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April 2000

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Non-Fiction
CHASING CHE
Patrick Symmes
Vintage Books


   In 1952 Che Guevera, then a young medical student, took a motorcycle trip across South America. What he saw on that trip, specifically the poverty and inequities of the people there, turned his ambition from medicine to revolution. In 1996, Patrick Symmes, a U.S. journalist, set out on his own motorcycle journey, retracing Che's tracks, hoping to discover the real Che under the layers of mythology. Chasing Che describes his trip. Unfortunately, the "real Che" remains elusive, and, in a sense, so does Symmes' book. Part of the problem is that he can't seem to decide what kind of book he is writing. Is it a biography? A travel book? A treatise on recent South American history? At various points, it is each of these. Yet most of the time, they exist almost as separate books.
   In a few or the more transcendent chapters, Symmes does manage to synthesize his themes. In a visit to a copper mine in northern Chile, Symmes relates what Che saw, how he reacted to it, and how little has changed since. A similar melding of topics occurs at the end, when he arrives in Bolivia, the scene of Che's death. How little has changed is a recurring them of Chasing Che. Just as Che Guevera has been turned into a pop culture icon, (distant from, and at times at distinct odds with the revolutionary he was), so the notion of revolution has turned from the optimism of the pointless violence of Peru's Shining Path, without changing any of the underlying social conditions. Chasing Che is an entertaining and informative book. But it reads almost as an outline of something greater. Most likely it will pique your curiosity for more in depth examinations of Che Guevera, the history of South America, and the global struggles against poverty which continue today. But it will not satisfy that curiosity.

G. Murray Thomas

THE CLONE AGE: Adventures in the New World of Reproductive Technology
Lori B. Andrews
Henry Holt

   Lori Andrews, attorney and bio-ethicist, passed her bar exam on June 25, 1978, which happens to have been the birth date of Louise Brown, the world's first test tube baby. Her latest book, THE CLONE AGE, relates her experiences, both as an attorney and as a technical advisor, in the rapidly expanding field of reproductive technology.
   As doctors and researchers scramble to come up with viable means in order to provide the childless with progeny, the old story continues to hold true: whenever human values are at stake, someone stands ready to make a profit, and the more emotionally loaded the circumstances, the higher the stakes.
   THE CLONE AGE makes fascinating reading, even if one is not familiar with current developments in reproductive and genetic research. Lori Andrews is more than conversant with both. She has served as an advisor to the United States Congress, the World Health Organization, and to the Centers for Disease Control. She is currently a professor of law at Chicago-Kent College of Law, and director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology.
   Andrews delineates medicolegal problems in clear, uncluttered language. Her presentation is lively, compassionate and occasionally humorous, with anecdotes that range from the absurd to the grotesque. For example:
In England, a doctor preparing to transplant an ovary into an infertile woman was dissuaded from doing so by authorities who informed him that any resulting children would be considered illegitimate by the courts.

At a Midwestern hospital, the wives and parents of six comatose men applied to the resident andrologist (a male fertility specialist) to have the patients' sperm extracted by electroejaculation.

A wealthy but childless couple who died in a plane crash were survived by several viable, albeit frozen, embryos. Would the embryos inherit the multimillion dollar estate, or would the estate inherit the embryos?

"There seems to be a world of difference between reproductive technologies, (in vitro fertilization, egg donation, sperm donation, or surrogate motherhood), which allow couples to make up for a missing ingredient in the normal reproductive process, and the technologies now being proposed to let dead men beget children, to reanimate dead fetuses, and to create children with only one genetic parent," maintains Andrews. Her main objection to cloning is that "...it replicates everything troubling about reproductive technologies: excessive commercialization, reckless experimentation on women, procedures undertaken without consent, unmonitored physical and psychological risks."
   To the National Institutes of Health, cloning is the next big gamble. But to Andrews, traditional reproduction has come to represent the continued progression of human development, while cloning, with its myriad ethical and genetic hazards, has become a metaphor for our subconscious desire to keep things as they are...to maintain a status not necessarily quo.

Erica Erdman

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THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE
John Loughery
Henry Holt

   In 1919, shortly after signing the Armistice, Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated an investigation into "immoral conditions" reported in and around the naval base in Newport Rhode Island. Navy men were participating in an inordinate amount of same sex sexual activity. The investigation became a witch-hunt, eventually a trial covered in the national press and in the end an embarrassment to the Navy when the investigators were revealed to have used entrapment and participated sexually with the accused. John Loughery uses the Newport Scandal as his springboard into the gay history of the twentieth century in his book "The Other Side of Silence."
   Loughery pinpoints the Newport Scandal as the beginning in this century of the challenging of the old order. His narrative moves through the decades, depicting climates and morays with an interesting blend of personal accounts, historical events, politics and pop culture. Loughery relates how homosexuality was tolerated in Hollywood in the twenties, the subtlety of the thirties stage and screen, and the necessity of an unspoken "don't ask don't tell" policy during the forties to keep the war effort going. He aptly details the inception of the Mattachine Society by a Marxist Harry Hay in the fifties, how gay and lesbian rights benefited from the equal rights movement of the sixties and seventies and the shameful, willful blindness of the Reagan administration in the eighties.
   Loughery is not a great storyteller and occasionally dry, but his insights and observations on events and culture are incisive and enlightening. He is able to string together information, facts, interviews and a wide variety of events, people and books into an illuminating read.
   Having grown up in the seventies and eighties, I came across much in "The Other Side of Silence" that I had heard of - but not about. I knew who J.Edgar Hoover was, I didn't know that after his death it was discovered that he had a large collection of various photos featuring his assistant, Clyde Tolson, in his bathing suit, bathrobe and asleep. I knew the Stonewall Riots were an important turning point in the fight for gay rights. I did not know that the Stonewall bar was a dive, or that the riot happened over the course of two nights and that most Gay Pride Parades are in June to commemorate the riots. There are more benefits to reading Loughrey's book than just entertaining facts.
   "The Other Side of Silence" paints a portrait of a century that, for gays and lesbians, was about the struggle for an elusively defined freedom. Individuals, who succeeded in reaching personal goals or effected social change, frequently found themselves challenged in a different light after crossing the finish line, but had unwittingly set valuable examples for the culture a large. In his concluding chapter, Loughery expresses chagrin that a century of struggle for the right to be different but equal is rounded off by our current decade where gay and lesbian couples want to be just like their straight counterparts and the inherent prejudice of a phrase like "straight acting" is missed by just about everyone. The final point of "The Other Side of Silence" may be that we can always have what we want, just not the way we want it. "The Other Side of Silence" may well be the definitive summation of Gay Twentieth Century History. Overall, Loughery's historical text has value for the individual reader in its rendering of century that, for gays and lesbians, was about self-affirmation and the lauding of difference. Read it.

Jack Sanderson
Reprinted with permission Hero Magazine


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THE PHILOSOPHY OF PUNK
Craig O'Hara
AK Press

   First published back in 1992 thanks to the writer's job at Kinko's, the philosophy of punk is an astonishing and incredible document of the 1980's US punk rock scene. This fascinating book has sections on 1) How television, glossy magazines, and mindless mass media have done their best to defang the beast, 2) Skinheads: Who they are, where they're from and what they have to do with punk anyway, 3) Fanzines: Communication from the xerox machine to the underground, 4) Anarchism: An alternative to existing systems, what it is and why it is embraced by punks all over the world, etc., plus an incredible article on the Straight Edge scene and it's positive /negative influence. O' Hara has achieved a book full of hyper-critical, yet honest as fuck, outlooks on our current existence. Fascinating and riveting.

Carlos "Cake" Nunez

STIFFED: The Betrayal of the American Man
Susan Faludi
William Morrow

   Stiffed is how I would feel if I had paid $27.50 for these 500 pages of pseudo-sociological drivel. Susan Faludi tries her best to explain the current "male crisis." That crisis being the trauma that me are facing, due to the lack of high-paying jobs that allow them to support a family and own nice things, resulting in their bad behavior.
   Her basic explanation is simple: post WWII men were promised a certain standard of living that held true until the '60's when suburbia fell apart and some men became confused and unable to act like decent human beings. Additionally, the young men of the '60s were given a war they could not win, unlike their grandfathers, which has left them feeling bad whether they went to Vietnam or not. All this has been further compounded by the corporate and military downsizing of the past 20 years. The problem, according to Faludi, had only gotten worse as society has forced men into service jobs (rather than jobs where they work with their hands and make something) and "ornamental" jobs like Hollywood action star and pop gang icon. All of this sounds eerily similar to the psychological belief in the 50's that women were depressed and rebellious because they needed to get married and have children. Generalizing about gender can, and in this case does, go both ways.
   While it would be easy to blame the state of manhood today on the broken promise of the American dream, what Faludi fails to realize, or mention, is that male immigrants at the turn of the century (and before and after) also faced this particular broken promise and its results: domestic violence, criminal activity and emotional problems. However, America has run out of immigrants and has turned on a higher echelon of workers, like aerospace managers and military workers, in order to make a profit. The majority of her case study set is white collar or government employees, and as most underemployed workers will tell you, it's only news when it happens to the affluent. The exceptions to this set are the Spur Posse, Monster Kody and Sylvester Stallone, all of whom, in this media-driven world, also represent a kind of affluence.
   Though Faludi does extensive and interesting case studies of her subjects, she fails to name a concrete cause for the crisis. Who exactly betrayed the American man? Who promised the illusive American dream anyway? Throughout the 500 pages of sympathy for those who have failed to have their dreams come true, she fails to mention that the vast majority of the architects of downsizing, Hollywood movies, gangs, the media and the military and in the end the American dream itself, are men. So for every group of men who have been stiffed, at least one has gotten rich. Maybe her subtitle should have been "the betrayal of the middle-management male." The main villain in this drama is, of course, rampant capitalism fueled by a failing but desperate military industrial complex. It's easy in these post-USSR days for journalist in the US, a country that believes might makes right, to presume that the best economic system is the one left standing, thereby overlooking the possibility that capitalism is the problem (I'm sure this is especially true when you write best-sellers).
   Additionally, like Faludi's first book, Backlash, Stiffed is bad sociology. It will be easy for Faludi's "gender of the day" to cling to her book like a Bible and say "see this is why I am the way I am." I guess in a world where blow jobs are worthy of congressional investigation and people are more interested in a prosecutor's haircut than her ability to convict a murdered, this does make Stiffed good popular journalism. However, after reading this book, I have to say forget popular journalism. If you want to understand the "male crisis" in America today, go down to your local independent bookstore and buy a copy of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. It's shorter, cheaper and gets right to the point.


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