A Gray Area

We knew there was a gray area, and we took intentional steps to try to clearly separate her volunteer activities as first lady from her paid professional work.

—Former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber

The amiable co-editor of the Van Duzer Corridor told me that the other day she shared what she has coined the John Muir Paradox with a distinguished academic to which he responded, and I quote, “The world’s fucking crazy, right?”

This paradox in essence relates to Muir’s notion that humans, once they go to and experience the wilderness, will become its greatest advocates. However, at this point, a century later, our tools, numbers, and philosophies have gotten so that going to the wilderness has become a destructive act. Spirituality has become tourism—a walking stick, a Jeep. Has, for example, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir (now movie) on the soul-healing, fate-transforming powers of the Pacific Crest Trail inspired a new generation of environmental activism, or instead in effect sealed the destruction of any magic that remains in the PCT or isolation that may be found there? I certainly can’t answer that question.

I am writing this in the first half dozen hours of Governor Kate Brown’s sudden term as Oregon’s governor. It is clear that Kitzhaber has resigned because his engagement with a green energy consultant was problematic. However, do we take him at his word that he left office because the overblown coverage was distracting, or because the truth of the allegations will hold up once criminal investigations clear the brush? That seems at present undecidable. If I was going to the store to get coffee for the office and my fiancée asked if I could pick up some coffee for her in the same trip, I wouldn’t say no, but if I was governor I might expect that people might want to see the receipt. The fact that this story really got rolling after The Oregonian‘s editorial board insisted that Kitzhaber resign is what makes me suspicious, as this was the same board that a month before decided that climate change was not a local issue worth covering—Oregon’s already doing a great job. Of one thing I am sure: that’s utter bullshit.

The anti-Kitzhaber crowd already tried to use Ms. Hayes as a liability during the campaign because she used marriage as a tool and not a sacred union, and, further, wasn’t against the idea of growing weed as way to escape poverty. But we elected him anyway, not before, and maybe because, we made her cry:

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Things have gotten so hard for me to distinguish that I couldn’t even tell if I liked the last episode of Girls—I mean, I think I actually liked it! I’ve continued to watch the show as a kind of perverse fascination, because once I liked it, or really wanted to—I can’t quite remember at this point—and Lena Dunham is an undeniable cultural force who in essence seems to want to transform media in a way I agree with, or so it seems from this humble position in the fifth hour of the Brown administration.

I suppose I owe it to you, dear reader, to parse my feelings on the subject which—if pressed to do, I would say—amount to the desire to understand how, as much as we strive to make culture more inclusive, less male-dominated, it will only look like Girls if we don’t tear down systems of entitlement and the inheritance of culture by those who are born into it—say the daughter of famous artists, or Brian Williams, or David Mamet, or someone who happens to be the friend of the auteur at the center of it all. If the power structures essentially become crystalized by passing down roles that were earned by previous generation through American notions like gumption and Yankee ingenuity, et al., then we are moving backwards—unless of course we acknowledge that Ms. Dunham is yielding that age-old slippery stick of satire, which of course, however much folks refuse to grant such agency, she is.


Why should we celebrate men comedians who inhabit and perform self-centered masculine tropes in the attempt to deconstruct them, and not their lady counterparts? Oh, that’s right! BECAUSE WE HAVE SUBCONSCIOUSLY BEEN TRAINED TO DIVIDE LIFE INTO BINARIES AND PRIVILEGE EVERYTHING MALE, OF COURSE INCLUDING FLAWS! We even celebrate masculine flaws. I wrote a book about Seinfeld because I was convinced its creators performed self-centeredness in order to destroy it, and they made the process enjoyable. Is that what Lena Dunham is doing with selfish tropes associated with femininity? I DON’T KNOW!

The title of the episode, “Sit-in,” had me worried right off the bat: oh no—is she going to co-opt the language of the civil rights movement to describe the fact that she is not going to leave her old apartment as a form of protest? Of course, “she” is two different people, one is a self-centered writer who is not actually inclined to or capable of writing, and the other is an accomplished writer, director, producer, and actor who I don’t really know.

Additionally, as my sofa-mate/life-partner pointed out as each cast member came to visit her one at a time, Hannah seems to be sitting Shiva. The episode becomes kind of beautiful at this realiziation, occurring like a play, all set in the same location, a mourning of the death of the world she once knew and the person she once was. Perhaps the failure of the show is that its audience has not sufficiently unlearned the patriarchy, we have not cast ourselves into the future far enough to realize the extent it satirizes us, that we don’t even know the HBO show is a defunct medium, nearly a decade past its golden era! Perhaps this will all be clear enough.

As Jerry Seinfeld said to Larry David at the Saturday Night Live thing on Sunday: “it’s like we got the last two tickets to Disneyland before it burned down.” That’s a paraphrase and I’m not really sure it’s like that anyway.

Has everything always felt this arbitrary?

In other news, a leftist activist/political science professor, Pablo Iglesias, whose party is named Podemos after the UFW’s rallying cry of ¡Sí se puede!, credits HBO’s The Wire as the means by which he was able to deconstruct systems of power and oppression.

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The world’s fucking crazy, right?

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