Saturday, May 31, 2008
Saturday, May 24, 2008
One thing that I’ve always loved about fashion photography has been the rich colors, unexpected shapes and oftentimes bold composition of each shoot. Since I was 10 years old I remember soaking in the pages of Vogue, Harper’s and Elle, not for the (generally uninspiring) editorials or tips on what was new or in, but in sheer appreciation of the art that I’ve come to love. Of course, I’ve always accepted my love of fashion with a grain of salt- after all, as I’ve stated before, it’s an industry rife with elitism, sexism, racism and exploitation, the proverbial playground of the privileged that, on its upper levels, is all but closed to us plebeians.
So over the years I’ve been an active consumer and a casual fan, never overestimating my love, knowing that while she can be beautiful, creative and provocative, she’s also often petty and manipulative. Which, sadly, I was reminded of while flipping through this month’s Vogue. The June 2008 issue of the fashion industry’s bible was dedicated to SJP and the upcoming SATC movie, but deep in the recesses of its layout is the article “from here to timbuktu... and beyond. Sally Singer travels to the end of the earth for a little night music.” I’m sure you’ve already caught on to what annoyed me about this article. Bright pictures of model Liya Kebede mingling with the Malian locals, sporting “ethnically inspired” fashions in the most ethnic of all places (oh, Africa. Sigh.) If the imagery itself weren’t enough to warrant my defenses popping up, this quote definitely helped spark a bit of anger:
“Which brings me to the true glory of Mali: the wanderers themselves... You see women driving pink 125 cc. bikes in kitten heels, stretch pin-striped pencil skirts, and blonde bobbed wigs. You see schoolgirls in Heidi pinafores and young boys in hip hop gear, pastoral floral dresses. Above all, you see the world as if exfoliated of the dead layers of Western trends, norms, preconceptions. It’s a visual and auditory jolt that makes this sandbox at the end of the earth feel like the most privileged of all playgrounds.”
Yes, you read correctly. Now, stripping away some of the most immediately annoying parts of this article (“this sandbox at the end of the earth,” right.. how exactly is Mali at the end of the earth? If I’m not mistaken California could easily be qualified as the “end of the earth” to this white woman fashion news editor, but come ON how completely cliche and colonial) the most frustrating part was how this woman continued the theme of “oh how quaint, look at how luxuriously I can live in this dust bucket of a country! This is so deliciously different from my every day life!”
Oh, and the comment about Mali being stripped “of Western trends, norms [and] preconceptions?” PLEASE. Oh goodness, that right there almost made me want to vomit. I’m no expert on Mali or Timbuktu, but I seriously doubt that the eclectic hodgepodge of outfits seen on the streets of this city has much to do with a collective fashion statement by the people as much as it has to do with a myriad of economic issues and access to certain resources.
And okay, I get it, if you’re an American who has never been to Mali (which I never have) I’m sure that the change from Western culture and amenities would be really jarring, and would inspire you to have a different appreciation both for your home and your new surroundings. But, in this day and age of hyper-sensitivity to global issues you think that she’d at least once bring up something about the environment and its condition that had at least a tiny ounce of social relevancy (aside from immediately mentioning and dismissing her non-status as an anthropologist, economist or tourist) but, no, of course she did not.
So we get to the point- when the hell IS it someone’s job to have cultural sensitivity? Surely this can’t only be reserved for us anthropology students and those in academia- I mean, this woman is a lead editor at one of the most highly circulated publications in the business, and she’s continued to support the ignorant stance of appreciating a place only for its superficial merits.
Blah. I just got all aggravated. I’m going to go get a pepsi. To calm me nerves.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
so one of my friends called me today with a story (calm down, this is not just frivolous: i have a point to make here). I am going to relay that story to you. then i'm going to relay a story of my own. then i'm going to bitch about both of them, and if we're all lucky, i'll come to some sort of conclusion. ok, so now that you have an outline, let's begin:
Story 1: two of my friends (both black) were having brunch at a restaurant in harlem. a few tables over was a french couple taking a break from their bike tour of the city, very excited to be in historic harlem! there was no one sitting in between them. In my friend's words,
"a mariah carey song came on. it might have been vision of love. (friend 1) put his hand up in the air, and i started to do a little jig in my chair. next thing you know, this french woman LEAPS out of her chair and snaps a picture of us."
dang. and of course, the french woman thought nothing was wrong, and was THRILLED to have gotten a picture of the harlem natives, celebrating their people's music over sunday brunch.
Story 2: i was recently in India on a work trip (i like this story already because it misleads the reader into thinking i have a job that pays me enough to live in this crazy city). It was just me, my boss, and someone we shall henceforth refer to as "the colonizer," even though technically my boss is british, and she is not. anyways, we were in this like, for lack of a better word, botanic garden (long story. it was made mainly of rocks.), and we had stopped to take pictures by a waterfall. the colonizer took a lot of pictures, we milled around for a while, and then got ready to move on. as we were leaving that particular area, we passed by two indian children splashing in the water. their mother and father were nearby, and the father was trying to get them to hold still for a picture. my boss commented that it was going to be a cute picture, and the colonizer, agreeing and giddy with excitement, ran up and snapped a picture of the children. as the mother turned her shocked face towards the colonizer, i quietly fled the scene and pretended like i was not traveling with anyone that day.
Commence the bitching: ok so here's the thing - what is WRONG with people? and i guess more to the point, what is wrong with Western culture? the whole world doesn't have enough fingers to count the number of pictures Americans and Europeans have snapped of people and children of color while on their travels, thrilled to get a picture that really captures the exotic nature of whatever place they happen to be in. and i can bet you about one bajillion dollars that not a single one of those picture-snappers has ever had the desire to photograph a white stranger eating brunch, standing by a waterfall, or just standing still enough to be secretly photographed. I don't think i need to explain to you why this is a problem. what i do want to know, though, is how can so many people continue to be so incredibly ignorant of their own privilege, and of their constant exoticization and other-ization of anyone who is not white? How can you, an american visitor in another country, go through the whole physical motion of spotting a complete stranger, taking our your camera, aiming, focusing, and shooting without ever thinking "i wonder if what i'm doing might make that person uncomfortable." seriously, how? and for those of you reading this who really enjoy doing that, imagine it happening to you. you're sitting at brunch, and a tourist walks up, snaps a picture of you, and then coos over how positively AMERICAN it is! god. its offensive, degrading, and frankly just shocking that so many people continue to think its just normal.
so i guess the point is, i wish people would learn some respect. i don't photograph you and your children without asking (and frankly, i don't ask, either), and i hope you'll do me the same courtesy. because i'm not a fucking landmark, or a cultural experience, i'm a person who doesn't need you ruining my day by reminding me i'm actually an 'other.' i get reminded of that enough without having a permanent record of it stored on your camera's memory card.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
oh ellen and portia - the only celebrity gossip i just can't quit. of course this means that me and portia probably don't have a chance, but i'll get over it.
you know i once had a dream (like an asleep-dream, not a wish dream) that i was a waitress and ellen and portia came to eat dinner at my restaurant. i think i asked for their autographs. that part is a little fuzzy. point is they ended up giving me a house. possibly as a tip, possibly just because they were charmed by me. to date, that is the best dream i've ever had. ellen, portia, if you're reading this, congrats on your engagement. and if you're looking to give out presents, i don't yet have a house of my own. short of a house, small monetary donations are also accepted.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
so like i mentioned, my "pet peeve" (and by pet peeve, i mean thing that makes me go into a blind rage) is when people are completely lacking self-awareness and/or the desire to think self-critically. one of the areas of life where this seems to be coming out more and more (and thus bothering me more and more) is of course the presidential race.
reading blogs is like, the new fun thing with kids these days, and since i quit celebrity gossip, my attempts to be cool have mainly revolved around various politically-minded blogs. recently, however, i've begun to run out of blogs to read because i've had to delete them from my favorites, one by one, as they become too frustrating to enjoy. here is the conundrum: all of the black people blogs i read support obama and hate clinton to the point where they refuse to acknowledge any sexism in the race, or any flaws in obama's campaign or his politics. the feminist-type blogs i read support clinton and hate obama in a conveniently mirror-image approach.
to anyone who fits one of those descriptions, i would like to pose a question: what the fuck is wrong with your brain? or, in the words of one of my friends from work, "its like a brain trauma ward in here." is it that you just want the other side to see your point SO badly that you exaggerate to the point of untruth? do you think you'll look weak if you admit that they're right on certain points? newsflash: this is not middle school, its real life. racism and sexism both exist. fucking deal with it, get over yourselves, and stop pretending like you have some sort of moral high ground when you KNOW you don't.
or more disturbing: perhaps you really don't know. maybe i'm just reading the opinions of a lot of black men who have never in their lives thought about or cared about the privilege they get from being male, and who have never bothered to notice sexism, and a bunch of white women who've done the same thing with their privileged status in this society as white. possibly the only thing that makes me more angry than a rich white male who is comfortable in his privilege is a minority who thinks that this one thing that makes him/her different from that rich white male is the most important thing in society. which brings me back to my point from my last post: not all of us have that luxury.
anyways, its late and it would be unwise for me to start lecturing you on intersectionality because frankly my spelling is deteriorating as we speak. but my point i guess is this: if the so-called 'liberals' in this country can't even open their eyes wide enough to see each other, we deserve another 8 years of bush.
also i'm expatriating.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
So first-off, the blog post that inspired this ramble: its called “take my arm, my love,” and is more or less just about what it feels like to be gay in public – to constantly be aware of yourself and to be constantly aware of everyone who can see you in a way that straight people don’t need to be. The author talks about PDA specifically – how she always takes her girlfriend’s arm rather than her hand so that the action could potentially be read as nothing more than friendship, how she “stops, looks, and listens” before doing anything that might give them away as a couple. I’ve been especially aware of this recently because in new york you can’t help but always be in other people’s business, and things like the morning subway ride turn into daily reflections on how much straight people take for granted. I don’t think a morning has gone by in quite some time when I haven’t been on the train near a straight couple riding to work together. They cuddle, they kiss, they stare deep into each others eyes, they hold hands, and I always find myself being excessively repulsed by the whole affair. Which maybe is just because I’m not a huge fan of PDA, but I think more to the point, and what this other blog post was trying to get at, those are all things that I would in no way feel comfortable doing on the train. even little things like the kind of eye contact you make with someone you're dating, or how close you sit next to them on the train are things i'm constantly aware of. Not to say that I wouldn’t do any of those things mentioned above, but just to say that if I did, it would be a conscious, rebellious action – it wouldn’t be about just being madly in love and lost in the glorious wonderland of each other’s company or any bullshit like that, it would be about trying to prove I wasn’t scared of anyone else on that train. Which is kind of fucked up.
This past weekend I went to a friend’s wedding, and was sort of shocked by how many different emotions it made me feel. As some of you may know, I’m not a huge fan of “feelings,” so needless to say it was unsettling. The wedding was beautiful, and everyone was super-happy, and it was just all-around pretty great, but I found myself getting sort of sad at various points, which is weird because I have literally never wanted to get married – not that I actively don’t want to, I just never really thought about it as a kid, and then recently just sort of assumed I wouldn’t. it hasn’t ever been that important to me, but seeing how happy everyone was, how happy the bride and groom’s families were, etc. etc. made me all of a sudden super self-reflective because I was like, “oh dang.” It’s a pretty big deal to be able to get that kind of affirmation from your family and friends. And I don’t think its “necessary,” per se, but having the option is probably a nice feeling, huh?
But actually maybe “nice” is the wrong word. As teh portly dyke points out in her blog post, most straight couples (or single straight people for that matter) would have a horrible time trying to live for even a few days being as conscious of their every move as I usually am. But frankly I’m not jealous of that. I’m MAD about that because I’m just in general irritated by people who are not conscious of their surroundings or their place within those surroundings, but I don’t want that. Sure I want the safety that comes with being straight, or being white, or being a man in a racist, sexist, homophobic society, but thank god I’m not any of those things. And I think not being any of those things has forced me into this kind of hyper-awareness of my surroundings that I really appreciate. Its just not every day that I stop to realize how many people in the world, or even just in my subway car, don’t need to and don’t want to be conscious of the watchful eyes of others.
moral of the story, i guess, is that yes i will hold my girlfriend's hand in public, but no i won't feel completely comfortable (read: safe) doing so. but at the end of the day, i'm cool with that, because the discomfort means that i'm making a conscious choice, and it means i care enough about her and about myself to make that choice. which is a good thing.