Is This Sand Sculpture Racist?

Can you make a sandcastle racist? I didn’t think so, but then I went to the beach to see the amazing sand sculptures at Revere beach and I saw this one:


Titled The Color’s In the Mind,Red Orange Green Blue Shiny Yellow Purple Too, it depicts an artist pallet of colors with an object for each color.  So cute, look at the frog and the–wait, what is that?

IMG_0373 (1)

Tucked between the fruit is the head of a policeman.  Okay, pretty odd to have a policeman’s head representing blue instead of fruit. And next to the cop’s head is an eggplant, sometimes used to symbolize black people in not so nice ways.


A cop’s head and an eggplant.  Color’s in the mind.  I see a backhanded comment on BLM.  Is it me? Leave it in the comments!

New Times Call for New Stereotypes

In case you haven’t noticed, black people are really slaying these days.  From music to art to literature knowledge and activism and of course fashion.  There’s even new language to describe the fabulosity of black people: lit, melanin poppin’ and now, TNS.


TNS stand for the new stereotype, and it is an intentional move by artists to create new ways of seeing– and therefore thinking–about black people.  It all started with this photo shoot by artist Marqulle Turner showing black men far from the brutes who populate the evening newsreel.  These black men are diverse, sophisticated, cosmopolitan and fresh.

Marqulle Turner
Marqulle Turner

Not to be left behind these womyn showed how to get into formation.

photos from


TNS seeks to challenge and provide an alternative to the stereotypes of black people that we look at all the time here at smntks.  TNS reminds me a bit of the Sapeurs, the elegantly dressed members of this Congolese fashion club.


Guinness: Sapeurs in their finery walk among the cattle

Stereotypes are formed in the machine of culture, rarely owned by one person, so can you create a new one on your own? My answer would typically be a no, but these images of TNS come at a time when they are reinforced by amazing images of blacks as thoughtful, creative complex and conscious, from the Sapeurs, to Lemonade to black twitter.  Taken together there is a widespread pattern of a new image of blacks in our culture.

photo by Washington Ave Styles,
photo by Washington Ave Styles,

So get your crew, get your melanin poppin’ and add your images to the new stereotype.


WTF Did He Say?

With the Republican convention under way there are tons of speeches from the podium to pick apart–not least of which is Michelle Obabm’s Melania Trump’s opening night speech. With all that political rhetoric it can be hard to know what the party really thinks.  But Congressman Steve King wants to lay it out plainly for you: Whites rule, the rest of you subhumans drool.

Just in case the shock was too much to hear it all, it went a little like this:

King: This whole “white people business” does get a little tired, Charlie.  I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these categories of people you’re talking about .  Where did any  sub group of people contribute more to civilization?

Hayes: Than white people?

King: Than western civilization itself that’s rooted in Western Europe Eastern Europe and the United States of America and everyplace where the footprint of christianity settled the world.

Look, if you have an old drunk uncle that wants to spout that from a broken down recliner after Thanksgiving dinner, this kind of claptrap may be expected.  Let’s be clear, though, this guy is a sitting congressman–he makes decisions about how our country will run, and he just laid out White Supremacy Theory #1 live on TV with no shame to his game. The only appropriate reaction may be this:

He seems ignorant to the fact that writing, law, math, science, architecture and all other civilization was born on the continent of Africa, and was well in evidence in the advanced civilizations of the Chinese, Egyptians, Incan, Phoenicians and others.  Even the Greeks he credits with civilization were studying in the great libraries of Timbuktu in Mali before Europe was Europe.

So while the mainstream media is chewing up Melania Trump, this little gem of racism goes largely noticed by the people this man is sworn to serve. That’s a good reminder that just when you are least expecting it, if you listen close, the GOP will tell you exactly who they are.

No, You Can’t Say N*%%r, and P.S. Your Former Employer Profited From Slavery

Christine Lindgren really thinkS she should be able to use the n word, and she’s hopping mad about it.  So mad that she penned an open letter went apeshit on Facebook to express herself.

Lovely.  Thank you. And thanks for the lesson in African slave trading.  Yes, Africans did participate in the capture of people’s later traded in the transatlantic slave trade.  And who funded those ships? Banks. Like the bank you used to work for, little Christine.  

Perhaps, Miss Lindgren, you can research Americs darkest chapter now that you have been fired–even former slavers don’t want to be racist anymore.  Maybe you could check out Roots with Kwiku Dog.

Roots: Still Relevant, Kwiku Dog

Snoop Dog.  Snoop Doggy Dog. Snoop Lion.  DJ Snoopadelic.  Snoopzilla.  Big Snoop Dog. Snoop Scorcese. Over the course of his career, Calvin Broadous has worked under 7 different names. At the age of 45, he has been a rapper, actor, kids coach and rasta lion.

On the other hand, Kunta Kinte has always been and shall remain Kunta.  Please DO NOT ask him to call himself Toby.


This week four channels under the A & E network will run the 2016 remake of the miniseries based on Alex Haley ‘s family history. The remake is well made, and as moving a story as before with an all-star team: Forrest Whitaker as Fiddler, and is executive produced by Lavar Burton.  The remake is one of a handful of recent productions focusing on America’s darkest chapter of history including Underground, 12 years a Slave and Nate Parkers much anticipated Birth of a Nation.


But Snoop Whatever says these stories are no longer relevant.  Is Snoop right about all these slave shows?  Is America ignoring today’s racial tension in favor of whiteness’  walk down memory lane? Do these shows about the past keep us from moving forward?

Past present and future and bound together in an eternal equation. Toggling one part of the equation helps you solve for the rest.  Snoop’s right when he says black people are still suffering today.  Why not then see how those who rebalanced the equation before you did what they could?  A lesson history teaches us is that your wokeness is not enough.  Fighting, protests and even the changing will of many people has not resulted in equity for blacks–or any other group for that matter.

Watching Kunta take that whipping reminded me of the absolute power and strength that comes from being grounded in home and ancestry.  But, at the end, he whispers Toby.  This tiny whisper I used to think of as a sigh of defeat.   When I was a child I wanted him to never give in. Now I know giving in is not giving up.  That you can take a beating and live to fight another day with integrity intact.


As an adult traveling Americas treacherous waters of race, I was moved to see that he was willing to do whatever it takes to live and to keep fighting.  That to whisper your slave name is not to be a slave.  That Kunta–like me–could always carry his real name on the inside, no matter how the battle beats us down from day to day. Maybe that is what Snoop is missing.


Roots is not a slave story–it is the story of Africans enslaved who never laid down, who never gave up even when they wouldn’t see the fight finished in their lifetime.  Roots shows black people in revolt, measuring their subversion for the greatest success, and building a life where there is none. They are not slaves, they are survivors.  We are right be reminded that we are the children born of such power.

For young millennials who are hellbent on changing the world, watching Roots may seem like an old folks’ history lesson, but it is their history too.  You’re wearing your hair natural, rocking dashikis and wax prints–why not a little throwback history too? When things get intense, its good to know your bloodline fought harder than a hashtag.



That is why Roots is still relevant.  Snoop, your African name is still on the inside, too.  You’ve referenced Italian directors, Japanese monsters, and Jamaican prophets in your name; maybe it’s time you found your Roots.  You’re a child born on Wednesday:  we’ll call you Kwiku Dog.



Five Sips of Lemonade

Two weeks ago Beyonce released her visual album Lemonade like a Kraken, instantly flooding the interwebs with thinkpieces dissecting everything from the symbolism of Nigerian facepaint to the marriage of her parents.  She was even able to crowd Trump out of the headlines for a few hours, and make MSNBC question if they ousted Melissa Harris-Perry too soon.

By the following Monday Lemonade was spiking downloads at Jay-Z flagging music service Tidal.  A day later, traditional release of the album propelled it to the top of the charts.  After sipping this instant classic for a few weeks, it seems unimaginable that we ever lived without it.

The visual album is an hour-long piece that is more visual poem than music video.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the time–beautiful, lyrical and rich in every way.  It is a full meal, not meant to be captured in a few screen shots, that walks us through the stages of a relationship in crisis from intuition through anger, apathy to hope.


What has made the video such a breakout piece is the powerful pro-black woman story.  Rarely are black women represented in complex ways that allow their full humanity to show through.

Following the monster release comes a wave of products, tours and gossip magazine covers. Now we’re left with the fallout, the dregs of the hype, the parodies.  This is the perfect time to look at Lemonade not for the hype of what it was to be, but to see what it really was.  Pop culture is a dish best served cold.

Beyonce has been a star since she was a child,and her discography as a solo artist has helped her achieve megastardom.  She is a talented singer and dancer.  Her albums celebrated independent women, then she  became Sasha fierce, fell drunk in love, sipped watermelon, and  turned into Mrs. Carter in that order.  Until recently she was not particularly woke, so even though Lemonade is powerful, and recent times have changed many of us, it’s worth a careful critique of Lemonade before we make Beyonce the head of the black feminist movement.

  1. Lemonade is for Black women

Mainstream media is made for mainstream audiences–and in America, that means white audiences.  When we see diverse faces in media, that doesn’t mean that the story comes from diverse voices.  Even ABC’s multicultural programming is inclusive of white audiences–think the president in Scandal or the whitewashing of Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat.

Lemonade creates a space for black women that is about, for and starring black women with tons of diversity throughout the extensive credits for the album.  The representation in the video celebrates black women in all their diversity, from the mothers of slain boys to the new breed of pop culture superheroes like Amandla Stenberg.  Seeing a range of women like this beautifully and powerfully represented definitely gives me life.

That doesn’t mean that it is ONLY for black women.  It may be created for black women but anyone can consume it. Like Vogue, or America for white people.  If you want to comment on it, just make sure you check our own privilege (this may be time-consuming if you haven’t thought of it before, Piers Morgan), do your research (I’m looking at you, Fox), prepare for clapback and absolutely avoid telling black women what they should or should not do and stick just to your point of view on the video.

2. It takes a village to make lemonade

The visual album to Lemonade is a powerful and beautiful piece of work crafted by a team of young artist and creatives.  remember, even Michelangelo didn’t paint that whole ceiling alone.  While Queen Bey reigns as the artist, like lots of famous artists, she farms out the massive work here.   On the visual album, Kahlil Joseph is listed as co-director with a classroom’s worth of amazing directors and cinematographers taking on parts of the visual album.


In addition to the music of lemonade, poet Warsan Shire is heavily featured in the visual album.  I must admit the most moving words of Lemonade for me belonged to the poet. Her language is powerful and spare, leaving no words to hide behind.  Here’s hoping we hear much more from this young lion.

Let’s not forget the fashion that made the video a feast for the eyes.

From the streets to the spirits to the days of the old south Lemonade proves the power of Bey and associates to slay… long as you don’t want to wear pants, not a lot of pants..just a few, but not really about pants.

Lemonade’s look is a world of black girl magic with nary a press and curl in sight.  While many of Bey signature looks are from high-end designers like the Roberto Cavalli Dress, the whole is interspersed with street wear and plenty of African wax prints to render the style  her own.  Be careful of spreads that promise you the look for less–

Not sure any of these will really give you the look of a $4000 gown.  While Bey’s original look is beautiful, like all things associated with Lemonade, this look takes long cash.

3. Lemonade isn’t cheap

As amazing as Lemonade is as art, when we I to check the price tag, I notice committing to Lemonade fully is going to cost you.  Lemonade premiered on HBO with solid ratings–though notably behind Dragonball Z.  Initially, the album could only be downloaded via Tidal.  Guess she wasn’t too mad at Jay to throw a bone to the company the couple took a hit on last year.   The album sold nearly 654,000 copies the first week and all 12 tracks made the charts, breaking Taylor Swift’s record.  Seems like breaking up is good business for Bey.


The Queen is also launching a 40 city tour with tickets priced like used cars that’s selling out and adding shows.  Before the tour gets hot she’s already grossed 100 mil. Can’t make the show?  She had updated merch on her website that is sure to sell out just like her athleisure line.  All in all, this stands to be one of her most lucrative year in years.  Maybe she should be thanking Becky with the good hair. Hmm, is there a Lemonade weave line potentially?

Bey assured us in Formation that the best revenge is getting your paper and she sure seems hell bent on massive revenge.  Seems like her fans are willing to pay to make it right. Even Jay-Z  will get a cut with his credits and a boost to Tidal.  Who said cheaters never win?

4. Lemonade is problematic (great, but problematic; chill please, Beyhive)

I watched the video, and I listened to the album and surprise : they are not the same.  The visual album is rich with the words and work of a whole host of people and seems to tell a big story about being a black woman in this world.  The musical album, by contrast, seems a more intimate and personal story.  Stripped of Warsan Shire’s poetry, and the powerful visuals that call  up our ancestors from West Africa and the south, the album is the personal story of a woman scorned.   Fox News criticized Beyonce for being angry and militant in her new work but [with the exception of Formation which stands as its own piece separate from the narrative and I think is not part of the visual album. It seems much newer than other work, just tacked on at the end] the album is apolitical. Nowhere in the album are any words that directly address the storms being weathered by Black America nor the women shepherding us through it.

Instead, Lemonade is full of emotions, the pain of love lost, and the fight to get it back. These emotions are deeply relatable for anyone cheated on, not just black women. That’s important because a large part of the buying Beyhive is not young black women fighting for justice. The album speaks to her wider fan base. If you have a broken heart, this will help you for sure. If you are down for fighting patriachal oppression and systemic racism…umm…the vibe is there but the ablum lacks any substative take on today, unlike to Pimp a Butterfly or Talib Kweli’s collective Indy 500. What has been roundly hailed as an ode to black female empowerment seems to contain very little liberation.


In Lemonade, Beyonce tells a story where she discovers him cheating (Pray You Catch Me), tells him he done her wrong (Hold Up and Don’t Hurt Yourself), and goes out without him (Sorry).  But then the storm has passed and the rest of the album is devoted to the work of getting back with Jay.  All of the righteous anger turns into acquiescence, and acceptance.  If even Beyonce puts up with doggish behavior, then what chance do any of us have to be women free from disrespect? Here is the first time in the piece that we see Jay Z, just a hand to cover her mouth, much it seems to her pleasure.

For sure relationships are complicated, and marriages even more so, but young women intent on overturning harmful structures could use a roadmap that includes some truth with the reconciliation.  They are looking for new options, not a romantic return to gender roles.  Detrmined to have their cake and eat it too, why not use the fantasy of music to show how liberated women get themselvs–and their men, if they choose –free.  Romance? Cool, but could you put some respeck on it?

5. Lemonade is supposed to have a bite

Beyonce opens up a can of whoop-ass fueled with the pain of black women only to sweeten it with love songs and finish with sweet love all night long.  How is this supposed to gel with the powerful women fighting for freedom that she shows in the film?  Should Zendaya look to forgive people that said she smelled like a dirty hippie?  Should Mike Brown’s mother’s “torturer become her remedy”?  That certainly wouldn’t look like the freedom Beyonce sings about.

Like most stories about revolution these days, the revolution always seems to have a simple happy ending.  Nice as that may be to end an album, it does little to help us envision a world where we’re truly free.  If we tear down the culture, we have to build something else in its place.  If the new something is the same as the old something, then the revolution failed.  As exciting as it is to see black women represented in different and complex ways unless we have new endings, its all bullshit.

Black female empowerment isn’t a music video or a gap ad, but a real shift that is going to take a baseball bat to existing structures without a neat end to the love drought just two songs away.

The power of the best artists lay not only in their ability to show you the now but their skill and imagination to show us what’s next. There can be no doubt that Lemonade shows us a more sophisticated and woke Beyonce.  Her careful read of her audience and the culture give us an exciting companion to other protest works like To Pimp a Butterfly or Indie 500.  Here’s hoping that she keeps developing as an artist and blazes us a trail to better endings full of Freedom instead of swag.


Sweet Protection

If you think Beyonce was slaying as Oshun in her lemonade video, check out the real deal–Oshun is a hip hop duo out of New York who fully fux with the Yoruba deities.  They take not just the look, but the spirit and intention of West African spirituality and infuse throughout their work.  Check out their latest video “Protect Yourself” when the gods don’t aim to smash windows but instead take a hit at all that ails the community.


Beautiful Choices, Illusive Freedom


According to the ASPCA there are over 70 million pet dogs int he US.    each one, to it’s human, is a little fuzz ball of love.  So how could popele possibly judge the best dog in show in a matter of momments, without even a good ball throw?  Turns out, the best dog in show isn’t, surprise, the best dog there.

8cb640dfb3e7732b6e1e62f5f4076d00.jpgDogs in dog shows are juded against their breed convention.  This means the best dog is defined as the dog that most closely fits the rules for how that breed of dog shoul look.  None of the qualtiies that make you love your dog–fun, cuddly, playful, loyal–matter in the ring.  Its all about fitting the form as laid out by the Kennel club hosting the show.  Critics of dog shows say that the focus on sucha  narrow set of qualities leads to unethical breeding practices, including inbreeding, resulting in harm to the dogs, all in the name of the perfect pup.

Like those dogs in the ring, human beauty takes the shape of conforming to a narrow set of norms.  This comes as no suprise to you smarty pants that you are.  A quick look around our culture shows us just how narrow the ideas of ideal beauty can be.

From magazine covers

vogue covers.jpg To youtube videos that assure us their process is sound in choosing the 100 most beautiful women out of 7.5 billion humans.

To the way models are chosen to represent “every woman of every age”

Since images of women who conform to beauty conventions are everywhere, they become the norm.  We don’t have to read into these convention to know that they are conveying the expectations for those in the culture.  It is explicitly stated over and over that theis is the expectation:

1D274907109615-141029-VS-perfect-body-2001.jpgAnd that meeting those expectations is tied to your consuption of products and services.

Where do these ideas about the body and beauty come from?  Biology, history, culture, art–any number of spheres of human experience influence what you, today think is beautiful.

A biologist might say that many of the thing we think of that make the human body beautiful may be tied to our own desire to mate and procreate.  In the clip below British zoologist Desmond Morris looks at our beauty norms and connects them with our animal nature.

Or we can go farther back, before greeks gods–or greeks for that matter. Anicient indigenous cultures around the world have their own ideas of beauty that have nothing to do with the Greek norms.  Venus, Oshun, and and Lakshmi are all goddesses of beauty in their respective culutres.


Just like today’s conventional beauties, these goddesses are young, unblemished, shapely and fair of face.  Unlike today’s princesses, they did more than look hot: they invented love, created arts and culture or grew wealth.

These ancient codes come to us from across the world and thousands of years of human civilization.  Each human group, each era puts its own stamp on the idea of beauty as it marches across history.  Whether beauty is desirable for display or designed to remain carefully hidden, the construct remains important, especially in structuring relationships among and between genders.

It’s important to consider who it is that is deciding and defining these cultural norms.  Those that make the definitions wield power over the culture, since values and norms are not held in a vacuum, but are closely tied to societal benefits and consequences.  In western civilisation, early ideas of beauty are debated by the thinkers, writers and artist of the time.  Here from the Ennead Plotinus makes it clear that adherence to form–our dog show rule–is the rule for human beauty as well:

We hold that all the loveliness of this world comes by communion in Ideal-Form. All shapelessness whose kind admits of pattern and form, as long as it remains outside of Reason and Idea, is ugly from that very isolation from the Divine-Thought. And this is the Absolute Ugly: an ugly thing is something that has not been entirely mastered by pattern, that is by Reason, the Matter not yielding at all points and in all respects to Ideal-Form. But where the Ideal-Form has entered, it has grouped and coordinated what from a diversity of parts was to become a unity: it has rallied confusion into co-operation: it has made the sum one harmonious coherence: for the Idea is a unity and what it moulds must come into unity as far as multiplicity may.

Plotinus, 22 [Ennead I, 6]

Artist of the time were pretty obsessed with the idea.  Polyclitus, a 5th century sculptor wrote a treatise on the perfect form and in case you were unclear, he created a companion statue that showed what he purported to be the ideal human form–and here he is!


Not your cup of tea?  Philosophers like Humes and Kant believed beauty to be entirely subjective–it’s in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.  Therefore, there were no hard and fast rules about what made someone–or something for that matter–beautiful.  Problem solved—especially for important people who were a little less than hot.  Wealth, status, mothering and godliness could give one the gentle glow of beauty in the 19th century.


The domesticity-and-godliness school of beauty was faced with growing challenges created by the industrial revolution.  Along with electricity and cars, new fabrics and textiles and  new fabrications methods meant new kinds of clothing came into style.  The wide availablity of cheap cotton along with the invention and eveoloution of the home sewing mchine meant fashion had come to the masses.


Of course now that you could sew it yourself, why make the same old thing? More form fitting, more comfortable clothes with lighter fabircs took place of heavy mulitlayered clothes.  Whale bone shapers of the 18th and 19th century gave way to steel and then lighter plastic based fabric in the 20th century. New fabrics and new fashions were accopanied by new values that encouraged women to participate in efforts to make themselves more beautiful. Later, an increasingly industrial society meant that women had leaisure time freed up by new inventions like the dishwasher, refriderator and washing machine.

50s dress pattern

So far it seems as though it’s not just ideas about beauty and gender identity, but also the cold gears of capitalism that are grinding women into new shapes in the contemporary world.  In our own  time we are seeing again shifting images of bodies that are considered attractive or acceptable.  Is this born out of a new genration’s desire for equality and freedom?  Maybe not.

A typical fashiion model is a size 0, 2 or 4, but the average size woman in America is a size 12-14.  Plus size models are typically a size 8 while plus size clothing starts at 14. Its not just the line between traiditional and plus sizing as well.  The sizes themselves shift with consumer attitudes and the demands of the market.  Vanity sizing is a process by which stores rename sizes to make consumers think they fit a smaller size. Check out some of your favorite retailers below.

dress size 8

In a world where language, image and lived reality are so wildly different no wonder women feel such conflict over body size and shape.  We have no shared way to describe ourselves or each other and our ideas are constatntly being manipulated in order to increase profits.

There seems to be a lot of push back–any number of campaigns that seek to challenge traditional beauty standards by featuring bodies typically unseen or not described in desirable terms.  Dove is most known for their Real Women campaign:


While people were busy looking at these “atypical bodies” many failed to notice the accompanying product and copy was less celebratory and more antagonistic to those bodies.  The product that was being advertised in the original ad series was a thigh firming cream.  on the one hand, your body is acceptable enough to be a part of the marketplace, and by the way, your thighs are disgusting.  Additionally, later reports show that the campaign had used photoshop for retouching of the women who were size 4-12.


Lots of ad campaigns have come out to “celebrate” real beauty.  Ads feature women whose size is often invisible on fashion runways.Before you start to celebrate, many of the images of “real women” are as skewed as unrealistic conventional standards. These ads maintain many of the conventions of a desirable body–young, cellulite free, relatively smooth belly, coke bottle shape, smooth skin.

aerie-realI mean, did this woman need to be retouched? No. We are certainly seeing a variety of body sizes, but what is being defined as increaing diversity is merely a slightly broadening of what is acceptable.  Women who are visible constinue to maintain the age-old conventions of beauty and appeal to sexuality.


Instead we are withnessing a calculated move to expand the customer base in some industries while protecting that wide number of industries that rely on continued unrealistic body images and standards. This is a careful line to walk for multinationals like Unilever who owns both dove and Slimfast.

Which leads us to the idea of choice.  Third wave feminism is born in the debate within the feminst movement about sex, choice, the construction of the body and equality.  Whereas second wave feminist were as a group unwilling to adopt or endorse a sex-positive agenda, the third wave was more willing to engage thesese questions and the varied responses to them.  With several decades of debate over these issues there certainly is no one answer that easily applies across the board.

A deeper issue beneth the skin of body issues has less to do with beauty and more to do with the way that power rewards–or doesn’t–women who are willing to fit hegemonic beauty standards.  The battle between second and third wave feminist over beauty ideals seems to center here.  As women fight for an equal share of finanacial and social captial, does making choices that kowtow to hegemonic beauty ideals set us back or disrup the fight?  Second wave feminist worried that continued forward progress would be halted or at least confused by women participation in a beauty regimine set out by the patriarchy.  Third wave feminists argue for a braoder tent where women with varying beliefs, including around the body, can fight toghether for equality.

But here is the rub to balls-out screw-em-if-you-got-em-all-choice-all-the-time feminism:  can choosing the adoption of beauty rituals really be a choice?  Third wave feminists are cut from the same cloth as neoliberal politics which elevate choice and individuality above all else.  Whatever you want to do is up to and on you.   What seems like the freedom of born-this-way ideology though is problematic in a culture where the body is constructed in the media to sell product and reinforce dominnat cultural values.

Stripping, six inch heels, and the makeup counter at Sephora all seem like choices available to the modern woman.  A little nip tuck?  Why not–it is up to you.  But Jefferys and other feminists show us the deep rabbit hole of patriarchal culture we can choose to jump down when we engage in cutting, carving and coercing our body to fit hegemonic ideals.

Before you go hard claiming the cultural artifacts of western hegemonic beauty standards, ask yourself:

If women really do have choice to look any way they want why is there such a narrow set of choices for them in visible culture?

What if you looked perfect right now?  Would you do anything differently?

What would I do with the time and money I spend making myself look presentable?  What if every woman had an increase in disposible income and time–what would they engage in?


What postitive social outcomes for women and girls could be achieved if the money spent on achieving beauty was used in other ways to enact policies for women?

These questions get under the skin of the false promise of a neloliberal culture.  A year of violence against trans women and women of color and continued inequality in pay show us that many of the fights of all waves of feminism are under attack.  If you want to put lipstick on, go ahead–as long as it doesn’t stop you from fighting for real freedom.





Apocalyptic Cinema: Better Living Through Science

Since the beginning of the century, American films have explored stories of the apocalypse as commentary on our own modern challenges.   Stories of the horrors science can create when man tries to play God lurk beneath the most popular zombie shows and in the cool futuristic sci-fi  of super humans.  These stories are equal parts inspiration and warning–a look over the cliff over science to the abyss of possibility that lies ahead of us.  These stories, in turn, look into us, into our longing to be stronger, more powerful and to live forever.

In Apocalyptic America, we’ve been looking at the questions posed to us by the modern world that we live in–advances in science, new technologies and a host of problems caused by the postindustrial human condition–and the answers film gives us.  Apocalyptic movies allow us to seen through a glass darkly at a world that awaits us as a consequence of our now.  So it is with movies about humans tinkering with the laws of nature.

Some things that might get your sci-fi imagination going:

If you could use science to modify your body, would you? If so, how would you modify your body?

probably not this…

Would you diet or using science to make you super shapely or strong?

After having 10 cosmetic procedures in 1 day, Montag struggled emotionally, lost her show and is appearing this season on reality tv therapy show with her mother.

Would you choose the sex of your future baby? Or ensure their special skills?

Gender selection is banned in some countries, but not the US.  Gender selection that occurred less scientifically as a result of China’s one-child-per-family rule is being blamed for a massive imbalance between males and females, having long-term consequences for marriage, births, and elder care

Would you modify your body to survive a disease or environmental crisis?


Before you say you would never alter your body, think instead about modification on a continuum from small changes like piercing your ears or wearing glasses all the way to the more extreme iterations like lizard man or gene therapy. As futuristic as some modification technology is, altering the body is nothing new. How acceptable these procedures are seems to connect to how much what they provide is “needed” according to cultural conventions and norms.

Medical Augmentations: Altering or adding to the body to compensate for disease or deformity is most acceptable with widespread support for advances.

Cosmetic modification: altering the body to improve appearance according to common beauty conventions is somewhat acceptable, especially if you meet the conventions conventionally.  The more extreme the augmentation, the more unacceptable it becomes.


Genetic modification: Altering genes to change the structure of the body or object is controversial whether you are a tomato or a zygote.  Genetically modified fruit–sometimes called Franken fruit–is blamed for a host of problems for humans and their environment, but also ubiquitous in our grocery stores.  Modifying human embryos is illegal–today.


The gene-ie (ha! I got jokes in writing!) is already out of the bottle. Like our exploration into artificial intelligence and technology, the question is really no longer would we or wouldn’t we, but to what degree should we. Sadly, ethics around biological advances in science are far behind the technology.

Films approach a few of the ways that changes in human engineering could play out in our culture, affecting power, capital, and social relationships. Many movies prior to 2000 focused on the disastrous consequences of genes gone bad. Human-made monsters because of the lack of control of genetic processes.

As we move into the era of apocalyptic dread the stories shift a bit.   As humans become more skilled at making changes to nature and potentially humans, we explore—and fear—the possibilities of what we might create. Here are some examples and the questions they ask

If we make humans, what rights do they have?

Human cloning hits new levels of skill—and for new reasons in this upbeat thriller. If we could make people, would we grant them the same inalienable rights we claim are for all? Note: we do have a hard time ensuring humans rights for all humans now a days. On the plus side, so far we have no structure for identifying babies born using genetic enhancements or fertility treatments.

How would capitalism manage the availability of advances in health tech?

Repo Men is the story of a world where people can buy organs to replace failing ones. Like a new car, if you don’t pay, the corporation sends someone to retrieve your organs. Healthcare costs are already a leading cause of bankruptcy. How much would a heart cost? Probably not less than Wheelock.

What would we do with Superhumans?

A host of movies like Lucy and Limitless and, of course, Xmen find ways to hack the human brain to open up our full potential. Oddly, the movie never ends with a world peace accord. Overwhelmingly advances in humans are coopted to earn capital or fight battles. How culturally hegemonic.

The ideas about what it means to be human and how easily we can lose all that we think we know is nothing new to your COM250 experience, Apocalyptic Americans–these are the common questions that underpin lots of Apocalyptic movies, and, truth be told, they underpin humanity’s grand story as well.  The questions about how to navigate the boundaries of power, class and privilege in an era of evolved humanity are also the same questions about how to restructure society in the wake of wokeness that we have seen all semester. Just as we can’t imagine an end without us, robots without us, so we can’t imagine a new breed of super-humans without us either.

So what’s new in human engineering?  Is there truth hiding inside these movies or is this boogie man solely in the mind of Hollywood?

Cosmetic Alteration

Paying a surgeon to give you the body of your dreams becomes more popular every year–the number of procedures is up in 2015. Cosmetic augmentation is common with more than 15 million cosmetic procedures performed last year. The most common procedures are botox, fillers, and chemical peels–all aimed to turn back the hand of time.  Speaking of turning back, butt implants continue to be one of the fastest growing invasive procedures.  Yeah, Kim!

Medical Augmentation

From 3d printing new limbs to growing new organs in a lab, medical science is moving ahead by leaps and bounds. Pop star Viktoria Modesta and her fantastic light up leg shows how transformative new technology can be in redefining ability. Advances in medical technology will increase your lifespan, but many ethical questions—including who can afford it—abound.

Genetic modification

Since the human genome was first mapped in 2003, our knowledge of the role genes play in making you you has expanded rapidly. If we can manipulate the genes of fruit to make the fruit we desire, might similar techniques be used to create the children we desire?

All of these futures before us are rife with the kind of possibilities that come with consequences we can only dream of.  Far more serious than a few butt implants, the implications of all this tinkering are beyond even Hollywood’s wild mind.  The challenges couldn’t be more real. Just a few months ago a US based organization, endorsed by over 150 experts int he field called for a moratorium on human  genetic modification, warning that once we begin, the irreversible process can have implications beyond the boundary of any of these movies.  Truth, it seems remains stranger than fiction.

I teach a course called Apocalyptic America where we explore film and TV about the end of the world and find out what they tell us  about the challenges of our own world.  The above is a makeup blog lecture (a blecture?) from a recent class. If you made it this far, you get an A for the day.

making sense of media culture