Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Different Take on the Miley Cyrus Affair

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Image, Wikipedia Commons

I didn’t really expect to wade into the pearl-clutching and outrage over Miley Cyrus. But, I’ve been thinking about her all day, and after discussing her notorious VMA performance with Darcy and finding out we shared the same point of view, I decided to write a post.

I think there are four separate topics at work here.

1. What does Miley Cyrus owe the girls who followed her as Hannah Montana, if anything?
2. The issue of hypersexualized girls and the men who love them.
3. That creepy Robin Thicke song.
4. The actual Miley Cyrus performance.

The Rise and Fall of Hannah Montana

One of my friends had tween girls back at the height of the Hannah Montana craze and I watched an episode with them. For those lucky enough to have escaped the show, Hannah Montana is a celebrity teen singer, but no one knows her true identity: she’s actually a suburban normal girl by day. Pretty wholesome right? Well, yes and no. First of all, I buy into the Peggy Orenstein point of view that those Disney Channel teen characters are the second wave of the princess phase. I highly recommend everyone read her book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.”

What’s the first wave? Think about the fairy tales the traditional Disney movies tell: Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast. Sweet harmless fun, right? Not really. Because when girls embrace the pretty princess dresses and act out those movies, they embrace the message of those stories: someday, my prince will come if I wait around and am beautiful enough.

Eventually as they age, girls tire of the Disney Princess merchandise and move on, according to market research, to a different set of toys. Monster High, Bratz, Hannah Montana dolls: what do they have in common? Well, they are more grown up than the princesses. Yet, these dolls may be worse. These toys celebrate “sassy” “gothic” girls who are thin and wear short skirts.

How does this affect our girls? From The Daily Beast:

“Studies show young girls today face more pressure than ever to be ‘perfect’ (like a princess?) — not only to get straight A’s and excel academically, but to be beautiful, fashionable, and kind. And the more mainstream media girls consume, the more they worry about being pretty and sexy. One study, from the University of Minnesota, found that just seeing advertisements from one to three minutes can have a negative impact on girls’ self-esteem.”

This can lead to a wormhole of eating disorders and self-destructive behavior, which all studies indicate are on the rise among young women.

Back to Hannah Montana. The series was mostly a bunch of silly misunderstandings about how Hannah had to hide her real identity as a world famous pop star. What I was struck by was how awed my friends’s daughters were by the idea of becoming a pop star princess. Because, Hannah Montana IS a princess of sorts. Back when I was 10, I wanted to be a lawyer. I thought that was a super glamorous career. These girls wanted to be a pop star. And I found that problematic.

The Disneyfication of many pop stars seems to follow the same path each time: tween and teen girls are packaged into wholesome, pink bubble gum virgin sweethearts, but inevitably they rebel and begin to break out of the mold in their late teens or early twenties. We’ve seen it with countless models: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato, Amanda Bynes and now Miley Cyrus.

Here’s where I differ from most parents: I will not let my daughter watch shows like Hannah Montana. And I don’t blame Miley Cyrus for who she has become.

When Miley Cyrus was cast as Hannah Montana she was 11. Now she is 20. Can you imagine the changes you went through in those nine years? Why would we expect Miley Cyrus to stay the same?

The Lolita Phenomenon

Often these tween stars flirt with acting like a Lolita. Probably, this is a natural evolution of coming to terms with their power as a woman of beauty, attractive to men. When you are an actress or a pop star (or aspire to be one, like millions of girls) the way you look is your calling card. The thinner you are, the blonder you are, the cuter you are? The better. Hannah Montana didn’t look like an opera star diva, did she? The glorification of being pretty, being a model, being an actress: it’s one dimensional, it’s often out of your control, and even if you are the most beautiful girl in the world? Beauty fades.

Probably the most notorious Lolita of them all was Britney. No one really put herself out there in that pervy way like Britney, who at the age of 15 was wearing Catholic girl short skits, and licking lollipops. To me, she never seemed to be in control of what she was doing. In this scary interview (complete with cringe-worthy narration by some guy old enough to be her father), it seemed that she thought of her stage persona as if it was some distant out-of-body experience, and not real. Dudes ate this up, of course. Whomever was manipulating her image (I’m pretty convinced it wasn’t her, there just doesn’t seem to be a “there” there with Britney) was appealing to creepy, base instincts in grown men. And that was disturbing and gross.

“He Has the Look of a Man Finally Coming Into the Privilege He Was Sure Was His All Along.”

Mel covered the Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines” pretty well. The uncensored video features a number of listless looking models shuffling and bouncing around naked. They don’t really look like they are fully present, they look kind of drugged. The men in the video remain fully dressed, awake, aware and openly leer and fondle them.

Enter Miley Cyrus, Stage Right

SO, let’s move on to the actual performance. Here’s what struck me first of all: Miley Cyrus chose to send up the Lolita image right away, by entering stage right out of a giant stuffed teddy bear. But her stance was immediately agressive: this was no passive little girl. She was sticking out her tongue and making lewd gestures of the sort Michael Jackson used to use. She seemed in control of the performance. You can debate the merits of her dancing, her lack of rhythum, etc. But she appeared to be calling the shots and carefully choosing her moves. I’d say her dancing was kind of, well, masculine. Even in the skimpy outfit.

Then she dueted with Robin Thicke, and to me, she seemed just as agressive as he was. She seemed an equal partner in the song, singing half of it by herself. Yes she twerked, but she also grabbed him by the neck. She touched him with that foam finger. Unlike the robotic mannequins in the video, this was a woman in control of herself and her actions. Yes, she was sexualized, but in a way that had her being just as assertive as a man. Robin Thicke certainly wasn’t center stage and he wasn’t in full control like some later day Christian Grey.

In other words, she wasn’t just sitting around licking her lollipop, waiting for her prince to objectify her.

I was listening to the radio this morning, and the tiresome local shock jocks were jeering her performance. They called it a “missed opportunity” that those dreary models from Robin Thicke’s video weren’t there instead. And then they called Miley Cyrus a slut.

No one referred to Robin Thicke as a slut. Yet, how is his behavior different from Miley’s? Or, worse? “You know you want it.”

I think what really has everyone up in arms is the change of Miley Cyrus from a passive Pretty Disney Princess into a complicated woman who calls the shots, sexually.

As always, I want to know, what say you? Were you upset about the performance? If so, why? Has the response bothered you?

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Revisiting the Good Ole Days

There are two phases in my life I consider to be the “glory days.”

1. College
2. Living in London with Darcy and a group of friends straight out of How I Met Your Mother.

But, I think I have been burnishing those memories too heavily.

I’m watching Undeclared on NetFlix for the first time (it is rad and you should start binge-watching it immediately if you’ve never seen it) and it has reminded me of the bad times as well as the good. There was some stuff that was terrible for me about college. I’ll be using too many bullets, just like I did in my terrible term papers. (Which I used to stay up all night writing the night before they were due. Of course.)

THINGS THAT SUCKED ABOUT COLLEGE

– Lack of Funds. Remember running out of money three weeks before the end of semester and desperately going to the student center for a job, any job? And then taking the only position available: selling roses to people at restaurants like some very tragic character out of Les Mis? “Would you like a rose, miss?” Remember eating a can of beans for dinner? Remember driving all your friends downtown to bars and drinking water so they could pay you gas money and you could eat on weekends? Remember begging people to go to the $1 Happy Hour where you could buy a coke and eat all the free tacos and chips and salsa you could before 4:30 so you didn’t have to be there by yourself?*

I forgot. I don’t miss those times at all.

*ALLEGEDLY.

– How disgusting the dorms were. I remember gearing up to use the community showers. I wore my pretty pink robe my grandmother thoughtfully sent me. I had a pretty pink plastic basket with my shampoo and conditioner from Costco, and my pink razor and soap. I wore pink flip flops. None of these trappings of civilization mattered when I entered the shower area, only to view with horror that someone had puked all over the floor. I hope that whomever the university employed to clean our dorm was very, very well paid indeed. Like, waste management salary. College kids were pigs.

– Roommates, college boyfriends and draaaammmmmaaaaa. One of my roommates was always on the phone with her boyfriend, talking in a baby voice. (Which, no judging, except I was in the room studying and had to listen to her say “But I WUV YOU more!” A lot.) She dumped him (yay!) and immediately found a new boyfriend to use her baby voice with (boo!). Then there was the agonizing time I found out a friend’s boyfriend was cheating on her. Should I not tell her and not ruin her happiness or should I tell her so she didn’t have to live a lie? Oh, the agony of that decision. (I told her. It was awful.) Then the shoe being on the other foot and a friend having to tell ME that she knew my boyfriend had cheated on me. Oh, LORDY. THE DRAMA of college guys. College guys mostly were awful, by the way, at our fine university. Don’t go to the #2 party school in the nation if you are looking for a nice young man. Duh, younger me. DUH.

– Dorm Food. It was nasty. No question. I survived mostly on the bread, which rumor had it was bulked up with extra starch so students wouldn’t eat too much of it and this would keep costs down. This tale, oft told, was probably an urban legend, but the sourdough slices did feel like lead in my stomach.

There was a lot to love, like studying at the beach, my old metabolism, my amazing friends, the beautiful campus, the good times. My old metabolism. But it’s silly for me only to remember that stuff, which is what I tend to do.

Do you tend to romanticize peroids of your life that were great? Did you love college?

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Project Dreamcatcher: The Wrap Up

I’ve been late posting this conclusion to Project Dreamcatcher. I didn’t know how to close it up, strong. Finally, I discovered the missing link. Literally. See below for that.

My own personal goal was forced to shift shortly after I picked my project and I’ve been working on it, hard. The problem is I can’t talk about it until it’s done, so to speak. And I hate vagueblogging, so it’s been this whole weird thing that I can’t talk about.

I promise to clear the confusion up as soon as I can.

In the meantime, I want to provide you with parting inspiration to keep moving with your goal, whatever it is.

If you participated, please feel free to link in the comments, wrapping up your project and sharing what next steps are if any.

I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. Go out there and Just Do It friends! C’mon. You got this.

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Hoaxed: When Do Internet Lies Matter and When Do They Not?

Every few months, it seems, there are a few stories that come out of the depths of the Internet, go viral, then are found to be untrue.

Some examples:

Warrior Eli
Other Side of The Rainbow (Full disclosure: I sympathetically commented on that blog, and was listed on her blogroll.)

Last week, several people I know linked to a blog post from A Mother Thing, which detailed the experience of a mother, her son, a pink headband and a man dressed in camouflague who supposedly ripped said headband off the son’s head at a Wal-Mart. Awful, right? A story around this blog post then appeared on Huffington Post, and finally on BuzzFeed. On BuzzFeed (I am an embarassingly regular reader of BuzzFeed by the way. Go ahead and judge.) I noticed a number of people commenting they suspected the story wasn’t true.

We still don’t know whether the story is true. Here is what we do know, from The Ledger:

Asked Tuesday if she made up the story, (the blogger, name redacted) responded with a firm no. But she doesn’t care whether deputies find proof in the Wal-Mart surveillance footage.

‘I don’t think it will do any good,’ she said. ‘I just want it to go away.’

Now there is a new viral sensation around a despicable letter to the family of an autistic boy. And already, people are wondering: is this letter a hoax? At this point, it doesn’t seem so.

I’ve been thinking what these developments mean to bloggers and to readers of blogs. How important is the truth in writing blogs? And what should readers do if they suspect a hoax?

Truth and Blogging

Blogging is often maligned as journalism’s more uncouth cousin: unprofessional, uneducated but sometimes making sound points at a dinner table discussion. Blogging came out of online journaling (remember Live Journal?) and its roots seem firmly planted, even now, in the first person memoir experience. Many people have written dissertations about the memoir format and why it matters, but I think this quote by Gore Vidal (via Wikipedia) is a good superficial overview of the genre:

“A memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.”

I think most people would agree that most bloggers do exactly this: they write about their lives without fact checking, relying on their own memory and emotions of events to help guide them in their storytelling. Obviously, many of the stories I have told on my blog would probably be remembered differently by others involved. Blogging always reminds me of the Rashoman Effect, and the most eye-opening writing exercise I ever particpated in was the Rashoman Slumber Party, where Bodega Bliss, Stumbling Gracefully and I each recounted our own version of the same event. Our own stories of the same event were radically different.

So, blogging “truth” is probably in the eye of the beholder. But what, then, do we as bloggers owe our readers?

When people’s perceptions of events are often radically different, I think there are lines that can be crossed while telling our stories. In the case of A Mother Thing, it SEEMS the blogger in question accused a Wal-Mart customer of touching her son in a rough way (I’m being very careful with language, here, maybe a lawyer friend like Miss OhKay can help me out here.) Is this a crime? As far as I can tell, she loaded her post onto the Huffington Post platform, which indicates to me that she wanted her post to be widely read. But I must confess my general ignorance about Huffington Post. The post went viral, even appearing in The Daily Mail in the UK.

In the back of my mind, I always consider the idea that a post I am writing could go viral. It’s very unlikely, but possible. I try to write as responsibly as I can: I try not to accuse people of crimes (my father was trained to always beware of libel laws), I try not to state blatant untruths and I try to tell events as they happened, although the Rashoman Sleepover has made me aware that this may not even be possible. I have learned from bitter experience to try not to tell someone else’s story. That’s not OK. Ever.

I think all bloggers should think about this every time they hit publish. And if they want to share something that might be in a gray area, they can always password protect a post.

Do you agree with this code of conduct?

What Do Readers Owe Bloggers?

Melissa Ford published this thought-provoking post over at BlogHer about A Mother Thing, which is what prompted me to really probe my feelings about Internet hoaxes. I sometimes read blog posts that don’t quite add up. My BS meter is pretty low and I generally trust people, but if I become skeptical, I stop reading. I do what Melissa suggests: I click away. I do this in life too. Who knows why someone lies or distorts the truth? I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Like Melissa said, vitroil on the Internet IS a huge problem. One only needs to read the comments on YouTube to lose all faith in humanity.

However, I think there are two exceptions to the click away rule.

One:

I think if a reader discovers a hoax where someone is deliberately representing themselves falsely for monetary gain, then investigates and brings the fraud to light: I would argue this is a new form of investigative journalism. This isn’t really very different than when a big newspaper discovers a Nigerian email scam and writes a story about it, right?

I’m probably not going to get much disagreement on this.

Two.

The big viral stories that get play, then turn out to be patently false. We don’t know whether this is the case for A Mother Thing, but the police have found no evidence of a crime at this time. It is strange that the blogger in question wrote and then (maybe: HuffPo users, let me know about this) distributed her story on a big platform then decided she wanted it to go away. I think her story should have been investigated by the police, as it eventually was. As it is now, many doubt her.

Why does this matter? To me, it’s because of James Frey.

James Frey, the memoirist whose memior about addiction was supposedly fact-checked for accuracy by his publisher turned out to have exagerations. You can read them all, here. Probably the most notable was that Frey claimed to have been in prison for 87 days, when in fact he had been detained for mere hours.

Why did this matter? To people who suffer from the disease of addiction, Frey’s memoir had been a tool to educate friends and family about what addiction does to a person. After Oprah endorsed it, many many people (the book sold 5 million copies) who did not understand addiction had their eyes opened up to what an addict goes through and how difficult it is to rehabilitate. One could make the case that the book created public empathy for addicts. So when Frey was publicly chastised on Oprah and the book received a huge black eye, you could argue that black eye extended to his topic of addiction as well.

There are so many real life events of discrimination, assault and hate crimes. But when a viral post like the Wal-Mart headband one sweeps through, enraging then causing skepticism, it causes us to become cynical. In fact, the first thing I thought when I heard about the autism hate letter was, here we go again.

That was a lot of sentences of words, as my daughter would say, on a bunch of controversial topics. As always, I want to know what you think.

Should bloggers be aware that every post could go viral and write accordingly? Should readers be allowed to question whether posts are true?

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My Little Babies Are All Growns Up

(A virtual Dirty Martini with many olives to the first reader to correctly identify the movie my headline references.)

I remember when you were tiny, with rolls of fat on your legs. I remember that any time I took you outside, I felt like the celebrity minder for a famous duo. Never have I been on the receiving end of more attention as when I pushed your City Mini, and I proudly answered most questions (like a good publicist) about you both.

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I remember when we worried our third story walk-up with no yard in the city was no place for two active, mercurial, curious toddlers who defeated every attempt at babyproofing amateurs and professionals made. I remember the heartfelt decision to move to the suburbs, where we could give you the outdoorsy, bucoulic childhood we both had. I can remember little of this busy year, and so it is no surprise that I wasn’t even featured in the photo that year.

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I remember the year we learned you would share your lives with another sibling. I remember the day those dreams were denied and dashed. I remember I was often melancholy. I am sorry for all of that.

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I remember the year you became charming companions, no longer just babies to chase, but little people with important questions and dreams. I remember taxing my brain to answer questions about how rocket ships fly, what the government is, why God is everywhere. I remember your elaborate plays where tragedies occured but somehow everything ended well. I hoped that would always be true in your life.

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Tomorrow you will be starting Kindergarten. I love you both so very much. While you will always be my babies, I could not be more proud of who you both are becoming: smart, strong, independent and kind children.

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May you florish and grow as you enter the next passage of your lives.

Your loving mother.

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