Monthly Archives: July 2009

Food Inc.’s Blind Spot

I fixated on the carrera marble backsplash of Eric Scholsser’s kitchen throughout Food Inc., even though only a few scenes were shot in his kitchen. I sincerely admire the muckraking work of Fast Food Nation, and Scholsser changed how I eat, as did Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. But as I intimated in another post, the elitism that marks the reception of their books– I believe I called this, inelegantly, the “whole fart smelling aspect of it”– puts me off. I don’t believe the books themselves necessarily lean in this elitist direction, but the uses of the book do. I liked aspects of Food Inc., as a film can capture image in a visceral way that is difficult for a book to replicate. I would challenge anyone to catch a glimpse of a typical Tyson chicken house and then eat a Tyson chicken. That is, if they can afford to make that choice. The central thrust of Food Inc is that real food costs more, and we should be willing to pay more. The people who can’t may more? I found that the film demurred on that point, and at moments, like in the trophy kitchen shots, appeared totally clueless. People with money telling everyday folks to spend more on food seems really nutty to me. And I found and still find myself hoping that future work aimed at challenging the food industry and consumption habits could show people how to alter their diets for the better while spending the same amount of money at the grocery store. At this point, it seems to me that a good batch of bean recipes would have a broader political impact than the entire film. If we aren’t coupling muckraking with viable solutions, what are we doing but talking to each other, and patting ourselves and our heritage pork on the back for it?




Filed under Uncategorized

Sotomayor ‘unflappable’? Quelle suprise.

I’ve been feeling for a while that I was going to have to blog about the whole Sotomayor debacle, but I was really hoping I could avoid it. It’s kind of like feeling like you might have to throw up; you know you’ll feel better afterward, but you still would prefer not to. Even thinking about the “She’s not a white man and therefore she can’t be ‘impartial'” line of Republican argument as applied to Sotomayor makes me so furious that I can’t stand to contemplate it for more than about 12 seconds. News flash: white men are still the unchallenged universal, and since they stand for the whole world, there is of course nothing they can do that isn’t “impartial”! Even their most bigoted and wing-nut actions and theories get to stand in as logical assessments for the good of the universe, while Sotomayor’s judgments are the “passionate” acts of a fiery Latina who can only see from her “narrow” perspective (which consists of the desire to punish white men). Coming from money and going to Harvard like your grand-dad apparently gives you unparalleled and uninflected access to all views of all issues–because the view from the projects doesn’t count anyway.

Even the most seemingly positive accounts of Sotomayor’s conduct seem unable to escape falling into this sort of (non)thinking. The New York Times today marveled that Sotomayor left behind her “passion” and remained “unflappable” in the face of small-minded badgering by Republican senators. That she was able to do so seems to be put down to appropriate “coaching”, as if it never would have occurred to her to act this way on her own. Does the NYT seriously think that this is the first time Sotomayor’s had to face this kind of reaction to her accomplishments and ambitions? I would guess that the journey of a Latina from the Bronx to Supreme Court confirmation hearings has been littered with these sorts of slurs–and that she wouldn’t have made it as far as she has had she not found a way not to react “passionately” to everyone who treated her like an undeserving interloper. The audience this time is bigger, but I would bet money that the comments aren’t the worst she’s heard.

If Sotomayor is confirmed, her place on the Court will be celebrated as a sign of the continuing progress of American race, class and gender relations–as if this whole sick drama surrounding her ability to think rather than feel, reason rather than react, didn’t happen. But the real story of American race, class and gender relations is in the drama, the seemingly unavoidable need everyone from the senators to the press has to air their unconscious (or conscious) and abhorrent fantasies about people who deviate from the white-male universal standard and still expect to play a leading role in the government of this country. If anyone ever thought that Obama’s election said anything promising about the decline of that standard–I’m pretty sure I did, for about twenty minutes on election night–this spectacle provides an inescapable corrective.


Leave a comment

Filed under mainstream media, Supreme Court, Uncategorized, women, work

HBO’s cliched attempt at making pimping cool

Equal opportunity pimpin'?

Equal opportunity pimpin'?

With women being lured to foreign countries for a life of prostitution, children abducted for both sex & labor, and men trafficked for profit, are we really supposed to be buy into HBO’s new show about a white guy who becomes a gigolo?

This latest attempt to use the unlikely-candidate-for-life-of-crime narrative, to me, signals this particular genre jumping the shark. From Breaking Bad to Weeds to Nurse Jackie (Edie Falco is always worth watching, I must admit), this idea that there are some people we don’t expect to commit crimes, but it’s cool when they do, is seriously played out. Double X reviews: I concur.

But to then ask viewers, or web cruisers, to participate in pimping the main character of the HBO show HUNG merely continues the sad recuperation of pimping (i.e. the exploitation of another person for financial gain) evident in pop culture artefacts, such as Pimp My Ride or the hipster valorization of Iceberg Slim novels.

And don’t try to give me that, “Pimping doesn’t mean pimping. Pimping is a way of life.” I barely buy Katt Williams’ definition of pimping and I like him, so don’t even try it. But enjoy a little edumacation from Katt anyway…

1 Comment

Filed under feminism, mainstream media, TV, work

Note to Liberal Media: STFU about Sarah Palin Already

Joan Walsh has yet another article on Salon today about the many lies Sarah Palin has been telling lately, and Rachel Maddow spent a good part of her broadcast on Tuesday deconstructing the bizarre illogic Palin has used to defend her actions this time around. It’s nice to see someone else express the teeth-grinding frustration I feel when listening to Palin say things that are patently untrue to the applause of her countless fans.

But at this point, I wonder if we’re playing a losing game when we subject Palin’s nonsense to the sort of rigorous analysis one might use on genuine political discourse. I’m not suggesting that if we ignore her, she’ll go away. But I am starting to think that picking apart her language as if anyone expected it to actually make sense raises her statements to the level of thoughtful contributions to an informed discussion, when that’s neither what they are nor what they are intended to be–nor why they have the power to move her constituency. It’s not they’re stooping to her level, more that they’re raising her to the level liberals tend to associate with democratic discourse. The more the policy wonks dissect the minutiae of her statements, the more weight is given to the idea that she is making a reasoned or thoughtful contribution to political debate.

Perhaps more crucially, not one of these critiques will make a bit of difference to her many supporters, since any attack on her untruthfulness or illogic will simply be put down as ‘elitism’ anyway. Of course, this view of her as an ignoramus is part of how she presents herself as a victim: ‘Poor me, the liberal media will never give me any credit.’ But the fact is, she doesn’t need the media to give her credit, just airtime, and that’s exactly what even the most disparaging accounts of her behavior continue to do.

If liberals must discuss and deconstruct Palin–and given that she apparently garners viewers/readers at the moment, the media is probably not going to stop following her every move–they would do better to show up as propaganda the things that Palin actually depends on for her support, which seem to have nothing to do with logic and everything to do with identification. What I have heard from Palin supporters is mostly celebrations of her likeness to them, particularly those class, region and religion markers that made her so ‘different’ and ‘surprising’ as a candidate to the mainstream: her folksy accent, her motherhood of a giant brood, her supposed Christian sense of service, her state-college degree, her waders. (And to be fair, progressive supporters of Obama did the same thing, announcing that he was ‘one of us’ even as his centrist tendencies and compulsive need to compromise were always evident to anyone looking closely.)

Part of the reason this persona is so powerful is that it isn’t one we see on the national stage very often–despite W’s attempts to seem like just one of the born-again folks rather than a silver-spooned Yalie whose daddy got him a job. And metropolitan and class elitism does play a foundational and highly problematic role in our government. So if it’s Palin’s persona rather than her plans or promises that is the major draw, the best attack is not on the persona–which would simply underscore the very elitist assumptions she relies on for her victim status–but the fact that she sullies and travesties that persona, using regional, rural, working-class associations cynically for her own advancement, in a way that does a disservice to everyone who identifies with her.



Filed under mainstream media, Sarah Palin

Being cute at trans-expense

Siriano: rebuked and repentant for tranny mess

Siriano: rebuked and repentant for "tranny mess"

We all make excuses for our behavior, particularly if we know we’re being just plain wrong. Whether under the guise of being ironic or sassy, I’ll cop to some jokes that I’d rather not be known as part of my public repertoire (except for anything to do with Sarah Palin because I really do hate that skank). I call it “political backsliding.”

In the church tradition I grew up in and have since renounced, backsliders were those who’d been baptized in the blood of the lamb, but were not being vigilant about how they trod the path to heaven. I think backsliders can always return prodigal-like to the fold. I’ve appropriated the concept and applied it to the discriminatory things I think (often) and say outloud (sometimes and in select company). Initially, I chalked it up to feeling confined by feminism: women, not girls! People of color, not minorities! Oriental is a style of home furnishings, not people! I felt like I was in a straightjacket of propriety, but unwilling to blame political correctness (which I think it an utterly bullshit way people try to continue with foul behavior).

However, it wasn’t feminism that was confining me, but that I was confining feminism and any other political struggle that tried to transform our social and political landscapes. Sure, there are some annoying doctrinaire edicts around language, but I voluntarily signed on to feminist ideology. What I was rebelling against was my own interpretation of feminism and what it should mean for my life.

So, I’m coming back to the fold language-wise and trying to get myself in check.  Sorry to be all “everything I need to know I learned in kindergardten,” but rather than constricting my free speech, I’m actually valuing the fact that my words have power to hurt other people even if “I really don’t mean it” or think I’m being hipster-cool and in-the-know.

This article from Feministe on trans-phobia and non-transpeople using the word “tranny” made me re-think some things. Lengthy for a blog post, but a good reality check. Can I get an amen?

Leave a comment

Filed under feminism, race, Sarah Palin, sexism