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Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation

Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation

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by Laura Kipnis

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From the notoriously contrarian author of Against Love, a witty and probing examination of why badly behaved men have been her lifelong fascination, on and off the page

It's no secret that men often behave in intemperate ways, but in recent years we've witnessed so many spectacular public displays of male


From the notoriously contrarian author of Against Love, a witty and probing examination of why badly behaved men have been her lifelong fascination, on and off the page

It's no secret that men often behave in intemperate ways, but in recent years we've witnessed so many spectacular public displays of male excess—disgraced politicians, erotically desperate professors, fallen sports icons—that we're left to wonder whether something has come unwired in the collective male psyche.
In the essays collected here, Laura Kipnis revisits the archetypes of wayward masculinity that have captured her imagination over the years, scrutinizing men who have figured in her own life alongside more controversial public examples. Slicing through the usual clichés about the differences between the sexes, Kipnis mixes intellectual rigor and wit to give us compelling survey of the affinities, jealousies, longings, and erotics that structure the male-female bond.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The latest collection of essays by self-described contrarian Kipnis (radio, television, film, Northwestern Univ.; The Female Thing) takes as its organizing principle both specific men (e.g. Larry Flynt, male biographers of Hillary Clinton) and more conceptual themes of maleness and masculinity. Divided into four broad sections, "Operators," "Neurotics," "Sex Fiends," and "Haters," each chapter is given an archetypal title, including "The Con Man," "The Manly Man," and "The Critic." Readers with a less categorical conception of gender, or less heteronormative view of the world, may be annoyed by Kipnis's tendency to make sweeping claims about men and gender, as well as her habit of speaking on behalf of women generally rather than herself specifically. Her performance will also not be to all readers' taste; Kipnis writes with the air of a rebellious, well-read teenager—employing a great deal of wit within which one finds little of original substance or firm conviction. First written as stand-alone pieces, taken together these essays can feel overwhelming in their ironic distance. VERDICT Despite these limitations, this work will likely be enjoyed and argued with in equal measure by feminist-minded individuals looking for a pleasurable read to tuck in their carry-on. [See Prepub Alert, 6/2/14.]—Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Massachusetts Historical Soc. Lib., Boston
The New York Times Book Review - Alice Gregory
Men feels like something written by your most hyper-verbal friend, the sort of person who can turn even logistical planning into witty and dexterous prose…The patriarchal world, through Kipnis's eyes, is consistently and quietly funny…At a time of trigger warnings and Twitter backlashes, when the media landscape can seem tripwired for even the most well-intentioned and accidentally insensitive of public figures (and civilians), Kipnis's coolheaded, ironical assessments of modern masculinity read like perfectly-timed eye rolls.
Publishers Weekly
★ 07/14/2014
Kipnis’s gifts are on full display in this irresistible collection of essays, in which she weaves together complex and penetrating insights about gender into provocative treatises. Though the book is putatively about men, Northwestern University professor Kipnis (Against Love) takes an appreciably unique angle on her subjects. Each chapter, save one, is devoted to an archetype of masculinity. Kipnis’s arguments are never predictable: for example, her chapter on “juicers,” ostensibly about steroid-abusing male athletes, evolves into a profound soliloquy about writing, plagiarism, and labor markets. Her examination of modern manhood sheds as much light on male vulnerability as it does on male privilege, entitlement, and abuse. If the book has a failing, it can be found in its unfortunate proclivity for armchair psychoanalysis, on display in the digression about Naomi Wolf’s story of sexual harassment at the hands of a male professor and the tale of a male writer who was the victim of stalking. In spite of this drawback, Kipnis has given us a necessary, and often witty, book that shows a brilliant, agile mind at work. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (Nov.)
From the Publisher

“Acerbic, wildly entertaining . . . Kipnis's combination of breeziness and erudition makes her unusual and unusually valuable.” —The Washington Post

“The patriarchal world, through Kipnis's eyes, is consistently and quietly funny. . . . Her coolheaded, ironical assessments of modern masculinity read like perfectly timed eye rolls.” —The New York Times Book Review

“These are times to try the weary feminist reader's patience, when the conversation seems dominated by absolutist twenty-three-year-olds still burning off the righteous indignation of their first women's studies courses. It's a cultural moment that begs for a worldly, ambiguity-friendly thinker like Laura Kipnis. . . . She is a swashbuckling stylist, with a knack for nailing the essence of a remark by means of a canny metaphor. . . . Humor and a kind of rueful empathy for human folly, not outrage, tends to be her go-to response.” —Laura Miller, Salon

“There is much fun to be had in experiencing the way that Kipnis follows her topics into unexpected territory, which is not unrelated to her charming inability to be the kind of easily outraged critic the world often seems to want. . . . [An] insightful, intelligent, and frequently hilarious collection.” —Bookforum

“A smart collection of weird, funny, and devotedly iconoclastic essays.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“Kipnis's gifts are on full display in this irresistible collection of essays, in which she weaves together complex and penetrating insights about gender into provocative treatises.… Kipnis's arguments are never predictable: for example, her chapter on ‘juicers,' ostensibly about steroid-abusing male athletes, evolves into a profound soliloquy about writing, plagiarism, and labor markets. Her examination of modern manhood sheds as much light on male vulnerability as it does on male privilege, entitlement, and abuse…. Kipnis has given us a necessary, and often witty, book that shows a brilliant, agile mind at work.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Feisty, unapologetic forays into the messiness of gender relations… rendered in funny, spirited writing.” —Kirkus Reviews

Men is a witty, incisive collection that exhibits just the right balance of empathy and suspicion for its subject. Kipnis is one of our keenest.” —Sam Lipsyte, author of The Fun Parts

“Confusion is sex, as Sonic Youth proclaimed, and no one's a better guide to the sexual confusion of the moment than Laura Kipnis. How can anyone so wise and tolerant about sexual politics also be so funny and entertaining? But don't take a man's word for it. Pick up the book.” —Benjamin Kunkel, author of Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis

“Laura Kipnis's voice is so intelligent and irreverent, her writing so honest and emotionally as well as intellectually incisive, that I'd gladly read her on any topic--but what she has to say about men, women, sex, and sexism is not to be missed. Whether she is writing about philandering husbands or university sexual harassment codes, she approaches her subject without ideological blinders; her take is invariably fresh, fair and respectful of the messy, imperfect thing we call the human heart.” —Adelle Waldman, author The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

“What do men want? Laura Kipnis knows. Whether she's aiming her devastating wit at rogues or reprobates, Lotharios or losers (and the women who love them), she's as fiercely intelligent as she is illuminating. When it comes to our ongoing gender wars, few writing today possess her combination of insight and humor. None keep it as fun.” —Adam Ross, author of Mr. Peanut

author of Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Prese Benjamin Kunkel

Confusion is sex, as Sonic Youth proclaimed, and no one's a better guide to the sexual confusion of the moment than Laura Kipnis. How can anyone so wise and tolerant about sexual politics also be so funny and entertaining? But don't take a man's word for it. Pick up the book.
Kirkus Reviews
Feisty, unapologetic forays into the messiness of genderrelations.In these essays, most previously published, outspokenfeminist Kipnis (Radio/TV/Film/Northwestern Univ.; How to Become aScandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior, 2010, etc.) fashions a fittingcompanion to her previous, self-described "conflicted" work onfemininity, The Female Thing (2006). Male types—e.g., "the ConMan," "the Manly Man"—fascinate the author and offer a way inside the malepsyche in order to find out what men really think of women—and why we shouldcare. Refreshingly, Kipnis operates by plunging into her subject, getting herhands dirty, her critics be damned—for example, reading back issues of Hustler magazinebefore interviewing publisher Larry Flynt—"the Scumbag"—which director MilosForeman would not do when he made his film The People vs. Larry Flynt.Declaring the contents of the porn rag downright "Rabelaisian," however gross,Kipnis offers some admiration that Flynt built his empire from the idea offighting sexual repression. The author provides lively examples for each of her"types": "Humiliation Artists," like recently disgraced politician AnthonyWeiner, are really all variations of the eponymous shame-seeking hero of PhilipRoth's Portnoy's Complaint. "Cheaters," like Tiger Woods, can onlyoperate successfully due to the phalanx of women who possess "willingself-abnegation." "The Trespasser" of Jackie Onassis' privacy, photographer RonGalella, is now elevated as an "artist," and his aggressive stalking of hismuse has been airbrushed. Kipnis reserves the final section for "Haters,"namely critics like Dale Peck, right-wing biographers of Hillary Clinton and even radicalfeminist icon Andrea Dworkin. Unafraid of offending the cause of politicalcorrectness, Kipnis is the kind of unfettered, freethinking observer who evenquestioned the nature of "unwanted sexual advances" at her school's harassmentworkshop: "But how do you know they're unwanted until youtry?"Dynamite examples rendered in funny, spirited writing.

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Notes from an Ongoing Investigation

By Laura Kipnis

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2014 Laura Kipnis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62779-188-5


The Scumbag

I met Hustler magazine's obstreperous redneck publisher Larry Flynt twice, the first time before he started believing all the hype about himself and the second time after. By hype, I mean the uplifting stuff floated in Milos Forman's mushily liberal biopic, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and dutifully parroted in the media coverage—that Flynt isn't just a scumbag pornographer, he's also some big First Amendment hero. I liked him better as a scumbag pornographer, though I realize this could be construed as its own form of perversity. Nevertheless, I had a certain investment in protecting my version of Flynt against Forman's encroachments, though, as anyone can see, I was severely outgunned in this match.

The reason we'd met in the first place was that I'd written an ambivalently admiring essay about Flynt and Hustler, which the ghostwriter of his autobiography had come across and passed on to Larry, and which he'd apparently admired in turn. The ghostwriter contacted me. I was invited to drop in on Larry the next time I was in Los Angeles, and as it happened, I had plans to be there the following month. A meeting was thus arranged. If I said that getting together for a chat with Larry Flynt was an unanticipated turn of events, this would be a vast understatement. The whole reason I'd written about him so freely was that I never expected to face him in person and could therefore imagine him in ways that gratified my conception of who he should be: a white trash savant imbued with junkyard political savvy. In truth, I found the magazine completely disgusting—as I was meant to, obviously: it had long been the most reviled instance of mass-circulation pornography around and used people like me (shame-ridden bourgeois feminists and other elites) for target practice, with excremental grossness among its weapons of choice. It was also particularly nasty to academics who in its imagination are invariably prissy and uptight—sadly I'm one of this breed too. (A cartoon academic to his wife: "Eat your pussy? You forget, Gladys, I have a Ph.D.")

Maybe I yearned to be rescued from my primness, though Flynt was obviously no one's idea of a white knight. (Of course, being attracted to what you're also repelled by is not exactly unknown in human history.) For some reason, I tend to be drawn to excess: to men who laugh too loud and drink too much, who are temperamentally and romantically immoderate, have off-kilter politics and ideas. Aside from that, it also happened that in the period during which my ideas about things were being formed, the bawdy French satirist Rabelais was enjoying an intellectual revival in my sorts of circles, along with the idea of the "carnivalesque": the realm of subversion and sacrilege—the grotesque, the unruly, the profane—where the lower bodily stratum and everything that emerges from it is celebrated for supposedly subverting established pieties and hierarchies.

I was intrigued by these kinds of ideas, despite—or more likely because of—my aforementioned primness. Contemplating where one might locate these carnivalesque impulses in our own time I'd immediately thought of Hustler, even though back then I had only the vaguest idea what bodily abhorrences awaited me within its shrink-wrapped covers (as if a thin sheet of plastic were sufficient to prevent seepage from the filth within). In fact, the first time I peeled away the protective casing and tried to actually read a copy, I was so disgusted I threw it away, I didn't even want it in the house.

Eventually steeling myself against my umbrage, I mounted another attempt. Hustler's assaults on taste and decency were indeed echt-Rabelaisian, I quickly saw, as even a partial inventory of its pet subjects will indicate: assholes, monstrous and gigantic sexual organs, body odors, anal sex, farting, and anything that exudes from the body—piss, shit, semen, menstrual blood—particularly when it sullies public, iconic, or sanctified places. Not for Hustler the airbrushed professional-class fantasies that fuel the Playboy and Penthouse imaginations. Instead, Hustler 's pictorials featured pregnant women, middle-aged women (denounced by horrified news commentaries as "geriatric pictorials"), hugely fat women, hermaphrodites, amputees, and—in a moment of true frisson for your typical heterosexual male—a photo spread of a pre-operative transsexual, doubly well endowed. In short, the Hustler body was a gaseous, fluid-emitting, embarrassing body forever defying social mores, and threatening to erupt at any moment. A repeated cartoon motif was someone accidentally defecating in church.

Basically, Hustler's mission was to exhume and exhibit everything the bourgeois imagination had buried beneath heavy layers of shame, and as someone deeply constrained myself, whose inner life has been shaped by the very same repressions and pretensions Hustler is dedicated to mocking, the depths of its raunchiness often seemed directed at me personally. Reading it I felt implicated and exposed, even though theoretically I'm against all those repressions too. At least I wanted to be against them.

I immediately embarked on reading as many back issues of the magazine as I could locate. These were generally to be unearthed in the discount bins at the back of neighborhood porn stores—this was back in the pre-Internet days, when people had to actually leave their homes to procure porn. Hunting down old copies of Hustler became for a while my weekend hobby, the way some people go antiquing or collect Fiesta ware. Poring over my growing bounty of issues, I could see that Hustler was definitely upholding a venerable, centuries-long rabble-rousing tradition of political pornography, though it still completely grossed me out.

I wasn't completely unaware of the irony involved in surveying Hustler from this somewhat rarefied intellectual vantage point, especially given how allergic the magazine itself is to all forms of social or intellectual affectation, squaring off like a maddened pit bull against the pretensions (and earning power) of the educated classes. That it was so often explicit about its class resentments reassured me that there was more going on than just raunch for its own sake, though its politics could also be maddeningly incoherent, with its arsenals of vulgarity deployed at American leaders and public figures on every side, systematically sullying every national icon and sacred cow. Of course it ranted against the power of government, by definition corrupt; dedicated countless pages to the hypocrisy of organized religion, with a nonstop parade of jokes on the sexual predilections of the clergy, the sexual possibilities of the crucifixion, the scam of the virgin birth, and the bodily functions of nuns, priests, and ministers; and especially despised liberals (along with, needless to say, feminists), all epitomes of bourgeois conventionality in its book.

Yet the magazine was also far less entrenched in misogyny than I'd assumed. What it's against isn't women so much as sexual repression, which includes conventional uptight femininity, though within its pages, not everyone who's sexually repressed, uptight and feminine is necessarily female: prissy men were frequently in the crosshairs too. In fact, Hustler was often surprisingly dubious about the status of men, not to mention their power and potency; often perplexed about male and female sexual incompatibility. On the one hand, you certainly found the standard men's magazine fantasy bimbette: always ready, always horny, up for anything, and inexplicably attracted to the Hustler male. But just as often there was her flip side: the leagues of women disgusted by the Hustler male's sexuality—haughty, rejecting (thus deeply desirable), upper-class bitch-goddesses. Class resentment was modulated through resentment of women's power to humiliate: "Beauty isn't everything, except to the bitch who's got it. You see her stalking the aisles of Cartier, stuffing her perfect face at exorbitant cuisineries, tooling her Jag along private-access coastline roads...." Hardly the usual compensatory fantasy life mobilized by typical men's magazines, where all women are willing and all men are studs, as long as they identify upward, with money, power, and consumer durables.

Once you put aside your assumptions about Hustler-variety porn aiding and abetting male power, you can't help noticing how much vulnerability stalks these pages. Even the ads play off male anxieties: various sorts of penis enlargers ("Here is your chance to overcome the problems and insecurities of a penis that is too small. Gain self-confidence and your ability to satisfy women will skyrocket," reads a typical ad), penis extenders, and erection aids (Stay-Up, Sta-Hard, etc.). The magazine is saturated with frustrated desire and uncertainty: sex is an arena for potential failure, not domination. You don't get the sense that the Hustler reader is feeling particularly triumphal about his place in the world; that these guys are winners in the sexual caste system.

I wrote up my somewhat conflicted thoughts about Hustler's pornographic truths and Flynt's self-styled war against social hypocrisy, and though I took a somewhat sardonic approach to both, I suppose I ended up kind of a fan. A nation gets the pornography it deserves, which is obviously why so many people are affronted by it. Once the essay came out I kept getting requests to write more about pornography, which was irksome because I was never all that crazy about any of it, Rabelais notwithstanding. Still, I guess you could say Flynt turned out to be kind of an influence in my life.

* * *

So there I was, a self-appointed expert on all things Hustler, seated across from the founding father himself in his thickly carpeted penthouse emporium atop the huge kidney-shaped office tower on Wilshire Boulevard, the one with his name emblazoned on the roof in towering letters that you can see for miles. If the magazine is a battleground of sex and vulgarity, Flynt's office was no less an assault on the senses: Tiffany lamps dueling with garish rococo furniture, gold and velvet-covered clashing everything—it looked like armies of rival interior decorators had fought and died on the job. The surprisingly charming Flynt presided over this expensive-looking mishmash from his famous gold-plated wheelchair (a long-ago assassination attempt by a professed white supremacist enraged by Hustler's interracial pictorials had left him paralyzed from the waist down). All those years in the chair have given him an extreme case of middle-aged spread: his face has a melted quality, with only a hint of the self-confident cockiness from old pictures. Newly image-conscious with Forman's biopic about to be released, he told me immediately that he was on a diet. "I may be a cripple, but I don't have to be a fat cripple," he chortled hoarsely.

This helped break the ice, though I was still in a state of mental confusion, faced with this large, damaged, flesh-and-blood man in place of my theoretical construct. On the one hand, I felt like I knew him intimately, having spent so much time conjuring him in my imagination and then crafting him on the page, but at another level everything was also unbridgeable between us. He, of course, had spent no time imagining me, I assumed, though he did pronounce my essay on him "feisty." This pleased me a little too much—I wanted his good opinion, yet I also wanted not to care about what he thought of me. I also wasn't sure if by "feisty" he meant the various potshots I'd taken at him in print or just that I'd bucked received feminist wisdom about the magazine, which had not exactly been popular in those precincts.

He wanted to correct me on one point, he said. I'd repeated what I'd read elsewhere—that the shooting and surgeries had left him with no bowel or urinary control, an ironic fate for a man who'd built an empire offending bourgeois sensibilities with their horror of errant bodily functions. To compound the ironies, this man who'd raked in millions on the fantasy of endlessly available fucking was also left impotent—or so I'd written. Flynt said it was the only thing I'd gotten wrong: he'd never been impotent. This seemed like rather intimate territory given the brevity of our acquaintance. I said I'd take his word for it.

Having cleared that up, we talked more easily about my essay and his magazine, then he invited the ghostwriter (also in attendance) and me to tag along to a private movie screening up in the Hollywood Hills. Which we did, and afterward trailed Larry and his small entourage to a late-night deli in Beverly Hills. He was gracious and congenial, but I never lost the double consciousness of feeling I was accompanying a character sprung from the recesses of my own fantasies.

This feeling was compounded when the ghostwriter sent me an advance copy of the autobiography a short time later. I was taken aback yet, I have to admit, gratified to find that passages I'd written about Hustler had been inserted into Larry's mouth as his first-person account of himself. Another passage, followed by my name, had been excerpted and reproduced on the back cover in the form of a blurb, just below the ones by Oliver Stone and Milos Forman.

I mention this to explain why my attitude toward Flynt may have a certain proprietary quality: it's because I invented him. Or let's say I invented a version of him that I found palatable, and he went along with it. If only other men I've known had been so compliant. (Isn't this one of the main factors in relationship failure, by the way: other people not conforming to your idea of who they should be?) Though I never really got the impression Flynt had a very firmly fixed idea about who he was in the first place; I suspect he's more of a scavenger when it comes to identity, which was fine with me. I just wanted him to stay the way I'd fantasized him.

* * *

Which, as I've mentioned, was a lot different from the way filmmaker Milos Forman fantasized him.

Pained liberalism is the predominant sentiment in The People vs. Larry Flynt. Pornography may be a necessary evil, but Forman personally dislikes it and wanted it known, once the movie was released, that he'd never personally purchased a copy of Hustler. On my part, I at least sat down and forced myself to read the thing. I may have been disgusted by Flynt but I was willing to learn from him; Forman was all about teaching Flynt an etiquette lesson. The result is a masterfully made movie that sanitizes Flynt's cantankerous, contrarian life and career into one long, noble crusade for the First Amendment, while erasing everything that's most interesting about the magazine, namely the way it links bourgeois bodily discretion to political and social hypocrisy. The movie reeks of class condescension. I bristled on Larry's behalf, though needless to say he was basking in the attention, mostly worried about his waistline and promoting the upcoming autobiography.

For Forman, Flynt's story was about "becoming an American, a politically cognizant citizen"—as though he wasn't one to begin with. It may have been Czech émigré Forman's love letter to American democracy, but it's also a stunningly undemocratic one if it turns out that political cognizance is the province of the educated classes and Flynt has to learn good citizenship at the feet of his betters. As he does here, under the tutelage of his lawyer, Alan Isaacman (a composite of Flynt's many lawyers over the years, as he required a small army of them)—predictably, the character with the most education becomes the movie's moral center.

The movie does at least dramatize how ready a nation founded on the principle of free speech was to back up its codes of social propriety with storm troopers: Flynt is variously gagged with electrical tape, carted off to jail for disrupting courtroom proceedings, and sent to a psychiatric prison for smart-mouthing a judge. To the sober-sided Isaacman, Flynt's behavior is simply crazy: why would a sane person defy the law? Probably because for Flynt it was just another scam. It thus became his compulsion to locate every loophole he could in the nation's obscenity laws, and use them to taunt his fellow citizens; his favored tactic being to systematically and extravagantly violate, in the grossest way possible, each and every deeply held social taboo, norm, and propriety he could find.

Failing to appreciate the neo-Rabelaisian inventiveness, the nation responded with its knee-jerk response to all perceived insults and injuries: the lawsuit. Flynt was endlessly clapped in jail on obscenity charges brought by the state, and spent upwards of $50 million over the years defending himself against the hundreds of civil suits brought by his outraged targets. Then there were the contempt charges. Flynt loved playing the wild man in official settings, and in the years following the shooting, his public behavior became even more bizarre—in constant pain, he'd become addicted to morphine and Dilaudid, finally detoxing to methadone. He famously appeared in court sporting an American flag as a diaper and was arrested; at another trial, described by the local paper as "legal surrealism," his own attorney requested permission to gag his unruly client. On one of his Supreme Court pilgrimages, Flynt got himself arrested for shouting at the justices, "You're nothing but eight assholes and a token cunt!"


Excerpted from Men by Laura Kipnis. Copyright © 2014 Laura Kipnis. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Laura Kipnis is the author of How to Become a Scandal, Against Love, and The Female Thing. A professor in the Department of Radio/TV/Film at Northwestern University, she has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the NEA. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's, Slate, and Bookforum, among others. She lives in New York and Chicago.
Laura Kipnis is the author of How to Become a Scandal, Against Love, and The Female Thing. A professor in the Department of Radio/TV/Film at Northwestern University, she has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the NEA. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, Slate, and Bookforum, among others. She lives in New York and Chicago.

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Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Welcome to weather clan theres 3 people theres god fast but slow theres gan strong but slow and kan fast but is strong only when being attacked. We will talk and post bios here you must include wha u are age gender name heres my bio BIO Name : Ted Age : 15 Type: Kan What i like: I like football blue is my favorite color. Gender: Boy