art, media, pop culture, social justice

A Letter to the Strasburg School Board

Hey team. It’s been a while. I know, I’ve missed you, too!

So in the time that I’ve been away, I got a twitter! And I started following John Green, whom some of you may know as one half of the Vlog Brothers, and others of you may know as the talented YA author of books like An Abundance of Katherines, The Fault in Our Stars, and Looking for Alaska.

Well, through the magical twitter machine, it has come to my attention that some of Mr. Green’s books, along with several other fantastic YA books by authors like Scott Westerfeld, C.S. Lewis (seriously), Mark Haddon, and M. T. Anderson, are being offered in an elective YA literature course being taught in Strasburg, Colorado. And these books are also being challenged by some parents for poisoning their kids’ impressionable little horny minds with “excessive profanity, explicit sexual scenes, and illegal acts,” which the parents believe will, “degrade their minds–and in some cases may lead them to committing such acts themselves.”

First off, I want to say that, if reading Uglies causes some kid to hop on a hoverboard and overthrow a totalitarian society, I am very, very down with that. Secondly, I want to say that the books on that list are the kinds of books that can be a bright spot in the dark and confusing world of being a teenager. The people who need them most are the children of the parents trying to get them banned.

So Mr. Green tweeted, and I got angry, because if there is one thing I hate more than censorship, it’s people who don’t read well, and this issue seems to combine both of those things. In his tumblr, Mr. Green gave out the necessary information for how to contact the school board and voice your support. I decided to. And since I know that writing letters like that is annoying and time-consuming, I decided to also post the full letter here for you to re-use if you want, like me, to email the school board and voice your support. Just send your letter to Tell them how great those books are. Write your own letter, or you can use my words (and John Green’s. I borrowed a line from him. Thanks, John!). Change them however you want. Here. You have my permission:

To The School Board:

It has come to my attention recently that a group of Strasburg parents have challenged the curriculum of a planned elective YA literature course. Although I am not a resident of the Strasburg, CO area, I wished to voice my support of the curriculum proposed by the course’s teacher. I believe that it is imperative that modern teens have access to literature that is both of high quality and pertinent to their own experiences, and the books planned for the course fit perfectly with this model of what a YA literature course ought ideally to embody.

During my teenage years I personally read more than half of the curriculum proposed by the teacher of the course, and I found these books engrossing and edifying. I wish to offer the course instructor my complete support in her choice to teach these books, and my approbation for her decision to stand by her selections in front of the school board. I wish also to urge the school board to remember the importance of reading books critically and thoughtfully as a whole, rather than focusing on individual scenes ripped from their context.

I do not believe that these books could in any way be damaging to a High School-aged reader, however I understand that the course is an elective. Therefore, for parents who believe that their children may not be mature enough to handle the books’ content, it is fortunate that their children can easily be spared from having to try. I hope that this factor alone will be enough to sway the school board’s decision in favor of maintaining the already-approved curriculum.



media, politics

A Drinking Game for Tonight’s State of the Union!

Wow, guys! I haven’t talked to you since last year! Crazy!

So tonight is the State of the Union, and there are not 1, not 2, but 3 exciting Republican rebuttals to watch afterward, so you can bet I’m excited for that representation of our politically diverse voting public.

But tonight is a night designated for fun and booze, so I’m going to keep it short. Here are a few simple rules for how not to remember anything Obama said:

1. Drink when someone says “America” and “Freedom” in the same sentence.

2. Drink when the person sitting behind Obama does anything except stare at Obama.

3. Drink when (and be honest now) a politician says something you don’t understand.

4. Watch the hands of the speaking politician. When you can’t remember the last thing he or she said, finish your drink.

5. Finish your drink if anyone says any variation of the name “Edward Snowden.”

6. Finish your drink if anyone calls Obama a “socialist” or a “communist.”

BONUS: Finish whatever you’re drinking right now if you’re a hipster and this is the first time you’ve watched cable since the 2012 election.

OH! I ALMOST FORGOT. JUST FOR FUNZIES. Here is the version the real menz will be playing. Just three rules, so it’s easy to remember:

1. Drink when anyone says something you agree with.

2. Drink when anyone says something you don’t agree with.

3. Finish your drink when your Mom calls to tell you to stop re-posting your profane tweets on Facebook.

art, media, pop culture, Uncategorized

The Princess Problem

Let’s talk about how all I wanted for much of my childhood was to grow up and be a princess. How I dressed up in cute costumes and sang cute songs and told everyone that I was either going to be a princess, a secretary, or the president of the United States. Awwww. So. Cute.

Now let’s talk about how, even though I grew up loving Disney, I have come to believe that “the Disney Princess” is a serious cultural problem.

What really brought the problem of Disney Princesses to my attention was this recent interview with Frozen animator Lino DiSalvo. According to DiSalvo, “Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty …So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression.”

You have to keep them pretty. The words that sank the ship of “I still love Disney, even though they’re kind of sexist, because…such good songs.” No. It’s over. I have to admit that these people are holding girls back from being fully realized human beings because we all have to stay pretty. Apparently, nothing else matters.

Of course, it’s totally cool to be not-particularly handsome if you’re a man, according to Disney. Just ask Kuzco, the Beast, Ralph, Quasimodo, Woody, and Milo. And those are just humanoid male leads. I don’t even have time to get into all the strange-looking supporting roles filled by men. And yes there are sexy disney princes. Absolutely. But apparently it’s not hard to keep them from looking too much alike. You know who didn’t get unnecessarily sexualized in ways un-befitting to either age or accustomed activities? Mowgli. Or Arthur. Or Pinnochio.

According to (one of) my feminist hero[es] Caitlin Moran, “the residual hold [princesses] have over female ability to imagine our own future is sneakily harmful” (How to be a Woman, p. 294). Moran believes  that the idea of “being a princess” correlates with the cultural idea that women must “be” while men “do.” Kind of like Aurora is a beautiful, naturally talented singer (as a hobby) who sleeps attractively while Prince Whatever-His-Name-Is gets imprisoned, escapes, and fights evil shrubbery and a witch who is also a dragon.

Being a princess comes with “wealth, glamor, and privilege,” but also, the “implicit acceptance that your powerful husband is going to cheat on you and that you just have to accept that” (293-294). In other words,  because all you’re good for is being really pretty, your social currency both devalues as you age and is essentially interchangeable with the currency of all other similarly pretty and compliant women.

The harmfulness of the Disney princess as an aspirational concept has never been clearer to me than in the response to David Trumble’s cartoon princess renderings of ten real-life female role models. This includes Anne Frank Princess and Princess Harriet Tubman, all of whom look like glittery, toothy fools compared to their real-life selves. According to Trumble, he created the images as a response to Disney’s more sexualized re-design of Brave  heroine Merida. The sparkly, simpering, and certainly more-sexualized image of the adventuresome heroine sparked outrage among fans of the film as well as feminist groups who felt that the new image enforced the idea that even someone as downright  cool as Merida had to change and be “prettier” if she was going to fit in and be a “real” Disney princess.

Trumble says he created his “real world princess” images because he, “wanted to analyze how unnecessary it is to collapse a heroine into one specific mold.” He says, “I decided to take 10 real-life female role models, from diverse experiences and backgrounds, and filter them through the Disney princess assembly line…The statement I wanted to make was that it makes no sense to put these real-life women into one limited template, so why then are we doing it to our fictitious heroines?”

Now, I totally agree with what he’s saying. The problem is, I don’t think his project worked. I saw a few people re-post the articles about Trumble’s art on various social media outlets, and a lot of people don’t seem to be getting the subversive message Trumble is trying to put out there. In fact, a lot of people thought the concept was, like, so, so cute! What a great idea! Trumble himself even notes that some people who saw the image, “saw no harm in it at all and wanted to buy the doll versions of them.”

Part of the reason I don’t think the project worked is that “Disnified” versions of other characters and re-imagined Disney characters are really popular on the internet right now, so it’s likely that people glanced over the pictures for five seconds, said oh, cute! and went on their merry cyber-ways. Which is, in my opinion, terrible, because it says to me that the idea of the Disney princess as a positive cultural force is so ingrained in us that plenty of people don’t see any problem at all when real women are turned into 2-dimensional characters whose main traits are white teeth and glittery dresses. It says to me that there are plenty of people in the world who are still OK with women being, first and foremost, pretty.

Caitlin Moran says that finally realizing she would never be a princess is the thing that has given her, “the most relief and freedom in [her] adult years” (294). This is because it made her realize that if she was going to change the world, she would actually have to do something. She couldn’t just be someone’s pretty, well-dressed muse. 

What I’m trying to say is, I’d like to see the reverse of what Trumble has done. I don’t want to see any more real women turned into princesses. I want to see some princesses turned into real women.

So. Any artists out there want to tackle that for me?

art, media, social justice

Miley Cyrus, Feminism, Sexuality, and Appropriation

All right, so I’m jumping on a bandwagon here. Although you can hardly call it jumping when every embarrassing click you’ve made in the last month has had the words Miley and twerking in the title. You don’t have to admit it, I know it’s true.

The scandal that is Miss Achey Breakey, Jr. has been all over the news: everyone wants to talk about her risque ensembles, her ‘risque’ dance moves, and her seemingly constantly-visible tongue.  Even some more respectable news sources have gotten in on the action, discussing her “appropriation of black culture” and everyone wants to talk about whether it’s racist. Or not. Or Racist. Or Feminist. Or Not.

In the widely touted open letter from Sinead O’Connor, the musical legend warns Cyrus against allowing herself to be “prostituted” by the men in the industry. Despite being fairly patronizing in tone, O’Connor seemed to have Cyrus’s best interest at heart at first, though this quickly devolved into petty rudeness on both sides with tweets from Miley and in three  subsequent letters penned by O’Connor. Plus Amanda Palmer wrote an open letter response to O’Connor, arguing that Miley is in charge of her own show, and has a right to be doing what she’s doing as her own brand of feminism.  (Suffice to say, the whole open letter thing is getting to be a bit much.)

What these two very famous women musicians address is primarily the sexuality of the female music artist, and how that sexuality relates to feminism. Now I’m all about subverting the male gaze and making sure that men and women understand that women have more going on than just being nice bodies. But I also believe that feminism in the modern day does, as Palmer suggests, allow for women, and men, to create and own their own relationships to their bodies and their sexuality. So, while I very much admire Sinead O’Connor’s choice to shave her head early in her career so that people would have to deal with her as a person, rather than a sexy singer-object, I also admire Amanda Palmer’s choice to drop her record label when they told her she was too fat to wear just a bra in a music video, and to get naked whenever she feels like it. Go Amanda, I love you.

But we’re talking about Miley. Particularly, how people are choosing to talk about Miley in the media. And it is notable to me that neither of these edgy, female, white, musicians is talking about the racial implications of Miley Cyrus’s recent performances. Writer Renee Martin noted that the scandal of Miley’s sexually charged performances only seems to be a scandal because it threatens the idea of what an “appropriate performance of white womanhood consists of” by incorporating “the dangerous sexualities of cultures of color.” With a good deal of scorn, she notes, “filth, ratchet, ghetto and animalistic sexuality is something which apparently should be left for black women.” In other words, if Miley Cyrus were being all sexified and nude in a more conventionally white way, it wouldn’t be a problem. Which to me is a huge problem.

As far as racial critiques go, Cyrus’s performance at the VMA’s and her music videos are frequently being compared to Madonna’s Vogue video and Gwen Stefani’s use of “Harajuku girls”; essentially, that these white performers are using an “other” race as a background on which to frame their own, white, stories. At least one article claims that the appropriation of another culture is just a step many white performers take to a financial end. Several have used the word “slumming” to describe Cyrus’s relationship with ratchet culture, and at least one writer is bemoaning the idea that white performers are now outselling black performers in hip hop.

One thing I find both intriguing and off-putting about a lot of the critiques of Cyrus is that the term “appropriation” is being used as though it is automatically bad. I have a hard time with the idea that because Cyrus is white, she shouldn’t be allowed to participate in a culture that she finds appealing. Cyrus claims that she feels a personal affinity to the culture she is appropriating. She says that the people who appear onstage with her and in her videos are “her homies,” not her accessories.  Does it even matter if I believe her? If she wanted to populate her videos with only white women twerking, she would still be accused of cultural appropriation, and people would still say she was racist for not including any black people in her video.

This fantastic article by aforementioned Renee Martin suggests that, culturally, we believe in “good” and “bad” forms of appropriation–taking as her example Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, she says, “Only when whiteness can claim a “positive agenda” are such acts of blatant appropriation presented as good.” Martin suggests that Gilbert, no better than Cyrus, is using cultures of color to “get attention” and “lend legitimacy” to her art. This is really problematic to me, because Martin seems to suggest that there is no acceptable way to participate in cultures of color if you are white. But what does that actually entail? Should white performers simply avoid all things associated with non-white cultures in an attempt not to be offensive to anyone? Maybe they should make a point to stick to only “conventionally white” things (what does that even mean?), thereby perpetuating the racial problems in today’s society: a society so culturally segregated that every time someone does something that is traditionally done by people who don’t look like them, people on both sides of the divide accuse them of racism.

(Added to this whole thing is the fact that it’s not actually accurate to say Cyrus is appropriating “black” culture, when not all black people consider themselves part of the culture Cyrus is appropriating. For example, several of these black feminists didn’t even know what twerking was until everyone freaked out over Miley’s performance at the VMAs.)

If you click any of the hyperlinks, you’ll notice I’m using a ton of articles by people who don’t agree with me to write this post. That’s because I think that what’s most important and wonderful about Miley Cyrus’s performance at the VMAs is that it sparked a ton of conversation about feminism and race. A lot of people who were already Miley fans were probably not having those conversations before googling her name brought up articles about whether or not the performance was a minstrel show.

So, ultimately, I appreciate Miley Cirus’s performance at the VMAs for two reasons: 1) it was sexual but not sexy, and I think she’s aware of that, and I want her and all women to have a right to perform their sexual identity however they choose. 2) It sparked a lot of very important and intelligent conversations about race, culture, and appropriation (like this one, and this one) that revolved around a figure in the media with such a wide following of young white people–a lot of whom are probably being exposed to  those conversations for the first time.

Don’t worry, I’m not deceiving myself into believing that Cyrus is so self-aware that she’s trying to shock people with her non-sexy sexuality and cultural appropriation in order to make them have really smart conversations about ideology. I would not be all that surprised if she hasn’t read a single one of the articles discussing the complexity of the choices she’s making as far as gender and race are concerned. And I do think that she would be a better and more interesting performer if she were more informed about those things. But, I am still defending her right to create the kinds of performances she is making, and yes, even saying that I think they’re kind of good for everyone. Like bad-tasting medicine.

Miley Cyrus: a spoonful of bear-flavored fish oil.

Plus she’s actually a pretty good singer.