James Foley’s critics are the real cowards

James Foley. Image via marquette.edu

James Foley. Image via marquette.edu

And when I talk about his critics, I don’t just mean Charles C. Johnson (although, seriously, screw that guy).

Since news of Foley’s beheading by ISIS first broke, I’ve seen enough depressing Facebook “debate” that basically argues that gee, isn’t it sad that this journalist was slaughtered – but couldn’t he have been a little bit more “Braveheart” about the whole thing?

Where was the resounding cry of “FREEEDUUUUUM”? And how DARE he read an anti-American text before he was slashed to death?

OK, so, here’s the deal, you miserable idiots:

Heroism is going into a war zone to cover the kind of stuff that would make *most* people piss their pants before scampering off to cover the designer cupcake beat for Better Homes and Gardens for the rest of their lives.

Heroism is NOT telling everyone about how YOU personally would morph into Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and deliver a gorgeously backlit “Men of the West” speech while facing certain doom at the hands of an extremist maniac.

Death in conflict zones is often messy, horrific, banal and humiliating.

Death in conflict zones is NOT like the movies you watch on Netflix in the relative comfort of your safe home while jacking off to visions of yourself as a fearless commando and handsome battlemage.

Also, there are other captives there besides Foley. Who knows what would have happened to them had Foley tried to spoil ISIS’ gruesome PR stunt.

Also, you people know nothing. You don’t know what it’s like to deal with constant violence. You sure as hell don’t know what it’s like to be a hostage. Only the people who have gone through that know. Patronizing such people with your own bullshit version of what it means to be a “hero” exposes both your ignorance and childish desire to appear tougher than you are. And in the case of Foley, you’re playing a game of big dick willy with a dead person. Congratulations!

Isn’t it bad enough that Foley’s family has lost their son? Isn’t it bad enough that Foley is now being used both in nihilist jihadist PR, as well as death porn-style “journalism” popularized by the NY Post? Isn’t it bad enough that someone who was this brave, and this talented – and I really must stress the BRAVE part for all of you who have never known war and lawlessness and horror – is lost?

I’m not even going to get into the assertion that Foley basically deserved his fate because he wasn’t into guns and Mitt Romney. Whoever wrote that can go to hell.

Please read Max Fisher’s tribute to James Foley instead.

Oh my God, Becky – look at Pornhub’s statistics on Russia and anal sex videos

Someone who reads this blog has suggested that I write an overwrought essay about the latest Pornhub study, which has found that anal sex porn is “more popular in Russia than any other country.”

Naturally, I am very offended by the suggestion that my writing is overwrought, and I am stomping my foot as I let the eye-watering Moscow sunset bathe my form in amber-esque light, or whatever.

I also looked at the study and realized that there is quite a bit that needs to be said about anal sex and Russia, especially in light of recent events.

Some disclaimers:

By itself, the Pornhub study doesn’t provide concrete facts about Russia itself – no matter how many punchlines we can get out of citing it.

I really wish the Pornhub study came with dates attached. Are they tracking user data for the whole history of the site?

Finally, the plural of anecdote is not data, and so this isn’t going to be one of those posts where I use a porn site’s statistics to talk about Russian men and what they’re like in bed.

Moving on:

References to anal sex occupy an interesting niche in Russian culture. Because plenty of noise has already been made about Russia’s seeming anal sex obsession in light of its controversial law against homosexual propaganda to minors/general issues of homophobia, it’s worth pointing out some context.

For example, as political expert Pavel Svyatenkov brilliantly argued last year, a lot of Russia’s issues surrounding gay rights actually stem from the fact that anal sex is associated with humiliation in Gulag culture.

As Svyatenkov wrote:

“The philosophy of Soviet-developed homosexuality penetrated [translator note: pun not mine] even those social classes which, by definition, should not have harbored it. What does a manager mean when he says that his ‘bosses fucked [him] in the ass?’ He obviously means that he received a ‘severe reprimand from management.’ To put it in other words, the relationship between the powerful and the subordinate is interpreted via a homosexual sex act.”

Svyatenkov is specifically talking about attitudes surrounding homosexuality, of course. And his comments make even more sense in light of the Pornhub study. A taboo wouldn’t be a taboo if it didn’t have cultural roots/causes.

The Pornhub study, meanwhile, suggests that more people in general search for straight anal sex – though not by that much.

Prominent Russian sexologist Yevgeny Kulgavchyuk recently gave an interview to The Village, where he talked about how, in his view, very few women actually enjoy anal sex.

Quote:

 “I’m tired already of saving poor women from [anal sex]. Men who have watched too much porn are trying to conquer all of their women via the backyard. If the gentleman’s size is small, a woman’s erogenous zones are positioned a certain way, then some couples do get pleasure out of it. But for the majority of women, anal sex only creates painful sensations and anal fissures. And we’ve already talked about how sexual relations shouldn’t harm our health.”

Now, if you’re reading this in the West and you’re pretty liberal, there is a good chance that you are kind of surprised right now.

Obviously, our medical establishment does talk about the risks of anal – but then again, our prominent sexologists often focus on the fact that it doesn’t HAVE to be all that risky (or, for that matter, painful).

In general, I’ve found that Western sex columnists/therapists/whatever take the following view:

People should do what they want to do as long as they are being responsible and respectful of each other.

And that’s different from Russian sexologist Kulgavchyuk’s approach: He doesn’t trust his clients to figure out, and uses his position of authority to “save” a woman from unwanted anal sex.

And it’s not as if Kulgavchyuk is ZOMG in the wrong. He’s operating within a different matrix, where a) doctors are vested with more authority than their Western counterparts (look at the history of Soviet medicine to understand why) and b) women in heterosexual relationships are traditionally understood to be more vulnerable parties.

(For example, when I was pregnant, my doctor went out of her way to offer to sit down for a “chat” with my husband and explain to him that he shouldn’t be too demanding as far as sex goes. I hadn’t at all indicated to her that his attention was unwanted. But within the context of relationships in Russia, where people are much more frank about power differentials and abuse is sometimes understood as practically a given, it made perfect sense for my doctor to offer to “save” me.)

**So does all of that have to do with that Pornhub study?**

Well, we can infer that in this environment, one where mutual exploration/communication isn’t necessarily understood as the default, anal sex is considered way more of a taboo. If both men and women are being denied a middle ground where anal sex is something they can work on and even enjoy – even as they live in a culture that is relatively permissive and where porn is readily accessible – it becomes that much more of a forbidden fruit.

I also want to bring your attention back to Gulag culture. It would be a mistake to assume that it hasn’t found its way into heterosexual relationships as well. If anal sex is understood as the ultimate expression of dominance over a passive “victim,” as Gulag culture dictates, it’s going to be a phenomenon that will continue to generate both anxiety and fascination (it is my contention that Gulag culture hasn’t been done away with – it’s been sublimated). And why shouldn’t people search for that which fascinates them online?

Kulgavchyuk thinks that his patients want to screw their wives “in the backdoor” because they’ve watched too much porn. He might be right, but it’s a chicken-or-the-egg type question, actually.

Russia still lacks comprehensive sex education. In this environment, porn isn’t used merely for pleasure and entertainment – it’s also a way to satisfy curiosity and try to make up your own mind about certain kinds of practies.

you will get pregnant and die

You’re waiting for me to mention politics, and I will. Well, kind of.

Back in the spring, Mark Galeotti criticized Washington’s “aggressively cerebral” approach to the Kremlin.

I’m not nearly as thoughtful as Mark, so in the unlikely event that Obama asked me for my opinion, I would say something like:

“LOOK. RUSSIANS KNOW THAT POWER IS POWER. THEY HAVE FIGURED OUT A TERRITORY WITHIN WHICH THEY CAN BEND YOU GUYS OVER. THEY ARE BENDING YOU GUYS OVER. JUST PLEASE UNDERSTAND THIS CRUCIAL FACT. THIS IS HOW THEY THINK. THIS IS HOW THEY THINK!”

Once again, I refer to Pavel Svyatenkov’s assertion that power and subordination in Russia are often illustrated via the metaphor of anal sex.

Also, it is useful to remember that power occupies a different place in Russia than it does, say, in the States. In the U.S. we have a set-up that roughly translates to:

State –> Social/Political Institutions –> Individual

In Russia, it’s more like:

State –> Individual

There is no buffer.

And that lack of a buffer is expressed in Russia’s street culture (or kitchen culture, or, generally speaking, the private sphere), as the state bending you over and giving it to you.

I’ve said this is before and I’ll say it again: the best pop culture metaphor for Russian domestic policy is probably “Blurred Lines.”

“Well, that’s gloomy,” you’re probably saying. It can be. Russians are also quite funny about it.

And in that context, the Russian fascination with anal sex, as exposed by Pornhub, is also pretty damn funny.

Finally, and it really sucks that I have to point this out, but I will: desire is also just desire.

Maybe nothing that I’ve said here has ANY real, statistical bearing on Pornhub’s Russian fans.

It’s all just conjecture.

I haven’t heard of a single comprehensive study on the subject in Russia (Levada Center, I’m looking at you).

All I did was take some statistics and try to paint a picture that will fit them.

I am working backwards here.

;)

Chyorny Dnepr: Mermaid Song

God, I must be getting older,
A sickly pigeon on my shoulder
Weeps diuretics from one round eye.
God, I must be getting weaker,
The teeth in my head are getting softer,
The teeth in my head crumble to chalk.
I pull them out of my mouth,
And draw your picture on the sidewalk:
With a bigger dick than I remember,
With kinder eyes than I remember,
If history’s to be forgotten,
No point in sticking to the facts.
God, my nails are like quartz,
Gnawing deep into my weeping skin.
God, my thoughts are like black water,
Licking at a thinning dam.
In a billion years this gut and bones,
The fragile pelvis you briefly made your home,
Will be fuel in a lantern
Lighting the way of a stranger’s progress
On a black shore under rearranged stars,
And that is the only immortality you and I may have.

This one’s from a new play of mine. Possibly the last play ever (but I always say that, don’t I? I am always having horrendous break-ups with the theater, only to come back again). A drunk mermaid stumbles out of the water and sings this on the beach of the Dnepr River in Ukraine. The play is set a few months before Euromaidan —> Yanukovych’s toppling —> Annexation of Crimea —-> Civil war in the East.

A half-hearted Apocalypse of sorts

In the place I used to be from, they have an old legend about a band of warriors – horses, sabers, embarrassingly well-fitted leather chaps, etc. The legend goes that the warriors were brave and noble and fought on the right side of history. Most retired in peace and died nonviolent deaths.

Except for the one warrior that kept on living, that is. He kept on living and living. Last anyone’s heard of him, he was 700 years old and counting.

Impossible, you say. Imagine the paper trail someone like that would generate over time, you say. A warrior wouldn’t be a warrior if he listened to the objections of people on the internet, though. And anyway, there was a lot for him to do. War never goes out of style.

The legend goes that a few hundred years into his deathless existence, the warrior – let’s say his name was Nik, it’s a good name – was riding along through some dusty little town where chickens roam the main square. It was hot and he was thirsty, and he found a tavern and bought some beer. Some things in existence you don’t get sick of, not even after centuries.

A beer wench brought Nik his beverage, and leaned down conspicuously, as beer wenches are supposed to do, but before he got a good look at her tits, he noticed her eyes. And her tits stopped mattering then, and Nik felt uncomfortable. And the beer wench felt uncomfortable. And the joy drained out of the day.  Continue reading

Jack of hearts

Men have always said, “Don’t you dare write about me.”

Max never said anything of the sort, because writing didn’t exist for him, not really. It was real the way Australia might be real to someone in Europe. You’d see people from Australia posting on Twitter when the night was too hot for sleep and that would be as far as you were willing to cross into that particular reality. Not that Max had a Twitter.

One time, a drunk cab driver hit Max with his car outside a highway gas station somewhere in darkest East Ukraine. Max, who was drunk himself, got up from the asphalt, dragged the cab driver out of the cab by his hair and started punching him. Max’s friends told me this story, so I know he didn’t make it up (I hadn’t known him to make shit up, but at that point, I had worked as a journalist for too long to believe people outright most of the time). They said his then-wife had been literally hanging off of his arm, trying to make him let the cab driver go. He had several broken ribs and fingers at the time. What was impressive, they said, was how his anger was bigger than his pain. I think about that anger often, as I watch the news from East Ukraine.

“Goddamn it, Natalia,” you just said. “This trick of telling us about Ukraine via the prism of Dudes You Used To Date is getting old. If that’s what you’re doing again…”

That is exactly what I’m doing again. And it’s also not what I’m doing at all. That is not what I meant at all. That is not it. Etc.

Max, whose name isn’t really Max, didn’t date me. Instead, he came to see me at odd times. One time, he came to pick me up from the airport, after I’d flown in from Dubai. I was expecting my parents, but there was Max instead, grim like the weather, a bomber jacket on him I have never forgotten, because of the way the collar felt against my fingers.

“What are you doing here?” I said.

“I’m taking you home.”

I wanted to say something dramatic about how I have no home, but I was too tired from the flight. The familiar road from Borispyl Airport to Kiev was curiously empty, and it made me briefly wonder if the world had ended.

Timing is everything. It’s what John Donne knew, and Keats, and Dire Straits, and the man who once served Max and I beer in a roadside cafe, then turned around and said that it’s technically too early for beer anyway, but that we look like adults willing to take responsibility for our bad decisions. How we laughed. How small my hand felt in his hand, then – and my hands aren’t exactly small. How absolutely feral, his presence. Hungover, I rested my head against the complicated topography of muscle underneath his shirt.

Every once in a while, you need a man to be your wolf, carrying you on his back through the night.

When you don’t have that – well, you stagger on through the night on your own accord, and you skin will cry tiny seams of blood from the brambles, and you will probably get old prematurely, and none of that will be a tragedy, in the end. Or, rather, it will be a tragedy that’s muted in a very English way, on in an Anna Akhamtova way, when she struggles to get the glove onto the wrong hand, because she is distracted.

You might expect me to write that I took Max for granted, that I took youth and freedom for granted, but honestly, I don’t think I did.

And when he carried me on his back through the dark after we left some bar, I shuddered with every step he took, and staring sideways at the moon, I felt as though I might go cross-eyed, and I asked the pale face of the moon to not punish me for my happiness, and when we walked together we would stop and light candles in every open church we came across, and when I felt my hair streaming down my back as he undid my topknot the sensation thickened my blood into amber, and my breaths were very, very slow and light, and I felt afraid of disturbing the way the atoms in the room had arranged themselves. And when I asked him, much later, if he had been happy, he raised an eyebrow at me and told me not to ask extremely dumb fucking questions. It was just that the time allotted to us was short.

In Moscow last month, there was a heat wave before the cold spell. The air kept getting hotter with the dawn, humming with invisible energy, stifling the breath and blooming wild roses on the children’s cheeks, growing more and more unbearable with the minute, until the entire damn pressure cooker erupted in thunderstorms around lunchtime, making me pause in the street, palms up in exhausted gratitude. It felt as though if I stood there long enough, the rain would wash my thoughts away.

I have been concerning myself with work, with a new play, with my son’s immediate needs, with chilling the champagne. I have never felt more stupid or more uncertain about anything.

I just wanted to write that “I have never been more afraid,” but that’s not exactly true.  Continue reading