in the United States with a team of players not good enough to make the England squad. Mortensen’s “toast” was a barely disguised put down of Americans for being too stupid to appreciate the subtleties of football and cricket. This scene is meant to rouse the patriotic fervor in the (American) audience and to reward with the satisfaction of Mortensen’s and England’s inevitable fall. Here is the biggest problem with Mortensen’s toast: it never happened and it never would. First, it never happened because Mortensen was not in the United States for that exhibition tour. Second, Mortensen, who was born into a working-class family in a town near Newcastle upon Tyne, would never have given that speech even if he had the opportunity.
The movie beats its audience over the head with the fact that Stan Mortensen was the greatest player of the century if not all time. This was simply not true. Mortensen was undoubtedly a great English player. He is to date the only player ever to score a hat trick in an FA Cup final (when his Blackpool team beat Bolton Wanderers in 1953.) However, the movie conflated Mortensen with Sir Stanley Matthews, who was one of the greatest early players of the game. It was Matthews who went on tour with that England B Team that beat the United States (although Matthews did not play that day.)
Stanley Matthews is a towering figure in English football. Although he won exactly one major prize (the 1953 FA Cup), he is one of England’s greatest players. So great and so beloved was Matthews that the 1953 FA Cup final is called “The Matthews Final” despite the fact that Mortensen scored that hat trick, and they both played for Blackpool. Matthews was also known as one of the true gentlemen of the game.
So why did the movie basically ignore almost all existence of Sir Stanley Matthews? Probably the main reason is that he did not play in the England/US match. The movie makes exactly one mention of Matthews–the Americans find out that he is not playing because he is still in Rio de Janeiro (i.e. the match was not important enough to make the trip out to Belo Horizonte.) Matthews actually was in Belo Horizonte for the match; he did not play for tactical reasons–a managerial mistake in hindsight. Because the movie needed to play up the greatness of the English, the filmmakers could simply not acknowledge that England’s greatest player sat out.
The movie also overdid the whole “England are the greatest team in the world” bit (something the British press continues to do before every World Cup.) Certainly England were among the bookmakers’ favorites. The Brazilian crowd also feared England, and rooted for the Americans in the hopes that England would not advance. But the truth is by 1950, the rest of the world had long since passed England (the only reason England did not realize it was because they always readymade excuses for losses–usually the weather.) The loss to the Americans was humiliating, but did not change England’s view of itself. England lost to Spain in the next match, thus ensuring they did not qualify for the next round.
The real dismantling of England’s inflated self-image came when Hungary’s Golden Team mauled the Three Lions at Wembly three years later. With that loss, and the even more humiliating 7-1 loss to the Hungarians in Budapest in 1954, even the English had to admit they were bested. They could not blame the heat for their shortcomings anymore (although it does continue to a popular myth to this day to explain why England underperform.)
The Americans and the English remember the 1950 World Cup for their encounter. The rest of the world however, remembers 1950 for a far more dramatic and interesting match–the Maracanazo, the final contested by Brazil and Uruguay. All Brazil needed to do to win the tournament was draw Uruguay (technically it was not the final because it was a round-robin match, but it was the de facto final as well as the last match of the tournament.) Brazil expected to win. The home crowd and the media expected the team to win. The match was held in the Maracanã, the giant football stadium in Rio de Janeiro built specifically for the World Cup. The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, before the match began, exalted the Brazilian team, calling them the victors. The Uruguayans were so nervous that allegedly one team member wet himself during the pre-match lineup.
In the real biggest upset of 1950, Uruguay won the match 2-1. The loss devastated the host nation.
The Maracanazo (“Maracanã blow”) was a national tragedy that haunted Brazil’s collective psyche. The Maracanã held somewhere around 200,000 people, maybe more, and some fans committed suicide following the loss. The Brazilian writer Nelson Rodrigues made the following (overwrought) comparison: “Everywhere has its irremediable national catastrophe, something like a Hiroshima. Our catastrophe, our Hiroshima, was the defeat by Uruguay in 1950.” Ironically, the second place finish in 1950 was Brazil’s best World Cup result to that date.
The loss deeply affected the Brazilians; to an extent they are still haunted by the Maracanazo. God help the 2014 team if they do not win the World Cup, which will be held in Brazil. The Maracanazo is still considered to be the saddest day in the country’s history (in that sense Brazil is fortunate; it never had a destructive war on home soil.) Following the loss, the Brazilian people looked inward and tried to figure out why their national team could not beat Uruguay–the idea that Uruguay was better or played more effectively never seemed to come up. They conveniently forgot that their team had won the South American Championships the year before and beat Uruguay 5-1.
The Maracanazo was proof, or so the Brazilians claimed, that they an inferior race because of their multi-racial makeup.* Racism became the subtext of the loss. Three players were blamed above all others: the defender Juvenal, the left-half Bigode, and more than anyone else, the goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa. All three were black. The cruelty that was displayed toward Barbosa is, I believe, unparalleled in football. Barbosa was turned in a national scapegoat, a Dostoyevskyan punishment; he became an outcast and a pariah, not just from football, but from society. Twenty years after the match, a woman in a shop spotted Barbosa and told her son (in front of the former goalkeeper) that Barbosa was “the man that made all of Brazil cry.” Even as late as 1993, he was not let near the national team’s training camp because he was thought of as a jinx–Barbosa had not been forgiven even after Brazil won three World Cup titles (and was en route to a fourth).
Race is a complicated subject in football, especially in Brazil. Because of 1950, general consensus held that blacks were not able to be goalkeepers (Dida was the first truly great black Brazilian goalkeeper to appear on the international scene after 1950.) Black sports players in Brazil had, to that point, had a far easier path than in most other countries. When football began in Brazil it was all white. Slowly mixed-race players began to trickle through, although they were looked down upon. The first great Brazilian footballer of note of any color, Arthur Friedenreich, was the son of a German businessman and a black washerwoman (herself a daughter of freed slaves, slavery having been abolished in the Kingdom of Brazil in 1888.) Friedenreich used brillantine to flatten his hair. Another mixed-race player who played for the club Fluminense whitened his face with rice powder (rice powder is still associated with Fluminense to this day.) The Portuguese club Vasco da Gama was the first to open up its doors to black and mulatto players without reservation. Following Vasco’s success in the early 1920′s the other clubs were forced to open up their doors too. Once the doors were opened, black and mulatto players became integral to Brazilian club sides and the national team. (For American audiences, this is well before Jackie Robinson.)
Following the 1950 World Cup, it was deemed that the national kit (white with blue trim) was not patriotic enough. A contest was held for new designs. The winner was a young man named Aldyr Garcia Schlee, who ironically preferred Uruguay over Brazil. Nevertheless, the kit he designed (yellow jersey with green trim, blue shorts with white stripes, white socks) is the iconic uniform that Brazil still wear today.**
Despite the change in kit, Brazil actually had a worse showing at the 1954 World Cup. They lost to Hungary’s Golden Team (4-2) in a match so ugly and violent it is known as “The Battle of Berne.” Not until 1958 in Sweden did Brazil finally won their first World Cup.*** Brazil introduced the world to Jogo Bonito and to the nation’s two greatest players: Pelé, and Garrincha. Pelé, who witnessed his father crying after the Maracanazo, swore that one day he would win the World Cup. The 1958 side is possibly the greatest national side ever assembled, maybe greater than even the 1970 side. The Brazilians question of race in sport receded–Pelé was black and Garrincha was of indigenous descent. With mixed raced teams, Brazil became the world’s preeminent footballing nation, and to date has won more World Cups than any other country.
Please think of this should you ever watch The Game of Their Lives. You are getting the American (and English) story, but missing out on the more interesting one.
* The scapegoating of Barbosa, Juvenal, and Bigode, and the blame shifted to black players in general, was completely unwarranted. Uruguay won international championships as far back as 1916 with squads that featured black players, including the great José Leandro Andrade.
** If you are interested in the Maracanazo and all the fallout in Brazil, and it is indeed a fascinating subject, read Alex Bellos’s book Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life. A whole chapter is devoted to that one final. The book is brilliant.
*** Ironically, Brazil did not wear their famous kit in the 1958 final. They played Sweden (the home team), and the Swedes wore their national colors: yellow and blue. The world did not really see Brazil play in their full technicolor brilliance until the 1970 World Cup.
With regard to this post.
This is from an article in The New York Times:
While the new law does not mention advance care planning, the Obama administration has been able to achieve its policy goal through the regulation-writing process, a strategy that could become more prevalent in the next two years as the president deals with a strengthened Republican opposition in Congress.
Congress is making itself irrelevant. Eventually the Executive Branch will assume full law-making authority, and Congress will just be a rubber-stamp for legitimacy. The American people have only themselves to blame: you cannot elect people into government when their goal is to destroy the government’s authority.
Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely happy that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. The law was a disgrace 17 years ago, and it still is. It was also extremely hypocritical: you could be gay and in the military, just not openly so.
The repeal of DADT is a sign of the growing power and visibility of the LGBT community, although apparently only when there is a vast Democratic majority. President Obama has been far more supportive of the LGBT community than any previous President, particularly through Executive Orders and administrative action. The Health and Human Services Department declared that all hospitals that get federal funding (most of them) may not discriminate against same-sex partners. This is huge and hugely undervalued, especially by those who focus only on legislative (and judicially-imposed) change.
However, therein lies the conundrum. Because the LGBT community made some impressive gains on the legislative and executive levels of government, I fear that this may adversely affect the way that the judiciary deals with LGBT civil rights claims. The LGBT community still needs a judicial safeguard. Legislative majorities change. Presidents come from different parties. It may be difficult to undo the gains that the LGBT community has made over the past two years, but it is not impossible, particularly at the executive level. When the judiciary declares that a group is protected by the Constitution, that ruling is, for all intents and purposes, set in stone. Without the protections of the courts, I worry about the future of gay rights, especially in the immediate future. The repeal of DADT and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill from last year were important because there had never been significant federal level victories before. On the other hand, in the grand scheme of things, these victories are fairly limited.
Courts have been historically slow to get in front of social trends. However, starting in New Deal era the courts, particularly the Supreme Court started to change its position with regard to civil liberties. This culminated in the Warren Court’s revolution of civil rights, of criminal rights, and of the role of the judiciary itself. For once the courts were out in front of the other branches of the government. This was however, hugely controversial, and the fallout (particularly post-Roe v. Wade) is still being dealt with.
II. A Very Brief History of Civil Rights Law
To understand why the courts are important, one must first understand the source of the courts’ civil rights law authority: the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. After the Civil War, Congress amended the Constitution to end slavery and bring about a measure of racial equality. The 13th Amendment ended slavery. The 15th Amendment guaranteed to black men the right to vote (the amendment that brought about women’s suffrage only passed in 1920.) The 14th Amendment was something different though, a mini-constitution unto itself. It is a very long amendment in five parts, but the most important section is the first which reads:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The three clauses of second sentence are the wellspring of all civil rights law.
The 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868. Almost immediately afterwards the Supreme Court tried to nullify the protections of the 14h Amendment in a consolidated group of cases called The Slaughter-House Cases. The legal analysis of The Slaughter-House Cases is very complicated, and you do not need to worry about it unless you are taking a Constitutional Law class. The important takeaway is that for all intents and purposes, the first clause the “Privileges and Immunities Clause” was interpreted into virtual non-existence. The Slaughter-House Cases was a disaster of an opinion, but in the ensuing decades, the Court continued to make a mess of both doctrine and plain English. The Privileges and Immunities Clause was intended to be a panacea against oppressive state laws designed to strip former slaves of nebulous rights that the Framers of the Amendment could not envision. Eventually, the Supreme Court was forced to reinvent the Privileges and Immunities Clause by reading its protections into the second clause of the 14th Amendment, the “Due Process Clause.”
Due process of law is exactly what you think it is: fair judicial proceedings. You cannot lose your life or your liberty (freedom from imprisonment) in a criminal case or your property in a criminal or civil case without first going through a fair trial. In the context of the 14th Amendment, the Due Process Clause was a direct repudiation of the South’s treatment of blacks.
Now you have to understand that before the 14th Amendment, the Bill of Rights limited only the federal government because of the fear of a central authority. It turned out that the states could be even more brutal, so the 14th Amendment applied only to the states. It gave a new avenue for federal oversight. Before the 14th Amendment, a state criminal conviction could not be appealed to federal court because it did not touch federal law. The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment theoretically invited the federal courts in as watchmen over the Southern judicial system (for decades this was more theory than fact.)
The Due Process clause specifically protects from an impermissible deprivation of life, liberty, and property. Liberty however, is a tricky word, because it can mean so many things. In the context of the Amendment, it meant freedom from imprisonment. However, the Supreme Court decided it meant more than that; it meant fundamental fairness. Now the Supreme Court gave itself the power to examine more than judicial proceedings. It could examine every law that every state enacted and overrule the law if fundamental fairness was impermissibly abridged. This is called “substantive due process,” and it is very controversial, because it is a power that the Supreme Court created for itself.
The Supreme Court created substantive due process well before the Civil War, but the 14th Amendment gave it a perceived legitimacy and a wider reach. Starting at the end of the 1800′s and going through the New Deal, the Supreme Court decided that the most important part of substantive due process was to prevent government from interfering with private parties’ freedom to make contracts. As a result, the Supreme Court struck down a wide variety of economic regulations, most infamously a series of worker protection laws. This is called Lochner era jurisprudence after the most infamous case of that time, Lochner v. New York. The Court only allowed a handful of laws to pass through, and only in the most extreme circumstances. What the court disgracefully ignored was that “freedom to contract” was freedom for the employer only. The workers had almost no power, and the poorer they were, the harder it was to find a job. Employers took advantage of their strength and forced their employees to work long hours for little pay in often dangerous conditions (if this sounds familiar it is because undocumented workers are still dealing with this.)
During the early New Deal days, the Court’s willingness to strike down economic and labor regulation laws led to a showdown between the Court and President Roosevelt. Roosevelt attempted to “pack the Court” by adding so many of his hand-picked judges to the Supreme Court that they would outnumber the conservative majority. Roosevelt lost that battle, but won the war. First, the Court ‘s swing Justice (Owen J. Roberts) began siding with the Court’s liberal wing to uphold the New Deal laws. Following that, the old Justices began retiring (or dying), and Roosevelt appointed his favorites to the Court. By the time Roosevelt died, he had appointed the Chief Justice and seven of the eight Associate Justices.
In 1938, as the Court approved the New Deal legislation, an undistinguished case about a federal milk law called United States v. Carolene Products Co. came before the Court. The facts of the case are completely unimportant, but the Justice who wrote the opinion (Harlan Fiske Stone) added the most significant footnote in constitutional law. The fourth footnote of the opinion stated that the Court would presume an economic regulation was constitutional and the opposing party had to prove otherwise. However, when certain rights were affected, such as those listed in the Bill of Rights, then the Court would not be that lenient. And when the law in question prejudiced against “discrete and insular minorities” who cannot turn to the political process for justice, well the Court was not going to say at that time. In this footnote (known universally as “Footnote Four”) the Supreme Court sent out a very strong signal to the federal and state governments: “We’ll give you the benefit of the doubt for your economic laws, but when personal and civil rights are impinged, particularly with historically oppressed minorities, you better have a damn good reason for doing so.”
At this point, I need to stop the story to introduce the third clause of the 14th Amendment, the “Equal Protection Clause.” From reading the text, it seems pretty self-explanatory. And you would think the Supreme Court would get it right. But the Court had a pretty mixed record. Once in a blue moon they got it right (striking down laws that prohibited blacks from sitting on juries or that discriminated against Chinese laundrymen in San Francisco.) However, as with the Privileges and Immunities Clause, the Court did enough damage early on so as to negate the the Equal Protection Clause–most infamously in Plessy v. Ferguson, the railway car segregation case that established the insidious doctrine of “separate but equal” that would eventually be overturned by Brown v. Board of Education.
Footnote Four signaled that the Court was finally willing rethink the horrific damage it had done to the 14th Amendment. Footnote Four also sowed the seeds of what would become strict scrutiny, the jaundiced eye that the Court uses when confronted with a law that either discriminates against a group or impinges upon a fundamental right. But this being the Supreme Court, it took some time before they finally got it right. The first time the Court actually used strict scrutiny, they got it completely wrong–in the Japanese internment case Korematsu v. United States. When given the chance, the Court, by this time almost entirely made up of Roosevelt appointees, did not challenge the President’s authority and allowed the government to proceed with horrible, horrible racism under the guise of national security. Korematsu is one of the Court’s worst decisions–an equal of Dred Scott and Plessy.
The Court effected the promise of Footnote Four with the desegregation cases that led to and included Brown v. Board of Education. Following the success of Brown, other disenfranchised groups took their cases to the Supreme Court but with mixed results as the post-Warren Court became more conservative. Race and national origin were classes that the Court protected with strict scrutiny. Gender was also protected but not to the same extent. Sexual orientation? That is an ongoing question. The Supreme Court has managed to dodge the question. Rather than repeat myself, I would refer you to my earlier post about gay rights and the Supreme Court.
III. Putting This Together
So why am I worried that DADT repeal has harmed the LGBT community in federal court? It goes back to Footnote Four which outlined who gets protected. The text in question is as follows:
Nor need we inquire whether similar considerations enter into the review of statutes directed at particular religious … or national … or racial minorities …: whether prejudice against discrete and insular minorities may be a special condition, which tends seriously to curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities, and which may call for a correspondingly more searching judicial inquiry.
What is a discrete and insular minority? The Supreme Court seems to imply that there are certain characteristics: race, nationality, and religion are specifically mentioned. With the exception of religion (protected by the 1st Amendment, and therefore not germane to a 14th Amendment discussion) the distinguishing characteristics are immutable from birth. Immutability is not enough though; the group in question also needs to be shut out of the political process.
And there is the problem. Are gays and lesbians a discrete and insular minority? Are they shut out of the political process?
With regard to the first part, the answer hinges on whether sexual orientation (and gender identity) is immutable. While any LGBT person will tell you that he or she was born that way, there is a sizable group who refuse to believe that, science be damned (the Prop 8 lawyers brought in scientific evidence to their case specifically to address the immutability issue.) More relevant though is whether a majority of Justices on the Supreme Court believe that sexual orientation is innate. Reading judicial tea leaves is not an exact science, but last term one Justice appeared to give an answer, and it is not the one you think.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority in a case called Christian Legal Society v. Martinez wrote the following: “Our decisions have declined to distinguish between status [homosexuals] and conduct [homosexual sex acts] in this context.” This one statement was a bombshell, and it did not go unnoticed.
A little background: Hastings Law School denied the Christian Legal Society (“CLS”) recognition for violating the school’s anti-discrimination policy by not allowing gays to join. CLS argued that anyone could join so long as they did not partake in certain proscribed acts (including gay sex) and therefore their rules were not discriminatory. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, found for the law school. In the sentence I quoted above she is essentially saying that gay sexuality is a fundamental part of being gay, therefore proscribing gay sex as CLS did was really a form of anti-gay discrimination (and the school could permissibly take action.)
A majority of Justices joined Justice Ginsburg’s opinion including Anthony Kennedy, author of Lawrence v. Texas, and unpredictable swing vote. One Justice (John Paul Stevens) has left the Court since then and was replaced by Elena Kagan, whose record is, to this point unknown. I am not an experienced Court-watcher, but I am a lawyer. Even though this case did not touch on the constitutional rights of homosexuals, at its core it is a gay rights battle, and it gave an indication of at least one Justice’s thoughts. She sees homosexuals as a distinct group (a discrete and insular minority) rather than a subset of the larger group who are defined by their actions.
So this is good, right? Well… maybe. The fact that Justice Ginsburg commanded the majority (5-4) is a very thing good. This does not however, mean that the entire majority agrees with that statement outside of the context of the case (assuming Justice Kagan would have voted the way Justice Stevens did.) I want to believe that every Justice who signed onto the majority opinion believes in Justice Ginsburg’s statement, but there is no way to be sure until the next case comes along, and one that directly impacts LGBT rights. Again (and this is very important), this case was not about the fundamental rights or the constitutional equality of gays and lesbians. CLS brought the case against the law school. While homosexuality was at the center of the conflict, there was no federal question involving homosexuals.*
So what was the purpose of Justice Ginsburg’s statement if the case was not about LGBT rights? Maybe she thought that the sentence was essential to her reasoning, but there is another explanation that has been put forward. Sometimes a Justice will throw little “time bombs” in his or her opinion. These time bombs are statements that lay the groundwork for a future case, that the Justice sees coming before the Court in the near future. That next case will be either the DOMA case from New England or the Prop 8 case from California. What happens next is anyone’s guess. If Justice Ginsburg did set a time bomb (which she probably did), it reasons that her disposition toward the gay litigants in both cases will be favorable.
Assuming the Court finds that homosexuals are a discreet and insular minority, there is another Footnote Four obstacle. This is where DADT repeal is a potentially huge stumbling block. Footnote Four specifically lists as an essential requirement to heightened scrutiny the inability to win fundamental fairness from the political process. The only time a Supreme Court majority came close to finding that in the LGBT context was in Romer v. Evans, when the Court decided against a Colorado constitutional amendment because it effectively shut gays and lesbians out of the political process.
But now, the LGBT community is very much involved in the political process. Several states have enacted marriage laws or civil union laws without court intervention. For the first time there have been federal law victories: the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill and the repeal of DADT. This would imply to some that the LGBT community is an active part of the political process, not shut out of it.
That however, is not the whole story. DADT repeal should have been an easy piece of legislation, yet it barely passed, and only because of last minute maneuvering. The hate crimes bill was buried in a defense spending bill that, at the time, the Senate Republicans were afraid to filibuster. Both victories are also fairly limited in scope. Sweeping community-wide victories like ENDA and a repeal of DOMA are impossible for at the next two years but probably more like two decades. Marriage laws in Maine and California were overturned by popular referendum, New Hampshire’s marriage law an Wisconsin’s domestic partnership rights law may be repealed by the new legislatures, and three of the Iowa Justices who found in favor of same-sex marriage in that state were voted out of office just for that reason. Losing all those battles shows a lack of political power. The tide is still very much against LGBT people. We still need the protection of the courts.
The question is when the next big judicial case comes before the Supreme Court, how will Justices on the fence view the minority status of gay people. Thus far the Court has dodged the Equal Protection question. Rational review is not enough, despite what President Obama thinks (and his conclusions about the Supreme Court’s LGBT-related jurisprudence are shockingly incorrect.) Nevertheless, there are two definite votes (and probably four) on the Supreme Court who would say that the LGBT community does not merit 14th Amendment protections. I am sure they would point to DADT’s repeal and say that is proof that the political system works.
* The case was really about the rights of a school to set a blanket policy versus the 1st Amendment rights of CLS. While the Court found for the law school in the abstract, the actual determination of the case will depend on whether Hastings applied its blanket policy equally or singled out CLS specifically. That is Round Two, although it is no longer relevant for this post.
Music I Listened to While Writing This Post: Ella Fitzgerald “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”; Frédéric Chopin “Waltz No. 11 in G-Flat Major, Op. 70, No. 1″;
It seems like the homophobes are, more than anything else, most opposed to (afraid of?) the idea of homosexual sex, specifically male/male sex. The very term sexual orientation reinforces an idea that homosexuality and bisexuality are solely based around copulation.
But what if we changed the language? What if instead of concentrating on the physical (and scientific) components, we instead focus on the emotional and romantic aspects of same-gender relationships?
What if we replaced the term sexual orientation with affectional orientation? What if we used words like homo-affectionality or just affectionality? What if when we removed all references to sex and instead fought for same-gender marriages?
Does the change of terminology alter the images in your mind?
I stayed up last night to watch the lunar eclipse. I had never seen a lunar or solar eclipse, and I wanted to see this one very badly. I live on the East Coast of the United States, so the full spectacle did not happen until around 3 in the morning.
But it was worth it. I saw a moon that was the color of clay. I may never see that again.
I just watched the first episode of Roots, the famous miniseries based off of Alex Haley’s book. I was looking forward to seeing it because it is the miniseries that launched a thousand genealogists. By all accounts, it is one of the greatest programs ever to be on television.
After one episode, I am disappointed. As guilty as I feel for saying this, I was not particularly interested i for almost the entire episode. Perhaps this is because Haley’s story is so far from my own. He is the descendant of African slaves, and I am the descendant of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. His family was forcibly brought to America before it was a country. All my immigrant ancestors willingly arrived at varying points between 1880 and 1913.
But also, Roots just feels so fictional and forced. There is a lot of disbelief that I am unable to suspend (and a lot of acting that was over-the-top.) I am not sure whether I should continue watching the series. Does it get better after the first episode? Does it get more realistic?
This past week a good friend of mine introduced me to the BBC show called Beautiful People. Beautiful people is a two season long British sitcom (very loosely) inspired by the memoirs of Simon Doonan, the creative director of the upscale department store Barneys. The show is a riot, and it wears its campiness (and gayness) on its sleeve, like a rainbow sticker. It also has a lot of heart. I have now seen all of Season 1. Because I promised my friend I would not watch Season 2 without him, watching the rest will have to wait.
About three episodes in, I realized that I recognized one of the actresses; it was Tameka Empson from Beautiful Thing. Empson played Leah, the tough, Mama Cass-loving, teenage burnout. It took another episode for me to realize that the show’s writer Jonathan Harvey also wrote Beautiful Thing–both the movie and the original stage play.
If there are any LGBT teenagers out there reading this blog post, please know that the rest of this post is directed with you in mind.
Beautiful Thing is perhaps the most important movie I ever saw. My first experience with it was reading a review of the movie in the New York Times back in 1996 when it was first shown in American theaters. I remember that I badly wanted to see it, but was afraid to because of the implications; it would be admitting that I was indeed gay, something I was not ready to do.
By the time I was a sophomore in college, I had come out. My life was not particularly happy, and it would be years before I started to feel better about myself. Nevertheless, Beautiful Thing helped me tremendously. There was a bodega on the same block as my dorm that rented out movies, and they carried Beautiful Thing. I rented it and watched it eight times in the next five days. It became my lifeline. The subtitle of the movie is “An Urban Fairytale,” and (despite the unsubtle pun) that’s exactly what it is. I felt like Jamie and Ste (and by my extension me) were going to live happily ever after, and that is what made the movie so meaningful. The movie also introduced me to the music of Cass Elliot, a talent who died far too early. I am unable to separate my feelings about her voice from my feelings about the movie, and I still cannot listen to “Make Your Own Kind of Music” without weeping a little bit. Beautiful Thing was the only thing that lifted my depression. Needless to say, I bought the movie.
Since that time, life has gotten better, at least for the most part. I am no longer scared or confused about sexuality. I do not need Beautiful Thing anymore; the last time I watched it (about six years ago) I fell asleep. I had just begun my current relationship, and I was in a much better place.
My relationship with Beautiful Thing was like a supportive teenage romance (if such a thing exists); it was very passionate for a while, but an end was inevitable. At the split there were no hard feelings, just fond memories. Nevertheless, there is going back; the void that it once filled closed for good.
I have yet to see a gay-themed romance that is anywhere near as good as Beautiful Thing. Only Pedro Almodóvar’s ”All About My Mother” (a movie of gay-sentiment if not theme) and Queer as Folk (the British original, not the horrible American remake) have affected me in the same way.
And now there is a fourth: Beautiful People. Once again, and without me realizing it, Jonathan Harvey has come through for me. He created a world that, despite the pain and conflicts, is also a warm and loving place. And ridiculously funny too. Watching the show was like being introduced to a new friend.
Most television shows out there that have prominent gay characters are made for straight people to watch. Will and Grace is the absolute nadir of this genre; I could not stomach that show. I have the same ill will toward Glee (and with the American version of Queer as Folk.) All three of those shows sacrificed story and character for a politically correct message: gays are people too. Beautiful People is the show Glee wishes it could be. The superiority of British gay-themed shows may be a cultural thing; British sitcoms are generally able to be riskier than American ones (Absolutely Fabulous comes to mind.) Also because there are not as many episodes to make, each episode of a (good) British show can be crafted with more care.
So dear gay teenager who is hurting, consider this my advice to you. Rent Beautiful Thing, All About My Mother, and, if you can get it, the British Queer as Folk (for the love of God, skip the American version.) Find Beautiful People on YouTube (don’t watch it on Logo). Watch them all twice. Three times, if you need to.
And to Jonathan Harvey, should you ever come across this post. Thank you. For everything.
Music I listened to while writing this post: Patricia Kaas “Faites Entrer Les Clowns”; John Denver “Life is a Sad Song”; Cass Elliot “Make You Own Kind of Music”; Cass Elliot “Welcome to the World”; The Mamas & the Papas “Go Where You Wanna Go”; Cass Elliot “California Earthquake”; The Mamas & the Papas “Dedicated To The One I Love”; Cass Elliot “It’s Getting Better”; The Mamas & the Papas “Monday, Monday”; The Mamas & the Papas “Move in a Little Closer, Baby”; The Mamas & the Papas “Words of Love”; The Mamas & the Papas “California Dreamin’”;The Mamas & the Papas “Look Through My Window”; Dusty Springfield “Of All The Things”; Cass Elliot “One Way Ticket”; The Mamas & the Papas “Creeque Alley”;
When I began blogging, I expected to write mostly my own personal genealogy (hence the name “Tracing the Tree”) and politics. The idea for the blog grew out of my frustrations with the way the world is moving, and I felt like I needed an outlet to express that frustration. Instead, I have largely written about football. At first glance it is an odd thing for me to write about given that I cannot play at all, I have never seen a live match, and the sport plays practically no role in my life.
On further reflection, writing about football is not the non-sequitor it seems. I have always loved history. My favorite subject in school was history, and I read a lot of books about history. Whenever I become interested in something new, I always try to read about the subject matter’s history. History is the key to understanding the world; without context, one cannot grasp the tremendous implications of the here and now. What else is genealogy but learning one’s own personal history? What else is politics but history in the making?
Thus we come to football. Football is the most popular sport in the world, and the world speaks through the beautiful game. The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano wrote the following in his almost poetic book Football in Sun and Shadows:
An astonishing void: official history ignores football. Contemporary history texts fail to mention it, even in passing, in countries where it has been and continues to be a primordial symbol of collective identity. I play therefore I am: a style of play is a way of being that reveals the unique profile of each community and affirms its right to be different.
(p. 209, trans. Mark Fried)
The book is, as is Galeano’s wont, romantic–perhaps overly so. The book is also a love letter to the game and a lament at the way capitalism and industry have destroyed it. (Galeano is also a Marxist, although regardless of your political affiliation, if you love the game, you will love this book.) Football in Sun and Shadow is not an attempt to correct the historians, but it is a recognition that something vital has been overlooked. Because football is the only truly global sport (sorry cricket, tennis, and Olympics) it is a vehicle for the worldwide communication. Tim Vickery have often said that football is a universal language and each nation’s style of play is its own accent. Or as Galeano said, “Tell me how you play, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
In 2004, the journalist Franklin Foer wrote a called How Soccer Explains the World, his attempt to explain the way football interacts with various facets of the modern world. The book is misnamed; football explains nothing. Foer should have called his book How Soccer Reflects The World, a much more accurate sentiment both in his thesis and in reality. Football does not predict national or worldwide trends, but it most certainly mirrors them. The rise of the superclubs could only come about from globalization, and the massive debt crises that some of these clubs have found themselves in over the past two years is fallout from the global recession.
Football microcosms every worldwide phenomenon and has since the beginning: nationalism, totalitarianism, Fascism, elitism, British empire and arrogance, the rise (and fall) of Communism, poverty (and the origin of the player, the fan, the hooligan, and the crime lord), drugs, militarism, gang warfare, Spain as the sick man of Europe, the struggle over Northern Ireland, the political left versus the political right, the rebuilding of Western Europe post-World War II, corporatism, colonialism, racism and integration, homophobia, the Balkan War, the inability of Africa to grow, poor national infrastructure in the underdeveloped world, kleptocracies, oligarchs and oil-garchs, feminism, even American exceptionalism. This is just scratching the surface.
No other sport, indeed no other subject has the breadth and scope of football. The history of football is the history of the modern world.