Category Archives: Hot Button

The Helpers, According to Mr. Rogers.

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“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
– Mister Rogers

Grieving for all the precious little lives lost today, and praying for peace for their parents and families.

Thought Catalog.

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It took me the better part of 2012, but I have officially been published on Thought Catalog and can finally cross it off my 24 Before 25 list! Yay! The essay is called “Stop Catcalling Me” and it’s an elaboration on this post, which was inspired by this post. Even greater than my pride and satisfaction in seeing my writing on TC is my fascination at the range of comments that have been made: about 50% of the comments are from girls who agree and see their own experiences mirrored in my commentary and the other half are comments from men (and a few women) who insist I need to “loosen my corset.” There are a lot of people who strongly disagree with what I wrote, which I think is great because it reiterates that this is a really sensitive issue that the sexes stand very divided on, and it’s really exciting to see something I wrote facilitate a passionate debate among the commenters. Check it out here if you’d like!

Social Media Sites Are Weird.

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I can feel myself growing increasingly disenchanted with social media sites. It was six years ago that I became a Facebook user, four years ago that I became a Twitter user, and a year and a half ago that I joined Instagram, and while I’ve gone through varying stages of wild evangelism for all three, the past month or so has seen me receding from all of them as a user. It’s in no small part, I think, because I read this op ed piece by Jonathan Franzen in the New York Times and this cover story by Stephen Marche in The Atlantic from a few months back, and have not been able to look at, or participate in, social media the same way since.

Both pieces of writing, though they take different routes in getting there, essentially arrive at the same conclusions: that social media’s promise of a community of greater interconnection is boloney, that social media make us lonely and narcissistic and our interactions with other people superficial, that in a world of passive ‘liking,’ it becomes more difficult for us to actively love.

I think I always understood these statements to be true, at least on a subconscious level, but there’s something about the words being spoken out loud (or, in this case, written) that is particularly damning and impossible to deny. And now when I peruse my various news feeds, I can see nothing else but the truth of these assertions: in the Facebook likes I get from people I haven’t physically spoken to or seen in eight years, in the Instagram photos of bed comforters and glowing televisions that signify a solitary night in, in the tweets that betray a shocking lack of personal filter. It has always been there, but I’m seeing it with new eyes for the first time.

The rate at which we are inundated with equal parts deeply personal and deeply useless information via status updates, tweets and the like from our friends and acquaintances is overwhelming and frankly creepy to me. It’s almost as if we see ourselves as the narrators of our own reality, tasked with keeping our friends, our sea of “professional carers” as Marche would say, in the loop about every single thing that is happening in our lives, regardless of whether it is significant or mundane. I’m probably not the only person whose Facebook friends are largely acquaintances at best, but at least half of the status updates I read on a given day strike me as wildly inappropriate to be broadcasting to a large group of people who are not your close friends. One example that is, unfortunately, seared in my memory forever came from a girl that I knew from elementary school and haven’t communicated with since the mid-nineties, who posted a photo of her two-year-old daughter and her boyfriend in front of a television with a caption that read something like “Watching Barney after giving (daughter’s name) an enema :(” For the love of Pete, why is this worth of sharing? Because there is always a willing audience, and as a result, that line between appropriate and inappropriate seems to become increasingly indistinguishable.

Further, the level of self-absorption displayed on social media sites is insane. We complain in our tweets or status updates because there is always someone who will be sympathetic and it’s much more uncommon to be called out for being a Negative Nancy on the internet than it is in real life, and we brag about our new job or our travels or our perfect boyfriend/girlfriend because good news means affirmation, whether it take the form of ‘likes’ or ‘hearts’ or ‘favorites’, and affirmation makes us feel good about ourselves. No matter that it takes less effort to click a ‘like’ button than it does to stifle a sneeze. A friend of mine once described Facebook as social masturbation, which now seems more Truthy than ever; the output is always inward-facing because it is all a calculated effort to appear cool or clever or successful and to garner the attention or approval or jealousy of others. It is all about the benefit of the I. Jonathan Franzen puts it very succinctly: “We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.”

This is an indictment of my own self as much as everyone else. For the past month, every time I have thought about posting something to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, I’ve stopped to ask myself “What am I trying to accomplish here? Do I really think that this is worthy of sharing or do I just want to be affirmed?” And nine times out of ten, I have abstained from posting whatever it was because I am in fact just looking for affirmation. And yet, I feel like it’s perhaps more creepy for me to be a social media lurker, scrolling through endless status updates and tweets and photos and absorbing everyone else’s thoughts and opinions without putting out any of my own. I don’t want to quit social media entirely because I do believe it can have great utility in my life, but I also don’t want to become the type of person who throws verbal discretion completely to the wind and thinks that every thing I could possibly have to say is worthy of sharing. So the conundrum is this: how does one actively participate in social media without being a self-absorbed cad? I’m open to suggestions.

In Defense of ‘Girls.’

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In the weeks since Girls first aired on HBO, the topic of the show’s apparent lack of racial diversity has truly been beaten to death. I’ve read so many opinion pieces on different blogs and news sites that criticize the show’s creator, Lena Dunham, for making four white girls the epicenter of the show and for ignoring the miniority-majority population of Brooklyn in its story lines. I had planned to write a big long treatise on why these race accusations are flawed, but the more essays I read about it, the more I realized that they aren’t entirely wrong. The world of Girls is a really white world, but Lena Dunham is not the only person to blame for that.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to confess that I love Girls. I think it’s hilariously brilliant, and not because I’m a white girl who only likes to watch television shows about white people; it’s hilariously brilliant because it’s really well-written. A person’s 20s has its own language and lexicon that Dunham captures so well, and the level of specificity employed makes these characters and the situations they find themselves in feel real in a way that most television shows don’t. I can’t help but compare Girls to the early seasons of Friends (which, interestingly enough, never received much criticism for its glaring lack of diversity during the ten years it spent on television), and when I compare the girls from Girls to Rachel, Monica and Phoebe, they seem so much more fully-realized and multi-faceted, containing multitudes the way that women do in real life, than the one-dimensional archetypes of Friends. Additionally, Girls doesn’t glamorize aspects of female life that have always been unnecessarily glamorized by male television writers; it is jarringly honest about the bleakness of dating in your 20s, the awkwardness of sex, and typically taboo topics like abortion and STDs, and that honesty is refreshing. As Maureen Ryan wrote on The Huffington Post, “This is a show in which a particular female point of view is not filtered or adulterated or otherwise bastardized. It’s not a show in which female characters are neutered, cute-sified or created to please male viewers… part of what makes it so refreshing is that it isn’t editing itself or censoring itself in order to avoid offending any particular audience segment. The specificity of the show’s female point of view is part of what makes it a good show.”

That being said, I’m confused at why so many people are up in arms about this show.

A television show about the travails of women in their mid-twenties that’s actually written by a woman in her mid-twenties should be a victory for women everywhere, should it not? Why is everyone putting the responsibility of representing marginalized groups squarely on Lena Dunham’s shoulders? She’s a young girl who’s just starting out in the world of television writing, so it seems unreasonable and unfair that people are so upset with her for not getting it exactly right on her first try. Perhaps it’s the broadness of the show’s title that has caused people to expect an all-encompassing and wholly universal account of the female experience, but the show itself has never claimed to be that. It’s a show about a very specific demographic of women and Dunham’s writing is largely autobiographical. As Dunham herself said, “The idea that I could speak for everyone is so absurd. But what is nice is if I could speak for me and it’s resonant for people, then that’s about as much as I could hope for.” If we’re really concerned about a lack of diversity and unique female perspectives in our television programming, then we need to hold all television shows to the same standard instead of targeting one individual show as the sole embodiment of these problems. Girls is not the problem, it’s a symptom of a problem that is widespread and too often unchecked. I can’t help but wonder if a show called Dudes that centered on the lives of four white guys would receive the same level of criticism that Girls has, and I can say with certitude that the answer is no. The overrepresentation of white male perspectives on television is largely accepted as the norm, and that is a problem in itself. The fact that a show like Girls is on television is sort of miraculous, and I don’t think it’s naive to think that this well-written, refreshingly unique and honest show about primarily white women could end up being the foot in the door that’s needed for well-written, refreshingly unique and honest shows about women of color to find a welcome place on television rosters. That this isn’t a present reality is not Lena Dunham’s fault; it’s television’s fault.

Have you watched Girls? What do you think of the show?

Holograms Are Creepy.

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Last month’s Coachella music festival made serious headlines and blew minds when Snoop Dogg took to the stage and performed a few songs with a hologram of 2Pac, the iconic rapper who was killed in a shooting in 1996. The Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg-commissioned hologram (which isn’t actually a hologram, but a 2D mirrored projection) was met with awe and amazement, and many spectators commented on the uncanny realism of the hologram and the way it captured 2Pac’s movements and mannerisms so accurately. After the success of the performance, there were rumors floating around that Dre and Snoop planned to take the 2Pac hologram on tour with them (Dre has since denied that the hologram was created for a tour, but didn’t rule out the possibility of a tour in the future), and Michael Jackson’s brother Jackie has expressed an interest in a Michael hologram for an upcoming Jackson 5 reunion tour.

All of this hologram talk troubles me. While I can’t deny that the hologram was definitely a feat of modern technology and that it was incredibly life-like and entertaining in a certain way, it was also kind of creepy. It was like seeing a ghost, and I didn’t even know 2Pac. I keep wondering what it was like for Snoop to perform with the hologram, a technological creation that so closely resembles his friend (who, it seems worth reiterating, didn’t just die but was murdered, and whose murder was never solved) but isn’t his friend. I guess I can’t speak for Snoop, but I feel like that would be a really emotionally heavy experience.

Even more troubling than that is the language that has consistently been used to describe the hologram: it seems like almost every headline I’ve seen about the performance alludes to the “resurrection” of 2Pac. Okay, I know 2Pac wasn’t literally resurrected, but the use of that word, with all of its divine connotations, serves to put technology on a God-like level, capable of reversing or forestalling death in a way that is outside of the realm of human possibility. Maybe I’m just paranoid, but that type of thinking strikes me as dangerous and T3: Rise of the Machines-status creepy.

Furthermore, the possibility of other deceased musicians being “resurrected” via hologram seems in poor taste to me. I can understand that the hologram’s singular performance with Snoop fifteen years after 2Pac’s death is symbolic, but symbolism loses its potency when it becomes a trend, when holograms are popping up all over the place or when they go on tour. It appears a means of capitalizing on a performer’s death rather than a way to memorialize and honor their life and art, and to me, that seems cheap.

What did you think of the 2Pac hologram? Would you be creeped out if more dead musicians started appearing as holograms at live performances?

In Defense of Lana del Rey. Or, Why Everyone Needs To Get Over It.

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Ever since she appeared on the music scene, Lana del Rey has been a point of contention for people who like to voice their opinions about music. Heretofore, it seems that one had to choose sides, to either love her or hate her, and there was no neutral ground on which to stand. Lately, however, after what has been widely regarded as a dreadful performance on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and the subsequent cancellations and/or postponements of many tour dates, more people seem to be jumping over to the hater side.

I really can’t think of another musician in recent memory who has been such a lightning rod for criticism as Lana del Rey, and it’s interesting to note that most of the criticism is almost entirely unrelated to the music she’s making. It’s all about whether or not her lips are the result of plastic surgery, about how she dropped her birth name for a more evocative moniker, how she comes from money and her father paid for her early recording ventures, how she’s stiff and weird when she performs. Not only are all of these criticisms irrelevant in deciphering the value of her art, they’re also just mean-spirited.

Watching this shitstorm that Lana del Rey has found herself in unfold, I can’t help but wonder if the reasons folks are citing for disliking her say more about us (the collective “us”) as consumers of music entertainment than about Lana del Rey as an artist. Because let’s be real, most of these criticisms are bogus: Ms. del Rey is not the first, and will certainly not be the last, musician to alter their appearance with cosmetic surgery (see: Cher, Michael Jackson), nor is she the first musician to change her name (I would probably go by Lana del Rey if my birth name was Lizzie Grant, too). And does it really matter if her daddy’s rich? Can she really help that? And yeah, maybe she’s stiff and weird when she performs, but I suspect that’s part of her image, and some people just aren’t born performers. I believe that’s how the musical genre “shoe-gaze” got its name.

But back to the collective “us.” Maybe the reason everyone is so quick to judge and hate on Lana del Rey is because there is a clear delineation in our minds between our perception of music as art, where everything is real and has some kind of emotional depth or innovative sound, and music as entertainment, where a strategic image is marketed and artists sing surfacey radio-ready songs written by other people. I don’t believe that to be true, but let’s pretend, for all intents and purposes, that it is. If everyone who initially liked Lana del Rey believed her to be the former, someone who sang with a nostalgia that belied her age and who pieced together her own music videos using fuzzy vintage film footage, only to later find out that she had (gasp!) projected an image that wasn’t entirely rooted in reality, I guess I can see how that could feel like a betrayal, like you were tricked and now look like an idiot for thinking she was a pulled-herself-up-by-her-own-bootstraps indie darling when she wasn’t. But that’s asinine, if you ask me.

For people who only extol musicians that are of the music-as-art variety, it seems that there’s a requisite level of authenticity that has to be met before a musician can be regarded as an “artist.” But isn’t art about imagination, about the ability to visualize the world as another would, to find a way to evoke emotions that are beyond yourself? If that criteria is met, it shouldn’t matter if an artist edits their own life story. I don’t remember a Lana del Rey-level backlash occurring when it was discovered that Jack and Meg White were, in fact, ex-spouses and not brother and sister as Jack had formerly asserted. Because we live in a culture where we feel entitled to know everything about famous people and because there’s multi-million dollar celebrity gossip industry that indulges us, we fixate more on the personal life of the individual creating the art rather than the art itself, and that only brings down the quality of the art that we consume. The art becomes secondary to the personality, and that’s sad.

All of which is to say: leave Lana alone. If you want to make a judgment on her, do so on the basis of her music and not on who she is as a person or what her image is. And if you’d like a much cleverer defense of Ms. del Rey, consult with SNL.

Who Run The World? Not Girls.

I am so smitten with this video response to Beyonce’s new music video, “Run The World (Girls)”. This smart lady makes some very astute observations about the disconnect between the assertions of this anthemic girl-power pop song and the reality of being a woman. Is she a little hard on Beyonce? Maybe. Do I still want to hang out with this lady and talk feminism for hours over gin & tonics? Absolutely.


via Feministing