Sunday, April 18, 2010

Feminism, Tina Fey, and Ivan Drago

This article by Rebecca Traister at Salon summarizes a recent online backlash at Tina Fey, mostly by women who she resembles and targets in her comedy and public persona (educated, middle and upper class, professional, white women). Traister covers some of the accusations against Fey but then turns the tables on the critics, arguing that they have made a false feminist idol out of someone who never sought the mantle in the first place.

An excerpt:

In the eagerness to embrace a star who seemed to think briskly and amusingly about gender, who was not afraid of showing off her smarts or her ambition, who reminded some young professional women of ourselves, some of us may have briefly forgotten that she is not, nor was she ever, us. It is a testament to the paucity of role models available on the pop culture landscape that many young feminists – including me! – cleaved so quickly and so closely to a woman who made some pretty smart jokes about women. But Fey was not elected Celebrity thanks to the support of EMILY's List; I am not confident that she has ever read, much less written or commented on, a feminist blog. She has been far less voluble about her personal feminism than her compatriot Amy Poehler, who has done a lot more talking than Fey about her feminist beliefs. While it might be fair to argue that Fey has profited from a feminist embrace, she did not ever pretend to be a standard bearer for contemporary feminism. We're the ones who made her that, who overidentified with her, or with Liz Lemon, or with the Weekend Update host who declared that bitch was the new black, and attached to her a passel of our highest expectations and ideals.
This gets to the heart of a wider matter: the inherent short-coming of looking to art and artists as a symbol for political ideology. For many artists, but especially for those working in corporate owned mass media, their first allegiance is to create good work and the second is to net the biggest possible audience. For a comedian, this means getting a laugh wherever one finds them. This immediately sets up a problem for artists with an awareness of or a concern for social justice issues; in the case of a comedian, the biggest laughs may come from jokes that are contrary to their principles. In these moments, artists have to choose between getting the laugh or indulging and reinforcing systems of oppression.

There is a way out of this dilemma, however. And that is to change the joke in such a way to make the underlying issue the object of ridicule. The best moments of Chappelle's Show and South Park have done this, and Traister cites examples from 30 Rock (the premiere episode) and Saturday Night Live (the Brownie Husband skit) where Fey has done this as well.

But to return to the issue of adopting entertainers as symbols of ideology, divorced from the corporate realities, artists also must have some degree of independence from ideologies and social movements. If the artist--be it a comedian or dramatist--is really to penetrate society and critique it in his or her work, then they cannot afford to drink from the same Kool-Aid as everyone else. He or she must retain a degree of sobriety that gives him or her enough of an outsider's vantage point as to see society's short comings. And when the self-proclaimed standard bearers of feminism or any other organization, movement, or ideology adopt an artist who was never explicitly on their team, expect some response in that artists work, which will then be met with some kind of backlash like we are witnessing against Tina Fey.

But maybe Ivan Drago said it best:

(The clip is not subtitled but to translate, the Soviet bureaucrat scolds Drago because the crowd is cheering for Rocky, and Drago replies, "I win for me! For me!")

Friday, April 16, 2010

McKibben: Earth is Dead

I guess we can cancel Earth Day: according to this article at Salon, environmentalist Bill McKibben has declared the planet, at least as we've known it, dead. An excerpt:

McKibben’s hair-raising new book "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet," is a scrupulous and impassioned account of the severely compromised globe on which we now live. He lays out the myriad ways in which climate change has remade our world, but he also goes much further, chronicling its current and future human toll. He explains how droughts in Australia helped precipitate the 2008 food crisis and put 40 million people at risk of hunger, and how the rapidly melting glaciers of the Andes and Himalayas may soon threaten the water supply of billions. Our only hope for survival, McKibben suggests, is a reversion to small scale, local ways of life. "We simply can’t live on the new earth as if it were the old earth," he writes. "We’ve foreclosed that option."
This is not really a proclamation of the end of the world but it is a sort of apocalypse; McKibben's argument is that the reality and lifestyle we ("we"meaning the industrialized world) have been accustomed to is over.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

ALA: Most Challenged Books of 2009

This is National Library Week and the American Library Association has released their list of the ten most challenged books of 2009:

  1. ttyl, ttfn, l8r, g8r (series) by Lauren Myracle
  2. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
  3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
  6. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  7. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
  8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
  9. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  10. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
I am somewhat surprised to see Twilight on the list since the books actually embody a conservative sense of sexuality. And it's interesting how some books like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Color Purple have remained on this list for so long.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Smokes on a Plane

From The Guardian:
Two F-16 fighter jets were scrambled after a passenger apparently trying to sneak a smoke in an aircraft toilet sparked a massive security scare over the US last night.

Air marshals on board a Boeing 757 seized a Qatari diplomat who was questioned by security officials for hours after the incident. Investigators were told the man was asked about the smell of the smoke and joked he had been trying to light his shoes – an apparent reference to the 2001 shoe bomber Richard Reid
I find this really funny. Maybe because his alleged smart-ass remark sounds like something I would do.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Happy Cruci-fiction Day 2010!

It's that special Sunday of the year in which Christians get together and celebrate the torture, execution, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and look forward to the day he returns to earth to lay waste (read: commit mass genocide) upon those who refuse to honor and obey him.

One of the many ironies of religious life in America is the way that the totalitarian authority of the Christian (and for that matter Jewish and Muslim) god is either ignored or embraced by those who will readily scream and shout about the government taking away their liberty. Ancient notions of supreme gods are the template for fascism and totalitarianism: an unquestionable authority who demands absolute obedience and will punish anyone who refuses to submit. All aspects of life are controlled including our diet, clothing requirements, sexual orientation, and even our desires. The behavior of the Christian deity in the Old Testament is much more consistent with the acts of men like Joseph Stalin than any of the social workers who claim to do their work in the name of God. And Jesus Christ, whose message is supposedly about peace and love, exposes his true nature in the ending of the Bible by slaying all who refuse to recognize him.

Imagine if one of our political leaders proclaimed that Americans ought to love him without condition and anyone who dissented would be tortured and executed. Based on what has been seen recently, Americans would fill the streets with flags and guns and demand the surrender of such a leader, as they should. And yet many people readily accept a symbol of oppression under the guise of love.

But the Christian concept of love is not worth obeying. To draw upon a Biblical example, the story of Job is considered a prime example of Christian faith and devotion. For the unread, God and Satan make a deal in which Satan tortures Job, testing his faith while God watches. Job is mercilessly tormented with physical ailments and his children are killed, but he never gives up faith in God. In the end he is rewarded for his faith.

Now imagine a woman who is beaten by her husband on a regular basis. She could get away and her friends encourage her to do so, but she stays with her husband because she believes that he loves her, that the abuse will eventually end and he will treat her right, and that because she has entered into the marriage with him that she must never give up. The facts tell us that such a woman will likely end up dead.

The narrative of Job and this hypothetical abused woman are essentially the same story. Job has an abusive relationship with God and his reward at the end of the story is the mythical redemption that an abused spouse dreams of, but will never come. And although God does not torture Job directly, he enters into the agreement with Satan and stands by while Job suffers, making him guilty by proxy. This demand of devotion in contrast to loveless actions is consistent throughout the entire Bible and is ultimately the real definition of Christian love.

In short, such a god--if he actually existed--would not be worth loving. And now, with the history of violence and corruption stretching across the religious spectrum, the time has come to break the cycle.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Now This is Sex Education

Alex Knepper, a columnist for American University's school newspaper, raised some hell on campus by writing a piece suggesting that "any woman who heads to an EI party as an anonymous onlooker, drinks five cups of the jungle juice, and walks back to a boy's room with him is indicating that she wants sex." Knepper's point is that if a woman consents to sex but regrets it in the morning, that does not constitute rape, just bad judgement on her part. You can read the full column here.

Knepper is over broad in many of his criticisms, particularly of feminism, and his point is lost in a rather garbled prose style and a lack of focus. But what I found much more interesting was the appearance of Knepper on The Early Show on CBS in which he defended his views and exchanged criticisms with fellow student Carmen Rios.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

What strikes me about this exchange is how rational it is. Compare this to a Glenn Beck, Bill O'Rielly, Keith Olbermann, or Chris Matthews shout-down. Knepper and Rios' exchange is the kind of discourse that we need, especially on a topic like sexual assault. Just imagine if the health care debate had gone like this instead of the hysteric name-calling it degenerated into.