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Opening Issues

We hope you'll find openings for your own ideas, and perhaps an inclination to respond in a letter or online, so that we may print your response in the issue to come.
Ron Alcalay

Issue #16, October 1994

Mark Twain said somewhere that the world depends on the interaction between will and circumstance. Since we have no direct control over the latter, let's consider the former. Our will also depends upon a few dispositions, chief among them our ability to decide how we measure suspicion and trust. Trust and suspicion, our common condition. In this issue we won't present a battle between the cynical and the faithful, or examine the paranoid responses of conspiracy theorists (though it might make an interesting issue in the future); instead, our theme — open issue — serves both as a description of the pieces that follow, and an injunction about how to read them. Whether they address international politics or popular culture, the authors both suspect the conventional wisdom surrounding the topic, and yet trust enough to engage their opposition rather than dismissing it. In the spaces opened up by the essays, we hope you'll find openings for your own ideas, and perhaps an inclination to respond in a letter or online, so that we may print your response in the issue to come. These are, after all, open issues.

Saying this reminds me of a column making its debut here. Lending ink to some of the insightful posts on our e-mail list (see facing page for subscription info.), we introduce 'Voices from the Collective,' represented this month by selections from our lengthy and diverse Haiti thread. Each month we plan to include a small slice of the life on the list; to experience more, jump on the net; it may be scary at first, but there are lots of folks out there to buoy your thoughts with their own. It's not all applause, however — far from it — for bad subjects are idealists and skeptics too. Mirroring some of the critical thinkers in the debate on Haiti, my own thoughts ranged about the ideological open spaces — not yet fixed — between total faith and utter cynicism.

My responses to intervention in Haiti alternated between an optimism born of action in the face of oppression, and cynicism sparked by political betrayals. I was for our intervention, until Carter guaranteed amnesty to murderous generals; then hopeful again as I sympathized with images of celebrating Haitians; soon disillusioned when troops protected homes of the rich instead of peaceful marchers; surprised and enheartened by our moves to disarm paramilitary units (though cynical whispers told me, 'too late'); suspicious of gun buyback programs that would disarm poor Haitians and not those who could afford to keep their stockpiles hidden, and their plates full; finally (though there is no finally really) relieved by police chiefs and military leaders leaving the country, but angry they get away with impunity, to live in luxury off the wealth they stole from the Haitian people. Hopeful and frightened: What will happen now that Aristide is back? Can he survive the murderous intents of assassins in hiding? What will happen when the U.S. troops depart, leaving a vacuum of power? Can a disarmed populace resist a new coup? We balance our concern with hope, and resolve. Resolve to do what? To intervene again if the army starts killing the people. So begins the debate. I'm gaining a clearer notion of where I stand on this one, but I realize there are other options, and I'm open to persuasion.

Characteristically, members of the list branched away from the debate over intervention, and in many fruitful exchanges, entertained the topic of the relation between proximity and authority: does someone closer to a situation speak more authoritatively?

From Politics to Sex

In the domain of sexual politics, communities practicing alternative sexual relations are now among those groups arrogating for themselves the dubious privilege of essentializing their identity. This strategy erects boundaries against those who don't belong, and therefore cannot understand; the most open individuals may ironically encounter the most exclusions. In their piece affirming the value of bisexuality, Annalee Newitz and Jillian Sandell argue that even gay and lesbian communities, though often close in spirit and practice, as often subsume or marginalize bisexuals. Rather than assenting to negative projections — masquerading queers, or deviant hetero's — bisexuals may recognize a positive spectrum of potential relations based upon fluid conceptions of sexuality and self.

From Sex to Beer

Speaking of fluidity, in his piece interpreting the rise of microbreweries, Charlie Bertsch takes a skeptical look at our designer tastes in beers. I wonder: instead of signaling a phenomenon of the discriminating elite, as Charlie asserts, could the popularity of, for example, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale signal a waning of the wine-drinking middle class — a rich new taste in a poor man's brew?

From Beer to Brawn

Jeff Akeley's piece on Jean-Claude Van Damme is a little like a dark porter; it almost feels nutritious. Arguing that Universal Soldier stages a narrative of military success on the home front (a family farm), where a heterosexual, patriotic family man must destroy his suspiciously homosexual, rebellious, working-class counterpart, Akeley also attempts to rectify the silence surrounding the ideologically undesirable man. Mr. Akeley, a new contributor, ends his piece wondering why our current models of both men and women display large chests, thin waists, and 'the virtual absence of body hair.' As one of the furry ones, I'd also like to know why, though I imagine the answer resides somewhere in our bisexual impulses, and our desire to create a great common race — with guys looking like ABCs new Superman, and identities as fluid as the transmuting faces in Michael Jackson's music video 'Black or White.' Despite the efforts of purists, we're amalgamating as we evolve. Ain't it great?

From Brawn to Books and Beyond

Jonathan Sterne, our intrepid team member in Illinois, also notes the ways we can evolve, especially those of us on the left, who remain mired in paper. Books are for babies (as our new photo-capable cover attests), so what's the diet for up-to-date adults? Read Jonathan's piece, or better yet, read it in cyberspace. Cyberspace — that's a scary sounding place, but if you find a buddy to lead you through, its as easy as a stroll through the pines. Besides, our computers are just one launching pad. If we hope to transmit our ideas, we better use the media that people are used to receiving. Fortunately, people still love radio, and it takes little training (for academics, at least) to talk; and video production skills aren't terribly difficult to acquire. We need not abandon books anymore than we need abandon English, but people are understanding other languages now — and we ought to be open to practicing those too — especially if we wish our ideas to have the greatest impact beyond the walls of academia. Perhaps you disagree. That's your right. For now at least, it's an open issue.

Coda: This issue also marks a transition in the leadership of Bad Subjects. Our former editor-in-chief, Joe Sartelle, is departing to explore 'the final frontier' in a book he is writing with Kathleen Moran. Look for a farewell from Joe in the next issue. Beginning with this issue, Annalee Newitz and Jillian Sandell will serve as Production Co-ordinators.

Ron Alcalay studies American literature and film in the English Department at UC-Berkeley. He is currently writing a dissertation on adamantly immature characters in fiction and film of the 1950s. He can be reached through e-mail at:

Copyright © 1994 by Ron Alcalay. All rights reserved.