Laying it on Thicke

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Last Week an Auckland University student group’s video “Defined Lines,” a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” went viral. The video, which was created by Adelaide Dunn, Olivia Lubbock and Zoe Ellwood for a revue show, was briefly removed from youtube for indecency. While youtube corrected its error fairly quickly, its action made the video an instant, international success.

If, like me, you largely live under a rock when it comes to music, Thicke’s song was this summer’s anthem despite the fact that the “blurred line” involves sexual consent. The lyrics charmingly refer to women as animals who require domestication and “want it.” The video, which consists of women either parading around topless (in the unrated version), grinding on everything from a singer to a bike, and making suggestive faces, reinforces the idea that women really do want sex, regardless of what they say.

The “Defined Lines” parody directly challenges Thicke’s message. So what do we learn from this?

  1. Rape culture is deeply entwined in American popular culture. What made the parody “offensive” were its references to “emasculation” and “castration.” If you read comments across the blogosphere, much of the criticism revolves these terms and how men’s bodies are used. If you still are not convinced that there is such a thing as rape culture or that we are profoundly uncomfortable when confronted by it, check out this parody of “Blurred Lines.” Rather than challenge the message of Thicke’s song directly, they reverse the roles and make fun of men who are considered socially unattractive. You know that an idea is entrenched in a society when challenging it creates a thunderstorm of criticism.
  2. No really, rape culture is deeply entwined in American popular culture. Thicke’s music is made for a mass public. He is in the for-profit, music business. The “Defined Lines” parody was made for a law revue show – which is a very small audience. Yet, look at the conversation their video started. Thicke’s song lyrics, on the other hand, are so commonplace in American pop music that they received little discussion.

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Fixing the Price of Protest — New Math?

A quick follow up on my post yesterday (Putting a Price on Protest: http://doubletakesociology.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/putting-a-price-tag-on-protest-what-this-means-for-the-dream-defenders/ ).

During the course of an interview, I discussed the framing of the “cost of protest” with a reporter. The reporter told me that the the Governor’s Office has been highlighting the costs associated with the Dream Defender sit-in for two weeks. The reporter also indicated that the figure of $100,000+ masked the fact that most of the FDLE overtime costs were not associated with the protests at the capital building – only around $33,000 are due to the additional units. 

Regardless of one’s opinion on the protest, this is an important reminder that numbers rarely are what they seem. 

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Putting A Price Tag on Protest: What this Means for the Dream Defenders

On my way the office this morning, the local NPR station (www.WFSU.org) reported that the Dream Defender had cost the state of Florida $103,000 in extra law enforcement. According to the report (which is not yet posted on the site), these costs are primarily a result of Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Officials working overtime. The story made two points very clear. First, the FDLE had only about  $130,000 dollars in overtime last year. Second, that this current total was “worrisome” since the fiscal year has just begun. The story, in short, put a price on protest.

It was a smart move on the part of the state. The Governor doesn’t want to deal with the Dream Defenders, but he needs to tread lightly since he is an unpopular politician seeking reelection. Circulating the cost of allowing citizens to protest (particularly young liberals) may reignite state Tea Partiers to dust of their signs and come stage a protest of their own. The Dream Defenders, themselves, may have helped light the fuse for a showdown with Tea Partiers. According to the report, the Dream Defenders said that they “were not concerned with the cost [associated with their protest] because that would put a dollar amount on a human life.” While I agree with the sentiment, this particular response may not work in their favor. It is very likely that some Floridians will consider the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s death as now a distinct issue from the current protests and its cost to the taxpayers. If this is the case, the Dream Defenders may find themselves on the defensive and discussing issues unrelated to their cause.

UPDATE: Similar stories were repeated on local news. On CBS, the anchor asked “How much are the protestors costing you?”

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Deana Rohlinger Discusses Brazil and Asia Protests on BizAsiaAmerica

My TV new debut.

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The Continued Absurdity (Obscenity?) of American Advertisements

American clothing advertisements are absurd. The driving logic of American marketing seem to be: 1) Use sex to sell everything – and I mean everything.

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2) Hypersexualilze women in ads. To see just how stark gender differences are in this regard, check out Business Insiders side by side ads for unisex clothing (http://www.businessinsider.com/american-apparels-unisex-ads-2013-5?op=1). To highlight the absurdity of women’s poses, BI has a man duplicate an advertisement by American Apparel.

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Amusing? Perhaps. A call to action? Definitely. Corporations do respond to public pressure, especially if their brand is at risk. Disney backed off its Merida makeover in the wake of public protest. Perhaps if there was more push back against how women’s bodies were used in ads, things would begin to change – and not just in advertising. Image

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Celebrity Champions: Enter Angelina

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Angeline Jolie made headlines this week and it wasn’t for the typical celebrity-type reasons. Yesterday, The New York Times published her op-ed piece titled, My Medical Choice. If you haven’t read it, she discusses her decision to have a preventative mastectomy. After genetic testing, she learned that there was an 87% chance she would get breast cancer in her lifetime. Since her own mother died from the disease, she decided to take matters into her own hands. In her piece, she describes the decision as empowering and wishes that genetic testing was more available to the average person.

Her op-ed offers everything you would expect from a Celebrity Champion.

As I discussed in my analysis of Clint Eastwood’s appearance during the Republican National Convention, celebrities help and hurt causes. For some, Jolie’s story is a personal and financial boon. Cancer survivors feel emboldened, physicians encouraged by the prospect of more women getting mammograms (and doing self-examinations at home), research foundations thrilled by the influx of individual contributions, and genetic testing companies flooded with appointment requests. These are not bad outcomes. However, as is often the case when a celebrity is involved, the opportunity to connect an individual issue to a larger social problem (here, the woes of the health care industry and huge population of individuals who cannot afford insurance let alone pay for such testing) is lost.

There are good reasons for Jolie not to make these connections. She is, after all, a celebrity and hopes to make money doing so for years to come. If she becomes a polarizing figure (like Sean Penn), she could decrease her box office value and take home pay. Jolie is not the first to play it safe in this regard. And, again, her decision to share her story can have positive effects – at least in the short term (see The Guardian for additional examples).

What makes her op-ed frustrating is that she points to (and then drops) the political ball several times. Jolie notes that the high costs of genetic testing (she says it is approximately $3,000) is out of reach for most women and recognizes that many women will die from the disease. Instead of taking on the hard issues, she crafts a tale of female empowerment and the importance of a supportive partner. If she didn’t want to take on health care, she could have at least urged Myriad Genetics, which owns the patent on genetic testing for breast cancer, to reduce its hold on the market. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the company; the case was heard in April by the Supreme Court.

She also reinforces cultural notions about acceptable (read desirable) and unacceptable (read undesirable) breasts. She describes a (presumably expensive) procedure in which her nipples were retained. By her account, her breasts look “normal” after the reconstruction and, consequently, her children will not see anything that makes them “uncomfortable.”  The latter undercuts goodwill. Women who have survived breast cancer and who either have no breasts or abnormal ones, by Jolie’s account, are likely to take issue with this point. In fact, this may become an issue (at least in the blogosphere) over the coming days – which would further bury the point about the lack of affordable health care in America.

It makes me wonder if she is a celebrity champion after all.

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“Accidental Racist” Does More Harm Than Good

Entertainment has the potential to carry potent messages.  Politically-minded entertainers can use their mediums to give us pause and force us to question how we think about and live in the world.   For example, I can think of songs (“Fight the Power” and A Change is Gonna Come ), films (Higher Learning, American History X, Bamboozled, and Crash), books (Beloved and The Color Purple), and art (Augusta Savage and Faith Ringgold) that all changed how I thought about race in America.

The new song, “Accidental Racist,” by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J will never make this list. In this ditty, Paisley defends, among other things, symbols of Southern pride (e.g., the Confederate flag) crooning, “We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday/And caught between southern pride and southern blame.” Not to be outdone, LL Cool J responds with the following: “If you don’t judge my do-rag/I won’t judge your red flag/If you don’t judge my gold chains/I’ll forget the iron chains.”

Not surprisingly, the artists have taken a lot of heat this week. The song  has taken a beating by TV hosts (for example, Toure on MSNBC), and music critics alike (See the review by Chicago Sum-Times critic Richard Roeper who calls it “accidental garbage” as well as  Billboard Magazine’s  unflattering article titled, “Brad Paisley’s ‘Accidental Racist’: LL Cool J’s Craziest Lyrics”).  Both artists defend the intention of the song.  LL Cool Jay told Jay Leno that “The song wasn’t perfect. You can’t fit 300 or 400 years of history into a three or four minute song.” He added that “I would never, ever suggest to anyone that we should just forget slavery and act like that didn’t happen. I understand the systemic racism that exists, I get that, but you know what? If the playing field is unlevel and you feel it’s unfair, then maybe putting down some of that baggage will make getting up that hill a little easier.”

Paisley echoed this sentiment In an interview with Entertainment Weekly. He noted:

“I think that [the song] comes from an honest place in both cases, and that’s why it’s on there and why I’m so proud of it. This isn’t a stunt. This isn’t something that I just came up with just to be sort of shocking or anything like that. I knew it would be, but I’m sort of doing it in spite of that, really…. I just think art has a responsibility to lead the way, and I don’t know the answers, but I feel like asking the question is the first step, and we’re asking the question in a big way. How do I show my Southern pride? What is offensive to you? And he kind of replies, and his summation is really that whole let’s bygones be bygones and ‘If you don’t judge my do rag, I won’t judge your red flag.’ We don’t solve anything, but it’s two guys that believe in who they are and where they’re from very honestly having a conversation and trying to reconcile… But, you know, it’s such a complicated issue — I’m reading up on it now, [since] I felt I needed to be well-armed for any discussion – and here he is in a Yankees cap, and you think to yourself, ‘Well here is the antithesis of what was the problem.’ But it’s not. New York City was all for slavery. They actually voted 60 percent against — or maybe 70 against — Abraham Lincoln because they didn’t like the idea of slavery going away because there goes cotton and there goes tobacco trade, you know what I mean? It’s very hypocritical to feel like it’s just the South’s fault.

Paisley insists that he wanted to start a much needed national conversation. Assuming this is true, I am not sure I want to engage in a conversation based on completely naïve assumptions about the “race problem” or how to address racial inequality in America. I am sure that institutional racism, for example, could be easy be addressed if only we looked past how one was dressed.     

Snarky comments aside, “Accidental Racist” does little to promote meaningful discourse or challenge status quo. Superficial art about race simply props racism (and its symbols) up. MK Asante, commenting in NYT’s Room for Debate said it best. “Racism is a lot of things — cancerous, insidious, learned, dangerous, destructive, dumb, vicious, institutional — but not accidental.”Image

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