Inhuman Swill : Controversy
            

Watching Tyler Glenn's video for his new solo single, "Trash," the anger is palpable and inescapable. But it also brims with pain and grief.

"Trash" exploded across the online Mormon world last week, causing the faithful to recoil and apostates to jump up and down in a fever. Glenn is the lead singer of Provo's Neon Trees. A lifelong member of the LDS Church, he made headlines two years ago by coming out as gay in the pages of Rolling Stone. He still believed, though—until six months ago, that is, when the church issued draconian new guidelines for the ecclesiastical treatment of children of same-sex couples.

Now comes "Trash," a video in which Tyler Glenn drinks liquor from the bottle, spits on a defaced portrait of Joseph Smith, enacts all four of the secret handshakes from the temple endowment ceremony, draws a red X on his face, and ultimately crumples amidst a blizzard of printed pages possibly meant to represent Mormon scripture.

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Mormon's Secret Men's Magical Mesh Top
Not many people outside of Utah may be aware of it, but a controversy is brewing—and it has to do with Mormon underwear.

Specifically, it has to do with the portrayal of Mormon underwear on network television. As reported by Scott D. Pierce of The Salt Lake Tribune, next month's premiere episode of the new ABC series "Quantico" will feature a scene in which a young FBI recruit appears on screen in only his "garments," the sacred underclothes that many Mormons wear next to their skin.

Why is this controversial? It's not like garments are very racy, since they're meant to cover the body from the shoulders to the knees. (I, in fact, find them downright offputting, though I'm sure garments have their fetishists.) The problem is that most Mormons consider garments—which are stitched with arcane though unobtrusive symbols meant to remind the wearer of covenants made in the temple—to be sacred, and not intended for the prying eyes of outsiders.

This apparent secretiveness and sensitivity about garments has made them ripe for mockery. Most people, even if they know nothing else about the church, "know" that Mormons wear "magic underwear" to protects them from physical and spiritual harm. One of the most frequent questions I get, in fact, when someone finds out I'm a former Mormon, is: "Is it true about the magic underwear?"

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In case my comment on Paul Cook's ridiculous post at Amazing Stories does not pass moderation, let me reproduce it here.


Mr. Cook, you tip your hand early on, with your risibly shallow reading of Wolfe, that the insights to follow will be, at best, ill-informed.  Romance and intrigue have no place in science fiction?  I suppose Heinlein never included a bit of romance or military dress in his work, nor Asimov any palace intrigue.

Science fiction as you paint it, its precious bodily fluids uncontaminated by any less virile genre, would be a dreary, boring place indeed.  To truly be a literature of humanity and human potential, SF must address human concerns, and the human experience encompasses far more than just racing through space and blasting BEMs.  Tor editor Moshe Feder once passed a useful analogy along to me, that of science fiction as the "universal recipient" of literature, able to take in and incorporate elements from any other genre of fiction.  If science fiction is to represent more than one tiny, narrow slice of human experience, it must be able to represent any aspect of the human experience.  It must, at the highest level, be able to do anything that can be done in any other genre, whether romance, mystery, or mainstream literary.

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Twitter & badness

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Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
I have an apology to make. It's been called to my attention that for the past several days I've been splashing a word around my blog, podcast, Facebook page, and Twitter stream that many people find offensive.

No affront nor slur was intended, yet I have come to realize that in the 21st century such hurtful relics of a benighted past have no place amongst us—not in civil discourse, not in right-thinking minds, and certainly not in popular culture.

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Four, no, five buffoons

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It's easy to see why Drafthouse Films (the new distribution arm of Austin's great Alamo Drafthouse theater chain) was able to snap up the rights to British TV vet Chris Morris's feature film debut, Four Lions. Probably no one else wanted to touch it. It's not a movie for everybody.

I saw Four Lions last night at a preview screening at Piper's Alley, and I thought it was the funniest movie I'd seen since, well, The Hangover. Like any number of other comedies, it's the story of a buffoonish group of losers determined to succeed at something they clearly have no talent for. What makes Four Lions different is that the something is jihad. Will you like it? That depends on how much taste you have for laughing at suicide bombings. (Mild spoilers may lie ahead.)

Omar and Waj are two would-be British-Pakistani mujahideen who get ejected from an Al Qaeda training camp for rank incompetence. Undeterred from their dreams of glorious martyrdom, they tell the rest of their goofy terror cell back home in England that they've been sent back to carry out an important mission. The antics of the group, the most volatile member of which is a loose-cannon white convert to Islam, as they bumble their way toward a series of suicide bombings are very funny stuff, laugh-out-loud stuff. But you can't help but feel a certain amount of discomfort laughing at this gang of sincere fools.

Are we laughing at stereotyped Muslims? I don't think so. We're laughing at comedic types, certainly, but as embodied by characters who are actually more three-dimensional than you might expect in this sort of movie. Along with the uncomfortable laughs, we get a look inside the rage, the faith, the yearning for community, and the yearning for glory that prods a certain type of personality into taking up a violent cause. And the self-styled jihadis are hardly the only Muslims we meet. In the course of the film we encounter a wide range of Muslims, most of whom want nothing to do with violence, and a few of whom get caught up in it anyway, in different ways.

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The choice

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If you're an American voter and you're still undecided today, please read this New Yorker editorial and think hard about it before you go to the polls:

The Choice

And to those of you for whom opposing abortion is the most important issue in this campaign, please ask yourselves honestly why protecting a horde of merely potential human beings who are more likely than ever to be born into crushing poverty is more important to you than ensuring that there is a clean, prosperous, and stable world for them to live on.

If you don't like abortion, don't have one, but please, for the sake of us all, don't let that get in the way of dealing with the real problems we face here in the real world. Real, feeling people are suffering in real, horrendous ways now. You are part of the world economy, and you are without doubt feeling the pain yourself.

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Discover Magazine, February 2008
Hey, I have a reporting credit in the February issue of Discover magazine!

Discover does a humorous monthly column at the back of the magazine called "20 Things You Didn't Know About..." February's column was "20 Things You Didn't Know About Science Fiction," and its posting online seems to have stirred up a small pot of controversy over at io9, Gawker's SF blog. Seems as if a lot of people were not amused, and in turn Discover was not amused that they were not amused. (Thanks to John Joseph Adams for being one of the voices of reason in the io9 comments, and defending my honor.)

For the record, my reporting duties consisted of supplying the Discover writers with about a dozen pieces of SF trivia, of which they borrowed maybe four, putting their own inimitable spin on the material. I'm happy to say I gave them the one about Gene Wolfe and Pringles. But to balance that out, I also gave them the one about some fans not liking the term "sci-fi." (An example of one of my nuggets that didn't make the cut was that Heinlein Crater in the Hellas Southeast Quadrangle of Mars is named after Robert A. Heinlein. So there you go.)

I would have posted about this sooner, except that I didn't become aware that the column was online, or about the attendant flamewars, until early last Saturday morning as we were preparing to leave for a weekend in Iowa. And to be perfectly clear, having my name in Discover is totally awesome.

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

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William Shunn

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