Sunday, November 30, 2008

event write up 2

This fall I attended the dance performance. I've learned an appreciation for dance at Mac thanks to one of my good friends who is a spectacular dancer and is involved in all of the dance productions. This falls performance, "Worlds Within Worlds", had two dances that are particularly salient to the themes of this class. The first dance, known colloquially around campus as "the naked dance", was a piece of art dealing with gender, sexuality, and the body. I haven't completely figured the dance out, nor will I, but I have managed to pull a few things out. First is the way that the naked bodies made explicit the role that clothing plays in masking the huge variety of human bodies. Clothing, whether we like it or not, serves in many cases (not all) to move bodies towards narrow, normative groupings. The way that people are socialized in relation to their clothing goes a long way towards erecting the heternormative gender environment we inhabit. On a completely different vein, the many bodies on the stage erased for a short time my habits of classifying bodies as "fat", "thin", "ugly", "attractive", "short", "tall", ect... classifications were eliminated by the freeing of mental and physical constraints. These adjectives, so often used to damage, are learned, they are not natural nor inherit in bodies but are written and spoken onto them. It was a powerful dance. The other dance worth analyzing was the dance in which 4 white women had a "goddess" party, dancing to what I'm told was "bollywood" music and putting on clothing of a sub-continental style (I think). This dance was problematic; it was performed with no acknowledgement of the way that the culture being performed was "otherized" by the dance. Whiteness got to pick and choose which pieces of the "other" to bring into its dominant narrative for a short period, after which they were cast back aside. To pull out a academic term, the dance smacked of "orientalism" in its depiction of an eastern dance/dress/culture. I haven't completely figured out what to make of this dance, but I do know that throughout and after alarm bells were going off in my head.

Event Write Up 2

My second event is an academic talk given by the first candidate to give a talk for the Islamics position in the Religious Studies Department. I did not plan on making this event my second write up, because at the time I was solely focusing on whether I thought this man would make a good professor for our department. However, looking back I realize there is plenty fodder for analysis, especially in terms of what was not said and who was not saying it.
I did not do my homework on the candidate before attending his talk. I know he had studied in Egypt at some point, and comes to us from Harvard where he is working on his dissertation on some aspect of Islamic law. Appropriately, the talk this young man gave was on Islamic law, and the tension between drawing authority from the Muslim community, versus drawing authority from the Qu’ran. The talk moved us from the days of Mohammad through two famous interpreters of Islamic law. It took the form of a factual, historical lesson, fleshed out with a couple humorous anecdotes. I listened to the question and answer session, filled out my evaluation on the candidate, and left, with no strong feelings about the experience.
Reflecting back, I realize that there were some important absences in the conversation. One such absence was the lack of discussion around gender, and lack of participation of women. The whole experience of the talk, as I remember it, was dominated by men. The male department chair introduced the male candidate, who spoke about a male prophet and two male legalists. Then, a series of males asked questions of the candidate, which he answered.
It is notable to me that I did not think about this absence of women until I decided to analyze the event for this class. I believe that this has a lot to do with my stereotypes of Islam, and the expectations I have in terms of race and gender when discussing this religion. The candidate who came and spoke with us was a man, and he also spoke with an accent and a familiarity with Egyptian immigrants in the US which led me to believe that he is either Egyptian himself or of Egyptian descent. Despite the fact that I have studied Islam and understand that there are people from all over the world who practice this religion, and that they come in ever gender, color and accent imaginable, I still associate the religion with people like this candidate – male, accented, and of darker complexion. My reaction reveals how ingrained our ideas of what traits belong to which people are, and how what we know does not always make it through to our perception.
Additionally, I believe that a more general conception I have of history, in which men did important things on important dates, came into play, with how easily I accepted the fact that women were only mentioned once or twice during the speech, and each time they were mentioned as nameless wives. Then there is the issue of asking questions. I am a senior religious studies major, and I have taken a course on Revelation and Tradition in Islam, which was more or less the topic of his talk. I certainly could have asked a question and engaged the candidate. But instead I sat silently. At the time I simply felt that I was tired and had nothing to say, but I think it is also possible that I felt intimidate by the masculinity of the atmosphere.
When I left this candidate talk, gender, race, sex and class were not on my mind. However, there was clearly plenty to think about in terms of gender and race, which I wouldn’t have thought about if it hadn’t been for this assignment. Forcing me to use my critical lens on academic talks and on my own reactions to them is exactly what this course is about, and I hope to continue to do that, even when I do not have to write about it for the class.

Event Write-up: The Price of Pleasure viewing and discussion

Like many others, I attended the "Price of Pleasure" screening and talk hosted by SARSA and with a special appearance by Robert Jensen. Before the movie started, Jensen contextualized the history of the porn industry in America as well as what prompted the filmmakers to create the film. Though it was not intended as a feminist anti-porn movie, the attitude of pornography as evil and needing to be eliminated was a pervasive theme in the movie.

The movie explored how pornography affected people's relationships , how it is used as a means to understand sexuality and what messages it promoted about femininity. Porn has been successful in reaching a larger audience and disseminating many of these ideas due to technological advances, such as the internet. The movie also examined many porn performers' and producers' opinions about why porn should not be considered as evil or in need of elimination.

In terms of relationships, the movie claimed that pornography adversely affected men's expecatations of their female partners. In particular, porn encouraged men to view women as disposable sex objects. Through conversations with a domestic abuse agency, many of the counselors stated that pornography was involved- either that he's watching it, then wanting to recreate that or he's making her watch it then wanting to film a movie. The idea that these ideas of women are restricted solely for porn stars is, thus a fallacy.

One of the women interviewed claimed that porn taught her that women were obligated to have sex and that that was how women existed as social beings. The film followed this quote with many sexualized images of women from mainstream media.

In terms of sexuality, the movie showed that pornography reduced a women to commodities that can be bought or sold on the capitalist market. One porn producer thought that it was great that a women could make tons of money only with her body. But why should this be one of the only options that a low-skilled, uneducated woman could choose? Is there really a choice there?

Reality TV Analysis: The Real Housewives of Atlanta

I don’t watch TV at all, so I had people point me towards a reality show to watch. Probably thinking it would be funny to have me watch it, I was pointed to “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”, a show about 5 women in Atlanta Georgia. The women are all affluent and part of the city’s social elite, and as far as I can tell from one episode all 5 women interact on some level. In this episode Kim and NeNe and Sheree are in a friend triangle with everyone making everyone else feel bad. In the end Kim and Sheree decide that they are much better than NeNe, while NeNe feels that both are immature. It’s all very meaningless. Meanwhile, DeShawn plans a fundraiser for her foundation that helps girls with low self esteem, and Lisa works on getting her line of jewelry into department stores by inking a deal with a large jewelry distributor. The main event of the show is Deshawn’s fundraiser, where she attempts to raise 1 Million dollars through a charity auction. Everyone who is rich or important in Atlanta is invited to attend, with the most professional security firm in Atlanta keeping out undesirables. Unfortunately Deshawn spends 30,000$ on the fundraiser itself and only raises 10,000$. She feels bad, but because she has a loving husband she can “make these expensive mistakes”.
The show airs on Bravo, a cable network that as far as I can tell deals mostly in these type of inane reality tv shows. As far as audience, these seems to have the usual reality tv tropes. Drama between participants, “glamour”, “fashion”, ect… there was a huge emphasis on clothing, jewelry, and bodies. This seems to be a part of the more general societal obsession with a certain narrative of beauty, in this case a beauty explicitly associated with money and affluence. Quote, “The beauty is worth the money”. That sums up much of what I saw in this episode. There are also references to jewelry, especially a 1.5 million dollar necklace that Kim puts on for a party, and a 15,000 necklace that Kim purchases on a whim. To me, that kind of jewelry is criminal, but obviously the show targets people who think a bit differently than I do.
The most salient topic in this show is class. Affluence and upper class privilege is waved around and sticks the air like a miasma. The main focus of the show is that these are 5 women who in one way or another have enormous wealth at their disposal. A very immediate connection to be made is Deshawn’s fundraiser, which as a model for activism meshes with the readings from the book about non-profits. DeShawn’s fundraiser is by and for the upper class; it allows people to indulge in activities such as purchasing expensive jewelry and eating gourmet foods that exclude the majority of society and do not address the problems of wealth distribution or young girls self esteem. DeShawn’s foundation is portrayed in the show as something that “the rich” gift to “the poor”, without ever discussing why such a social chasms exists. The discussions in Women’s Lives about growing economic inequalities is played out in this show. “The richest 20 percent of the world’s population receives 80 percent of the world’s income. Northern industrial counties use 86 percent of the world’s resources”. (Women’s Lives 394) These sorts of inequalities are exhibited in the show, and the benefits are assumed as a natural part of being upper class. The purchase on a whim of 1 15,000 dollar piece of jewelry is portrayed as something to be excited about; there is no critique of the consequences of this wealth.
As far as gender relationships, the show focuses on women and only in one case highlights the role of a man. 4 out of the 5 women are portrayed in the show as financially independent, in the sense that there is no discussion of where wealth is coming from. 1 woman, Kim, makes it very clear that she finances her lavish lifestyle thanks to “big poppa”, a mystery man she is in a relationship with. The show enforces heterosexual normality by portraying all of the characters in heterosexual relationships; the only queer character is “the gay boyfriend” of Nene. I felt like the “glbt tourist” image was being displayed, as theorized by Kellner in the section on “Popular Culture and Queer Representation”. The gay man is attached to the purchasing of commodities, in this case a suit; he is not valued by the show as an individual but in his relationship to goods and fashion. His “gayness” allows him to be an fashion adviser; the result being the purchase of a 6,000$ piece of clothing for a teenager.
This reality show was hard to watch, it presents a voyeur-like gaze into the world of the upper class, a class maintained by this systems social and economic inequalities. From DeShawn’s fundraiser to Kim’s million dollar jewelry, wealth is squandered in an ostentatious display of class privilege. Excuse me while I go back to not watching television at all.

Reality TV Analysis: The Hills

For my reality TV analysis, I choose to analyze “The Hills” which is a reality show documenting the lives of Lauren Conrad and her friends in Los Angeles. Lauren, who starred previously in another similar MTV show called Laguna Beach, came to The Hills after her move from Laguna Beach. As this show is supposed to depict the everyday life of Lauren (someone who is rich, thin, blond, and extremely beautiful from Hollywood, the heart of celebrity lives and actions), one can expect what the show will be about – lies, deception, gossips, friendships, fashion, and beautiful people.

I watched two episodes from Season 4 of The Hills
Episode 15: One Last Chance

The episode opens up with a snippet of the previous episode, where Audrina decides to move out of Lauren’s and Lo’s apartment to live on her own. The three girls were originally roommates, but Audrina wanted to try something new, so she decided to move out, and invited her boyfriend, Justin, to move in with her, who however, denied the offer. Heidi, who used to be Lauren’s best friend, is currently in a bad situation because she took her boyfriend, Spencer, to a job event and got herself into trouble. Heidi also got into a fight with her sister, Holly, and ended up kicking her out of her apartment.

In this episode, Audrina’s relationship with Justin seems to be heading the right direction. Now that she’s living on her own and Justin has finally shown signs of becoming a better man, everything seems to be perfect. However, Justin is not the perfect boyfriend and Audrina knows it too, but she can not let him go.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, Heidi had to beg for her job back and was granted a second chance. She’s worried about her sister, Holly who hasn’t contact her since their fight, and frustrated at her boyfriend, Spencer, for showing no guilt over getting her into trouble. Heidi later finds out that Holly is residing with Lauren and becomes hurt. (Heidi and Lauren used to be best friends until Heidi’s relationship with Spencer broke Heidi and Lauren’s friendship apart.
As a result, Heidi and Lauren are somewhat not “friends” anymore).

Heidi’s boyfriend, Spencer, is not the greatest guy either. He has a bad attitude and has been pushing all of Heidi’s friends and loved ones away from her. She, however, doesn’t seem to realize this and continues to stay with him and defends him.

Episode 16: You Did This

In this episode, Audrina heard a rumor that threatened her friendship with Lauren. She heard from a friend that Justin and Lauren had hooked up and she went crazy. She confronted Lauren, who then became angry at her for making such an accusation (being that they are close friends). Lauren told Audrina that she will never hook up with Justin, but Audrina refused to believe her and persistently pushed her to tell the truth, which just got Lauren angrier. Meanwhile, Audrina is calling Justin constantly to demand an answer, but he kept ignoring her calls. She finally met up with him and confronts him about him and Lauren. He told her he hadn’t hooked up with Lauren, but she seemed unconvinced. Finally, he got angry and just walked away, leaving behind a confused and guilty Audrina. Still feeling unsettled, Audrina met up with Lauren again to try to resolve things, only to leave both girls angrier at each other.

While not suggesting that Lauren’s “real life” is artificial, her lifestyle is reminiscent of the dramatic life story that we only see in soap operas. The show depicted a lifestyle that is very stereotypical of the Californian valley girl theme. All the female characters in the show are tall, thin, blond, and very beautiful. Despite the drama in their lives, they seemed to be having it all – a job in the competitive fashion design industry, good looks, money, friends, and boys. The show is also heteronormative and very white. All the characters are white and wealthy, thus depicting the idea that only white people can be rich. One thing that I found problematic with the show (and many shows as well) is how the female characters are always shown “head over heels” in love with the bad guy, always waiting for him, and being dumb enough to not let him go. In addition, women are always shown fighting over one man, as if that’s all we know how to do. In this case, Audrina and Lauren’s friendship was at risk because of one rumor over one guy.

Audrina’s relationship with Justin can be bittersweet. He’s the “pretty” bad boy who can’t commit, and is irresponsible and untrustworthy, yet she still clings on to him as if she will not be able to live without him. There was in scene in episode 15 where Audrina’s sister challenged her to rethink her relationship with Justin. Apparently, Justin is very independent and likes to disappear whenever he feels like it. He doesn’t tell Audrina where he goes or why he leaves, but when he comes back, Audrina was expected to be the happy girlfriend who waits for him without questioning his whereabouts. This speaks to the power dynamics in relationships and society about women’s role as a subordinate to men.

In addition to Audrina’s relationship with Justin, there’s also Heidi’s relationship with Spencer, who also doesn’t treat her well, but she is still with him. Spencer verbally abused Heidi all the time, but that didn’t seem to matter to her. In fact, she continues to live with him and let him chase away all the people in her lives that ever love her.

Overall, The Hills is only a good show to watch because it lures its audiences into a fantasy world made up of pretty people and pretty things, while at the same time, selling away ideas of race, class, power, and beauty.

event write up

I was planning on writing my second event reflection on the WGSS department’s affiliated faculty’s interdisciplinary talks, but I had the most surreal experience a few days ago that I much more eager to share. When I got home for Thanksgiving, in Chicago, my family announced that we were all going to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus this weekend (“The Greatest Show on Earth!”). I thought it might be kind of fun; I like cotton candy and tigers, so I was optimistic. The last time I went to this circus was at least 10 or 15 years ago, so I just remembered having fun.

The Ringling Brothers Circus is more of a traveling arena show; it was located in the United Center (whether the Bulls and Blackhawks play). I was feeling giddy and silly as it was about to begin. But, from the first moment, I could NOT take off my “feminist glasses.” The circus decided to begin by—seriously—talking about the troops and the War in Iraq and having the ringleader lead the crowd in the national anthem. I was just very surprised that the circus, of all things, was being made into a nationalistic space. There wasn’t really a need for it; I don’t think anyone would have noticed if they hadn’t done it. Immediately, I felt the space become militarized and masculine.

Next, I become hyperconscious of the role of the ringleader. The ringleader, which thinking back I’ve never in any representation of circuses seen as a woman, is actually this strange hyper-masculine and hyper-white character. (At the same time, and because of that, it’s pretty hilariously campy). He’s got the deep voice, dashing good looks, walks around in a suit and top hat, and is in charge of everything (and even explains so in a song). And, infuriatingly, he was also accompanied by a throng of scantily clad women whose role it seemed to be to dote over the ringleader.

Speaking of women, I felt like women’s rights took a huge step back in this space. I would approximate that at least a third to a half of the skilled performers were women. They showed a wide range of talents; animal trainers, acrobats, clowns, etc. However, despite the fact that the women performers were doing just as much as the men, the women were relegated to wearing elaborate-yet-skimpy costumes, and often, acted as decorations or accessories for the male performers.

I was truly shocked (though maybe I shouldn't have been) at how this seemingly benign space of the circus was actually an arena for representations and performances of the most extremely polarizing masculinities and femininities. It was just so striking to me how many children were watching these performances—including my younger siblings—and in addition to absorbing the neat acrobatics, they were absorbing just uncritical gender roles.

2nd Event Write-up: Conversations with Ms. Winona LaDuke

Where: Kagin Commons

When: November 7, 2008

As one of very few Native students on campus, I find it extremely unlikely to find someone who understands me as a rising Native scholar.  However, when Ms. Winona LaDuke came to Macalester, she puzzled English words together like I could, like I do.  And for an hour or two through out our private breakfast and session, I felt extremely at home for the first time in two and a half years.

Walking in from the cold November day, Ms. Winona LaDuke walked up to me and said, “How are you?”  Stunned by the celebrity and by the friendliness of her elder status, I stood silent as my lips slowly progressed into a smile.   Several seconds later, my hand was shaking hers as I made small talk about her trip to Macalester.  Having to prepare for her evening discussion with the campus, I walked her to the Lealtad-Suzuki Center in Kagin Commons.

My first impression of Ms. LaDuke was extreme relief simply because she could tell the campus about the world from a Native woman perspective, from my perspective.  I was glad to have her voice express the frustrations Native people feel. And the great things is, there were some references to the differences that exist between Native men and Native women, but that is not all that existed in her speech.  I believe she understood feminism from a very, what I would all as traditional peoples’ perspective. (And by “traditional” I mean the ways in which Native people identity in terms of the culture and religion of their ancestors.) 

In her discussion with Karin Aguilar-San Juan and the audience of students and community members, Ms. LaDuke allowed the space for real conversation.  Her thoughts were not censored, she English was not used sparingly.  She provided the audience with perspective and honesty by delivering a comical message about her life as a Native woman.  She broke into stories about her experiences, which were full of (but not limited to) racism, sexism, and classism.  One story included her being pregnant while running for the national office.  She said proudly that she was maybe the first woman to be running for office while breast-feeding.  Although that was more of a side comment along side other about the environment (her main topic for discussion), she made me think about what her having pride in that means and why it means so much to begin with.  I do not believe that her talk was exclusive to the topic of environmentalism because she did not want it to be, but because that is simply how she makes sense of the world.  Her ways of thinking encompass a host of things that range from breast-feeding to founding coalitions to protect the environment and her respective community.

The next morning at the breakfast Ms. LaDuke proceeded to pose questions to the students about the climate of Macalester’s student body activism.  It was interesting to listen to the responses of fellow peers as no one could give the dramatic responses that I suppose she was looking for.  There are no take-overs of buildings or protest across the lawn.  Instead, we are all, in our own quiet ways, trying to deliver a message to the community.  For this reason, she continued to give an inspiring jump of energy through aged words.  At one point, she says that there is no plan to share when trying to be an activist. “You just have to have courage and do it.”  For other questions, she sometimes responds with and I do not know.  I think it says a lot when someone who has been involved in years of activist work tells you that she dose not know how or what to do.  And sometimes that is what I need to hear.

Just after the breakfast, other three other Native people and I spent more time with Ms. LaDuke and her son.  She asked about the number of Native people on campus.  We told her the truth about the numbers, but more importantly about the connectedness we feel or do not feel with each other.  Most of the time, though, was spent listening to the conversation that had taken place between her son and her.  And it is with this conversation that I got the most happiness from.  Their conversation consisted of memories; so, there were several short stories that spoke more to their personality and ways of learning than anything she told us about. 

So in my several personal encounters with Ms. LaDuke, a very missed and needed way of talking and listening were re-introduced after months of being away from home. A different and more familiar, a natural way of learning came back if only for a few hours.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Reality TV Assignment

For my reality TV post, I decided to analyze America’s Next Top Model. ANTM (as it is called by fans). The premise of the show is simple: select a group of 12 young women and each week, eliminate one who has an “inferior” photograph or doesn’t act enough like a “model” – whatever that means. Each week consists of a challenge, a photoshoot and judging. Finally, you are left with one shining example of the “perfect” model! Despite the title, America’s NEXT Top Model does anything but find the next top model. Instead it finds the woman who most conforms to the modeling industry now. The show should instead be called “America’s Current Model” Overall, the show reinforces self-contempt and encourages young women to constantly change and mold both their bodies and their attitudes.

“America’s Next Top Model” is shown on the CW, a product of a merger between UPN and the WB at 8/7 central on Wednesday nights. The prizes for winning the show are coveted contracts with Covergirl and Elite Model Management, and a a cover and six page spread in Seventeen. In many of the photoshoots, the models wear clothing and make-up advertised to young women such as OP swimwear, Old Navy and Covergirl. Though the models are 18-26, the show is advertised to tween girls aged twelve to fifteen. The show constantly mentions creating positive role models, which speaks to the malleability of these young girls. In addition, these girls are “extremely desireable to advertisers because they are new consumers, are beginning to have significant disposable income, and are developing brand loyalty” (Kilbourne, 133). America’s Next Top Model attempts to sell the “need” for make-up and designer clothing to young girls through their conspicuous product placement.

In her book Unbearable Weight, Cynthia Enloe discusses how society has enabled women to sculpt their bodies, much like pieces of art through plastic surgery. She argues that “ that was first aimed at the replacement of malfunctioning parts has generated an industry and an ideology fueled by fantasies of rearranging, transforming and correcting, an ideology of limitless improvement and change, defying the historicity, the mortality, and, indeed, the very materiality of the body,” (Enloe, 246). With expert help, we are now in control of our own destinies. America’s Next Top Model greatly endorses this idealogy of self-improvement and applies it not only to bodies, but to personalities. This idea implies that there is an objective personality for a model and effaces individual differences. Cycle 11, which just generated a new winner, featured a young woman named Marjorie. From the beginning, Marjorie had a nervous disposition. At first, Tyra made fun of it, but as the competition progressed, this personality trait became more of a “problem.” When commenting on Marjorie’s photograph late in the competition, Tyra remarks that "This girl [in the photograph]; is strong; this girl is sharp [in the photograph]; this girl [in the photograph] is cunning; this girl in front of us is weak and timid and unsure. We need to figure out how to get this girl into a natural picture and how to get her in front of us too." Marjorie’s nervousness translates into a weak, timid and unsure woman. So, she must change and “improve” her personality. Through alcohol, Marjorie was able to subdue her nerves in episode 12. However, the judges found this “improved” personality still deficient: now she has no charm and is even condescending. Tyra mentions that she wants the “light to shine within [Marjorie] without the nerves” and that because she’s worked so hard to please the judges, she’s lost her “essence.” “We only wanted to polish you up a bit,” says Tyra. Through their constant encouragement to embody an “ideal” personality, Marjorie lost herself similar to the thousands of women who participate in plastic surgery and lose their unique bodies in the pursuit of an “ideal” body.

Jon and Kate plus 8

Reality TV Assignment
Show: Jon and Kate Plus 8
Channel: TLC

The reality TV show I chose to watch was Jon and Kate Plus 8. The premise of the show is that this family has eight children: a pair of twins and sextuplets. Three of the sextuplets are girls and three are boys. (The twins are also girls.) They are filmed going about their daily lives. The children are young: the sextuplets are about 3 and a half in the most recent season and the twins are seven. The cameras follow them around as the parents try to figure out how to raise eight children.

This show is aired on TLC. New shows are shown on Monday Evenings, but I watched it during a Thanksgiving marathon. I watched many episodes of the show for this analysis. TLC is one of the Discovery channels, and many of its shows are clearly made for female audiences. Its producer, Bill Hayes, has produced many similar shows for TV that feature “interesting” people. Stereotypically, females love children, and they would love to watch a show featuring eight toddlers. All of the advertisements were geared toward women. Many featured women cooking in kitchens, or shopping. They also featured families selling their products. The ads were targeting things that women find important. TLC in general caters to female audiences with shows such as What Not To Wear and A Wedding Story, which primarily feature female stories about things such as fashion and weddings which stereotypically interest women.

As I watched the show I found it very difficult to analyze it from a feminist perspective because I was so caught up in the cute kids. The children are adorable and viewers cannot help but sympathize with the parents. It seems relatively harmless compared to other reality TV shows. However, it is not impossible to look at this show with a feminist lens. First of all, it is a very hetero-normative family, with a mother and father who are married. The mother stays home and takes care of the kids, while the father works. Kate (the mother) also makes many comments such as “a good husband would…” She is very focused on male and female roles in a relationship. She also often dresses the girls in skirts and dresses, and makes comments about the girls keeping their clothes nicer than the boys. Although her observations regarding the differences between her boy children and her girl children may be correct, she often make generalizations about the differences between boys and girls that are very stereotypical. All of the girls also have long hair, and a lot of time is spent doing their hair with ribbons and clips. There is also clear socialization of gender that occurs. The girls had a “girl day” where they went with their mother to paint bowls and do other arts and crafts. When the boys had their “boy day” they went golfing. This is teaching them, and the viewers, that certain activities are appropriate for girls and other activities are appropriate for boys.

Jon (the father) is half Korean and Kate is white. There was a very interesting episode when the children discussed their relative “Asian-ness.” The kids were telling each other that they were or weren’t Asian, based on their physical features. Although this was adorable to watch, it emphasizes that they have learned that Asian represents something, and although it was a prized feature in this house, before the age of three these children understood that Asian was “different.”

Ib Bondebjerg wrote an article entitled “Public discourse/private fascination: hybridization in ‘true-life-story’ genres” in which he looked at the rise of reality TV, especially regarding programs that brought private life into the public sphere. Two sections of the article seemed to be applicable to this particular show. The other genre Bondebjerg discusses is what he calls “soft items in female discourse.” These programs feature a documentary-like style which “gives access to the voice of the publicly invisible.” The lives of “ordinary” people are the story, and the setting is intimate. In this case the viewer spends a day with this family, in their house and car, and on their vacations. There are no professional child-care workers analyzing their actions. It is just them being filmed, making it very easy for the audience to relate to them.

As a viewer, I really enjoy this show. I love watching the little kids, and the parents are,who are not saints, but cope with the situation pretty well. It seems very real. However, it does have aspects that can be critiqued from a feminist perspective. But if someone is forced to watch reality TV, I would recommend this show over America’s Next Top Model, or The Real Housewives of ____. I truly think it is much more “real.”

"Reality TV Analysis: True Life

True Life: I’m A Single Parent, MTV

True Life is a MTV drama series dedicated to showing the “true” life of families or people and their similar/same daily struggles. The documentary-type show typically focuses on about two to four subjects who are followed through their daily routine.

The theme of this particular episode is life as a single parent.  Thus, the show starts out by introducing a white-middle class woman, Sheena, who is raising her two-year-old daughter.  Twenty-year-old Sheena lives at home with her parents and two younger siblings.  The father of her daughter is not a part of their lives.  Her general attitude toward being single is mostly concern for the development of her fatherless daughter.   She stressed the fact that when she dates she keeps her daughter in mind and does not want to invite anyone not willing to help her.  Throughout the episode, she dates two men; the second one who is the same age as her actually proposes to her after four months of dating. 

For this family, the woman, the mother Sheena, continues to dress up and go out with her friends in order to meet someone.  Her eyes are always on men who she thinks will be able to support the idea of her being a single parent.  And it is within two or three dates that her daughter comes into conversation.  What is more interesting, though, is the fact that she wants to be with someone as well as having someone for her daughter.  Her life is surrounded by motherhood and the need for some companionship is even more pushing for her at the moment.  She is looking to be independent, but still needing a man – a husband.  Upon meeting the second man, Sheena moves from her house and into his house just after his proposal.  She looks happy watching her daughter interacting with her father-to-be.

As a person, Sheena appears to be a young woman looking for a good time since she is very young to be a mother.  However, she may also appear desperate to some as she continuously looks for stable men.  In footage where she is with her fiancé in “their” house, she seems to be dependent on her fiancé emotionally, but also financially.  She couldn’t move out of her parents’ house because of financial troubles.  As a single mother, she is left with fewer options in terms of relationship choices that are either decided by her or by others.  The men that she had dated in the show, those who decided not to date her because of the fact that she had a child, made the choice not to date her because of how she is stigmatized as an unmarried single (young) mother.

The next family is a twenty-year-old Black working class woman, Jocelyn, and her a nine-month-old daughter.  Her fiancé is in prison.  She works a full time job and has little support from her mother so she lives with her father.  Throughout the daily shots of her life, she is spending time with her daughter and trying to work to support them both.  Most, though, are showing the intense discussions she has with her mother where both women are talking about how to raise the young baby girl.  The mother, one from the days before baby care booklets and clinics, wants to give the baby table food, for example.  Jocelyn, however, wanted to give just baby food.  There is a difference between the mothers’ senses of motherhood.  By seeing so, as a viewer, I am seeing a bad and good mother dichotomy pan out.  I caught myself at one point cheering for the grandmother because her voice, in terms of her use of English, and her habits reminded me of my grandmother who managed to raise nine children with my grandfather well.                                                                  

In other parts of the episode, she is talking about her fiancé.  At one point, she makes a video of her and their daughter for him to watch in his cell.  Without him there to help her, she says it is difficult for her to go about her daily routine.  The depiction of their relationship provides only another example for people who are prejudice and/or racist to take proof in the idea of young Black women becoming single parents.  And Jocelyn is trying to be someone who is going to be only single for a bit longer.  She is doing her best to make do with her situation.  If anything, this family portrays the life women live in being juxtaposed to the prison system and single parent life.

The third and final family is white and middle-class with thirty six-year-old man, David, and 6 young children, two four-year-olds, three three-year-olds, and one ten-year-old.  Here, the man “switches” gender roles by being both a father and a “mother.”  He struggles with trying to have a relationship as well as he dates to marry.  For portion of the episode, he talks about the relationship he had with a woman for several months.  He is hoping that she is the one to be a mother to his children.  His ex-wife is someone who left him and her children because she decided she could not handle the stress it brought on.  Later, she actually shows up unannounced to spend time with her children.  David soon after asks her to leave partly because of her illegal visit not discuss within their custody, but also because he is still upset with how and why she decided to leave.  

In this portion of the episode, the women are portrayed as people who cannot handle children.  Since he can only find few women willing to date him, women who are “good” mothers are few and far between.  David’s ex-wife is even depicted as someone who came in and disrupted the life he had made.  Despite the fact that she is their mother, she was portrayed as the villain of the scenario and David was given the role of the good father.

In general, this episode of True Life spoke to the roles of men and women as parents.  As a viewer, I began to feel some pity for the women who were seemed to be just above the surface with their responsibilities.  On the other hand, the man compelled me to sigh and let an “awwww” slip from my mouth.  I think it was my reaction to the “switch” of parental gender roles.  From how my automatic reaction spoke to me, women are natural caregivers and should be more careful of their decision to have children.  But the man received some sympathy in the sense that I was thinking he is doing a great job with something that is not natural for him to be doing.  After thinking about my initial reaction, I found that I actually didn’t feel like that and should not feel like that because relationships and life in general do not take place within a vacuum.  So things like the prison system are working to fulfill some void in the economy.

Even more importantly, the fact that this reality show is perhaps the least affect by script and direction is extremely necessary to pay attention to.  Some “reality” shows are depicting a type of truth that is calling for response from views in a very dramatic way.  This show, however, with little to no scripting shows how in everyday life, watching a show that is not meant to pull from the male or female population, can still show some biased of some sort based on the thoughts and reaction we have.  It shows more so the thoughts that we have and I then I have to wonder where they cam from.  Society is shaping our minds and thoughts.  Our respective cultures give us pictures portraying the normal. 

Friday, November 28, 2008

Event Write Up- Fall Dance Show

The event I went to was the Fall Dance Show. The dance, as we have all heard, featured a dance/performance which included nudity. Thus, I had a bit of trouble even getting into the show. I went to the final performance on Sunday, November 23. The show was a matinee and I had been out the night before and was slightly stressed out, which certainly affected the way I watched the performance.
There were several particularly interesting facets of this event. First, I found it interesting that (probably) because the show contained nudity, the performances were sold out each night. I assume that this is partially because people love all things controversial. Partially, though, sex sells. I think everyone who went, to at least a degree, wanted to see what this Naked Dance was all about.
Dance Shows, to an extent, are always displays of bodies, usually primarily female ones. The distinction between bodies displayed for art and bodies displayed for baser pleasures seems to be a fuzzy one to me. It was interesting, then, to see a dance performance which was explicitly displaying nude bodies in a way that wasn't supposed to be focused on the sexuality of those bodies. I think the dance was done in such a way which pointed out this problem. Why is it that nudity is always sexualized in our society? I don't know now, nor did I know before seeing the dance performance but it certainly made me think more about it. It was mentioned in the piece that there is power/vulnerability involved in nudity. Since nudity is generally closely tied to sexuality, that would imply that power/vulnerability are important aspects of our sexuality as well. In this particular piece, the relationships of power and vulnerability seemed very clear to me. The performers are students at a small college. Their peers, families, and professors were in the audience. Their willingness to stand in front of that group of people nude certainly put them in a position of vulnerability. Thus there was a level of trust involved. The performers had to trust the audience to treat them with respect, which in my opinion happened. It also, though, put the audience in a position of vulnerability, in that they were required to face something with which they were not necessarily comfortable. We don't really live in a society where nudity is a norm.
Another interesting aspect of the dance was that it featured almost entirely white female bodies. I would assume that the ratio didn't match up with that of Macalester as a whole. I'm not sure why this was the way it was. Maybe to an extent because women are more used to having their bodies be displayed, and thus more females were comfortable being in that position. I'm not sure and not entirely willing to speculate because while it is easy to speculate about the motives of society as a whole, there is a whole new level of awkwardness when the motives are those of one's immediate peers.
Finally, I found it quite interesting that few of the dancers featured in other pieces were also in the Naked Dance.

Event Write Up: The MIO Show

I attended the MIO Cultural Show on Nov 15th at 9 pm in the Campus Center. The show is described in the arts and events calendar as " a performing art show that includes dances, singing performances and skits from all over the world. It is a way of celebrating our cultural diversity." Many student cultural organizations choreograph and perform dances and there are some domestic students (both white students and domestic students of color) who perform alongside international students as well.
I'm going to preface my analysis of the MIO Cultural Show by locating myself and acknowledging that while I am critical of how the show represents culture, I am by no means devaluing the hard work on the part of the students who choreograph and perform dances and songs. I also recognize that as a domestic student, I do not have the cultural contexts necessary for understanding fully the performances of dances from other countries and regions of the world.
My questions and critiques are coming from my perspective as a white, middle-class, straight woman who lived in the Northeastern United States until coming to Macalester. My reading of the show has everything to do with who I am and my own cultural context. So with that said, here is my understanding of the context, content, and form of the MIO Cultural Show.
I view the MIO Show in the context of a college that often commodifies and uses the experiences and presence of international students for profit and image. Macalester's commitment to "internationalism" and "global citizenship" often serves to ignore domestic issues and limit the number of domestic students of color on its campus. The discourse on this campus about global citizenship and the Institute of Global Citizenship promotes a discussion of global relationships where considerations of race, power, and privilege are markedly absent. The audience of the MIO Cultural Show is always very large, and includes domestic students, local families/community members, international students, and faculty and staff of the College.
The content of the MIO Show this year consisted of an initial poetry performance of "Africa, My Africa" and dances by a variety of groups and student cultural organizations, as well as a circus acrobatics performance by two domestic students. The event was emceed by two domestic students who had a running skit throughout the whole show. The skit was about two people on a plane, one a Hawaiian "surfer dude" stereotype and the other a stuffy Englishman stereotype. As the two interacted for comedic effect, the jokes revolved around the blandness and stuffiness of the white man as contrasted with the loud goofiness of the Hawaiian man. There were also sections done where the white man dressed in drag and pretended to be a female flight attendant, and jokes about romantic attraction between the two men. The dances in the show were executed with skill and talent, and kept the audience engaged and entertained. Two pieces seemed more political: the dance about Israel which was done in a more abstract/modern dance style, and the hip-hop performance by E-Dash and Chantee Rosado, where he rapped about racism and capitalism.
A lot of the dance performances were done in clothing traditional to the country or region, while others used more hip-hop style clothing. I think the MIO show offers us a chance to have an interesting discussion about agency and self-representation. Many of the dances feature female students performing highly sexualized dance moves to the cheers of the audience, and some employ racialized sexual stereotypes. Are these engagements with stereotypes purposeful? Are they meant to be ironic or critical? Are they simply performing in ways they know the audience wants to view them? How are they received by audience members? During the chair dance by Asian female students, which featured highly sexual dance moves and seemed to reinforce stereotypes of the sexy and "exotic" Asian woman, a girl sitting behind me commented to her friend, "It wouldn't be the MIO Show if there wasn't at least one slutty dance!"
One dance in particular provides an interesting example. At one point in the show, a group of women performed a belly dance. Towards the end of their dance, a male student began to throw napkins on the stage. To my eyes, this resembled cash being tossed at strippers, and was an offensive, disrespectful act. The people sitting around me, a few of whom were female international students, groaned and rolled their eyes at this. We later talked about how this act of throwing napkins seemed to cheapen the dance and take power away from the dancers.
When I brought this incident up in class, Krasi spoke about the different cultural context from which he viewed the dance. He raised the point that in Turkey, Greece, and the Middle East, the throwing of flowers and napkins at belly dancers is seen as a sign of respect and appreciation. This was an interesting point and caused me to think about my own critique and cultural context. I feel that the issue is deeper than simply "It's offensive" or "It's not offensive." This raised several questions for me: Given that sexism and the performance of gender manifest in different ways in different cultures, how do we have a conversation about the reading of a dance that takes into account both its origins and its translation to a new audience? What do the women in the dance think about all this? How do we teach each other about our cultures in a meaningful way that addresses or attempts to transcend stereotypes? How do I, as a white American woman, critique what I see as sexism in a culture different from my own, without falling into the discourse of "colonial feminism", i.e., trying to save brown women from brown men?
The MIO show offers us a chance to think about the representation of culture here at Macalester and in a larger context of global relationships and the workings of systems of power. It gives us the opportunity to think about what it means to employ a feminist lens cross-culturally.

Reality TV analysis

For my reality TV analysis I watched America’s Next Top Model with my sister. I have totally mixed feelings about the show, and since I do not regularly watch it, I don’t know if I am qualified to comment on it. I think the sole emphasis on the body is definitely unhealthy, but if that is what these girls are really passionate about and really love, who am I to judge? I do think having these types of shows in our media portrays a false and unhealthy beauty ideal.
The show is aired on Wednesday nights at 8/7 central on CW, which is a pretty big station. This is the same time that Obama’s half-hour commercial aired, illustrating how this time block is the ultimate prime time. One of the interesting things about this show is that Tyra is the host, the creator, and one of the producers. It is very much her show. Because of this, the show must reflect her ideas and hopes about the world. The list of other producers, directors, editors, make-up artists, and other people involved in the show consists of hundreds of people, which is probably partially because it is in its 11th season. It would appear that this show is targeted mostly at young girls and women, because they are the ones who are stereotypically chiefly interested in modeling, although I would argue that it is also at least somewhat also targeting gay men, due in part to the amount of queer men on the show, and the stereotype that gay men are also interested in fasion.
The episode I watched was the “makeover,” which was an interesting commentary on the idea of beauty. The biggest problem I have with a “makeover” show is that it insinuates that all of them need to change in order to be ideally beautiful. There seemed to be little rhyme or reason to the make-overs, apart from the fact that they wanted everyone to be more “edgy.” The blondes went brown, the brunettes went blond, ones with short hair got extensions, girls with long hair got it cut. One girl they decided to make “racially ambiguous” which I thought was a very interesting decision. They gave her really thick wavy reddish hair, and Tyra said that every little girl looking at her could se themselves in her. The girl appears to be Caucasian, though I am not totally sure, but the racial ambiguity seems to boarder on exociticization. And, from what I could tell, none of the African American girls had natural hair at all, which suggests that natural hair is not attractive, and extensions and relaxation and other changes are necessary to have ideal hair. Another problematic quote was “every girl deserves to be pretty,” suggesting that the girls weren’t pretty already, but they deserve to be pretty so they will become pretty.
I wonder about some of the financial aspects. At the end they eliminated a girl, and told her she had to leave immediately and go home. But who paid for the ticket? Last minute plane tickets are extremely expensive; did the show pay for it, or did they make the girls pay for it? If the girls had to, that is extremely classist and unfair.
The girls are only ever depicted shopping, talking, or primping, from what I could tell. They were never shown reading, writing, or even listening to music. Not doing anything intellectually stimulating; indeed, even the conversations weren’t very sophisticated. This might be an unfair statement, because the audience is at the mercy of the editors as to what we are privy to, and maybe one of the girls was reading Anna Karenina on the side. But, even if this is the case, it is interesting that the editors did not choose to show the girls in more substantial activities. As far as I could tell, all of the girls were between 18 and 23, which is the typical college age, but they never spoke about whether or not they were in school or wanted to be in school. Perhaps they mentioned this on the first episode when they introduced everyone, but I think leaving this out takes agency away from them and promotes the idea that a girl should be pretty and thin, but not educated.
My sister argues that America’s Next Top Model is good because it has a variety of contestants, including various races, a mentally disabled girl, a plus-size model, and queer women, including, on season that I watched an episode of, a trans woman. I am skeptical of the motives behind these choices, and I worry that they were just to make the show more interesting and to increase viewership. However, I suppose even if this is the case, it is still good that different people get a chance to be on such a popular TV show. But, I still don’t know how I feel about it, because how many times do these girls actually win? How long do they stay on? Have they ever had anyone who is physically disabled? Has there ever been an American Indian? How far are they willing to push the boundaries, and when/where is the limit?
Amy Adele Hasinoff has an interesting article about these questions, though her article is mostly focused on race. It is called “Fashioning Race for the Free Market on America’s Next Top Model.” She argues that the explicit discussion of race on the show has been commoditified, especially narratives of racial self-transformation. One of the show’s winners had to “overcome” her rural Southern accent, because it would not be acceptable for her to have it as a model. Hasionoff uses the girl’s accent to illustrate how the girl when from “Southern rural African American” to “hip-hop glam African American,” and the show ultimately supports and celebrates this transformation by naming her the winner. One quote that I thought really demonstrates her argument is that race is “hyper-visible as a malleable commodity yet simultaneously invisible int herms of historical and structural social inequalities.”
Age is also interesting. As I said, the girls on this season were between 18 and 23, and the oldest competitor was 26, according to a Wikipedia article. The youngness of these girl implies that late teens and early twenties are the ideal age for beauty, and any older than that it is too late. At one point Tyra said something about a woman who modeled in her “time,” suggesting that Tyra modeled a long time ago, and that is way over. Tyra is 34, and incredibly beautiful, but apparently too old to model.
I am sure there are reality TV shows that promote worse body ideals and images, but I’m also sure there are better ones. Americas Next Top Model may not be extremely horrible, but there are definitely aspects to it that are unfair and, in my opinion, unhealthy and negative.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reality Analysis: A Real Chance At Love

After getting kicked off of VH1 spin off, “I Love New York”, brothers “Chance” and “Real” were unfortunately given their own spin off, “A Real Chance at Love.” On the show seventeen women compete for a chance at love with either “Chance” or “Real” whose actual names are Ahmad and Kamal Givens. The latest episode of “A Real Chance at Love” consisted of a very angry Kiki calling Lusty's dead mother a bitch, Real and Chance in a limo, secretly watching the lady contestants chase stubborn animals around a farm they were asked to clean and Kiki licking chocolate off of Real's nipple in an attempt to really charm him. In short, everything that a “Real Chance at Love” symbolizes is an enforcement of patriarchy and racial stereotypes.
The story behind each womens name on the show is the logical place to start when analyzing the show. The trend in naming the female contestants began on “Flavor of Love” when Flavor Flav named each women based on something he observed about her (such as, Deelishes and Thing 1 and 2) making them in essence his property while on the show. On “A Real Chance at Love” the womens names include “MILF” the name of a woman with a 9 year old child and “Sexy Legs.”
During the episode, at one point MILF goes to talk to Real and on her way out says, “So long future baby daddy.” This loaded term used in this context is highly racialized. By referring to Real as a future baby daddy and not husband or companion MILF represents Real as someone who would at best get her pregnant but not marry her. This inherent lack of expectation is not one found on dating shows with mostly white contestants like the Bachelor where the women and men claim to be looking for marriage and companionship. In this “A Real Chance at Love” reinforces the stereotypes of the black man as a hypersexual, irresponsible, thug only capable of impregnating a women and abandoning her.
While roughly a third of the show consists of actual “test” for the women, the other three fourths focus on the women exposing their bodies to Real,Chance (and everyone else in the house), fighting one another, talking about each other behind their backs. In this space women will betray and fight each other for Real and Chance who are always the judges. A “Real Chance at Love” represents women as reliant on men and takes away all of their personal agency as they are all in a position where they are almost always willing to do anything to stay on the show. In Shooting People Sam Brenton writes,
“By manufacturing game worlds into which they slot their non actor casts, creating pressurized and untested environments, where people are manipulated in cruel and extreme ways and begin to display the confusion and loss of perspective of the incarcerated, these productions use their power without adequate or sufficient transparent checks and safeguards”( 9). I found this comparison of the environments that these shows create to prison very interesting. Although we only think of shows like survivor as obviously manipulating people in cruel ways, “A Real Chance at Love” does it to the same extent. By putting these women in intentionally difficult living conditions and preventing them from interacting with the outside world in any real way, the producers do create a prison where they have the power to do whatever they want unchecked.
The way the women look on the show is continually skewed. During personal interviews with the women slow carnival music often plays making whatever they're saying automatically sound idiotic. When the women are filmed on dates with Real or Chance this music usually plays when the women attempts to share something personal. This effect makes it so that no matter the situation the women are always in a position in which they are not as intelligent or as clever as Real and Chance and always at their mercy. In the episode that I watched after Kiki calls Lusty's deceased mother a bitch, Real asks her to apologize and later on camera she says, “I don't want to apologize to these girls, but if its going to make Real proud of me then I'll do it.” This is a key example of how for some reason she is incapable of apologizing because she as a person knows that she should but because Real has told her to do so. Watching these shows I honestly can't believe that these women are as dumb, or as mean as they seem. In this prison that “A Real Chance at Love” creates, the producers control every aspect of what viewers see, including what the contestants do or do not show; and the women do everything they can to acquire their own spin off. Unfortunately these ladies have no control of what everyone else sees once they take their position behind the camera. Like prisoners they sign away their agency upon their entrance into the world of reality television.

Reality TV Analysis: The Housewives of Atlanta Georgia

I suffered through 45 minutes of the lovely television program known as “The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Georgia” thanks to Hulu. Hulu is great, because the commercials are short, and honestly I don’t think I would have been able to watch 15 minutes more of this absolutely infuriating TV show. 11412^^43vbasjklfjqekla234kljfkas (an outward expression of my frustration)

The program itself follows the lives of five housewives in the Atlanta area (notably none of them seem to live in the city itself…): Lisa, DeShawn, Nene, Kim and Sheree. Only one of the participants is characterized as being white on the show (Kim), and one of the participants is biracial (Chinese and African-American). The other three participants all appear to be African-American. This episode (#4: Bring on the Bling) follows the short narrative line of a benefit gala put on by DeShawn at her private home for her foundation to support girls with self-esteem issues. Due to poor planning, the gala is a huge flop and DeShawn is out $20,000. Other big events include going to the spa and Lisa getting a successful jewelry distribution deal.

In terms of industrial specifics, the show is aired on Bravo and produced by True Entertainment, a subsidiary of Endemol, the international production and syndication group that made the infamous Big Brother series, as well as Deal or No Deal. It appears that season one has been completely aired on Bravo at this point in time.

As I watched the program on Hulu, a streaming television site on the web, it was hard to tell exactly who the target audience was by just looking at the advertisements (there were only four of five ads throughout the entire program… a nice and welcome change). But the program itself seems to glamorize the lifestyle of the idle, rich housewives of upper-middle class gated communities. Conspicuous consumption is what it is all about. Kim sees a bracelet she likes for over $15,000 dollars and buys it in a snap. NeNe puts down nearly $7,000 for a custom tailored suit for his son. There are Escalades everywhere. These people are portrayed as living “the good life.” Having taken the conspicuous consumption that goes on in the program into account, I’m going to say this program is aimed at lower-middle and lower class America. Only the flash of capital could make anyone want to watch this program…

Where do I begin? Should I start with the problematic “I am smart somewhere under all this blonde hair” or “You are the black version of me?” Instead I think I would like to quote Kim and just say that the whole show is just “fucking bizarre.”

In terms of structure the episode was simple. The gala sets the show up as a 45 minute long narrative, with the aftermath of the gala as the endpoint of the story. Handheld cameras, one-on-one cinema-verite-like interview sessions and participants using the speakerphone option on their cellular devices all lend the production an air of reality.

However, there are just a couple of times where I was left saying to myself that these people could not possibly be this stupid. For instance, when Kim goes to a French restaurant and picks up a menu and then exclaims “What is this, poisoned fish?! What language is this?” after confusing the French poisson with the English translation right next to it. I think in ways like this (I’m assuming that this was scripted, I really am) the program tries to attract viewers with what Susan Murray and Laurie Ouellette call “our desire for the authentic… [which] paradoxically hinges on our awareness that what we are watching is constructed and contains ‘fictional’ elements” (Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture, Introduction, 5).

There was also the appearance of a queer character on the show. Being a gay identifying male he was of course a hairstylist (sarcasm mine). Thanks for breaking the mold, Bravo. Thanks. NeNe’s hairstylist “gay boyfriend” helps her pick out a suit for her son. NeNe quickly warns Dwight (the “gay boyfriend”) that he has to “stay away from the pink,” to which Dwight responds that he is “comfortable with [himself]” as if being comfortable with pink was a qualifier for being queer. Hmm….

But perhaps most interesting about the show is how it deals with questions of race, as well as how it represents them. At first glance it seems odd and maybe even subversive that four out of five of the women on the show are women of color. But implicitly the message seems to be one of containment. Best put by one of the participants themselves, the message is “don’t be a hater because other people have it and you don’t.”

Demographically, the number of people of color in the upper-middle and upper classes of America is just not that big (and definitely not 80%). In the end, the program does not simply present reality and race, but tries to produce it and make the interlocking issues of race and class unproblematic (Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture; Country Hicks and Urban Cliques: Mediating Race, Reality and Liberalism on MTV’s The Real World by Jon Kraszewski, 179). This issue of race on the program is an issue of what is and what is not making it into the frame of our television sets. The program makes it seem as though race is no longer a socio-economic issue. And as long as “success narratives” like these are propagated by the mass media, America’s race problems will be largely ignored and voices of dissent silenced.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Making consumption political...

An event that I felt compelled to write about was a panel discussion that I helped to organize related to the recent labor/human/animal rights violations in Postville, Iowa. In the past few decades, Postville has come to be known for the hybridity of its community; the town is an amalgamation of white, Christians individuals, the Orthodox Jewish community, and Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants. More recently, Postville has been the subject of controversy when immigration officials raided a kosher meat processing plant, Agriprocessors this summer, in which 388 workers were imprisoned in a federal penitentiary and/or deported – as one of the panelists noted, this incident marked the first federal criminalization of illegal immigration in the U.S.

The panel consisted of Professor Rachleff from the History Department, Rabbi Morris Allen of Beth Jacob synagogue, Melissa Rudnik from Jewish Community Action (JCA), a local non-profit committed to affordable housing, immigration justice, and racial justice, and Abby Seeskin, a junior at Macalester who interned with JCA. I was impressed by the variety of perspective and critique that these panelists provided, and I think that each was able to couch the argument uniquely within the framework of a social responsibility to engaging these issues. As the panelists established, what occurred in Postville affords us the opportunity – or serves as a microcosm, a crucible so-to-speak – to dissect a host of issues related to globalization, migration, labor rights, animal rights, and adherence to Jewish dietary laws. Though the intersections between these issues may seem a bit unclear, I think that the panelists did a phenomenal job of putting these systems into dialogue with one another.

Professor Rachleff framed what occurred in Postville as emblematic of shifts in labor and labor rights, especially within the meatpacking industry. The meatpacking industry has become more decentralized so that plants reside not in their traditional locations – Omaha, Kansas City, Saint Paul – but in small Midwestern towns like Willmar, MN, and Postville, IA. Beyond location, the experience of workers in the industry have changed with regard to unionization and wages. The level of engagement between union organizers and management has decreased in this process of decentralization, and real wages have dropped by 44% – the result is that employees are working in harsher, more dangerous conditions for longer periods of time with less pay. Furthermore, the high numbers of immigrants from Latin America illustrate how globalization operates both within and outside the United States – both a deterioration of jobs in the industry, a bifurcation of jobs in general in the nation as well as immigration resulting from a variety of political and economic establishments.

What I found particularly compelling about the aftermath of the raid is the way in which people are moving these ideas and organizing around them; a group of individuals from the Twin Cities (working in conjunction with local leaders) traveled to Postville to show solidarity with the workers and their families who had been imprisoned/deported and left without any means of sustaining their families and community economically. Similarly, a local group called Hekhsher Tzedek has been established to examine kosher certification from a labor rights perspective and is gaining visibility in the Twin Cities and across the nation. As the panelists argued, what occurred in Postville serves as an impetus to reevaluate how we consume as a political act – in addition to the traditional importance placed on the animal and slaughtering process. Essentially, the discussion underscored the necessity to break the complicity of the Jewish community (and the larger community) with regard to this issue – to take responsibility for the process by which our food is made and to bring this notion of sacredness to encompass the human dignity of these workers.

ANTM - Reality TV Analysis

As I sat to watch the premiere episode of the 11th season of America’s Next Top Model, I prepared myself to deal with some Deep culture. In describing my experience, I hope that it is OK that I spend less time summarizing the program (by incorporating its traits throughout my discussion) since it has such a popular appeal and is frequently discussed in the presence of even non-viewers.

I first thought, “wow, this show is already at 11 whole seasons!” Then, I considered the role of social capital in the rise of the media industry; analogous to the quality associated with a company’s brand… and with that realization I’ve found ANTM to be a vital cultural barometer as much as a cultural creator/perpetuator. The show has remained dynamic enough to attract more and more of the people I had least expected to watch an American Beauty competition…

I realized, that as much as this show promoted the public and personal scrutiny of women’s appearances … (below is an image of the Body Scanner used in the beginning of the show, which was necessary to gauge explicit “profitability” based on “data” collected on the contestants) … it has provided its large viewing constituency with consistent delivery of “controversial” content.

“Who’s Technologically Bankable” – Tyra
“No way he’s hitting me in the money maker”… Brittany S (referring to her face and practicing for ultimate fighting with her ultimate fighter boyfriend)

The reason I bring up the issue of scrutiny is that it is the basis of ANTM’s “expertise” (often, and arguably embodied by Tyra’s role and public life); the show is seen as a system for analyzing female beauty. The fashion/modeling industry has seen a rise in global interest (there are “copy cat” programs in almost 20 countries); and advertisers have benefitted from not only a large viewing audience, but also one that is more or less focused on beauty as the avenue to a variant of the American Dream.

One of the contestants, Joslyn, is from a “disadvantaged area” in Los Angeles and her interview snippet also highlighted her motive to be an example of the American Dream: with enough effort, anything can be done. I have realized that it’s important to consider dreams for what they embody: hopes for the future.

I think that although ANTM can and often is dismissed as another institution upholding rigid and often unattainable beauty standards… it has emerged as a leader in bringing important questions about personal standards of beauty to “the masses”. Not only has the show’s publicity benefited from incorporating some “spice” into their line-ups, but it has raised our social consciousness of marginalized identities while in hot pursuit of the show’s overarching goal of popularity, influence, and profit.

Even if the American Dream is not necessarily attainable in absolute truth for all, it has inspired many and given them a means of coping with the micro inequities they face daily. When “Alpha” Jay, as one of the three “judges” proclaimed that he believed transgendered people (re: Isis) could overcome the prejudices they face to become successful (in the modeling industry), I did want to cry out for joy… but I also wanted to shout out loud that that this doesn’t make it OK for trans people to live in our society! But, not only was Jay speaking as an authority (perhaps one that is admired in his own respect by ANTM’s fan base), in doing so he may have changed some minds over… and ANTM gave Isis a way to strive for her goals while forever impacting many viewers of the show.

This brought me back to a quote found in Kirk & Okazawa-Rey’s intro to the third chapter: Women’s Bodies and Beauty Ideals; Elise Matthesen speaks of large women: “We have a right to take up space. We have a right to stretch out, to be big, bold to be ‘too much to handle.’ To challenge the rest of the world to grow up, get on with it, and become big enough to ‘handle’ us…” I guess this is what ultimately made me feel OK with Isis saying that she was on the show with no political agenda… it reminded me that many of us continue to do important work in pushing boundaries every day.

Two other things that have influenced my thinking on this issue are:
A NYTimes opinion piece (relating India & U.S.) highlighting the American Dream’s importance to our society’s level of optimism …
A tribute site I saw on a friend’s Facebook status for the Transgender Day of Remembrance:

And this is just because I think I fell in love with Sheena a little:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What other prices are there?

On November 20th, in Olin Rice, Robert Jensen came to Macalester to speak at a screening of the film, The Price of Pleasure, about the pornography industry and its effects on our society. Before the film started, he spoke a bit about himself and his work with pornography. His interest started in 1st amendments rights, freedom of speech and grew to include whiteness and violence against women. As there grew a feminist anti-pornography movement, Jensen became interested and involved in that dialogue, looking at how pornography (in addition to other forms of mainstream media) support and perpetuate systems of domination and violence. His last comment before starting the film was about two paradoxical trends he has noticed in the last 20 years of his work with pornography:
-on one hand, there's a trend in the content toward more cruel and degrading portrayals of women, and more overt racism
-at the same time, pornography has become more mainstream, normalized, and centralized in our society (not to say that there are no critiques)
He asked: how is it that pornography could, at the same time, become more naturalized in our society, and at the same time continue on toward more extreme patterns of male domination and degradation of women?

The creators utilized multiple voices to create the narrative of this film. There were clips from interviews with: anti-pornography activists, porn actors and directors, college students with exposure to porn, adult men who explained how pornography affected their sex lives, people at pornography conventions, and women who had been directly affected by partners' use of pornography (and I'm sure I'm missing some other sources). I thought it was fairly comprehensive look at mainstream pornography trends through its producers, consumers, actors, and critics. Some of the more poignant and disturbing points/quotes that I heard were:

An exchange that was juxtaposed thus:
Scene 1: A male producer or consumer (I can't remember which) says: "We live in a free-enterprise system where women can make a quarter million dollars a year on their bodies"
Scene 2: A female anti-porn activist: "It obscures a fundamental question - why do we live in a society where economic inequality is so normalized. So that women must sell themselves - and the most intimate parts of themselves - to make money?"
So, the directors are taking arguments for the "empowerment of women" through buying into the commodification and assignment of value to their bodies and bringing them close to feminist arguments against pornography as one of the most lucrative fields for women. In addition, it appeals to the humanity of the viewers in sympathizing with the very gendered nature of the entertainment industry - the decisions women must make and what they must subject themselves to in order to make good money in entertainment. And this isn't only in pornography, this goes into music as well and Hollywood films. In music videos, even when the artists have such superstar status as Britney Spears or Madonna, they are filtered through the lens of the directors, and end up often being objectified and sexualized for the pleasure of, largely, the viewing males (but not exclusively). And, one point of the film is: this objectification and sexualization in mainstream media has become more blatant and normalized, as a result of pornography's widened acceptance and normalization.

Another similar dyad is the quote: "it's all about choice," which I believe was said by a male at one of the pornography conventions in relation to women acting in pornography.
Feminist critic: "when your best choice is taking off your clothes and sticking toys in your cunt for money, I think here's a real problem with the labor system."
This was some serious stuff...I mean, I was just so taken aback. The second quote really breaks it down, and it makes me want to add my own questions: "this is what you call choice? This is a good job to you?" (and that's not to say that women can't or don't enjoy acting in pornography, I'm trying to get at the fact that these male viewers aren't even questioning the enjoyment and pleasure they receive from this system of commidifying women's bodies). A lot of these guys don't even think about how watching pornography influences the ways they see women. I heard a quote from one guy who claims to, in different words, compartmentalize his views of women into a "good girl, bad girl" dichotomy, where the women in pornography, he has no respect for, yet he respects women as a whole. This reminds me of the discussion about the use of "bitch(es) and ho(s)" in Hip-Hop and the idea of "that's not me they're talking about." His claim is, in effect, saying that when he's not watching pornography, he leaves that world behind, and enters the "real world" where he respects women as completely different from those who choose (or "choose") to be in porn. does that work? It doesn't. The women are the bad ones, of course, not the system in which they live, where, as quoted above, their "best choice is taking off [their] clothes and sticking toys in [their] cunt[s] for money...," and that's one of the least extreme acts that women have to do in the pornography industry.

Speaking of extremity, during the section Harder and Harder, there were a lot of very disturbing and provocative quotes. I think the most insightful (for me) thoughts came from this section.
"The future of U.S. porn is violence." Disturbing.
"Pornography takes violence against women and sexualizes it. And when you sexualize it, you render the violence invisible." YES, this is it. This was like...the holy grail. Don't get me wrong, I'm not happy about this, just that there was such a concise way to sum this up. And I would take that further and extend it to the way that many other dynamics operate in pornography - race, for example. When all of these violent and degrading acts are put under the umbrella of pornography (read: sex, to many viewers), and when it is a common occurrence for boys to be socialized into their sexualities by pornography, these days, and when people spend an increasing amount of time in isolation on computers, listening to iPods, playing video games, etc. and not communicating with other human beings, it becomes accepted as "how it is." At least, in the argument of this film, many of the male testimonies showed that boys had grown up with pornography, thinking that sex was supposed to be violent, that pornography was an accurate portrayal of sex and sexualities, that the acts performed in the films were enjoyable for all parties involved (because the women always "looked" like they were enjoying it too - yet one man's confession that he never thought to question the idea that people would get pleasure from ATM sexual acts...which I don't really want to elaborate, but it stands for ass or anal to mouth. Of course they aren't going to show the cut scenes where the women are gagging or throwing up because it's fucking DISGUSTING). When real sex with another person(s) proves to be inferior to that in the pornographic imagination, these men are forced to fantasize during sex to stay aroused. If that does not prove effective and they don't find sex pleasurable...guess who they take it out on - their partner(s). Of course. And I'm curious how they think women are supposed to know the roles that they're expected to fulfill by their male partners? Pornography is not aimed at women, and they certainly do not watch as much, statistically. But, of course, asking that question would be too critical of these guys who could just sit in front of their computers, alone, without any conflict or challenge, and have a good time. And one final quote from this section:
"Pornography shows the lack of questioning inherent in a system that values and rewards profit by any means possible. They'll explore every kind of sexual perversion, misery, sadness, and torture for which there is a market, and if there isn't a market, then they'll try to create it."

So, to sum up some points of what I'm trying to say:
This film was heavy. It was graphic, showing actual footage from porn videos (blurred out, of course, as if that would magically lessen the impact); it was scary, what (some) people in the industry do, and what trends they see coming; but, perhaps the most influential pieces of this film were the quotes from viewers of pornography. Their matter-of-fact language reflected their entrenchment in privilege - so deep and effective is (white, heterosexual) male-privilege that, for some of these men, there isn't even the thought of questioning the systems or even the porn industry itself, and everything falls on the individual actresses who become "whores," because they'll sell themselves and take part in acts that degrade them. I'm not sure if it was in this class or not, but I heard of a trinary (is that a word?) of types of people - those who read everything at face value, those who think there's something under the surface, and those who take a completely different reading than face value. The men interviewed in this film are, for the most part, the former of the three. I think I find it so interesting because I just don't understand what that's least in this context. I just cannot seem to see into that mindset where porn is just "how it is" and my sexual interactions with other people are not; where those interactions must live up to images, to productions.

A quote from the website of the film: "Going beyond the debate of liberal versus conservative so common in the culture, The Price of Pleasure provides a holistic understanding of pornography as it debunks common myths about the genre."

I found this a bit problematic... "a holistic understanding of pornography" and "pornography" are parts that I'm not sure about. I question how holistic it is, or, to interrogate the other side, what they mean by "pornography." It is a fairly holistic approach, if they are talking strictly about hardcore, mainstream porn. But, I don't recall them ever making a statement of what sector of the porn industry they were looking at, or how the subject of the film fits into the larger body of pornography (I imagine a scale much like that of Hip-Hop, and how mainstream Hip-Hop fits in as a small fraction of the whole culture). Also, this whole film is so focused on "mainstream porn," they don't discuss homosexual or queer pornography, there are maybe two or three contributors/interviewees who are non-white. I'm not sure what the think. It seems that MEF films are very much like this. Beyond Beats and Rhymes suffers from a similar constricted view. Just as Byron Hurt speaks of the box of manhood that black men (and men in general) are put into, the film suffers from being in its own box of "mainstream Hip-Hop." I am a bit concerned that these films do not engage their subjects beyond a certain point. And I do understand that movies have limited amounts of time and budget, but what about just throwing in a sentence or two, even, saying "I know there's so much more out there in this genre, but here's what I'm/we're looking at...."