Saturday, January 30, 2010

On Stuff White People Like #132: Ironic Self-Awareness

Okay, so as apology for the rather heavy post I just flung at you, I present a lighthearted romp following a recent visit to that blessed repository of Stuff White People Like. I actually found that site after following a link sent by a "friend" to Things Marketing People Love, at which I laughed and laughed until I got down to "Threadless t-shirts." ("But--but they're--It's not because--I don't--Oh, man, I suck.)

I had that same reaction running down the list at Stuff White People Like: "I mean, yes, but I'm not like that. The thing with Ed Hardy is--" "Yeah, but high school--" "I don't treat my dog--" But the fact is, there's no way around it: I am she about whom that Web site is written. It's terrifying. Nobody likes to think that someone else's utter stereotyping of your particular psychosocioeconomic group would so stultify your personal sense of individuality, but there you go.

So here, without excuse or explanation, without any further weak attempt at self-defense, is a list of Stuff that I, as a White Person, Like, whether I like it or not:

#128 Camping
#127 Where the Wild Things Are
#126 Vespa scooters
#124 Hating people who wear Ed Hardy
#115 Promising to learn a new language
#113 Halloween
#111 Pea coats
#109 The Onion
#106 Facebook
#104 Girls with bangs
#103 Sweaters
#101 Being offended
#99 Grammar
#97 Scarves
#94 Free health care
#92 Book deals
#88 Having gay friends
#84 T-shirts
#83 Bad memories of high school
#78 Multilingual children
#77 Musical comedy
#76 Bottles of water
#72 Study abroad
#69 Mos Def
#64 Recycling
#57 Juno
#55 Apologies
#53 Dogs
#51 Living by the water
#50 Irony
#49 Vintage
#44 Public radio
#40 Apple products
#39 Netflix
#35 The Daily Show/Colbert Report
#29 80s night
#24 Wine
#19 Traveling
#13 Tea
#12 Non-profit organizations
#8 Barack Obama
#2 Religions their parents don't belong to
#1 Coffee

That gives me 43 items out of the current list of 131, making me 32.8 percent Stereotypical White Person. Give me a North Face jacket and a townhome in Williamsburg, and I'll get back to you in a couple of months.

I did it; now it's your turn. Run down the list, white people, and see how uncomfortably close to home it may actually hit. And POC, you might want to give it a try, too--it won't make you white, but you may discover you're actually a hipster and you never knew it.

On freedom of speach

Okay, so as soon as it was announced that Focus on the Family would be running an ad about abortion starring football-media-darling Tim Tebow during the Super Bowl, you knew there would be opposition from women's and/or liberal groups. And when that opposition arose, you knew there would be counter-opposition in the form of 1., "Tim Tebow is God's own anointed quarterback, so it's best to just give him what he wants," and 2., "FREEDOM OF SPEACH MOTHER EFFERS!"

And as soon as that popped out, you knew ACG was going to get that twitchy thing below her left eye, because she hate-hate-HATES that argument.

And it's not like I haven't made this point before, but obviously Practically Harmless doesn't have a voice loud enough to reach the whole world (or even the comments thread at SB Nation). And so I shall embark once again on what ma have to become a regular feature: Freedom of Speach Watch: This Has Nothing to Do With the First Amendment.

Because it doesn't. The question of the government's censorship of lawful expression isn't at issue here--and that's what the First Amendment addresses, your not-complete-but-pretty-comprehensive freedom from censorship by the government. But having the right to say something and having a venue to say it are two different things, and no one is required to provide you with the latter, regardless of how they feel about the former.

And that's what's at issue here: the venue. This is a particularly big issue because it's a particularly big venue--Super Bowl Ex Ell Eye Vee is expected to bring in 150 million viewers in the U.S. alone. That's $2.5 million for 30 seconds that will reach 150 million people live, plus the countless others who will be watching and re-watching the ads online. A study by Nielsen suggests that 51 percent of viewers will be tuning in to CBS just for the ads. So CBS has likely taken great care in the way they've sold and distributed ad space, and with a hot button issue like abortion, a lot of people are going to be paying attention to how they do it.

So how do they do it?

- In 2004, CBS turned down a Super Bowl ad from that negatively portrayed George Bush. (They approved ad buys from Anheuser-Busch featuring a farting Clydesdale and a sexually aggressive monkey.)

- That same year, CBS (and partner UPN, as well as NBC) refused to run two ads from the United Church of Christ as being "unacceptable for broadcast" for highlighting the UCC's acceptance of gays, racial minorities, and people with disabilities.

- Last year, NBC declined to run a PETA ad that they deemed too racy.

- This year, CBS turned down $3 million for an ad from a gay dating site.

- It's CBS's air time, and particularly on an occasion like this, they have a vested interest in keeping things largely neutral and inoffensive to viewers--they have a right to ban controversial ads as much as they do sexually provocative halftime shows and spicy language by sideline reporters in the interest of keeping things family-friendly.

So that's what the issue is here: not whether CBS is bound by the First Amendment but whether they have made a wise choice in how they've distributed their ad space.

And when women's groups speak up against it, you know what? That is protected free speach. They have as much right to their opinion as Focus on the Family has to theirs, and they've managed to find a venue (in this case, several media outlets) in which to express it. And they aren't even questioning Focus on the Family's right to run the ad, merely CBS's choice to show it during the Super Bowl.

Once we get past the government's non-interference with Focus on the Family's freedom of speach, it all comes down to one thing: market forces. Capitalism at its finest. CBS chooses to run the Focus on the Family ad because they'll get money to do it. Women's groups choose to protest, since CBS has declined to run similarly issue-y ads in the past. CBS shrugs. Ain't no skin off their bottom line.

What if the women's groups decided to take it further? They could start going for the skin on CBS's bottom line by, for instance, organizing a boycott of Super Bowl fixtures like Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, and Doritos as long as CBS plans to run the Focus on the Family ad. Those companies could well go to CBS and saying, "This ain't worth it to us, CBS. It's us or Tebow." Forced to choose between Jesus and Benjamin Franklin, CBS would likely follow the money. And if (unlikely as it would be) that were to happen, it wouldn't be censorship--it would be business. Which is how the free market is supposed to work.

And thus I bring it back to me (because this is all, in the end, about me). How do I feel about CBS running the ad?

1. I'm agin it. If a network has a policy against running "issues" ads or "advocacy" ads, they need to stick to that policy and not run those ads--even if they come from a conservative politician or fundamentalist religious group.

2. I'm agin it. The "I'm glad my mom didn't abort me" argument always creeps me out anyway, but I also tend to raise an eyebrow at the "I could have had an abortion, but I didn't, and you can not-have one too" arguments. I'm glad that Mrs. Tebow was able to carry a very challenging--but very much wanted--pregnancy to completion, and I'm glad that she was able to make the choice to do so--but there are a lot of people who don't have the resources to do the former, and with Focus on the Family working hard to deny women the opportunity to do the latter, I have to call foul on this one.

3. I'm agin it. As sports columnist Gregg Doyel says, Super Bowl Sunday is a day for football, not pressing and divisive social issues. Eight o'clock Sunday morning is the time for moral and religious issues, and 6:30 (EST) Sunday evening is the time for athletic and officiating issues. Which means that I agree with Gregg Doyel. I'm agin that, too.

4. I'm agin it. Regardless of the subject, if you have an issue that's as significant and deeply felt as a woman's right to choose, it's certainly not best served shoehorned between a farting horse and a horny monkey.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

On saving the tatas and/or, y'know, women

Okay, so maybe I'm just a particularly incurious person, but when a few of my friends popped up with Facebook status updates like "lavender lace" and "black!!!" I didn't immediately hop to Teh Google to find out what they were talking about. I figured that it was, like so many overblown Facebook security warnings and "tell me exactly what you think of me and then post this as your status IF YOU DARE!!!" memes, something that didn't particularly concern me. I certainly didn't receive any messages indicating that I should do otherwise. It was only when a few folks started posting actual links to actual blog posts and news stories that I understood the trend and why, purportedly, I was meant to care:
Just write the color of your bra in your status. Just the color, nothing else. And send this on to ONLY girls no men. ... It will be neat to see if this will spread the wings of cancer awareness. It will be fun to see how long it takes before the men will wonder why all the girls have a color in their status... Haha!

Now, far be it from me to discourage anyone from any kind of activism or raising of awareness, but... really? Is that going to do it? If I were to post "blue plaid" (really, it's totally cute) as my Facebook status, would my friends' minds fly immediately to the plight of women (and men) with breast cancer? Blogger Bilial Hameed said, "The campaign has marked the first successful use of Facebook status updates with very few words to send a powerful message across," but what was that "powerful" message? The status updates themselves don't include links to breast cancer sites, urge women to perform breast self-exams, or even mention breast cancer--or for that matter, even breasts, or even bras--at all. It strikes me that

1. it's the viral message itself, not the fun and naughty status updates, that spreads awareness, meaning that any woman who didn't receive the message would gain no awareness of anything from the statuses;

2. explicitly excluding men from the game misses a whole subpopulation that also can be concerned about breast cancer and supportive of breast cancer research; and

3. people who argue, "But it's obviously been successful! Look at how everyone's talking about it now!" fail to notice that all of the chatter and media attention is centering around the sassiness of the bra-color meme and still not around breast cancer awareness, fund raising, or research.

It also strikes me that this is another awareness campaign that puts all of the emphasis on the jalumbos and not the women behind them. I will admit to having--and loving--a bright-pink "Save 2nd Base" t-shirt with appropriately placed baseballs because I think it's funny. Its purchase also contributed money to breast cancer research, and the corresponding Web site ( is named on the back. This isn't to pat myself on the back for being super-duper generous and thoughtful (because the fact is, there's a lot more that I could do than wear a sassy t-shirt) but to point out that boobs are hardly the worst things a woman, and her family, can lose during her battle with breast cancer.

Blogger Kate Dailey points out, in a post about provocative, bikini-centric awareness ads, "While breasts can be sexy, breast cancer is a serious, sometimes deadly disease. And younger activists hoping to draw attention to the issue and recruit younger donors are not above using sex--along with viral video, catchy slogans, and stylish T shirts--to promote breast-cancer awareness. But are ads that play up the desirability of full breasts in a string bikini sensitive to cancer patients with mastectomy scars?" Bouncing melons certainly are a striking, attention-grabbing image--much more so than solemn talk about cancer screening and the impact of research dollars--but by emphasizing some sexual, sensual essentialism of breasts, what are we saying to women who have already given theirs up to save their lives, or to women who already fear the loss of their femininity and self-image as they stare down the barrel of a mastectomy? What does it say about us that we only think about saving women's lives if it's by way of saving their ladypillows?

The real importance of raising awareness isn't about the bra or the breasts inside of the bra--it's about the woman behind the breasts inside the bra. And in our effort to find a new, attention-getting, tittylating (couldn't resist) approach to increasing awareness, we need to remember that.

There's no real harm, in the end, in posting a mysterious and contextless color in your status--but there isn't really any benefit, either. It's fun and sassy, and all of the men wonder what naughtiness you're up to, but you aren't spreading a powerful message unless you're spreading a message. If you want to play the game, try adding a link along with your color; consider the American Cancer Society's instructions on performing a breast self-exam to remind women to check themselves monthly, their page about breast cancer in men to remind the men in your life that they're vulnerable too, or Think Before You Pink, a site to help you evaluate breast cancer charities and pink-ribbon campaigns to make sure your dollars are put to good use. Maybe make a donation to a breast cancer research charity and challenge your friends to do the same (awareness and screening are important, but let's not forget the importance of research in curing and preventing breast cancer). Draw attention to the numerous issues currently influencing women's health: new health guidelines that could ultimately limit women's access to cancer screening and information about self-exams, gender inequity in health-care coverage, commonly used hormones and chemicals that can contribute to breast cancer, and the best use for breast cancer research funding. So go ahead--e-flash your Facebook friends and confuse the guys. But don't forget that you're doing it for a reason.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

On monkeys eating Jell-O

Okay, so by way of apologizing for exposing you to that... product, my gift to you: squirrel monkeys eating Jell-O.

We cool now?

On the plight of small-bootied women

Okay, so I thought it was a portent of badness when, on my first day of the new year, I got to mop up dog puke, thus nearly concussing myself on the inside of Dave's crate and missing the morning staff meeting. It turns out I was right, because I find, when I get to work, an e-mail directing me to a product that addresses that most vital of womanly concerns:

1. I can't really speak to the usefulness of the Booty Pop, because, as a woman with a sufficient abundance of booty, I'm not the target market. But the women in the video seem ready to weep in the ladies' room and cut themselves at their lack of booty, and they seem orgasmically elated at the new addition of booty, so I guess the product is a winner.

2. We all know how I feel about the word "booty." Shudder.

3. I'm concerned about the woman in the ad who is speaking animatedly with her friend as the third woman comes out of the dressing room to show off her brand-new ass. I know that my friends and I have been known to say to each other things like, "Wow, your ass looks great in those jeans," but it never really goes further than that. We certainly don't discuss it with a third party while the owner of the ass in question preens in the mirror. This woman may well be saying something like, "God, she's already such a slut, even without an ass. With that thing, she's going to be through both of our boyfriends by lunchtime. God help us if she gets a ShapeChanger too."

4. The popping sound as the women's butts go from flat to fabulous strikes me as unhealthy.

5. The whole thing makes me think about the scene in Bridget Jones's Diary where Bridget is deciding which knickers to wear on a date.
Major dilemma. If I actually do, by some terrible chance, end up in flagrante, surely these [lacy knickers] would be most attractive at crucial moment. However, chances of reaching crucial moment greatly increased by wearing these scary, stomach-holding-in panties very popular with grannies the world over. Tricky. Very tricky.

There's also the concern that, in the heat of the moment, when the Booty Pops come off, your male admirer will feel a victim of false advertising.

Use in conjunction with the Invisible Tummy Trimmer to completely disguise the shape of your shamefully natural body and cut off all circulation below the waist.

(h/t Holly)