Calling all Theater companies and performers!

Open Call to Theater companies, performers, researchers:
I would like to hear other voices besides my own on this blog. If you'd like to write about your TLP experiences here, e-mail them to me and I'll put them up.
Topics can include dramaturgy to staging to personal responses to the play. Anything goes!

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Picture of Innocence

Right next to the amphitheater where the preachers had their four hour preach-a-thon and I protested them last week is a large pedestrian walkway running between the library and the Humanities building.  This morning as I strolled down the sidewalk I ran into a kindergarten class of about a dozen five year-olds and their teachers doodling all over the sidewalk. After three weeks of adults screaming at each other in the quad just a stone's throw away, the kids and their play seemed to dispel the gloom from the place.  I stopped to get a few shots of their artwork, which I just wanted to share with you. 

Anyhow, here's a picture of our visitors making the campus a better place to live.  The kindergartners left a huge mess of sidewalk chalk drawings on the pedestrian walkway for us to admire, and they never failed to get a smile from the college students as they hurried to their final classes down the street.
Childhood artist

But even more importantly, they brought a good example.   In the middle of those kids being being perfectly normal children, hoarding chalk, complaining to their teachers, and covering themselves in smudges, there were these two sharing their chalk with a smile.  I loved how this photo turned out with a little Photoshop magic:


Humanity looks a whole lot better with a child's touch, no?  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Make your Own WBC Protest Sign... um, really?

Obviously, I've been thinking about protests lately, first from the side of the spectator, and now from the side of the protester.  As I was cruising about on Flickr, I ran into this beauty.

If you're wanting to push the boundaries of taste, a few extremely imaginative counter-protesters have created a website where you can create your own WBC counter-protest.

It works a lot like the lol-style caption sites-- just type in a phrase and create your own protest sign in a variety of Phelps-approved color schemes.

As I look at this, I am both appalled and yet somehow thrilled.  The Flickr photostream for the image above has other pictures of this same fellow protesting the WBC with some rather funny signs. My favorite?  His friend is holding a sign that says "Mikey hates everything."  Enjoy (if you can!)


Picture by Sir EDW, available through Creative Commons License: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Scatter Plots: Of Angst and Ethnography

In the beginning of The Laramie Project, one of the company members, Amanda Gronich, expresses a little bit of dismay at the task in front of them:"I've never done anything like this in my life.  How do you get people to talk to you?  What do you ask?" (10).   She's got a valid point.  I suppose that most people think it's a simple matter of just walking up to somebody and asking a few questions, but I'm getting  a better idea of how hard doing that can actually be.  The kind of information you get from an interview depends heavily upon the kind of relationship that the interviewer and interviewee have built between each other, and most subjects are reluctant to volunteer intimate details or make themselves vulnerable to a person whom they don't trust.  In a sense, they were working with the wrong model; they kept talking about themselves as acting like journalists, but some of them (Belber, at the very least) unconsciously start acting more like ethnographers.  Belber, for instance, is painfully aware of his relationship to the people he interviews.  That's part of what pleases me about Tectonic Theater: the kinds of conversations they managed to have with some of these people hints at the creation of a close and trusting relationship between themselves and their interviewees, and they managed to do that in just six visits. 

But how do you get people to talk to you?  I have a very good friend here at the university who is a graduate student in RWL.  Her main emphasis is composition and pedagogy with an ethnographic focus, and she's very interested in academically studying how students from her own cultural background learn how to negotiate in a college environment.  I watched her comb our campus and other colleges in the area trying to find undergraduates who wanted to be interviewed, but after months of fruitless effort, unanswered phone calls and IRB limitations, she had to scrap her original topic for something else.  Now she's drawing her study subjects from among friends and colleagues who fit within the same demographic. 

My friend "Colleen" has been heavily trained in the techniques, ethics and processes of ethnographic inquiry, and even she couldn't break in to the undergraduates' lives enough to convince them to speak to her.  She's even an "insider"; she comes from the same background as these students.  So she had to back up a little and work with people she could count on and who were already comfortable talking with her.  She needed to find people whom she could trust and could also trust her, and that took a prior relationship.

So, what does this have to do with The Laramie Project?  Quite a bit, actually.  "Colleen" discovered how hard it was to break into the lives of a community of people (in her case, college undergraduates) without prior connections; I anticipate that Tectonic had the same problems when they approached a hurting and traumatized community very much aware of how outsiders saw them. 

A little food for thought...

I just wanted to share another one of nothingprofound's aphorisms with you from his blog Out of Context that seems rather apt for the week I have just endured:

You either love what's broken or you don't love.

So true, man.  So freaking true... 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jackrabbit vs. the Street Preacher

Being a Day in the Life of a Conservative, Straight, Evangelical Fledgling LGBT Activist, 
Part 3

A NOTE TO LINKBACKS:  It has recently come to my attention that a blog for fundamentalist street preachers has linked to this post, for which I commend them (especially because no one yet has scribbled their anathemas in the Comment box).  However, if you want to understand why I have such serious reservations about this form of spreading the Gospel message, you really should read the post linked here, not just the one below. The choice is naturally yours, but I hope you find your experience here both convicting and spiritually edifying nonetheless...


Knoville UT Crazy Preacher
Well, better late than never, I guess...  Our "friends" (pictured at right,) the fundamentalist, cultish street preachers finally showed up on campus again this week, so my "Protest in a Box" riding around in the back of my car finally got used.  I was heading out for lunch from our library at about eleven thirty when I saw their big, ugly yellow sign cresting over the top of the amphitheater hill, and my heart sank all the way down to the toes of my clogs.  Damn, I thought, I'm actually going to have to do this after all.  I ran for a quick bite of food so I wouldn't pass out before four o'clock, threw the rest in the fridge at my job, and ran off to the far side of campus to cart 120 LOVE signs and paraphernalia back to the quad.  By the time I got back, the hate preachers were in full force, and I suddenly went from wet-my-pants terrified to extremely determined, which was totally a God thing.  I started by working the crowd with my big yellow signs, handing them out to anybody who wanted one, and then stood on the top of the amphitheater in the middle of the quad with a huge LOVE poster.  After about twenty minutes, I started getting in reinforcements from two equally wonderful and equally supportive groups: the LGBTA and the Christian ministry community.  They both offered me a lot of support, one of them offered me an iced mocha coffee (for which I am eternally grateful, dude!) and they all grabbed signs and stood in resistance to these guys' bad press for Jesus.  Man, I can't begin to explain how much I love both of these communities.  Now if I can just get them to talk to each other...

One thing I wanted to do as a part of my personal protest was to wear a yellow arm-band.  Since I'm a little bit chicken-livered in the face of conflict, I wanted a reminder to myself why I had to do this, so my reminder was my friend James (the one who committed suicide back in 2006, which I've talked about before.)  That was my personal kick in the butt to realize how important it was to speak back to these guys' hate, especially because they were singling out gays and lesbians for particular abuse.  A few people asked me about it during the afternoon, so I was able to share with them about James' story and why I felt speaking up against a legalistic concept of God was so important.  One of the girls I ran into was herself a depression survivor, and she had a beautiful story about being led out of despair through the kind of loving intervention that I wish James had found.  (And, if you've never heard of "To Write Love on Her Arms," you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to check them out.)   

Anyhow, I stood out in the Appalachian sun for two and a half hours holding my big sign, passing out LOVE signs to other people, and just chatting with others about what they were saying and what we felt about it.  The protest generated a lot of conversation-- and very positive, open conversation-- between people of all sorts of faiths, politics and cultural communities.  That's what I felt like was the biggest success of the whole thing.  By the end of the afternoon, I had handed out all but about twenty of the 100 signs I had printed, and I only got back three of the fifteen yellow board signs I had painted-- and those had passed through several sets of hands over the course of the afternoon. 

The preachers, of course, were rather pissed about the whole thing, but, the more I think about it, when a reasonable, loving Christian tried to dialogue with these guys, one the preachers told him he was the "Spawn of Satan," so who cares what they think?  One guy kept trying to interfere with us by stationing himself next to my sign-station with a pile of tracts, but I just moved it on him, and one of the campus ministers stood by to fend him off.  Then the banner guy (pictured above) started wandering the crowds next to my little LOVElies trying to get something stirred up.  He did one thing that really pissed me off though: when a girl in a very short plaid skirt bent over to talk to her friends, he pulled out a camera and basically up-skirted her.  He did all this while wearing a "no porn" button on his shirt.  I found this very interesting for a man who claimed that he had stopped sinning the moment he accepted Jesus...  grrrr.  This is exactly what God meant in Ezekiel when He says that he'll judge the religious by their own standards of righteousness, which will be more than enough send them straight to perdition. 
The strangest thing was that the first of the three preachers tried so hard to incorporate our signs into his sermon and preach on love.  But, having never spent any real time with the Bible studying the nature of God's love, he just absolutely hashed the whole thing up and didn't make any sense.  For him, God is some sort of ultimate taskmaster whom we can only please by good behavior; loving God for His goodness, and Him loving us out of His goodness, seems to never have occurred to him.  That may have been the most powerful message anybody got out of the whole protest-- that he didn't know what love was.
"YOUR love is just a glandular feeling," he shouted at us.  "It's not real love.  Your kind of love will send you to HELL!"  At that point, an co-ed on the quad pulled a wry face. 
"What does that mean, a 'glandular feeling'?" She asked me incredulously.  I couldn't help myself.
"I think that it's sort of a squishing sensation,"  I replied back, scrunching my fingers together to illustrate.  She roared with laughter.  Then I went around handing out a few more signs. 
So, what did I learn?  I discovered that there are a LOT of Christians on campus who want to speak up and give a more loving response to the world than what creeps like this are up to, but they're scared.  All they need is a little gumption and somebody to tell them it's okay to do it.   I think we get so freaked out about protecting our "witness" that we forget to witness.  I lost count of the number of Christians who came up to me to tell me how badly they had wanted to do this.  Oh, and those two ministers I was so unsure about on Monday?.... as it turns out, I was totally wrong about them.  They showed up and held signs.  And they didn't care a whit who was straight, who was gay, or who was atheist.  They came as Christians who wanted to support the campus community, and I was so proud of them.  I think I owe those two fellas a huge apology sometime. 

I also learned, for the upteenth time, how loving, supportive, and open the GLBT community can be in the face of oppression.  My favorite part of the protest was about thirty minutes in, when a much beloved professor of my acquaintance (and herself a member of the GLBT community) came bounding up the hill just to get a sign with this look of pure joy on her face.  She had seen me holding my sign from her office window.  She couldn't stay for the protest, but since her office was directly in sight of the protest area, she hung the sign out of her office window in support of all of us.  

Every time the preachers would yell something that made me wince, I'd look up to the fifth floor of the Humanities building, see that yellow LOVE sign glowing in the afternoon sunlight on her window, and I'd smile.  So, until next time:

"If I have a faith that can move mountains and have not love,
I am nothing." 
--the apostle Paul, 1 Cor. 13:2

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Same Planet, Different worlds

Being a Day in the Life of a Straight, Conservative Evangelical Fledgling LGBT Activist, 
Part 2

UT Knoxville Crazy Preacher
My oh my, what a week this has turned into.  I shared with you already about the crazy street preachers who showed up on our campus and started screaming at everybody last week.  Sometime Wednesday afternoon I was struck with an overwhelming conviction to protest these guys.  It was such a strong conviction that I felt it had to be wrong.  But, no, God was definitely nudging me to do something about it.  And the more I looked into these guys, how they work and what they preach, the more I felt I need to make a stand.  The question was, how does one Christian picket another?  Biblically, that gets very interesting-- and I don't think there's a good answer to that.  And, how much does the LGBT activist me and the Christian evangelical me get to coincide on a project like this?  That was an even harder acrobatics routine... 

I finally decided on copying a protest I'd seen pictures of in Athens, GA against the KKK-- signs that say only "Love" on the front, and a code of conduct on the back.  That's one of my signs right there.  I also decided that I had to do this as one Christian speaking back to another, so I made some larger signs with a few Bible verses on the back about love to make my stance on the whole thing clear.  My favorite, and the sign I was going to hold had 1 Corinthians 13:2 on it:  "If I have a faith that can move mountains and have not love, I am nothing." 

So, because I was still a little queasy about picketing what is, ultimately, still a Christian message even if it's not a Christian approach to the Gospels, I needed some advice.  I started with my husband, who eventually just shot me a baffled look and said, "Jackrabbit, I don't know.  The big problem I'm having is that this isn't something I would personally do because that's not how I operate."  Then I asked my minister friend.  He was on the fence, but cautiously optimistic.  I asked one of my pastors after church on Sunday.  He was extremely ambivalent, but for some reason he wouldn't tell me not to do it.

Finally, I asked a couple of ministers at a non-denom Christian ministry for a little insight into the Christian campus community and see if they were interested in helping me out.  They were overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Oh, thank goodness, I thought.  Finally somebody understands.  But, to make my motives clear, I felt like I had to tell them why I felt led to do this.  So I told them I was a member of our LGBTA as a straight supporter, too.  That got them a little flummoxed.  On the one hand, they thought it was just awesome that I was both a Christian and a part of that counter-culture because they hadn't figured out how to do that yet.  On the other hand, they thought I needed help. Help for what?   "Jesus always sent out disciples in twos," they kept saying.  Um, we'll see what happens with that. 

But in any case, I talked to a larger campus ministry meeting (where I didn't come out as a LGBT member, which was a serious mistake) and told them what I was up to.  They seemed pretty enthusiastic.  But then I had to go to my LGBTA meeting thirty minutes later and give the same pitch.  Here's what happened...

I showed them a LOVE sign and explained what I wanted to do.  They were pretty enthusiastic about the idea of protesting the street preachers, and I was surprised at how willing they were to stand next to me with a big Bible verse on my sign.  But then the questions started:
"Can we make fun of them?" Someone asked. 
"Well, no.  It's a silent protest.  Besides, look at the front of the sign!" 
"Can we make faces, then?"
"Um, no.  Same reason."   
"Can we interrupt them with noise or anything?"
"Nope.  Silent protest."  One guy tried to get creative.
"Um, can I, like make a big sign with Bible verses about how the moon gives off its own light or the world is flat and stuff?"  It was hard not to snort with exasperation. 
"Can you get that to fit into the 'Love' theme?"  I asked patiently. 
"Wow, that's hard... I guess I could find a way to do that," he conceded.  Then another guy stopped to ask me one more question:
"Did you tell any campus ministries you're planning on doing this?"  Silence in the room. 
"Uh, yeah," I said, and I told them which one. 
"They're actually okay with you doing this against the preachers?" He asked incredulously. 
"They were pretty enthusiastic," I said.  The room almost erupted with excitement. 
"This is so great!  I'm going to bring my rainbow flag tomorrow, okay?"  one girl said excitedly.  I stopped in my tracks for a moment.  What will all those campus ministers think of a giant rainbow flag? I asked myself, panicked.
"Um...  I think that's okay," I told her.  That girl, "Martha," grinned excitedly and took off.  I emailed those campus ministers to get some advice and to warn them ahead of time if they walk up to see a huge rainbow flag in the middle of the protest.   

So, I get a call this morning from one of the two ministers I had talked to (Who I'll call "Torben"):
"Hey, Jackrabbit, I got your email last night and wanted to touch base with you," he said.
"Okay, so what do I do?" I asked him.  Silence for a moment.
"Well, my feeling is that they need to respect what you're standing for, right?  And bringing that flag isn't doing that, is it?"
"Why don't you think so?"  I asked. 
"Well, because that's changing the nature of the protest.  If they want to join in, fine, but they have to do it under your terms."  Is it really?  I thought to myself.  I thought that was sort of the point. 
"Look, I'm not going to tell my friends they have to step back into the closet if they stand alongside me," I countered.  "That'd undo all the good work I've done in there so far." 
"But if they stand alongside you, they need to stand for you as well, don't they?"   Torben asked.  "That's not asking too much, is it?"  I had to think a moment.  Yes, it is, I decided. 
"Torben...  That's what my LGBT friends tell me every week," I told him.    Silence on the other end.  
"What do you mean?" 
"That if I'm standing alongside them, then I have to stand for them." 
"I see."
"Welcome to a day in my life, Torben," I told him.  "I feel like a ballerina dancing en pointe on a straightedge razor." 
In any case, so far it hasn't even been an issue.  I woke up to a steady stream of rain soaking everything that still hasn't stopped-- and no sign of Crazy Preacher Man.  I think they got rained out and will be a no-show for today.  My meticulously painted signs are sitting in the back of my car, I feel tied to the quad looking to see if they're there, and I'm wondering:  what the heck was all this for?  With the money and time I spent on signs I could have done one of the following:
  • Fed a room full of homeless people a hand-cooked meal
  • Sent the money to a friend going on a medical mission to Sudan-- and driven to South Carolina to deliver it
  • Bought an awesome little wireless remote for my wicked new camera and taken pictures of sunsets all weekend
  • Donated it all to To Write Love on Her Arms and spent the weekend playing frisbee
  • Gone to see Alice In Wonderland in 3-D about six times 
  • Blown it all on a day-trip to Dollywood (I am in Appalachia, after all...)
Well, I guess that the answer is that this was an exercise in Christian obedience.  And acrobatics.  We'll see how long I can keep all these balls in the air-- Christianity, social justice, GLBT activism-- in the air before I fall off the high wire...

A bit of springtime fun for you

The old saying goes that every person has an incredible, useless talent.  My husband can solve a Rubik's cube in well under a minute.  I have a friend who can dislocate her own toe. Each talent is pretty weird and utterly useless. 

Me?  I apparently have an unbelievable talent for finding four-leaf clovers.  For some reason, I've managed to find fourteen fifteen over the last three weeks.  Anyhow, I decided I wanted to share the thrill with everyone else.  The last time I found some, I took a picture for everyone to share. 

Find your own four-leaf clover-- advanced

If you'd like to bring yourself a bit of luck, there are two four-leaf clovers in this picture.  One is much harder to pick out than the other because of the angle.

Good luck!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Scatter Plots

One of my students particularly enamored with The Laramie Project and endowed with a more mathematical imagination once described TLP as a "scatter plot" of Laramie, a broad and random cross-section of the entire community that gives a good idea of the total population.    That's one of the real beauties of TLP, honestly: we hear from ranchers, professors, police officers, Mormon home teachers, and college students, just to name a few. The way these voices all come together to show their different experiences of the exact same event creates an incredible picture of a "collected memory," to use James E. Young's term. All these voices are focused on the m emory of the same, life-changing moment; but very few of them share the same experience. 

And yet, when I think back to this student's comment, I'm a little conflicted.  I completely agree with the metaphor he picked-- the play is incredibly rich in its portrayals of the Laramie community.  The thing that bothers me a little is that I know that the scatter isn't entirely random.   It's a scatter plot, sure, but where did they take the points from?  If you understand a little bit about the background and connections between some of the key players in their drama, the plot looks a lot less random than perhaps Tectonic tries to make us believe.  That's the labyrinth I'd like to plunge us into over the next few weeks.  

But before I get started, please, please understand-- I don't intend to "out" anybody who doesn't want to be found (for instance, I'm not telling you who The Baptist Minister is).  After all, I'm coveting my own anonymity at the moment, so I insist on maintaining that for others.  I'm just going to give you the information that any regular person walking around the UW campus can find out-- no dirty laundry.  I'm not going to tell you the name of anybody who asked for anonymity, and I'm not going to give out anything that isn't revealed elsewhere or isn't common knowledge.   

Okay, so here's some information about a few interviewees that aren't volunteered by Tectonic in The Laramie Project:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tectonic in a Mirror

Okay, so I'm starting to have some doubt recently, and it's coming from my personal relationship to some of the analysis I've been doing on Tectonic and their techniques.  As you've probably already figured out, I think that at least part of the negative reaction following Matt's death is from the (unintended) offense Tectonic caused in Laramie by breezing in uninvited and proclaiming that the Emperor wasn't wearing any clothes.  I'm a little worried that I might be doing the same thing-- maybe not so much for the larger social good as the childish glee of getting to hit back.  In short, I really need to work out my own ambivalence about pulling a Tectonic on Tectonic.  Is it fair to pull back the curtains on them and show their faults like they did Laramie?  Am I really trying to be fair in how I see their work in The Laramie Project,  or is there some sense of 'Gotcha!' journalism going on with what I'm trying to do?  I don't believe in an "eye for an eye" system of justice or Christian theology, and I sure as heck don't want to wake up one morning and realize that's exactly what I've done here.  This isn't about "getting back" at Tectonic at all, and yet I also realize that the temptation to do so is there.  I've had a lot of negative experiences due to this play.   Stephen Belber and company did some serious soul-searching about their motives in the course of their project.  How clear are my motives, after all? 

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you'll understand that question.  Sometimes I've gotten fairly snippy with Tectonic's treatment of certain things, such as the robbery motive they effectively ignored in The Laramie Project in 2000 only to trot it out as a surprising development in Ten Years Later.  If you haven't been following this blog...  you'll understand why I'm asking this question after next week's post.

When I first plunged down this rabbit-hole and tumbled through its meandering passages, this was not one of the things I had anticipated finding out about myself.  I guess that the reason I'm blogging about this now is that I want my motives to be clear-- not because I think my motives are pure and might be misunderstood, but because I'm afraid they aren't.  I'm hoping that full disclosure will help keep me honest.  Since I've seen what happened when Laramie became a "Town in a  Mirror," I need to be sure not to visit that same kind of harsh scrutiny on others just because my own wounds still sting a little.  And, selfishly, I'm kind of hoping that you all out there can help me.


"Goodbye, Grand Tetons," from Jeffrey Beall's Flickr Photostream:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hey Mister Preacher Man

Knoville UT Crazy PreacherOkay, so you've all probably figured out by now that I'm no real fan of radical preachers. I've been a little gun-shy of them ever since Fred "bat-poo crazy" Phelps first showed up on the UW campus protesting the Russell Henderson trial, and my distaste of them has only increased in recent years as I've seen others like them start to spring up.  Ironically, just two weeks after I did a series on WBC protests and the counter-protesters who mock them on my blog, we had this show up on our campus: three guys walking right out of Protestant nineteenth century America to hold a scream-off with a bunch of postmodern college students.  Damn.  

These three fellas showed up last week on campus, too.  Their main preacher was a walking anachronism, dressed up like an antebellum carnival barker, down to the striped shirt, vest and flat-topped straw hat.  I kept waiting for the nightmare to end so he'd just go back to hocking boiled peanuts and cotton candy like a guy in his outfit was supposed to be doing.  Instead, he preached for hours, in unconnected ideas for the most part, about sexual sin, disobedience to God, and turning to Jesus for salvation-- and a lot about Hell.  There was not a whit about God's love or having a relationship with Jesus that exists beyond just our fear of hell to something deeper and more satisfying.  There was a lot about God as taskmaster, disciplinarian and judge without any hint of God as pursuing lover, bridegroom or loving father.  That's not even half of the message, folks.

Knoville UT Crazy Preacher
I was standing out in the heat this afternoon taking pictures of these two when I found myself surrounded by six lesbians and a bi-curious male of my acquaintance while they chatted about the preachers and their "sodomite" condemning sign.  It was weird, to be honest; they were all chill and accepting of their presence, just ignoring the message and poking fun of the messenger, and I was the one getting bent out of shape.  I told one of them, "for me it's like having that lunatic uncle who shows up to every family reunion, gets wasted, makes a total fool out of themselves and totally embarrasses you.  You know what I mean?"  She just laughed and told me I needed to relax.  What I really wanted to do was apologize to them each personally for the yahoos holding the yellow sign. 

But, seriously, Mister Preacher Man, what exactly is it you think you're accomplishing by trotting into an environment you know nothing about and spewing your condemnation upon it?   This is not Old Testament Mesopotamia and you sure as heck are no Ezekiel.   You know nothing of these people, their individual lives, their needs or fears.  And since you can't speak to their needs in love, all that leaves you with is condemnation because you can't love a stranger, but you can judge them. 
Knoville UT Crazy Preacher

Actually, you don't care about this campus.  If you love people enough to want to see them saved, like you kept claiming to the passersby, then why aren't you getting to know the names of some of these "sodomites" and "fornicators" and learn their stories?  Why won't you shut your traps long enough to actually listen to what they have to tell you?  Jesus, if you take a peek at the New Testament you have memorized, spent a lot less time preaching at the sinners than he did eating with them.  Actually, he preached against the religious primarily, not the sinners.  If you really want to get through to this campus, put down the damn yellow sign, buy lunch for a few "fornicators" and let them do the talking.  Learn their names, at least.  Talk about how you've let down God and how he's forgiven you-- not them.  They don't need a voice of condemnation; the Epistle to the Romans says they have the law written on their hearts already.  What they need is a common point of sympathy with you enough to find a reason to want the Lord in their lives.  

That sign above is the only thing I saw them accomplish all afternoon: they gave people a good reason to reject the gospel and assume that God doesn't exist.  And now they're going to eventually leave campus and leave the actual Christian community here to clean up their mess and try to undo the damage they've caused.  And that's just a freaking shame, man.

They're coming back in a week, and it sounds like a lot of people decided to plan ahead for a counter-protest.  So, I guess I'll see you next week with some pictures from the counter-protest and see how people react...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Research for TLP and Matt Shepard: Comm, Journalism and Soc. Sci.

Due to the nonfictional nature of The Laramie Project and its engagement with both the underlying historical event (Matt's murder) and the social issues surrounding it, I've come across a lot of scholarly work regarding the play, the movies and the historical event in other disciplines.  The media onslaught has naturally piqued some curiosity in the Communications discipline, but I was surprised at some of the others-- psychotherapy, for instance, and education.  I've compiled a list of the more interesting ones for you below. 

A couple of the trends are quite interesting.  Note, for instance, that five of the articles are psychoanalytic approaches to the play that attempt to understand the nature of forgiveness; one of the authors in that list is Stephen Wangh, one of the authors of The Laramie Project.  Two others are looking at the play as a tool to foster LGBTQ acceptance in a social setting, and one tracks the impact of such violence on communities.  The Pace article is pretty neat-- it tracks a small handful of Matthew Shepard Scholarship winners in their college careers. 

And, my favorite topic-- the unhinged media coverage of Shepard's murder and the aftermath-- also makes a showing here in the bibliography.  The complete list is just after the jump! 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Second Casualty is the Truth: Some Thoughts on the Murder Narrative

[Our Spanish door poses a very good question: what is truth, exactly?]
[You may decide for yourself, but the door requests that you check John 18.]

Like I've said before, I did not want to hear from Henderson and McKinney when I watched The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later.   There were a lot of reasons for that which left me conflicted after the performance.  But one upside to hearing them speak, I figured, was that perhaps we'd finally hear the truth come out.  At first, when I started to think over McKinney's revelations in the play, for a moment of two I thought that we had finally heard the truth.  But the more I reflected back on the different versions I've heard and read, I realized that I don't think that was the case.  I started to see more and more holes in the new stories until I couldn't trust their version of events.  And the more I thought about it, I didn't trust what they told us in the 20/20 interview-- and they told us then that they weren't telling the truth when they talked to the cops the first time, either.  The more I mentally sorted through all this narrative debris, I started to wonder: have they ever told the truth?  And if they did, how on earth would we ever know? 

There is an old saying that in war, the first casualty is the truth.  With the two plays of The Laramie Project, we can see a similar principle at work:  Matt Shepard was the first casualty of McKinney and Henderson's rage.  The truth behind his murder, it seems, was the second.  It may be time to finally realize that of the three people who know the truth of that night, one is dead, and the other two, after so many years of rehashing this story for different purposes, have apparently lost the ability to tell us.

At this point, I feel like I can no longer treat McKinney and Henderson as capable of telling me anything about what happened on that night.  If there was ever any truth there, it's lost.  All that leaves me with is to see their stories as just that--  narratives they tell us.  Each narrative is an attempt at a relationship between them and their audience, told for a specific purpose.  Certainly, each narrative contains elements of the truth, but we have so few tools to help us discern what the truth is that the forensic truth of what happened that night might just be gone forever.  All we can do is look at these different narrative strains and evaluate them for their purpose and effectiveness.  What are the advantages to telling each story, and how were these narratives applied?  What were the perpetrators responding to when they told each story? 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Vanity Fair: "The Crucifixion of Matthew Shepard"

In March 1999, Vanity Fair did an interesting and thorough coverage of the Matt Shepard murder that includes a lot of interesting information from central figures who didn't get a lot of press later-- Tina LaBrie, for instance, and Matt Mickelson, the bartender who served both Shepard and his killers on the night he was beaten.  But the real reason I started reading it was for the illustration you see at the left.  To be honest, the first time I saw this layout in the magazine, it literally stopped me in my tracks.

As far as I can tell from this point, Thernstrom's article is the most detailed of all the earliest coverage of Shepard's death in the first six months of the case.  The details it contains are interesting for a lot of reasons-- first because it was the general public's closest look at the case for a long time to come-- but also because you can see a lot of the mythmaking of the Shepard story starting to crystallize.  Thernstrom's article contains the early facets of what would become the Shepard "narrative" later on-- the comparison to the murder site and Golgotha, for instance.  And you can also see all the details that fall out of the storytelling later-- like the actual location of the fence, or LaBrie's involvement in that limo ride to Fort Collins.  

Vanity Fair itself does not have a link up to this article online (their online archive doesn't go back 10 years), but the magazine itself is pretty easy to locate for those of you who want to track it down in a public library.  For those of you who can't find the hard copy, there is a less-than-authoritative (and probably less than legal) version of the story floating about on the Interwebs.  Beware the typos.  In the long run, you're better off digging out the hard copy. 


Therstrom, Melanie.  "The Crucifixion of Matthew Shepard."  Vanity Fair Mar. 1999: 209-14, 267–275.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Best of Counter-Protesting on Flickr

Okay, so this is going to be my last post on Phelps counter-protesters, I swear. But if you found any of the social protests things I have mentioned over the last few days fun or interesting, I'd recommend this Flickr Gallery of images I put together which contains my favorite responses to the WBC in one spot. There's a little bit of everything rolled together in the gallery-- a lot of love, a little hate, reason and religion-- and what has to be the most adorable social protesters I have ever encountered. 

Peace, love and finger paint, y'all. It's a beautiful thing.

Richmond Protester against WBC, fundraising for "Pennies for Peace."  From theloushe's Flickr photostream: 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hooray! I are a poet!

Real Bloggers UnitedHey all,

In my free time when I'm not brooding on miserable, rotten things like hate and intolerance or getting all emo about personal identity, I occasionally write poetry.

If you'd like to see my meager talents in poetry in action, I have a poem posted on "Real Bloggers United" you can check out.  It's based on the healing of the blind man in Mark 8.

But, otherwise, I'd suggest checking out Real Bloggers United anyhow.  It's an interesting potpourri blog, run by real, honest-to-goodness personal bloggers and writers, not peddlers of junk.  And, it's just getting started!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Laughing at the Devil

I am personally offended by my own post.  So proceed at your own risk.  :-)

So, in my last written post I shared with you a rather hilarious trend in Fred Phelps counter-protesting: silliness.  Irresponsibly, horrendously fun silliness.   From what I can tell, many protesters have realized that 1) Fred Phelps makes no sense, and 2) they like to protest because they just want the attention, so the counter-protests are making fun of these same two traits.  But if we compare these kinds of civil protest to operation "Angel Action,"  many of the counter-protests don't seem to have coherent message anymore. Others take the opportunity to undercut the power behind the one-two punch of hate that Fred Phelps dishes out by distorting his message, satirizing it to the point of absurdity.  You know, like these fellas.  (No points for originality there, fellas, but you get a B+ for style and an  A+ for chutzpah.) 

Part of me, I have to admit, absolutely loves this trend because it's so subversive.  Part of the power of hate is the ability to control somebody else's emotions or actions by making them feel small, or even worse, making them hate back.  That's the wonderful thing about satire: it breaks the blade of hate and sharpens the handle instead.  If nobody takes Fred Phelps seriously, if he has no emotional impact, then he doesn't have any power to hurt people anymore.  He just becomes the desperate, masturbatory attention slut he really has been the whole time. (Sorry for the language.  Just sayin'.)

On the other hand, I look at these protesters' refusal to take Phelps seriously, and I think that they don't understand how dangerous of a game they're playing.   Just pretending that a rattlesnake doesn't have fangs isn't going to keep people from getting bit.  The problem with Fred Phelps' rhetoric is that it leads to things with very real consequences: gay-targeted violence, intolerance, racism.  You can't make those real-world problems of evil go away by holding up a "FRED PHELPS IS GAY" placard in a protest.  To borrow a cliche from The Usual Suspects, the biggest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing people he didn't exist-- and convincing people that he's merely a buffoon isn't too far off.  Likewise, the worst thing that could possibly happen to social justice in this country is to convince the world that rhetoric like Phelps's doesn't matter.  It'd be too easy to ignore him, let this hate fester, and then when it breaks forth in a real way, wonder where it had come from.

For a different example: are you offended by "Emo Hitler?" Good-- he offends me, too.  That's why I put him in this post.  In some ways, pulling out Hitler as an exemplar in any debate feels like "jumping the shark," but that picture crystallizes so many of the ethical dilemmas of satirizing Phelps: how is the picture at left any different than what those two guys are doing to Phelps above, I have to wonder?  In a weird way, I kind of think they are equally dangerous-- and the humor in the satire undercuts the seriousness of the threat they pose. 

There's no good way to talk about the following subject without offending at least somebody, so I'll just let "Emo Hitler" and his Flock of Seagulls haircut ask the question for me: when is it okay to laugh at the devil? Or, do we have a moral imperative not to laugh, but to combat evil seriously, and head-on? That's what I'd like to explore today. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter from Jackrabbit

My goodness you should see the weather we're having here in Appalachia-- warm, bright and beautiful, not a cloud in the sky. And, to make things even better for the celebration of Easter, all the blossoms are coming out right on cue, as if the trees and plants themselves were running on liturgical time. I can't think of a better way to celebrate From Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday than with an entire world in rebirth.

So for your viewing enjoyment, here are some Passiontide treasures for you, most of which were snapped by yours truly on Maundy Thursday. Have a blessed Easter!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

New Horizons in Intolerance Management

[Seeing as it's April Fool's Day, this seemed as appropriate place as any to run this post.  Enjoy the zaniness!]

So, way back when I first starting blogging (well, back in November anyway) I wanted to put some fancy bling and gadgets on my website to make it more exciting.  One of the things I added was this sweet little gadget you can see off to the right which displays photos from Flickr based on certain search terms.  (You can probably see it ticking away right now, just below and to the right of the top of the screen.)  Whatever robot it uses to crawl the pictures tends to find one particular photostream or group of recently uploaded pictures, so the photos run in common batches, switching out to something new every couple of weeks or so.  

I put in just the search term "Laramie" and let it run, and it started just the way I wanted-- with shots of sunsets, prairie, the college, homecoming parades, sports, family pictures and kids on bikes-- even these cool stereoscopic "crosseye" pictures one Laramie community member makes and posts online.  I've found that little gadget to be an interesting little waste of my time.

But something has changed in the last few weeks-- my picture gadget has gone rogue and started posting strange pictures-- of protests.  Actually, for a little while they have been almost exclusively pictures of different protests, sometimes of things that have nothing to do with Laramie or The Laramie Project whatsoever.  A lot of people (on Flickr, at least) seem to have associated Fred Phelps with Laramie itself, which I obviously have a problem with.  No doubt his nasty Matthew Shepard signs have something to do with that. But what these counter-protesters are doing, and why people are protesting Phelps, are absolutely strange! 

Most of these pictures I'm going to show you today come from Tabiii's Flickr Photostream, which were of a counter-protest in Dutchtown, LA against the Westboro Baptist Church.  They were protesting (you guessed it) a high school production of The Laramie Project.  She was a really good sport to let me use these pictures, and I appreciate it!

If you'd like to see all of Tabiii's photos from the Dutchtown protest, you can view them as a full slide show at this link.

Another great set is antelucandaisy's set for the same protest, which you can view as a full slide show here.

So, let me show you one little sample of some of these wild, zany crazy "Laramie" tagged protests, and an interesting new trend in counter-protesting, after the jump!