A is for Angst

This poor girl…she just wanted to do yoga without being confronted by the very real problems of the privileged, and then BOOM!  she had to look at a black person in her yoga class.  Obviously, the woman attended her yoga class only to direct her rage at poor Jen.  How could Jen tell?  The vibes man, the vibes…

“Because I was directly in front of her, I had no choice but to look straight at her every time my head was upside down (roughly once a minute). I’ve seen people freeze or give up in yoga classes many times, and it’s a sad thing, but as a student there’s nothing you can do about it. At that moment, though, I found it impossible to stop thinking about this woman. Even when I wasn’t positioned to stare directly at her, I knew she was still staring directly at me. Over the course of the next hour, I watched as her despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed toward me and my body.

If only someone had told her that the woman behind her probably couldn’t give a care about her.  Stereotyping the woman in your yoga class as a rage-filled depressive isn’t enlightenment.  You were all alone in that,  Jen.

Why Can’t We All Get Along?

In 2004 an idealistic young State Senator from Illinois assured us that we were not red states and blue sates, but the united stated of America.  It seems like since that time sates are getting redder and blue-er each year.  Whatever side of the isle you’re on, chances are you  are getting a healthy diet of haterade for your political opposites.

Its hard to evaluate the tone of political discourse and lay blame at anyones feet without looking at the media environment that feeds on and fires up a politically hostile climate.

Decades ago, news reporting relied on–wait for it–reporters and reporting.  Networks maintained large bureaus of news reporters: trained journalist paid to chase down and thoroughly vet news stories for nightly and morning news casts.  A steady erosion of actual journalists coupled with more and more hours of news shows to fill has resulted in a crisis in news.  The result?  shallow reporting, an increased reliance on pundits and “experts” and recycled, regurgitated stories taken from video press releases, company marketing material and tabloid stories.

Imagine you’re a news network exec and you have, oh say, 24 hours to fill without letting your foot off the pedal for viewers and driving them to change the channel.  What to do?  Fluff it up with newstainment–stories with exciting video or salacious stories, but low news value and useless information.  The clutter of viral videos and celeb worship make it more difficult to find out what matters, and encourages a gossip culture that extends beyond Justin Bieber into the political arena in search of the next scandal.

In a race for ratings, political coverage has become increasingly inflammatory, amounting at times to little more than a bad internet forum.   Outrageous factual misrepresentation is rampant with truth falling victim to sensational headlines.  Without fact checking, many viewers are left not only uninformed–but ill informed.  A recent study  found that regular viewers of Fox news are more likely to be less informed than people who do not watch the news at all.

So tonight’s State of the Union speech and the response from no less than 5 republican rebutters is sure to fill tomorrow’s airwaves with plenty of verbal vitriol and heated debate.  In the middle of it, we could really do with some seasoned, reasoned analysis of the very real problems our country faces.  We need facts, not talking points.  We need compassionate consideration of how to make America better for everyone not tweets going for red meat.

While you’re looking to see who’s tearing the country in half, just don’t look across the isle, take a careful look at the messengers of doom. Demand better news from your sources.  Write them letters, tweet their factual finessing, and call them out till we can get the news we need.

Shock! Rand Paul Reveals Cause of America’s Ills!

Many of the world’s best economists and political scientists have been talking about growing income inequality and role it plays in poverty.  With a host of other political, economic and systemic factors involved in poverty, thank God we have Rand Paul to wrap it all up in a statement he made on Sunday’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley.  The cause of poverty in America?  Babies.

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Is he right? Nope. Media Matters takes down of the logic of Paul’s argument here.  Now if only he could find a way to legislate infertility….

Aerie Real(er)

American Eagle’s sister store Aerie is launching its #aeirereal campaign, pledging to stop Photoshopping their models and to not use supermodels.  Even so, the women in these photos are most definitely still very beautiful by most American standards, even if not so visible in fashion.  We have a long way to go till the war on women’s bodies can be called in this country, but every journey is made of a million steps and this Photoshop free campaign looks like one.

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The Grammys They Missed

Well, the 56th annual Grammy awards are all done but the hangover.  In case you couldn’t stay up to catch them all, you may have missed a few awkward moments, some aging rockers and a truly touching wedding a-la Moonies.  You also may have missed these award-worthy standouts.  Ladies and gentlemen, the first ever smntks celebration of the Grammys–the Sammy’s!

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Award

Pharrell and Daft Punk...or and angel with a thank you note from heaven
Pharrell and Daft Punk…or and angel with a thank you note from heaven

This year’s Hand That rocks the Cradle award goes to Pharrell Williams.   He hit the stage so much you might have thought he was escorting the guests…but no, he is stirring the pot of pop music behind such hits as “Get Lucky” and  “Blurred Lines” as well as his own “Happy”.

Thong of The Year

Putting to rest the argument about Beyonce being the face of black feminism, Queen B tore open the Grammys with her Drunk in Love Duet with hubby Jay Z.  She may not have taken song of the year, but this shot shows she may in fact break all laws of physics…or she has some spanxs like you wouldn’t believe.

Most Awkward Unscripted Tribute

Steven and Smokey

Steven Tyler belts out a few bars of Smokey Robinson’s   You Really Got a Hold On Me as Smokey looks on.  Maybe it’s that smooth skin you could bounce a quarter off, but Smokey looks less than impressed.

The Kanye Award

And the guy behind her? Oh, he is crushed!

Sure she’s a winner…but not last night for album of the year.  Taylor Swift had to check herself to not jump up when Daft Punk scooped up for best Album.  She would have gotten extra points for actually storming the stage and telling Daft punk that she deserved it.

Best Natural (?)

Look real...and real nice
Look real…and real nice

Beyonce takes a second Sammy for going yaki-free and sporting what looks to be her own natural hair.  Now she had a pixie not too long ago as my buddy T pointed out, but until we know otherwise we thank the Queen for showing up with hair that looked real and elegant

Hat of the Night

The winning hat
The winning hatThe second place hat...womp womp
The second place hat…womp womp

Hands down this award goes to Pharrell for his signature 2013 Vivian Westwood Hat.  Madonna tried to make a play for this award at the end of the night, but to no avail.  You can hate Pharrell’s hat–or make a funny meme out of it–but you cannot deny that it took a lot of confidence to rock that bad boy all year night.

Did we miss an award?  Hit the comments with your best Sammy.

Bondage Chairs and Black Cakes: When Art Isn’t Art

This week as we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day Russian socialite and editor of Garage magazine Dasha Zhukova showed just how far we’ve come by perching atop a chair in the form of a black woman in bondage for the website Buro 24/7.  The image ricocheted around the world, followed closely by outrage, and a limp apology.  The chair is a reproduction of designer Allen Jones 1969’s version featuring a white woman—which, by the way, is bad no matter what race of woman is represented.

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In the chatter that followed there were not a few people who excused the image on the grounds that the chair was a work of art.  It should be pointed out the artist that made it makes no claim that this is supposed to provoke race conscious thinking.  Anyways, the argument goes that part of the job of art is to provoke so no matter how offensive people may find it they have to give it a pass—an art pass.  It brings to mind another piece of provocative art by Swedish performance artist, called Ni**er Cake.

Let’s be clear–both examples of ‘art’ are racist as hell.  In both cases, those responding to criticism defend their use of racist imagery by throwing the art pass.  But here’s the problem with that argument:  we aren’t seeing these images in the controlled context of an art establishment.  The chair is not standing alone, but is to us part of the set for the cover of a magazine.  The cake is not confined to its gallery performance but slingshots around the world surrounded by the laughing minister of culture.   

A smiling Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, seen to the right, happily poses before cameras-797913

When we see these magazine covers or press conferences, these are media constructions, not objects of art, so they are governed by different rules of production and viewing.  Given the careers of those doing the apologizing, they were likely to have a very good idea of just how much attention such images would generate. These images, and the fire stores they create are no accident, but are carefully constructed to generate attention.  That’s what media is.

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What we see that so rightly sparks outrage is a scene where people lounge and laugh as they engage with these racist objects.  There is no critique of power and prejudice, so only anger is provoked, not analysis. In both cases, it is the way these objects of art serve as set pieces for powerful white people that reinforces the old school racist imagery of white dominance over black bodies.

So no to your art pass, and no to your apology.

black_man_white_chair

One more thing.  They say turn about is fair play.  Russian artist Alexander Kargaltsev released his own image (warning:NC-17 material)Alexander Kargaltsev in response to Buro 24/7.  By reversing roles, Kargaltsev say  he “reverses the visual injustice and offense perpetrated by that editorial and in a way restores the equality of genders, races, and sexual orientations.”  But to act out the same scene of degradation you object to only turns the wheel around again.  Offended?  You should be, but we have to rise above those we resent rather than continuing to play tit for tat.  As we see from the examples above, just because you create provocative images, that doesn’t mean that they will provoke change