The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

He's my boy

Regarding my previous post about sex, race and movies, Frank accepted my data without being able to cross-check it, and said that he had no idea what could be done.
1) You can go to the Internet Movie Data Base and check all-time box office records. Look at the movies that have earned over 100 million.
2) There is nothing that can be “done.” Time will do it: the browning of America, and the progressive death of white males born prior to 1950. I figure when 80% of them are dead, it will be a non-issue. The younger guys have been raised to think and act differently from their parents. They had role models in sports, politics, and entertainment, as well as on their jobs and in their schools, that stretch their little minds JUST enough, I think. Each generation can move only so far.
3) The real reason I point it out is to make it clear why I think that the idea of a “level playing field” or anything like it, is absurd as long as we are human beings. Without taking race into account in social programs, you are absolutely guaranteeing that blacks, cut off from their heritage and outnumbered ten to one, will always underperform. We’d have to be superpeople not to—as a group. You have no obligation to do anything, or change voting patterns. But I politely request that you not make the “what’s wrong with them?”-style comments I hear at Cocktail parties and on talk radio whenever the subject of crime, educational statistics, or whatever arises. What’s wrong with us is that we’re human. If you stab us, we bleed.
I originally entered Science Fiction fandom because I simply fit in nowhere. And that was one of the strengths of the social dynamic. In Fandom, I found friends, mentors, lovers…support. The Science I was always most interested in was human mental and physical development, what I called “Self Directed Human Evolution.” I concentrated on the question, “what happens over time if you devote yourself obsessively to the concept of balance, and quantify that as body, career, and relationship?” Now I know. The I.D.E.A. concept suggested to me that your intuitive sense for Reality Maps would grow…what I didn’t grasp is the degree you also sensitize yourself to people’s “stories.” It’s inevitable. As you sort your way through your own bullshit around your physical fitness/weight, or your career movement and finances, or about your love/sex life…you start noticing that others use the same excuses. Listening more closely over time, you start grasping that there are similar stories behind similar mental, physical, or spiritual destinations. Hear enough dozens or hundreds of them, and you start being able to second-guess with accuracy.

And then one day the circle completes, and the sphere implodes. You SEE. You walk into a crowd…or a convention…and you don’t see bodies and smell B.O. any more. You see a cluster of abused, ignored, discarded souls. I remember the first time it happened. I was GOH at a convention in Houston, and was teaching Tai Chi in the morning. A girl came to the class, and it was all I could do not to stare. She looked like one extremely obese woman pushed into the middle of a second one. It was horrible. Even worse is that her teeth were rotted out. And yet, despite that, she had the sweetest face, the kindest, softest eyes, the most gentle voice…and I broke.

Right after the class, I got onto the phone with my first wife, Toni, and cried my eyes out. I knew that something horrible, HORRIBLE, had happened to this woman. Something that made it a survival issue to hide her beauty from the world. She dared not let herself be seen. And yet, behind the wall of flesh she was pleading for someone…anyone…to see her. To really see HER. To reach through the barricade and touch her. God, I felt so sorry for her.

And as it often happened in those days, after the second day at the convention, she came to trust me. And she talked to me. About her family. And the little girl she had once been, and how she had been used by those she should have been able to trust. I held her hand while she cried, and we cried together, and I spoke of hope. I have no idea what ever happened to her, but I wish I could kill the men who hurt her.

Since that day, it’s happened more and more often: I see a person or hear a “presenting story” and get an intuitive flash of what is beneath it. Over time, my suspicions are verified. And now it’s to the point where I don’t have to hear anything, or think about it at all. I get a flash. And to this point, my intuition is ALWAYS more accurate than the story people tell me about themselves initially. I trust my intuition.

So it’s getting harder to walk into conventions. I don’t see the flesh, or the faces, or smell the body odor left behind in elevators, or hear the brilliant people speaking of irrelevancies, re-arranging deck chairs while the Titanic sinks. Its like they’re wearing T-Shirts. And with far too many of them, those shirts read: “I was raped by my Uncle.” “My mother told me she wishes she’d gotten an abortion.” “My husband brought another woman into our bed.” “I am grotesquely underemployed.” “I have no dreams or hope…only fantasies.” And on and on.

Not all. I also see people finding love, and genuinely supportive friendships, and acceptance. And there are many, many folk who are weird but healthy, and just love to play. But I see too much, and it hurts if I don’t shield myself. Sunday at Loscon I didn’t, and awoke Monday morning feeling as if I’d been hit by a bus. I’m better now. I have to remember to center myself, or I’ll have to stay away. I have too much to do in the years I have remaining to me. Too many people to help. I can’t let the back-wash make me sick. Happens to too many doctors, therapists, body workers. Miles to go before I sleep.
I have a friend who leans very far to the Right. He complains about illegal immigration (don’t blame him) and he attributes this to what he calls the Feminizing of America. His own marriage is loveless and sexless, and has been for over a decade. My friend is more Yin than his wife. His son is a fine young…boy…in his twenties, with less Yang energy than the average girl. And my friend complains about how active and aggressive Jason is. That I let him roughhouse with me, and hit me, and bare his teeth at me and jump on me. I tell him that my philosophy about this is similar to letting Nicki curse as a child. I let Nicki use swear words, but ONLY at home. In this way, I gave her an outlet, and simultaneously was teaching her the appropriate and inappropriate times to express behavior. The theory was similar to making a puppy crap only on Newspaper.

Jason is a little Alpha-pup. I won’t neuter him. He is intelligent, energetic, creative, affectionate, and willful. Good for him. He is a boy-child who I want to help grow to be a man. He may not EVER express aggression toward his teachers, schoolmates, playmates, or his mother. But…he can go right ahead and bop me all he wants, as long as he is a “good boy.” I am his playmate and friend when he is good. When he is bad, I am only his father. I am always his father—and love him. But only when he is “good”: when he obeys, is cooperative, obedient, goes potty properly…am I his “friend” or “buddy.” He is starting to understand the difference. He wants me as his buddy. He wants to wrestle and fight me. Hell—he can’t WAIT to be able to kick my ass, and I’ve promised to help him learn to do it. But he has to be a good boy. I will have zero tolerance for aggressive behavior outside those boundaries.

This scares my friend. He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t have to. Jason’s my boy, and while I will listen to what anyone says, and debate any opinion, and look at any evidence, ultimately my relationship with him isn’t about my marriage, or family, or friendships with others. It is about my relationship with him. And if it makes others uncomfortable, AS LONG AS MY ACTIONS WITH HIM ARE HEALTHY, that discomfort is just their stuff. He’s my boy. He’s not a girl. If society doesn’t produce a certain percentage of rough, tough, aggressive boys…it will die.

But what is their proper role in society? I have to admit to being old fashioned here. I think that the perfect warrior boy-spirit (the warrior girl-spirit is a bit different, but no less lethal, by the way. See “Mama G.” for reference) is similar to the cultural image of the European Knight. The mighty warrior in gleaming armor with deadly weapons on the fiery steed. But all of that lethal skill was…(flourish of hat)… “at your service, m’lady.”

The masculine only has meaning in service to the feminine. Someone has to fight the wolves at the cave mouth until the mother can deliver her child and stand by her mate’s side. It is inevitable that as a culture grows more comfortable, we would like to forget this uncomfortable reality. It is the “bare wiring” of the basic human dyad. My son will be both powerful and gentle. He’ll be the one other kids come to for help. Any woman will know that he is not only absolutely trustworthy, but will tolerate NO ONE transgressing upon the feminine. This is what I want for him, and I will give it to him, or die trying.

He’s my boy.


Pagan Topologist said...

Beautiful, Steve. I think there may be a conundrum for your son that I did not face growing up white. My father would not listen to anything regarding fights at school. He said that boys got into fights from time to time, and they needed to take care of it themselves. I got into two fights as a child. Both times I was soundly beaten. My father offered neither punishment nor sympathy. I wonder whether this hands-off policy would work today, and whether it would be really unsafe for a black child. But I suspect that it is unrealistic to think that young males will never get into physical confrontations.

I admit to being a little troubled by your assessment concerning white men born before 1950, since I am a white man born in 1944. But it certainly reminds me of what it is like to be lumped into a group and feeling that it is unjust that I be so.

Like Frank, I find myself wanting to do thought experiments about what can be done about the problem of black men behaving sexually in movies. (Never thought I would agree with him about anything.) Even Idlewild was not immune, though it was a movie I really liked. I also like Spike Lee films a lot. I think that this issue is at the root of my recurring wish that Wesley Snipes be cast as James Bond someday. I have wanted to see this ever since Passenger 57. Of course, my opinion here is one that does not count for much, since I very rarely watch movies. I prefer to read a book more than 99 time out of 100.

David Bellamy

Demon Hunter said...

You sound like my dad with the son He did the same with my brother, who is now a high school English teacher at age 28, so something worked. I used to be the big pushover, now I'm aggressive.

You made some excellent points. I majored in psychology and am involved in a career in that field. I agree with what you said about people "wearing" t-shirts. I have worked at some interesting places the past few years and that has shaped how I relate to all people. It's uncanny how I can talk with complete strangers because I read them so quickly.

I'm also rewriting my novel and plan to have an agent by early next year. I've been writing for years. I have to make certain I buy all of your books. I already have ALL of Tananarive's. What? I love horror! LOL. :*)

Reluctant Lawyer said...

I agree with your points about raising boys. The concept of the knight is definitely what is missing. Teaching boys that both physical aggression AND manners are manly and correct under appropriate circumstances is something that we definitely need to do more of. While I'm not entirely sure that I would want my son to go through what I went through in military college (VMI), there is something to be said for teaching young men to both box and tip their hats to ladies.

Gene L.

Rory said...

"The mighty warrior in gleaming armor with deadly weapons on the fiery steed. But all of that lethal skill was…(flourish of hat)… “at your service, m’lady.”

Or, to explain my love of Kami, every thug needs a princess.

lynngnews said...

I wonder whether this hands-off policy would work today, and whether it would be really unsafe for a black child.

That kind of hands-off policy has always been unsafe for some children. I think part of the problem is that there are at least two different kinds of "getting into fights as a child" situations, the ones where it's one on one, and the ones where a whole bunch of kids are ganging up on you and physically attacking you. Kids may initially describe both situations the same, because they don't always have the language or understanding to tell adults the difference.

I was a girl who was in the latter situation at school (boys ganging up on me, not girls), and at one point, in a discussion with some guys online about bullying, it was made clear to me that we had completely different assumptions about what, typically, "bullying" actually meant. I assumed, from my own experience, smaller child having to physically fight off a whole gang of bigger and older children, while they assumed, from their experience, single boy trying to bully another single boy and backing down quickly if the other boy actually gave him a fight (as for girls, I think they were assuming that girls didn't get in fights, and boy didn't normally hit girls). I got in way more than two fights as a child, always with boys who were bigger than me. That kind of situation needs some kind of adult intervention (though what adult intervention actually works best, I don't know).

Similarly, some adults assume too quickly that girls aren't talking about actual physical fights, and so they give advice like "Just ignore it," or "He's just doing that because he likes you." Bad, bad advice, if what he's doing is actually physically attacking the girl.

Frank said...

You can go to the Internet Movie Data Base and check all-time box office records. Look at the movies that have earned over 100 million.

Yes, I could do that. But then I would have to watch all those films and grade the sex scenes. I'm just not gonna do that.

There is nothing that can be “done.”

But, in a larger sense, you are noting that the media to a large extent is a mirror for the culture whose audience is the target. And there is something to be learned about us, and who we currently are, from what is popular. An aspect of which you are noting.

(I wonder what it means that at one point (specifically when I was growing up) people like Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles were pop, and today it's, um, Brittany.)

But our relationship with media is more complex than that, as there is clearly, some elements of a feedback/control loop going on: People get what they demand from the media, but the media has at least some autonomous effect on the audience. How much of an effect, though, is hard to say, but I would venture to guess that it is overblown by (wait for it) the media.

With regards to growing up boys: I had one of those and I worked it pretty much the way you did. But I will warn you of this: when your son goes to school, the teachers are not interested in the fact that he was defending the weak.

They will want him on Ritalin at the very first sign of aggression.

Or questioning.

Heads up...

Steven Barnes said...

Thanks, Frank. I will.
And David: I'm not talking about you, or anyone in particular. It's not about individuals, it's about statistics. I don't try to change people any more: These days, I just talk to those capable of and willing to change. My suggestion? Be one of the 20%. Take care of yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself. Leave the world a little better than you found it. The rest will work out, in time. It's not about you and me, and never was. It's about our children and grandchildren.

Steven Barnes said...

Oh, and Rory? I never thought of Kami as a princess. More of a Queen.

Dan Moran said...

Hear Frank now and believe him later -- while there is a real condition behind ADHD (brains mature more slowly than usual) -- even kids with the biological condition do catch up and reach neurological maturity, regardless of whether they're medicated.

I'm not a medical expert and I'm not going to sit in judgement of other parents -- but someone would jack one of my kids up on Ritalin over my dead body. Cocaine addicts given a blast of Ritalin can't tell the difference in their response ...

The first medical professional who tried to tell me one of my sons had ADHD had talked to him for 20 minutes ... that boy is now in the 6th grade, getting As and Bs and having no discipline problems, at school or at home. And that schmuck with his bare face hanging out said he seemed a candidae for medication ....


The world is full of contention and contentious people. They will not tell you the time of day or day of the month without their little display of hostility. I have argued with Meyer about it. It is more than a reflex, I think. It is an affirmation of importance. Each one is saying, "I can afford to be nasty to you because I don't need and favors from you, buster." It is also, perhaps, a warmed application of today's necessity to be cool. ...

If I were King of the World I would roam my kingdom in rags, incognito, dropping fortunes onto the people who are nice with no special reasons to be nice, and having my troops lop off the heads of the mean, small, embittered little bastards who try to inflate their self-esteem by stomping on yours. I would start the lopping among post-office employees, bank tellers, bus drivers, and pharmacists. I would go on to checkout clerks, bellboys, prowl-car cops, telephone operations, and U.S. Embassy clerks. By God, there would be so many heads rolling here and there, the world would look like a berserk bowling alley. Meyer says this shows a tad of hostility.

John D. MacDonald, The Empty Copper Sea


My list is longer than John D's. :-)

Pagan Topologist said...

I did not really write what I meant, I think. What I observe is that your (Steve's) comment about white men in my demographic group made me aware, on a much more "real" level than I ever had been before, what a black person must feel when told "You are not like those other black people," or "You don't seem black," or words to that effect. I had only had an intellectual understanding of this before, but here is something to which I have reacted in a similar way.

Don't apologize, Steve. It was a very useful experience, even if unpleasant.

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