Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tenured Radical is on Brief Hiatus

If you are looking for us over at the Chronicle, hang in there:  we are still unpacking. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It's Moving Day: Tenured Radical Migrates To The Chronicle Of Higher Education

Yesterday around cocktail hour the sun was slipping over the virtual mountains when we at Tenured Radical heard the sound of galloping pony hooves.  Sitting on our front porch, surrounded by boxes and half-full L.L. Bean sail bags, we squinted into the  glare and saw that it was Historiann.  "Hellzapoppin!" she yelled, in that instantly recognizable voice that is a cross between Dale Evans and Mary Maples Dunn.  She swung handily over the pommel, skirt barely in place as usual, and dropped her reins (we were impressed to see that cow pony come to an immediate halt, like they do in the movies.)  "I'm getting crazy numbers of  pings from your blog!" she said, as we put a bourbon and branch in her hand.  "When in 'tarnation were you going to tell me that you were moving?"

Oops.  There is so much going on at chez Radical we had neglected to announce that we are migrating from the Blogger site where we were born and raised to a Word Press platform hosted and maintained by The Chronicle of Higher EducationTenured Radical:  the 3.0 Edition will debut there shortly.

So, without further ado, I want to anticipate and answer a few questions.

Are you leaving a forwarding address?  Yes.  You should be able to click whatever link you are using and be forwarded directly to the new site.  Over time, you might want to replace that link, but don't worry about it now.

Will you be behind the pay wall?  Nope.

Will you be edited, or censored, in any way by The Chronicle?  Nope.

Will your archive move with you?  Yep:  hence the pinging over at Rancho Historiann.  The computer people have been opening the links in 723 posts to make sure they still work on the new platform.  Any problems should be reported to the management here, and we will forward them to our virtual IT friends over at the Chronicle.

Do you ever edit your posts subsequent to publication?  Yes:  I am a notoriously inaccurate typist, and frequently leave words out in my zeal to get ideas onto the screen and out to the world.  I also occasionally edit something to assuage hurt feelings: I edited a series of posts after I "came out," removing a few made-up stories that were versions of the truth.  Even though the focus of Tenured Radical has changed dramatically since those early days to avoid the personal as much as possible, I still have to edit from time to time when people mistakenly see themselves in a post.  My policy is to be attentive to the feelings of friends, students and colleagues. People I don't know, and who I haven't named, who claim they have suffered harm from one of my blog posts might want to look up "narcissistic personality disorder" in the DSM IV. 

Have you ever taken a post down completely?  There are five posts I have taken down completely.  The first was about something that happened in class, a post which rightly came back to bite me in the butt, because I had no idea that everyone at Zenith knew that I was the Tenured Radical.  I then removed three others that had the potential to do similar damage. However, I have since come to believe that it is simply wrong to write about students, or any other private person, without their permission -- this includes children, spouses, parents, colleagues, neighbors, siblings and (fill in your relationship to me here ________.) But posts about students are the worst:  written as amusing anecdotes that showcase our wit, wisdom and sorely tried patience,  they are all exploitative and mean to some degree or another.  I always make a point of telling my students in the first class that I will not write about them.

The other post I took down was, ironically, the post that originally brought me to the attention of a larger audience: "Where Credit is Due: Rutgers Basketball, Don Imus and Drive Time Shock" (April 2007.) In that post I asked why the national success of a team of African-American female scholar-athletes had caused them to be called sluts and whores by a major media figure. I compared the gender and racial dynamic in play at this moment to the significant support for the white, male members of a prominent lacrosse team, who were fighting felony charges that they had raped and beaten a stripper hired to entertain at the end of an all-day beer fest.  It was a small part of the post, but the blogging equivalent of a hand grenade: referring to the symbolic importance of a college athletic scandal I knew little about made me the object of an ongoing attack organized by an academic blogger who was writing a commercial book about the case because he believed that the charges were false.   The lacrosse players were eventually exonerated due to gross inconsistencies in the evidence, as well as multiple transgressions on the part of the prosecutor.  This public official was subsequently disbarred, and is one of several parties, including the university, who have been punished by civil lawsuits filed by the young men and their families.)

What did Tenured Radical have to do with this case?  Exactly nothing, except that the effort to achieve justice for the athletes dovetailed nicely with said blogger's campaign against so-called liberal scholars.  It was quite the experience to be sucked suddenly, and without warning, into a full-on battle against the forces of political correctness.  Members of this blogger's apparently vast audience threatened to sue me, maim me or get me fired.  They filled my comments sections with crazed invective. They left threatening messages on my voice mail.  They sent me vicious emails about what a terrible person I was, copied to numerous faculty colleagues who I am sure had no idea what a blog was or why they were supposed to care about a southern lacrosse team.  They fired off numerous letters demanding my immediate termination (often with false return addresses and written in block letters) to university officers, colleagues and the Board of Trustees.

It was a strange introduction to the blogosphere.  But it was also like getting an unasked for internship in a culture war I had thought was over, and that had certainly never touched me at good old Zenith.  In retrospect, it was a little glimpse of that libertarian nest of snakes that would emerge a few years later as the Tea Party movement, and of the "gotcha" politics that would snag people far more important than I.  On the plus side, it garnered me a ton of great readers, proving once again that there is no such thing as bad publicity as long as you don't send anyone naked pictures of yourself.

So the question is, if there is so much good news associated with this moment, and it boosted me to academic blogosphere superstardom, why did I take the post down?

Was it because I was afraid of a lawsuit, as said blogger implied in a recent series of attacks at a neoconservative website?  No. I left the Rutgers post up for a long time so that the selective quotations that made me a punching bag could be put in the context of the whole argument by a reasonable reader.  However, the post came down (I still have it, actually) after a reputable source and a blogging colleague told me that the mothers of one of the accused athletes had been inconsolably distressed by it.  Subsequently, a pseudonymous contact claiming to be the wife of a civilian contractor in the Middle East and a friend of this woman contacted me.  She amplified, in a very moving way, on the distress my post had caused in a home already under strain from the son's legal troubles.  In response, I removed the post.  I asked this correspondent to convey my deepest apologies to her friend and to put us in touch if a direct apology would be helpful, something she was unlikely to get from any of the thousands of other journalists who had vilified her son and his friends.

Whether these messages ever got through, I do not know.  Subsequently, I came to wonder whether the story about the mother was real or invented, because I came to wonder who this "friend" actually was (impersonation is quite common in the virtual world, as are "sock puppets," a single person claiming to be many different commenters.)  The pseudonymous correspondent abruptly cut off contact when, as part of my effort to reach out to her "friend," I questioned the motivations and mental health of the activist blogger who had, in my view, amplified any original harm by out of context quotation and endless, public cyber-bullying of anyone who suggested that long-standing problems of violent conduct on this team had made the false charges believable to begin with.  It has happened more than once that someone, operating out of the anonymous email accounts that are so easy to open, has made and cultivated contact with me and then disappeared when I voiced my view that the manic activism of this blogger, and an over the top obsession with women and people of color as chronically unworthy and/or dishonest, might be a symptom of a personality disorder.

So what have you learned, dear?  When in doubt about whether a topic is combustible, stay away from it, and be very, very careful when treating statements made in the media as factual.  Particularly when commenting on a topic that is likely to draw unwelcome political attention, always hedge your bets with those words we history scholars use when making an argument from inferential evidence:  "perhaps," "it seems," and "although we cannot be sure" are all useful phrases that permit the blogger to revisit an analysis later, or make a theoretical argument that stands up to new facts and reinterpretation of old facts.

Know your enemy, and don't reason with people who have an ax to grind.  Easier said than done.  However, unpleasant as it was, this episode was a great turning point for my own critical thinking about why I blogged, what I blogged, and with whom I got into pi$$ing matches.

Even when you don't know them you are writing about real people.  What one academic blogger thinks or says can't really matter, can it?  The answer to that question is that it is hard to know, and every post should be read prior to publishing with an eye to how it might  be misunderstood.  It doesn't mean that you shouldn't write it, but when flame wars start, the intelligent work you are promoting on your blog is obscured. It is a hard, but true, fact that you only get one chance in the blogosphere, and that chance is in the original post:  no amount of explanation or clarification will be adequate for your critics, who are only interested in promoting their own views.  Even if we bloggers were inclined to apologize or retract in the face of unjust criticism, we live in a society that now sees every error, every slip, as evidence of severe and permanent character flaws.

Assume that you are read by everyone in your life.  Half of your acquaintances who take umbrage at a post will never tell you; and half of these people also insist they would never be caught dead reading any blog, much less yours. 

Is this the last post over at 2.0?  Yep.  The final box just went on the virtual truck.  I'll see you all over at the Chronicle in 3.0, and Historiann?  Hope that pony got you home all right last night.  Ponies always know where to go, even when bloggers don't.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

In Sisterhood: Support The Strike At London Met's Women's Library

There's a long history of feminist resistance in England
Eighteen months ago found your Radical in London.  On the trail of radical feminist Leah Fritz, I had also decided to check out what archival material was available on the feminist anti-pornography movement in London.  What I found at The Women's Library at London Metropolitan University changed the shape of my research.  I discovered that, just as radical feminists in the United States had become intractably divided over the representation of eroticism, Andrea Dworkin's ideas had roamed across the pond and found both opposition and fertile ground on the British left.  In the UK, where there is no absolute right to free speech, and where skinhead violence had produced legislation against hate speech that would have violated the First Amendment in the United States, the struggle took some similar, but also different forms.

I loved the Women's Library and vowed to return to do more comparative research that pushed the nationalist frame of my project.  Imagine my shock when I received an alert that dramatic cuts at London Met would endanger the work of this valuable collection and eliminate the BA in history.  From the History of Feminism Network:

The Women’s Library is home to world-renowned collections on women’s struggles throughout history and has hosted excellent exhibitions on women workers and female led-strikes. This Wednesday 22nd June 2011 Women’s Library staff will themselves take action to ensure that London Met University continues to be a thriving centre for the study of gender and feminism.

London Met Unison and UCU have voted for a one day strike on 22nd June unless the management resolve their dispute over compulsory redundancies (200 announced so far) and the closure of 70% of courses.

These cuts are of concern to all of us working in the fields of feminism and gender studies, across UK higher education institutions. Judging the value of academic disciplines according to narrow definitions of economic viability will particularly discriminate against already marginal subjects. The History BA is among those London Met courses set to close, despite it having long been such an important focus for the study of women’s history and with the Women’s Library hosting this years Women’s History Network Annual Conference.

This is why we want to express our strong support for the Women’s Library staff and everyone at London Met taking industrial action next week.

Come along to support the picket line! Meet 8am sharp, outside the Women’s Library, 25 Old Castle St, London E1 7NT (5 mins from Aldgate East Tube).

Send messages of support to and
As the friend who sent me this confided, "While I don't know a whole lot about the cuts, I'm heartsick that an archive like The Women's Library is in danger. This is especially troubling for those of us who are pursuing subjects that are not necessarily represented in larger archives - I fondly remember my time at that archive."  So should we all.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mr. DeMille, He's Ready For His Close-Up: Vito Russo And Gay Liberation

Michael Schiavi, Celluloid Activist:  The Life and Times Of Vito Russo (Madison:  University of Wisconsin Press, 2011).  361 pp. Index, illustrations.  $29.95 hardback.

It is June, otherwise known by Presidential proclamation as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, a time when major cities and resort towns around the country have parades and sell beer.  What we are celebrating, other than the success of GLBT entrepeneurship, is the Stonewall Riots.  An iconic event, it began on June 28 1969 in Greenwich Village, New York, following a raid on the Stonewall Inn, and continued on for days as roving groups of queers provoked, and resisted, the police.  This, it is said, was the birth of gay liberation, which is technically true.  Activists subsequently formed the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), a group that made a definitive break with homophile politics.  For those of you who don't know this history, homophile groups were accomodationist in their strategies, trying to persuade straights and the state that gays and lesbians, except for their sexuality, were just like everyone else:  unfortunately, in this day and age of gay marriage, gay babies and gay war, this is increasingly the case.

Homophile groups like Mattachine, ONE and Daughters of Bilitis were not, however, conservative, a charge made by the GLF at the time that scholars like Martin Meeker, Marcia Gallo and David Johnson have effectively refuted.  They laid a critical foundation for community building and formal legal action that would produce a gay rights movement of the 1970s that would seek to extend basic civil rights to people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender status.  GLF, on the other hand, adopted the confrontational stance that had become characteristic of the black power, anti-war and radical feminist groups with whom many of their members were, or had been, associated. GLF was to the homophiles as the Black Panthers were to the Urban League. 

We are long overdue for more books that look at this historical moment at the level of the individual life, as Michael Schiavi, associate professor of English at New York Institute of Technology, does in Celluloid Activist.  Vito Russo was one of the gay men who came to Greenwich Village as a young gay man to embed himself in its queer counterculture, and he quickly became involved in radical activism after Stonewall.  But Russo is even more famous for his path-breaking book, The Celluloid Closet:  Homosexuality in the Movies, originally published in 1981 and re-published in a revised edition in 1987.  Born in 1946, this founder of gay cultural criticism should be signing up at the social security office this year, but like many men of his generation he contracted AIDS and died in 1990.

Schiavi's is an authorized biography, which may account for its emphasis on Russo's achievements (which were many) and its less sure touch about the complexities of his personality.  Schiavi has a keen sense of Russo's place in the gay men's culture that flourished in the 1970s, organized around uninhibited sexuality, and known colloquially as "the party." Schiavi's difficult task of situating Russo in his social world, and interpreting him through it is largely successful, and caused me to wonder whether, for certain figures, group biographies are almost necessary.

Russo had a network of deeply devoted friends, who were attracted to his evanescent personality and sharp intelligence, friends whose patience he often tried.  Russo's love life is a particular minefield: he seemed to be both a little bit of (what we used to call back in the day) a star f**cker, and he very much enjoyed being the object of star f**king.  While relationships were not the strong suit of many queer folk in those years, in part because relationships were either not the point or they were wide open, Russo seemed to have a particular penchant for falling in love with beautiful, helpless, unemployed boys; pledging undying devotion to them; moving them into into his apartment; and then getting really, really sick of them and kicking them out.  It didn't make me not like him, but it did make me think that there was some deeper insight that Schiavi was avoiding here, perhaps out of tact and deference to the family.

Russo's work on the Celluloid Closet (which was made into a documentary after his death) came from a public lecture he put together over the years, in which he demonstrated, through film clips and analysis, how unnamed but very obvious "gayness" in films produced, and shored up, the idea of "heterosexuality."  This is such a basic tenet of queer studies now that it is hard to recall what a stunning insight this was in the 1970s and early 1980s, particularly since there were not so many gay or lesbian books.  Russo came to this analysis from his formal academic training in film and a lifetime of fandom.  Like many gay kids, Vito seem to have been born a movie queen and a fan of the great divas:  Stanwyck, Crawford, Davis.  He was one of those guys weeping in the front row as Judy Garland, in her late years, stumbled drunkenly over her lyrics mid-set.  He developed an encyclopedic knowledge of classic Hollywood film making and acquired a rather large collection of movies (Schiavi suggests that some of these may have been stolen) prior to the days when such things were available on VCR, and delighted in showing them to friends.

Vito maintained a rather tenuous economic existence, even though he worked constantly as a journalist and operated on the edge of show business, a world he clearly adored (one of his great thrills after his AIDS diagnosis was an introduction to Elizabeth Taylor.)  He was friends with Bette Midler during the Divine Miss M's Continental Baths days, and then not so much when he insisted that she identify with queer activism after her mainstream success, something she clearly viewed as exploitation and he viewed as her selling out the people who had made her career in the first place.  (I think they were both right, although it isn't clear what Schiavi thinks.) Vito's relationships with other celebrities endured, however, particularly his friendship with Lily Tomlin.  One of the interesting parts of the book which should push another scholar to get going on her, is Tomlin's development of comic characters that were clearly queer, her struggles over coming out, and her regret, voiced at the end of the book, that she did not do so earlier.

Vito Russo was in the first great wave of men to be diagnosed in the portion of the AIDS epidemic that swallowed communities of urban gay men in the 1980s.  One of the triumphs of this book is that it articulates what it felt like to be at Ground Zero in downtown New York, as one's friends died slowly of horrible diseases that could just barely be treated.  I found these chapters enormously difficult to read, as the lists of men who had peopled the early chapters of the book were diagnosed and died.  Schiavi also depicted, quite accurately in my view, how those years felt. I recall sick men taking care of sick men; the halls at NYU hospital where deathly ill people waited for a bed for days; parents unable to comprehend the cataclysmic, sudden death of a child; scattering ashes in favorite vacation spots.  People behaved far better than you might ever have imagined they could, and they behaved indescribably badly.  I recall watching an age peer wander around the room incontinent and unable to find the bathroom, the rest of us not knowing that his brain was being eaten by toxoplasmosis because his lover (who was also infected but didn't want anyone to know) insisted that our friend had been tested (he hadn't) and didn't have AIDS.  All of this is in the book, and Schiavi describes it with a sure narrative touch.

One reason to read, or to teach, this book, is that it links lots of different things in the life of one person:  gay community, activism, the emergence of a gay intellectual sensibility, the party, and the party's end.  Because of this, when it comes out in paper, you could easily use it as a text for a post-1945 GLBT history course.  But honestly?  It's also a good read -- not always an easy one, but a good one -- and you might want to have it on your bedside table when you are done with Gay Pride and ready to return to gay life.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Radical History Review: A Perhaps Unnecessary, But Overdue, Tribute To My Dad

We at Tenured Radical no longer have a father to give presents to, or buy cards for, on Father's Day.  When we did have a father, this is who he was.  He probably had as many flaws as the next 1960s and 1970s Dad, but he was a very nice person, a widely admired physician, and a hard worker.  He went out of his way to make a nice life for his family and to provide the resources that made it possible for both of his daughters to have an excellent education.

Although I don't think he would have described himself this way, he was an organic intellectual who had tremendous curiosity about the natural, social, cultural and political world.  He was the Oliver Saks of internal medicine, collecting and collating information with what I can only describe as pleasure, putting it together like a puzzle until all the pieces fit. In practical terms, this meant he was a very good and thorough doctor, and would bird-dog a peculiar set of symptoms until they could be treated effectively. Once, over four decades ago, before tick-born diseases were well known to all of us, he correctly diagnosed a man who had  Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever -- a disease that was entirely treatable, but had been missed because it almost never appeared in Pennsylvania. 

We held a memorial service for Dad back in September, 1997, two months after he died so that everyone from the hospital could be there.  One of the things that was truly memorable (I do not remember a thing about the eulogy I delivered, although I have a copy of it filed away somewhere) was the number of people who got up to speak about him and revealed things I had not known about Dad.  And yet, each of these anecdotes was completely consistent with the person I did know.  For example, a developmentally disabled man whose job it was to keep the stairwells clean got up to speak in front of about three hundred people.  He explained his job, and said that every day my father made a point of telling him what good work he was doing on the stairs and thanking him for it. 

Dad really liked people, and he was interested in them:  he spent hours in the evening and on weekends talking to his patients on the telephone, often helping them make decisions about painful chronic diseases, terminal cancers or conditions that had suddenly turned scary.  I remember lots of conversations ending with him saying, "Go to the emergency room, and I'll meet you there," and he would get dressed and head back out to the hospital no matter what time it was.

When Dad retired because his own illness had advanced, he was deeply concerned about the increasingly money-driven, and litigious, world of medicine that was separating the interests of doctors from their patients and making personalized care all but impossible for many young doctors who would have liked to provide it.  As chief of medicine, he also understood that lots of different people played important roles to make the mission of a hospital successful, and that all jobs -- even the ones that other people might view as menial -- were important.  He  enjoyed teaching, he enjoyed solving difficult medical problems, he appreciated the professionalism of his nurses and he enjoyed helping young doctors make their careers.

I realized some years ago that, despite the great differences in our professional lives, I have ended up sharing many of my father's values and pleasures, even though I don't recall him ever having conveyed them except by example. One of the many reasons I am sorry he is dead is that I think we would have enjoyed talking about these things together.  So, without further ado:

Happy Father's Day, Phil Potter.  The mission continues.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tell Me How You Really Feel, Dude: Prof Said To Have Peed On Colleagues' Office Doors

We at Tenured Radical have been alerted by our pals in the legit educational press (Inside Higher Ed) that there are many more reasons than we knew to hire more women in the STEM fields. Tihomir Petrov of the Cal State Northridge math department is on the lam after having failed to appear in court to answer two charges of public urination, a misdemeanor.  Where did he pee?  In his department, apparently.

It sounds like revenge urination to us, and a unique way of showing contempt for colleagues that we feel lucky to have never encountered.  Imagine coming to work and finding a big puddle of man-pee in front of your office. According to the Los Angeles Times, "In early December, Petrov was captured on videotape urinating on the door of another professor's office in Santa Susana Hall, according to authorities. School officials had concealed a camera nearby after discovering puddles of what they thought was urine at the professor's door, officials said."  It seems that Petrov might have an ongoing problem with either retention or rage.

Although the evidence seems strong, Petrov has pleaded not guilty, and there is no sign of him anywhere on the department web site.