An experiment in interestingness

Consider, if you will, these Fall movies:

A band of women are determined to protect a 19th-century Western outpost from a malevolent industrialist (Annette Bening). Charlize Theron leads the women, as Winona Ryder (a hard-drinking ne’er-do-well) helps – and hinders – the fight.

A baby is dropped on the doorstep of an unsuspecting British man, and he must figure out which of his recent lovers is her mother. Is it the romantic, American businesswoman or the attractive, but cold, ex-girlfriend? This blunder-prone man must stumble his way through this hilarious situation!

An autistic forensic accountant (Jennifer Garner) is recruited by a robotics company to locate a money leak, and she discovers a whistleblowing CPA (Chris Pratt) while also revealing her Beautiful Mind-esque math ability.

A boxing champ (Lupita Nyong’o) faces impossible odds to fight her way back into the ring after breaking her neck in a car accident.

A luckless prospector (Naomi Watts) tries to strike it rich in the Indonesian jungle while her steadfast boyfriend (Brad Pitt) works multiple jobs to keep the couple afloat.

These are all actual movies, but I reversed the genders. Does that make you want to see the movies more? Less? Does it make any difference? This is a game I like to play when I get my Entertainment Weekly, and it has a TV Preview, or a Movie Preview. I also like to do it with book reviews. Switch the gender. Change the race. How does that affect the story being told? Does it affect the story? I have to say that more often than not, the story seems A LOT more interesting. We lose the run-of-the-mill storylines, and open things up to broader topics and statements. The Bridget Jones riff up there looks pretty stupid when the genders are switched. (Though, arguably, it’s pretty dumb to begin with).

Anyway, one could hope that Hollywood execs and TV producers, when reading a script, would also experiment with the gender of the characters. “What would this story be like, if… all the humans on the oil rig were women, all the lawyers fighting over the Very Important Thing were women, the person having the midlife crisis and then going a road trip with a crusty old person was a woman… of color! What happens to the jokes when you switch the characters like this? Do they work? Are they still lazy? Do the caricatures they come across/interact with suddenly hold less (or more) import?

I don’t imagine Hollywood will do this. I imagine they already feel a bit hamstrung and hand-wring-y about the amount of female-driven movies they’re currently producing. (omgwtfbbq the internets hate ladies and movies have ladies and we made two movies with ladies and now we will only make $384658 billion instead of $384659 billion and what is happeninnnnnggg)

So maybe it’s up to the writers? Maybe you finish your screenplay or television treatment or your book (or if you’re lucky, you finish the outline and the first few pages/chapters instead of the whole thing) and then you go back and say “Huh. What happens if…” And you change things up. Maybe you ultimately keep the characters the same gender and same race, but in the exercise of switching them you see the blatant sexism/racism/lazy writing that happens when you depend on every day observations and assumptions. Maybe putting your characters into different shoes makes you a stronger writer, and your characters more interesting. And possibly, doing this will convince you to leave the characters that way and see what happens.

Women can pilot spaceships, and men can clean kitchens. Koreans can have their hearts broken, and African-Americans can be magicians.

I know a lot more needs to be done to diversify the pop culture we all consume, and I don’t have answers to solving that (other than, “shut your whiny pie holes, and make movies about ANYONE OTHER THAN WHITE DUDES that are written by ANYONE OTHER THAN WHITE DUDES and directed by ANYONE OTHER THAN WHITE DUDES”) but since Hollywood, just like my children, will never listen to me this seems like an interesting exercise for the rest of us.

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When “Pets OK: see agent” actually means “Pets OK: but no lesbians”

 

In June 2015 SCOTUS gave the final say: gay marriage is the law of the land. Everyone shares equal rights now and WHEW that was a long battle and let’s all go get a drink and wear cute rainbow shirts and celebrate.

Or, wait.

Could it possibly be that in the first half of 2016 alone, 87 bills have been introduced nationwide that attempt to limit rights for LGBT people? That would be crazy, right? I mean, the *majority* of Americans support equality. Gay marriage is a done deal. It really is an amazing time to be out in America. And yet, suddenly the party of anti-big-government and pro-states-rights, is encouraging (and funding) new laws that not only attempt to limit equality, but that attempt to use a heavy governmental fist to prevent localities from providing equal rights for all? Huh?

So maybe it shouldn’t be shocking to go hunting for a rental house and to learn that the  application my girlfriend and I turned in was denied. Maybe I shouldn’t find that as galling and preposterous as I do. But here we are.

Was there a giant stamp on our denied application that said “NO LESBIANS ALLOWED!”? Nope. Because in my city that would be against one of those everyone-has-the-same-rights ordinances that defies state and federal doctrine. Instead of a NO LESBIANS stamp, we were denied because of our pets. Curiously, the listing for the house says “Pets OK, up to 3, See Agent.” But after our realtor discussed everything with the agent and turned in all our paperwork (wherein two women were listed as partners), we found out that Lo! “Pets OK, up to 3” actually means no cats and small dogs only.

Hmm.

Maybe it’s as simple as that. The listing was unspecific. Perhaps the landlord truly isn’t into cats or 40 pound dogs. Possibly that’s true. Possibly, instead of filling out the listing like every other agent does, saying “no cats” and “small dogs only” he just thought that “Pets OK, see agent” would cover pesky details like that.

I mean, when I googled the guy and found out that he’s an executive pastor at a conservative local church that condemns gay marriage, that probably has nothing to do with how he feels about people renting the house, right? That’s probably just me piling my own baggage onto him? There’s no way he would put in a nebulous pet policy as a loophole for discriminatory behavior, right? Only a conspiracy theorist/crazy person would think that! The fact that his church held a post-SCOTUS ruling seminar on “not sitting back silently while the world celebrates perversion of God’s design for sexuality” probably has nothing to do with any of this. Right? RIGHT?

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Or maybe this kind of insidious discrimination has been going on since the dawn of time. Maybe the political climate is giving people a new boldness to deny others equal rights and opportunities. Maybe the abundance of “religious freedom” laws are creating a sense of “but it’s not discriminatory if my religion says you’re gross.”

Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked to be faced with this kind of conundrum. Is it insipid discrimination? Or are there just some craaaaazy coincidences designed to make ME look like the one who’s targeting an innocent person?

My gut-feeling could be completely wrong. The application denial could be completely unbiased and legit. I have no definitive proof in this particular case. But I do have definitive proof that the desire to discriminate is being heartily encouraged across the country. I can be told it’s not my sexuality that’s the problem, it’s really the cat’s fault. I can report the landlord to the local housing authority and the tenant’s council, and find out nothing can be done. I can make a donation in his name to a lesbian charity, to try to balance the scales a bit. I can feel lucky that it’s “only” something like housing discrimination I’ve faced and not the barrel of a gun at a traffic stop.

But what can you do? What can we all do together? I think the first step is just recognizing that this shit happens. Is happening. All. The. Time. And it has been, forever. It’s time to raise awareness instead of our shrugging shoulders. And it’s time to vote. Not just in national elections, but in the small local ones. These podunk asshole politicians who make it OK to discriminate give power to the non-politican assholes who feel threatened. And how are the asshole politicians elected when the majority of people support equality? They are voted into state office BECAUSE THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE DO NOT VOTE IN LOCAL ELECTIONS. Get out the vote, y’all, and let’s stop giving power to those who would take it away.