‘Tis the season to give and receive crap you don’t need. Break the junk cycle by giving an affordable, thoughtful gift that your family might actually like. Check out this piece I wrote for The Daily Muse last year about thoughtful, cheap gifts — an oldie but a goodie!
Just under a year later, Merriam-Webster follows the OED’s lead and adds sexting to its dictionary, among other words. Last year I posed these questions about adding words from pop-culture to the dictionary:
- Is there any danger in, or value to, adding “made up” words to the dictionary?
- When a word becomes legitimized and included in a dictionary, does it become more removed from its original meaning?
- Since we have control over what is considered a worthy word, does the OED’s inclusion or exclusion of a word really matter? What is the point of a standardized dictionary if we’re all in control of producing our own content and the dictionaries that regulate it?
You can read the full post here. A year later — with social media an even larger force to be reckoned with and more and more people generating their own written content online every day — what do you think?
I’ve become obsessed with watching Best Friends Forever on Hulu, and I’m disappointed that it was cancelled. While the show’s plot isn’t groundbreaking, the two lead actresses, Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Claire, are incredibly funny and talented.
The witty exchanges between Lennon and Jess are punctuated by appearances from the little girl next door, Queenetta. Though I love the show, Queenetta’s character makes me uncomfortable. I see this type of character appearing more often: the outspoken black child with and a mouth that spouts adult-only language. Queenetta is only nine and a half years old, but her in-your-face attitude and sexually-charged dialogue is quite mature. For example, when Lennon performs a romantic ballet dance with her college friend who has questionable intentions, Queenetta comments “That man is trying to make a baby.” She frequently doles out sexual/romantic advice, telling Jess that she needs to maintain her figure to win back and satisfy her ex-husband.
She’s not just adult-minded about relationships — she’s also focused on making a buck any way she can and has a bit of a con-artist spirit. She often demands to be paid for tasks she does not complete, like when she yells “I am paid for my time, not for my results!” when Rav and Joe ask her to buy them sandwiches from a deli they’ve been banned from. She later tries to turn a profit from selling Jess’s furniture that’s been left on the street by a moving company.
A kid behaving like an adult and making sarcastic, mature comments makes us laugh because it’s unexpected, but is it really funny? In just six episodes, Queenetta’s character has embodied a number of stereotypes that real-live black women deal with on a daily basis: she’s inherently sexual, focused on making a quick buck with minimal effort, and perpetually angry. If you take a look at the incessant barrage of literature that attacks so-called “welfare queens” (which, of course, is conservative code for poor black women), you’ll see these stereotypes too, but they won’t be funny.
Queenetta’s behavior is mild compared to that of Ronnie in the 2008 movie Role Models. His character is obsessed with women’s breasts, routinely uses profanity and foul language, and fights with other children for no reason. A sexualized, vulgar, hyper-masculine, violent black boy: an exaggerated miniature of the unfair stereotypes that plague grown adult men.
Of course I don’t think the writers of these scripts have racist agendas, but I have to ask: why do we think this type of sexualized black child is so hilarious and would we be comfortable with a white child portrayed in the same way? In fact, I can’t think of an example of a white child-who-acts-like-an-adult-and-says-inappropriate-things who is also white in contemporary film or television. (Can you? Let me know.)
What does this reveal about our collective consciousness? It seems like we associate childhood and innocence with white skin. It also seems to show that many viewers are comfortable with the assumption that black children are inherently more sexual than white.
Should there be more public uproar about this? What other examples of this trope have you seen in mainstream media? Tweet me @rikki_rogers.
I read the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy to see what all the fuss was about, and I’ll admit that by the time I got around to reading it, there were already plenty of talented journalists writing about young adult fiction’s increasing popularity with adult readers. (Here’s an interesting article in defense of reading young adult fiction as a mindless escape from the workday.)
I tried to approach The Hunger Games with an open mind, excited to read a young adult fiction novel that was apparently loved by male and female readers and featured a non-sexualized female protagonist. But let’s set the record straight, here: Katniss spends a chunk of the book undergoing a “makeover” a la Miss Congeniality, She’s All That, Pretty Woman, etc, and her major flaw is taking advantage of the romantic feelings of a male character. Just because the female lead doesn’t spend the entire novel naked or being rescued by men (though that does happen a few times), doesn’t mean that this is a feminist book.
But the gender implications aren’t the only reason I struggled to finish the book. Throughout the novel I was frustrated (and bored) because the author leaves no room for reader interpretation. Katniss explains and re-explains each thought and action. Here’s an example: After Peeta and Katniss have won the games, Peeta’s leg is replaced with a prosthetic and Caesar tells Katniss that her tourniquet kept Peeta from bleeding to death. Her response:
“I guess this is true, but I can’t help feeling upset about it to the extent that I’m afraid I might cry and then I remember everyone in the country watching me so I just bury by face in Peeta’s shirt. It takes them a couple of minutes to coax me back out because it’s better in the shirt, where no one can see me.”
Part of the joy of reading is the pleasure of discovery — interpreting the characters’ actions and understanding what they imply to both predict the plot and understand the text’s deeper meaning. But this isn’t possible in The Hunger Games or many novels like it.
You may be thinking, Woah, book-snob, not every book has to have six layers of meaning. And this book is intended for young adult readers, not adults. The adults that read it are just reading it for fun.
I don’t have a problem with adults reading young adult fiction for fun, per se. I’m an advocate of reading in all its forms. What worries me, though, is that some adults are only reading young adult fiction. And some young adults never graduate into adult fiction. In fact, when I was teaching at the University of Utah, many of my students admitted to me that they started reading “teen fiction” in middle school and never stopped.
Being a “good reader” — someone who is able to interpret, understand and analyze texts — makes us better citizens of the world. We’re more likely to question political fluff and less likely to be swayed by senseless propaganda or social gossip. We’re more willing to form our own ideas and less apt to blindly accept the opinions of others. (In her most recent book, Swagger, Lisa Bloom has an entire chapter dedicated to showing how childhood reading is a key indicator of success in adulthood).
So here’s my suggestion, adults of the world: instead of heading straight to the “Teen Paranormal Romance” section in Barnes & Noble (yes, this is a legitimate category now), try something just a little bit more challenging (ie better). I’m not asking you to trade in Fifty Shades of Gray for the Ulysses. There are millions of books that are light, fun reads that also require some good old fashioned thinkin’.
I could write hundreds of blog posts on book recommendations, but, for brevity’s sake, here are my suggestions of some alternatives to poorly written YA fiction, including only books I’ve read in the past couple of years.
Like “chick-lit”? Do you buy “beach reads” out of season? Replace with
- Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants
- Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
- Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, and Animal Dreams
Like high school drama/romances like Gossip Girl? Replace with
- Walking Naked by Alyssa Brugman. This is actually a YA novel but makes some very interesting points about the similarities between reading texts and reading people.
- I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson
- The Adults by Alison Espach
- The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Like fantasy/sci-fi like Harry Potter and Twilight? Replace with
- Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. This is another YA series, but it’s a bit more challenging and the author wrote the introduction to a recent edition of Paradise Lost, so you know he’s a smart one.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
- Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of Talents
Nothing intimidates me more about being a parent than the difficult task of managing the technology that will dominate my child’s life. I spend quite a bit of time using and analyzing technology and media in many forms, but will I want my child to do the same? And how will I make sure that he or she is in-touch with their culture without being plugged-in 24/7?
Joe Kraus of Google Ventures says our reliance on devices is creating a “culture of distraction.” He explains that while we used to have gaps in stimulation — momentary pauses in information flow in which we could completely concentrate on a single thought or, alternatively, let our mind wander and be creative — devices have now filled those gaps:
“Gaps used to happen all the time. Now they’re disappearing. You’re eating lunch with a friend and they excuse themselves to the restroom. A gap. Now, you pull our your phone because being unstimulated makes you feel anxious. Waiting time in a line at the bank? Used to be a gap. Now it’s an opportunity to send an email or a text.”
I think these gaps do more than make us anxious, they make us feel uncool. Sitting alone in public without a phone or iPad to make ourselves look busy, we become self-conscious. I experienced this earlier this week when I was waiting for a colleague to meet me for lunch. She was running 20 minutes late, and I’d left my cell phone and laptop at the office. With nothing to distract me, I was more than just bored, I was paranoid. It seemed like the people at the other tables were staring at me, thinking, That poor lady not only has no real friends to dine with, but she also has no means to stalk virtual friends. Let us take pity on her. We live in a strange world when appearing less distracted and more attentive can be interpreted as a sign of social disconnection. We feel like outcasts when we’re actually focusing on what’s in front of us.
But let’s forget the theoretical implications and get back to the real-life task of raising your kids in a culture of distraction. I don’t want to completely ban TV, the internet, or social media from my child’s life. I think to do so would make those mediums more appealing and also rob my child of having a shared culture with other kids. I also think that because I am attuned to the pros and cons of media, I’ll have a better understanding of the technology that my child will encounter.
Some experts say limiting the amount of time kids spend with media is enough (Joe Kraus takes a technology holiday for 12 hours a week), while others encourage parents to teach their kids to be critical of all forms of media and the advertisers that fund them. Is this sufficient? How else can we help kids have a balanced relationship with technology?
Last week I came across advertising in an unlikely place: a memorial guestbook. A childhood friend of mine passed away and her obituary was posted on the local paper’s website, along with an online guestbook where readers could publicly post messages to her family. Many people wrote in the guest book, sharing memories and offering condolences. At the top right corner of the page and beneath the window to enter your personal message was an advertisement for BloomsToday, a florist, even though the obituary — like most obituaries — asked readers to make donations to the SPCA in lieu of flowers.
It’s interesting that this advertisement doesn’t include the company name at all. It’s presented as a service, a convenience, for mourners. And while I don’t think the advertisement is in itself sinister (Why wouldn’t a florist want to place an ad in such an effective spot? Many businesses capitalize on grief — it’s nothing new), it’s another example of the blurring between editorial and advertising content.
As consumers become less willing to pay for content, media producers — both print and online — are becoming increasingly savvy at making money from everything. I’m interested to see how the public will tolerate it and if, a few years from now, we’ll be able to tell the difference between ads and editorial content at all.
Like millions of other people, I love Glee.
When the pilot aired in 2009, I was skeptical. But Glee won me over immediately. I fell in love with it, at first, for the way the show takes songs that I hate and re-makes them into songs that I must illegally download and add to my running playlist this minute. But the catchy, over-produced songs (how do they afford those pyrotechnics when they can’t even rent a handicapped bus without a bake sale?) isn’t what has turned my fling into a serious relationship.
What has transformed me from a fan into an advocate is how Glee tackles homophobia — an unacceptable prejudice that is often ignored by high school adminstrators and, in some sad cases, perpetuated by them– and calls it what it is. It unapologetically shows that homophobia is bigotry, and that parents, teachers, and people of all ages need to understand the destructiveness of its reach. There’s no tiptoeing around it, no white space left for religious differences or generational gaps. It’s a brave stance to take in primetime.
Glee portrays the two same-sex relationships on the show as loving, committed, and stable, in fact, more stable than some of the straight counterparts on the show. It’s also worth noting that the show refuses to distill the characters’ relationships–both gay and straight– into hot teen-on-teen action. Almost all of the characters’ sexual escapades happen tastefully off-screen, with only the occasional kiss making its way into the episode. This is quite the departure from shows like Gossip Girl, which is really just a string of soft-core scenes between teenage hardbodies punctuated by closed ups of designer handbags (and yes I watch it).
Is the high school world of Glee realistic? Of course not. There’s no public school district in Ohio where students can switch schools at will and harmonize in the quad and get married at city hall after winning regionals. But, despite its over-the-top plots, its treatment of gay high school students and homophobia, and its rampant popularity (on a channel like Fox, no less) shows that many American minds are headed in the right direction.
Who are these people, exactly — the people who are so concerned about how their data is being used? I realize that they do exist, and start organizations like this one, but I’ve never met someone who was genuinely worried about their online privacy, apart from wanting to keep their social security number and credit card information safe. And a large portion of what these policies address isn’t financial information, it’s behavioral information: how we browse, sites we visit, items we buy, how we share with friends.
It appears that the everyday internet user isn’t troubled by a lack of privacy, given that they’re willing to share every detail of their life via social media. We’re happy to share our physical location, via Foursquare and Facebook check-ins. We’re thrilled to broadcast our personal interests and potential purchases with Pinterest. We’re eager to tout our political views with Twitter and Huffington Post. And are we reading the lengthy privacy policies of these social applications? Probably not.
While marketers want to use our personal information to increase the efficiency of their ads, we’ll cough up that data if it means getting a deal. Many restaurants, for example, give a discount if you check in with Foursquare or like their Facebook page. If I can get a couple bucks off of a burrito, I really don’t care if California Tortilla knows that a twenty-eight year old white female that’s interested in feminist politics and mid-century modern design prefers their vegetarian option.
But people do start to care when their personal data reveals things about them that they don’t want to admit. You may convince yourself that you’re not addicted to celebrity gossip, but when marketers begin to leverage the amount of time you spend on perezehilton.com to send you targeted Us Weekly ads, instead of, say, ads for The Wall Street Journal, you have to admit that the data doesn’t lie. Along the same lines, we really do want to keep certain elements of our lives private. That’s why John Doe is happily checking in to the trendy downtown club, but failing to check in to the free clinic.
We want it both ways. We want it to be socially acceptable to share intimate details of our lives with the world via social media because we love being voyeurs and crave public approval. But, here’s the kicker, we want the mediums that we use to share — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest — to be free. Pay for Facebook?! Please! But someone’s gotta pay for those brilliant engineers. And advertisers’ currency of choice? Your personal data.
When it comes to the interview look, who can afford to be forgettable in a competitive work environment?
–Marie Claire “Outfit 911”
Like many fashion magazines, Marie Claire makes an effort each month to provide content for the “career oriented” woman. Gone are the days when a fashion magazine can publish page after page of uninterrupted dieting, fashion, and sex advice. Now they punctuate their beauty features with serious stories, and many of them are worth the read. Marie Claire‘s February edition, for example, includes an interview with South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Katherine Boo.
Since many “career-conscious” women (and men) are out of work or looking for better opportunities, fashion and lifestyle publications now offer advice on how to dress for a job interview. Marie Claire’s February “Outfit 911” spread focused on clothing that will help you “Nail That Interview.” Here’s a sampling of the essential outfit elements they suggest:
A $645 jacket
A $625 Max Mara button-up white blouse
A $415 Alexander Wang cropped sweater (and you know how I feel about cropped clothing)
As well as a watch, a ring, and a purse whose prices are “available upon request.”
At the conclusion of the dress for success piece, a tiny text box asks readers, “Need some more ideas for work-worthy looks that won’t break the bank?” Some more ideas? How about a single item under $500 (there’s none — save a bottle of nail polish at $15).
The disconnect between the message of the feature and the products it proposes as reasonable remedies is a common theme in beloved magazines like Marie Claire and Glamour, and even fitness/beauty magazines like Shape and Self. They fervently promote the idea of the independent woman, make plenty of space in their publications to discuss the importance of health over beauty, and descry the unrealistic and harmful standards of beauty women learn from a young age. But, nevertheless, they are funded by advertisements of beauty products and clothing lines, which they must sell. (Susan Douglas explores this tension at length in her book, Enlightened Sexism.)
Magazines like Marie Claire and Lucky are my guilty pleasures. They’re great for a light read at the end of the day. I do enjoy their exercise tips, profiles of unsung women, and the way the models’ flat stomachs and perfect thighs make me feel all warm and confident inside.
But I take their beauty and health guidance with a grain of salt. It’s no coincidence, for example, that the moisturizer featured in a full-page glossy ad appears as an essential item for your “beauty toolbox” a few pages later. (Even Real Simple starts its publication with a list of things you need to buy for the purpose of de-cluttering.) Though they’ve certainly come a long way, fashion magazines are still “advertorial,” and the media-smart reader should keep that in mind before they buy “Marie Claire‘s five Fall favorites!”
(If you’re really looking for the perfect interview outfit at a reasonable price, H&M, TJ-Maxx, Marshall’s, and Nordstrom Rack should be your go-to places. I landed a new job a few months ago and dug all of my interview-wear out of overstuffed racks at these stores.)
The media has been abuzz today with coverage of Mitt Romney’s “latest gaffe,” in which he says that he’s not concerned about the very poor. Gingrich jumped all over this and immediately incorporated it into his campaign speeches. Romney argues that this comment (made to Soledad O’Brien) was taken out of context, and he’s right. The entire sentence was, “I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America.” (Of course, the sentiment isn’t exactly noble, but it is a little more complicated than an outright abandonment of the poor.)
I’m not one to defend Conservatives, but taking comments out of context and using them to attack one’s opponent happens all the time, and we’ll continue to see it happen more and more as the election goes on (and the civility goes down).
Assaulting an opponent with their own out-of-context words is a flawed tactic, especially now that the average American, with YouTube, Facebook, and other online tools, can easily see the original utterance and judge for herself. For example, when I saw the CNN headline “Michelle Obama Insults Mitt Romney for his Singing Voice,” it didn’t rake me long to find the actual clip from Jay Leno. During her interview Mrs. Obama makes a lighthearted joke about the republican front-runner, which is kind and completely appropriate and wow I love that lady.
The problem is that many people don’t take advantage of the tools available to them to sort through the garbage spewing from politicians’ mouths (and, of course, some people don’t have access to these tools — the “very poor” included). They take what candidates say at face value or rely on the media to relay the information. And the media, love them as I do, have their own agenda and reasons for taking things out of context. Soledad O’Brien, another lady I love, hit the jackpot with that sound bite.
Americans need to learn the art of dissecting rhetoric: listening to a politicians’ speech, identifying its main argument, and understanding how the speaker is trying to influence us through appeals to our emotions. When we see a campaign ad that frames the economic recession in terms of how it’s affecting little Sally from Michigan (She’s white! She has asthma!), we need to realize what’s happening. When we hear a candidate subtly interchange the words woman, wife, and mother, we need to think about what she’s implying. When we hear a candidate quote his opponent, we need to do our own research to find out what he or she really said. Unless we do so, we can’t make an educated decision.