Thursday, November 21, 2013

Our Bodies, Our Selfies

Selfie panic.  Selfie panic!  Everyone, quick, flip your shit about selfies! They are terrible for women and a cry for help! 

The self-portrait has been around as long as humans have had paint and a reflective surface in which Tyra one's best angles. MySpace made the duckface helicopter shot ubiquitous--and easy to mock--but on a scale from one to Albrecht Durer turning himself into Fabio Jesus, I think the modern selfie as it lives on via Instagram is a pretty minor crime against humility. And art.  And while the "selfie" is technically sort of a gender neutral phenomenon, selfie panic is firmly focused on teenage girls.  Look at all their pictures!  How many pictures of themselves can they post? How can girls be this vain? They need to be told forty times a day that they're pretty! They are so dumb and also letting down women and also men responding to their images is their fault!
I cannot understand how girls creating images of themselves and posting them online is a bad thing, unless you assume that their photos are meant to say Look at me.  Which, sure, maybe some are.  But we're talking about girls. And women. We're all just sponges floating in a stopped-up sink full of messages that tell us we're gross, soaking up the ugliness everyday until we're saturated. To believe that a selfie is purely an act of narcissism is to discount how hard it is just to be female and be observed by the world. Given that, I believe that when a woman posts a selfie, she's saying I deserve to be seen.

The feedback loop of likes and comments is almost besides the point. It takes a split second of supreme confidence for a girl to post her picture to the world; however fleeting the feeling, she is not embarrassed by how she looks and that is the power of the self portrait. Who cares if she spent three hours and took a hundred photos to get the one she liked? It was three hours wrestling with a lifetime of learned insecurity and guess what? She won. 

Girls have always looked at themselves. Growing up is little more than figuring out how other people see you and deciding how you want to be seen. Social networking did not cause the desire for girls and women to seek acceptance of their looks.  Instead, the world before Instagram was just populated by a whole lot more girls who refused to have their pictures taken. I have about six pictures of myself from ages 12 through 20 because I deeply feared that I was ugly, and allowing someone else to present me to the world wrested the bit of control I had over my image out of my hands. How is it somehow damaging, then, for a girl to have an Instagram account full of moments she created where she felt beautiful and wanted to be seen? She's publishing the story of her self-acceptance. OH, WON'T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Stoddly Fascinating

What do we do about Courtney Stodden?  I mean really, what do we DO about her? 

My attention trailer is hitched to her airbrushed pickup truck of a life and I’m not sure what to do about it, beyond watch these clips of her with Dr. Drew—who I think is about as effective a physician as Dr. Pepper at this point—over and over again, wondering where she gets her outfits, wondering where she gets the IDEAS for her outfits, wondering why she is at any given point somewhere between 25% and 95% Dana as Zhoul, wondering how she came to believe that she was meant to be a sex cipher instead of a trigonometry student, wondering what is the source material for this weird pleather/spandex patchwork of sensual performance, wondering how she came to be exposed to it before she could even legally drive a car. 

And then this single!  She sings, but she sings like this is 1998 and she is opening for a drag queen doing Jennifer Paige's "Crush" at a pride parade. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but I just don't understand how.  How does a 17-year-old produce something that should accompany half-priced well drinks during happy hour, right after a megamix video that includes maybe, like, Deborah Cox and Tamia? There is a stranger in her house, and that stranger is way older than 17.

What do we DO about Courtney Stodden? 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Voice: The Gif that Gifs Back

So, sometimes (every week, twice a week) Sam and I watch The Voice.  Whatever, no big deal, reality singing competition judged by human cornichon Adam Levine and others, so what? Whatever.  The point here is that whoever stages the contestant performances is my best friend in the universe after this:

Oh hello, I didn't see you there IN MY MIME HOUSE FULL OF MIMES. DO COME IN.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Here, I've Written About "Girls," Can I Stay on the Internet?

As a 29-year-old woman who graduated from a liberal arts college, works in publishing, lives in Brooklyn, and has tattoos of children's book illustrations, I think my continued citizenship of the United States of Internet is contingent upon my writing at least 500 words on HBO's Girls.

First off, I loved Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture. Loved it! Which is why I was so excited about Girls, seeing as the subject matter, setting, characters, and cast are so similar. I'm a sucker for a story about people flopping into adulthood and Tiny Furniture, for all of its slick Manhattan arty rich kid privilege, told a story I related to through characters I didn't.

There's a world of difference between Lena Dunham, director and writer, and Hannah/Aura, the character she's essentially played twice to varying effect. Conflating Dunham with her characters does a disservice to women that borders on misogynistic. No one thinks Seth Rogen should be pilloried for crimes against his generation for playing several identical doughy stoner man-babies and putting his buddies in his movies; people don't believe that he somehow lucked into his writing gigs despite being an idiot because he plays idiots. Dunham is the daughter of well-off artists who plays the daughter of well-off artists/professors. Why is it easier to write off her successes? She's an acclaimed director, an exceptionally believable actress, the creator of an HBO series, single-handedly doing more to normalize women's bodies on television than anyone in recent memory, and a 25-year-old woman. Yeah, totally, it was probably because she grew up rich.

Girls is television beautifully done. The characters are painfully believable, the apartments are depressingly realistic. And I hated watching every second of it.

Precisely because the show is so well done, Hannah Horvath and her shitty concerns and her garbage friends and her bullshit life enrage me to the point where I wanted to put my foot through my TV, but I can't do that because I can't afford another one, because I am a 29-year-old woman who lives in Brooklyn and pays her own rent on a real life publishing salary. I believe these characters. And if I ever had to hang out with them for 10 seconds of their, "Ew, what if I had to get a job at McDonald'sssssss!" conversation, I would leave. Straight-up walk out of that kitchen (possibly into traffic). Conveniently, because they're fake and I have a remote control, I can end this toxic friendship before it starts.

If there's someone to blame for that fact that you and I spent our Sunday night watching awful monster people be nauseating, it's not Lena Dunham. She's doing an unbelievably good job of creating on small facet of reality, however grating (or not) you find it. You also can't blame some nebulous nepotism, which people keep sort of bringing up because all of the main actresses have a famous parent. (That does, however, say something about the power of wealth in general--famous, successful people are the ones who can afford to have their kids be actresses and filmmakers, but not every rich kid is talented. These girls are.)

You can, however, blame HBO. The executives who choose what beams into your house are the people who privilege one voice over another; they decided that show was where they'd put their cable bucks and I hate to think what voices didn't get a spot on the air because HBO thought it was important we all hear rich white people discuss how awful it is to have responsibilities. (Without so much as a glimmer of hope that Hannah will change! Why couldn't the hotel maid have caught her pocketing the tip?! A modicum of justice was all I would've needed to maybe give the show a second chance.)

Three weeks ago I decided that Sam and I were going to get HBO. I literally stood in the middle of my living room, justifying my stance by repeating "I AM AN ADULT AND I CAN HAVE NICE THINGS, GODDAMMIT!" in what was definitely an Outdoor Voice. For the first time in my whole life, I make enough money to pay for HBO. I wish I were exaggerating when I say that I felt like I'd taken an express elevator to the penthouse of Kid Kathy's Concept of Luxury when my cable box rebooted and bam, there was the entire season of Eastbound and Down. Getting access to the show Girls is a big, big deal for me. I refuse to hang out with anyone (televised or animate) who would not understand that big, big, deal. Hannah and her friends don't get it.

But I that's sort of the point, I suppose. I'm not a 25-year-old ex-intern who's never paid for anything. I'm a 29-year-old publishing editor who's worked for my money, and worked to have a really good handle on what kind of people I want in my life. These Girls don't get to be my friends.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Penn State

The word “legacy” gets thrown around a lot when people are trying to justify something vile. When I was in college I went to a lecture by Charlene Teters, a tireless Native American artist and activist taking a stand against racist sports team mascots. After a screening of the documentary “In Whose Honor?” about the Fighting Illini and their (former!) mascot Chief Illiniwek, I remember her speaking quite a bit about how his continued existence was often supported by citing the legacy of the school, the legacy of the team, and the fond memories the legacy of the racist mascot stirred up in alumni with liquid assets. Legacy, here, was code for preservation despite offense.

Though I don’t generally like to compare the rotten apples of one tragic situation to the putrefying oranges of another, this use of the word “legacy” in response to the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State University child sexual abuse scandal tied the two situations together in my head. In 2005, the NCAA weighed the legacy of Chief Illiniwek against its overt racism and, despite an 80 year history at the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, condemned its use by U of I teams. The University retired the symbol after the 2006-2007 basketball season. A legacy can be outweighed.

Imagine now that Chief Illiniwek was a real person and a University of Illinois graduate assistant walked in on him raping a child, who he came to know through a foundation for underprivileged youth. Imagine that assistant told the head coach—a really good head coach, who’d been there for a long time and known Chief Illiniwek for years—who told the athletic director, who told University of Illinois officials. None of them called the police. They dealt with the situation by asking Chief Illiniwek not to bring kids to the locker room any more.

And, when the story broke that Chief Illiniwek had raped not just this child but others, students screamed as loud as they could that their head coach should be allowed to keep his job because of his winning legacy.

Here, legacy is code for preservation despite degradation.

That is the argument the rioting students of State College made last night, violently. Joe Paterno won 409 games for Penn State so his unbelievable refusal to contact the police when told Jerry Sandusky had been witnessed raping a child should be forgiven. These students, some of them freshman who have been connected to the Penn State legacy for less than three months, have given Joe Paterno’s 409 winning games a weight greater than his complicity in the sexual abuse of at least one 10-year-old boy and systematic, pervasive, stomach-turning silence on the part of University officials at all ranks.

I can’t believe any of this even bears saying, but I’ve gotten a response from a Penn State girl supporting Joe Paterno on Twitter and, astoundingly, heartbreakingly, unbelievably, it seems the thought that we are all duty-bound by our humanity to protect children from harm is not universal. That something as trivial as college football can outweigh a child’s welfare is so sad I don’t have an adjective for it.

“Asked how she felt about Paterno being fired, Nicole Atlak, a freshman from Toms River, New Jersey, said: "Absolutely disgusted. From a student's perspective, it's like where do we go from here? We no longer have a president. We no longer have a 45-year legacy."
-The Christian Science Monitor

So, let’s just talk about legacy then. A legacy is anything passed down through time and motherfuckers, these kids who were abused are the legacy of years of oppression piled on rape culture piled on the privilege of a few to put their shit, however negligibly important, ahead of everything else. These kids were victimized by every fucking system designed to keep them safe. They were born difficult circumstances, found their way to a charitable organization for the underprivileged and, when they were preyed upon even there, found out that Penn State football fans are more important than the fact that they were raped. That’s the legacy you should be talking about, Nicole, and I hope every potential boss Googles you and you spend years justifying that quote. Poor kids get preyed on at Penn State and then ignored by University officials and, when caught, the student body is “absolutely disgusted.”

You’re right. “It’s like where do we go from here?”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge: A Song That Makes You Happy

Some blog I read recently posted a video of a guy singing along to his headphones on the subway. I’m gonna Evelyn Beatrice Hall this one and say that while I may not always appreciate the song choice/vocal volume/proximity to my head of subway singers, I will defend to the death their right to belt out whatever it is that’s making them okay with being carted in the dirty dark between stations, often standing, often tired. Outside New York City, the chances to sing on the top of your lungs come more frequently. Cars, in my mind, were built explicitly for this purpose. You can really murder a in the shower when your house is not divided from your neighbor’s by newspaper and seven coats of semi-gloss. But when the right song hits your headphones in public, the one that makes you just so thrilled to have ears in the first place, don't you ever feel like this guy? I respect this guy. I love this guy.

If music is a thing that makes you happy, it is a thing you often wish you could share. Living here you just can’t. So, my pick for a song that makes me happy is the one that gets me the closest to Mr. California Girl. It’s the one that makes me dance on curbs while I’m waiting for the light to change and the one I’ll stand up for on the subway just so I can do a subtle hustle. It’s Earth Wind and Fire’s “September.”

Tell me this doesn't make you ecstatic (and ever so seasick).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge: A Song You Hate

I can forgive a lot when it comes to music. For instance, I think Pink is great despite her consistently miserable lyrics. ( The waiter just took my table / and gave it to Jessica Simp.) (JESSICA SIMP.) I think Taco is perhaps the most frightening thing to ever happen to suits, synths, or the human face, but I can’t deny that his “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is somehow transfixing. I am legitimately moved by Velveeta classics like “Don’t Stop Believin’."

Moreover, familiarity alone can temper the hate I feel for a terrible song simply because I can sing along with it. Take Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now,” for example. I was going use that as the song that I hate. If given the chance, I would gladly stomp a copy of that CD into smithereens. But I just listened to it all the way through and accidentally hummed some and ignored the rest because it’s boring to the point of invisibility. Plus, the members of Lady Antebellum themselves are so nondescript that I basically just picture Amish dolls when I try to visualize their faces.

It takes an attack of terribleness on all fronts in order for a song to be so singularly detestable that it’s the only one I can pick today. And that song is “Your Body is a Wonderland” by John Mayer. How do I hate it? Let me count the ways:

1. The music itself is bland and irritating and, were it not accompanied by stupid lyrics, sounds like something that would play during a toilet paper commercial.
2. The lyrics are a fist to the solar plexus. When Mayer sings “your bubblegum tongue,” I want to swallow mine.
3. His delivery is that of a sweaty, touchy stranger at a bar you are trying to get away from.
4. He was a racist jerk to Kumail Nanjiani, who I just love.
5. Guitar face.

Most importantly, I despise the idea that my body could be considered a wonderland. When Alice went to Wonderland, she was confounded by a world turned upside down, where smug talking cats hung around being inscrutable and also there was that nightmare pig baby. I don’t want my body to be a universe of things a guy is seeing for the first time, because that means my body is a mutant, or that guy is, like, 12.

(You can find this song on Spotify, but why would you do that?)
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