Who do I blame for progress?

It’s not exactly bellwether, but it’s one hell of a statement.

These are wrenching times for San Francisco’s historic gay village, with population shifts, booming development, and a waning sense of belonging that is also being felt in gay enclaves across the nation, from Key West, Fla., to West Hollywood, as they struggle to maintain cultural relevance in the face of gentrification.

I am easily reminded, when reading notes about labor actions abroad, that American strike actions must seem absurd to some insofar as some of our neighbors abroad would think, “I wish I could strike for something like that.” Indeed, such a thought struck me when reading of a French labor action in which firefighters were preparing to strike over the pension age. Was it fifty? Fifty-five? Of course, if retirement in France is anything like vernacular has it in the United States, the extra years of going crazy with nothing to do would explain a few things about what’s wrong with the French. So, yes, sometimes it does seem strange that American workers should strike over things like health benefits, cost-of-living increases, and retirement plans.

And so it is when homosexuals, as Patricia Leigh Brown’s article for the New York Times suggests, face the horrifying prospect of becoming passé.

Because, let’s face it, passé is, simply, a new height for any oppressed minority. Certainly, dressing and sounding like a street thug according to the latest record-label press release became so hip that we nearly drowned in the market saturation, but that, despite what some might say, had nothing to do with actually being black.

So the thought that actual gayness has become passé? It marks a new height in social evolution.

And that makes sense: the aesthetics of being gay are different from those of being black. Mainstream Americans–those who enjoy the benefits and vistas offered being part of the empowered majority–find it much easier to appreciate the appearances that come with being gay than being black. Homo chic involves dramatic clothing, sculpted hair, perfect nails. It involves picture-perfect settings drawn straight from the exaggerations of stereotypes and fashion magazines everywhere. The aesthetics of being gay involve beauty and purity. The aesthetics of being black, on the other hand, involve being black. For those isolated in the American mainstream, it’s an ugly proposition. They already know that being black involves being treated poorly. A ridiculous portion of American history involves the empowered majority doing everything it can to make dark-skinned people miserable. It involves rhetorical twists and ideological ironies on an artistic scale engineered to a pretentious vice akin to Boeing, Microsoft, or the United States government itself. It is an absurdity captured cinematically in small moments like Kathy Bates fitting South American tribal girls for brassieres, and however many real-world analogies such perspectives legitimately include. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation seems almost prophetic in its example: modern hatred is a fierce and determined caricature.

For those isolated mainstreamers, though, it is the practical consideration: all they need to do is be stylish and organized and dynamic and whatever else the homosexual stereotype demands. They get to envy something they would otherwise dislike. Sure, they might fit a gay stereotype, everybody knows they are not actually gay. And they figure it should be just as easy for gay people to pretend they are not gay.

Which really screws up what would otherwise be a beautiful symptom, what makes the whole mess so tragic. It’s a disaster.

But life, despite daily suggestions otherwise, is not a bad movie; and I, for one, am not C. Thomas Howell.

Homosexual rights activists will frequently remind that Huey P. Newton told his Black Panthers that they should relate to their homosexual neighbors because their struggle, too, is the real thing. That relationship, however, is inherently challenged by the diverse relationships between these neighbors and their common oppressor, e.g., the empowered majority. While the stereotypes suggest that heterosexuals expect a good deal of pretense in their dealings with homosexuals, such pretense is not possible between whites and blacks.

And that is what we must remember. If the establishment could ask black people to pretend they’re not black, they would.

So when I look at the idea of an oppressed minority becoming passé, I should probably not be so amused at the notion that the constriction of a people to mere style suggests progress. “You’re passe,” he said, without spending a heartbeat to consider the irony of such a charge.

See? It is entirely possible to take what looks like a sign of progress and find a reason to blame somebody for something.

Reflections on Taco Tuesday, or, Thoughts on Apathy

Well, as Bageldog saw fit to remind, yesterday was, indeed, Taco Tuesday. Monica Guzman, writing for the Seattle P-I’s Big Blog:

Yesterday at 4:30 p.m. I asked the woman behind the register at the Taco Bell on 15th Avenue in Ballard how the free taco day promotion was going.

By the looks of it — well. Ish. The place had mostly cleared out, but the taco tornado had hit and hit hard. Yellow bits of cheese sprinkled the tabletops. Paper wrappers littered the floor. Corpses of drink cups lay where they fell. Poor woman had had had a long day. She looked at me and laughed.

“Oh my God,” she said. Her eyes went wide and she shook her head. “They made a huge mistake doing this.”

At the local level, I can only imagine that is how it felt. But this had nothing to do with the locals. After all, this was a national promotion, and spectacular enough to generate controversy. In Bellingham, Washington, the only two Taco Bells in the area decided late that they would participate in the giveaway despite earlier statements to the contrary.

Bellingham resident Alex Hardie, 20, was the first customer at the Sunset Square location to get his free crunchy seasoned beef taco.

“This is a special thing,” said Hardie, who said he saw the promotion while watching the World Series.

“I live out on Northwest, and I took a bus, so I really had to make a wild stretch.”

Store manager Staci Caralis said two extra employees would join the staff midway through the giveaway to help out.

The restaurant cooked an extra 30 pounds of beef in anticipation, Caralis said.

She added that the initial announcement that the location wouldn’t participate was a “miscommunication.”

Perhaps there were logistical concerns. Then again, Bellingham is a long way out. Considerably closer to Boston, Dennis Tatz fills us in:

Taco Bell restaurants in Quincy and Norwell had their fill of Sox fans during the three-hour window. People flocked to the restaurants to take advantage of the “Steal a Base, Steal a Taco” promotion.

In Quincy, police ordered the Taco Bell drive-through window shut down as traffic backed up on Hancock Street in the city’s Wollaston section. Inside, the line of eager customers was long.

The promise of free food at the Taco Bell on Route 53 in Norwell caused some tempers to flare and car horns to blare.

Taco Bell worker Kevin Sigourney of Hull looked relieved as he left the Norwell restaurant following the frenzy.

“All I can say is it was the craziest day I’ve ever had,” Sigourney said. “It was a sea of people and free tacos.”

There’s even a picture of Jacoby Ellsbury signing autographs at a Boston Taco Bell.

I confess I skipped Taco Tuesday. I also confess that I was so not enthralled by the World Series that I only realized it was over in retrospect. I saw Game 3, figured it would be over in four, and promptly forgot about it.

Life goes on.

You know, last month I happened to be down in Irvine, California, and actually stood in the shadow of the Taco Bell building. Drunk, weary, and mulling a shortcut back to the hotel, I remember looking up that night and thinking that Taco Bell was mocking me. And then I fell down the hill and lost my glasses.

TB spokesman Will Bortz apparently told someone that the promotion was a tremendous success. And why not? This one was big enough to hang a guilt trip on:

Nearly 10,000 people signed an online petition aimed at getting fast-food giant Taco Bell to donate money to help the American Red Cross provides services to those displaced by the California wildfires.

The online effort was tied to a nationwide promotion Tuesday in which Taco Bell gave away free tacos to customers nationwide for three hours. The promotion was tied to the recently concluded World Series.

Organizers had hoped that Taco Bell would donate money to the Red Cross that approximated the value of a free taco for every person who signed the petition.

Taco Bell, however, isn’t playing along ….

Taco Bell was, nonetheless, impressed by Mike Escordi’s effort. And Escordi himself found some redemption in the failed campaign:

“This was a tremendous effort on so many levels and we could not have been any more pleased at the response we got to a campaign costing nothing more than the $10 or so to buy the URL,” Mr. Escordi said. “Watching the numbers increase exponentially throughout the day provided a bit of renewed faith in human nature.”

It’s very easy, I suppose, to sign an electronic petition asking some large corporation to make a small gesture of decency, but let’s think about this for a moment. Fire danger. Refugees. Taco Bell saturation. If I’m making a bad joke here, it’s what I’ve got to work with.