Friday, October 23, 2009

Reviewing Eating the Dinosaur

Eating the Dinosaur
Published: Oct. 20, 2009

Chuck Klosterman, depending on your opinion, is either a brilliant and hilarious cultural critic or a self-indulgent and trivial asshole. His latest book, Eating the Dinosaur, will only seek to magnify the opinion you hold of him.

I happen to be one of those people that thinks Klosterman is the former. But this is probably because after reading Fargo Rock City, I’ve come to believe he and I had roughly identical childhood experiences. And if Klosterman and I are so similar, I could never admit that he’s an asshole. It’s true that he tended to gloss over the sexism of metal when writing, City, his fanboy manifesto on the genre, but I’m willing to forgive it since Mötley Crüe played a similarly important role in my teenage years.

Dinosaur incidentally doesn’t actually contain anything about dinosaurs and is Klosterman at the peak of what he does best: writing rambling yet pointedly funny essays on pop culture and news events. The topics in Dinosaur range from Mad Men to NBA giant1 Ralph Sampson to ABBA to the siege at Waco, Texas to Garth Brooks to the Unabomber to a meta analysis of the concept of the interview. There definitely isn’t a plot, a unifying theme, or even a question that Klosterman sets himself up to answer. But he does carry the reader on a rather entertaining and thought-provoking journey through some of the key components of culture today. Some are enlightening, others are silly, but they are all entertaining.

In short, reading this book is roughly what I believe sitting with Klosterman for several hours at the bar would be like. Klosterman, if you’re reading this, I’ll buy the next round.

8 out of 10 bets that Klosterman drinks Budwiser non-ironically

1. In this case, the word "giant" should be applied to Sampson in the literal sense. His NBA performance was ultimately disappointing thanks to his injuries, but the man was 7-foot-4.

Part of Campus Progress' weekly Under Review roundup.

YAF Calls for Liberals to Enlist, Stays Home to Fight 'the Battle of Ideas'

I'm really trying to back off of making fun of Young America's Foundation. Honestly. But sometimes they make it just too easy. Take, for instance, the poll they put up on their site this week:


Yes, you're reading that correctly. The poll question is, "Why haven't Obama's youth brigades signed up for military service?" The options to answer are, "They prefer telling others how to live their lives," "They are chicken hawks," "They are just chickens," and "All of the above." (The current winning answer, by the way? It's D, winning at 63 percent.)

The question is first of all weird because Obama didn't actually campaign on going to war. In fact, he campaigned on the idea of getting out of Iraq. Furthermore, some on the left are growing impatient with Afghanistan and continuing to protest the U.S. presence there.

But the implication here is obvious. YAF seems to believe that Real Americans ™ enlist in the military when their president is in power. But if that's true, then why did Jason Mattera, YAF spokesman, insist that he didn't need to enlist in the military because he was busy "fighting the battle of ideas"? Watch it:

Cross posted.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

‘Untrustworthy’ (Read: Black) Students Banned from Chicago Bar

Six black students from Washington University on a senior trip were denied admission to a bar in Chicago because the manager said their "baggy jeans" violated a code. The Student Life newspaper at Wash U has done a good job of covering the story, and has a summary of what happened:
Washington University seniors on their class trip accused a Chicago nightclub of racial discrimination over the weekend, protesting nearby after the club allegedly denied entry to six black male students because of their race. “I think it’s because we were a group of predominantly black men and they felt threatened,” said senior Blake Jones, one of the students who was not allowed into the bar. About 200 Washington University seniors were attending Mother’s Night Club Original bar on Saturday night as part of their class trip to Chicago, sponsored by the Senior Class Council. According to Senior Class President Fernando Cutz, the six black students were told they would not be allowed in because of their failure to comply with the bar’s “baggy jeans” policy. A few white students who had already been admitted then came out to demonstrate that their jeans were more “baggy,” but the black students were still denied admission. The six students offered to change their clothes, but the bar manager still refused to allow them in. The white students were allowed to return.

I blogged about a related situation at Morehouse, in which the school claimed they wanted to outlaw "sagging," or pants worn low enough so that undergarments are revealed. In that post, I also placed a photo of a dress code policy of a bar in Grand Forks, N.D. that said anyone wearing "excessively long shirts" and "flat caps" would be refused service. Many of these policies target a style that is predominantly worn by young black men.

A clever person might be able to argue that the policies themselves aren't racist – they just so happen to target a group of people that is predominantly black. But go back and take a look again at that photo I took of the bar in Grand Forks prohibited FUBU specifically, a clothing line that was designed for and by black people as a response to the marketing of Nike and other companies that were designed by white people. Southpole is a clothing line founded by Korean Americans, and G Unit is 50 Cent's clothing line. None of the designers called out are white, and all of them market their lines to minorities.

Weirdly enough, outlawing overly baggy jeans is kind of outdated – Not only has the "baggy jeans" look become standard for black and white men (and sometimes women) today, but "hip hop style" has moved from Kris Kross-era bagginess to a more fitted kind of jeans. Such policies almost seem to be created by a white person who has a stereotype of a black person that is 10 years old.

The interesting thing about the students from Wash U is that the bar definitely seemed to selectively enforce its policies – the student paper reported that other white students with baggy jeans weren't kicked out. Furthermore, the manager called the students "untrustworthy," according to a press release sent to Campus Progress by the president of the Association of Black Students at Wash U, Tiffany Johnson.

The press release also noted that more than 170 students participated in a 15-minute protest on Sunday morning outside Mother's. Johnson noted that Wash U students plan a second protest in November, presumably to be larger in scale.

The instance of banning black students from a bar in Chicago – and its subsequent fallout – is a harsh reminder that race relations are still a touchy subject in this country.

Cross posted.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Woman's Nation: CAP Report on Working Women

Today [Campus Progress'] parent organization, the Center for American Progress, is hosting a series of panels and speakers to coincide with the release of its report, The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation. Maria Shriver, daughter of Eunice Kennedy Shriver (brother to President John F. Kennedy), wrote an essay in this week's Time magazine to bring attention to something that was happening quietly for years. It is no longer an anomaly that women are working. Today, more than two-thirds of families either have a woman as the sole breadwinner or women who are part of dual income households. Still, women make between two-thirds and three-quarters of what their male counterparts make.


For some of us who grew up in homes where our moms worked (like me) this is hardly surprising. Women have been taking place in the working world for some time now. But although we have a federal law that allows for family leave, employers can decide whether or not that leave is paid. Although it is no longer legal to fire a woman for getting pregnant (or not hire her because she could become pregnant someday), paid maternity leave is still not required by law. In other words, women still get the short end of the stick.

The report includes pieces from awesome feminsts like CAP's own Heather Boushey, Feministing's Courtney Martin, and marriage expert Stephanie Coontz.

Cross posted.

Morehouse Bans 'Women's Garb' in Public


Inside Higher Ed reports that Morehose has gotten serious about its status as an "elite" historically black college. (Full disclosure: Campus Progress once held a regional conference on Morehouse's campus.) They have adopted a dress code that encourages its students to be "well read, well spoken, well traveled, well dressed and well balanced." As a single-sex instiution that has an all-female counterpart, Spellman, Morehouse created a policy so their men will be "well dressed":

  • Caps, do-rags and hoods are banned in classrooms, the cafeteria and other indoor venues. Do-rags may not be worn outside of the residence halls.
  • Sunglasses may not be worn in class or at formal programs.
  • Jeans may not be worn at major programs such as convocation, commencement or Founder's Day.
  • Clothing with "derogatory, offensive and/or lewd messages either in words or pictures" may not be worn.
  • "Sagging," defined as "the wearing of one’s pants or shorts low enough to reveal undergarments or secondary layers of clothing," is banned.
  • Pajamas are banned in public areas.
  • Wearing of "clothing associated with women’s garb (for example, dresses, tunics, purses, handbags, pumps, wigs, make-up, etc.)" is banned.

Understandably, LGBT students are protesting the policy. The administration claims this policy isn't about its LGBT students and is instead focused on "all students," saying that Morehouse is supportive of its LGBT students. But Morehouse's site doesn't list LGBT as groups that students can get involved with on campus, instead favoring "Greek life" and "athletics."

The policy sets a standard of what "well dressed" means without taking into account students that may not identfy with this particular type of dress. Even students that don't identify as falling outside of gender norms may have problems with the school's effort to restrict other clothing items that are popular at other HBCUs.

(The photo above was one I took at a bar in Grand Forks, N.D. that banned certain types of clothing, supposedly to prevent "gang members" from entering the establishment.)

Cross posted.

Recognizing Gay Marriage, If Not Allowing It in California


Yesterday Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed a bill in California that would recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Other states, including the non-state District of Columbia, have begun recognizing same-sex marriages in other states. For many states, it becomes a way of supporting LGBT marriage rights if it's not politically possible to pass same-sex marriage in their own state. This is certainly good news for LGBT rights in California.

Cross posted.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Conservative Guide to Economics

YAF Road to Feedom
Young America's Foundation, like many other groups on the right, is taking up the moniker of freedom as a veil for opposing progressive economic reforms. The organization is holding an event at their Reagan Ranch home on the "road to freedom: selling your freedom to government in the era of Obama." They're billing seven old white dudes to teach you about economics. Sounds riveting.

You could watch it all live on U Stream tomorrow, but -- well -- we're guessing you'd rather not. Instead, I've summarized what each of the sessions will be about:

Lecture: Rabbi Daniel Lapin, President, Toward Tradition, "Restoring America's Respect for the Morality of the Free-Market"
CliffsNotes: Seriously, guys. It wasn't free market that destroyed the world economy. It's because the market wasn't free enough.

Lecture: John Fund, Editorial Board Member with the Wall Street Journal, "Reaganomics vs. Obamanomics"
CliffsNotes: Reaganomics are better.

Lecture: Tibor Machan Ph.D., Professor, Chapman University, "Liberty: Pessimistic and Optimistic Assessments"
CliffsNotes: Sure the economy is going to hell, but let's be optimistic. The rich will still be rich.

Lecture: Reagan Ranch Roundtable: John Fund, Editor, Wall Street Journal, "A Visitors Guide to an Alien Planet: Washington, D.C."
CliffsNotes: Did you know that Washington is full of lobbyists? Also we upped our cool factor by referencing science fiction. Get it?

Lecture: Kirby Wilbur, Foundation Director and Seattle Talk Show Host, "Ronnie and Me"
CliffsNotes: In case we didn't already mention it and you didn't get it from the fact that we're hosting this event on Ronald Reagan's sacred ranch, we just wanted to reiterate that Ronald Reagan was awesome.

Lecture: Lawrence Reed, President, Foundation for Economic Education, "Great Myths of the Great Depression"
CliffsNotes: The Great Depression didn't exist. Even if it did, FDR totally wasn't the one that fixed it.

Lecture: Ivan Pongracic, Professor, Hillsdale College, "The Lessons of the Great Recession: The Limits of Knowledge in Economics and The Case for De-politicization of the Economy"
CliffsNotes: Conservative, free market economics are the only real economics.

Cross posted.

The Tina Fey Backlash Begins

Tonight is the season four premiere of Tina Fey's critically acclaimed and Emmy award-winning show 30 Rock. Feminist blogs have salivated over a smart and funny feminist like Tina Fey experiencing success as a TV writer, a field in which women are severely underrepresented. TV critics at the New York Times and USA Today are not impressed.

Alessandra Stanley writes in the Times that the problem with 30 Rock is Tina Fey herself:

When they star in their own semiautobiographical television shows, the best comedians play an exaggerated caricature of themselves, notably Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but also Ray Romano on “Everybody Loves Raymond” and Bill Cosby on “The Cosby Show.”

Ms. Fey isn’t as convincing, or as funny, playing Liz Lemon, perhaps because the hapless single head writer of a late-night sketch comedy show doesn’t track as a comic distortion of Ms. Fey. She has surrounded Liz with a menagerie of wonderfully silly and original characters and is reluctant to play their straight man. Liz’s foibles — she dresses badly, is a junk-food glutton, can’t get a date — are the kind of flaws that thin, beautiful actresses affect because they think it makes them more approachable. None of those traits seem natural to Ms. Fey or plausible for Liz.


Ms. Fey plays a satirical version of herself and seems miscast in the part.

Stanley's critique is almost nonsensical. She seems first to be saying that Fey is too "real" to be around such silly comedic characters (presumably like Tracy Morgan's Tracy Jordan), yet her exaggerated characteristics are "affectations" that are unbelievable when played by her. If only Tina Fey's comedy didn't star that annoying Tina Fey, Stanley seems to be saying.

Admittedly, I haven't seen the screener these TV critics were privy to. Perhaps season four of 30 Rock won't be all that great. But I find the criticism that Fey isn't entitled to play a comedic version of herself in a series written by her when Larry David, Ray Romano, and Bill Cosby are a little odd. And why suddenly come to this realization now? Has Fey somehow become less "herself" since season one?

But I've been a watcher of 30 Rock recently even if I wouldn't count myself a huge fan. I find some of the commentary of Fey in a management position as a woman smarter and funnier than anything else on TV today. And I've always found Lemon's struggle to deal with the exaggerated characters on 30 Rock to be more of a commentary on what it's like to manage a group of actors, writers, and comedians.

Maybe season four is suffering a slump, but many comedies do as they move from the new hot thing to more established comedies. It seems weird to blame that on Fey's portrayal of Liz Lemon.

Cross posted.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Horrifying Serena Williams Thread


This Friday Serena Williams will appear on newsstands naked. She's posing for the cover of ESPN's body issue. Although I'm generally a little squeamish about the commodification of women's bodies that comes with the naked woman on the cover (magazines often use it to boost newsstand sales). But I couldn't help but feel a little happy that for once the naked woman was a beautiful, curvy, dark-skinned woman. All too often the women that pose naked on magazine covers all look the same: bronzed white women that look freakishly thin. But on Just Jared goes ahead and askes the problematic question, "Hot or Not?"

Some of the answers are wonderful. They mention how empowering it is for women to see a healthy black woman on the cover of a magazine.

Many comments pointed out that the cover was probably Photoshopped. Well, duh. Every commercial image we see has gone through Photoshop. France is even considering a law requiring that advertisements that are Photoshopped carry a "health warning."

But there are some comments that are pretty horrifying:

Cross posted.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Whipping the Sexism Out of Whip It's Box Office Numbers

"Whip It"
Apparently Whip It, starring Drew Berrymore and Ellen Page, didn't do so great at the Box Office last weekend, pulling in about $4.9 million. The male-dominated cast of Zombieland dominated, trouncing all other movies with $24.7 million last weekend. (To be fair, zombies are amazing.) But critics say Whip It is a pretty good film. It's getting 81 percent over at Rotten Tomatoes, just 8 points behind Zombieland.

Over at NPR, Linda Holmes doesn't understand why the film is doing so poorly. "Not only is it touching and funny and a rollicking good time, but it's a movie that rarely finds its way to the multiplex -- it's a sports movie about a team of women, it's got a cast chosen mostly for suitability and not perceived hotness, and it's warmly funny but almost wisecrack-free," she writes.

Box office numbers do matter, though. Melissa Silverstein, who writes the blog Women & Hollywood writes, "I am seriously sad." Many people viewed Whip It and Jennifer's Body (Diablo Cody's adventure into feminist horror fimmmaking) as the rise of the film starring young women. "So now we won’t have movies about older women and we won’t have movies about younger women," Silverstein writes. "Great."

As Silverstein has noted often, films that star women are few and far between. And films that do star women (and are directed by women) become "underperforming films," Silverstein writes, though they are often produced on small budgets so they still usually make a profit, even if they don't do so hot at the box office. And that's not to say that Whip It won't do well eventually. It might. After all, Julie & Julia, the Julia Child/blogger biopic, is still raking in a reasonable amount of money (outperforming, ahem, G.I. Joe) even though it came out over the summer. And as I recall Juno wasn't an instant hit either. Many word-of-mouth films don't have a smash opening weekend but end up performing well overall because the public wants to see it after hearing from a friend that it's good.

Silverstein has done a phenomenal job of pointing out that there just aren't enough films written by, directed by, or starring women coming out of Hollywood. The problem is, Hollywood executives will look at a film that didn't take top spot at the box office produced by women, even if it ultimately ends up making a profit, and assume that it performed poorly it's because it was produced by women. Then they'll back fewer films directed by women. It's a bad cycle.

Worst of all, people are starting to put Whip It and Jennifer's Body in the same category. Because, um, I guess we have to put all women-produced films in the same category? That's like putting Drag Me to Hell in the same category as The Hangover. I guess they are lumping the two together because they're both "female empowerment" films. God, that's horrifying.

It's useless to look at Whip It in a vacuum. If there were gender parity in the films that Hollywood produced, I think you'd end up seeing that films directed by women "underperform" at about the same rate as male-produced films. It would be nice if feminism didn't have to put all of its eggs in one basket every time a film is written by, directed by, or stars women. As it is now, as a feminist, I feel like I failed because I didn't block out time to see Whip It this weekend. I plan to see it soon, but because I didn't see it on opening weekend, my voting dollars somehow count less.

But let's be clear about one thing: Hollywood produces a ton of crap every year that doesn't take a top spot at the box office on opening weekend. Much of it is produced by men. But Hollywood still produces crap produced by men. Hollywood execs shouldn't look at films like Whip It as failures because they're directed by and star women. Looking at Whip It as an indicator of whether women's films can and should succeed is dangerous business and downright silly. Let's hope movie executives realize that.

Cross posted.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...