Thursday, August 24, 2006

Templates & Chickenheads

Rapper friend Dreary/Weary just returned from touring Asia and he has tons of souvenirs, among them reproductions of the iconography of the 1960 Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. I am explaining each item as fast as he can un-wrap it. He and I are copasetic because I gave him/his band his/their name: Dreary/Weary and the Weary Drearies.

My generation remembers the GPCR with fondness, particularly the slogan “women hold up half the sky,” usually illustrated by images of women in militant poses, fists clenched, generically pleasant-faced and virginally wholesome. Despite having read Simone de Bouvoir’s The Second Sex, I had not known what to make of the explosive women’s movement of the West – until “women hold up the sky” blazed in the chaotic sky of the 60s milieu.

I examine each souvenir – a bobbing-head Mao, poster reproductions, even Red Books, wondering if a line, a curve, a color foretold what was being engendered in the bowels of the GPCR: Close Comrade-in-Arms Lin Piao dead in a smoldering plane wreckage, the Gang of Four, Chou En-lai surrendering to cancer, Chiang Ching suiciding in her prison cell and the abominable slogan “to be rich is glorious…”

Aside from “women hold up half the sky,” two other hallmark of the GPCR affected me personally: “people-to-people friendship” and the 3-in-1 committee. Decades later, P2P friendship would inform the organizing model for GABNet*, as it seemed a way to preclude what was happening in the 1980s and the 1990s, when all and every institution and/or organization outside the archipelago – NGOs to church to labor – turned its back on the Filipino’s struggle. From the 3-in-1, on the other hand, we learned the necessity of mitigating hierarchies of power and control, of allowing rank-and-file the freedom to innovate and create in their turf.

Nowadays, of course, China is known as the land of “lost girls” – lost to large scale abortion of girl fetuses under the one-child-per-family policy. A Chinese-American friend once joked she planned to retire in China and have five husbands, since that was the ratio now: 5 males for every female. Such scarcity did not, in any way, raise the value of females who were nevertheless exported to the sweatshops of Saipan as well as the global sex trade. It would seem that the new slogan is “women lie crushed by half the sky.”

The 3-in-1 is gone. The last time I heard a member of the All-China Women’s Federation speak, she said Chinese women had absolutely no problems. GPCR tactics are often used to crush “thinking outside the box.” And because a large part of women’s experience lie outside the accepted political box, we have not been able to develop a sharper political language for women’s reality.

The Chinese model is back, of course, with the admonition that we should lay to one side the issue of women’s oppression, leave it to a post-victory cultural revolution. As if qualitative change could be effected without an accumulation of quantitative changes; as if women’s oppression does not have materialist foundations and was merely a cultural thing!

I’m ranting and raving, of course, to Dreary/Weary’s amusement. “Templates,” he says. “You got people working off templates. Just like some do in music, work out of models. Very dynamic in the beginning, very fast because it’s easy. You just fill in the words, a little variation in the notes here, there. Trouble is, after a while, it goes no where and implodes. Doesn’t work.”


“Chickenheads love templates,” he mutters.


“From a Philip K. Dick novel, which became Bladerunner, the movie you like so much. It means not enough brain cells for complex processing – hence the two note speech: tak-tak, putak! Over and over again. Having a second note fools everyone into thinking it’s innovative.”

Dreary/Weary and I are inveterate etymology collectors.

“We have chickenheads, too,” he says, meaning in his music world. He explains they are a type of female groupies. He doesn’t like them, he says seriously, because they’re whiny and self-pitying but vicious to other women whom they consider competition for the band’s approval. When caught at intrigues, they always play at innocence. They have a very tenuous sense of self.

But why are they called chickenheads?

He explains and I’m shocked to speechlessness.

He laughs and says maybe, someday, he’ll do a rap about political chickenheads.


*See “GABNet: An Experiment in Transnational Organizing,” delivered at the Nov. 2005 conference at UCLA.