CREATIVE WRITING: Long Live

 

When she accidentally stepped on the executioner’s foot
she gasped and graciously apologized…

Perched on the edge of their rotting stools like pigeons
on the window ledges of their abandoned bakeries,
Les Trecoteuse raveled and unraveled their threadbare threads
in silence.
The usual “who’s who” was a waste as each woman could recognize
the cake batter dripping from her mouth
to the sticky urine lined streets.

The “Austrian Woman” tried to become one of them. She was hard pressed for acceptance.
Still. Still after 23 years, she balanced atop her mocking post
where silk buckle shoes drown in the blood of her severed husband.
Splotches of rust and dust ate away at the intricate designs through the eyelets
where laces should have been.
A revolutionary stripped his former queen of preciousness.
He tore through whatever represented the wealth of the privileged-
boot laces spun in gold,
her ragged Fontange, where a single alouette feather remained
caught between the mousy grey locks
and broken wires that no longer measured two feet high.
Luxuriously, the revolutionary threw them over the scaffolding to join
the King’s navy culottes.

Queer Theory: A Brief Response to Wilchins, Butler, and Cohen

 

The complications that Queer Theory brings to the forefront is not unfamiliar to many activists today.  What I mean to say is, there is rarely a time when an individual’s identity is not questioned.  For example, the opening paragraph of Butler and the Problem of Identity by Riki Wilchins, reads “You don’t have to be a whale to join Greenpeace, and you don’t need to be locked up in a foreign cell to support Amnesty International” (123).  Likewise, an individual who supports the queer community may or may not be “queer.” Furthermore, how does one define such a community, and why must we categorize ourselves at all? Judith Butler faces this conundrum by her refusal to acknowledge identities at “face value,” by working to reveal the instability of categories and communities.

Butler begins Imitation and Gender Insubordination by disputing the concept of “being.” How does one theorize as a lesbian or otherwise?  These suggests that all who identify as “lesbian” would come to a single conclusion, which Butler explains as such; “identity categories tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes, whether as the normalizing categories of oppressive structures or as the rallying points for a liberatory contestation of that very oppression” (Butler, 308). This issue resides very strongly in feminist debates. Wilchins upholds that “assuming a commonality to any identity, even one as apparently uncomplicated as Woman, can mean assuming a unity that doesn’t exist in reality” (124).  Not only are biological women concerned with different issues throughout the world, the questions such as “what makes a Woman?” are increasingly relevant. Butler and Wilchins use Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman to support their argument that there is a sense of “proper” womanhood.  When an audience reflected on Franklin’s lyrics, they almost unarguably thought of the biologically natural woman, stripped of her worldly problems. In other words, the “natural women” might have referred to regaining a sense of innocence, which is traditionally a feminine quality. However, if I were to read the lyrics through a queer lens, I would determine that term “natural” was used to speak of the “soul” or “true self.” I am reminded that the terms natural, real, and truth are all subjective terms in an identity discourse; therefore what is natural for one individual may be completely unnatural for another. Even though the two may both identify as women, their true senses of womanhood are not identical.

With this inter-identity crisis, I was reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s observation of a crumbling United States. He declared “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” I see a single feminism struggling to stand as well. There is matter of who is “more important” or “well-known” in the community. Think about the marginalized communities of transgender, genderqueer, gender-different and so on. The fact that I even wrote the words “and so on” proves that there are multiple identities that I am not aware of, or cannot remember due to the focus on the more prominent gay and lesbian communities. We refer to these “different” communities as LGBT+, using the + sign to cover our bases. I don’t know if this is more or less inclusive in the long run. Cathy Cohen seems to see positivism in wider sense of identity. In Punks Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens, she suggests “At the intersection of oppression and resistance lies the radical potential of queerness to challenge and bring together all those deemed marginal and all those committed to liberatory politics” (440). Even though I agree with this statement, I got the sense that Cohen does not agree with Wilchins or myself about the larger identity of fluidity. As a generally dominant culture woman, I was a little offended by her frequent aversion to heterosexuality. She seems to be discounting this identity as valid, and suggesting that the heterosexual identity is concrete.  In this way, she is enacting the exclusion of which she simultaneously protests.

That Time Beyonce’s Album Invalidated Every Criticism Of Feminism EVER

Global Grind

Beyonce 22

If you don’t know by now, you’ve been living under a rock.

Early Friday morning, Beyonce gave us all a heart attack when she released her self-titled visual masterpiece, Beyonce. And because we weren’t at all expecting it, we basically woke up in complete shock to messages like these:

And really, whose edges didn’t Beyonce snatch? She’s sexy, fun, talented. She’s a visionary — the videos are not only aesthetically pleasing, they are stories built from images. Her voice, as always, is perfection. She proves, once again, that she is the greatest of her time in overall entertainment. But there was something else about this album that caught our attention — something that wasn’t there in 2003’s Crazy in Love or critically acclaimed 4.

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Fashion Bashing and Gabourey Sidibe

Dances With Fat

Gabourey Sidibe attended the Golden Globes and was criticized for her body, her dress, and how the dress fit her body. Although she shouldn’t have had to deal with it, her response was brilliant and, if it were possible for me to be more of a fan of her, this would do it:

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Obviously I think all of the fat bashing comments about her are complete bullshit.  But there is something else that’s been bugging me as well. Before I get into this I know that this blog is controversial and there are many who will disagree with me and that’s totally ok.  I want to be clear that people have every right to do the things that I’m about to discuss, I’m not the boss of anyone else’s underpants and I’m not trying to tell anyone else how to live. My goal is, as always, to give people something…

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MEDIA LITERACY: Position Statement

media literacy

Sources such as television, music, and the internet largely influence the lives of citizens on a daily basis; therefore, the interpretations of them lead to competing social and political attitudes. In an increasingly technological world, the measure of one’s success is increasingly based on his or her virtual connections to others. Therefore, this “success” cannot be reached without a conscious effort to become literate in the various forms of media that are available. (Let’s face it, what good is a cellular phone if one can’t manipulate the device?) Because a certain level of literacy is required to initially use a product, it is not out of the ordinary to suggest that a deeper knowledge of said product would prove more effective to its use. In other words, I believe that a successful use of the media in our everyday lives requires us to become more aware of how the various sources affect us. For example, rather than watching a commercial and laughing at the simple jokes, I might notice the social constructions behind that joke. I might realize that I agree or disagree with what the ideas that such a joke represents. In this position statement, I will attempt to prove how interpreting sources such as a commercial, television show, popular song, or internet blog can improve one’s media literacy and, in effect, “have an impact of upon the emotions and lifestyles of the users of these media” (NCTE).

Click below to view the 2013 Game Day Commercial 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H0xPWAtaa8

It comes as no surprise that advertisers educate themselves on public opinion and current social and political issues. If they didn’t do their research, the millions of dollars spent on television, magazine and internet commercials (to name a few mediums) would be wasted. The 2013 Super Bowl created wide controversy due to an advertisement by Volkswagen Automobiles in which a white office worker from Minnesota speaks in a Jamaican accent. In the commercial, the man assures his boss and co-workers that “Every-ting will be a-rite,” or something similar to this, whenever there seems to be a problem. At the end of the commercial, the Minnesotan parks his car with two co-workers who are, for lack of a better term, “converted” to his happy, easy-going attitude. I watched the Volkswagen commercial before researching the public’s reactions. Because the commercial was labeled as “racist” by critics, I was looking for negative stereotypes that might be hidden within the dialogue. While the premise of the commercial was a little strange, I didn’t initially find it offensive. But then I started thinking about the use of a Jamaican accent, and this raised many questions for me:

Is the perpetuation of positive stereotypes considered racism?
Should those stereotypes cause offense, or are we being too sensitive?
Would the reaction differ if the actor was black or actually Jamaican?
What does this commercial even have to do with cars and how will it affect the business of VW?

These questions were not only my personal reactions to the commercial. Newscasters, comedians and critics attempted to interpret the commercial as well. A newscaster on ABC asked the same question as I did, “Who decides what’s racist? Is it the critics here in the United States or is it the Jamaicans?” This newscaster’s phrasing actually got me thinking. Notice how she clarifies “critics here in the United States” as opposed to “the Jamaicans” (ABC). The clumping of cultures that differ from our own is natural us. Even if we are trying to promote a positive message, there is still a question of racial integrity. Comedian D.L. Hughley said, “I can’t actually understand what I am supposed to be mad about…I know it was supposed to make me mad, but all it made me want to do was listen to a Bob Marley CD” (ABC). This comedian is African American, and is not offended by the commercial; in fact, he further perpetuates the connotation that all Jamaicans are happy all the time. (How about this “positive” stereotype: all Chinese people are brilliant at mathematics. Does this expectation relate to the skyrocketing suicide rate in China?) Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, a marketing strategist, was interviewed by USA Today: “What happens in this ad is that the culture becomes a punch line, and that’s offensive” (Horovitz). Her interviewer, Bruce Horovitz, also spoke to the actor who plays the “Jamaican Minnesotan.” Coincidentally, his brother-in-law is from Kingston, Jamaica and happens to love the commercial. The Minister of Tourism of Jamaica said, “people should just get into their inner-Jamaica and get happy” and suggested a co-branding of VW and Jamaica (ABC).
Are critics and myself over-reacting? If the stereotype doesn’t bother most Jamaicans, should it bother us? Clearly, the VW commercial sparked my emotions when it comes to race. If I were not media literate, I would probably just laugh at the funny Jamaican accent coming from a white man. I wouldn’t notice the undertones for which I have gone into detail. Because the commercial sparked controversy, VW gained a lot of attention. This is good for any business, but what is more important, is the racial discourse that ensued. As exemplified through the VW commercial, media has the power to bring new light to important issues by engaging the audience’s emotions and way of life. The challenge is for the audience to interpret what the media presents to us and what it says about our society. In a way, the media and the public have important relationship that depends on the literacy of each other.

Bibliography

“Super Bowl Commercials 2013: Volkswagen Ad Stirs Online Racism Debate.” ABC News, 30
Jan 2013. Web. 6 Nov 2013.
NCTE. Guidelines for the Preparation of Teachers of English Language Arts. ed. 2006. Urbana:
National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. Web. 6 Nov 2013.
“VW Jamaica-theme Super Bowl ad: Racist?” USA Today. Gannett, 29 Jan 2013. Web. 6 Nov
2013.

LITERARY CRITICISM: Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart

Masculinity and Femininity in Super Sad True Love Story

…masculinity must not and cannot and should not reduce down to the male body and its effects
Judith (Jack) Halberstam
Feminine Masculinity

We are learning what seems to be a very simple lesson in academic and popular culture; gender is a construction. But is this conception really so simple? The differentiation between masculine and feminine performances was once clear cut. The frequently opposing categories locked males and females in a social order we found hard to break; however, I think this order is beginning to break down slowly. I am fascinated and perplexed by gender. What does it really mean to be masculine or feminine, and more importantly, why? Furthermore, what happens when we go against them? Will “gender” eventually become an eradicated term?
Because I have become fixated on the construction of gender roles, Judith (Jack) Halberstam has proved crucial to my research. Halberstam is a pre-operational transgendered female-male. Now, many who are unfamiliar with the trans community are hesitant to use pronouns for a lack of offense. What I thought was interesting was, Halberstam doesn’t care about pronouns. When she asked why, she replied:

Well, a few reasons: first, I have not transitioned in any formal sense and there are certainly many differences between my gender and those of transgender men on hormones. Second, the back and forth between he and she sort of captures the form that my gender takes nowadays. Not that I am often an unambiguous “she” but nor am I often an unambiguous he. Third, I think my floating gender pronouns capture well the refusal to resolve my gender ambiguity that has become a kind of identity for me.

Her reply starts to answer my questions; that ambiguity in gender performance isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, ambiguity makes sense. If our definitions are socially constructed, then why should we be concerned with constantly labeling a person “he” or “she?”
I started then started to think back to masculinity and femininity. How does one fairly define these terms? An excerpt from Halberstam’s Female Masculinity sparked my interest. She poses “If masculinity is not the social and cultural and indeed political expression of maleness, then what is it?” (Ryan, 935). She moves to suggest that gender be understood as a multiplicity rather than binary. In an interview about her book, Halberstam gave credit to Judith Butler for opening her up to the discourse; “it was obvious that the book was about female masculinity, but it sure wasn’t to other people…So it was into that conversation that I decided to just go ahead, and as is my wont, be quite blunt about what forms of womanhood fell out of this universalizing category that feminism assured to speak for women” (Williams, 362). In other words, there is conflict in the term the very term “woman.” However, Halberstam points out that “given all the work that feminists have done to help us understand the way in which our interpretations of the body are ideological…it makes no sense that we draw the line of womanhood between female embodiment and masculinity” (362). I would go further, supporting that the line of manhood should not be drawn between male embodiment and femininity.
Although Halberstam wrote Female Masculinity in 1998 this “category” seems to haunt women characters to this day. I have previously written how Amy Dunne in the recent novel Gone Girl represents a “good witch/bad witch” binary. Gary Shteyngart paints a similar picture of Eunice Park in Super Sad True Love Story. Although Eunice is not a murderess, she is a woman guided through image and she lets those images interfere with her emotions, which then interfere with her well-being. In a diary entry to Jenny Kang, aka “Grillbitch,” she writes about her relationship with Lenny Abramov, “Honestly, I’m afraid to see our reflection in the mirror but I think the more time I spend with him the more it feels right…We fight a lot. I guess it’s mostly my fault because I don’t appreciate his great personality and I just keep focusing on his looks” (Shteyngart, 114). A similar focus on image is stressed in virtually all of Eunice’s emails, and her comments are either self degrading and/or hypersexualized (another stereotype of femininity). In the midst of a nationwide crisis, she writes, “It’s not like Lenny’s been doing anything bad. He’s got yuan in the bank, so there’s pizza and calzones and my ass is actually getting even fatter” (264). Eunice’s “ass” is a recurring subject in her emails, as well as her dependence on Lenny. She doesn’t have the desire to hold a job until after the government fails, and even then, she takes a job from Lenny’s boss, Joshie, and “falls in love” with him.
Eunice’s self-image contrasts with what Lenny writes in his diaries. He thinks the sun rises and sets on Eunice; “I’m the fortieth -ugliest man in this bar. But, so what? What is someday she lets me kiss each one of her freckles again? She has like a million. But every one means something to me” (94). At this point, Lenny has only met Eunice once, yet he feels compelled to spend the rest of his life with her. Both Lenny and Eunice are unreliable narrators because they are writing as a form of catharsis; but I get the feeling that Eunice is yet another unbalanced female that a man feels like he has to save, thus reinforcing binary stereotypes between men and women.

I would like to turn the conversation toward male masculinities…

Judith “Jack” Halberstam questions the comfortable construction of “heroic masculinities” because they depend on the subordinate, marginal masculinities. In Female Masculinities, Halberstam wittily makes an example of James Bond, a male “hero” worshiped by a predominantly male audience. On the surface, Bond seems like a powerful adventure hero, with a smooth demeanor and arsenal of gadgets to defeat a powerful adversary. Meanwhile:

Bond’s boss, M, is a noticeably butch older woman who calls Bond a dinosaur and chastises him for being a misogynist and a sexist. His secretary, Miss Moneypenny, accuses him of sexual harassment… ultimately women seem not to go for his charms-bad suits and a lot of sexual innuendo, which seem as old and as ineffective as his gadgets.

Because of his dependence on M and interactions with other females, Bond becomes a caricature of the hegemonic masculinity we come to expect (stoic, selfless character). Compare James Bond to Gale in The Hunger Games. Both men are hyper-masculine; but Gale is not only a bold war leader. He is a selfless hero, protecting the woman he loves and her family as well as the other families in his community. While these men are very different, they both represent a comfortably well known image of masculinity.
So what kind of man is Lenny Abramov? He opens his very first diary entry by declaring a plan for immortality, a desire that is characteristically male. However, he attributes this desire to the result of meeting Eunice Park giving him a “reason to live.” When he first sees Eunice, Lenny is struck by her appearance, “How I longed to kiss those full lips myself and cradle the slightness of the rest of her,” and then insists on saving her from an unfortunate situation, “She marched, I hopped, unable to cover up the joy of having escaped the party with her by my side. I wanted Eunice to thank me for saving her from the sculptor and his stench of death” (Shteyngart, 19-21). Lenny desires to fit the hyper-masculine profile of “hero” but is viewed as a desperate old man. Eunice writes to her friend, “I met this old, gross gut at a party yesterday and we got really drunk and I sort of let him go down on me” (28). Lenny’s lack of physical attraction overpowers his “heroic” actions at the party. I dare to suggest that if Lenny was a younger, supermodel type and behaved in the same manner, Eunice would have been head over heels and Super Sad True Love Story would be a much shorter novel.
Lenny is constantly reminded of his marginal masculinity through comparisons to other men. He returns to a group of successful friends who are in tune with technology and popular culture, and struggles to connect with them. Because Lenny is unfamiliar with FACing and buys books, he is subordinate to the other men. Although he is a “good providah” he is the most unappealing male in the bar (91). Eunice also emasculates Lenny, writing that he “kisses like a girl, all quiet with his eyes closed,” giving the impression that he is weak and oversensitive. During the Rupture, Lenny looks to others for direction; “…all I could think about was Eunice not loving me, losing her respect for me, Noah the decisive leader in a time when she was supposed to need me” (246). In this moment, Lenny remembers again that he is not the picture of masculinity that he wishes to be, while Noah is a leader in time of crisis. Lenny’s boss, Joshie, is technically older than Lenny, but has Benjamin Buttoned himself through Post-Human treatments. Joshie has financial stability and youth, which is what attracts Eunice to him. Furthermore, he stands up for himself, “Eunice, we have to talk. I know you love me, but sometimes you really don’t treat me well,” and his assertiveness wins out (302). Lenny (marginal masculinity) loses Eunice to Joshie (hegemonic masculinity) for good.
What am I placing so much focus on masculine hegemony? I feel that as we focus on feminism and the definition of “femininity” we need not forget about stereotypes we place on men. Although I can honestly say I dislike each character in Super Sad True Love Story I cannot dismiss the issues Shteyngart brings forth with Lenny marginal masculinity. Shteyngart writes Lenny into failure by losing Eunice, his job and his residency on the Upper West Side. I will say, however, that Joshie’s demise due to Kapasian Tremors was an important statement; that even the most powerful men are powerless before mortality. I’m not sure if my initial questions have been answered, but they are certainly something to think about.

Sources:
Halberstam, Judith. “Feminine Masculinity.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 935-56. Print.
Halberstam, Jack. “On Pronouns.” Web log post. Jack Halberstam: Gaga Feminism and Queer Failure. WordPress, 3 Sept. 2012. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.
Shteyngart, Gary. Super Sad True Love Story. New York: Random House, 2011. Print.
Williams, Jeffrey. “The Drag of Masculinity: An Interview with Judith “Jack” Halberstam.”Symploke 19.1-2 (2011): 361-80. Academic One File. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.