Cinematic politics, 1987 — from David Sedaris’s diary

The political situation is far too fraught these days. I’ll leave analysis to the professionals (if you’re worried about North Korea, check out this special emergency episode of Tommy Vietor’s Pod Save the World). So I thought it might be fun—fun! not a word you hear in connection with politics these days—to check out a little cinematic politics circa 1987.

Our guide is David Sedaris. Please forgive him for using the term “hermaphrodite”—that was what we called Intersex people back in the day. If you’ve had a classical education you’ll appreciate the word’s deft combination of the deities Hermes and Aphrodite—but today the people in the community prefer Intersex. That term was not in wide use when Sedaris wrote this diary entry, 30 years ago.

Ah, the diary. I should probably mention that Sedaris has published excerpts from 25 years of his diaries under the title Theft by Finding. I’ve only made my way through 1991 so far, but it’s full of quirky observations like this one.

Cinematic politics, Sedaris-style

cinematic politicsAnd so to the passage in question:

January 18, 1987

In the mail we received a video guide of new releases. One movie is called Never Too Young to Die. The copy reads, “A vicious hermaphrodite wants to control the country, and only two people stand in his way. [Only two?] The resulting ‘battle of the sexes’ will blow your mind with a heady mixture of powerful heavy-metal music, state-of-the-art weaponry, martial arts, and espionage that makes this exciting action flick a winner.”

Note: that “Only two?” editorial comment is Sedaris’s. Of course. He continues:

“Times have changed when a hermaphrodite wants to control the country and only two people stand in his way. If he were a black or Hispanic hermaphrodite, he’d probably have a harder time of it.”

You’ve probably noticed that both writers—the anonymous copywriter and Sedaris—assign the “hermaphrodite” a male pronoun. That’s probably because the actor playing “Velvet Von Ragner” was himself a man. And not just any man: Gene Simmons of the band Kiss. I’m surprised Sedaris didn’t mention the other star of the movie—John Stamos. Then again, he may have missed the debut that year of Stamos’s sitcom Full House.

But I promised you sexual politics: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as they say in Sedaris’s adopted homeland, France. Sedaris’s observation that “a black or Hispanic [would] probably have a harder time of it” is a classic example of “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

Anyway, as we contemplate the potential destruction of our country if not our world, I thought it might be refreshing to time-travel back to 1987, when the person wreaking the havoc at least had the decency to do it intentionally, with a heavy-metal soundtrack. Stay safe, everyone.

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