(5) joan osborne, "one of us" defeats (12) 20 fingers feat. gillette, "short dick man" 155-49 and moves on to the second round
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on March 2nd.
hannah ensor on "one of us"
I sometimes fantasize about being a touring drummer for a 90s singer-songwriter. She’s someone I admire, but not someone I idolize so much that we couldn’t hang out. I might have a little crush on her: just enough to smooth out our socializing, to give us reason to chat. If you’re listening to “One of Us,” as I hope you are while reading this, listen to just the drumming for a second. Do you hear how easy and fun that would be? You could do, like, anything, and not have to be very good at all. Every four bars or so you would just move your hands over to some other part of the drum set but keep all your hands and feet essentially doing the same thing with slight variations. At some point—say, while the guitar solos—you could do the thing that for most of the song you were doing on the slightly-parted hi-hats but do it over close to the dome of the ride cymbal. For dramatic effect, later, you might stop playing anything but a cymbal and the snare drum. She might make you harmonize into a microphone even though you’re not a singer, which works because the song’s premise is imagining what it’d be like if God was just good, not great, so you don’t have to be particularly sonorous. Just on-key and a normal level of talented. And, when you’re not ping-ping-pinging on the ride cymbal, when the crowd’s not calling out someone’s name that isn’t your name, watching every move of a hero who’s not you, you could spend the day, all day every day, until doors at 7:00 or so, reading books and writing poems.
This is the kind of dreaming I do when I’m not fixated on the idea of Donald Trump killing us all, of me finding out about it at 11 PM on a Monday night. I’ve been staying pretty close to my phone, waiting for the thing I’ve known was going to happen my whole life.
Time was once that people thought “One of Us” was disrespectful because Joan Osborne offered a possibility that God was “just a slob like one of us.” A certain subset of people went on television, furious. What is it with contemporary Christianity and loathing? It’s pretty fucking capitalist, to be against the slob. Always a looking down. WWJD? Does anyone self-identify as a slob? One thing is certain and that’s that “slob” is a word that has to do with productivity. There’s a way of looking at it that says that God in all these stories is productive, but from my non-scholarly seat I’d say that’s really just at the start of each of the books. There’s the part where He makes everything, and there’s the part where He sends His Son. What else does God do, though? Was it “productive” to flood the earth? God gave the instructions for building the ark, but His main role in that story was the part where He brought the water. God did not create jobs. God did not build a WalMart. Was God a slob? Some people have suggested that Trump spent his first few days writing executive orders just to get the presidency out of the way. On the first day, he… On the second day…
On a lark, I google “productivity slob late capitalism” and find my way to an article about how Trump won the presidency through the power of entertainment and gestural comedy. It points to a moment in the campaign when Trump, at a rally, teased John Kasich for eating quickly—in Trump’s caricature, Kasich shoves pancakes into his mouth in front of the press. The article posits,
In this dramatization of Kasich’s table manners, we are again confronted by a display of discomfort with non-normative bodies. It is well known that Trump avoided the fray of vernacular embodiment on the campaign trail by rarely eating with locals, even though this activity is expected of presidential candidates. In fact, Trump is famous for eating even fast food with a knife and a fork. Anthropologists familiar with the work of Norbert Elias (1982) and Pierre Bourdieu (1982) on the importance of table manners to class distinction would recognize Trump’s enactment as a veiled class assault: Kasich is a slob, a low life, a “subhuman” who would have difficulty being presidential. Trump, in contrast, is a man who teaches his children to exhibit good manners and eat politely in “small bites.”
When I listen to Joan Osborne’s “One of Us,” I get very emotional. Or, to get the rhythm of it more right, I listen to the song a few times on repeat with some quick returns to “St. Teresa,” I’ll be feeling really good, loving her, rocking out (I’m usually in my car), and then with seemingly no pattern or reason, I’ll be hit with it. It’ll creep up my chest and I’ll get it right behind the eyes. Yeah. Yeah.
I have been finding religion through these times. I’ve been praying, actually praying. I started right before the election. It didn’t do any good. A poet I know recently told me that my generation is too fixated on results. She said we need to protest, show up, talk to our representatives, not because it’ll work (she says it won’t), but because we need to live ethical lives. She’s right. She told me she would write me a letter about it and title it “Dear H.”
Dear God, why aren’t You helping? Are You helping? Is this You helping, all of us out in the streets? Cancelling our Uber accounts and instead taking a cab to go see our representatives? Did You help through the judge ordering a stay on Trump’s Muslim Ban? Is it You that moved that veteran, the one with four purple hearts, to drive four hours with his young son to be at the Dulles airport to protest? Did You at least see it, when he pinned one of his purple hearts to the shirt of an Iraqi husband, reunited with his wife after the stay was granted? Did You see me crying on my bed?
Should I mention here that I’m a Jew? Is that of any concrete use to this inquiry? Jews like to close read. Jews don’t totally get what’s going on with all this New Testament stuff. I’m a Jew who still doesn’t understand why some books got to be gospels and others didn’t. The Jews’ God, I have to say, is much closer to a slob than Jesus is. Jesus loved slobs, but He wasn’t one. He was, of course, “One of Us,” in a much more structural way than the Torah’s God. But the God of our Book is awesome (in new and old uses of the word) very much because he’s sloppy, sometimes (or even pretty often) wrong, impetuous, gets pissed, destroys everything, tells fathers to carry their sons up mountains to kill them only to pull back at the last minute for some unknown but presumably moral rationale that we’re still wrestling with, arguing over, shrugging and saying we’ll never understand. He puts His people in bad positions, hard ones. Maybe the thing is: He sets up all these scenarios in which people might become slobs, but they have to be something with more fortitude, for better or for worse. A lot of times it’s not for better. It reminds me a little of what my great-grandmother told my great aunt and my grandmother: You have to behave yourselves because someday the world will be the world again. My family, other people’s families, families in Poland and in Rwanda and in the U.S./the Americas before there were geopolitical lines cutting it all up (and in the U.S./the Americas through and after the geopolitical lines) and in the Torah: at no point have we been just allowed to chill, peacefully, by the banks of a river carving slowly through the desert. We haven’t been allowed to be slobs, but it’s not because slobs are bad, at least I don’t think that’s why not.
I think about Jesus a lot these days, and I think I like him. My great aunt collected Catholic icons and put them on the walls of her house. It seemed at many moments of my life an odd choice for someone who had survived the Shoah despite other humans’ best attempts, but at this moment I’m gaining a little access into it all. It’s not a Christian thing, and it’s definitely not a “Jews for Jesus” thing. Not for me, anyway. I can’t speak for her, not at all.
My God is not better than yours. I don’t know anything about yours, or honestly anything about mine. I know that as a kid I loved Sister Act, and when I re-watched it recently I wept through the whole movie. I know that I have a “Magic Created The World, Only Magic Can Heal It” bumper sticker on my wall. I know nothing about Joan Osborne’s relationship to her own spirituality. I know that mine changes probably daily. It’s growing fast these days in messy outward motions – horizontal and spin-wise, not vertical. Not necessarily toward any particular texts or traditions. I’ve always liked community. I feel deep allegiance to my family. I know there are a couple of sticky subjects that get hard to talk about, or to think about; I think we’re all moral relativists, trying to make our way home. When I imagine turning my head upwards and praying to an individual, I think of that scene in The Lion King when Simba sees his father in the night sky. I’ve been getting acupuncture a lot recently, and a friend cleansed my chakras. I watch Lady Ghostbusters regularly and believe it’s a parable for modern times. It is the 21st century and for reasons inextricable from my relationship to the patriarchy and a queer lineage I still pop Relish into my car CD player every few months or so and sing along full-throatedly as I glide down the streets of Tucson. I believe in epigenetics, and that I have a fight inscribed in my genes. I’d spent all this time assuming it was weakness—and now I know it’s a super power.
I think I would be okay with this being the song I listen to while I die.
The album version of “One of Us” starts with an old lady. Or, rather, with an old recording—made on October 27, 1937 by American folklorists Alan & Elizabeth Lomax for the Archive of American Folk Song—of an old lady—Mrs. Nell Hampton—singing an old song—a hymn written in 1928. To honor the great folklorist and believer, hypothesizer, wonderer, Joan Osborne, and for all the ladies who are both one of us and more, I’ll end the same place she starts:
So one of these nights and about twelve o'clock
This old world's going to reel and rock
Saints will tremble and cry for pain
For the Lord's gonna come in his heavenly airplane
Hannah Ensor is from Michigan and received her MFA in poetry at the University of Arizona. She coordinates the Reading & Lecture Series and the Summer Residency Program at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, and is also a co-editor of textsound.org, a contributing poetry editor for DIAGRAM, and has served as president of the board of directors of Casa Libre en la Solana, a literary arts nonprofit in Tucson, Arizona. Her first book is forthcoming from Noemi Press.
Don’t Want No Trump as President: allie leach on "short dick man"
In a perfect world, I would not like the song “Short Dick Man.” Alas, this world is not perfect, so I do appreciate 20 Fingers’ one hit wonder, which features the American rapper, dancer, actress, and hip-hop artist Sandra Gillette on vocals. Why do I appreciate it? How could anyone dig deep enough to find the King cake plastic baby in a song whose refrain, repeated eight times, is, “don’t want no short dick man?” Well, maybe for the sole reason that Donald Trump is now President. And he is a short dick man.
Metaphorically speaking, of course. Though I don’t know, nor do I care, how long (or short) his dick is. That being said, he did pose to an audience: “look at those hands! Are those small hands?” Referring to his dick, he followed this seemingly rhetorical question up with, “I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.” How very reassuring and salesman-like of him to guarantee. Again, “Short Dick Man” is a song that I would hate if Trump wasn’t President. Why exalt/ridicule someone because of the size of his dick? He can’t control it. On the flipside, I know I’d be infuriated if a guy said in a song, “Don’t want no small boob-ed gal.” Again, she can’t control it (unless she wants to get implants.)
Back to the metaphor. Trump is morally, ethically, spiritually, mentally, aesthetically, physically, metaphysically a motherfucking short dick man. So when I hear the song, when I sing the song, I have him in mind. When I hear the song, when I sing the song, I also have the women marchers in mind.
I participated in the Women’s March in Tucson, and one of the aspects that I loved most were the chants:
TELL ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE! / THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!
LOVE! / NOT HATE! / MAKES AMERICA GREAT!
HEY, HEY! / HO, HO! / DONALD TRUMP HAS GOT TO GO!
WE WANT A LEADER! / NOT A CREEPY TWEETER!
KEEP YOUR TINY HANDS! / OFF OUR UNDER PANTS!
Most people know by now that the last chant comes from Fiona Apple’s new song, “Tiny Hands.” Much like “Short Dick Man,” her song contains just a few words and phrases, which gain power and emphasis and momentum through repetition. Donald Trump’s voice is heard in the background repeating “Grab ‘em by the pussy.” Then, Apple chants repeatedly, “We don’t want your tiny hands / anywhere near our underpants.” Afterwards, Trump repeats his line, “grab ‘em by the pussy,” followed by “you can do anything.” Trump saying “you can do anything” shows the extent to which men, like him, can get away with sexual assault. For women, like me, his last words make me want to say, “Yes, we can do anything, Dumpy. And we will.”
When 20 Fingers released the song in 1995, Sandra Gillette told the LA Times why she decided to sing it: “Some guys think nothing of putting down women, and I think that’s disgusting,” she said. “I’m a feminist, and I want to defend women. Maybe after hearing this, some of the men will think twice before they bash women. Women really love this record.” Women did love the record, especially in France, where it was a number one hit. The song also reached top ten lists in Austria, Belgium, New Zealand, and Australia. The U.S.A.? Not as much. Many people were so horrified by the song that an edited radio version had to be made: “Short, Short Man.” This change led to some confusion and outrage: why were the singers making fun of short men? To this, Gillette responded, “Believe me, the song has nothing to do with height. When people complain about that, I say, ‘Listen very carefully to the words.’”
If one does listen very carefully to the words, it takes but a minute to unpack what they mean. The lyrics are pretty blunt. In a nutshell:
- Ah (x16)
- Don’t want no short dick man (x8)
- Don’t (x20)
- Don’t want (x32)
- Uh! (x15)
- Eenie weenie teenie weenie (x2)
- Shriveled little short dick man (x2)
- Eenie wee (x15)
- What in the world is that thing?
- Do you need some tweezers to put that thing away?
- That has got to be the smallest dick I've ever seen in my whole life
- Get the fuck outta here
- Isn't that cute: an extra belly button
- You need to put your pants back on honey
These lines that show up just once in the song make me laugh. They’re so ridiculous! And both 20 Fingers and Gillette are smart enough to know that this song is a satire; it’s not serious. It’s supposed to be funny. It’s supposed to be outrageous. It’s supposed to make people talk.
Yet behind the simplicity of the song lies something powerful in its repetition. Much like the Women’s March chants, when Gillette repeats words like “don’t” and phrases like “don’t want,” she is standing up for herself, strongly asserting herself. Her flurry of negatives rise and build and swirl around her, creating a force field that no short dick man can break through. Again, this has meaning because of its metaphor.
Back at the Tucson march, I was struck by the young girls with their moms. Little girls carrying posters. Little girls reciting chants. Even little girls wearing pink pussy hats. This last detail slightly shocked me. I mean, it’s kind of nuts that young girls and boys are now familiar with this word because of our current President. Mostly though, seeing these baby revolutionaries bringing it was incredibly inspiring. What a story they’ll have when they grow up.
One of the weirdest things about “Short Dick Man” is this video:
Here is Gillette and her dance crew singing “Short Dick Man,” but on a children’s television program in Brazil. What?! Yes, I know. This gem was posted by Mark Athitakis on the @MarchFadness twitter account. (Thank you, Mark. I don’t know you but mad respect to you for sharing this fine thing.) Her back-up dancers consist of Reggie, Danielle, Marisol, and Larry. Reggie and Larry wear sleeveless Nike basketball shorts and jerseys, while Danielle and Marisol wear Chicago Blackhawks jerseys (Gillette is from Illinois), spanks, and tights. Gillette is dressed like the girls, except that she has on a Mickey Mouse jersey.
Oh! And I can’t forget the knee pads, high tops, hair scrunchies, and gold hoops. Classic. Their dancing is mix between cheerleader and 90s aerobics classes. Kind of sporty, kind of sexy. But yeah: let’s back up for a minute. This is a children’s TV show. And there are children everywhere in the audience, dancing and singing along to “Short Dick Man.” Strange indeed. The only way I can rationalize it, though, is that maybe some of these audience members don’t even know what they’re singing. This reminds me of when “Gangnam Style” came out and everyone in the U.S. danced and sang along, without really knowing what the heck they were saying besides, “Hey, sexy lady.” And, to be fair, I danced to that song many times with lots of young kids at the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s Family Days events. So, maybe it’s a second language misunderstanding.
Then again, maybe not. Surely Brazil, home of the hairless bikini wax, is more lax when it comes to talking about our bodies. Maybe these young women were on to something. Or maybe they just thought that the song had a kick-ass beat, which it does.
This is the part in the essay where I interview Sandra Gillette. Except I don’t. I did find her phone number listed online, called it, left a message on her voice mail, but never heard back. Maybe it was because of the awkward way I said, “I’d like to ask her some questions about her song…“Short…Dick Man???” Yeah, good going, girl. Botched that one.
As I wrap this up, I want to circle back to the King of Botch—no other than our current President, Donald Dump. I wish I could be classier right now. I want to be all like Michelle Obama and chant, “When they go low, we go high.” I’ll get there. I will. You can do anything, right? But for now, I’d like to be more like the Michelle Obama I saw at Trump’s inauguration: throwing shade, pursing lips, giving the ole side-eye. For now, I want to hate on him. For now, I want to hit him where it hurts: right in his eenie-weenie-teeny-weenie-shriveled-little-short-dick. Man.
Allie Leach teaches English in Tucson. Her writing and reviews can be found in Hot Metal Bridge, South Loop Review, DIAGRAM, Tucson Weekly, and Edible Baja Arizona.