Get to Know Lisa Rosman Through Her Various Works

Cottonpicking American Apparel

Back in the ’90s, I worked at what was then called the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union. (These days, having gone the way of all unions, it’s collapsed with Amalgamated Textile Workers’ Union to become UNITE.) It was a smash-up first job, overall. Not only did I meet friend-for-life Amy and shake Bill Clinton’s pretty hand, but I was able to say at the end of most days that I’d done something, however indirectly, to improve rather than further complicate the lives of a great deal of immigrant women.

One funny result of working there, however, was that I really did feel compelled to look for the union label. Even back then it was proving increasingly elusive. Truth told, it was impossible to spend all day scribing angry propaganda against Nike or the Gap, and then slap on a pair of swooshy trainers produced by sweatshop workers earning 2 cents a day. Shopping was a nightmare: For years, I could only either buy clothing at stores like Benetton, as I knew the Italians to be too prickly to use anything but organized labor, or fool helplessly with the sewing machine my grandmother left me. Over the years, as I befriended more and more Brooklyn and downtown girly designers, I started to look the other way when it came to pinpointing who exactly manufactured their too-cute-for-school gear. Only when the D train crossing the Manhattan bridge afforded me a fullscreen glimpse of the Chinatown sweatshops did I confront the women toiling at least in part on the little shifts my friends and I were sporting.

Which is why I’ve been clinging to American Apparel like an ideological life preserver. Sure, Dov Charney, the mustached man behind the screen, has proved himself (in the slick pages of feminist-lite mag Jane, no less) to be a chronic public masturmabator and all-round abject objectifier (in a bad way). But the ropa is clever, accessible, simple cotton, eminently affordable, and sweatshop-free. Facts impressive enough so that a church-state separation has seemed warranted in the case of Feminism Vs. Labor Politics.

A Behind the Label release, however, suggests that as usual the separation ain’t possible. Dirty sexual politics and dirty labor practices is in fact the real name of the game. O ye wearing the sweet hoodies, polo shirts, and sexy camp counselor shorts, I must announce that Charney is as ugly an owner as he is a sexual prospect. Ugly, of course, in the most of spiritual of senses. What to do? Maybe we should start growing cotton ourselves.


To cheer myself up, to wrest myself from February’s insidious grasp, herein lies a list. It is doggedly linkless, so consider yourself forewarned.

Word I Cannot Stop Using: Douchebag.

Favorite Misapplied Acronym: FTM.

Actresses I Wish to See More: Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Helen Mirren, Juliet Stevenson, Alfre Woodard, Regina King, Holly Hunter, Valerie Harper, Judy Davis.

Actors I Wish to See More: Donald Sutherland, Alan Arkin, Alan Alda, Tom Wilkinson; John Goodman, John Turturro, Charles Dutton, Pablo Schreiber (dang, the whole bleeping cast of The Wire).

DVDs I Cannot Stop Watching: All That Jazz; Singin’ in the Rain, the greatest metamovie ever made; Love Jones; The L Word Season 1.

TV Crying Shames: That Arrested Development has for all practical purposes been cancelled; that network TRIO is on life support since parting ways with DirecTV; that The Wire may get cancelled; that Desperate Housewives won’t; that there aren’t enough Prime Suspects.

Favorite Bad TV: Gilmore Girls.

Season 2 I Am Desperately Awaiting: The L Word. February 20!

Best 2004 Movie that Got Shanked by the Critics: Spanglish.

Worst 2004 Movie That Got Stroked by the Critics: Sideways — and who cares if A.O. Scott said it first? ‘Tis true, ain’t it?

2004 Movie I Will Not Forgive You for Disliking: I Heart Huckabees. Runners-up: Eternal Sunshine of the Mind, Before Sunset, Vera Drake.

Maybe They Should Stop Already: Wes Anderson, Jane Campion.

What Made Me Excited about Film Again: Last Life in the Universe.

Show That Made Me Stop Hating Going to Shows: M.I.A. at Knitting Factory last Saturday night. Even though Knitting Factory sucks, even though I could barely move to dance, even though for all practical purposes I could not take a piss, even though I currently dislike all boys who wear Seven jeans, even though I currently dislike all girls wearing bangs and a frown who only dance to look sexy to men, even though I felt old as the hills, it was still exciting to be that close to someone who is going to be a huge star in 20 minutes and actually bloody deserves it. I’d forgotten.

What Made Me See The Point of New(ish) White Music Again: Blonde Redhead, The Strokes, Karen O, Matthew Dear, The Blood Brothers (I’ve come around), DFA remixes.

Favorite Radio Station in a NYC Heartbeat: Hot 97.

Music That Will Always Make Me Dance Unless You Cut Off Me Legs and Then I Will Dance on My Arms Delightfully: All James Brown, cliches be damned (from here on in); Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”; Etta James’ “In the Basement”; DFA remix of Le Tigre’s “Deceptatacon”; Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This”; Rolling Stones’ “Little T and A”; Britney Spears’ “Toxic”; almost the entirety of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Off the Wall; Little Richard’s “Jennie, Jennie”; Madonna’s “Get Into the Groove” — and every fast song on the Immaculate Collection; “Rapper’s Delight”; pretty much anything by Booker T and the MGs; Beyonce’s “Work It Out”; all things Fannypack; black marching bands; Andre Williams’s “Jailbait”; LL Cool J’s “Around the Way Girl”; Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”; and for sure Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up”. For stahtahs.

Singer Who Needs to Stop Smoking So Much Reefer and Record Already: Kate Bush, to remind everyone who was the original dreamy dream girl.

Singer Who Most Needs to Quit Smoking Period: Aretha Franklin. Runner-ups: Joni Mitchell, Yancey Strickler.

Singer Who Needs To Be At the Foot of the Bed While I Have Sex: Al Green, Blossom Dearie, Stevie Wonder.

Singer Who Needs To Be in My Bed While I Have Sex: Prince. I’ve been inviting him since I was 12, for heaven’s sake.

Singer Who Needs To Stay Far Away From My Bed If I’m Ever Going to Orgasm Even Though I Like Her: Bjork.

Singers Who Need to Be Alive: Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke (so he could record something in the studio more closely approximating his live performances).

I Just Love Her: Etta James, Nico, Mary J. Blige, Bonnie Raitt (but her early stuff is mucho better), Aretha Franklin, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Carla Thomas, Dolly Parton.

Favorite Author who Needs to Come Back to Life to Make Me Dinner (her first order of business, naturally): MFK Fisher.

Favorite Living Author Who Needs to Publish More Already (and get back into print): Eve Babitz.

Most Surpisingly Wonderful Book I Read Recently: What I Loved by Siri Hustevdt.

Authors as Spiritual Mommies: The snappish, dual-continent ladies whose careers and lives spanned the 20th century and who discreetly wrote, lived, ate, and fucked exactly as they wished. May Sarton, MFK Fisher, The Mitford Sisters, Madeline L’Engle — to name just a few.

Short Story Authors who Make Me Remember Why I Used to Like Short Stories: Ellen Gilchrist, Amy Bloom, Alice Motherfucking Munroe.

Best Book I Keep Putting Off Reading: Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

Books I Now Accept I Will Never Finish: Middlemarch by George Eliot, 60 Stories by Donald Barthelme, Finnegan’s Wake. Obviously.

Book I Won’t Finish Until I’m 40: Anything by Proust.

Author I Will Never Like So Stop Asking Already: Don DeLillo, except for the first chapter of Underworld, which really may be perfect. Runner-up: Lorrie Moore.

The Only Remaining Author I Wish Were My Friend: Mostly I’ve learned it’s best to admire your favorite authors from afar, but Edmund White is very endearing in person.

Favorite Literary Form: Collections of letters.

What I Miss Most About ‘90s NYC: Brooklyn. Union Square. Cheap yoga classes. Drag queens. Cheap designers on Ludlow Street. Independent bookstores. The (crappy) movie theater on Greenwich Avenue. The two-dollar theater. Clit Club (highlarious).

What I Love Most About NYC Right Now: Atlantic Avenue grocery stores. Astoria restaurants. Wireless everywhere. Diner brunches. That we can call Jon Stewart our own. Cheap designers in Williamsburg. The Landmark Theater on Houston. Brooklyn Writers’ Space. The new Battery Park. Museum of the City of New York. The new dykes. Segregated dog runs. Al Sharpton.

Favorite Era of NYC: Early ’50s.

Favorite Era of the ’60s: Early ’50s.

What Will Always Rule My School: Walking through an early NYC morning.

American City I Still Harbor Fantasies about Moving to: New Orleans (outskirts), Los Angeles (yes).

Living Friends I Miss Most: Umbe “The Creature” Consiglio, Michael Anderson.

Passed-on Friends I Miss Most: Nat Rosman, Alice May Edney.

Two Friends I Cannot Go a Week Without: Jocelyn K. Glei and Mary E. Murray.

Found Family: Yancey George, Max-a-million, Ruby Lynn — and my family of origin.

What I Cannot Lose: The 10 pounds I gained when I fell in love.

What I Cannot Find: The desire to be 25 again.

Gag Me with a Silver Spoon (Inside Deep Throat)

I’ve been trying to resist adding my two cents to the general hoopla about Inside Deep Throat. Like the blue movie that is its subject, the doc simply is not compelling in the slightest, and even its prurience doesn’t excuse half the attention that it has quickly generated. (Disclosure: I fell asleep — twice — during the seemingly endless screening).

But I can keep mum no longer. Apparently it’s been too long since feminists fell into the rabbit hole that is the Porn Debate. This film has created an excuse to once again ignite that classically polarizing, highly distracting fire and brimstone, catapulting humorectomized if well-intentioned feminist lawyer Catharine MacKinnon and enough-already First Amendment-upholding attorney Alan Dershoshits (sic, sic) into the spotlight, along with other increasingly irrelevantes (Erica Jong and her zipless fuck, anyone?). In a New York Times piece, the two pencil-pushers (pun intended, and can you blame me?) are reported to have held forth in a panel following the premiere, though they also acknowledged they’d not seen the dirtypic itself. Now that’s funny.

Bottom line: People will always look at dirty pictures, and both men and women will always make them because they generate income. Supply-and-demand, baby. As a feminist, it’s embarrassing to even have to field the porn question. My great-grandmother ran a brothel, for Christ’s sake, so I know that people will always pay for sex in all shapes and forms. Why waste time whining about that shite when second-wave feminism’s tenets (equal wages, abortion rights, to name just two) actually have a shot in hell of getting accomplished? (I know I am being very optimistic in stating this, given our neo-con ‘s “advances,” detailed so thoroughly by the feministing goils.)

Yes, in the decades following Deep Throat‘s release, Linda Lovelace came forward, her grubby hands held tight by key members of the Official Feminist Movement (Gloria Seinem et al.) as she recounted the horrors inflicted upon her off- and on-set during the making of the movie. And, yes, I don’t doubt her. Not exactly, anyway. But some questions always have surfaced for me, ones that I have to say out loud even though I fear sounding reactionary: Was there absolutely no moment when Lovelace couldn’t have evaded her “captors” had she set her sights on doing so? And if the experience was as scarring as she has claimed it was, why did she return to the industry in the last years of her life?

The obvious answer is that she was broke, and that it was hard for her to land work in any straight industry after making her name swallowing so many inches of cock on celluloid. Lovelace’s story speaks to the many shades of gray that comprise this seemingly black-and-white issue. Women may mostly go into the industry, more often than not, for cash, but what happens to them once they do is often probably more than they anticipated. Mary, my great-grandmother, was by all accounts enormously sour by the time she died. She also was a Polish immigrant who arrived in this country penniless and died a wealthy woman. There are few other industries in which a midcentury, indigent immigrant single mother could’ve achieved the same. Solving women’s economic problems would probably be a more productive issue for all the porn-obsessed to focus upon.

What’s complicated about Lovelace’s story in particular is that she has always emerged as a woman born to be a victim: as fairly dim; as easily led, whether it be by porn filmmakers or the feminists (Gloria Steinem spoke for her as blatantly as did the boys in the doc’s footage); as a tabula rasa upon which various pundits and social movements of the 70s scribbled their name. Finally, she seems to have become a victim of this bad movie, which isn’t about any of the myriad cultural hotbuttons wired to Deep Throat, although it purports to be. Really, Inside Deep Throat is just another movie glorifying and rationalizing the ’60s-’70s as a lost utopia. The arc of all these documentaries is always the same: Details the humble beginnings of a particular movement, its heyday, and then its inevitable fall from Eden.

As a younger girl, I bought into these tastemakers’ propoganda, but these days I can’t help but perceive those times as a natural harbinger of the detritus that we’re living today. Yes, many people then lived with ideals that have faded from our country’s blueprints. But many more were hedonists, opportunists, mere dullards. That said, let’s face it: To suggest that Deep Throat harkens back to an era of true art, a golden era in which porn was more about social radicalism and art than the pneumatic plastic titty and dick factory that it is today, takes the mommyfucking cake. Rich, darling, it is so very, very rich.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy