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Posted in: Feminism

Published on Oct 02, 2009 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

My Birthday With Cole Porter, Other More Troubling World Matters


Yesterday was my birthday and I celebrated it in high, old Manhattan style. My family and I trooped down to the Oak Room at the mightily spiffed-up Algonquin Hotel—yes, the long-ago haunt of beloved, literary drunks—and we listened to Cole Porter as interpreted by the very elegant and exceedingly tall Karen Akers. It was an expensive but classy evening.

I looked around and saw many wheelchairs, canes, and walkers. Clearly, nostalgia for lost youth and for the mood evoked by a Porter song had turned these people out on a weekday night. Their faces beamed, their eyes were dreamy. Porter was certainly before my time but I loved the movie about his life in which Kevin Kline brilliantly starred. And, once, long ago, when I was a singer, a chanteuse, a cabaret performer, ('tis true, I've had many lives), I sang Porter songs too. I still love them.

Akers has a limited voice range but she artfully played the part of a sophisticated and witty courtesan in love with money and rich men—although she interpreted "Don't Fence Me In" in the most interesting and moving way. There were moments of magic here, but it was all safe, fairly predictable, intimate, just what we all wanted, probably what many young people might not appreciate. No ear-popping loud music here, no electronic effects, no brain-splitting light show. An oak-paneled room, an old-fashioned crowd, songs of a bygone era.

On a more serious note: Are people flocking to old time-y events precisely because we fear that our 9/12 world has truly changed and may soon be changing even more radically? Are we trying to live for the moment because we fear that we, too, will soon all be on breadlines, or the victims of horrifying natural or nuclear disasters? (My heart goes out to those in Indonesia where the death and injury rate keep rising).

I tell everyone that I am a "techno-dwarf." Yet, here's what else even I am worried about today. What can it mean that the owners of the internet (Icann, in California) have now ended their relationship with the American government—a move which the American Commerce Department and Icaan both view as an "American power move?" According to the London Guardian,

"The deal, part of a contract negotiated with the US department of commerce, effectively pushes California-based Icann towards a new status as an international body with greater representation from companies and governments around the globe…But the fresh focus will give other countries a more prominent role in determining what takes place online, and even the way in which it happens – opening the door for a virtual United Nations, where many officials gather to discuss potential changes to the internet."

What does this really mean? Will Iran be more easily able to block its citizens from capturing government barbarism on cellphones? Will China be able to sell its human organs, harvested from political prisoners, more easily online? Will warlords in Afghanistan be able to sell their opium online? How about Cuba, Venezuela, Egypt and Saudi Arabia? I shudder to think about how this might effect al-Qaeda and various wannabees in terms of their internet facilitation of terrorist acts.

And, will pornography online gain an even greater, more synchronized, and more profitable market? Will the victims of sex trafficking be auctioned off as sex slaves online more safely?

This represents only one of my concerns today. Others include the trumpeting of relatively meaningless diplomatic victories in Geneva vis a vis Iran as historic; President Obama's attempts to "sell" Chicago as the site of the next Olympics; the gathering force of J Street—even as polls begin to show Jewish-American disenchantment with Obama; the incredibly predictable signers of the petition to Free Roman Polanski. This makes clear, as nothing else does, that despite their considerable pretentions as compassionate "revolutionaries" that what that means is that our most beloved and greatest cinema stars: directors, writers, actors and actresses, literally have no respect for female children and women. Yes, Polanski has suffered and yes, he is a very productive film director. Still, Polanski is also a child rapist. He should long ago have publicly confessed, publicly apologized, funded projects to help the victims of rape and child rape and to prosecute pedophiles. And he should have done time—long ago. He ran. He did not do so. Instead, I'm told, he kept taunting the Los Angeles Police. Well, that'll get you arrested in Switzerland.

Funny, film folk usually insist that no one (especially no Israeli) should be above the law—but that means that no artist, director, writer, or actor should be either.

I rejoice in the video of Gilad Shalit who is presented as alive and seemingly healthy, both physically and mentally. I only wish he were back home and not still in captivity. Why isn't the film community (and Bernard Henri Levy and Paul Auster, both of whom are signatories) calling to Free Gilad Shalit? Or all those dissidents in captivity in the jails of Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China? At least for starters?


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