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Tuesday, September 28, 2010


The most efficient and least expensive kind of censorship is self-imposed. For all the authors who found the inner courage to let ‘er fly and devil take the consequences, there must be ten more who quietly took out the most powerful, the most crucial bits. No swearing, no obscenity, no politically incorrect, no slamming dead people, no body parts, no terrorism. All the agent has to do is clear her [sic] throat because the women are in charge of censorship. This is because they have so much practice. “Stifle yourself!” roars Archie Bunker and Edith does. (Of course, this was a subversive show where Edith’s stifling covered for a host of forbidden topics.)

I used to say that as a tubby old white woman I could stand in the Blazers’ locker room at half time with giant black muscle men stripping all around me and no one would notice me. If they did, they would think I came to clean the floor. Women and minorities are censored by invisibility. “Was anyone killed?” “No, sir. Just a couple of Indians/slaves/women.”

My Netflix vids have recently included two stories about women on borderlands being raped and killed. One was quite glossy and Hollywood with Penelope Cruz as a woman reporter who goes undercover to investigate deaths in maquiladoras along the south side of the Mexican border. There is enough romance, glitz (fancy parties where the bad guys cruise), chases and violence that the movie did well. The other was on the north side of the Canadian border where aboriginal women from the back country accumulate in the SRO hotels of Vancouver, B.C. The most famous actress was Tantoo Cardinal, who plays a ghost. By the end of the movie the only woman alive is her daughter. This time the villain is entirely charming, then obscene -- and sociopathic. The actors were drawn from the reservoir of fine aboriginal repertory theatre in Canada. Mexico: dramatic, colorful, famous name. Canada: gritty, psychological, fine unknown actors. Great combo for a classroom. (Border studies is a whole discipline in universities.) The point is that the economic migration of marginal women to cities or borders where their work for low pay renders them murderfodder. No one cares. Few can tell one from the other.

Last night’s movie was “The Lost Child,” also with Tantoo Cardinal because that’s how I found these movies: following her list of credits. This one was a Hallmark Hall of Fame sugar donut -- sweet and doughy, something missing: reality. A jumble of generic NA actors. Reality based plot. Central character clearly Jewish pretending to be Navajo when it was supposed to be the other way around. This time the identities were erased by sentimentality.

So it’s almost a relief to turn to a wild and crazy docu-movie: “V-Day: Until the Violence Stops.” The V-word, of course, is “vagina,” because this is about the “Vagina Monologues.” I can hear the marketing people scream at the idea of “Vagina Day” so it’s edited to V-Day and the V is supposed to be about Violence, which it is. The English teacher in me -- and maybe the anatomist -- insists that I point out that the V word is really for Vulva, which is the part of the female organ that can be seen from the outside. And because I have been talking here about Native Americans, I will point out that they have developed the idea that “squaw” means vulva and that it is a dirty word, and that they have built up so much politically correct clout over it that maps throughout the US have had to be rewritten at enormous cost -- a hundred thousand dollars or so -- to erase Squaw Mountain, Squaw Creek, Squaw Valley (what?), and all the other Squaw names out there. In vain do the NA academics point out that squaw does NOT mean vulva. It was a great chance for the Missionary-educated Smut Patrol to besmirch a lot of stuck up white people. Tantoo Cardinal is in this movie, too, but fortified with Jane Fonda.

What a great explosion of energy is released by using this forbidden word ! (No, NOT squaw! Just vagina.) Eve Ensler has taken her monologues to five countries, including Sioux country (Tantoo is Cree, but who cares?), to show how universally the female gender is is the victim of violence. Expanded far beyond the tart observations of one woman, each cast is filmed doing workshops, panels, rehearsals, dances and so on. Parts of the performance are shown.

Ukiah, CA, has everyone in red feather boas, even the local sheriff who says that cops are the ones who see domestic violence so they have every reason to support women in this cause. The Sioux sequence dwells on the land. The Italians are the sassiest. Harlem is the hottest. The Phillippinas are the most openly trafficked as "wives" for sale. The Kenyans are the most shocking because of the custom of clitoridectomy, surgical (without anesthetic and with the mother holding down the child) excision of the bundle of nerves at the head of the vulva. Only five communities are in this film, but 800 have been visited by the performance. I wonder how much lasting impact it had. There were men interviewed, men in the audience, and I wondered how many of them were aroused. Certainly most of the women were.

I wonder how much self-censoring was done by the editors of this video. It is ALWAYS necessary to leave things out, editing by nature is exactly that, and the best reason of all for making this vid palatable to a wide audience is that the point is to get the message out. There is art, quilts and carved squashes that suggest the vulva -- but no actual crotch shots and no enactments of violence. The closest to children was a set of high school girls in an upscale community with a tradition of social action.

Censorship is always about borders, pushing the margins, exploring the envelope. Too little of it and the images cross over into provoking what they are supposed to be resisting. Too much of it and we’re having to revise all the maps. Most of the public discussion is about sex or even violence. But these are not the only issues that are taboo. Money, power, madness. Death.

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