So Sweet and Low
Re Dennis Lim's review of Patch Adams in "Licensed To Ill" [December 29]: Oh dear Movie Critic, are you bitter? This is what the low, low ends of the Hell Curve will say. But my bitterness for the moment is silenced by the sweet, sweet sounds of your review. I laughed till I cried. That is something Robin Williams has never succeeded in doing for me. Despite his viliant attempts (spelling intentional due to rage), I have been completely horrified by the man since I was 21 and stuck with my "peers" watching Dead Poets Society in a university movie theater. I wanted to first kill and then perhaps bludgeon Mr. Williams while my peers wept gratefully and chanted "carpe diem" and figuratively and perhaps literally proceeded to wet their pants in tribute to the wonder of it all.
But back then it was a lonely ride, for no one had discovered the horror. Just want to drop a note telling you how magnificent your review was, and to invite you to lunch. I will be wearing an enema bulb for your pleasure.
Re Alisa Solomon's review of Zise Khaloymes (Sweet Dreams) at the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre ["Yiddish Dreams," December 29]:
I was horrified to come across Solomon's critique of the moving play Zise Khaloymes. The content of the play will keep a new audience away from this production, she says, but I couldn't disagree more. Rather, it is sour reviews such as hers that will do the job.
Specifically, Solomon criticized the "shmaltz"-iness of the genre and referred to the play's idyllic references to Israel as troubling and foreign to a less Israel-centered contemporary audience. But she really sells the younger generation short.
Three generations of Jewish left-wingers in my family enjoyed this play together. As you're supposed to do throughout what Solomon derides as the "shtick" and "shmaltz" of Yiddish theatre, we laughed and cried. It is musical entertainment about a second-generation Holocaust survivor's relationship with her mother and the past, and the ongoing discontent that affects many second generationers. This is a contemporary theme; indeed Yiddish theater need not rely on nostalgia, as Solomon suggests.
As for the Israel critique, a contemporary Jewish audience can easily understand a child of survivors' need to feel safety and acceptance even while s/he is aware of Israel's current problems.
I'd recommend that Voice readers go and judge for themselves.
I was glad to see an article focusing on gender issues and AIDS, especially in West Africa, where I spent a month traveling in 1995 ["The Deadly Gender Gap," January 5]. During my visit, I was shocked by the animal-like treatment of women by men in the villages of Mali. When I was in the company of men, no women were allowed to join the conversation or even speak unless one of the men commanded it. Women were either working in the corn or millet fields with babies on their backs under the sub-Saharan sun, or cooking and cleaning, while the men often lounged around the village telling stories. The slavelike powerlessness that women experience in countries like Mali are truly human rights violations and should not be viewed as just dynamics of culture.
Jersey City, New Jersey
Guy Trebay's article ["Bother From Another Planet," January 12] on the holiday "alien invasion" of tourists carried a sting worse than Manhattan's crappy-ass arctic winds blowing against my Southern hide. I walked Gotham's streets in happy ignorance this season and I don't think Trebay realizes how important tourists like me are to the ambience that is New York City! We give y'all the luxury of feeling so pompous.
I've been a reader of The Village Voice for 25 years, but with the appearance of the article "The Hate That Makes Men Straight" [December 22] I'm reluctant to ever pick up a copy again. Richard Goldstein's disdain for those different from himself, in this case heterosexual men, shows evidence of a mind overtaken by bigotry and sadly deteriorating into a right-wing-like bitterness.
It's disgraceful that The Village Voice would publish and then highlight his diatribe on its cover.
Richard Goldstein replies: It's not heterosexuality I abjure but the system of straight-male dominance that has nothing to do with loving women and everything to do with policing homosexual desire.
In the important article, "The Hate That Makes Men Straight," Richard Goldstein writes that in the early 1970s the "APA dropped its diagnosis of homosexuality as an illness." First, it is important to clarify that. Although most of his article was about the American Psychoanalytic Association, it is a larger and more powerful APA the American Psychiatric Association which claimed in the early '70s that homosexuality was no longer a mental disorder.
The shocking truth is that, contrary to that APA's public claims, when the next edition of its bible of mental disorders was published, it still contained "ego-dystonic homosexuality," which simply means not being fully comfortable with one's homosexuality. It is close to if not impossible to grow up lesbian or gay in a homophobic society and be totally comfortable with one's sexual orientation. Thus did the APA pathologize the effects of bias and oppression. In the subsequent now current edition of the manual, published in 1994, one still finds "sexual perversion," which therapists are free to interpret as they choose, potentially including any sexuality they decide is sick.
I know about this because I served on two of the subcommittees that helped write the 1994 edition.
Psychiatric diagnosis, unlike the prescription of drugs or implantation of silicone breasts, for instance, is virtually unregulated. We need congressional hearings to investigate the unspeakable harm that has been done to many in the name of diagnosis.
Paula J. Caplan
Providence, Rhode Island
Re The December 22 letter by vice presidents of Local 375, DC 37, Uma Kutwal and Sreedhar Gowda:
Kutwal and Gowda "demand" an apology from The Village Voice and Robert Fitch for Fitch's alleged "misuse" of a quote of mine in the piece "DC 37 Crashes" [December 1]. However, Fitch accurately portrayed my view.
Kutwal and Gowda claim that Fitch's use of my description of them as "puppets" to Mike Gimbel, political action chair of Local 375, was an "offensive" and "racist" attack on the Indian membership of our union. Now, unless the word "puppet" is some as yet unknown derogatory slur against people of Indian background, I fail to see the racism. Race, national origin, religion, gender, shoe size . . . whatever, were not even mentioned, and clearly had no bearing on the quote and its highly proper use in Mr. Fitch's article.
Certainly, I would hope they find it offensive . . . so I'll give them that.
But racist? Please.
What a welcome treat to read Nat Hentoff's two columns on the ineptitude of New York City's public schools chancellor Rudy Crew, and Hentoff's call for him to resign ["Children Lost in Our Schools," January 5 and "Fire Rudy Crew," December 29]. I can only marvel at the over-three-year honeymoon Crew has enjoyed from any scrutiny or criticism in the press. Certainly, few place much credence in the hollow, backslapping self-congratulations of Crew, Weingarten, Giuliani, et al., re the remarkable turnaround in our schools.
James Hannaham's review of They Might Be Giants' all-ages New Year's Eve show was damned good ["The Kids Are All Right," January 12]. He managed to comment on the breadth of the Johns' influences and the depth of the fans' enthusiasm without once using the word "quirky." (This may be a first in mainstream media criticism of TMBG.)
My only quibble is with his assertion that the band is "eminently outgrowable." Many of the people at Tramps that night heard TMBG for the first time when they saw the animated videos for "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" and "Particle Man" on Steven Spielberg's Tiny Toons. They'd probably tell you that TMBG is a band you grow into, rather than out of.
Re Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide [December 29]:
Any mention of my beloved Mississippi John Hurt is always more than welcome but, alas, he was not considered to be "Mississippi Delta" by any stretch of the musical imagination, as the writer suggested.
"Delta" refers to the musical style of those who live alongside the river and John lived quite far from there.
Rebecca Segall's piece "Sikh and Ye Shall Find: The American Face of Arranged Marriage" [December 15] quite accurately portrays the perspectives of persons from such cultures. I myself have done a great deal of research on this subject and feel that a bit more focus could have been put on the amount of violence and the subordination of women in such marriages. Without getting into too much detail, I speak from experience.
May your articles continue to encourage self-thinking.
New Brunswick, New Jersey
The Voice's expressionistic cover art sums up well what Gotham life has been like under Giuliani's bloodsucking administration ["Heartless Bastard: Hundreds of Clients at a Brooklyn Mental Hospital Suffer as Mayor Giuliani Plays Payback Politics," January 12].
While only a minority of the NYC population can actually be considered anemic, most need a shot of iron and several dosages of good red steak.
From Queens to Staten Island, public investments in health care, jobs, schools, transportation, arts, and areas of leisure have faced the vampirish cuts of NYC government. (Giuliani's not the only vampire, but he is the main representative!)
Under our mayor, public life, like the unhealthy colors of the front-page artwork, can seem cold, pale gray and sickly yellow; it can seem like the warm blood has been drawn right out of it. So what the people need are generous servings of the good life, higher wages, availability of quality health care, and safe and reasonably priced housing. These are but a few of the vital necessities of the ordinary citizen that must be addressed.
I hope the Voice continues to be a watchdog for the public.
I guess it was Guy Trebay and Toni Schlesinger's intention to be funny in their article "Alphabet City: The Year in Letters" [January 5], in which the waitress service at the Second Avenue Deli is alluded to as being less than conscientious.
For the last year I have been a regular customer at the Deli, and I have never had a bad experience with any of their personnel.
The specific waitress named in the article, Diane, is very charming and professional. This particular restaurant is one of my favorite places in New York, due to the quality of the food and the special attention I receive. I really feel the characterization was unfair and unnecessary. Next time pick on a place that deserves it!
Congregation B'nai Jeshurun will host a concert reflecting the journey of 15th-century Sephardic string musicians on Saturday, January 16, at 8 p.m. at the synagogue at 257 West 88th Street, between Broadway and West End Avenue, 580-9787. Tickets are $10 at the door.
Michael Cerveris, the singer with the band Hedwig and the Angry Inch, was misidentified as John Cameron Mitchell in Douglas Wolk's review "Stardust Memories."
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