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Career College Ad Sums Up What’s Wrong with US in 60 Seconds

31 Oct

Being as wasting time seems to have become my latest hobby, I recently found myself watching an afternoon episode of Jerry Springer and its attendant ads. I realize that admitting that might set a process in motion that will culminate in some kind of cyber-intervention aimed at forcing me to stop watching American culture and society swirl down the toilet bowl, but I’ll take my chances. I’m willing to take this risk because watching that hour of television on the subject of “lesbian” love triangles and suffering through the audience comments (which I assure you is the hardest part of the show to endure) alerted me to the existence of OmniTech Institute. Some of you might be wondering why one medical billing/office management/CNA/”technology” school would stand out from the seventy or so advertising in the Atlanta market, and I’ll tell you: OmniTech just happens to have the (unintentionally) funniest ad I’ve seen in years, an ad I attempted to find on YouTube yesterday in order to share it with all of my pals. Unfortunately, the aforementioned ad is not yet on YouTube (though I’ll be sure to forward it on as soon as it becomes available), but I did find two others, and those two others proved far more valuable than the one I’d been searching for in the first place. Let’s have a look:

Ahem.

Why are there more ads for low-grade, for-profit schools for “technology” and “medical” jobs on during daytime television broadcasts than there are chat line ads after midnight on the same networks? Why are “technology” and “medicine” supposed to excite people who watch talk shows about people having sex with people they shouldn’t and the zany consequences that derive therefrom? Well, I suppose the people who produce and book ads for the CW have some idea what they’re doing. It doesn’t take a demographics expert to know that people who watch daytime network TV are unlikely to have steady “nine-to-five” (when are we going to admit that people work at least from eight to five and stop using that phrase?) jobs, that most of them are women at home who might rather not be, that they don’t have a shitload of money on hand or else they’d have cable and wouldn’t be watching the CW at all, and that most of these people have absorbed the idea that “education” is good, that one needs a “career,” and that “medicine” and “technology” are, like, total BFDs. They’re also aware that their audience is generally made up of people of color and that it’s a safe bet to market career education to that audience, because any dumbass knows that the intersection of a Venn diagram of non-whiteness and limited career opportunities is pretty big. Really, if you went for a three-circle Venn diagram with circles representing women, people of color, and people with limited job opportunities, it’d look a lot more like a circle drawn by a four-year-old than Mickey Mouse’s head. I used to watch the CW when it was the WB from time to time when I lived in LA, where the ethnoracial demographics are different than they are here in Atlanta, and it won’t shock anyone to hear that the same ads exist there, but feature Latina/os instead of black people.

I understand what’s going on in the minds of the people who produce the spots for career training schools and decide when and to whom to broadcast them. That’s the easy part. But why are there so many schools out there offering career education in the medical and “technology” fields? Why didn’t I see more ads for other types of businesses that take advantage of people in precarious socioeconomic positions? Why weren’t there more commercials for title loans, personal injury attorneys, or rent-to-own furniture joints? (Not that there aren’t plenty of those, but there are more career training school ads than all other ads put together.) It would seem like a good thing that it’s education rather than outright usury that’s being marketed to the CW’s demographic, were it not for a few things.

First, every single one of these schools is for-profit, and lord knows whether any of them are even accredited. Most of their website addresses are so bootleg as to remind me of the fly-by-night mortgage joints that swarmed like cockroaches onto the radio in the early 2000s (mybrownmackie2.com? Come on, now.), and some of them don’t even have websites. They’re all cagey about exactly how much they charge for their “bachelor’s degrees in three years” or their ten-month career training programs that purportedly lead to jazzy jobs in medical billing and IT, likely because the price is outrageous. I don’t care if it’s $100 a month. The price is outrageous because it’s absurd that someone is making a profit selling education that ought to be offered in every high school and community college in America for free. And let’s be serious here. Are the people graduating from these programs even getting jobs? I only know two people who have gone to schools of this sort, one who went to ITT Tech in order to jump start his career in the hot, hot, hot IT field, and another who went through an EMT course at Atlanta Tech. Right now, they’re selling mattresses and substitute teaching, respectively.

Twenty-four percent of American adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher — which is why there are so many people with business degrees selling Playstation consoles at Best Buy and waiters who know what “endogamous” means — and that means there’s a serious problem with the way we’re approaching secondary education. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning tracking or making the argument that teachers or administrators ought to be able make decisions about students’ futures based on their own cracked and biased criteria, but students should be able to choose to earn an MCSE or other certifications, take business courses, or learn other practical career skills at school rather than being shoved toward “college” and not offered any other options, when at this point the vast majority of college students are only there to get drunk, major in pretending watching movies makes you an intellectual, and avoid getting kicked out of their parents’ house and off their parents’ balance sheet. Ideally, we’d prepare all students for entry-level jobs in high school and close three quarters of the four-year universities and colleges in this country, replacing them with federally funded community colleges designed to either offer useful, practical job training or the foundational courses one needs to transfer to one of the remaining four-year universities that offer degrees that actually give students the opportunity to expand their world views and do something other than become generic suits. Of course, it’d be awesome if primary and secondary education were federally funded and equalized so that students in one neighborhood aren’t sitting on the floor during class while kids three miles up the road are voting on whether to get custom embroidery on the frosh volleyball team’s new uniforms or spend the cash on a few more iMacs in the graphic design lab. It would also be awesome if we had the kinds of social safety nets we need to provide kids with the homes, health care, and food they need if they’re to have a fighting chance to succeed even in well-funded schools, but this ain’t France, so community colleges are my answer. They’re cheap, they’re accessible, and they create a path for non-traditional students and poor people (read: people who have a real motivation to learn rather than a desire to extend high school for a few more years) to four-year university degrees that would otherwise be out of reach.

In sum: dodgy for-profit career schools bad, career training in high schools or community colleges good. No one should have to buy a job.

On to issue number two: each of the ads makes a point of citing mainstream media stories in which “technology” and “medicine” are listed as the top (and, really, only) growth career fields. I won’t say much about technology (I mean, I wouldn’t be able to express myself to more than four people at once were it not for technology) other than that I often wonder just how much technology each of us has to have at our disposal before we realize it isn’t leading us toward some blissful utopia scored by our favorite MGMT tracks in which we do nothing other than order new fashion accessories telekinetically and communicate with people we never actually see in person by means of 140-character not-so-witty witticisms. The medical industry is another story. There’s a reason that there are jobs to be had in the medical industry — especially in the medical billing sector — and that reason is that the medical insurance industry continues to grow and swell and spread and suck up everyone and everything in its immoral, depraved path because Americans are too stupid to question the ethics of medical capitalism and get together in their own self interest to put the medical insurance industry out of commission. I’ll readily admit to getting bored and tuning out over the course of the ninety years or so it took the 111th Congress to figure out how to pretend to do something about the travesty our health care system has blossomed into, but I do know that no one ever discussed the only thing that would have done any good: shutting down the health insurance industry in toto and giving all Americans the right not to die because they aren’t rich enough to pay a hundred times what medical services should actually cost in order to enrich people with no interest in patients’ well-being. Obviously I’m not going to blame someone who needs a leg up out of poverty for going into medical billing because it pays $10 an hour instead of $7.25, but I’m also not going to pretend that there’s anything sustainable or ethical about that career field. Health care and insurance billing may be growth sectors, but that’s only because parasites tend to flourish — at least in the short run — when given unfettered access to the host’s internal organs.

Finally, there’s the presentation of both ads, which is so absurd and offensive that I almost suspect Martin Lawrence was involved.  First we have the commercial aimed at black men, in which the message is, “Get your MSCE at OmniTech, and the next thing you know mad career women will be jumping in yo’ convertible to give you summa dat ass!”  I mean, really. My friend Jackalope just finished a nine-month EMT course, and he isn’t reporting droves of women jumping into his car everywhere he goes, nor did the course result in his ownership of a convertible. (As a matter of fact, he has yet to even get a job in the purportedly booming medical field, despite graduating at the top of his class.) Then there’s the ad aimed at black women, in which we see a group of friends shopping and marveling at all the skirts they can afford. At one point a woman literally says, “I can afford to buy whatever I want!” I’m not black, but I highly doubt that when a black woman is considering career training shoes are at the forefront of her mind, and even though I’m neither black nor male, I have a hard time believing that black men choose to go to computer school with the only motivation being that it’ll result in poontang. Despite the fact that the people at OmniTech clearly don’t agree, I figure I can safely assume that these ads don’t reflect reality because I don’t think black women and black men are one-dimensional caricatures out of an episode of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.

In addition to making plain OmniTech’s demeaning take on the black community, this pair of ads displays some extremely tiresome attitudes about gender. The most obvious example is their decision to advertise their IT program to men and their medical billing program to women. Medical billing, a traditionally pink collar field, boasts salaries that top out near $20 an hour, which OmniTech fails to mention when they feature an erstwhile OmniTech student purchasing her own home. Conversely, IT salaries are virtually limitless given that there are innumerable paths to advancement within the IT field. Then there are the gendered stereotypes with regard to the meaning of success.  The symbol of success for men, as usual, is sexual access to women, whereas for women it’s unlimited cosmetics and clothes. No surprise there — and not really all that noteworthy as ads go, though this one is considerably more ham-fisted in its presentation of that hackneyed idea than most — but if you put that message together with the other messages in these two ads, you’ll get a fairly clear distillation of just how cannibalistic and self-destructive the American economy/advanced capitalism really is: you have unscrupulous individuals using racist and sexist insults and promoting mindless adherence to destructive gender roles and sociopathic marketing directives as a means to sell overpriced career training that rarely leads to a more lucrative career. If it does lead to a more lucrative career, that career will be in an industry that is completely immoral and unsustainable because it exists solely to avoid actually providing what it sells, which is a product that ought to be a human right rather than a product in the first place. And that industry is most clearly negatively affecting the exact communities that these ads are targeted at. Really, it’s an epitomic instance of the promotion of short-sighted, self-destructive, selfish, individualist cosumerism: “Who cares whether this industry will hasten the deaths of both individual human beings that you probably know and the American economy as a whole? If you get on board, you can buy a car, a woman, or some shoes! Why ask why? Try Bud Dry!”

I’m really tired of hearing about Electra. And individualism.

3 Oct

Where in the samhill have I been? Sorry, y’all. I have excuses, but posting them would be both narcissistic and boring, and I’ve got other things I want to talk about.

Whilst enduring a flight from Portland to Atlanta last week, I decided to read this month’s issue of Harper’s rather than watch the same three episodes of The Office that Delta has been playing on their flights for the last three months, an issue that included an article by Susan Faludi entitled “American Electra: Feminism’s Ritual Matricide.” How could I resist, right? A cover story in a tweed brigade northeastern intellectual rag intimating that young feminists — in accordance with the boring old trope derived from the progenitors of classical western misogyny — are literally (OK, fine, figuratively) killing old feminists, which explains what the (weighty pause followed by the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) Problem with the Feminist Movement is. Not only was I going to read the shit out of that, but I even got a pen out to take notes. I mean, there might be a letter to the editor in there somewhere, might there not?

I didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that Faludi had accepted a position as the shoeshine girl of the mainstream media establishment that she had eviscerated in Backlash, but I will admit that I did start skipping in that direction. How could I not? From the title alone, I surmised that I was about to read another tired rehashing of the same old bullshit line: there’s a fundamental and inherent flaw in the feminist movement, and that flaw is women, whose very nature requires that they scratch each others’ eyes out and steal each others’ boyfriends and precludes them from accomplishing anything other than inspiring the coining of the term “fashionista.”

Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but there were some pretty serious problems.

Faludi starts out illustrating the misunderstandings between Second and Third Wave feminists and the ways in which those misunderstandings undermine the cohesion of “the feminist movement” (whatever that is), then extrapolates the purported generational rift that characterizes the contemporary world of feminism back to previous eras. To sum it up, the First Wave earned women the right to vote, and the consumerism of the 1920s created a generation of frivolous, ungrateful young women who rejected their mothers’ idealism in favor of a new image of womanhood that advertisers had sold them. Cigarettes and mass-produced flapper fashion came to replace the ballot as the symbols of women’s freedom, and the feminist movement had been neutered by the power elite, whether intentionally or not. Then came the Second Wave, in which young feminists expressed hatred for their mothers and the stifling brand of conformist femininity they represented. Finally, we have the current round of matricide, in which Third Wavers are waxing poetic about pube waxing while pronouncing Second Wavers and their methods and ideas irrelevant in the age of the iPod.

It’s a tidy little picture, and it works well with a sleek and misogynistic cliche like the ol’ Electra parable. The problem, as is always the case with these attempts to misrepresent feminism in order to sell magazines, is reality.

The first problem is that the argument isn’t actually all that smooth, which I suspect might be the result of the fact that Faludi herself doesn’t truly believe that feminism as a movement is fucked and that it’s fucked because women hate their mothers. Faludi’s sympathies clearly lie with the Clytemnestras in her formulation, or at least with the First Wave and Second Wave Clytemnestras, but there seems to be a giant break in her cyclical progression of ritual matricide; the daughters of the First Wavers, having been duped by Edward Bernays and his disciples into believing that projecting an image of liberation by means of Lucky Strike cigarettes was good enough, eschewed further substantial feminist agitation and shat all over their mothers’ dreams, and then we jump to the current Second vs. Third Wave throwdown, in which the younger generation’s narcissism and consumerism has destroyed the unity and potential of their mothers’ movement. The picture, a few quotes from Second Wavers about hating their mothers notwithstanding, looks more like a parallel with a two-generation gap than a steady progression of generations of matricidal women. First of all, who were the Clytemnestras to the Second Wave Electras? Stereotypical 50s housewives? I thought this was a story about inter-generational squabbling within the feminist movement, but Faludi doesn’t make a single reference to the existence of feminism between the 20s and the 60s*, which is a major problem. If I’m to give any credence to a historical argument, the person making the argument needs to know something about history. She could have easily made the argument that Second Wavers jettisoned the difference-based ideology of labor feminists in favor of smashing gender roles and achieving equal legal protection for women (or at least some of them did), but I don’t know whether she even knows those labor feminists existed.

The second problem, provided that we look only at the two generational conflicts that Faludi presents as parallels, is that young women in both instances come off as lazy inheritors of a legacy they don’t deserve or make the most of. I’ve obviously got mixed feelings on the Second/Third Wave issue, being that I’m a 33-year-old radical anti-porn feminist whose activism has, until recently, consisted of writing blog posts under a pseudonym, but I do take issue with that characterization, if only on behalf of other young feminists I know, who do an awful lot more actual (as opposed to virtual) stomping around and kicking ass in the name of women’s liberation than they’re given credit for. But anyway, it’s 2010. Does anyone pay attention to groups of people in public with signs? Isn’t making use of modern communication media a more effective means by which to raise awareness of an issue? Tactics evolve with movements, and the internet has allowed more and more women to join the discussion when they might otherwise have been excluded. Until young women quit volunteering their time to support causes that they believe in, let’s quit giving them shit for writing about women’s issues on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, huh?

We’ve got a third problem: why are we always trying to figure out what’s wrong with the feminist movement? At what point will there not be something wrong with the feminist movement? When every single person who uses the word “feminist” agrees on every single issue that affects every single woman? Sorry, but that shit ain’t coming any time soon, and when it does we’ll know that the movement has been taken over by men. What is constructive about pontificating on the failings of feminism? Does it teach us how to move forward? Faludi’s piece ends on an extremely bleak note, with a professor of Women’s Studies lugubriously recounting her program being cut as a result of the fact that young women just couldn’t be bothered to learn about anything other than Lady Gaga and exclusionary Judith Butler-esque abstractions that take the focus off of real women’s lives and allow privileged, narcissistic brats to feel superior in their ability to understand what the fuck is even being discussed. I understand her concern, I truly do, but that ain’t all there is out there, and Faludi comes dangerously close to doing what she accuses the mainstream media of having done throughout the course of the history of the women’s movement: pronouncing feminism dead. Constructive criticism is one thing, but sounding the death-knell for the feminist movement and blaming it on some threadbare trope from gynophobic folklore is quite another thing for a feminist to do.

I’ve got some constructive criticism: feminist writers ought to focus on the ideas they have that are actually interesting and insightful and express them honestly rather than forcing them into a mold that will be acceptable to a bunch of old crotchety sexists who someone has mistakenly anointed the arbiters of intellectual rigorousness. I know we all have to make a living, but let’s at least try not to sell out that hard. And I say that honestly, because Faludi touched upon something far more interesting, important, and potentially revolutionary than the ridiculous Electra complex style device: the role of marketing and advertising in the co-optation and attempted destruction of feminism. It’s no surprise that she detects increasing danger in the attempts of marketers to repackage and neuter feminism, and it’s no surprise that she sees these attempts increasing in intensity in direct response to the threat posed by the progress women have made in society (she did write Backlash and all). She’s right. But how about we place the blame for that where it belongs rather than with women themselves? I realize that such an approach makes me sound like an arrogant dick who thinks she’s the only one who “sees through the bullshit” while calling young feminists in the 1920s and the 2000s dupes of the highest order, but I’m not writing this post from Jupiter a thousand years from now. I’m a dupe, too. We’re all dupes (and I mean all of us, not just women and/or feminists), and we need to face it or we’re fucked.

But what does it even mean to be a consumerist sap? What makes us susceptible to buying into watered-down commodified versions of feminism? Why and how do the powers that be rip us off and then sell our own ideas back to our kids (or little sisters) in an adulterated form? It seems to me that the cycle is fairly consistent, at least with regard to consumerist “democratic” societies since the 1920s (things tend to work out serendipitously for the power elite, I know): a group of people gets tired of being shat upon and makes their presence known, the people who sell us things freak out and worry that these people represent a threat to their continued existence and dominance, they then calm down and try to figure out how to sell things to these people, they put all their resources into analyzing and manipulating this new target market, it starts to work because buying products is far easier than sustaining a revolutionary movement over the course of years or even decades, and then the power elite regain their grip on things until the next upheaval comes to pass. (Of course, you have to believe that under capitalism the interests of government and the capitalist class dovetail in order for this to ring true, but if you don’t believe that, you should probably not be reading this blog.)

That’s where I agree with Faludi’s analysis: consumerist co-optation of feminism has become ever more insidious and effective over the course of the past half century or so. But I don’t believe the outlook is so dismal. Maybe it’s because I’m young (we’re optimists!), maybe it’s because I’m a radical (we’re idealists!), maybe it’s because I’m a fool (most likely), but I think I may have found a nugget of the solution in Faludi’s piece.

The problem is the obsession with the concept of individualism, and if we can either temper our desire to be “individuals” or find a way to actually be individuals, we may just be alright. Group movements, posing the huge threat that they did to the status quo, provoked too much retribution in the late 60s and early 70s to survive, and people turned inward, hoping that they’d foment a gradual revolution by revolutionizing themselves. Self-actualization and self-realization took the place of group action and unity, and the power elite took note of that turn and exploited it. Republican politicians encouraged identity politics and the division of the working class and along racial** and gender lines, capitalists found ways to market “lifestyles” in order to help people create and maintain the illusion of their own new-found individuality, and selfishness and self-absorption triumphed over cooperation and empathy as the world (and especially the US) made the transition from the fairly radical liberal consensus that characterized the 30s through the 60s to the conservative consensus that has dominated our lives and political culture since at least the late 70s***. Individualism has, of course, always been a part of our political culture and our foundational sense of who we are here in the US, but the fragmented, mistrustful, and generally selfish tenor of American society in the last three decades is a direct result of the purposeful manipulation of that concept by politicians and corporations in their continued effort to get greater control over and to better be able to predict our behavior as voters (subjects) and consumers****. And just think about the billions of dollars that have been made by opportunists who have capitalized on our belief that we are all special little snowflakes and that we need to express our uniqueness to the world in order to be understood by other “individuals” that, if the cult of individualism has any internal logic, have no hope of ever doing so. We’re being divided and conquered, my friends. And duped. Marketers have convinced us all that we’re discreet units, complete individuals, totally alone and unique, which precludes us getting any of our needs met by anything other than consumerism. That was at work in the 20s, but it’s been so successful since the 80s that even the attempts at thinking of “women as a class” that characterize Second Wave and Marxist feminism have been lost to “my experience.” *****

There has probably never been a bigger threat to the foundation of our social hierarchy than the specter of women’s liberation from patriarchy and the misappropriation of our labor under capitalism. It stands to reason, then, that those with capitalistic or patriarchal leanings would put their back into sucking the qi out of any movement that posed that threat, and that they’d do it the same way they always have: by doing their best to dupe us into taking the easy way out and buying symbols of our liberation rather than sustaining the fight to actually win it. Feminism became yet another lifestyle that could be marketed to women as a means to express their individuality and power. So we got a bill of goods in place of anything substantial: Virginia Slims, shoulder pads, Playgirl, and the Pill. We got the opportunity to act like men for a price, and then the phallocrats got to blame the fact that such a facsimile of equality didn’t make us happy on feminism rather than on the fact that what we were buying was an empty package that claimed to contain personal liberation.******

That process of co-optation and chicanery has continued apace, and recognizing that and moving away from it might be the key to the future of the feminist movement, if it is decided that there needs to be one. I obviously do believe we need a feminist movement and that it’s possible for one to exist without any matricide or filicide, but you can’t work to ameliorate the conditions of women as a class if you can’t conceive of yourself as part of a class called “women” and can’t conceive of the word “feminism” without “my” preceding it.

* See Dorothy Sue Cobble, The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America; Kate Weigand, Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women’s Liberation; and Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, The Cold War, and Modern Feminism.

** See Hugh Davis Graham, Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America; John David Skrentny, The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture, and Justice in America; and Skrentny, The Minority Rights Revolution.

*** See David Vogel, Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America.

**** See Lizbeth Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.

***** This paragraph is the result of a combination several years of  school and a recent viewing of The Century of the Self, a super rad BBC documentary series.

****** See Susan Faludi, Backlash.

The Blind Side: The Most Insulting Movie Ever Made

11 Jun

I’m not into ironically watching “cheesy” (whatever that means) movies, 80s movies, or kung fu movies. I’d rather focus my attention on recently-released romantic comedies, those obnoxious movies in which two assholes just sit around and talk to each other for 98 minutes, and “serious” movies for which people have been given gold-plated statuettes. One can learn an awful lot about the faults and failings of our social system and corporate entertainment’s attempts to sell us its version of culture by watching movies created by and for the anti-intelligentsia, and if one were to try hard enough, I’m sure one could find the string that, if tugged, would unravel the modern world system buried somewhere in a melodramatic Best Picture Oscar contender intended to make people who refer to beers as “cold ones” feel like they’re considering The Big Issues. There was no way I was going to miss The Blind Side.

Spoiler alert: this is the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I’m going to spoil your desire to see it yourself by writing this post. Also, I may, if I can manage to give a fuck, divulge important plot elements. But it’s based on a true story that everyone has already heard anyway, so who cares.

Let me say up front that I’m aware that I’m supposed to feel sorry for Sandra Bullock this week. She’s purported to be “America’s sweetheart” and all, she has always seemed like a fairly decent person (for an actor), and I think her husband deserves to get his wang run over by one of his customized asshole conveyance vehicles, but I’m finding it difficult to feel too bad. I mean, who marries a guy who named himself after a figure from the Old West, has more tattoos than IQ points, and is known for his penchant for rockabilly strippers? Normally I’d absolve Bullock of all responsibility for what has occurred and spend nine paragraphs illustrating the many reasons Jesse James doesn’t deserve to live, but I’ve just received proof in the form of a movie called The Blind Side that Sandra Bullock is in cahoots with Satan, Ronald Reagan’s cryogenically preserved head, the country music industry, and E! in their plot to take over the world by turning us all into (or helping some of us to remain) smug, racist imbeciles.

The movie chronicles the major events in the life of a black NFL player named Michael Oher from the time he meets the rich white family who adopts him to the time that white family sees him drafted into the NFL, a series of events that apparently proves that racism is either over or OK (I’m not sure which), with a ton of southern football bullshit along the way. Bullock plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, the wife of a dude named Sean Tuohy, played by — no shit — Tim McGraw, who is a fairly minor character in the movie despite the fact that he is said to own, like, 90 Taco Bell franchises. The story is that Oher, played by Quinton Aaron, is admitted into a fancy-pants private Christian school despite his lack of legitimate academic records due to the insistence of the school’s football coach and the altruism of the school’s teachers (as if, dude), where he comes into contact with the Tuohy family, who begin to notice that he is sleeping in the school gym and subsisting on popcorn. Ms. Tuohy then invites him to live in the zillion-dollar Memphis Tuophy family compound, encourages him to become the best defensive linebacker he can be by means of cornball familial love metaphors, and teaches him about the nuclear family and the SEC before beaming proudly as he’s drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.

I’m sure that the Tuohy family are lovely people and that they deserve some kind of medal for their good deeds, but if I were a judge, I wouldn’t toss them out of my courtroom should they arrive there bringing a libel suit against whoever wrote, produced, and directed The Blind Side, because it’s handily the dumbest, most racist, most intellectually and politically insulting movie I’ve ever seen, and it makes the Tuohy family — especially their young son S.J. — look like unfathomable assholes. Well, really, it makes all of the white people in the South look like unfathomable assholes. Like these people need any more bad publicity.

Quentin Aaron puts in a pretty awesome performance, if what the director asked him to do was look as pitiful as possible at every moment in order not to scare anyone by being black. Whether that was the goal or not, he certainly did elicit pity from me when Sandra Bullock showed him his new bed and he knitted his brows and, looking at the bed in awe, said, “I’ve never had one of these before.” I mean, the poor bastard had been duped into participating in the creation of a movie that attempts to make bigoted southerners feel good about themselves by telling them that they needn’t worry about poverty or racism because any black person who deserves help will be adopted by a rich family that will provide them with the means to a lucrative NFL contract. Every interaction Aaron and Bullock (or Aaron and anyone else, for that matter) have in the movie is characterized by Aaron’s wretched obsequiousness and the feeling that you’re being bludgeoned over the head with the message that you needn’t fear this black guy. It’s the least dignified role for a black actor since Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s portrayal of James Robert Kennedy in Radio (a movie Davetavius claims ought to have the subtitle “It’s OK to be black in the South as long as you’re retarded.”). The producers, writers, and director of this movie have managed to tell a story about class, race, and the failures of capitalism and “democratic” politics to ameliorate the conditions poor people of color have to deal with by any means other than sports while scrupulously avoiding analyzing any of those issues and while making it possible for the audience to walk out of the theater with their selfish, privileged, entitled worldviews intact, unscathed, and soundly reconfirmed.

Then there’s all of the southern bullshit, foremost of which is the football element. The producers of the movie purposely made time for cameos by about fifteen SEC football coaches in order to ensure that everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line would drop their $9 in the pot, and the positive representation of football culture in the film is second in phoniness only to the TV version of Friday Night Lights. Actually, fuck that. It’s worse. Let’s be serious. If this kid had showed no aptitude for football, is there any way in hell he’d have been admitted to a private school without the preparation he’d need to succeed there or any money? In the film, the teachers at the school generously give of their private time to tutor Oher and help prepare him to attend classes with the other students. I’ll bet you $12 that shit did not occur in real life. In fact, I know it didn’t. The Tuohy family may or may not have cared whether the kid could play football, but the school certainly did. It is, after all, a southern school, and high school football is a bigger deal in the South than weed is at Bonnaroo.

But what would have happened to Oher outside of school had he sucked at football and hence been useless to white southerners? What’s the remedy for poverty if you’re a black woman? A dude with no pigskin skills? Where are the nacho magnates to adopt those black people? I mean, that’s the solution for everything, right? For all black people to be adopted by rich, paternalistic white people? I know this may come as a shock to some white people out there, but the NFL cannot accommodate every black dude in America, and hence is an imperfect solution to social inequality. I know we have the NBA too, but I still see a problem. But the Blind Side fan already has an answer for me. You see, there is a scene in the movie which illustrates that only some black people deserve to be adopted by wealthy white women. Bullock, when out looking for Oher, finds herself confronted with a black guy who not only isn’t very good at appearing pitiful in order to make her comfortable, but who has an attitude and threatens to shoot Oher if he sees him. What ensues is quite possibly the most loathsome scene in movie history in which Sandra Bullock gets in the guy’s face, rattles off the specs of the gun she carries in her purse, and announces that she’s a member of the NRA and will shoot his ass if he comes anywhere near her family, “bitch.” Best Actress Oscar.

Well, there it is. Now you see why this movie made 19 kajillion dollars and won an Oscar: it tells a heartwarming tale of white benevolence, assures the red state dweller that his theory that “there’s black people, and then there’s niggers” is right on, and affords him the chance to vicariously remind a black guy who’s boss through the person of America’s sweetheart. Just fucking revolting.

There are several other cringe-inducing elements in the film. The precocious, cutesy antics of the family’s little son, S.J., for example. He’s constantly making dumb-ass smart-ass comments, cloyingly hip-hopping out with Oher to the tune of  Young M.C.’s “Bust a Move” (a song that has been overplayed and passe for ten years but has now joined “Ice Ice Baby” at the top of the list of songs from junior high that I never want to hear again), and generally trying to be a much more asshole-ish version of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. At what point will screenwriters realize that everyone wants to punch pint-sized snarky movie characters in the throat? And when will I feel safe watching a movie in the knowledge that I won’t have to endure a scene in which a white dork or cartoon character “raises the roof” and affects a buffalo stance while mouthing a sanitized rap song that even John Ashcroft knows the words to?

And then there’s the scene in which Tim McGraw, upon meeting his adopted son’s tutor (played by Kathy Bates) and finding out she’s a Democrat, says, “Who would’ve thought I’d have a black son before I met a Democrat?” Who would have thought I’d ever hear a “joke” that was less funny and more retch-inducing than Bill Engvall’s material?

What was the intended message of this film? It won an Oscar, so I know it had to have a message, but what could it have been? I’ve got it (a suggestion from Davetavius)! The message is this: don’t buy more than one Taco Bell franchise or you’ll have to adopt a black guy. I’ll accept that that’s the intended message of the film, because if  the actual message that came across in the movie was intentional, I may have to hide in the house for the rest of my life.

I just don’t even know what to say about this movie. Watching it may well have been one of the most demoralizing, discouraging experiences of my life, and it removed at least 35% of the hope I’d previously had that this country had any hope of ever being anything but a cultural and social embarrassment. Do yourself a favor. Skip it and watch Welcome to the Dollhouse again.

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Fuck politics, women need to be making sitcoms.

19 Apr

I’m serious.

Justin sent me a link to a recent (OK, not that recent) article about Kathryn Bigelow, the first female recipient of the Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker (who also directed one of the greatest movies ever made — provided that you watch movies for the same reasons I do — Point Break). The article, written by Barbara Kellerman of the Harvard Kennedy School, while it did make me snort a few times, made me come to an important realization: it’s more important for women to concentrate on gaining control of the entertainment industry than politics.

But first, let’s get back to what made me snort. Kellerman, apparently a sex discrimination and objectification apologist, claims that it’s:

… not that Hollywood dislikes women. It does not: films and females have gone together since the inception of the movie business. It’s just that even now, a decade into the 21st century, Hollywood wants women in front of the camera rather than behind it.

See? It’s all good, y’all. Hollywood may not value women’s abilities, intelligence, or artistic talent, but it likes looking at conventionally “hot” ones. Why complain that there aren’t enough female Best Boys when women dominate the Interchangeable Sex Object market? Come on, now. How can Kellerman make the claim that Hollywood doesn’t dislike women when “it” only allows them to play the limited roles it assigns them, when it requires that they perpetuate its own warped ideas about womanity (I love coining new words) if they want to participate at all, when it bars them from occupying any positions within the industry hierarchy from which they might gain the power to create entertainment that depicts women as human beings rather than formulaic rehashes of the temptress, girl next door, damsel in distress, or shrew archetypes? Sounds to me like Hollywood dislikes women and wants to make sure the rest of us do, too.

And then there’s this humdinger:

[I]t would be disingenuous not to point out [Bigelow’s] decades-long relationship to James Cameron, the guru behind The Hurt Locker’s most obvious competitor, Avatar, and one of Hollywood’s all time heavyweights.

The fact that they were married for a couple of years a couple of decades ago has no apparent bearing on Bigelow’s emergence as a star director in her own right. But the fact that for years Cameron has been her mentor, as well as her apparently unwavering collaborator and champion, does. It’s anyone guess whether Bigelow could have made it so far on her own, notwithstanding her talent and drive.

Oh, SNAP! So, even when a woman finally does wrest a begrudging nod from the 90028 phallocracy, we have to give a dude credit for it, “notwithstanding her talent and drive” (whatever that means)? I wonder whether anyone, when discussing the garbage James Cameron has strewn across the cultural landscape, has ever bothered to pontificate on the various personal relationships that might have propelled Cameron to his current position atop the entertainment shit heap. Probably not, since when men make use of personal connections to get ahead, they’re just savvy, resourceful go-getters. But when a woman (or anyone who isn’t a white dude) does anything other than take some kind of melodramatic Russel Crowe-esque stand against accepting help from anyone in their struggle to measure up to standards set and enforced by these nepotistic networkers (I’m practicing my alliterations in the hopes that TruTV will hire me to narrate some “shit gone awry” clip show), everyone assumes that she — because naturally, being female, she lacks any true talent or skill — must have hosed her way up the ol’ ladder of success.

Not only does Hollywood dislike women, but I suspect that Kellerman, though possibly unbeknownst to herself, might not be that big of a fan either.

Which brings me to the actual point: women need to get control of the entertainment industry (and its controlling boyfriend, the advertising industry) or else, and it ought to be our foremost goal, possibly even taking precedence over political representation. Whether we are pumped about it or not, the entertainment and advertising industries make up the bulk of our culture, and culture, though it is an excuse for nothing, does appear to underlie everything. The entertainment industry, news media included, shapes and directs public opinion on nearly everything, including and especially gender roles. We’re surrounded by the entertainment industry’s influence nearly every second we’re awake, and it probably plays a larger accumulative role in forming our ideas of self, other, and society than any other influence. If women were to gain control over at least half of that industry and its output, and if that control were to result in kinder, more sympathetic, more realistic, or just plain less hateful representations of women, the effect on our culture would be striking.

Equal representation in politics would be great, but the only way that will happen without a massive reduction in societal misogyny would be through the use of a quota system. Whatever your views on affirmative action or our purportedly individualistic and meritocratic political system, that isn’t likely and would probably lead to the kind of social backlash I’m not interested in learning the details of. It may very well be that the only way to ensure women’s interests are represented in politics is to create the kind of culture in which women’s views and political participation are seen as desirable and necessary to the functioning of society, and the only force in the world with the power and reach to propel us toward that reality is the popular media. Blogs ain’t doing the job. The corporate entertainment industry shut down any potential that the independent media efflorescence of the early to mid 90s offered. No one cares what the local booger punk band thinks. A popular entertainment media takeover by women is the only solution.

But then we’d have to rely on the kinds of women who give a shit about getting ahead in Hollywood to represent our interests to the public, you say? Yes, it’s a lesser of two evils situation, to be sure, but at least women can identify with women as human beings like themselves and would be less likely to make yet another horror movie in which young attractive women are tortured to death for the titillation of teenage misogynists or yet another boob comedy. Without looking it up, I can guarantee you a woman didn’t write or direct American Pie. Sure, I’d like to see something a little more radical than a gradual, piecemeal amelioration of women’s systemic oppression, but until I write my treatise on how to create an anarcho-communist utopia in which beer is blue and tastes like flowers and Cadbury Creme Eggs are sold year-round by peaceable means, I’ll have to stick to offering my thoughts on how to change things from within the cruel system in which beer tastes like beer and I ate my last Creme Egg last night. For now, I’ll take what I can get, and this seems possible. Just think, with a popular media that portrayed women as human beings rather than either syrupy, kissy-faced angels or conniving whores, maybe Barbara Kellerman would be able to measure women and men by the same standard and either give women credit for their achievements without disclaimers about the personal advantages they enjoyed, or call attention to the far more numerous social, economic, political, and personal advantages most men enjoy.

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A Few Quotes to Make You Puke

29 Nov

I’m reading a book right now about the history of attempts at controlling the world’s population (Fatal Misconception by Matthew Connelly – I recommend it) and just came across some pretty disturbing quotes related to promoting IUD use in developing countries. I’m not exactly a fan of any birth control method, given that they all seem to pose much greater risks to women than men (yes, even condoms), but I have an IUD and don’t completely hate it. However, having it inserted might have been one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, and I think doing it to someone against her will, without informing her of the potential dangers, or without providing follow-up care ought to carry the death penalty. But for the men of the ’50s and ’60s hubristic enough to think they ought to be in charge of who would reproduce and in what conditions, women’s bodily sovereignty and health seemed not to matter quite as much as their desire to live in a world in which they weren’t out-numbered by brown people. Check this shit out.

Alan Guttmacher, then president of Planned Parenthood-World Population, at a 1964 conference on the safety of IUDs (205):

As I see it, the IUD’s have special application to underdeveloped areas where two things are lacking: one, money and the other sustained motivation.  No contraceptive could be cheaper, and also, once the damn thing is in the patient cannot change her mind. In fact, we can hope she’ll forget it’s there and perhaps in several months wonder why she has not conceived.

That’s fucked enough, but check out this quote from J. Robert Wilson, then chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Temple University (202-203):

We have to stop functioning like doctors, thinking about the one patient with pelvic inflammatory disease; or the one patient who might develop this, that, or the other complication from an intra-uterine device. [It] may well be that the incidence of infection is going to be pretty high in the patients who need the device most. Now, obviously, if we are going to use these devices, they are occasionally going to be put in the wrong patient. Again, if we look at this from an over-all, long-range view (these are things that I have never said out loud before and I don’t know how it’s going to sound), perhaps the individual patient is expendable in the general scheme of things, particularly if the infection she acquires is sterilizing but not lethal.

I know it’s no surprise that men in power in the US in the 1960s (and, really, at all other times in all other places) didn’t think women — especially non-white and poor ones — were human, but Jesus Christ, dude.

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Too drunk to drive? Then you’re too drunk to deserve pity for having been raped, you dumb whore.

22 Oct

Thanks to reader Kelly, I’ve recently become aware of yet ANOTHER rape case in which the judge spends more time blaming the victim for drinking than the perpetrators for raping.

Here’s the short version: A 15-year-old girl went to a party, she drank, she ended up too intoxicated to know what was going on. Three boys took her into a bathroom and raped her, taking advantage of the fact that she was too intoxicated to know what was going on. The boys admitted to committing the crime. At the hearing at which they copped to raping the girl, the judge, Steven G. Salant, decided that the most important issue he needed to address was the girl’s behavior. That’s right. Here’s a quote from the article:

Salant, who described the rape as “horrific,” only discussed the girl’s behavior the night of the party, not the boys’, at the hearing. The girl and two friends decided to have a party with no adult supervision and were “chugging alcohol,” he said, and some in attendance were engaging in sexual activities. The victim was drunk and “engaged in risky and provocative behavior” like sitting on people’s laps and talking about “hooking up,” he said.

“I’m telling you this not to excuse behavior, but this was a disaster waiting to happen,” Salant said. “…There was a dynamic at work here. There were things going on here. It doesn’t make the respondents any less worthy of blame but what it does mean is I have to determine whether what we have here is sexual predators or respondents who acted horribly. …They did not get that when a girl is intoxicated and presents herself in that manner you do not take advantage.” …

The victim’s father said he filed a complaint against the judge with the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities last week because of what he described as inappropriate comments he made about his daughter, such as saying that she had been “provocative and exhibited sexual behavior towards the male attendees” and that “she may have underlying issues of her own.”[sic]

The victim, who has had to move to Nevada because the rape and the harassment she suffered afterward (that’s right, motherfuckers at school harassed the victim, not that that’s a huge surprise) have basically destroyed her life, reported that she had to sleep with her mother or sister every night as she was afraid to sleep by herself, but Salant seems more worried about the suffering the poor rapists will have to undergo, being sentenced to probation and all (no, I am not kidding, they were only sentenced to probation, and two of them are BACK at the school they previously attended with the victim). Salant had only a few moments to make a statement of opinion regarding the case. He had just one opportunity to display his dazzling and distinguished judicial skill and to project a smidgen of his legal genius out into the world. Just one shot to get a zinger onto the trial record, and he chose to use it to express his distaste for the fact that these boys would be punished for raping someone who was clearly asking for it.

I mean, that’s what the quote says, isn’t it? Why make mention of the fact that she was drunk? Why bother bringing up the fact that she sat on someone’s lap? Why would it matter if she’d spent the whole god-damned night talking about “hooking up”? Why is a drunk girl a “disaster waiting to happen” unless we’re discussing a slip-and-fall accident? Why is it necessary to go on record as saying you think there’s a difference between sexual predators and three dudes who plan out and commit a gang rape? What, exactly, is that difference? Does this guy really expect us to believe that dudes who are about to graduate from high school don’t know that it’s not cool to lock an incapacitated girl in a bathroom and rape her? Where are the condemnations, the admonitions, the outrage over the boys’ CALCULATED DECISION to gang rape a young woman?

Really, now, is underage drinking and flirting the pressing issue at hand here? Is the victim the one who warrants public reproval? On a scale of “come on, dude, that shit happens every day, everywhere” to “holy shit, that’s so fucked up I can’t handle it,” where does the girl getting drunk fall? Pretty sure it’s on the left end, right? And what about three dudes gang raping a vulnerable young woman? Somewhere right about the exact other end of that continuum, I’d say. But that’s because I’m a person who recognizes the fact that a young woman is a human being and deserves to live free of the threat of gang rape even if she gets drunk.

Not only do we have to tolerate a legal system that punishes just shy of 6% of rapists, but we also — on the off chance our attackers do get some kind of punishment (though it’s arguable whether probation counts) — have to suffer being called stupid, immoral sluts in open court by phallocratic, rape apologist judges? I call bullshit on that.

If I were Martin O’Malley, the distinguished governor of Maryland, I’d be pretty ashamed of myself right now for appointing Steven G. Salant to the Montgomery County Circuit Court. If you agree, feel free to head over to his page and contact him to tell him so.

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This is fucking outrageous.

14 Sep

I generally refuse to discuss the “trans question,” and I won’t be doing so here, but there’s a serious problem with this story (which I found out about via a post of Witchy’s).

Apparently, a person who is in the process of transitioning from male to female has been ordered moved from a men’s to a women’s prison in the UK, because the final stages of the process (surgery to have the penis removed) can only be carried out at the women’s prison. She’ll then, because the state has deemed her a woman, stay at the women’s prison. Now, normally I’d just sit around and ponder this for a few minutes. I’d think, “Well, the state has recognized this person as a woman, and she presents as a woman, so I suppose living in a male prison wouldn’t be safe for her. But what issues does that raise for the women in the prison she’ll be going to?” And then I’d go back to thinking about names for my new cat (who I’m calling Steve French and/or Samsquanch for the time being) without having taken a stance either way. You know, because I’m still weighing my own views on gender, sex, sexuality, and the relationship between them and have yet to decide how I think society can best cope with people who don’t fit into the gender binary while that binary is still hegemonic. I’m still working on how I’ll conceptualize and argue about the relationships between the different types of oppression the gender binary and the male supremacy that begat it create.

That’s what I’d normally do, ponder a bit and let it go. But in this case I can’t do that, because the individual in question is in prison for the attempted rape of a woman. Does anyone else see a problem here?

The prisoner has of late been kept in a private cell at the men’s prison. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the state to continue that arrangement after the operation has been completed? Or at least to keep this individual separated from the other inmates at the women’s prison? I understand that the prisoner’s rights and safety need to be taken into account, but what of the rights of the women who’ll be locked up with an attempted rapist in their midst? Oh, that’s right. Those don’t matter.

This judge has weaseled out of an awkward position by forcing already disadvantaged women to take on the burden of dealing with this prisoner that our social and legal systems have no means of coping with. Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Magistrate. I almost forgot the number one principle of democratic patriarchy: women’s right to not be raped comes last; anyone else’s right to anything they want to lay a claim to matters more than women’s right not to have their bodily sovereignty and human rights violated.

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