On the Airbrushing of Caster Semenya’s Gender

Have you been following the story of Caster Semenya? The South African teenage runner, who won the gold in the women’s 800-meter competition at the World Championships in Berlin, was recently asked to take a gender examination by the event’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations. According to the IAAS, the concern is not that that Semenya lied or cheated, but that she may have some sort of undiagnosed chromosomal condition that may have endowed her with an unfair athletic advantage. Depending on the outcome of the test, Semenya could be stripped of her medal and her title.

Yesterday was a tipping point for the way that Semenya’s gender has been discussed in the media. Until this moment, both Semenya’s self-confidence and her country’s support for her just the way she is have been refreshingly unapologetic. When she arrived in Johannesburg after the gender allegations hit the press, she was greeted by cheering fans, with men shouting “marry me!” and “Caster is hot.” The Young Communist League of South Africa issued a statement condemning the IAAS for requesting a gender test based on notions that “[feed] into the commercial stereotypes of how a woman should look, their facial and physical appearance, as perpetuated by backward Eurocentric definition of beauty.” And the general sentiment issued by Semenya’s inner circle, defending her gender identity in the press, has been unanimously supportive of her unconventional choices. So what, ask her friends and family, if she doesn’t wear dresses or want to date boys?

Well, it was nice while it lasted. Today, Semenya fell victim to the same phenomenon as Susan Boyle some months before her: the softening magazine makeover. Anna North at Jezebel posted a sensitive, incisive analysis of Semenya’s girly magazine shoot for the cover of South Africa’s YOU under the title “How Not to Solve a Gender Dispute.” My favorite bit:

From Susan Boyle to Semenya, magazine “makeovers” send the message that there’s one way for women to look good, and the closer you get to it the happier you’ll be. I’d rather live in a world where Caster Semenya can wear pants if she feels like it, rather than one where she needs a team of stylists to be considered “feminine.”

Like North, I too hope that the day of dress-up and makeup was actually fun for the teenage track star, and can’t help but wonder uneasily to what extent Semenya is now being goaded by the adults who’ve suddenly swarmed around her to push their own agendas.


SAMPARKOUR, directed by Wiland Pinsdorf, featuring Zico Corrêa. (Via William Gibson, thanks.)

Commercial/music video director Wiland Pinsdorf’s SAMPARKOUR is “a short that reveals the city of São Paulo (Brazil) under the look of Parkour. Where people see obstacles, Zico Corrêa visualizes new possibilities.”

Shot in HD with a 35mm lens adapter, the short is simultaneously dizzying and becalming, presenting Corrêa’s death-defying feats in a breathtaking rush of carefully framed shots and well-paced edits. Today –perhaps more than most days– it is deeply satisfying to witness a collaboration (between filmmaker and athlete, city and gravity) so vital, immediate, and perfectly alive.

Happy 100th Birthday, Errol Flynn!

Errol Flynn – by George Hurrell 1938

The centennial of Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn’s birth is upon us, cialis dear readers. There will be those benighted types who are indifferent to the occasion. There will be others who feel, medicine wrongly, that today is best commemorated by seeing The Adventures of Robin Hood. And still others, misguided, but with inner compasses not yet completely demagnetized, who will gather together to sip rosé and watch Captain Blood.

But not us. Unlike Nietzsche, we understand that aesthetic arguments ultimately collapse into ethical ones and not vice versa, at least where Errol Flynn is concerned. That there are right choices and wrong ones, and that it isn’t all just a matter of taste. There is no godless moral vacuum for us. For us, God still moves over the face of the waters, and Spanish galleons beware!

Beware…The Sea Hawk!

OK, I’ll admit it. Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood are pretty great, too. So is The Black Swan, starring Tyrone Powers. And so is Peter Weir’s Master and Commander, for that matter. But The Sea Hawk is unquestionably my favorite swashbuckler movie—which isn’t the same thing as saying it’s my favorite movie, but the distinction is so small it changes position whenever you try to observe it.

Because of their many similarities, as a child of the 1970’s and 80’s I am tempted to describe The Sea Hawk as the Star Wars of its era. But fuck that. Star Wars is The Sea Hawk of its era. Borges is right that an artist creates his own precursors, but just because George Lucas asked John Williams to model his music after Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s classic score doesn’t mean we should forget which is the cart and which the mule.

Better Than Coffee: Wingsuit Base Jumpers in Norway

“Meredith Anne Yayanos, I ABSOLUTELY FORBID IT.”

My Dad (standard response whenever I expressed interest in skydiving, bungee-jumping, para-surfing, parkour, driving a motorcycle, skateboarding, driving without a seat belt, crossing the street against a red light, not washing my hands before dinner, forgetting to floss, etc) 1976 – ?

“Have you ever heard of proximity flying? Fascinating. I’m thinking of getting myself a wingsuit for my birthday. If you hear a loud, dull thud, you will know my jump from our roof was unsuccessful.”

My Dad, 2009

My dad is getting quite XTREEM in his golden years, it would seem! He’s just about the last person I’d expect to get base-jumping links from. Nevertheless, pops just sent me this clip from the Matchstick-produced “action sports” documentary, Seven Sunny Days. It is, hands down, the most beautiful wingsuit footage I’ve ever seen. Instant adrenaline rush. Thank you, Doctor Yay!

Click below for more astounding “squirrel suit” clips from around the world.

The First Olympic Cyborg?

This summer South African runner Oscar Pistorius, after much controversy, will have a shot at competing in the Olympics. Why the controversy? Pistorius, known as “blade runner” (a name he rejects as “boring stuff”) was born without fibula. He has not had flesh, blood and bone below his knees since he was 11 months old.


In January, the International Association of Athletic Federations ruled that his state of the art prosthetics were superior to human legs, and would thus give him an unfair advantage. Last month, that judgement was overturned. If he can cut his best times down by less than a second, Olympic competition will see its first cyborg. The future has arrived.