Monday, January 29, 2018

A Phallus Is A Phallus Is A Phallus

Recently, I was unfriended (gasp!) on Facebook by a woman with whom I disagreed about (of all things) Garrison Keillor's limericks. And the word phallus. I think his limericks are funny, and this one, written on the white board at Common Good Books, generic enough not be to targeted at an individual:
A beauty who goes to Macalester — 
O, her face, her limbs, her ballast, her 
Tiny blue kilt 
And the way she is built 
Could make a petrified phallus stir.
She saw it differently.

There does need to be a disclaimer here: I've known Garrison since the late 70s. Not well, we're not pals; I ran into him at his bookstore about a year ago where we had a nice chat. But here's the thing, Garrison is not a friendly, huggy-bear kinda guy. He's a well-established old curmudgeon. People I know who have long worked with him say he can be relentless in the pursuit of art, incredibly gruff, and a bit blue in his offstage well as kind, compassionate, and very caring. He is what he is and has never pretended to be anything else. And yes, you can get DREAM DANCER there.

The limerick was an act of expression, not a first First Amendment challenge. This is a case of offense in the eye of the beholder.

A former employee at Common Good Books, owned by Mr. Keillor, thought the verse was about her. Recently, this opinion was used to further the case of misconduct against Garrison Keillor, even though the store is an enterprise totally separate from his association with Minnesota Public Radio. Did that limerick create a hostile work place? Was he denigrating an individual? Was the concept of a petrified phallus stirring offensive? I suppose the answer can be yes to any of those...depending on the eye of the beholder.

Actually, if we want to talk about funny, petrified phallus is a much funnier word than petrified penis. Phallus has a bit of mystery, it's a rare word, and it rolls off the tongue, unlike penis which comes out in a bit of a grimace. You just said both words, didn't you? And you thought about it. (Ha! I win!)

Yeah, I could see where someone would think it wasn't funny, and I can get that someone who worked at the store might have thought it was directed at her, but frankly, I don't see what the great brouhaha about the limerick is all about. It's a juxtaposition that is unexpected and that makes it funny. IMHO.

If you were to poll a broad section of store customers, probably most never gave it a notice, much less a second thought. If you read the story MPR published, however, you'd think a grave act of sexual molestation had taken place. 

Said one former employee at Prairie Home Production Company:
We were all in this weird bubble of protecting him and keeping him happy. He clearly impacted the dynamics of everyone around him.
Really? The boss impacted the dynamics of the office? Sorry about being flip here... but if you've spent any time with creative people, you already know not everyone is warm and fuzzy. Not everyone is charming and nice. If you work for the creative force behind a mega-successful show, you know it is in everyone's best interest to humor the boss so he can do his best work. If he doesn't, the show closes and you lose your job. If you don't want to be a part of a creative process that has ups-and-downs, don't work in that milieu.

not offensive?
Truly creative people are often volatile. Think Beethoven. Boy, did he have a bad rep and look what he turned out. Michelangelo, according to contemporaries, was a terror when he was in the throes of creating some stuff that might now be considered really obscene. Anyone want to talk about Dorothy Parker? I didn't think so. 

We're not talking about Harvey Weinstein here, or Feckless Leader, or any of the other pussy-grabbing contingent. We're talking about art and artists: words, music, visual media, the whole package. Creative people doing creative things are sometimes even called iconoclasts... for a reason. Even some of the nicest directors I have ever known can go deep into the Pon Farr and head right into kal-i-fee while staging a play...and most actors know to just stand back and let the work happen. There is an edge of take-no-prisoners in that world because that's how creation is. It is not always pretty, definitely not easy, and artists creating usually put their work first, everyone else be damned. It's a price every creative person knows, and how they deal with payment isn't a standard sorta thing. It doesn't win you friends, but you do find out who your friends really are. 

As long as the boss is not a serial rapist, ax-murderer, or a practicing Sadist in the office, you go with the flow. If that's not to your liking, quit. There is no requirement in any workplace that everyone has to be nice to your standard, whatever that standard may be. Let me be very explicit here: that does not condone physical violence, sexual or verbal abuse, or terrorizing employees. There is a line that should never be crossed. But if you want to be where everyone is sweet and pleasant and happy, working day-in-and-day-out with creative people is probably not where you want to be. 

The bottom line is every individual gets to ultimately make a choice about what he/she is going to tolerate. Yes, we are getting better at saying "no" and standing up against abusers, rapists, and bullies. But then you also have to exercise your ability to choose, and then get the hell out if you think you are in danger. That's the good part of what has been happening this last year. YOUR TIME IS UP is a powerful and positive statement. Women, and even men, are becoming more empowered to say NO. This is an important shift. If something makes you uncomfortable, speak up. This change is going to take time. And pain. And terminations in some places. It's inevitable. And not all those terminations will be unjustifiable. 

This is a new workplace, a new world. It is not one-size-fits-all and it never will be. The new work-order is probably going to be more vanilla-flavored, more politically correct, and infinitely more boring in a nice kinda way. I suppose it's the right thing for most regular offices...especially one like mine...and all the other little offices and work places out there.  Play nice, keep your boner in your pants, and don't lunge at anyone in the break room. 

Chaim Soutine - 1926
Beef carcas
I just hope to G-d this new nice does not extend into those places where creative people create. I don't want Disneyland plastic everywhere I go. I want great drama in film and on stage, and I want all manner of comedy, whether I think it's funny or not. I want to read stories with points, with laughs, with satire, with historical history, not just charming, white-washed little romances where the rogue boy turns out to be a prince and they all live happily ever after.  

I want color, passion, and power in the art I witness.

I want variety and piquant flavors in my life. I want spice. 

I want to experience art, not just look at reproductions of someone else's idea of art. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Want a really good spicy soda?
Go find yourself some Vernor's Ginger Ale. 
That's spicy stuff.

1 comment:

  1. WP,

    Well written piece, and I agree on all counts. Have been listening to GK since 1990 and I think that Lake Wobegon Days is one of the best books ever written about the Midwest.

    My analogy is this. The first time I went to NYC was in the mid-70’s, and I found it to be, on the one hand, scary, dirty, noisy and dangerous. On the other hand it was most the most exciting, creative and energetic city that I had been in at that point in my life. Recent visits have only confirmed how antiseptic and corporate it has become. Is it positive for the residents, that crime has declined and the city has become cleaner? Absolutely. Has it lost the edge that inspired writers, poets and musicians? I believe that is has.

    Artistic endeavor can be messy and non-linear, and I fear that this Orwellian insistence on conformity in thought, word and deed is taking us on the slipperiest of slopes.