missroserose: (Default)
When I attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I had the good fortune to take a Modern World History class from Professor Cole. His courses were known for being high-quality, but not easy - study groups were strongly recommended, as the reading was dense and we went over almost none of it during the lectures. The reason for this, though, was also what made him such an excellent teacher: he spent the lectures talking about (and, while flipping through a truly gargantuan stack of transparencies, offering examples of) perspective, propaganda, confirmation bias, and precisely why it's so important to seek out multiple sources when studying any historical event. The very first class, for instance, we watched Rashomon; the rest of the course would continue in a similar vein.

Just yesterday, I came across an interesting example of just the sort of narrative nuance he warned us about. So in true Professor Cole fashion, I'm going to demonstrate, albeit with screenshots rather than transparencies.

First, if you'll pardon the slightly long quotation, we have a passage from Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton:

Chernow, <i>Alexander Hamilton</i>, 2004, p.316

Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 2004, p.317

Needless to say, this doesn't paint a particularly flattering portrait of Thomas Jefferson - he comes off as a naïve idealist at best, and an intentionally blinkered one at that.

And yet, while reading Tom Reiss' The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, I came across this bit of context that Chernow left out of his analysis:

Reiss, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, 2012, p.98

Despite the damning evidence of the founding father's own words, it's worth also considering Chernow's biases in judging Jefferson's shortsightedness. It's pretty clear from the name that Alexander Hamilton isn't focused on Jefferson, except in how he relates to the title personage; given that Chernow clearly admires Hamilton, the fact that they were constantly at odds with each other means that Chernow has a vested interest in portraying Jefferson as clueless and/or villainous. (Lin-Manuel Miranda, to take the examination further, had an even stronger reason to do so when writing Hamilton, as any good musical needs a villain to drive the dramatic action forward, and the British were more or less out of the picture by the end of Act I.) Whether or not this was historically justified is a separate matter; it's certainly arguable that after centuries of canonization, Jefferson is due for some examination of his flaws. But by leaving out the fact that he was far from the only person who foresaw a peaceful end to the French Revolution, and that general public opinion (at least prior to the brutal winter of 1788-89, and the following grain shortage that spring) agreed with him, Chernow makes Jefferson's letters sound like the pronouncements of a lone, ludicrous figure, rather than a perhaps overly idealistic man speaking from a position of privilege. It's a subtle bit of character assassination, and worth considering.
missroserose: (Default)
"The last thing to determine conclusively is whether you are in a comedy or a tragedy. To quote Italo Calvino, ‘the ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: The continuity of life, the inevitability of death.’ Tragedy, you die. Comedy, you get hitched."

--Professor Jules Hilbert, as portrayed by the inimitable Dustin Hoffman in Stranger Than Fiction


Back when I first saw this movie years ago, it set me on ruminating over the difference between comedy and tragedy. The definition above isn't untrue, if a bit simplistic - obviously there are plenty of comedies that don't end in weddings, and tragedies that don't end in death. A better definition might be that a comedy ends in a strengthened sense human connection, whereas a tragedy ends with a weakened connection and/or increased sense of isolation, but that's describing the effect rather than the cause.

So here's my proposal: a comedy is a story where the protagonist learns, grows, and changes. A tragedy, on the flipside, is a story where the protagonist has an opportunity to learn and grow, but misses it, and fails to change (or fails to do so enough to avert loss).

This, I think, is why comedies are so often love stories - be it romantic love, filial love, friend-love, or even self-love. Love is one of the primary drivers of change in our lives; to quote M. Scott Peck, love is "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth". For those of us lucky enough to live in relative safety, few other forces will ever highlight our weaknesses while simultaneously driving us to aspire to better - that is, provide ideal circumstances for learning, growth, and change - than love.

I suspect, also, that this is why comedies tend to focus on younger protagonists, often those of working- or middle-class. Younger people, even those in their 20s, are in many ways are still discovering the world around them; it's often easier for them to admit that a former assumption was incorrect, because their world is still very much in flux. That's not to say that a change isn't without consequences, both internal and social; otherwise the story would have no stakes. Think of the romantic hero afraid of being laughed at when he falls in love with a less-than-acceptable partner, for instance, or the pre-med graduate whose whole life has been about becoming a doctor, until they picked up the guitar. But it's easier to make a drastic career change, or to make better friends, when you're younger; as you grow older and settle into habits, the stakes get commensurately higher. Tragedies, by extension, tend to focus on older, higher-class subjects - especially rulers in one form or another. And whoo boy, when you're the political and social figurehead of a kingdom, do you have a lot to lose by admitting that you're wrong. Often, however, your country has even more to lose by your refusal, which compounds the magnitude of the tragedy.

Of course, no good framework is ever offered without examples and discussion - that's how we vet any theory. So let's have an impromptu humanities class! What are your favorite comedies or tragedies? (No judgment allowed on people's choices; there's just as much room for discussion of the tragic/comic aspects of Riverdale or Three Men and a Baby as there is of The House of Mirth or The Yiddish Policeman's Union.) What are the stakes? How does the main character change (or refuse to change)? Is the story a tragedy from one perspective but a comedy from another? Does your choice upend my whole theory? Let's discuss!
missroserose: (Default)
I don't wear the bras I sew, I just buy the cheap ones from krom chhat {an open-air market that sells clothes in piles on the ground}. I pay around 2,500 riel for a bra [60 cents]. It's new but not a quality bra. The bras I sew and the ones I wear are quite different. I sew my bras very carefully and the stitches are very tiny and strong with good-quality thread. But the bra I wear is very bad quality and the thread is not double-stitched. It's sewn with larger stitches. Because I sew every day, I know that the quality is totally different.

While I am sewing bras, I often think about whether or not I could ever wear a bra like the ones I make. The bras I make are very beautiful with a variety of quality fabric and I sew them very well. The fabric is good, it's so soft, and it will make the person who wears it feel cool and comfortable. I used to think that if I could have one quality and beautiful bra like I make, I would be really happy and I would be very beautiful. But it's impossible. These bras are for export, and the price of one of the bras I make is almost equal to my salary. While working, I hold the bra up in front of my face, then I ask myself who is the woman who will wear the bra I am sewing. I also wonder how the women in those countries are so rich and lucky to wear these expensive bras while the person who makes that bra just wears a very cheap one bought from the pile of clothes on the ground under the umbrella. So I feel jealous.


--Leap, a Cambodian garment factory worker, as told to Julia Wallace and translated by Kuch Naren. Published in Women In Clothes, 2014, p. 230.


I remember the first time I bought a high-quality bra. I used to wear inexpensive ones as well - probably not quite that cheap, but the ones you could get on sale at Wal-Mart, or in two-packs at Costco. Realizing that I could afford to go to Victoria's Secret and get a couple of well-made bras made from high-quality fabric was almost a revelation. I spent a slightly embarrassing amount of time delighting in those bras, stroking the soft lining, enjoying the vibrant colors, appreciating how comfortable they felt, and admiring how they made my breasts look under my clothing.

And I wondered, at the time, who had made them. I've done some sewing, and I know to a degree how much labor goes into a carefully shaped and structured and fitted piece like a bra. I wondered what their life was like, and (if they had breasts) whether they ever wanted to wear bras like the ones they'd made so carefully to sell overseas to wealthy European and American women.

A good quality, well-fitting bra isn't a necessity, exactly. But it's amazing how it can change one's entire view of oneself.

I wish I could send one to Leap.
missroserose: (Default)
This morning, I was reading a discussion elsejournal about the importance of how one conducts themselves online, positing that negativity, since it can ruin so many people's moods and thus their whole experience, should be avoided as much as possible online. Someone else brought up the point that negative emotions/experiences are a fundamental part of being human, and sharing them should be okay, because it helps us all recognize that we're not alone. I'm posting my response here, both because I think it's a point worth wider consideration, and because it's a lesson I'm learning in my own life right now.


I think there's a crucial distinction to be made here. There's a big difference between sharing one's troubles from a position of vulnerability and ownership, and doing so as a means of vindictive projection.

The latter I see far too often, and tends to happen when people are too afraid to understand their feelings are fundamentally their own, and start talking about how Others are Responsible. Sometimes they do it in a passive-aggressive way, pretending they're talking about themselves, but the subtext is clear. Sometimes it's just out-and-out active "These people are ruining everything!" What always gives it away, however, is that they're giving away their agency left and right. "Why doesn't everyone feel the way I do? Clearly that's the only way that's correct!" It's a seductive trap for a lot of people, because it renders you helpless; you don't need to put forth any effort to think about your own reactions, or do any work to change them, because it's all on the Other People.

In the former, however, you're saying "I'm having a rough time with X, and this is why"; you're owning your feelings and acknowledging them, as you say here. This is tough for a lot of people, both because you're having to take responsibility for your feelings/reactions (which often means examining and/or changing them), and because you're putting yourself in a position of vulnerability by asking others for empathy. Most of the time, people will instinctively understand that, and will respond accordingly. But sometimes, especially when they're projecting their own issues, someone will take the opportunity to sucker-punch you right square in that vulnerable spot you've so conveniently opened up for them. And that kind of social rejection hurts like few other experiences; it's no wonder we're so afraid to be vulnerable.

The strange thing is, however, that when you're truly standing in that spot, having empathy for yourself and your shortcomings, it gives you uncommon clarity into others' minds. We're all human, after all, and our problems and mental processes are far more alike than different. So while it's painful, when someone you care about takes that opportunity, it's not as world-ending as your initial fear of that experience might have suggested. You've already acknowledged your humanity, in its strengths and shortcomings; if they can't see it, then it says much more about them than about you.

So I say yes, share the less-acceptable feelings. But do the work beforehand; make sure you're coming from a place of power, not giving that power away in a mean-spirited attempt to deprive others of theirs. *That's* the sort of negativity that ruins others' experiences, and the root of most real evil in the world.
missroserose: (Psychosomatic)
So apparently there's a trend out there* for "gender reveal parties". The idea being, when you go in for your ultrasound, you have the tech write the sex of the fetus on a card that goes in an envelope, and use said card (and the assistance of some poor harried retail worker) to blind-purchase and wrap up a pink or blue onesie/a box of pink or blue balloons/a cake with pink or blue frosting inside which you then open at a party in front of your guests. After, of course, playing goofy party games and having them vote for their 'preferred' gender.

I'm...honestly kind of dumbfounded at this. I mean, I guess I can see how it could be fun, but it just feels tacky to me. Thing is, this is a pretty unusual reaction for me - I'm not generally one to diss on other people's reasons for celebrating (usually whatever makes people happy is okay by me). So I'm trying to figure out why it is the idea grates on me so badly.

Some of it might be that "gender-reveal" is an inherent misnomer. "Gender" refers to how the person thinks of themselves, and the ensuing cultural implications (wearing dresses or makeup regularly, or which restroom they use, or whether they get married in a suit or a gown), whereas "sex" is the term for which set of chromosomes (and, usually, genitalia) you're born with. (I guess people thought "sex-reveal party" would give folks the wrong idea?) Obviously, someone's gender doesn't always match their biological sex, and ultimately they're going to need to figure that out for themselves.

But actually, that may be exactly the issue. Pretensions aside, this party idea isn't about the child, it's about the parents. And while I suppose that's logical enough (the kid hasn't even been born yet, much less achieved any kind of sentience), and while I'm certainly not one to propagate the idea that once the kids arrive the parents don't get to have their own lives anymore...reducing your child, even your child-in-potentia, to a card in an envelope, just for the purposes of a party trick? That feels pretty damn shallow. That child, if you're lucky, is going to grow into a whole person - not just a gender, and perhaps not even the gender you ascribe to them at birth. Admittedly, they're not a person now, and certainly won't be a fully-formed one for a good while, but they still will be far more - and hopefully, far more interesting - than whatever variant of genitalia they'll be keeping in their undergarments. Starting off your participation in their life with a whole party based around what's arguably the least interesting thing about them just feels...disrespectful of their (potential) person-hood.

What do you all think of the idea? Tacky or charming, or both? Why?


*According to Dear Prudence and Google, anyway. Thankfully, none of my friends have invited me to anything like this. Although, as one trend-column suggested, this may just mean that I have no friends.
missroserose: (Not Amused)
"Since the Mubarak era, the {Egyptian} government has been known to use paid thugs to sexually assault female activists and journalists as a means to shame them out of public spaces."

--Verily, "The Oldest War Crime", November/December 2013, p. 89

How many things are fucked up about that single statement of fact? Go ahead, count them. I'll wait.
missroserose: (Not Amused)
Dear Arizona (and everywhere else) political candidates:

I don't care which party you're affiliated with or what position you're running for, but for the love of all that is holy, when you're writing your candidate statements, please don't:
  • Refer to vague bogeymen such as "special interest groups".  What does that even mean?  Be specific.
  • Trash your predecessor, especially over things that weren't their fault.  That's just bad form.
  • PUT PHRASES OR ENTIRE SENTENCES in all caps.  Every fourteen-year-old Internet user knows not to do that if you want to be taken seriously.
  • Make the entire thing a string of cliches.  We've all heard the slogans; this is your chance to stand out.
Instead, try these:
  • Tell us about your qualifications for the job, be they education-based or experience-based.
  • Talk about verifiable, concrete accomplishments - preferably ones you personally contributed to, not just your party.
  • Tell us why you're interested in running for office.
  • Give us some of your goals for your district/state, both short and long term.
Yes, I realize this is only going to appeal to the minority of voters who actually try to make informed, nonpartisan decisions, but do you really think the people who respond to fearmongering and sloganeering are going to bother to read your statements anyway?  Every vote helps, and that includes smart peoples', too.
missroserose: (Not Amused)
Dear Arizona (and everywhere else) political candidates:

I don't care which party you're affiliated with or what position you're running for, but for the love of all that is holy, when you're writing your candidate statements, please don't:
  • Refer to vague bogeymen such as "special interest groups".  What does that even mean?  Be specific.
  • Trash your predecessor, especially over things that weren't their fault.  That's just bad form.
  • PUT PHRASES OR ENTIRE SENTENCES in all caps.  Every fourteen-year-old Internet user knows not to do that if you want to be taken seriously.
  • Make the entire thing a string of cliches.  We've all heard the slogans; this is your chance to stand out.
Instead, try these:
  • Tell us about your qualifications for the job, be they education-based or experience-based.
  • Talk about verifiable, concrete accomplishments - preferably ones you personally contributed to, not just your party.
  • Tell us why you're interested in running for office.
  • Give us some of your goals for your district/state, both short and long term.
Yes, I realize this is only going to appeal to the minority of voters who actually try to make informed, nonpartisan decisions, but do you really think the people who respond to fearmongering and sloganeering are going to bother to read your statements anyway?  Every vote helps, and that includes smart peoples', too.
missroserose: (Gifted & Talented)
It's been an interesting few weeks for gender issues in the gamer subculture. (And I use "interesting" in a vaguely Chinese sense, simultaneously meaning "awful and disheartening" and "making opportunities for change".) I don't really follow gaming news, but these two stories have both filtered in through my social networks, largely because I have awesome friends who care about gender issues as much as I do. As unsettling as they each are individually, however, I thought they proved an interesting counterpoint to each other, in that they demonstrate two very different but equally destructive forms of sexism.

First, and most depressing, is the story of Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist pop culture critic who had started a Kickstarter with the purpose of creating a series of short videos examining various gender-related tropes in video games. Not exactly a radical topic, but something about her plans poked the gamer subculture right in a soft place; she's since been subjected to an unremitting campaign of harassment for her temerity. (Link borderline NSFW, and almost certainly NSFyour faith in humanity.) Fortunately, the situation is not without its upsides; the publicity from this outburst has also led to a huge outpouring of support (and money for her Kickstarter), as well as some very thoughtful and soul-searching pieces on the many problems with such harassment, and why letting it continue is problematic, but trying to stop it even more so.

Obviously, the sexism in that situation is pretty easy to identify. But a friend's reaction to another clash between similar demographics reminded me that sexism takes many subtler forms, too.

In this instance, a Twitter user had addressed a couple of tweets to Felicia Day:

@feliciaday, I keep seeing everywhere. Question: Do you matter at all? Do you even provide anything useful to gaming, besides "personality?"

@feliciaday, could you be considered nothing more than a glorified booth babe? You don't seem to add anything creative to the medium.


Given that Day is one of the few well-known female celebrities in gamer culture, this also prompted quite a few accusations of sexism, many of them knee-jerk and vitriolic in nature. My friend was puzzled; he acknowledged the guy was talking out of his ass but questioned whether or not the comments were sexist, and whether (as he suspected) the furor over their supposed sexism was detracting from the other problems with his comments (their untruth and unkindness, for instance).

I had to think that one over for a couple of days, but I eventually wrote him this email:

I've been giving a lot of thought to the item you posted a bit ago re: Felicia Day and whether the dude was being sexist in his accusations. It *did* strike me as sexist, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why, so I didn't want to respond with nothing but my knee-jerk reaction - because I absolutely agree that the feminist demographic as a whole has a tendency to respond to things with knee-jerk "OMG SEXIST" accusations without properly articulating *why* something is sexist. Which I very much dislike, as it's unproductive and only makes people defensive and angry. But that's beside the point.

So here are my thoughts: Calling Day a "glorified booth babe" and implying that all she contributes to gamer culture is her looks may not be blatantly sexist, the way it would be if the person had said that she *wasn't capable* of contributing anything because her looks were all she was good for. But it's still subtly sexist, largely because there's an unspoken rule in our culture that a woman's looks are her first and best asset, and any other positive qualities she might have are secondary.

A good rule of thumb in determining whether a statement is sexist/racist/homophobic/what have you is to turn it around and ask it of someone of a different sex/race/orientation (viz. those 'questionnaires' floating around with items like "How long have you suspected you were heterosexual?" and "Are you aware that heterosexual experiences can have negative side-effects?" - pointing out how, even though homosexuality is far more accepted in the mainstream now, it's still viewed as a deviation from the norm rather than simply another facet of normal). And I really don't see *anyone* accusing, say, Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade, or Wil Wheaton, of being glorified beefcake and contributing nothing to gamer culture but their looks. You could convincingly make the argument that all three examples are more prominent than Day, but in this era of Google, it would have taken him all of five minutes to find out that she has, in fact, made quite a few contributions to gamer community, if he had bothered to look. So yes, the fact that he was perfectly willing to assume that she was famous solely because of her looks was, frankly, sexist.

But, unfortunately, subtlety and nuance tend to be the first casualties in any Internet flame war, and while I'm sure there are other feminists out there who are also articulating the point, I'm sure it's getting lost in the accusations and counter-accusations flying about.

Incidentally, another example of this sort of subtle sexism comes in this email forward, which unfortunately is still making the rounds despite being completely untrue. There's no blatant sexism, exactly, but it's hard to imagine that the portrayal of Giffords as an imbecile is completely unrelated to her relative youth, attractiveness, and gender. It's a sad truth, but attractive women are nearly always assumed to be less intelligent than their less-attractive counterparts; whereas a good-looking man is almost always assumed to be more intelligent. I can't even tell you how many times I've met people (mostly men, but not always) who are obviously startled when I express an opinion and back it up with solid arguments, despite being dressed up and perhaps showing a little cleavage...
missroserose: (Gifted & Talented)
It's been an interesting few weeks for gender issues in the gamer subculture. (And I use "interesting" in a vaguely Chinese sense, simultaneously meaning "awful and disheartening" and "making opportunities for change".) I don't really follow gaming news, but these two stories have both filtered in through my social networks, largely because I have awesome friends who care about gender issues as much as I do. As unsettling as they each are individually, however, I thought they proved an interesting counterpoint to each other, in that they demonstrate two very different but equally destructive forms of sexism.

First, and most depressing, is the story of Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist pop culture critic who had started a Kickstarter with the purpose of creating a series of short videos examining various gender-related tropes in video games. Not exactly a radical topic, but something about her plans poked the gamer subculture right in a soft place; she's since been subjected to an unremitting campaign of harassment for her temerity. (Link borderline NSFW, and almost certainly NSFyour faith in humanity.) Fortunately, the situation is not without its upsides; the publicity from this outburst has also led to a huge outpouring of support (and money for her Kickstarter), as well as some very thoughtful and soul-searching pieces on the many problems with such harassment, and why letting it continue is problematic, but trying to stop it even more so.

Obviously, the sexism in that situation is pretty easy to identify. But a friend's reaction to another clash between similar demographics reminded me that sexism takes many subtler forms, too.

In this instance, a Twitter user had addressed a couple of tweets to Felicia Day:

@feliciaday, I keep seeing everywhere. Question: Do you matter at all? Do you even provide anything useful to gaming, besides "personality?"

@feliciaday, could you be considered nothing more than a glorified booth babe? You don't seem to add anything creative to the medium.


Given that Day is one of the few well-known female celebrities in gamer culture, this also prompted quite a few accusations of sexism, many of them knee-jerk and vitriolic in nature. My friend was puzzled; he acknowledged the guy was talking out of his ass but questioned whether or not the comments were sexist, and whether (as he suspected) the furor over their supposed sexism was detracting from the other problems with his comments (their untruth and unkindness, for instance).

I had to think that one over for a couple of days, but I eventually wrote him this email:

I've been giving a lot of thought to the item you posted a bit ago re: Felicia Day and whether the dude was being sexist in his accusations. It *did* strike me as sexist, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why, so I didn't want to respond with nothing but my knee-jerk reaction - because I absolutely agree that the feminist demographic as a whole has a tendency to respond to things with knee-jerk "OMG SEXIST" accusations without properly articulating *why* something is sexist. Which I very much dislike, as it's unproductive and only makes people defensive and angry. But that's beside the point.

So here are my thoughts: Calling Day a "glorified booth babe" and implying that all she contributes to gamer culture is her looks may not be blatantly sexist, the way it would be if the person had said that she *wasn't capable* of contributing anything because her looks were all she was good for. But it's still subtly sexist, largely because there's an unspoken rule in our culture that a woman's looks are her first and best asset, and any other positive qualities she might have are secondary.

A good rule of thumb in determining whether a statement is sexist/racist/homophobic/what have you is to turn it around and ask it of someone of a different sex/race/orientation (viz. those 'questionnaires' floating around with items like "How long have you suspected you were heterosexual?" and "Are you aware that heterosexual experiences can have negative side-effects?" - pointing out how, even though homosexuality is far more accepted in the mainstream now, it's still viewed as a deviation from the norm rather than simply another facet of normal). And I really don't see *anyone* accusing, say, Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade, or Wil Wheaton, of being glorified beefcake and contributing nothing to gamer culture but their looks. You could convincingly make the argument that all three examples are more prominent than Day, but in this era of Google, it would have taken him all of five minutes to find out that she has, in fact, made quite a few contributions to gamer community, if he had bothered to look. So yes, the fact that he was perfectly willing to assume that she was famous solely because of her looks was, frankly, sexist.

But, unfortunately, subtlety and nuance tend to be the first casualties in any Internet flame war, and while I'm sure there are other feminists out there who are also articulating the point, I'm sure it's getting lost in the accusations and counter-accusations flying about.

Incidentally, another example of this sort of subtle sexism comes in this email forward, which unfortunately is still making the rounds despite being completely untrue. There's no blatant sexism, exactly, but it's hard to imagine that the portrayal of Giffords as an imbecile is completely unrelated to her relative youth, attractiveness, and gender. It's a sad truth, but attractive women are nearly always assumed to be less intelligent than their less-attractive counterparts; whereas a good-looking man is almost always assumed to be more intelligent. I can't even tell you how many times I've met people (mostly men, but not always) who are obviously startled when I express an opinion and back it up with solid arguments, despite being dressed up and perhaps showing a little cleavage...
missroserose: (Not Amused)
Last year, some of you might have noticed your local Banana Republic asking "Are you Don?" or "Are you Betty?"  This struck me as some of the more tone-deaf tie-in advertising I'd seen; yes, the clothing in Mad Men is period-accurate, nicely detailed and certainly good-looking, but one of the central themes of the show is the clash between the characters' polished, perfect exterior appearance and their tumultuous, conflicted (and frankly dysfunctional) lives.  So while I can totally see a luxury clothing store holding up the wardrobe of the show as a thing of desire, holding up the characters themselves as something to aspire to seemed a bit...off.

Today, however, I've officially found a product tie-in with even more mind-bogglingly problematic implications:



Now, I don't know how many people on my friends list are familiar with The Hunger Games or its sequels, but here's a bit of a recap - the Capitol, a centralized city-state where the wealthiest and most powerful people live, is surrounded by twelve districts.  The Capitol produces nothing itself, merely consumes the goods produced by the twelve surrounding districts (up to and including two of their children each year for The Games, produced solely for their entertainment).  The denizens of the Capitol are almost universally portrayed as airheaded and fluffy, concerned with nothing other than their luxurious lifestyles and following the latest ever-more-extreme fashion trends (skin dyeing, for instance).  Needless to say, it's a pretty negative depiction, as well as being a thinly-veiled satire on modern American culture.

The unkind part of me wants to note that there's really nothing wrong with the ad, since the people they're trying to sell nail polish to are those who would see nothing wrong with emulating the lifestyle of the Capitol's citizens.  But surely there's at least a decent portion of their consumer base who'd rather not be associated with such a meaningless and suppressive lifestyle? 

On the other hand, somehow I doubt that many of the people who see this ad will think about the implications enough to be insulted by them.  Certainly not enough to counteract the "Ooo, I loved The Hunger Games!  I should buy this nail polish!" factor.  The fact is, people are more likely to buy something if it has a name on it they recognize; therefore, there's no reason for them not to piggyback on a huge advertising campaign, even if the implications of said piggybacking only serve to prove the point the original story was making.

Had I come across this out of context, I would have assumed it to be a parody of advertising tie-ins (sadly, it's not; I pulled it from a Sally Beauty Supply flyer).  But once more, the line for satire has been pushed back, as people seem absolutely hell-bent on living up to the most ridiculous exaggerations of their worst characteristics.
missroserose: (Not Amused)
Last year, some of you might have noticed your local Banana Republic asking "Are you Don?" or "Are you Betty?"  This struck me as some of the more tone-deaf tie-in advertising I'd seen; yes, the clothing in Mad Men is period-accurate, nicely detailed and certainly good-looking, but one of the central themes of the show is the clash between the characters' polished, perfect exterior appearance and their tumultuous, conflicted (and frankly dysfunctional) lives.  So while I can totally see a luxury clothing store holding up the wardrobe of the show as a thing of desire, holding up the characters themselves as something to aspire to seemed a bit...off.

Today, however, I've officially found a product tie-in with even more mind-bogglingly problematic implications:



Now, I don't know how many people on my friends list are familiar with The Hunger Games or its sequels, but here's a bit of a recap - the Capitol, a centralized city-state where the wealthiest and most powerful people live, is surrounded by twelve districts.  The Capitol produces nothing itself, merely consumes the goods produced by the twelve surrounding districts (up to and including two of their children each year for The Games, produced solely for their entertainment).  The denizens of the Capitol are almost universally portrayed as airheaded and fluffy, concerned with nothing other than their luxurious lifestyles and following the latest ever-more-extreme fashion trends (skin dyeing, for instance).  Needless to say, it's a pretty negative depiction, as well as being a thinly-veiled satire on modern American culture.

The unkind part of me wants to note that there's really nothing wrong with the ad, since the people they're trying to sell nail polish to are those who would see nothing wrong with emulating the lifestyle of the Capitol's citizens.  But surely there's at least a decent portion of their consumer base who'd rather not be associated with such a meaningless and suppressive lifestyle? 

On the other hand, somehow I doubt that many of the people who see this ad will think about the implications enough to be insulted by them.  Certainly not enough to counteract the "Ooo, I loved The Hunger Games!  I should buy this nail polish!" factor.  The fact is, people are more likely to buy something if it has a name on it they recognize; therefore, there's no reason for them not to piggyback on a huge advertising campaign, even if the implications of said piggybacking only serve to prove the point the original story was making.

Had I come across this out of context, I would have assumed it to be a parody of advertising tie-ins (sadly, it's not; I pulled it from a Sally Beauty Supply flyer).  But once more, the line for satire has been pushed back, as people seem absolutely hell-bent on living up to the most ridiculous exaggerations of their worst characteristics.
missroserose: (Not Amused)
For those of you who've not been following along at home, the Virginia state legislature recently passed a bill requiring all women seeking abortions to submit to an ultrasound. The mandatory requiring of a medically unnecessary (and expensive!) procedure in order to obtain a perfectly legal service was bad enough, but the implications were even worse. To quote Dahlia Lithwick, one Slate's writer on the courts and the law:

Because the great majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks, that means most women will be forced to have a transvaginal procedure, in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. [...] [T]he law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under the federal definition.

As several other bloggers have pointed out, what happens when a rape victim goes to obtain an abortion? The government rapes them again? How the hell does that fit in to the "keep the government out of our lives" mentality so many Americans cherish?

And just to put the sexist cherry on this misogynistic sundae:

What’s more, a provision of the law that has received almost no media attention would ensure that a certification by the doctor that the patient either did or didn’t “avail herself of the opportunity” to view the ultrasound or listen to the fetal heartbeat will go into the woman’s medical record. [...] I guess they were all out of scarlet letters in Richmond.

Fortunately, the widespread (and deserved) outcry that resulted from this bill seems to have gotten the attention of its sponsors and supporters. Many of them, including Governor Bob McDonnell, have retracted said support in the wake of the onrush of vitriol from the blogosphere (and, hopefully, outside of it as well). But this particular bit caught my eye:

Officials who met with McDonnell say that the bill's supporters didn't understand how invasive the transvaginal ultrasound truly is, and now that they know, they're changing their tune.

Now, I'm not naive about how sausage is made. My godmother is a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society; just from her stories alone, I have at least an idea of how much time your average legislator spends worrying about favors given and favors owed and their constituents' support and raising money for their re-election campaign versus how much time they spend actually thinking about the ramifications of the bills they pass. And even cutting human nature out of the equation, there's the sheer practicality question to consider - bills often run in the hundreds of pages, and there just aren't enough hours in the day for them to read, let alone consider, everything they're voting on. So it gets reduced to a few buzzwords by their aides and they decide how to vote based on who else is voting for it, what they think it'll do for their popularity at home, who they can curry favor with, etc. etc.

Then there's the fact that, not to put too fine a point on it, most legislators are men. They just plain don't have the background to connect the dots when it comes to procedures involving female biology. Speculum? Pap smear? Nothing more than vaguely-uncomfortable concepts, if they mean anything at all other than silly words. So it really is perfectly possible that they never connected the phrase "transvaginal ultrasound" with "forcible penetration". (Or, if you want to be less charitable, it's possible some of them did connect the dots but figured penetration couldn't be so bad - if she opened her legs once why should she have a problem doing it again? But for the sake of my faith in humanity, I'm hoping these were in the minority.)

All that said...I'm still utterly disappointed in these lawmakers. I understand the realities of their situation, and I understand how human nature works. But when it's ostensibly your job to make laws that uphold the American ideals of life and liberty (not to mention basic human dignity), it seems that there's something fundamentally wrong when you (however unintentionally) vote for bills that go completely against everything you were elected to uphold. The real frustration for me is that I can't think of any way to fix the problem. I know there's always the classic of "clear the assholes out in the next election", but this particular flaw fits so neatly into the various blind spots of human nature, something similar will likely happen even with a completely different crop of assholes.

The more I watch government in action, the more I begin to think my mother's philosophy is right: "Our system of government isn't inefficient because something's wrong with it. It's supposed to be inefficient, because that protects the people it governs." Amen.
missroserose: (Not Amused)
For those of you who've not been following along at home, the Virginia state legislature recently passed a bill requiring all women seeking abortions to submit to an ultrasound. The mandatory requiring of a medically unnecessary (and expensive!) procedure in order to obtain a perfectly legal service was bad enough, but the implications were even worse. To quote Dahlia Lithwick, one Slate's writer on the courts and the law:

Because the great majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks, that means most women will be forced to have a transvaginal procedure, in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. [...] [T]he law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under the federal definition.

As several other bloggers have pointed out, what happens when a rape victim goes to obtain an abortion? The government rapes them again? How the hell does that fit in to the "keep the government out of our lives" mentality so many Americans cherish?

And just to put the sexist cherry on this misogynistic sundae:

What’s more, a provision of the law that has received almost no media attention would ensure that a certification by the doctor that the patient either did or didn’t “avail herself of the opportunity” to view the ultrasound or listen to the fetal heartbeat will go into the woman’s medical record. [...] I guess they were all out of scarlet letters in Richmond.

Fortunately, the widespread (and deserved) outcry that resulted from this bill seems to have gotten the attention of its sponsors and supporters. Many of them, including Governor Bob McDonnell, have retracted said support in the wake of the onrush of vitriol from the blogosphere (and, hopefully, outside of it as well). But this particular bit caught my eye:

Officials who met with McDonnell say that the bill's supporters didn't understand how invasive the transvaginal ultrasound truly is, and now that they know, they're changing their tune.

Now, I'm not naive about how sausage is made. My godmother is a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society; just from her stories alone, I have at least an idea of how much time your average legislator spends worrying about favors given and favors owed and their constituents' support and raising money for their re-election campaign versus how much time they spend actually thinking about the ramifications of the bills they pass. And even cutting human nature out of the equation, there's the sheer practicality question to consider - bills often run in the hundreds of pages, and there just aren't enough hours in the day for them to read, let alone consider, everything they're voting on. So it gets reduced to a few buzzwords by their aides and they decide how to vote based on who else is voting for it, what they think it'll do for their popularity at home, who they can curry favor with, etc. etc.

Then there's the fact that, not to put too fine a point on it, most legislators are men. They just plain don't have the background to connect the dots when it comes to procedures involving female biology. Speculum? Pap smear? Nothing more than vaguely-uncomfortable concepts, if they mean anything at all other than silly words. So it really is perfectly possible that they never connected the phrase "transvaginal ultrasound" with "forcible penetration". (Or, if you want to be less charitable, it's possible some of them did connect the dots but figured penetration couldn't be so bad - if she opened her legs once why should she have a problem doing it again? But for the sake of my faith in humanity, I'm hoping these were in the minority.)

All that said...I'm still utterly disappointed in these lawmakers. I understand the realities of their situation, and I understand how human nature works. But when it's ostensibly your job to make laws that uphold the American ideals of life and liberty (not to mention basic human dignity), it seems that there's something fundamentally wrong when you (however unintentionally) vote for bills that go completely against everything you were elected to uphold. The real frustration for me is that I can't think of any way to fix the problem. I know there's always the classic of "clear the assholes out in the next election", but this particular flaw fits so neatly into the various blind spots of human nature, something similar will likely happen even with a completely different crop of assholes.

The more I watch government in action, the more I begin to think my mother's philosophy is right: "Our system of government isn't inefficient because something's wrong with it. It's supposed to be inefficient, because that protects the people it governs." Amen.
missroserose: (Show Your Magic)
Let's have a little thought experiment.

Let's say that you, as a normal person, come across a blog post on the Internet. Not from anyone you know - perhaps a friend of a friend, or something that's been spread around a few social networks. In the blog post, someone who finds themselves in a really awful situation financially is asking for help, and perhaps offering whatever small thanks they can in return for donations.

Now, you consider yourself to be a compassionate, generous person (whether you are or not doesn't matter - we're all subject to the Lake Wobegon Effect, where we all think that we're better than average when it comes to desirable traits). But for whatever reason, you decide that this post, heartbreaking as it is, isn't something you feel inspired to donate to. Perhaps you're still paying off your Christmas spending. Perhaps you're saving for a vacation. Perhaps something about the person's story seems bogus to you. Perhaps you (likely subconsciously) figure you don't know this person and therefore aren't likely to get much in return from helping them. Perhaps things are just financially tight and you don't feel like you're in a place to hand out money. Perhaps you're afraid that if you give money to this person, you'll have to give the same amount to the next plea for help, and so on, and there won't be any left for you. Any number of reasons, many of which are perfectly valid. It's your money, after all.

The problem is, we're all socially conditioned (to an extent) to want to be generous and compassionate. Partly so that other people will think well of us, and partly because it's how we want to think of ourselves. So when you don't wish to contribute, which your conscience tells you is greedy (because really, how many of us first-worlders honestly can't spare $10 to help that mother in need?), you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, mentally. Your self-perception is clashing with your actions. In psychological terms, you're experiencing cognitive dissonance.

There are several ways to deal with this uncomfortable state of affairs. You can:

[a] Donate anyway, thus quieting the worry that you're not as generous as you think you are
[b] Abandon the ideas of generosity and compassion as virtues you aspire to
[c] Find reasons why the author of the blog post isn't really in need, thus proving that it's not you who is greedy, it's the person asking for handouts

Obviously, none of these options are ideal. If you go with [a], you'll feel like you've been manipulated into giving away money despite your better judgment, which doesn't make anyone happy. if you choose [b], you end up like the Randian libertarians, proudly claiming that anyone who struggles financially must be there because of their own choices and has no one to blame but themselves, despite that being patently untrue.*

Ergo, [c] is by far the easiest option, and therefore the one most people take. Because if that's what you're looking for, it's never difficult to look at someone's story and find reasons why they aren't really deserving of help. Maybe they made some poor financial decisions. Perhaps something about their story doesn't add up, and therefore they're probably a scammer and you'd just be throwing away your money anyway. They're probably just like that couple you read about the other day, living in a million-dollar mansion and collecting welfare.** And even if they are genuine, why can't they go to a charity/get public assistance/etc. etc.?

Obviously there are significant flaws in this line of reasoning. No one is perfect; no one is going to always make the best decision 100% of the time. Sometimes a decision ends up being a poor one in retrospect, sometimes we make an objectively poor decision because we value something about it more than the society at large says we should. There's no such thing as the poor person who's done everything right, just as there's no such thing as the rich person who's there because they did everything right (Randians, take note of #6 on this list). Outside influences and just plain luck both play a huge role in people's life circumstances, far greater than we pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-conditioned Americans like to believe. But we tell ourselves (and each other) that these things must be true, despite knowing nothing about the specifics of a person's situation or being in any place whatsoever to judge them, because that makes us feel better about ourselves (and each other). And since we weren't going to donate anyway, what's the harm?

To answer that question, let's try another thought experiment.

Let's say that, through a combination of bad luck and poor decisions, you've ended up scraping together pennies from between the couch cushions to make certain you've enough to eat. You're sure (or praying, anyway) that this is a temporary poverty, that you'll be able to climb back up that mountain of unpaid bills and get back to your usual middle-class life, because you certainly aren't poor. But a boost to get you through this spot could make the difference between making it up that mountain and getting buried beneath it. Perhaps you don't qualify for assistance, or perhaps you simply can't get past the "only poor people need public assistance, and I'm not really poor" mental roadblock. For whatever reason, you're desperate enough to put up a blog post asking for help.***

Lots of people read it. Some of them pass it around on their social networks. Some people send you some money, money that might help you have electricity and water next month. Lots of people don't, for any of the above (and, again, perfectly valid) reasons. Some of those people who don't donate nonetheless post encouraging messages, offering other means of help or even just moral support.

And then, as the link gets passed around, and people further from your immediate social network read it, you start to get the negativity. People who've never been part of your life before going on about how you should have done this, or shouldn't have done that, despite having no idea what situation you might've been in when you made those decisions. You know that you should just ignore them, these people are talking out of their ass, but nonetheless they're powerful enough to wipe out all the good feeling generated by the previous encouraging posts - people are simply wired to respond more strongly to negative feedback than positive. Even if your decisions are worthy of questioning, chances are you've already gone over and over them in your mind as things got worse for you, so other people pointing out your mistakes is only going to increase the endless self-questioning and adrenaline and fear that's part of being in desperate financial straits.

Look, everyone. It's easy to be an all-singing, all-dancing, all-knowing jerk. It's easy to assume that the people asking for your help wouldn't actually need it if they just worked a little harder. It's easy to think that the people begging for money on the street are all drunkards who'd just spend your spare $5 on booze instead of food. It's easy to write a self-righteous comment about how they should've just done xyz and everything would be better. It's easy, and it leaves your self-image intact, and it makes you feel virtuous. But all of that comes at the expense of the person with the the least to give - i.e. the person in need.

Thing is, I'm not saying we should all donate every time someone asks us to. There are so many worthy causes, so many people in need, that even if we wanted to we wouldn't be able to give to all of them. And we're human, too - just as the person asking for help might have made a poor financial decision that contributed to their current state, we might look at their post and think "I'd like to help, but I'd really rather buy that professional-quality hair straightener I've had my eye on"****. It's our money, and ultimately no one gets to decide how we spend it but us.

So here's what I propose for option [d], which is a little harder than option [c], but ultimately makes everyone happier: Stop judging yourself.

You might think the answer is "stop judging others", but if you look at the chain of logic outlined above, you'll see that judging others lies inherently in self-judgment. You judge yourself as greedy for wanting a hair straightener (or whatever) more than you want to help someone, so you turn around and judge the person asking to alleviate that. But instead of making yourself feel better at their expense, you can do something that's a little bit harder, but that makes everyone happier: Stop judging yourself.

And when you do, you'll realize there are lots of ways you can contribute to making someone in a dire situation feel better that don't cost a cent.

Instead of assuming the homeless man with the sign is a drunk and hurrying past him, smile and make eye contact.*****

Instead of writing comments claiming the mother with medical bills should take her kid out of private school and then everything will be hunky dory in her world, write something encouraging to her. Or spread the link around.

Instead of judging yourself, accept that you're human, and won't always do what you imagine to be the "right" thing. Find other ways to contribute, like writing a blog post persuading others to choose a mindset based in hope and abundance rather than fear and scarcity.

Virtue isn't a zero-sum game. No one's going to think less of you for not donating to a particular person or cause.****** But a smile or a kind word costs nothing, helps a person in a bad place feel like the world isn't completely out to get them, and makes everyone who sees you feel better besides.

It's difficult enough for someone to ask for help when they need it. Let's make it an occasion for hope, not despair.

----

*Judging by my admittedly unscientific surveys of various message boards, this mode of thinking has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past few years. I have a theory that this likely stems from the sudden impoverishment of a large section of the American populace and therefore rise in neediness over the past few years, which has thus inspired guilt in many people who haven't lost their jobs and/or aren't struggling financially. It's sad that so many people have gone with that option, but at least a little hopeful because it means they were feeling guilty in the first place, which means generosity as a virtue hasn't fallen completely out of fashion.

**Which is likely a misleading story in and of itself - what if that couple lost all their money in the economic crash and are underwater on their loan so they can't sell the house and under loads of debt? Would you really begrudge them a few hundred dollars a month so they and their children could eat?

***And if you think you'd never be that desperate, I can only congratulate you on your self-reliance and hope that you're never in a position to find out otherwise.

****Guilty, yes I am.

*****You'd be surprised how many of them will smile in return, even when you're not giving them money. When you're at that social level, just having your existence acknowledged is a gift.

******And if they do, it's more a reflection on their own self-judgment than on you.
missroserose: (Show Your Magic)
Let's have a little thought experiment.

Let's say that you, as a normal person, come across a blog post on the Internet. Not from anyone you know - perhaps a friend of a friend, or something that's been spread around a few social networks. In the blog post, someone who finds themselves in a really awful situation financially is asking for help, and perhaps offering whatever small thanks they can in return for donations.

Now, you consider yourself to be a compassionate, generous person (whether you are or not doesn't matter - we're all subject to the Lake Wobegon Effect, where we all think that we're better than average when it comes to desirable traits). But for whatever reason, you decide that this post, heartbreaking as it is, isn't something you feel inspired to donate to. Perhaps you're still paying off your Christmas spending. Perhaps you're saving for a vacation. Perhaps something about the person's story seems bogus to you. Perhaps you (likely subconsciously) figure you don't know this person and therefore aren't likely to get much in return from helping them. Perhaps things are just financially tight and you don't feel like you're in a place to hand out money. Perhaps you're afraid that if you give money to this person, you'll have to give the same amount to the next plea for help, and so on, and there won't be any left for you. Any number of reasons, many of which are perfectly valid. It's your money, after all.

The problem is, we're all socially conditioned (to an extent) to want to be generous and compassionate. Partly so that other people will think well of us, and partly because it's how we want to think of ourselves. So when you don't wish to contribute, which your conscience tells you is greedy (because really, how many of us first-worlders honestly can't spare $10 to help that mother in need?), you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, mentally. Your self-perception is clashing with your actions. In psychological terms, you're experiencing cognitive dissonance.

There are several ways to deal with this uncomfortable state of affairs. You can:

[a] Donate anyway, thus quieting the worry that you're not as generous as you think you are
[b] Abandon the ideas of generosity and compassion as virtues you aspire to
[c] Find reasons why the author of the blog post isn't really in need, thus proving that it's not you who is greedy, it's the person asking for handouts

Obviously, none of these options are ideal. If you go with [a], you'll feel like you've been manipulated into giving away money despite your better judgment, which doesn't make anyone happy. if you choose [b], you end up like the Randian libertarians, proudly claiming that anyone who struggles financially must be there because of their own choices and has no one to blame but themselves, despite that being patently untrue.*

Ergo, [c] is by far the easiest option, and therefore the one most people take. Because if that's what you're looking for, it's never difficult to look at someone's story and find reasons why they aren't really deserving of help. Maybe they made some poor financial decisions. Perhaps something about their story doesn't add up, and therefore they're probably a scammer and you'd just be throwing away your money anyway. They're probably just like that couple you read about the other day, living in a million-dollar mansion and collecting welfare.** And even if they are genuine, why can't they go to a charity/get public assistance/etc. etc.?

Obviously there are significant flaws in this line of reasoning. No one is perfect; no one is going to always make the best decision 100% of the time. Sometimes a decision ends up being a poor one in retrospect, sometimes we make an objectively poor decision because we value something about it more than the society at large says we should. There's no such thing as the poor person who's done everything right, just as there's no such thing as the rich person who's there because they did everything right (Randians, take note of #6 on this list). Outside influences and just plain luck both play a huge role in people's life circumstances, far greater than we pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-conditioned Americans like to believe. But we tell ourselves (and each other) that these things must be true, despite knowing nothing about the specifics of a person's situation or being in any place whatsoever to judge them, because that makes us feel better about ourselves (and each other). And since we weren't going to donate anyway, what's the harm?

To answer that question, let's try another thought experiment.

Let's say that, through a combination of bad luck and poor decisions, you've ended up scraping together pennies from between the couch cushions to make certain you've enough to eat. You're sure (or praying, anyway) that this is a temporary poverty, that you'll be able to climb back up that mountain of unpaid bills and get back to your usual middle-class life, because you certainly aren't poor. But a boost to get you through this spot could make the difference between making it up that mountain and getting buried beneath it. Perhaps you don't qualify for assistance, or perhaps you simply can't get past the "only poor people need public assistance, and I'm not really poor" mental roadblock. For whatever reason, you're desperate enough to put up a blog post asking for help.***

Lots of people read it. Some of them pass it around on their social networks. Some people send you some money, money that might help you have electricity and water next month. Lots of people don't, for any of the above (and, again, perfectly valid) reasons. Some of those people who don't donate nonetheless post encouraging messages, offering other means of help or even just moral support.

And then, as the link gets passed around, and people further from your immediate social network read it, you start to get the negativity. People who've never been part of your life before going on about how you should have done this, or shouldn't have done that, despite having no idea what situation you might've been in when you made those decisions. You know that you should just ignore them, these people are talking out of their ass, but nonetheless they're powerful enough to wipe out all the good feeling generated by the previous encouraging posts - people are simply wired to respond more strongly to negative feedback than positive. Even if your decisions are worthy of questioning, chances are you've already gone over and over them in your mind as things got worse for you, so other people pointing out your mistakes is only going to increase the endless self-questioning and adrenaline and fear that's part of being in desperate financial straits.

Look, everyone. It's easy to be an all-singing, all-dancing, all-knowing jerk. It's easy to assume that the people asking for your help wouldn't actually need it if they just worked a little harder. It's easy to think that the people begging for money on the street are all drunkards who'd just spend your spare $5 on booze instead of food. It's easy to write a self-righteous comment about how they should've just done xyz and everything would be better. It's easy, and it leaves your self-image intact, and it makes you feel virtuous. But all of that comes at the expense of the person with the the least to give - i.e. the person in need.

Thing is, I'm not saying we should all donate every time someone asks us to. There are so many worthy causes, so many people in need, that even if we wanted to we wouldn't be able to give to all of them. And we're human, too - just as the person asking for help might have made a poor financial decision that contributed to their current state, we might look at their post and think "I'd like to help, but I'd really rather buy that professional-quality hair straightener I've had my eye on"****. It's our money, and ultimately no one gets to decide how we spend it but us.

So here's what I propose for option [d], which is a little harder than option [c], but ultimately makes everyone happier: Stop judging yourself.

You might think the answer is "stop judging others", but if you look at the chain of logic outlined above, you'll see that judging others lies inherently in self-judgment. You judge yourself as greedy for wanting a hair straightener (or whatever) more than you want to help someone, so you turn around and judge the person asking to alleviate that. But instead of making yourself feel better at their expense, you can do something that's a little bit harder, but that makes everyone happier: Stop judging yourself.

And when you do, you'll realize there are lots of ways you can contribute to making someone in a dire situation feel better that don't cost a cent.

Instead of assuming the homeless man with the sign is a drunk and hurrying past him, smile and make eye contact.*****

Instead of writing comments claiming the mother with medical bills should take her kid out of private school and then everything will be hunky dory in her world, write something encouraging to her. Or spread the link around.

Instead of judging yourself, accept that you're human, and won't always do what you imagine to be the "right" thing. Find other ways to contribute, like writing a blog post persuading others to choose a mindset based in hope and abundance rather than fear and scarcity.

Virtue isn't a zero-sum game. No one's going to think less of you for not donating to a particular person or cause.****** But a smile or a kind word costs nothing, helps a person in a bad place feel like the world isn't completely out to get them, and makes everyone who sees you feel better besides.

It's difficult enough for someone to ask for help when they need it. Let's make it an occasion for hope, not despair.

----

*Judging by my admittedly unscientific surveys of various message boards, this mode of thinking has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past few years. I have a theory that this likely stems from the sudden impoverishment of a large section of the American populace and therefore rise in neediness over the past few years, which has thus inspired guilt in many people who haven't lost their jobs and/or aren't struggling financially. It's sad that so many people have gone with that option, but at least a little hopeful because it means they were feeling guilty in the first place, which means generosity as a virtue hasn't fallen completely out of fashion.

**Which is likely a misleading story in and of itself - what if that couple lost all their money in the economic crash and are underwater on their loan so they can't sell the house and under loads of debt? Would you really begrudge them a few hundred dollars a month so they and their children could eat?

***And if you think you'd never be that desperate, I can only congratulate you on your self-reliance and hope that you're never in a position to find out otherwise.

****Guilty, yes I am.

*****You'd be surprised how many of them will smile in return, even when you're not giving them money. When you're at that social level, just having your existence acknowledged is a gift.

******And if they do, it's more a reflection on their own self-judgment than on you.
missroserose: (Life = Creation)
Confessions of a Fat Girl. Possibly one of the most honest and heartbreaking pieces I've read on the secret obsession with looks that pervades our culture, especially for women.

Here are my thoughts that I posted in response:

"The trick to all the beauty shit is that you can't win."

A-bloody-men. Thank you so much for this heartbreaking post.

I have never been "fat" per se (although I know there are people who would call me so, at 5'8" and an average of 155 pounds), and I've been blessed with pretty good looks. I was also raised in about the most supportive and loving environment you can imagine - my mother did struggle with a lot of the feelings you describe here, and she was damned if she was going to let her daughter feel the same shame about her body. And I was gifted with self-confidence above and beyond the average person (even the average "attractive" person). So things are pretty ideal for me, and I should have the perfect life as far as my looks are concerned, right?

Hah. Yeah right.

One of the uglier sides of living in a capitalist culture is that everything, literally every aspect of our lives, is designed around selling you a product. (Did you know that almost all of the "developmental stages" we think of as being an intrinsic part of childhood - toddler, tween, teenager, young adult - were one and all developed by marketers as a way to categorize which products were meant for what demographic?) And people who are confident in any aspect of their lives aren't a receptive audience to product pitches - if something's good enough already, why would you need to buy something to make it better?

There's a whole subculture built around making beautiful people (mostly women, although it's happening to men more and more often) feel bad about themselves and their looks. A lot of people here have mentioned fashion magazines - they play on attractive womens' fears, too. I can't count the number of times I've seen things like a longer torso, or a longer neck, or larger hips decried as "figure flaws", when all they are is a little different than the average. I'm ashamed to admit how much time I've spent thinking about how to minimize/balance them with the "right" type of clothing. (I'm not talking about dressing to look your best; there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, thinking about such things tinged with the shame you mention, when I am so blessed already in my looks, is something I'm ashamed to admit.) And yet I know that this is just the very surface of a deep, vast ocean that absolutely consumes some people.

One time, when I was paging through a lingerie catalog, I decided to try an experiment. I paged through to the back of the magazine, where their "plus size" (i.e. healthy-looking) models were, and spent some time looking at the (sadly restricted) options there. Then I did the same at a few other clothing websites I knew, over an hour or two, intentionally avoiding any pictures of "traditional" models.

After just that short span of time, when I went back to the main pages of these websites, I was aghast at how underfed and bony they looked. It kind of makes you wonder what would happen if healthy-looking models became mainstream just for a week or two...we might well have a full-scale revolt on our hands.
missroserose: (Life = Creation)
Confessions of a Fat Girl. Possibly one of the most honest and heartbreaking pieces I've read on the secret obsession with looks that pervades our culture, especially for women.

Here are my thoughts that I posted in response:

"The trick to all the beauty shit is that you can't win."

A-bloody-men. Thank you so much for this heartbreaking post.

I have never been "fat" per se (although I know there are people who would call me so, at 5'8" and an average of 155 pounds), and I've been blessed with pretty good looks. I was also raised in about the most supportive and loving environment you can imagine - my mother did struggle with a lot of the feelings you describe here, and she was damned if she was going to let her daughter feel the same shame about her body. And I was gifted with self-confidence above and beyond the average person (even the average "attractive" person). So things are pretty ideal for me, and I should have the perfect life as far as my looks are concerned, right?

Hah. Yeah right.

One of the uglier sides of living in a capitalist culture is that everything, literally every aspect of our lives, is designed around selling you a product. (Did you know that almost all of the "developmental stages" we think of as being an intrinsic part of childhood - toddler, tween, teenager, young adult - were one and all developed by marketers as a way to categorize which products were meant for what demographic?) And people who are confident in any aspect of their lives aren't a receptive audience to product pitches - if something's good enough already, why would you need to buy something to make it better?

There's a whole subculture built around making beautiful people (mostly women, although it's happening to men more and more often) feel bad about themselves and their looks. A lot of people here have mentioned fashion magazines - they play on attractive womens' fears, too. I can't count the number of times I've seen things like a longer torso, or a longer neck, or larger hips decried as "figure flaws", when all they are is a little different than the average. I'm ashamed to admit how much time I've spent thinking about how to minimize/balance them with the "right" type of clothing. (I'm not talking about dressing to look your best; there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, thinking about such things tinged with the shame you mention, when I am so blessed already in my looks, is something I'm ashamed to admit.) And yet I know that this is just the very surface of a deep, vast ocean that absolutely consumes some people.

One time, when I was paging through a lingerie catalog, I decided to try an experiment. I paged through to the back of the magazine, where their "plus size" (i.e. healthy-looking) models were, and spent some time looking at the (sadly restricted) options there. Then I did the same at a few other clothing websites I knew, over an hour or two, intentionally avoiding any pictures of "traditional" models.

After just that short span of time, when I went back to the main pages of these websites, I was aghast at how underfed and bony they looked. It kind of makes you wonder what would happen if healthy-looking models became mainstream just for a week or two...we might well have a full-scale revolt on our hands.
missroserose: (Warrior III)
Anyone who's tried their hand at photography knows the dis-ingenuousness of the saying "the camera doesn't lie". The camera may record exactly what it sees, sure, but there are all sorts of ways to manipulate that - forced perspective, selective framing, you name it. Not to mention the temporal aspect; impressive yoga pictures like the one in my icon here are almost universally one snap out of a set, picked because it captured the exact moment the person's form was perfect, just before they wobbled out of center. So perhaps a more accurate saying would be "The camera only lies by omission."

None of this is meant {groan} negatively. Indeed, the whole point of photography consists of using light, framing, depth-of-field, and other tricks to make your subject visually interesting. That's what differentiates photography-for-documentation (such as what most people snap when they're on vacation) from photography-for-art.

But what of post-processing? Almost every art photographer (and, increasingly, documentarian photographer) uses at least minor tweaks for color balance, contrast, saturation, and the like. Thanks to the advent of digital photography and free programs like Picasa, it's becoming easier and easier to do more than minor tweaking - Brian's complained more than once that many folks on DeviantArt treat the selective-desaturation function as "Instant Art!". Once upon a time, such tricks required special equipment and a particular knowledge of technique; now it's as simple as pressing a button on your editing program.

And then there's the ever-controversial subject of photo retouching. It's not at all hard to find examples of before-and-after retouching jobs - mouse over and watch those breasts grow and those hips shrink, those pores and wrinkles disappear like magic. Retouching in magazines has been the subject of many an argument over their perpetration of unrealistic ideals of social norms (or, in some cases, outcry over their attempts to pass off cartoonishly exaggerated airbrush jobs as real photos), but it's becoming ever-more available in the public sphere as well. Anyone with the money to buy (or the know-how to download a pirated version of) Photoshop has been able to do some pretty powerful photo editing for some time now; but even free Picasa has a basic-but-surprisingly-functional retoucher.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this proliferation of ease-of-polish. It's useful and even fun to play with - I recently took a friend's profile photo (which she liked but was taken during a particularly bad-skin time) and took out most of the blemishes for her. She was appreciative, but the sheer ease of it left me with an odd feeling - a mixture of empowerment and self-disgust. Who was to say I shouldn't take out her wrinkles as well, and leave her looking 20 again? Or take out those extra pounds and leave her looking like a magazine cover model? Not that she's unattractive by any means (quite the reverse), but suddenly I could see why it is some retouchers go so completely overboard. In a way, it almost feels like a means of denigrating your subject - "You're not attractive enough as is, and I'm the one with the power to change that." Given the history in our culture of people (especially men) feeling threatened by attractive women, perhaps it's not surprising that Demi Moore ends up missing a hip now and then.

On the other hand, much like Brian's negative reaction to the sudden flood of selectively-desaturated photos being posted as "Art!", perhaps the increasing availability of retouching tools will inspire people to think about how an image was likely edited and changed before hitting the cover of Cosmopolitan. If almost everyone has experience taking out a blemish or giving themselves a tummy tuck, I'd imagine that most retouch jobs would start to look as ridiculously artificial as they actually are. Many a photographer has commented that they've had a famous model walk in and not even recognized her; I hope that as more people edit out the figure flaws they're most self-conscious about, they'll realize the process goes both ways.
missroserose: (Warrior III)
Anyone who's tried their hand at photography knows the dis-ingenuousness of the saying "the camera doesn't lie". The camera may record exactly what it sees, sure, but there are all sorts of ways to manipulate that - forced perspective, selective framing, you name it. Not to mention the temporal aspect; impressive yoga pictures like the one in my icon here are almost universally one snap out of a set, picked because it captured the exact moment the person's form was perfect, just before they wobbled out of center. So perhaps a more accurate saying would be "The camera only lies by omission."

None of this is meant {groan} negatively. Indeed, the whole point of photography consists of using light, framing, depth-of-field, and other tricks to make your subject visually interesting. That's what differentiates photography-for-documentation (such as what most people snap when they're on vacation) from photography-for-art.

But what of post-processing? Almost every art photographer (and, increasingly, documentarian photographer) uses at least minor tweaks for color balance, contrast, saturation, and the like. Thanks to the advent of digital photography and free programs like Picasa, it's becoming easier and easier to do more than minor tweaking - Brian's complained more than once that many folks on DeviantArt treat the selective-desaturation function as "Instant Art!". Once upon a time, such tricks required special equipment and a particular knowledge of technique; now it's as simple as pressing a button on your editing program.

And then there's the ever-controversial subject of photo retouching. It's not at all hard to find examples of before-and-after retouching jobs - mouse over and watch those breasts grow and those hips shrink, those pores and wrinkles disappear like magic. Retouching in magazines has been the subject of many an argument over their perpetration of unrealistic ideals of social norms (or, in some cases, outcry over their attempts to pass off cartoonishly exaggerated airbrush jobs as real photos), but it's becoming ever-more available in the public sphere as well. Anyone with the money to buy (or the know-how to download a pirated version of) Photoshop has been able to do some pretty powerful photo editing for some time now; but even free Picasa has a basic-but-surprisingly-functional retoucher.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this proliferation of ease-of-polish. It's useful and even fun to play with - I recently took a friend's profile photo (which she liked but was taken during a particularly bad-skin time) and took out most of the blemishes for her. She was appreciative, but the sheer ease of it left me with an odd feeling - a mixture of empowerment and self-disgust. Who was to say I shouldn't take out her wrinkles as well, and leave her looking 20 again? Or take out those extra pounds and leave her looking like a magazine cover model? Not that she's unattractive by any means (quite the reverse), but suddenly I could see why it is some retouchers go so completely overboard. In a way, it almost feels like a means of denigrating your subject - "You're not attractive enough as is, and I'm the one with the power to change that." Given the history in our culture of people (especially men) feeling threatened by attractive women, perhaps it's not surprising that Demi Moore ends up missing a hip now and then.

On the other hand, much like Brian's negative reaction to the sudden flood of selectively-desaturated photos being posted as "Art!", perhaps the increasing availability of retouching tools will inspire people to think about how an image was likely edited and changed before hitting the cover of Cosmopolitan. If almost everyone has experience taking out a blemish or giving themselves a tummy tuck, I'd imagine that most retouch jobs would start to look as ridiculously artificial as they actually are. Many a photographer has commented that they've had a famous model walk in and not even recognized her; I hope that as more people edit out the figure flaws they're most self-conscious about, they'll realize the process goes both ways.

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