The Pittsburgh Symphony

Last Friday night, under the threat of snow and ice, D.J. and I drove Downtown to attend the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra perform Stravinsky’s The Firebird, along with a flute concerto by Jacques Ibert.

I don’t know music. I know the names of instruments (most of them, most of the time), and I can recognize the names of the most famous classical composers. I could once read the notes floating across rows of parallel straight lines, interpret them in my own crude, slow way. I appreciate how music sounds, and I know when something displeases my ears. But I can’t listen to Mozart and Bach and tell you which is which. It’s been years (decades, really) since I’ve held an instrument, years since I attempted to make sense of those black dots with little flags.

So when we go to the Symphony, I find other ways of understanding.

First, there is the richness of Heinz hall, the crystal light scones sparkling with light. Then the sea of black-clad bodies on the stage warming up with their instruments, their notes discordant and scattered. When the lights dim and the conductor takes the stage, the chaos settles into harmony. The musicians sit, and the uniform blackness of their formal wear resolves into textures and shapes: a violinist in a crushed velvet skirt, another in a long dress with flowing sheer sleeves. Some dresses are a deeper black than others, some hang heavy on the wearer, some light and airy. Even the men’s tuxedos are different cuts and styles, some more traditional, some sharply modern.

The conductor, Juanjo Mena, holds up his baton, and everyone in the hall takes a breath, waiting. The music begins, and suddenly dozens of bodies move together. It’s easy to forget how physical music is when you only listen to recordings. The musicians lean in to their violins and clarinets and trombones, using their breath and their arms and their cores to coax that exact sound, at that exact pitch and tone, from their instruments. Together they weave a dream out of sound, something completely intangible but still distinctly felt in my body.

When flute soloist Lorna McGhee enters the stage, she creates sounds with the flute I did not know were possible. She takes the music high, low, soft, softer still, then rushing and tumbling. Her breath is audible, a powerful inhalation transformed into music that races around the hall, as if the notes are chasing each other. We aren’t close to the stage, but even from a distance I can see the muscles in her arms contract as she moves her fingers up and down the flute. Her body sways, setting her purple grown rippling. It is clear she feels the music deep in her soul, and although I don’t have a language to describe what I hear, she makes me feel it, too.

This is what flying must feel like to birds.

At the end of the concert, when the ordinary shuffle of shoes on carpet overtakes the last lingering musical vibrations, we rise from our seats, renewed. The world is ugly, yes, but it is also beautiful and surprising. I don’t know music, but I know art, and art exists beyond language. That, at least, I understand.

 

Joss Whedon, woke misogynist

Kai Cole’s revelations about her ex-husband Joss Whedon’s manipulative behavior toward women don’t surprise me. I’ve dealt with this kind of man before—the one who says “I’m a feminist!” and “I believe in equal rights!” but turns around and tells clearly misogynist jokes (the “woke misogynist,” if you will) and is quick to blame you for anything and everything. “Lighten up, it’s just a joke!” he says, when you point it out to him.

Gif of Buffy saying "If the apocalypse comes, beep me"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer helped me get through 7th and 8th grade at an awful Baptist School that wanted me to be docile and pure. But there were always things about it that bugged me, especially in the spin-off Angel, where literally every significant female character (spoiler alert!) winds up dead. In the main show, I always felt that Buffy’s relationship with Spike was problematic. He’s repeatedly abusive, but she still takes him back. One could argue this is simply in her character, or that she’s messed up emotionally, but she demonstrates plenty of strength and moxie is other situations, so I’m not sure I buy that argument.

Even so, Buffy is a great show, and a great character. Sure, it has some flaws (*cough* Riley *cough*), but beyond Buffy, it gives us other awesome female characters like Willow, Tara, and Anya (okay, okay, and Faith).

Does Ms. Cole’s revelation completely invalidate all the good that’s come of Buffy and the positive, kick-vampire role model she provided for countless young women like me? No, not at all. Buffy can still be a feminist icon, because even though her character was created by Joss Whedon, he’s not solely responsible for the character or the show. And aside from the Spike thing, the show on the whole is pretty upstanding from a feminist perspective. I also don’t find much fault with Firefly in that regard.

Iron Man saying Black Widow doesn't need her own movie.

If we invalidated every work of art that had a flawed creator, we’d have no art left. That doesn’t mean we excuse the bad behavior of artists just because they make good art. No. Judge the art on it’s own merits, and judge the creator on their own merits.

But like I said, I’m not surprised that Whedon has behaved this way in his personal life. Angel is a feminist dumpster fire, and The Avengers movies aren’t any better. Whedon has never been, in my opinion, the upstanding feminist he’s been portrayed as. It might not be so visible in Buffy or Firefly, but it’s there in his other work. As others have pointed out, Dr. Horrible is about a stalker that we’re supposed to sympathize with, and the main female character winds up dead at the end. Women are basically absent from the main Marvel movies, and they certainly don’t get to be heroes (but Black Widow! is not a valid argument, because why does she still not have her own movie?).

That’s basically systemic oppression in a nutshell. It’s so baked into our culture that even people who truly believe they are feminists might behave in very anti-feminist ways. Let me just be clear that I am not making excuses for Whedon’s behavior in any way, shape or form. Exploiting people you have power over is never excusable, and I’m saddened to learn it’s something that happened repeatedly (and is probably still happening).

The best way to fight it is to call it out and hold people accountable for their behavior. Will I still watch Buffy? Yes, absolutely. But will I rush out to drop money on the next big Joss Whedon thing that comes out? Well… probably not.

 

President Racist, Sexist, Greedy, Insecure, Whiny Farce-of-a-Man-Baby

Okay. Look. If you are still claiming Donald Trump is not a racist motherfucker, you are either a. delusional, or more likely, b. pretty damn racist yourself. If you are part of the 34% of this country’s population who still approves of this clown, what the fuck are you thinking? No, seriously. What the fuck are you thinking?

If you are not publicly and loudly condemning this shithead, why not? Are you that selfish, that self-centered? Or are you just a racist, misogynist piece of shit?

A woman is dead because she had the guts to stand up to a bunch of neo-Nazi fuckers who think some of the people I care about most in this world aren’t even human. Fuck that.

Violence on both sides? Fuck that. You do not get to stand up and denigrate other human beings for the color of their skin and then be pissed when people stand up to your bullshit. You can say whatever the hell you want to in this country, but no one has an obligation to listen to you or let you bully them.

The “president” hasn’t even called Heather Heyer’s family. Why? The answer should be pretty obvious by now: He’s a racist, sexist, greedy, insecure, whiny farce of a man baby.

If someone waved a knife or a gun at you, you’d probably feel pretty okay doing anything in your power to defend yourself. When an angry mob—because let’s be real, permit or no, that’s what this was—marches through town waving fucking swastikas and automatic weapons and your skin happens to be brown or black? Same thing. Bigger scale.

The other “side” (i.e. the absolutely, no question about it, wrong side) 100 percent lost their right to play the victim when they decided to take their rhetoric off the virtual pages of the internet and into the streets they share with their fellow citizens.

History won’t be silent on what happened this weekend in Charlottesville. Will you?