October 30, 2003
| October 30, 2003
As hard as it is to be part of a marginalized subculture, it must be infinitely more frustrating to be a minority within that subculture. That’s one of the main grievances voiced by the characters in Venus Boyz, Gabrille Baur’s documentary on the drag kings of New York and London. Drag queens have always occupied a surprisingly prominent place in European culture, from the Greeks to Billy Wilder. More often than not played for their comedic value and to reassert gender norms, drag queens also served to question those norms. Drag kings (ie, women who dress up as men — do not think Brendan Teena in Boys Don’t Cry, s/he comes up later), by contrast, are there to advance the plot. When women cross dress, it is always to move more freely in the wide world. Often, their drag only serves to emphasize their femininity: see Marlene Dietrich in those tuxedos. They resemble, always, androgenous youths.
The women in Venus Boyz are not dressing up as boys, they are performing as men with the aid of beads, wigs, razors, and in some cases, testosterone. Their participation in the subculture runs the gamut from weekend outings to watch other drag performers to intensive hormone courses and everything in between. They are old and young, straight, bi, and gay. What they aren’t, for the most part, is interested in living as a man full time. The majority do not want to be men, they want to act like them, and that crucial distinction, and the filmmakers grasp of it, is what makes the film so fascinating. This isn’t about sex, it’s about gender and performance (for those of you who haven’t suffered through a Literary Theory class, sex is between your legs, gender is in your head). Although the film concerns itself more with motivations and practicalities (if one would like to both pass as a man and maintain one’s breasts, what does one do?) the overarching theme deals with fundamental questions of identity. What does it mean to act like a man? What does it mean to act like a woman?
The movie is far more interesting than an English seminar though, and a large part of its allure (aside from the truly fascinating interviews) is due to the pitch perfect cinematography. Shot on everything from high speed color video to classic black and white stock, the movie is a riot of color, motion, and pinstriped suits. The very best sequences are the ones inside an after hours New York club, where the black and white stock is so suffused with clouds of smoke that the image itself feels textured. The heat and press inside the club is almost palpable, and the jazzy atmosphere and proliferation of fedoras are enough to transport anyone back to Weimar era Berlin cabarets. The visceral attractiveness of that sequence explains better than any interview the nature and allure of the life.
Archived article by Erica Stein
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October 31, 2003
Laid back, unpretentious and speaking in a Southern drawl, Ted Lowi is not what one would expect of an Ivy League professor. As the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions in the government department, Lowi is one of the most well-known professors at Cornell, praised by students and colleagues alike. And although he will begin a sabbatical in January, he is unlikely to diminish his level of activity. Students who have not taken a class with Lowi may still have had opportunities to see him around campus. Seventy-two years old, he runs around campus every day, in all types of weather, about 30 miles per week. An avid Cornell hockey fan, he has held season tickets for many years and often travels out of town to see the team when it makes the playoffs. A true renaissance man, Lowi referred to himself as “the only political scientist ever to play solo oboe in Lincoln Center.” He performed the solo with the Cornell Symphony Orchestra in 1965 during his first years on the faculty. His strong presence at Cornell for the last 31 years might make it seem as though Lowi has been here all his life. Not so: He is originally from Gadsden, Ala. Israel Waismel-Manor grad, who has worked closely with Lowi on revising his two major textbooks, described him as “a southern Jewish preacher — he spreads his gospel very well.” Lowi earned his doctorate at Yale in 1961 and came to Cornell to join the faculty. After six years here, he left to teach at the University of Chicago, which at the time, he said, had “a certain mystique.” He returned to Cornell in 1972 after being offered the John L. Senior endowed chair. Lowi would follow in the footsteps of a man he greatly admired, Clinton Rossiter. “They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Lowi said. “[Lowi] is just an exuberant bundle of energy,” said Isaac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate education and a colleague of Lowi’s for the past 31 years. “He’s constantly on the go because he travels a lot.” Kramnick referred to Lowi’s previous commitments as president of the American Political Science Association and of the Policy Studies Organization. He added that Lowi rarely misses a class. Kramnick also discussed Lowi’s speaking commitments and the difficulty of balancing teaching and traveling. “He is a rare example of collegial responsibility and dedication,” he said. “In addition to his eminence [and] in addition to his incredible travel and speaking, he is always willing to work for the department and for the University.” “Among my colleagues, I don’t know anyone who loves Cornell more than he does,” Kramnick said. Students love Lowi as well. They can’t seem to stop talking about him. “He’s the most renowned professor in the department,” said Andrew Milano ’05. He explained that students who take Lowi’s classes are eager not only to learn about government but also to learn it from Lowi himself. He literally wrote the book. Milano used Lowi’s textbook, American Government: Freedom and Power, in his Advanced Placement government class in high school at Bronx Science in Manhattan. “He’s the number-one liberal mind in the country,” he said, referring to what he has heard about Lowi outside of Cornell. “Students are awed by his speaking ability,” Waismel-Manor said. “Even if they don’t agree with his politics, they agree with his intellect.” Lowi is highly regarded outside of Ithaca as well. He has biographical mentions in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World, in addition to other publications. Lowi turned down an offer for a prestigious position at Yale because he felt that “anything I could do there, I could do here just as well.” “This has been my life, unexpectedly,” Lowi said. As a social leader at his high school, he once aspired to be the first Jewish president. Luckily for him, he found a similarly influential profession in which he has been able to do work he enjoys. His influence is particularly strong in the government department. Three of its professors were once his students: Profs. Elizabeth Sanders, Richard Bensel and Martin Shefter. “I’ve got a local life here, but my life spreads throughout the world,” Lowi said. His work extends far beyond the Cornell community. He frequently travels to speak for other commitments, and he collaborates with intellectuals throughout the world on many of his projects. “He’s world-class, but he doesn’t have a pompous bone in his body,” Kramnick said. Lowi will be taking his first sabbatical in 14 years starting this January. “I’ll psychologically go abroad,” he said of his decision to remain in Ithaca during his time away from teaching. He will be using the time to catch up on long-standing projects that remain unfinished because of the demands of his professorship and his commitments to students. One of his current projects is a collaboration with Prof. Mauro Calise of the University of Naples in Italy. The two men are developing a computer-generated tool that will serve as an encyclopedic dictionary of political concepts and theories. Lowi will also be working with Kramnick on a book already in progress, The Norton Anthology of American Political Thought. Among Lowi’s main academic interests is the suppression of political tyranny. “We’re an experiment in democracy,” Lowi said of the United States government. He referred to the government’s successes as “small victories over the tyrant.” Lowi explained the current controversy over legislation intended to protect citizens from terrorism. “Psychologically, we’re at war,” he said. “We worry we won’t ever demobilize, so we accept infringement of civil liberties.” He added that he believes it is a healthy sign to feel angry about the war and to question decisions made by the government. On the other hand, he considers laws like the USA PATRIOT Act as signs of weakness and fear and hopes such laws are only temporary solutions to current problems. Lowi’s upcoming sabbatical is only a temporary leave from his teaching responsibilities. According to Waismel-Manor, Lowi could have retired already but has chosen not to. “The day he’ll stop teaching is the day, I think, he’ll die,” Waismel-Manor said. “He’s in a league of his own.” Kramnick would agree. “He is one of the jewels in the crown at Cornell,” he said. Archived article by Stephanie Baritz
October 31, 2003
Across the country, faculty and students at schools such as the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Yale Law School have filed lawsuits against the Department of Defense for its policy regarding military recruitment at their respective institutions. Discriminatory Policy? Many people know about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue, Don’t Harass” policy regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals in the military. Some find this to be at odds with most universities’ nondiscrimination policies. However, the military is permitted to recruit on campuses, primarily for positions in its numerous Judge Advocate General’s offices. The Solomon Amendment, a piece of legislation that was introduced by the military, states that law schools which ban recruiting by the military will lose their federal funding. The amendment has been reinterpreted in recent years to mean that if such recruiting is barred, the entire parent institution of the law school will lose its federal funding as well, making it virtually impossible for law schools to afford to prohibit military recruiting. Other lawsuits include one filed by the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights representing at least five law schools and hundreds of law professors from around the nation. But at Cornell Law School, no such suit has been filed. “Various branches of the military do visit the law school,” said Karen Comstock, associate dean for career services at the law school. Cornell Law School has anywhere from 285 to 325 private and public organizations recruiting its students every year, including government and military institutions. “The military is very aggressive these days about satisfying themselves that schools are complying with the Solomon Amendment,” Comstock stated. Describing the situation as a “very complex issue,” Comstock also expressed the law school’s dissatisfaction with the Solomon Amendment. “The Law School doesn’t like this either. This is something that’s happening on a federal level, and there’s national litigation going on.” “What we do to ameliorate that particular situation,” she explained, “is [to distribute] a notice to the entire [Cornell Law School] community every time the military visits or any time they list a job opening with us. We reiterate our policy of nondiscrimination [and state] that the military does discriminate [on the basis of sexual orientation]; it’s against [our] policy, but because of the potential loss of funds under the Solomon Amendment, we have to comply.” Such notices are required by the American Association of Law Schools, an organization that accredits law schools across the country. Furthermore, the AALS suggests several “amelioration” steps that law schools can take to counter the negative effects that military recruiting may have on the LGBT community. Matt Faiella law ’05, president of Cornell’s Lambda Law Students Association, the organization for LGBT law students, is disappointed that the law school has not implemented more of the amelioration steps suggested by the AALS. “With the exception of a few very aware, kind faculty members who have talked to us about this, there has been no administrative reaction,” Faiella said, adding, “We don’t have a very politically active faculty.” Judy Amorosa law ’05, social chair for Lambda, added that her impression is that the law school administration is “apathetic” about the issue. Faiella concurred. “I think [the administration sends] mixed messages by failing to sign onto this lawsuit or address the issue of military recruiting in any capacity, and to me it feels like acceptance [of the Solomon Amendment] as opposed to them being forced to [comply with it].” In reaction to the military’s recruitment on campus, Lambda has been asking students and faculty members to sign a petition urging President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 and Cornell Law School interim dean John Siliciano to join the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights lawsuit. So far, 143 law students and faculty members have signed the petition. The school has approximately 600 students and 50 faculty members in total. Amorosa acknowledged the risks associated with filing a lawsuit against the Department of Defense. “It’s a very difficult decision, obviously — this is not something that everyone is jumping up to do,” she said. Members of Lambda have also spoken with military recruiters regarding their “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and they intend to do more in the future. “We are planning on contacting [Cornell Law School] faculty members individually, and we are also going to be meeting with the administration. We are going to approach the University and we’re trying to get undergrads involved,” Faiella said. Amorosa asserted that Lambda still needs to make further headway on this issue and that the organization should make it clear to the administration that they believe more should be done in response to the Solomon Amendment. Comstock maintained that Cornell Law’s administration has “a very good relationship with our students,” adding that administrators are always open to suggestions from students. Faiella agreed that relations between administrators and students are good, but explained, “The administration I would say is supportive of all student groups equally — but with regard to the military recruiting I don’t think they’re doing everything they can do.” With this in mind, Lambda is hopeful that they will be able to foster more dialogue with the administration regarding the Solomon Amendment and a possible lawsuit against the Department of Defense similar to the ones that have already been filed. As a result of The Sun’s investigation into this issue, Comstock and Faiella arranged a meeting in which they decided that the career office and Lambda will present an information program on the Solomon Amendment and how it relates to on-campus recruiting. “Lambda has done a wonderful job this year in education and advocacy on this topic, and both [Faiella] and I agree that it is time once again for a school-sponsored educational program on this issue,” Comstock said. Archived article by Andrew Beckwith