Velvet Glove
Velvet Glove

Letter from the Editor: Cowboy Suit

By Matthew Herzog

Prior to his win in the Alabama Senate Race, Doug Jones spoke of his Republican opponent Roy Moore. Jones said he’d only be seen with a gun when hunting, ‘...not prancing around on a stage in a cowboy suit’, referencing Moore’s performative stage presence with a black leather vest and handgun.

The Cowboy Suit is political messagery, for sure, but Jones’ phrasing cuts both men when using the word prancing. Jones was saying Moore was the shell of an antiquated concept of masculinity. And that he was filled with the only weakness it can’t defeat, the antiquated concept of the feminine. He highlights John Wayne bravado and unintentionally the misogyny still present in his act to disseminate it.

With public discourse finally centering on power dynamics, sexual misconduct, and the often shocking need to defend human rights, Jones’ comment made me wonder about 2017. This year was a shootout against hyper-masculinity and it taught us to search for all forms it may simulate.

Thanks to the artists who created, the women that spoke, the LGBTQIA that advocated, the POC that revolutionized, and the millions that finally listened, 2017 made effort to cut us from this Cowboy’s continuation. Maybe even saving the man himself, or at least the boys and girls growing up under his injurious tutelage.

Specific to Philadelphia, exhibitions, and performances brought this intention to center stage. See my list of luminaries here. In one example, Julius Eastman: That which is fundamental was a dual music/art investigation into a prolific black voice - a man whose international activity of the 70s and 80s found an end in his death as a homeless man in Buffalo, New York. Thanks to the Slought Foundation and West Philly’s The Rotunda, we heard Eastman’s scores and compositions including his irreverently titled Evil Nigger and Gay Guerrilla, and witnessed artist’s commentary on that which informed his life. Subjects like homosexuality, dance, black poverty, and the erasure of black lives.

As a result of conversations like these, greater cultural sight widened to include forms and material unrecognizable. Cowboy suits within the unsuspecting guise of comedic politicians, Al Franken. Or residues hidden in our own clothes. Internalized bigotry seeping from the words we choose. Or worse, the hidden entrepreneurial absorption of hating the Cowboy Suit - an attempt to appear woke, much like a chamelic mercenary. This includes the neo-liberal pursuit of justice and omitting actions taken to achieve it. Much like stealing from the institution to stick it to the man, taking Lyft instead of Uber and explaining why to the driver, choosing a Zadie Smith novel not because of the subject but because her name is printed large on the cover.

From major to minutia, we are learning how steeped we are in malice and how honest our efforts are to change this. There’s no second hand clicking past the last unassuming bigot as it does the final moment of a year. So as 2017 leaves, it doesn’t suggest 2018 will serve us any better. What it convinces me of is the power of communication and the virtue behind listening.

We are each other’s lovers, symbols, enemies, competitors, and risk takers. We contain each other’s lessons, keys, realities, and misunderstandings. If the celebratory ring from the comeback First Friday of the 319 Building was any sign, we are an invested community, no more a degree from each other by friends than by creativity and hope.

If we live in an abbreviated society where small sentences can make big mistakes, it’s as important to choose our words carefully as listen carefully to those being spoken. The shape of the stone we choose to throw does as much against us as it does against our opponents.