Monday, July 22, 2013

10 ways I fail at the internet.

My dear friend Chelsea's mom, Teresa, brought to my attention the other day that I have been shamefully negligent of my blog in recent months. The Electric Feast is fully to blame for this, and I have already filed a complaint with editors Joe Delaney and Charles Moak. Expect a full apology soon. Regardless, not updating my blog is just one of many ways in which I consistently fail at being a 21st century digital girl. So, Teresa, and anyone else out there kind enough to have bookmarked or otherwise invested their time into my blog, I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me. Here's a list of other ways in which I'm terrible at this whole internet thing.

10 drafts. Never a
good sign.
1. Email regularly gets the best of me. It is no exaggeration to estimate that 95% of the time when I say I'm attaching something to an email, I forget to actually attach it -- even when Gmail reminds me. About 50% of the time, I save an email as a draft instead of sending it, and then wonder why the other person isn't responding. When they inevitably follow up with a "what gives?" message a week later, I realize that I, in fact, am the douchebag who didn't respond, not the other way around.

2. I never have fewer than ten tabs open. Hard as I try to reduce the noise in my browser, next thing I know I have 30 things queued up to read. Eventually, to my great relief, the browser just crashes and I get to start afresh. My friend Avery Holton has done research on the fact that using the old fashioned computer with its unending browser tabs and unconstrained access to the whole world wide web at once (as opposed to using a more limited mobile device platform) basically slowly drives you insane with information overload. Okay, maybe he didn't say "drives you insane," but in my experience, that's pretty much what happens. Don't even get me started about all the crap on my desktop.

3. I forget to respond to comments. I always hope people don't think I'm super self-centered because they respond to my facebook status updates and I never say anything back. It's the worst when they ask questions. I usually see it on my phone or something and think, "I'm terrible at typing on this mobile device. I'll answer later." Then I don't respond. Ever. It's not that I don't want to. It's that I can't remember anything that happened more than five minutes ago.

4. I disappear for days at a time. One day I post all day long, seemingly without ceasing, and then I'm gone for three days with no explanation. The explanation is probably that either I am now catching up on the responsibilities I neglected while tweeting all day, or that I'm overstimulated from all the interaction and going into introversion mode to recover.

5. I don't ever check FB messages. Unless I'm specifically expecting one, or someone posts on my wall to tell me they sent one, or, I dunno, I just randomly happen to notice I have one, they just sit there. At this point, Facebook has stopped trying to keep track. It just tells me I have 99+ unread messages in my inbox.

I need to know these facts
so I can butcher them
at parties.
6. I lose hours of productivity to Cracked, The Oatmeal, and Buzzfeed. Not as much on the latter anymore 'cause one can only read so many lists about things we're all supposed to relate to before nostalgia stops feeling nostalgic and starts feeling more like a chorus of that guy in your class who stagnated after high school and can't stop reliving the glory days. Cracked, however, is a black hole of interesting but ultimately useless information that I can read all day, usually retaining very little of what I've read so that when I try to recount it to someone else, I end up having to tell them, "Eh, just look it up. It's funny."

7. I read things that are sure to put me on government watch-lists. As my chum Allison, everyone on Twitter, and host Josh Mankiewicz all know, I'm kind of obsessed with Dateline. But my macabre fixation doesn't end there. I will read about serial killers on Crime Library into the wee hours of the night. I know everything there is to know about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Timothy McVeigh, and David Berkowitz. I have heavily researched the practices of the FLDS, the Manson Family, and the Branch Davidians. I'm not one of those groupies who actually LIKE these people. You won't find me walking around in a #freejahar t-shirt (no seriously. That's a thing. Gross). I just have a fascination with the darker side of the human experience. I assume the NSA has a dedicated satellite for my antics.

8. I sleep-facebook. It would be best if I slept with my phone on the other side of the room, but then my friends would miss out on cryptic/unintelligible messages like this:
Yeah, have fun deciphering that one, sleep message recipient.

9. I save unnecessary photos to my computer. What am I really gonna do with a photo of Barack Obama making faces at a baby, or of Karl Urban pointing a finger gun at the camera? Not to mention that I don't put them in a specific folder, so I have to constantly redownload the things that I DO use frequently. I can only imagine how many times I've downloaded the gif of Orson Welles clapping or the one of Neil Patrick Harris dancing with Elmo.
Obviously, I need this saved 6 times in my "downloads" file.
10. I forget about instant messages. This is why I keep my chat boxes and what-not turned off. Someone's like, "Hi!" I'm like, "Hey!" They're like, "How's life?" I'm like, ::silence:: Not only do I find keeping up with text-based conversations happening in real-time super exhausting, but I am also super easily distracted. And, as we've discussed, I have no less than ten tabs open. The second I navigate away from that facebook tab while waiting for the other person to type their response, I forget I was ever chatting. It's immediate. You might as well hang out with Cleverbot. It's a way better conversationalist.

Till next time, friends, find me on the Feast. I fail way less over there.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Letters to other drivers.

Dear Lexus/Mercedes/BMW/mid-life-crisis-car Driver,
Nobody thinks you deserve to get places faster than we do just 'cause your car is shinier and has more toys in it. I'm sure you're a real big deal at Jerkface & Associates, but when you tailgate and swerve around the rest of us, we have this uncanny ability to band together as one body to stop you from getting where you want to go. Test it.

Dear giant truck tailgating me with your headlights practically inside my back window,
There are 37 people in front of me going the same speed. Unless you are actually a monster truck--which is really the only legitimate reason a truck should be that enormous--and you plan to just roll over all those other cars, I suggest you back up off.

Dear people who use the shoulder as a lane,
The shoulder is not a lane.

Dear person who's clearly trying to get over but refuses to slow down, speed up, or use a blinker,
Yeah, I see you. I'm ignoring you. Say please.

Dear refined human being with the same Jurassic Park sticker as me,
What's the hand signal for "nice job having the same Jurassic sticker as me?" I would give you that hand signal right now.

Dear Oregon driver, 
55mph is more like a guideline. Also, I know driving is a nervewracking ordeal and solidarity always makes one feel better, but please stop pacing me. I bet you go to the bathroom in groups, too, huh?

Dear teenager texting w/ your phone in your lap after dark,
Unless you happen to be radioactive, I think the highway patrol's gonna be able to figure out why your face appears to be emanating light.


Dear person who got to the stop sign ten seconds before I did,
You do not have to wait for me to pull up and come to a full and complete stop before you cross the intersection. 

Dear minivan driver,
I know your blindspots are huge. Why do you not know that? 

Dear old lady on the 5S ramp last week,
You are not a bicycle. We do not share a lane. Single file. 

Dear motorcyclists,
Whatever happened to that two-finger "thanks for not killing me" courtesy wave we used to get for making room for you in the lane during traffic? 

Dear open truck full of gardening and/or construction equipment,
That setup is precarious and I have seen Final Destination. Tie that crap down.
Nailed it.

Dear selfish driver with the Jesus fish on the bumper,
You're making us all look bad. Please promptly replace with a Nickelback sticker.

Dear person going 65 in the carpool lane,
Just because you can use carpool, it doesn't mean you should.

Dear car with the DVD playing for the kids in the backseat,
Hey, slow down. I'm trying to figure out what you're watching.

Best, Sincerely, Yours Truly, etc.,

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

To properly mourn for Boston

This post is comprised of my thoughts immediately following the bombing at the Boston Marathon. For once, I've decided not to censor myself. If you're offended by swearing, navigate away now. This is not an uplifting post. It felt like everyone was quick with a sermon, especially out here on the west coast, where Boston feels as far away as Baghdad to a lot of folks. It was tragic, yes, but everyone found some nice moral of the story. Something triumphant. That's all good and well and necessary, but sometimes you've gotta process the horror before jumping straight into the silver lining.

It always seems insensitive for the sun to shine when terrible things are happening.

Today was a gorgeous day. One for the books, I swear. And yet.

It took me weeks to cry about 9/11, but today the tears came easy. Something about it all. Maybe the streets I've walked time and time again. Remember the ghost tour? The ghosts were centuries old that night (and you remember how I couldn't watch you hang), but now new spectres linger.

The man with both legs blown to hell. My God. So much blood. In all my thumbing through archives of Northern Ireland, I've never seen so much blood. The goddamn bones sticking straight out like broken fenceposts. Last week it was Kevin Ware, but that seems frivolous. I said, "I've seen a lot of people's shinbones lately" and I laughed, but I wasn't really laughing. Fuck. I wasn't really laughing, Boston. 

You ever seen your home torn apart? The place you hold responsible for the core of who you are? Jesus. And I mean it: Jesus. Where are you? I know you're here, but where are you? 

I didn't know till today that Patriots' Day was our thing. I just thought, hey, California, they're lazy. They're detached. They don't know a thing about Paul Revere. Not that I'm a big patriot myself. The way I see it, all patriotism does is divide. "Patriotism is what you do. Propaganda is what the other guy does." But that's not the point. The point is…. I don't know. There is no point. THERE IS NO POINT. I keep asking the same questions What in the world exists that is worth killing for? Who in the world that is worth killing for would ask you to? 

That guy with his legs blown to hell. My God. The eight year old kid. Dead. My God. There is no point to this. 

I normally have something affirming to say. I have nothing.  

I don't care if the bomber is white or brown or green. I don't care about civil liberties and false flags. I care about LIFE. Human life. I care about…. God help us. I care about people whose loved ones won't come home. I care about men and women who will never again walk or throw a baseball or give a high five. You're standing at the end of a race, cheering people on, and then your limbs are tossed along the street like candy on a parade route. My God, my God. Someone pull the plug on this macabre parade. 

And yet life, to quote my favorite movie at perhaps an inappropriate time, finds a way. And we claw our way back from unspeakable evil like a phoenix rising from the ashes of unimaginable despair. While blood stains the pavement not so far from where Crispus Attucks took his last breath, still we rise. The home of the Idiots. The resting place of Old Ironsides. Still we rise.

I guess there's some silver lining in there somewhere--in looking for the helpers--but I hate to overemphasize it. Because someone's missing their baby tonight, and no triumph of the human spirit can dull that ache. I find it hard to declare victory over terror while the undertaker digs, digs, digs and people cry for lives lost or forever changed. If it were my mother/father/son/daughter/sister/brother/cousin/friend, how helpful could these platitudes be? When they died arbitrarily for nothing but a grudge, a whim, a grievance, a something-unknown. They lost life or limb(s) not because of any guilt on their part, but because they idly stood in the wrong place at the wrong time; because they decided to wait a minute before getting a drink of water or shuffling off into a quiet corner to call a friend. 

I am no pessimist, but it is worth saying, I think, that it's no one's obligation to be a martyr. And while we celebrate the resilience of Boston and the American spirit, we should also tear our garments for those who truly paid for this moment of unity. I have hope, I have love, I have abundant faith. But  the pain of empathy cuts deep in me and I wish, as if wishing could turn back the hands of time, that the enduring spirit of the American people were not so often tested; that a bunch of batshit crazy people ran 26 miles for fun and that was the batshit craziest thing that happened on April 15, 2013.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Corrigan's Guide to Not Being Obnoxious on Facebook

Social networking can be a beautiful thing. It allows us to maintain friendships and connections that would otherwise be rendered near impossible by constraints of time and distance. It bonds us closer to people with whom we might not have otherwise realized we had so much in common and provides an easy way for us to keep in touch with those we hold most dear.

Social networking can also be a cesspool of human ugliness and a breeding ground for blind hatred, willful ignorance, and general bad manners. Sometimes, it can be just plain annoying. 

I've thought of a few things that can help or hinder successful social networking. This is not one of those "how to build your personal brand" or "7 ways to boost your social media presence" type posts. I have no advice that's going to turn you into a social media celebrity. I'm still trying to work out how I'm going to ever get around to the 92 unread messages in my FB inbox. These are just a few ways to not be the person everyone blocks from their newsfeed.

No, for real. 92. Help me.
1. I'm not gonna tell you not to post pictures of your baby or your food or your politics or what-have-you. It's your Facebook. Post what you want. But there are some things worth considering before you hit "share."
  • If you are constantly posting things all day long and consistently getting zero likes, chances are, your friends are getting overwhelmed by your prolificness and have either hidden you from their newsfeeds or just trained themselves to scroll past everything you say. Which is unfortunate, 'cause what if you actually do have something you REALLY want your friends to hear, but they're so used to seeing inspirational quotes, bathroom selfies, and photos of sad looking animals that they just pass it by? Something you see on FB might speak to you. You might find it funny. But you don't HAVE to share it. Let it warm your heart and move on. If you just want to remember it, use Pinterest or save it to your hard drive. There are way more efficient and less annoying ways to archive the things you like. 
::single tear::
  • What kind of community does your post create? If you're constantly posting political things that end in your Facebook friends "shouting" profanities at each other, consider whether that's really what you want from your social relationships. Does it advance your political cause for this to happen? Is anyone edified? Has anyone learned anything? If conflict is your thing and you just love to watch a train wreck happen, fine. Go for it. But when someone drops you as a friend after everyone you know ganged up on them in an argument, be aware before you post a snarky, self-satisfied update about how they ran away when they were proved wrong, that that's not why they quit you. They jumped ship 'cause you're kind of an ass. 

2. Don't be that person who thinks they have the right to dictate what other people post on Facebook.* Y'know, the person who makes the proclamation that "No one wants to see what you ate for dinner!" or "Everybody's done with Grumpy Cat so just STOP!" Now, we all get annoyed by the repetition of memes (I wouldn't mind never seeing the "what ___ thinks I do" thing ever again) and people's oversharing (I get it, you do CrossFit), but what's equally annoying is Captain Judgey Pants deeming anything s/he is not into utterly worthless. Basically it's like saying to everyone you're friends with, "Stop posting anything that does not directly appeal to ME." It can be funny to satirize something popular, but if you can't do it in a way that's clever and not just mean, maybe hold your tongue. 'Cause you may get 27 likes on your status about how lame everyone is who posts vacation pics, but you've also just alienated 250 other people who had this weird idea that Facebook was about sharing life with people. I may be sick to death of hearing how much weight you lift over your head every day, but I realize you have a grip of other friends who find that totally awesome and that it matters to YOU. Carry on. Don't let the man get you down.
*"Hey! Isn't that what YOU'RE doing?" Nay, my friend. Far be it from me to tell you what to do. I'm simply offering a few tips on what to do IF you don't want to be an obnoxious facebook user. If that's not a concern, do your thing, man.

Seems legit.
3. SNOPES!!! For the love of ALL that is excellent and praiseworthy, check Snopes before you post anything that reads like an email forward from your grandmother. (And before you tell me that Snopes is liberal/conservative/satanic/etc., Google that real quick. Debunked.) Onions are not secretly plotting to kill you (even though they're really gross); neither Bill Cosby nor Morgan Freeman ever said that thing you think they said; Hitler didn't either. If some politician supposedly said something in a televised interview that gives away their entire dastardly plan to rule the world, maybe YouTube that business and make sure it, y'know, happened. Google it. An unedited version. Maybe you don't trust Snopes, but if the ONLY place you can find proof of it is on wildly partisan, borderline conspiracy theorist websites, chances are it's a load o' malarkey. Please don't post it. 

4. Don't post spoilers. I know, it's rough. You want to prove to everyone you're hip and cool and totally watch what all the kids are watching, but if something just aired five minutes ago and you want to tell everyone how surprised you were that the main character died, you do not deserve Facebook privileges. There are approximately 8 kajillion websites on the internet where you can discuss these things with people in real-time. You don't have to ruin it for your friends who watch it on Hulu. Keep it cryptic. "Wow, I did not see that coming on Walking Dead," is enough to stimulate conversation with those that were watching without totally frickin' killing the surprise for the unlucky saps whose satellite provider got in a knock-down drag-out with AMC and doesn't carry the channel anymore. Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything.

Be like Pigboots here and move on. 
5. Nobody has drama on Facebook who doesn't want drama on Facebook. That actually generally applies to real-life, too. It's a well-documented fact. Don't post some thinly veiled, passive aggressive status update about how "some people need to mind their own business and not come between me and mine" when the other party can SEE what you wrote, and then an hour later throw up another post about how you hate drama. If you really hated drama, you'd message that person and say something like, "Hey, I heard through the grapevine that you said this thing about me and I felt that it was hurtful and untrue. Can we grab coffee and talk about why you feel that way?" And if the other person was like, "NO! EFF YOU! HULKSMASH!" you'd be like, "Alright, well, it's probably for the best that we sever ties for the time being," and you'd SHUT THAT NONSENSE DOWN. With the world of social networking at our fingertips, we have an unprecedented opportunity to communicate with each other 24/7. Using text, we can carefully choose our words in a way we aren't really able to when face-to-face. Are we seriously just gonna use it to perpetuate the same knee-jerk reactions and dysfunction we throw around without that benefit? Yes. I know. The answer is yes. Le sigh.

6. Don't troll people. If you're scrolling through your newsfeed looking for reasons to correct someone or insinuate that they're dumb, go home, Roger. If you've ever started a comment with, "Um... actually," and you were doing it to be condescending, not playful, seriously, go home. I often correct my brother when he uses the wrong your/you're in a post. Because I'm his bratty little sister. I can do that. My close friends and I also poke fun at each other for dumb stuff like that. 'Cause we know each other and being pompous jerks to each other is part of our shtick. We're pretty comfortable in knowing we don't think each other to actually be idiots. Don't be patronizing to someone you haven't talked to since the 4th grade. And don't be patronizing to people who seem genuinely hurt or angered by it, even if they are your close friends. You're probably trying to show how smart you are, especially as compared to the unenlightened peons on your friends list. And maybe you are a total genius. That's fantastic. But people don't like feeling stupid, and if you make them feel stupid, they probably don't like you.

Exception to this rule: If you're Taylor Swift. 
7. Sometimes it's best that your personal business remains personal. Keep the dirty laundry in the basket. I know it can feel good to vent to everyone about how much your ex hurt you or how your best friend backstabbed you. I was a 15 year old with a livejournal once. In the end, putting all the crap out there does more harm than good. Your friends get weary of constantly hearing about how much your life sucks, and all you're doing is constantly rehashing the bad things that are happening to you, ultimately causing you to wallow in it. Plus, if you and your ex or your best friend ever make up, you have to deal with the fact that all of your friends know about the skeletons in the closet. It can be pretty hard to convince everyone around you that giving it a second go is a good idea when you made a meticulous list of all the ways in which this person was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad human being and broadcast it to everyone with an internet connection.

8. In my opinion, the best way to be super awesome at Facebook and NOT an obnoxious doucheface is to make people smile. Foster positive relationships. Don't let people tear each other down on your wall. Say nice things to people. "Like" their triumphs. Post things for friends that you know might want to see them. I mean, it's your page. Don't get me wrong. It's not your responsibility to do anything but what you want with it, and it's awesome if you want to show off the things that are important to you. I find that I get the most out of it when we're all just having a good time together--like a great, big game night with 1500 of my closest friends.

And remember: When in doubt, t-rex arms are never not funny.

Feel free to add your pet peeves and tips! Or tell me if you totes disagree with me.

Friday, March 8, 2013

In celebration of International Women's Day

Women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.  
- Virginia Woolf

I recently wrote a blog post detailing my love for female authors (read it here), but in honor of International Women's Day, I thought I'd reaffirm that sentiment.

Since November, I have been acquainted with a writers' group here in Orange County comprised largely of women. Phenomenal women. Some of them have been published and some are just getting started. Some write romance, some write scifi, and so on. All have to balance jobs, or kids, or illness, or disability, or some combination of these and other responsibilities with their insatiable need to write. And still they find time. They find time not only to write, but to help each other grow as writers--critiquing, editing, encouraging, running "word sprints." It's inspiring and it's exciting. The world needs their voices and their experiences.

For anyone who wants to get into more female authors (and you should), here's a list from my favorite social networking website, Goodreads, of popular ones: (And if you want to be Goodreads friends, feel free to add me!)

Happy International Women's Day, one and all!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Django, the Harlem Shake, and the right to be 'offended'

DISCLAIMER: This is not an anti-white people missive. This is not me saying white people don't have problems or have never faced adversity. This is me reaching out, asking for a little understanding. If you cannot read anything that critically examines whiteness or white privilege, or that asserts that racism does, in fact, exist in a country with a black-ish president without feeling personally attacked, having a complete meltdown and writing a strongly worded, poorly spelled, caps-lock infused tirade in the comments section, go ahead and turn back now.

I love Key & Peele. Love it. I watch that show and I laugh till my stomach hurts... and then I text my friends Emily & Jerry about it and we all share a good guffaw. One night I was over at their apartment and we started talking about the show and about how both comedians are multiracial and the implications of that. Emily said something about how she noticed Key and Peele using "we" when referring to black people, but not really when they talk about white people. She thought it was odd considering they're both part white. 

This has never come up with a white friend before, and I was happy to discuss it. I said something like this: It never feels right to use "we" when referring to white people because you feel self-conscious about it. It's like, you say it, and then you realize that probably no one else in the room considers you white. Having grown up in predominately white areas, the closest "we" I have is the white we. Still, I've said it in classrooms before and immediately caught the raised eyebrows from other people in the classroom. Like, "Wait, who is she talking about?" Sometimes I don't even mean white people. I mean Americans. We settled at Jamestown. We fought the Revolution. Still, it feels unnatural. And it's not that I think I have no claim to this we. It's that I'm worried YOU don't think I have claim to it. Why don't mixed race people use the white we? Well, I can't speak for everyone, but I have a feeling a lot of us just don't think we count. 

I was talking about Django Unchained and the n-word controversy with another friend, Tom, who knows me well enough to know I should prob'ly wait for the RedBox on that movie. I explained to him that it's not so much a matter of being offended as being horribly uncomfortable. 

With Django, people keep on trying to dismiss my reasons for not wanting to see it on the big screen. "But black people are totally into it!" they say. "And it makes white people look foolish, not blacks!" And that's fine. But, for one thing, black people as a group are never behind any one thing. We're not a monolithic entity. We don't have secret black people meetings where we're like, "Tarantino? Yeah, he's cool. The Help? No, no. Too much white savior complex. Blackcess denied." Secondly, there's an added dimension to being mixed race, especially when you didn't grow up in a predominately black community. It's hard to really feel like you OWN black identity, and that you should be cool with the n-word. You might feel like you're more or less white, but you're aware that, in general, nobody else thinks you are. I don't think mixed race people are confused about who they are. We're more self-conscious about everybody else's confusion. Plus, I'm not really super into making people of any race look foolish because of their race. I want the opposite of that.

It takes the politically incorrect redneck meme
to say what most of us are thinking.
I like having these conversations because I've grown up around and associated mostly with white people, or other minorities who grew up around white people. People generally just think of you as "the whitest (insert minority here) they know" or an honorary white person, since white is the default. They get so used to you that they forget that your experience is different from theirs. And that's not something I blame them for. Why should they be thinking about it, really? As I write this, I'm listening to Selena Gomez with my haul from the comic book store at my side, wearing a My Little Pony/Doctor Who crossover t-shirt. I'm not exactly the portrait of your token black girl from the hood, so my white friends forget that it's not just people from the hood who experience the world through a racism-colored lens. 

Sometimes I think using the word "offensive" weakens how people of color really feel about things. It's not the same thing for me to be offended by the n-word as it is for someone to be offended by the f-word. It's not the same thing for me to be offended by a racial stereotype on television as it is for someone to be offended by sex on TV. While morally one might take issue with f-bombs and TV love scenes, it's not an affront to who you are. You don't sit in your living room watching TV, see someone swear, and then think, "Well, now everyone in the world is looking at me or thinking about me and assuming I'm an immoral curse-word sayer." Nobody takes the actions of a small group of white people and applies it to ALL or the majority of white people. This is not to say groups of white people don't get stereotyped (see above redneck meme; see the cartoonish portrayal of any religious group on TV; see wealthy housewives; see... well, anyway.), but those groups are considered deviations from the norm, whereas with minorities, those of us who aren't stereotypes are considered the deviation.

In college, I was once brought to this guy's house to watch the movie Blazing Saddles. It was awkward enough that I was the only girl there, but when we went up to this guy's media room to watch the movie, there was also a Confederate flag spread across the ceiling. I remember my heart racing and stomach dropping. I don't know that I've ever felt so unsafe. Throughout the movie, several of the guys in the room kept making racist comments about the black character in the film. I wondered if they couldn't see me, if they didn't realize I was black, or if they did and they just didn't care. I know a lot of people who absolutely LOVE Blazing Saddles, and I don't fault them for that, but I hate it. I'm offended by it. I'm offended because watching it in that room full of white men genuinely scared me. All amped up on their hatred, I didn't know what they might do. And on top of it, I thought, my God, this is what people in Orange County think of me. 'Cause my friends might consider me the whitest black girl they know, but strangers don't know about my redeeming whiteness. 

In South Africa, Dr. Carrie Lane had our class read this article called White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. In it, the author makes a list of things she takes for granted every day being white. Most of my classmates had never considered that they receive the benefits of their race without being racist people. It caused a huge shift in their thinking. When you start to realize what the rest of us have to consider day in and day out, it suddenly doesn't seem so crazy that we feel uncomfortable in our daily lives. If I had a nickel for every time some able-bodied, heterosexual, white person said, "Ugh, I wish people weren't so sensitive and we didn't have to be so PC all the time," I'd be able to beat the next one over the head with a sizable bag of nickels. I'm thinking, "Yeah, gee, it must be SO hard for you to have to try not to say or do racist ish. I can't imagine what it's like being so constrained all the time."

Macklemore gets it. Don't get me started about his lack of understanding
of Irish culture, but on this one, he gets it.

White friends, you don't know what it's like to go to South Coast Plaza or Fashion Island and have people openly look at you with disdain because of your skin tone and your hair texture. You don't know what it's like to be told repeatedly by white peers, "Oh, you have a way better chance to get into that school than I do because of affirmative action," as if you didn't work your ass off for your GPA and to fill your CV, and as if, going by merit, they certainly would deserve it more. You don't know what it's like to be pulled over and have the cop lean in the window to ask your white passenger if she's okay. You don't know what it's like to have people pull their children closer when you walk by them; to have them glare at you if you smile at the kid after they just smiled contentedly at a white stranger; to have that kid go from smiling to looking horrified at the sight of you. Heck, even I feel uneasy around other black people because THAT'S. WHAT. I'VE. LEARNED. FROM. SOCIETY. You don't know what it's like to face racism every time you leave the house; to have to prove that you're not that kind of minority in every conversation you have with a stranger. You can't just look at me and say, "I reject your reality and substitute my own." You can't just say that you have never experienced my experience, and therefore my experience is invalid.

On my facebook, a discussion broke out over the Harlem Shake, and whether the residents of Harlem were just being too sensitive feeling hurt by it. It is very difficult to explain the significance of cultural art forms to people for whom art = entertainment; for whom art is just some beautiful thing to distract from the worries of the world. Art = political agency for marginalized people in this country, and when some white DJ comes along, completely distorts the art, and makes it suddenly a hugely popular phenomenon, that is a loss of political agency, a loss of cultural capital for its originators. To you it seems like being sensitive. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery right? But not when imitation has always meant silencing the voices that created the thing in the first place. And let's be clear: That's exactly what's happening here when people watch the video of people of Harlem reacting to the Harlem Shake and respond, "Oh, shut up. Diplo just used the name. It's not even the same dance." Right. So he took something black people made, changed it so that white people like it, and now white people want to pretend black people have no claim to it. Move along, folks. Nothing problematic to see here.

I can't be racist. Look at all my white friends!
White friends, I have grown up among you. Believe it or not, I'm technically one of you. I love you. You love me. This is not about me hating you or thinking you're all a bunch of racists. Not in the slightest. I understand where you're coming from. I understand that you've never had to walk in my shoes and therefore it's hard to see things how I see them. So this is me, asking you to try it. Now you know. Knowledge is power. So is whiteness, incidentally, and if you can come to grips with that, it'll be easier for you get why I feel violated when you touch my hair without asking, why I feel threatened when you casually use the n-word, and why I feel just as uneasy walking through Newport Beach at night as you do walking through the ghetto. When I say that I'm offended, I'm not talking about moral indignation. I'm not trying to be a buzzkill on your good time. I'm telling you that my life is precarious. I'm telling you that every episode of Dateline I've watched and every tweet I've seen saying that Rue from Hunger Games is less innocent because she's black has taught me that my life is not worth what your life is. Can you imagine what that feels like? What I look like makes me more disposable than you. If NOT making that racist joke or dressing as an Indian for Halloween or appropriating whatever culture you don't understand can make the people around you feel more like human beings, isn't that worth it? Freedom of speech is great and no one wants to take it from you, but a little decency goes a long way.

Friday, February 15, 2013

I love women.

She DRIVES THE DAMN CAR and still has
to pose like she's on a poster for an auto show. REALLY.
In my last post, I was critical of the female showrunners who created Canada's Durham County--a show which I found to be, quite frankly, misogynistic at its core. It left me feeling like when you meet a girl who "can hang" with the guys, but it turns out she mostly proves how cool she is by being just as willing to degrade and belittle herself and other women as the men she hangs out with are. Danica Patrick has become the poster girl for that of late. Girls like that and shows like Durham County make it harder for the rest of us, because now we're the lame girls with no sense of humor. We're overly emotional. When we point at something and say, "Hey, that hurts me," everyone else can respond, "But Danica Patrick is okay with it, and SHE'S a racecar driver!" or "But the filmmakers are women, so there's no WAY they can have negative views of women." Oops, my bad. You're right. No one in the history of time has ever held any viewpoint or opinion that ran contrary to their own best interests due to the dominant ideologies of society at large. Must be all my craaaazy woman hormones cloudin' up my thinkspace.

But really, I'm hopping off that soapbox now. I want to talk about something different; something positive about creative women. I want to talk about my recently discovered love for female authors. Or, rather, that I have recently discovered that I have loved female authors for a long time, and I just didn't realize it.

Were you to ask me who my favorite authors are, the first ones out of my mouth would generally be F. Scott Fitzgerald, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Douglas Adams, Erik Larson, and, of course, Norton Juster 'cause PHANTOM flippin' TOLLBOOTH. But lately there's been a shift. I love all of these men, I do. I realized, though, that I was shortchanging a lot of female authors that I absolutely adore.

I noticed this first when I started adding Tana French to my list of favorites. I'm obsessed with Tana French. I read In the Woods shortly after it came out, and from that point forward have pre-ordered the rest of her books so that I could read them IMMEDIATELY upon their release dates. French writes men and women with equal ease, in part because she doesn't go to extreme measures to make her characters sound either male or female. They're just people. I dig that.

This is actually a terrible
movie. For the record.
After adding Tana French to my personal literary canon, I thought about how, approximately three and a half years ago, I went on an Edith Wharton binge. While crashing on my friend Kattie's living room floor in Portland, I started going through the books on her shelf. "Have you read The Age of Innocence?" she asked. I told her I hadn't. "You really should. I think you'll like it." Less than twenty-four hours later, I had read The Age of Innocence. I only put it down, with great reluctance, to sleep. Stupid sleep. The great interrupter of books. Anyway, before too long, I had also read Summer, Ethan Frome, and The House of Mirth. Just swallowed those books whole. Watched all the movies, too. There can be no denying that Edith Wharton is one of my favorite authors.

Shortly thereafter, I went through a Joyce Carol Oates phase. 'Cause I mean, she's creepy and I'm creepy. We're a perfect match. Favorite.

Flannery O'Connor? Also creepy and dismal. Favorite.

So I looked back further. What were my favorite books as a kid, aside from every single thing R.L. Stine put out and the Stephen King books I'd lift from my parents' shelves? Well, there was Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, any of the sordid tales of Lois Duncan, the entire Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds-Naylor. Then you've got Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Ann M. Martin, whoever the heck wrote all those Sweet Valley books. Plus, duh, J.K. Rowling. Sweet jeebus, I've been reading women my whole life and I never even noticed!


Also terrible adaptations. Hey, what's the deal here, Hollywood?

And I mean that. I didn't notice. If you had asked me instead of what my favorite authors were, if I read female authors, I probably would have said that I didn't really. I thought I didn't. I, like so many before me, didn't take them seriously. I mean, we almost never read any of them in school, and isn't high school English class supposed to be the measuring stick for what constitutes good, quality literature? The classy stuff that I was taught to appreciate was written by men. Meanwhile, my friends and I would huddle in the corner of the library to pore over the Alice books in relative secrecy, reading aloud to each other in hushed voices and hoping the librarian didn't hear. Books by men were to be flaunted publicly; books by women were guilty pleasures.

But let's face it: Alice McKinley, Karen Brewer, Salamanca Tree Hiddle, Mae Tuck--they taught me more about what it means to live in this world, about the human condition, about womanhood, masculinity, and so on than Jay Gatsby or Holden Caulfield ever could. I've read Steinbeck and Hemingway and Kerouac, but it has always been Paterson and Babbitt and Creech who I've repeatedly gone back to throughout my life, when I needed to make sense of the world around me.

So I'm coming out of the closet corner of the library and proclaiming it once and for all: I LOVE WOMEN AUTHORS!

Man, that feels good.

I'm curious, though. What about you? I added this nice little poll to find out how you feel about female authors. Feel free to elaborate in the comments, or to suggest some books by women that you think I should read. I just read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, and, aside from the abuse of the word "literally," absolutely loved it. You?


Friday, January 25, 2013

Durham County is made by women, but doesn't seem to like them very much

Durham County has been available on Netflix streaming for a while. I'm not sure exactly how long, but long enough that it was only like, #215 on my instant queue, which is at least double that length at this point.

With its easy accessibility, I'm shocked that I can find few people who have critically or in any way academically written about this show. It's a Canadian crime drama in the vein of gritty, American cable shows like Dexter or Boardwalk Empire, but its creators are all women. That seems like it would merit some discussion in and of itself, but then, even I didn't realize this until my twitter friend Eric pointed it out to me. And why would I notice? For a show written by women, it sure seems to have a really poor opinion of them.

pic source:
Like the saying goes, live fast, die young, and leave
a good-looking, scantily clad, severely brutalized corpse.
For the lolz. 
A part of me wants others to watch it so I can discuss it with them. Another part of me is like, "TURN BACK, SARAH!" The pilot episode of Durham County was so incredibly brutal that I got up out of bed and stood in the doorway, weighing whether or not I was actually going to throw up. There's a degree to which I appreciate the grotesqueness of the violence in this show. It's not sexy. When women are violated, your stomach turns, even when the violation is carried out by a good looking antagonist. In many television procedurals, the violence often, at best, places us as detached observers waiting for the next plot twist, and at worst, titillates us. All that glistening, sprayed-on sweat; the dangerously sexy villain gripping the woman's face and speaking in a low growl; the knives dragged sensually down handcuffed bodies. (Seriously, THIS is legitimately the cover of a movie called Sexual Predator) What should be sickening is exciting, sometimes even funny in the case of shows like Castle, Psych, or CSI. Even Dexter, everybody's favorite good guy serial killer, is appealing. His plastic covered homicide hut, his meticulous routine, and his macabre souvenirs are cool. Something you might do to your house on Halloween. Nobody would, in good taste, try to emulate Durham County for fun. It's horrific.

So perhaps that's a backhanded compliment to the show. It made me want to puke because of the way it portrayed brutality against women. Huzzah?

Knowing that it was made by women, I decided not to give up on the show based on the first episode. I figured I'd stick it out and see how they managed to empower the female characters. This never happened. [full disclosure: I only watched the first season. I think that's plenty of time to get its act together.]

Just about every female character they introduce into the show is subsequently killed shortly after we meet her. If she's not killed, she's beaten. If she's not beaten, she's emotionally abused or neglected. 

They function as either foils or motivators for men. For example, the teacher (Ms. Lacroix) is the morally upstanding, virginal love interest of the semi-morally bankrupt cop protagonist (Mike), as well as the sole advocate for the creeptastic antagonist's (Ray) abused son (Ray Jr.). And she gets killed because, um, Ray wants his son to be a plumber, I guess? 

Okay, but where's the "serial killer bait"
line? I always forget. 
Mike's daughter Sadie is the only female character who shows any real strength or common sense. She beats up the guy at school who tormented her and tried to organize her gang rape, getting herself expelled. When her mother offhandedly suggests that two murdered girls who might have been prostitutes were "asking for it" because of their outfits, Sadie rightly shoots back, "You think they DESERVED this?" She bravely (though perhaps unwisely) confronts Ray on several occasions, and is capable of sufficient quick-thinking to let him take advantage of her just long enough to gain the physical upper hand and take him down. But even with all that going for her, she still has this weird moment where she has sex with Ray Jr. at the scene of Ms. Lacroix's murder, basically just so she can then be like, "This is where she died! You should tattle on your dad!" Um... I think there are better ways of tackling the sensitive subject of your boyfriend's dad maybe being a literal ladykiller. Also, Sadie only spends about ten minutes of this show without a love interest and has no female friends. 

You could chalk it all up to moral ambiguity, I suppose. No one's heroic. No one's all good. In fact, they're all mostly bad. It's just that, aside from Sadie, the women in this show are disposable, doormats, and/or emotionally unstable and in hysterics all the time. Mike's wife Audrey, for example, is given lingerie by his rival, our homicidal sociopath Ray, and she freaks out at Mike for finding that weird and inappropriate. I don't care how much cancer (or it might have been AIDS) this lady had; there is no universe in which accepting sexy underwear from the one person in the world your husband hates (and hates because he slept with his ex-girlfriend) is a reasonable act.  

In another episode, Ray's estranged wife Traci, who left him because, duh, he's a horrible effing guy, is suddenly swayed toward sympathy and love for him simply because he puts on his best earnest face and asks her if she still thinks he's the attractive stud she married. Uh, buhscuse me? And then, surprise, surprise, he immediately turns on her, slamming her head into a wall and nearly strangling her before storming out of the house. Then and only then does she finally call the cops and report an assault. And okay, that is somewhat realistic and everything because cycles of abuse happen. Clearly, years of emotional and physical abuse don't happen because people love being degraded and feeling horrible about themselves, contrary to what Rihanna might have you think. But my thing is that she also knew the entire time they were separated that Ray was a suspect in the murder of all these women. And despite all that knowledge, she staunchly defended him. "He's got a temper, but he'd never do that." "And he never hurt you?" "No." HE IS KILLING PEOPLE! GROW A PAIR! (of ovaries, to be clear) The same goes for Audrey. Her husband tells her Ray's a person of interest in multiple murders and she's like, "zOMG, you like, so totes hate him and he'd never do that and I know 'cause I've known him for like, five minutes and he only tried to get in my pants for like, four of them." I get that the couple's having marital problems, but is this show trying to tell me that women are so desperate for affection that they'll ignore HOMICIDE? It's gonna take a lot more than a rose, some lingerie, and a pair of bedroom eyes to make me overlook serial killing as a personality flaw. I don't think I'm alone in that.

Save for the (faceless) topless chicks in the strip club Ray frequents and the one female police officer, there are pretty much zero females on this show who aren't mistreated by one or more men. I'm fairly certain there isn't a single scene that passes the Bechdel test

Serial Killer Man, y u no want play serial killer
games with me?
Don't get me wrong. There are things I like about this show. Ray's increasing frustration with his serial killer hero's refusal to take him seriously, for instance, is brilliant. It's the one chink in his narcissistic armor, and it's hard not to relish those little moments in which he feels as small as he's made everyone around him feel. And at the end of the day, does Durham County have any worse a woman problem than any other crime show on TV? Probably not, aside from the graphic and visceral nature of the violence. I guess it irks me so much because a) I can't seem to find anyone else that mentions this show's problematic view of women (does Canada perhaps not have as many aca-fans as we do?) and b) it was made by women. I just feel like this was a squandered opportunity. 

[day 1607]