Tag Archives: general bullshit

Medals for Supermodels

13 Aug

The Olympics closing ceremony was an epic spectacle of cars, rock stars, wannabes, athletes and supermodels. Supermodels? Dressed in notable British fashion designers, the 8 women and 1 man strutted, posed, vamped and preened for the world audience, and for all those thousands of athletes who have spent years working towards the event of the 2012 London Olympics.

What were these 9 doing on the world’s loudest stage?

Being fabulous because they were born that way…

But isn’t that kind of “talent” and lifestyle the very things that the Olympics gives the lie to? The very way-of-being that the effort and strength and will manifested by all participating in the Olympics reveals to be based on superfluousness, triviality, artificiality and superficial standards? Being skinny and tall and wearing a $10,000 dress is not equal to being skinny and tall and spending 15 of the first 20 years of one’s life jumping hurdles. However, displaying these glamazons on a stage that many of the struggling athletes who did not achieve medal greatness were not elevated to produces a standard wherein the models are bestowed a degree of superiority and elevated eliteness that the others are not. Such a production implies the physical and symbolic superiority of the supermodels to be on a par with the Olympics’ participants, which in turn works to dampen and dispel the actual magnitude of the participants’ efforts and unique experiences.

Yeah, okay, it’s the closing ceremony, not a medals ceremony. Well, it’s not a fashion show either. The only super-tall, attention-gathering ladies gracing the arena’s stage should be long-jumping, volleyball-tossing, 800 meter running, soccer goalies.

The true Olympic supermodels:

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The Beauty of the Olympic Body

31 May

Heptathlete and Olympic hopeful Jessica Ennis was recently denounced as “fat,” by a senior official at UK Athletics. The 26-year old is in the top 10 in her field worldwide, making the sprinting, hurdling, throwing woman likely in pristine and elite physical condition.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/athletics/9302421/London-2012-Olympics-Jessica-Ennis-laughs-off-fat-label-after-breaking-British-heptathlon-record.html

 

 

 

 

 

Two-time Olympic Gold-winning swimmer Rebecca Adlington has announced that she is abandoning her Twitter account during the London summer Olympics because of the near-constant abusive criticism she receives concerning her appearance and personality.                                                  

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/may/31/london-2012-olympics-rebecca-adlington

What is going on here? What is at stake for random Twittering fools and members of UK Athletics with these forms of criticism? To judge a gold-medal winning swimmer for her “beauty”–whatever one’s particular standards of such may be, is totally and utterly irrelevant to her profession, public persona, and place in the world. To refer to a woman who likely engages in extreme physical activity for several hours a day, at least six times a week, as “fat” is foolhardy, false, and suspicious.

Further, how can this type of misogynist criticism be anything other than destructive when these women are preparing for some of the biggest competitive events each will face in their lifetimes? In addition to their daily training, mental and emotional preparation, and publicity events, they must also be expected to act and look as if they are in a beauty pageant? Hateful nonsense.

The day I hear tell of Bernard Lagat’s weight being ridiculed, or Michael Phelp’s attractiveness serving as indication of his physical and athletic greatness, is the day I win Miss Universe.

White Girls

4 May

For the past few months Lena Dunham and her “Girls” have been everywhere: full-page NYTimes advertisements, jezebel.com, slate.com, thehuffingtonpost.com, mid-level culture rags combining their resources and praise to generate so much buzz that a crash could only be expected.

And though the new HBO series is a 30-minute fictional comedy, the degree to which the majority of the critical conversation hinged on its “realness” (one of the Slate podcasts opined that Hannah/Dunham would never say that in real life…), inserted a major dose of dubiousness into the “realness” of the reviewing.

So, as can only be expected following an enthusiasm onslaught, in the past few weeks the critical, feminist, and all-around ecstatic frenzy that is the Girls zeitgeist began to deteriorate. Now, instead of reading excited reviewers gushing over how great it was to see young women in bland Brooklyn apartments with regular bodies and bad boyfriends, the conversation turned to race, and a general bewilderment concerning the lack thereof in a show made in New York City.

All the principal ladies are white, as are their boyfriends, friends, hook-ups and acquaintances. The likelihood of living in an all-white enclave of New York City seemed nill; and therefore, the likelihood of Girls being as radical as originally interpreted began to seem so too. After the bewilderment came anger: if Dunham is as feminist and broad-minded as originally suggested, why does she want to depict and/or live in white-out?

Last week, the NYTimes published a forum in its Room for Debate section devoted to these questions:

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/04/25/minorities-in-movies-and-television

Nine writers, actors and scholars discussed their differing responses to the Girls backlash, a few of whom wondering as to why this one 30-minute show–that has only aired 3 episodes as of Sunday, April 29–has produced such a passionate and divergent series of responses. Considering its placement on a premium cable network, at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night, not even halfway through its first season, how can its failings already be so established? How can a single, short story only in its infancy be blamed so loudly for issues that are rampant in the mediums of film and television? And, why are these questions being addressed to quite such a degree now? Where have they been?

Arguably, to some degree, Dunham had hit so many notes so high and well, that her failings surrounding the depictions of race and the choices of characterization made began to be seen in relief. How could she see so well and be so blind at the same time? However, given Dunham’s relentless focus on her character’s privileged background and outsized sense of entitlement, it does not seem too far-fetched to argue that her microcosm of interns and Antioch graduates would consist largely of white kids. For this whiteness to go unnoticed, for its characterizations and homogeneity to be depicted as universal, would serve as massive failings on a show so intuitive, incisive and brutal in other ways. I think the verdict’s still out. Granted, Girls  overwhelming whiteness is inarguable; but what remains arguable is the universality of the standards being applied to it. I say we take these same savvy, insightful and humanist standards and apply them to measure, critique and understand all the other pop culture products rotating around us as well.

P.S.

Today’s “Fresh Air” episode was composed of a long interview between Terri Gross and Lena Dunham.

http://www.npr.org/2012/05/07/152183865/lena-dunham-addresses-criticism-aimed-at-girls

Titled “Lena Dunham addresses criticism aimed at ‘Girls,'” the episode was clearly an attempt at both marketing and mea culpa. After a few minutes of banter, Gross asks Dunham directly for her response to the onslaught of media criticism concerning the show’s white universe. Dunham chose her answers carefully, hewing closely to the show’s auto-biographical roots and narrative inspiration, going so far as to state that the 4 characters were all parts of her half-Jew, half WASP self: 2 Jews, 2 WASPS. Problematically, Dunham states that she did not realize the “Girls” near-total whiteness until after she had created it; she did not see its lack of diversity until it was singled out by dozens of critics.

As I listened to the interview, Dunham’s reasoning initially angered me: how could someone  so smart, so heavily educated in the humanities and the liberal arts,  so grounded in the cosmopolis that is New York City be so myopic?

I thought about it for awhile. And then I realized: Dunham’s reasoning provides the penultimate foundation for both the accusation against the all-white world of Hollywood, and the justification for a grounding in affirmative action, and the vehement defense towards the creation and installation of opportunity, education, and inspiration for students and budding artistic creators of all types. What I mean is this: Dunham’s “Girls” world would not exist without Dunham, its implicit and explicit femaleness being directly related to Dunham’s femaleness. The world of American television is slowly changing, with the gradual inclusion of female creators, writers, directors and producers. This very same world will not become more racially diverse until it is invaded by the inclusion of non-white creators, writers, directors and producers.

The female pen

7 Apr

The other day I went to my local big box bookstore, I had felt the urge to take a look at Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. I couldn’t find it, so I asked a worker for help. Her first question was “Alexander?” Her second, upon hearing the writer in question was a woman,  was “Is it a romance?”

Several years ago, at my favorite Bay Area independent bookseller, I was in search of a particular Luce Irigaray title. I looked all over the philosophy section, but to no avail. When I asked as to where her many books, with their varied foci on philosophy, critical theory and psychoanalysis might be located, I was directed to the women’s studies section. Don’t misinterpret me here, I am a vociferous supporter of women’s studies. However, if every philosophy title written by a woman is housed in women’s studies there will be zero titles by women in the philosophy section.

I bring up these two divergent anecdotes because I was reminded of both while reading the recent essay by Meg Wolitzer in the New York Times Book Review last weekend:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/books/review/on-the-rules-of-literary-fiction-for-men-and-women.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=second%20shelf&st=cse

Wolitzer begins “The Second Shelf” by considering the marketing of and cover art decisions regarding books written by women; specifically, she arrives at some pretty dire conclusions concerning how works of fiction written by women are considered by reviewers, readers and awards committees. Drawing on the Francine Prose essay published in Harper‘s in the late 90’s, “Scent of a Woman’s Ink,” Wolitzer finds that, too often, assumptions are made about female-written texts that often have little to do with the works themselves.

What matters is the sex of the author. Prose goes so far as to provide several examples of pieces that, when first provided as anonymous examples, are rarely written by the assumed sex. Further, when the sex of the author is revealed, reconsiderations concerning its literary, emotional and stylistic weight are nearly immediately made. In light of Prose’s study, Wolitzer’s declares that while a drawing of a wedding ring adorning the cover of a fiction by a woman will likely be relegated to the pink ghetto of rom-com, chick lit or mass-market, this very same circle covers the award-winning recent fiction by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot.

Are these issues merely literary quibbles on my part? I think not. Here’s another example: several months ago, I was listening to a literary critic on NPR’s “All Things Considered” review the very postmodern, streamlined and sardonic novel by Ben Lerner, Leaving Atocha Station. In her conclusion, she states:

“It also, I must say, feels very much like a ‘boy book’ to me — all this thinking about thinking; all this meditation on language. Maybe women — so socialized into constantly scribbling ‘to do’ lists — don’t tend to write meditations like this on the instability of words.” http://www.npr.org/2011/11/09/142109786/life-without-plot-in-leaving-the-atocha-station

Really?!? Lydia Davis anyone? Siri Hustvedt? The great Helene Cixous?

I could go on, but then I would be succumbing to the very condition with which I have a problem. In both the Prose and the Wolitzer pieces, the writers attempt to ameliorate the chauvinistic structures of literary culture with examples upon examples of women writers who don’t fit the stereotypical “feminine” model, and who also can be described within the much larger categories found within the “masculine” model. For each speculative reason as to why fiction written by women might be less acclaimed, have fewer male readers, is generally more pigeonholed, Wolitzer cites authors that do not fit within these norms.

But how do these “exceptions” work with or against these norms? Might they instead beg their destruction? Might not the lists of exceptions and great women writers generate a tiny feeling of desperation, reaction, too much protestation, or even a conformity to the ridiculous way of thinking that forced all these lists and feelings?

As Prose describes, readers turn to or reject gendered generalities of the writer according to their preconceived positions. (“Oh yes, I thought her sentences looked feminine/Her sentences are not feminine, that is why I like her.”) Setting up lists and exceptions and examples does not tear down or successfully critique these myopic ways of reading and reviewing; by providing exceptions, the rules remain intact, the generalizations stay general.

Romantic Comedies and the “women” who populate them…

29 Sep

This week’s New Yorker contains an awesome piece by Mindy Kaling called “Flick Chicks: a Guide to Women in the Movies.”

http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2011/10/03/111003sh_shouts_kaling?currentPage=2

Because the romantic comedy remains the genre of choice for Kaling, she decided to produce a list of the prevailing archetypes:

1) The Klutz;

2) The Ethereal Weirdo;

3) The Woman Obsessed with her Career and No Fun;

4) The 42-year-old Mother of a 30-year-old Male Lead;

5) The Sassy Best Friend;

6) The Skinny Beautiful Woman who is Gluttonous and Disgusting;

7) The Woman who Works in an Art Gallery.

These types are pretty god-damned specific, but in my opinion they are extraordinarily spot-on. Her self-deprecation, sense of humour, and incisive critical abilities make me pine for a day when Mindy Kaling might write, star, and direct her own romantic comedy! And! Maybe it will be one where the female friends aren’t all super-skinny (except for the super fat one), they aren’t consumed with finding a man, and the final cut isn’t dependent on Judd Apatow.

Inspired, I decided to make my own list of archetypes; these types are not types per se, but actual Hollywood leading ladies, those who conform so much to type that citing their name and a brief description immediately evokes a back catalog of their films.

1) The Jennifer Aniston:

A rueful independent career woman loves her life–don’t get her wrong–but something is missing…a penis! Try as hard or as little as she can (she does run her own flower shop, design firm, catering company), the guys are all cads: they just don’t get her. But she keeps her chin up, her smile wan, and her hair fabulously layered…and she always gets her man!

2) The Jennifer Garner:

The girl that everybody loves…wait! she lives next door! Garner is appealing, and her slow-to-discover beauty emerges easily enough that the desperate loneliness that 30-something women face in romantic comedies (and real life!) almost feels funny! Given that she lives next door, sometimes it takes awhile for the man she loves to realize that his neighbor can be his lover, but it’s all in the journey, right?!

3) The Sarah Jessica Parker:

When SJP burst into fame with the ultimate serialized rom-com Sex and the City, her city-girl lonely artiste was sweet enough that its impossibilities remained irrelevant. Increasingly however, her roles appear smug, elitist and downright repellent. I Don’t Know How She Does It?!

She doesn’t.

4) The Leslie Mann:

Take a skinny body, a famous director-husband, and a willingness to play the shrewish girlfriend, wife, sidekick whenever asked, and you’ve got Leslie Mann! She’ll do anything: vomit all over Steve Carrell, ridicule the poor innocent Seth Rogan while emasculating Paul Rudd, and poop on a toilet!

5) The Cameron Diaz:

You’ll never hear much about her acting chops, but Diaz has the fortitude to possess many of Kaling’s archetypes in her film repertoire, she’s even played the klutz, the ethereal weirdo, and the skinny, beautiful woman who is gluttonous and disgusting all at the same time!

6) The Drew Barrymore:

The adorable, silly underdog that just happens to be so damned cute that you willfully forget her tendency to play the same character (the adorable, silly underdog) in every single movie since Poison Ivy.

7) The Reese Witherspoon:

Given her tendency to detour outside of the romantic-comedy–hence doing more than showing off that smiley blondeness of hers–it’s almost easy to forget her rom-com side. Reese is the girl that, outstanding perkiness aside, is actually smart, maternal, and that girl-next-door the main dude’s been wanting all along, only blonde. Not only that, but she’s super ambitious, loves chihuahuas, wears ugly Christmas sweaters, and sometimes comes back from the dead to repossess that swanky San Francisco apartment of hers.

The conundrum of married surnames…

24 Aug

Within the past few weeks, a few Facebook friends have gotten married; within a week’s time, both of these women had changed their Fb profile names to their husbands’ names. This got me to thinking about the age-old question…or at least one that I’ve asked myself and my marrying friends several times: why change your name to that of your new husband’s?

The question itself seems to evoke a rather vociferous response–“why can’t I?”, “it’s my choice?”, “does it really matter?’

But yes, it does matter. And if it is a productive, happy, progressive decision, shouldn’t its justification be able to be provided free of defensiveness or anger? There are few times where the question has been able to be asked without fear of a retributive, defensive response, i.e. I have a problem because I am asking.

It’s a simple question, and it’s one that should be able to be asked without having to justify it, or defend its simplicity. However, at this point in our culture, it seems that to ask it is to question the very point of marriage itself.

But in my opinion, if one is to change one’s name after 20, 30, 40 years of having it, one should be able to explain and/or justify why one is changing it. Further, to respond with the old cultural justification of “it’s just what one does,” does not really work. 100, 200, 50 years ago it was just what one does; but now, it doesn’t really have to be.

Looking at the institution of marriage, considering its rituals, its requirements: to change one’s name was to become the wife, the property, the legal betrothed of one’s husband. Such a decision was based on the historical and cultural rituals and laws of marriage: a woman became the property of her husband. As a wife she was unable to vote, own property, make decisions of her own accord: she literally, figuratively, legally, and culturally belonged to the man she was married to.

Times have changed…but why haven’t the cultural residue of marriage also changed?

Why is a grown woman, with a lifetime of choices, friends, properties, and individualities seen as more transitive than that of the man she marries? Why is it reactionary, angry, and conversation-stopping to inquire of your friend as to why she would choose to change her name? How is it that in 2011 such an anachronistic practice is still considered normal, usual, and loving? And, if it is so normal, why can’t it even merely be questioned?

Wrinkles between my boobs

11 Aug

Suddenly, in the NYTimes, in the HuffPost blogger, on Regis and Kelly Live!, there’s a real flurry of concern surrounding the potential for wrinklage between aging breasts.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/11/fashion/skin-deep-fighting-cleavage-wrinkles.html?scp=1&sq=wrinkles%20cleavage&st=cse

A plethora of products are available: a kind of reverse bra that supports the skin-between while sleeping, a pillow that rests between if the idea of a bra in bed is uncomfortable, pads of silicone, a syringe of Juvederm.

Aside from the obvious response of “one more thing for a woman to worry about!”, there is the underlying more insidious corollary…who’s deciding what is unattractive, unseemly, negative, and in need of repair? How do products spun as helpful and forward-thinking suddenly appear as ubiquitous and necessary?

Most significantly (and malevolently) is the effect these products maintain over ways of looking at oneself. It is almost impossible not to read and absorb the current coverage without wanting to look down at the space between one’s boobs. And that’s the problem: the concern is artificially created by the products themselves. After a time, if the product’s spin is effective, drugstores everywhere will carry products of breast wrinkle amelioration, female “role models” will speak about their products of choice, and feminist writers will opine about all the ways the natural aging process is derided, negated, and vilified for any woman anywhere. (But the counter-spin inadvertently works for its opponent, drawing more attention to the “problem” area.)

Aging inevitably, gracefully, naturally is not a “choice” a woman must make; to look at it as such is to elevate the anti-aging industry to the level of naturalness, normality, and the biologic life-cycle that all bodies go through. It fundamentally is not.