On Point Of Inquiry’s The Accidental Feminist (In Light Of An Actual Near-Missed Accident)

It’s odd what your mind turns to when you’re about to get killed by a truck-driver who thinks that indicating right is somehow equal to making sure that there is no oncoming traffic as you turn right. Oncoming traffic like me.

I just got home from doing some office work which involved a lot of careful reading, thinking and annotating (and the discovery that there’s a butter-sized tub of bright pink icing in a refrigerator as a mystery topping – would you put it in sandwiches? Spread it on salt crackers? Would you just scoop it onto a spoon and lick it like a lollipop?) – and then during a tea-break, I became terribly distracted by a discussion-quasi-disagreement on Twitter that ended up going nowhere and probably achieving even less… but it got me thinking that I should post a few links to some other’s blog-posts on the topic of skepticism and atheism some day soon.

That is, when I’m not too busy. AKA, no time in the near future.

After leaving the office, I detoured to Ikea to get a late and cheap take-away lunch and then started to head home to finish off an article and work on near-due assignments that have contributed to a nasty bout of insomnia recently. It was on the freeway that a truck-driver decided to get creative with their driving. Creative at a speed around 80 kilometers / 50 miles an hour.

The first thing I thought of was “I’ll never get to tell Indre Viskontas how much I enjoyed listening to her podcast on the way into work“.

The second thing I thought of was “Serves me right for driving to the job rather than taking the train and walking like I originally intended”.

The third thing I thought of was “The sauce from the Ikea hotdog on the passenger seat is going to go EVERYWHERE when that truck impacts...”

The fourth thought was more a mixture of hitting the brakes, turning a swift right while hoping no one was trying to pass me on that side /was driving closely behind me – and hitting what I hoped was the horn rather than just the edge of the steering wheel.

The truck kind of jack-knifed back to the left and looked as if it was going to go up the embankment on the side of the freeway. I realised that if it kept going that way, it was going to tip over, back to the right. I don’t know what else I thought, apart from watching it go.

It jerked to a stop. I let go of my brakes and drove off. I don’t remember much else of the drive home. The hotdog splattered forward onto the passenger side floor but I got most of the sauce off the seat.

It’s about an hour or so later, now. I’m fine – I’m seated on the couch looking at the last legs of an article I’m handing in today and the skeleton of the next two assignments on scraps of paper and I have drink from the odd little kiosk they have by the exit of the Ikea store, called “DRYCK PÅSKMUST“. It tastes like I’ve been punched in the nose by an elf.

Another plus – today I really don’t give an elf about people having disagreements on Twitter anymore, unless they’re driving trucks.

Back to telling you what I thought about the latest episode of Point of Inquiry – M.G. Lord – The Accidental Feminist.

I graduated with a minor in film studies for my education degree around about the same time that I subscribed to Vanity Fair. The magazine often features columns by Christopher Hitchens and articles about the golden era of Hollywood. There’s ones like When Liz Met Dick and A First-Class Affair – biographies about Elizabeth Taylor and the directors, writers and fellow actors who worked with her and her personal relationships. I didn’t think much of her as a person, despite her admirable charity work and sublime acting, because I didn’t think she respected other women. I don’t think much of femme fatales in general, but I’m willing to be proved wrong about individuals.

This was why I was surprised to see such a topic turn up on the Point of Inquiry podcast, because when I think of Point of Inquiry, I think of science, religion, the mind, freethinkers, secularists, myths and magicians. How could an interview about Elizabeth Taylor fit into such a show?

To be honest, I haven’t listened to Point of Inquiry for a while, the same way I haven’t listened to many podcasts for quite some time. The POI shows that I took the time to listen to in the past were DJ Grothe’s early shows or the occasional ones by Dr Karen Stollznow anyway – and I usually catch up with podcasts when I’m driving or working in an office and I haven’t done much of either recently. I’ve unsubscribed from a great number of shows because they were just filling up my iTunes account and after several months of unlistened shows it just seemed pointless to keep letting them pile up. I have more music on my iPod than anything else, now, and listen to podcasted lectures from my studies instead.

What did I think of the The Accidental Feminist episode? I enjoyed it quite a lot. To start with, I wasn’t too keen on Lord essentially saying ‘Generation X doesn’t know Elizabeth Taylor‘ – I was a young girl when National Velvet featured on Sunday afternoon TV; I studied Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, was first introduced to Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple via The Mirror Crack’d … and everyone my age knows who first voiced Maggie Simpson.When I studied film history, I got to know more about Taylor’s acting and the directors she worked with, but I certainly wasn’t ignorant of her career in general.

But then that’s where the interview started to really grab my attention – the history of Elizabeth Taylor’s career and how the films and the portrayals of characters within those films came into conflict with the Motion Picture Production Code. I learned about the distinctly Roman Catholic influence on the code, particularly the part played by the Jesuit priest Father Daniel A. Lord. I was intrigued by the efforts to make Taylor’s character sympathetic within A Place in the Sun and the restrictions that the film-makers had to fight against to get a watchable movie, let alone create believable and complex characters for the screen. The addition of sound bites from two of Taylor’s films helped the case that she played some (I’d argue not all – her later films like The Mirror Crack’d, Zee and Co or Ash Wednesday for example) strong, forthright – and yes, feminist characters during her career. I agree that it’s due to Taylor’s choices as an actress, as well as the efforts of some fine writers and directors, which have contributed to a number of historically interesting as well as valuable films in their own right. All of this during a time where an absurdly-restrictive film code demonstrated a distinctly religious fundamentalist approach to censoring art, and attempted to control the personal life of Taylor and Richard Burton too – “erotic vagrancy”, according to the Vatican.

Reasons why people might overlook this podcast? I don’t think the title clearly indicates what the show is about: the research that Lord did for her book on the feminist-character film roles of Elizabeth Taylor, with rather timely reflections on how film censorship by religion can and should be challenged. A potential audience may also not be aware of Indre Viskontas’ episodes, because I don’t (or haven’t noticed?) see them mentioned often via social media – I’ll see the latest Skepticality or Skeptically Speaking touted on Twitter and on Facebook by fans and producers (KO Myers, dozens of Skepticality fans who retweet the latest shows). There’s also great little review sites like SkepReview that give me the heads-up about interesting podcast episodes that I should catch, even though I’m kind of on a hiatus at the moment.

So, there  it is – a very interesting and engaging Point of Inquiry episode that I enjoyed taking the time this morning to listen to and one that I think more people should take the time to listen to. Preferably without a near car-accident after doing so.

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