A House On Fire

Imagine a world where there are 5 Parkland School shootings every day.  Imagine a world where there is a 9/11 every month. Now open your eyes to a country where 45,000 people a day die by suicide every year.  The suicide of two high profile celebrities–designer Kate Spade and bon vivant Anthony Bourdain–along with recent information released by the CDC have cast light on a subject that frequently goes unaddressed. Suicide–the 10 leading cause of death– claims more lives than school shootings and terrorist acts combined.

Graphic: Suicide rates rose across the US from 1999 to 2016

Kate Spade was a wildly successful fashion designer who built an empire on whimsy.  Healthy, beautiful, successful.  Anthony Bourdain was if nothing else a lover of life, taking us with him to connect with humanity over a bowl of food.  Again, wildly successful by any measures of our culture.  While we are familiar with the dark face of school shooters and struggling addicts dying from mental health issues, what does it say when those who live the lives we all fantasize about no longer want to live their lives?

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The airwaves and interwebs are full of messages about what to do if you are in crisis, ways to combat depression, helplines that are lifelines, and exhortations to check on your friend.  This is important.  Destigmatizing mental health and providing adequate supports is awesome and helpful.

Lurking beneath this mountain of advice is the subtle blame that problems with mental health occur because individuals are not maintaining their own shit.  But how can one be mentally healthy in culture so permeated with hate and violence?  How can one rise above crisis when crisis is the soup of the day every day?  What role do our wildly unstable world and crumbling communities hold in this uptick in mental health issues?

Despite the myth of the American dream, beneath the sheen of instagram feeds are lives of anxiety, sadness and loneliness.  While we can acquire the goods that mark a good life–our systems are calibrated to help us achieve the material success–we work long hours, and often end up with stuff but no satisfaction. Exhausted at the end of the day we have little energy for putting in work to sustain the relationships that sustain us.  Our communities  seem to be drifting away from an orientation of connection–people lost in their own virtual worlds building bridges online instead of next door. Our heads are bent over screens instead of lovers. And all around us, chaos and a deconstructed democracy.

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If we are a developed nation, what have we developed? Our country is permeated with sadness that sits just at the edge of our culture, a borderland on our beautiful dream, a place that some people journey to more than others, but a location available to everybody in this automated world of separation.  Mental health is a problem not just of individuals, but for the nation.  The National Suicide helpline and other organizations are important resources for people in crisis, but no call center can shift our damaged culture to create a space where more people feel safe and held and connected.

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There is a deep malaise at the heart of America. you might say that the dream has become a nightmare, but it always has been.  This is a country literally built on a Native American burial ground. If you’ve even seen a horror movie, you know that this is not good. With high rates of suicide, massive amounts of anxiety, rampant addiction to pain killers and drowning even at the highest levels of success–maybe especially at the highest levels– the lie is exposed for all its terribleness. Sadness and loneliness and racism and sexism and capitalism and this unattainable life: we eat and are consumed.

David Foster Wallace compared suicide to jumping out of a burning building:

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

A quick trip through the headlines is enough to see that America for all it offers is a house on fire. To live in a home that is burning is bad for all the inhabitants, not just people with identified mental health issues.   The culture is not good for any of us.  Those that are struggling are an alarm– it’s past time to respond.

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If suicide is people jumping from burning buildings, then we have to start to knock down the fire in order to create healthy environments to support healing.  We cannot always know or understand the inner lives of those we love, but we can be firefighters helping to battle the flames that threaten them. We need to care about each other.  We need to check on each other. We live here in this home together, and the roof, the roof is on fire.

 

While we wait to rebuild our culture is you or someone you know is struggling please know that there is help.  Check on all your friends.

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Blackface: Neva Eva Eva

If there’s one rule you can bet your lunch money on it’s that putting on blackface will get you flamed.  It may get you lots of hits–you’re sure to get attention, but it may not be the attention you crave.  Quick-someone send a link to smntks to Boglarka Balogh before she keeps helping African woman show off their beauty to the world! The Hungarian photographer, well travelled across the continent (of Africa) wanted to bring attention to the wide diversity and beauty of African women.  In order to show African’s finest she took a bunch of pictures of…herself.

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Yup, that’s right.  Despite having a bunch of pictures of beautiful African women, she chose instead to don blackface and mimic her photoed beauties. Slowly for those in the back–in order to show how beautiful African women are she took their style and showed picture of herself a-la-“enough about me! What about you? What do you think of me?”

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This is where appreciation becomes appropriation.  The women are beautiful–so just show their pictures!  To assume that their beauty is only accessible when filtered through the lens of a white body is racist.  While I do believe that she believes that she is showing their beauty, she is little more than a thief, knocking off their looks and turning the authentic inauthentic. Boglaka, I admire the intention–and a dope set of passport stamps–but check you ego at the  door and let the true beauty of Africa that you’ve captured shine!

Not to throw shade, but duck: In a head to head match up of the women she copied, I’m sorry but Balogh loses to every one.  She looks best as herself, but most def can’t best an African beauty at being, well, an
African beauty.  You be the judge: who takes the cake?  Weigh in in the comment below for most beautiful African.

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What Lies Beneath

Men’swear fashion brand Paisley is creating a stir with this spot featuring a day in the life of a burqa-wearer–only not quite.

Beneath that burqa with all the lingering gazes it attracts is something surprising.   So , before we’re quick to write it off as typical cultural misappropriation, there is this from the editors over at Ad Age:

{I}t also brings up interesting points about how people view the burqa — as a way for the women who wear it to “hide” their beauty, or a way for those of the opposite sex to do it for them. There’s also an interesting discussion to be had about gender identity and what it really means.

Okay, Ad Age, I hear you, and I watched the ad again–a good practice if you’re really trying to read any ad closely.  I imagined what it was to be on both sides of the burqa.  I am aware that the ad encourages us to think as life under the burqa as life in hiding–is it empowering for our business conducting burqa-wearer to be free of the objectifying male gaze or is the figure trapped in an invisible life?  The scenes are scenes of power and privilege–luxury autos, high end design, model-ly looking models–but our burqa babe moves silently through these scenes, seen and unheard.

In the final scene,  the body beneath the burqa is unveiled.  Well, actually the burqa is unzipped down the back–an interesting nod to the hundreds of scenes of women being disrobed by their paramour.  Disrobed, we are met with one final surprise–a simple code switch.  Who wears burqa and why they wear it is all worth questioning.  Paisley certainly isn’t shaking their fist at Muslim patriarchy, but with a little imagination, they might make you think.

 

Why Ponies Shouldn’t Wear Hats

Pink Pony front woman and daughter of the governor of Oklahoma, Christina Fallin was really feeling a deep connection to the Native Americans she grew up around.  So deep that she posted this picture of her wearing an admittedly-stunning-though-sacred-so-you-probably-shouldn’t-pose-in-it-for-Facebook headdress on her band’s Facebook page.

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She titled the picture Appropriate Culturation, so she clearly presumably knows what cultural appropriation is and is trying to be clever.  She also apparently decided to redefine it and made herself  the appropriator of the appropriateness of cultural appropriation.  Yay! She now decides when people from one culture can rock the ritual and sacred items from another culture as “fun accessories” or funky fashion for flaunting their deep spiritual connections.

Too bad no one told the many peoples who belong to the cultures for which she is the appropriate appropriator of cultural appropriateness.  Thus, her Appropriateness had to issue this royal proclamation from her cultural fantasyland apology.

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Sigh.  Next time,  just let your mane flow, little pony.