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Sunday, July 3, 2011

THE RAPE MONOLOGUES: (from The Weekly Press)

The first line of Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL reads: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix…”

Put a contemporary Philly twist on Ginsberg’s HOWL and you might come up with: “I saw heretofore reasonable intellects destroyed by political correctness, starving hysterical in their search for answers, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an appropriate scapegoat…”

The scapegoat in this case, Broad Street Review editor Dan Rottenberg, has been blacklisted by some in the theater community because of an editorial he wrote in BSR in which he admonishes city women to pay attention to what they wear if they want to be “on guard” against rapists. Ideologues interpreted Rottenberg as saying that women who dress scantily deserve (or “ask”) to be raped. The emotional backlash went even further when some men and women put the iconic and often cantankerous editor on the same level as a rapist.

A fatwa of sorts was issued by a number of small theater companies barring Rottenberg or any of his BSR freelancers (the online publication is famous for its huge stable of theater reviewers) from reviewing new plays “forever and forever” (the bigger theater companies, of course, took the high road).

(For those not in the know, the highly readable and often enjoyable BSR is a quirky publication in which contributors write not to a general audience but attempt to address or appeal to some mysterious, albeit therapeutic, need in Dan Rottenberg’s head. If you don’t understand or “get” Dan Rottenberg, you’ll never appear in BSR, despite the fact that you may be a Pulitzer Prize winner or a columnist for The New York Review of Books.)

At Plays and Players Theater recently, a one time showing of “Dan Rottenberg is Thinking About Raping You: An Educational Presentation” was presented at Plays and Players Theater. The show’s creator, Clara Blouin, told The Philadelphia Weekly that she wanted to “put Rottenberg’s ideas under the lights to be laughed at.”

But what are Rottenberg’s ideas?

One of them is the egregious sin of paternalism, his seeming to offer “fatherly” advice (the man does have a grown daughter) to women to pay some attention to how they dress before going out in public.

On the surface at least, the idea of a man giving advice to women on how to dress when going out in public may appear as slightly medieval. But…this is Philadelphia, an often times “medieval” place where shopkeepers get shot in the face with sawed off shotguns and where spitting in the street is accepted as normal behavior.

I wonder if all the people hanging Rottenberg out to dry have ever hung out or walked in the most dangerous sections of the city, which seem to be everywhere these days sans the oasis of Center City and the Avenue of the Arts.

I doubt whether presenting exposed cleavage and mini shorts as a green light for rape was Rottenberg’s explicit intention. I think Rottenberg was merely asking: why risk rattling the cage of uncivilized urban animals, since there seem to be so many of them? I mean, if you’re deciding what to wear to go to WAWA in the middle of the night for that bit of frozen yogurt, would you opt to wear something skimpy rather than a sweater that may draw less attention? If you know that at that hour there might be a number of skuzzy men hanging around, why invite possible animal leers? Why even tempt them a little bit to go over the edge?

Of course, every woman has the legal and human right to wear whatever she wants, just as I have the right to walk hand-in-hand with a male partner through questionable, gay unfriendly neighborhoods. But why invite the hassle?

While dressing sexily in no way excuses a rapist, Rottenberg’s paternalistic common sense rule still contains a little bit of wisdom.

I wish the antiRottenberger bigrade good luck in attempting to eliminate any reference to common sense when it comes to navigating Philly’s mean streets.

I say this because just the other day, as I was exiting the EL at Berks Street, I witnessed a police officer pull over a scantily clad young woman in a mini skirt. What he said to her was right out of an article written by Dan Rottenberg: “Miss, you shouldn’t be walking around this neighborhood like that. You don’t know where you are. I suggest you call someone and have them pick you up.”


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