Tag Archive: we are all 12


The elephant is that a lot of newsrooms are full of, or run by, anti-intellectual bullies who think they’re the smartest people on the planet. People who don’t know what they don’t know don’t respect the intelligence of their sources or their audience, and stuff like this happens:

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Oy gevalt. Via Twitter user @ablaze.

Of course, I don’t actually believe traditional media deserves everything it’s getting. This isn’t just the newsroom nerd rubbing her hands together at the fate everyone who ever said, “Those protesters have no idea what they’re talking about” (which always meant “I have no idea what those protesters are talking about, and I’m not going to bother to look into it”) or attached a deceptive, moronic headline to a complicated story. Downsizing — which had been going on, steadily, in newsrooms for decades before Craigslist purportedly ruined everything — doesn’t create a culture where journalists have the time and the support to get really good at their jobs. I’m not sure what will, though there are some awesome organizations out there doing really cool projects and earnest efforts to change media business models so they work — spaces that deserve more attention than they are getting. (Yes, you may have noticed that I am here bitching about a dumb headline, and not posting about cool, in-depth reporting projects. Hello everybody! My name is Christen, and I am part of the problem.)

I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot this past week, because of the Supreme Court decision regarding the Affordable Care Act. (Speaking of, here is the obligatory: SERIOUSLY, CNN. AND FOX.) I write about various implications of the ACA all the time, but I realized — looking around at Facebook and Twitter — that I have no idea what people don’t know about health care reform in this country.

I’m not talking about aggressively uninformed folks who showed up to Town Halls with misspelled signs, or people who operate with their own facts, or at least pretend to. I’m pretty well resigned to never being able to reach certain people; for instance, 2012 me just gives rude teenagers the Mom look and goes back to reading, rather than fret about a missed teachable moment. I’m talking about people I know who are fairly intelligent, well-informed and reasonable (regardless of political affiliation), who didn’t know about subsidies for low-income folks, or about the end of discrimination for pre-existing conditions. I write for a nichier, wonkier audience than most of my friends belong to; still, the non-nichey, non-wonky, but still educable people out there have got the short shrift of a fractured, superficial media landscape and a wonkier one they aren’t trying to find (sometimes also using cynicism as a justification for ignorance) and that isn’t really trying to find them.

Every year on the Fourth I re-read the Declaration of Independence — aloud, if I have an audience. To me, it’s a sobering reminder that democracy isn’t inevitable, isn’t static and wasn’t ever perfect. It’s something we have to keep doing and getting better at.

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In college I wrote a paper that talked about The Rocky Horror Picture Show live-screen acting phenomenon as part of a larger discussion about what makes a movie a “cult movie.” This was partly because while I’d wanted to write about exploitation movies, it turned out to be way harder to locate research materials on that topic in time for my deadline than to find academic writing about Rocky Horror, of which there is an actual fuckton at your local university library.

I got very smart about the topic: the way the movie aped all the different genres of midnight movies before becoming the midnight movie. I interviewed a guy who’d played Meat Loaf’s character in a live production in the south. And my brain is still full of annoying Rocky Horror trivia, like, “Did you know the Portland Rocky Horror is the longest continuously running Rocky Horror in the country?” (It’s actually a very close second, but we need our dubious distinctions.)

At 30, I was probably the world’s most precocious Rocky Horror virgin.

I’d seen bits and pieces of the movie on television, but I refused to watch the whole thing until I could see it live, because that, as far as I could tell, was how it was done. But I missed the boat. I grew up in an isolated community in southern Idaho, and Boise doesn’t have a consistent live RHPS performance (I think it might happen at Halloween sometimes). Then I went off to school in Corvallis, where I had a car, and no curfew, and lots of friends, and we talked about getting a posse together to go to Portland and see it, but didn’t ever do it.

And even though, for three years, I’ve lived a short walk away from the Clinton Street Theater, I’ve generally had other entertainment priorities, like getting in endless and pointless comment wars in various corners of the Internet, finally reading some Jane Austen so I don’t get kicked out of being a girl (or get my English degree revoked), and complaining about Burning Man people. So I went uninitiated despite ongoing vocal curiosity about the whole business, until this weekend, when my boyfriend decided it was time for me to lose my Rocky Horror virginity.

Once, when I was in college, I sat and tittered uncontrollably while one of my male housemates listed the funniest, most disgusting euphemisms for semen he could think of. These included “man mustard” and “baby batter.” I still find both those expressions hilarious for the total ick factor. My freshman year roommate used to fake loud orgasms in the background every time I talked on the phone to my parents (or my boss). I was annoyed by this, but not very, and returned the favor from time to time. The same roommate and I liked to get dressed up in the weirdest, tackiest outfits we could put together, and too much makeup, and go to the $2 movie theater to heckle the films loudly. The point being, there was a time when I would have thought dressing up in a shiny bikini and fishnets and yelling “Cum Dumpster!” and “Slut!” at a movie screen the height of Saturday-night fun.

But those days are over, and I don’t think I miss the person I was then very much. She’s been replaced by someone who probably isn’t any more likeable — someone who, if she goes seven hours without eating, alternates between nodding off and fantasizing about biting people in their faces then starts growling incoherently about burritos. The latter prompted my gentleman friend to whisk me across the street to Dot’s and put a burrito and a beer in front of me, and that is the story of how every teenager in Portland did not get murdered last Saturday night.

I generally support the notion that you’ve never too old for a happy childhood or a miserable, awkward, fumbling adolescence. That there are some adolescent shenanigans that never go out of style, like fooling around in a graveyard or in a booth at The Original Hotcake House at 3 a.m., or stealing a bunch of pears you don’t need and writing a book about it. (See, I didn’t just read academic studies of Rocky Horror in school.) My own 30th birthday was prom themed! But some things just don’t work in an adult context, like reading The Catcher in the Rye or pulling all-nighters or, apparently, Rocky Horror.

A couple of weeks ago Mike and I were having dinner on Hawthorne and he said Portland isn’t so much where young people go to retire as it is the place you go when you figure out that once you grow up, you can eat all the candy you want. There were, of course, as he said this, several dozen people in pirate costumes running what appeared to be a pirate marathon. He said, “I’m not quite done with that thought. But I’m almost done with it, and I’m ready to move on to another thought, but I don’t know what yet.”

Puberty takes so long to complete these days that I’d half hoped to see a bunch of grim, pathetic lifers Saturday. Instead, I’m pretty sure I’m technically old enough to have given birth to a couple members of the cast, and that’s Fine. It’s weirdly relieving. It’s nice that some things still just belong to the young, and that I’m not young, and that I missed out on some stuff, and I won’t be able to properly experience that stuff ever.

Anyway, I’ve also never seen Star Wars, so you should probably go ahead and freak out and trash me in the comments.

So I’ve been working up a post in my head about penis size and the public health ramifications thereof (stop laughing! It’s a serious issue! OK, you can laugh a little bit) but I’m feeling kind of lazy and decided instead to link this video instead. I posted it to my Facebook and Twitter feeds a while back, after Kim sent it to me. Like almost everything I think is awesome, everyone I know either loved it or was like, “ZzzZZZZzzz what? Christen, you are so weird.”

And as with everything I think is awesome, I’m tempted to stop speaking to everyone in the latter category, or rather be surprised that they continue to speak to me. IF YOU DO NOT LOVE VULGAR, SELF-DEPRECATING HYPERBOLE, YOU’RE A SICK SHITFACE AND I HOPE YOU EAT A BUNCH OF BAD INDIAN FOOD AND DIE IN A RIVER OF YOUR OWN SHIT! BECAUSE YOU NEVER UNDERSTOOD ME AND YOUR HAIR LOOKS DUMB. Also, please watch the whole thing because it only gets better.

(Note that I have been engaging in a lot of introspection and some discussion this week about my tendency toward vulgar, self-deprecating hyperbole, so that might be why I decided to revisit this clip today, but I don’t yet have any thoughts about that that I feel comfortable sharing here. Watch this space? Or just watch the video.)

First, the boring-ass back story:

So last week my friend Paul was out of town, and because as a freelance type I have time during the day, and because I like cats, I offered to feed his kitty while he was gone. Paul lives in Northeast Portland, I live in Southeast Portland, and as I am currently Without Bike, this meant daily bus trips to the Northeast side.

More, less-boring back story:

I am in my late 20s, and look it; I am unmistakeably white; and have lived in the very-white Pacific Northwest my entire life. My current home is Portland, which is on the one hand known for being rather self-congratulating for its liberalism and tolerance, and on the other considered one of the most racist cities west of the Mississippi.

I’m also (and now we get to the SEXY PART) fairly thin and not especially well-endowed in the chestal region; what I do possess is fairly self-supporting. Which is fine by me for a variety of reasons, one of which is that if it’s, say, a hot, sunny day, and I feel like wearing a halter top whose back is too low to properly accommodate a bra, I can eschew that layer of undergarment and go about my business.

Or not, as it turns out!

Because what happens last Friday is that I’m sitting across from the bus stop at Lloyd Center, waiting for my transfer for the bus that will take me to the Alberta district, where Paul lives. It’s about noon (sorry, Paul! I know I said I would come in the mornings, but my definition of “morning” is a little problematic sometimes! Even for me!) and the bus shelter for the stop is occupied by three teenaged black girls who are talking about normal teenage girl stuff, including the occasional detailed bitchy critique of so-and-so’s hair.

Whenever I hear teenagers talking this way, I’m slightly annoyed and saddened and also enormously grateful that I’m no longer a teenager myself. It’s not that I never find myself in a position to worry about what my friends think of my hair, or my clothes, or my love life or lack thereof, but that I can generally trust grown women and men to level with me (and allow me to do likewise) in a way that simply doesn’t happen in the world of adolescent girls.

If I’ve lost you on that last bit (it turns out that a lot of people have never been teenage girls!), allow me to demonstrate!

So I’m sitting across from these girls, reading a book, trying not to pay attention to their conversation, and I pause briefly to check my phone. At this point one of the girls says, “Excuse me?”

I look in her direction and confirm that it is, in fact, my attention she is trying to get.

“You know, Victoria’s Secret is having a sale on bras. Maybe you should get one.”

So, I deal with teenagers quite a bit at one of my volunteer jobs, and I find that when they get attitudinal, it’s sometimes entirely appropriate to respond with an equal amount of attitude, or with humor. I can’t really say now what motivated me, but it might be in that spirit that I say to her, “I’m in if you’re buying.”

She says, “Uh, no this isn’t for me, I mean….”

I say (and I am cringing as I write this), “Well, maybe you should put your money where your mouth is.”

She’s a little flustered at this point, part of which is her genuinely being caught off guard by the fact that I would call bullshit on her, and partly the feigned surprise and indignance that I remember very well from my own teenage years, with the defense that every single teenage girl who ever gave me “advice” about my appearance employed: “I’m just trying to be nice, is all.”

“No. You’re not,” I say. “You shouldn’t talk to adults that way. You shouldn’t – don’t talk to me at all.”

She continues muttering about how she was just trying to be nice and her friends giggle nervously. I glare at her for a second, return to my book, and then, finally, my bus arrives.

Here’s the thing: I am sure I could have done worse. I communicated that I knew she was in no way trying to be “nice,” that there is nothing nice about advising a perfect stranger about what to wear. And a little “respect your elders” never hurt any teenager ever.

Still. I’m ashamed.

I’m ashamed that I got visibly angry.

Because once that happened, I became a figure of amusement, which is exactly what this girl wanted.

And because when men on the bus or on the street say cruel or crass things to me I can defend myself without losing my temper.

And because I momentarily felt and acted like a teenage girl again.

And because I was flippant, and rude, and in the moment, so angry that I could have been ruder.

Years ago I was riding the number 6 bus up Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd in Portland, the neighborhood in Northeast where I lived at the time. It was a hot day and everyone on the bus was in a bad mood. When it came time to get off the bus, I – along with a couple of others who wanted the same stop – were having a hard time moving because a cluster of black teenage boys was standing near the front of the bus, making it hard for people to get through – and morever, there was plenty of seating.

One of the others trying to get off at this stop, a woman who lived about a block away from me and who I’d met a couple of times (I may note right here that she was sort of rude to me!), said to these young men as she pushed past them, “You guys should go to the back of the bus.”

Oh Jesus. Thing is she sort of had a point. They WERE being pretty rude! They should have moved or at least acted with a little more open consideration of their fellow passengers!

On the other hand, UM HELLO JESUS CHRIST. If you’re (micro level here) white and you live in a rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood historically occupied by black folks, and notice that everyone’s having a shitty day and the loitery-rudeness of some of the black folks on the bus is not making it easier on anyone, black or white…if (macro level!) you’re a white person living anywhere and being moderately inconvenienced by a person of color anywhere, uh, maybe, JUST MAYBE there’s a way to address that rudeness without instructing the offending party to do something black folks were forced by legislation – often enforced by entitled white ladies, by the by! – to do for generations! I mean, I’m just saying. That probably doesn’t improve anyone’s day. It might sort of undermine your whole “don’t act like a jerk” message!

And, I mean, “mind your elders” is one thing, but how many steps away is it from “Mind the white lady!” or “Don’t you get uppity with me”?

In my teenage years, when I told mean kids they’d never amount to anything. I knew pretty well that, for a lot of reasons, I was far more likely to succeed in ways they wouldn’t: I’d get out of town, get an education, and do work that involved my brain and not my hands (which, now that I’ve got carpal tunnels and a major upper back injury, seems a foolhardy life decision, but these things are very important when you’re 14 and live in a farm town). And most of them wouldn’t do any of those things, and the most hostile of my peers came from backgrounds that suggested this outcome was particularly unlikely.

Maybe they hated me because of that alone; maybe they hated me because I was so certain I’d escape town and come into my own that I flaunted my don’t-give-a-fuck-ness, by doing things like, say, shave my head. It’s not that I didn’t care about fitting in; I just knew that the rewards of fitting in would be temporary at best. Why bother, when I’d go to college and make Real Friends? I mean, that wasn’t the only reason I wasn’t good at winning friends and influencing people when I was a kid, but.

Is that maybe the reason that impoverished communities – be they rural or urban, white, black or Latino – are so often rigidly conformist and so punishing of those who rebel?

It turns out to be a great privilege not to give a fuck what others think of any aspect of your presentation: including the question of whether your nipples are visibly erect.

So I boarded my bus last Friday thinking I’d failed utterly as a feminist, because I felt surely there must be some Teachable Moment there. The same way that when a man makes a crude remark on the street, you can occasionally get through, say, “How would you feel if someone said that to your sister?”

That even in the few minutes one has before boarding a bus, one might be able to impart…something.

And then I started thinking I should write about this, because for a silly, catty interaction at a bus stop, maybe I, The Writer, Christen McCurdy, might have something to say that might be useful to other people.

Because maybe this sort of thing isn’t that uncommon. Especially if you’re something other than a white, thinnish, cisgendered woman with a pretty feminine (perhaps TOO FEMININE! I mean APPARENTLY!) presentation.

Trans chicks and fat chicks and butch chicks probably all have a lot more to say about this than I do, as a matter of fact, I thought! And some of them already DO, on the INTERNET.

My friend Garann wrote this thing years ago that she’s probably forgotten about and might rather I not link you to, but this one line has remained in my head and on my tongue for years: “It’s amazing that those poor thin prom queens managed to wield two whips – one to flog themselves, one to punish the heathens.”

And that’s it; that’s why getting angry why the wrong thing to do. That’s why telling this girl not to talk to adults that way was totally fucking missing the point.

Because my telling her she doesn’t have the “right” to tell me what I should and should not wear, or that I have the “right” to wear whatever I choose, misses the point that this whole thing women and girls do to regulate each others’ appearance…it’s this ugly thing that doesn’t end until you say, Finito. I’m not going to look at myself this way. I’m not going to look at other people this way.

But that’s not the point either.

Because why even talk to a stranger that way? Why be hostile or fake-concerned about somebody else’s outfit?

Because to be a teenage girl is to constantly being monitored in terms of your own relative sluttery or prudery. It’s to be branded a slut or a prude (for there is no in between) for reasons that have little to do with what you are or are not doing in bed. It’s not just having sex that counts against you. Nor is it just being female.

Being young counts against you, gets you branded a slut in the eyes of perfect strangers. Being poor counts against you.

And oh yeah. There’s this other thing that counts against you, hard, in the slut-shaming game: Being black.

Be young, black and female in the wrong place, and you’re a slut in the eyes of everyone who looks at you – no matter your actual behavior. And the one and only thing you can do to control this impression is to consider, carefully, what you wear.

Need I point out that this young woman was wearing jeans, a modest but flattering T-shirt, and Converse? Need I consider what might have been said to her had she visited certain neighborhoods wearing what I was wearing, with the same lack of supportive undergarments?

And imagine you are that girl, and you know that, maybe not on a conscious level, maybe race doesn’t enter into it; you just know what you’d hear if you went out looking like that, and you decide to tell her.

Because when you’re trapped, because of the body and the circumstances you were born in, into playing a losing game, the sight of someone who refuses to play that game is either enraging or inspiring. And if the rules are different, if she’s less bound by the game anyway, simply because of the body and the circumstances she was born into, perhaps (perhaps) you’re more likely to be enraged.

I mean, maybe the question isn’t, Who is she to tell me not(THANKS FOR THE EDIT DOLAN) to play the game? Maybe it’s, Who am I to refuse to play it?

One of the worst things, maybe the worst thing, for me, about losing somebody you love is that all the inside jokes die with them. Not just inside jokes, but ongoing arguments and half-finished conversations.

Even the idea of an afterlife, or our fantasies of ghosts, don’t satisfy this problem for me, and not just because I don’t (think I) believe in either one. All our projections of ghosts and angels, they stay the same forever, and with a few exceptions, the conversations they’re always having with their living loved ones are so big and so profound. The idea that my mother may still love me and still be watching over me is some comfort, of course, but this does not satisfy my desire to call her up and tell her that I just figured out it’s the baby from Growing Pains who’s ranting about the Holocause in The Pity Card. (Shut up! This is an actress we saw in some other movie one time and went half-insane in the PRE-INTERNET ERA going through movie reference books trying to figure out who she was!) (As for “The Pity Card,” that I never really got to share Zach Galifianakis’ genius with my mother is one of my greater regrets in life. Does that make me a bad person? Should I just imagine that when I saw The Hangover last fall, she was looking down on me and laughing so hard she wet herself, except GUARDIAN ANGELS DON’T PEE THEIR PANTS?)

It’s probably this sort of useless pop culture ephemera that is the very most likely to get lodged in my brain, the very category of half-finished conversation that is likely to drive me nuts for years and years. Because I’m nuts and maybe a tad shallow, of course, but maybe also because first off, these sorts of conversations are much more concrete than others. Also, these sorts of arguments are the sort that are just so easily settled now that I live in the AGE OF THE INTERNET and can just whip out the iPhone.

Here is where I share with you that years ago, I was Internet-and-phone-best-friends (OK, and briefly, boyfriend-and-girlfriend) with a dude who was a few years older than me and lived in Florida, and the only reason the latter fact is important is it means he had MTV and I didn’t. Yes! Now, we had cable when I was growing up. We always had cable. But until we got a satellite dish when I was 16 or so, there was just our local cable provider, which did not carry MTV. As a 12-year-old I was so incensed about this that I seriously considered circulating a petition among my peers to change this, except that that probably would not have gotten anywhere, because teenagers living in conservative small towns are basically NOTHING LIKE THE MOVIE FOOTLOOSE. By the time I was 16 I was really opposed to MTV for reasons having to do with my having discovered “REAL independent music” and “principles” in the intervening years, so I never watched it. Except of course for “Daria.” I also didn’t even mind that everyone at school CALLED me “Daria” for some reason.

But back to me at 12, having a cool older guy friend who was clearly cool because he had MTV! And watched it! There were certain videos he talked about a lot. One of them was the video for Gun & Roses’ “November Rain.” He found it sort of mysterious and fascinating.

For a couple of years, whenever VH1 would do a History of Rock Video A to Z, I would try to make a point to watch the “N” videos to see if I could catch this apparently fascinating, but also possibly very horrible and mysoginistic, video. I never did, and in the back of my mind, I ALWAYS WONDERED. In the meantime, my friend went to college, took a couple of women’s studies classes and, like all of us, got sort of a sense of humor about the things he’d liked when he was younger. But then he up and died on me.

And it was only a couple of months ago that it occurred to me I could look up this video on the YouTube. Oh Roger, if you’re out there somewhere, I really hope you can see me laughing at how fucking deliciously tacky Slash looks during the wedding scene, and what a dork your 16-your-old self must have been to find this video so damned intriguing and cool.