The Big C: So this is liberating?

The Big C is making quite a splash in cable programming. Laura Linney stars as Cathy Jamison, a high school history teacher diagnosed with Stage-IV melanoma. Cathy eschews chemotherapy and opts not to tell any of her family and friends about the diagnosis, despite being told that she has a limited life expectancy.

It’s a premise that’s both intriguing and deeply disturbing. It helps that The Big C is headlined by an all-star cast of character actors. Showtime has demonstrated that, along with Weeds’ Mary-Louise Parker, the network consistently offers darker, less conventional roles for women in television comedies. And if that’s not enough, consider that the show’s pilot was seen by 1.154 million viewers, giving Showtime its largest audience in 8 years for an original series debut. Continue reading

Justice for Shaquan Duley, justice for mothers

In the wake of enormous tragedy, it is left to each of us to analyze the coverage of stories that startle even the most hardened of media consumers.  Shaquan Duley, 29, is a South Carolina resident who confessed last week to suffocating two of her toddler-aged children, 1-year-old Ja’van Duley and 2-year-old Devean Duley, then putting her car into neutral and letting it drive off-road into the nearby Edisto River, after initially claiming that she lost control of the vehicle before it entered the river.  As details of the case unfold, the portrait of Duley which has emerged is villainous and one-dimensional: she is seen as little more than a young, single and poor Black mother who drowned her children as a result of an argument with her own mother.

This case follows an eerily similar precedent in South Carolina: in 1994, Susan Smith, a white middle-class mother of two boys, strapped both children into their car seats before submerging her car in John D. Long Lake in Union, South Carolina.  Like Duley, Smith initially lied about the incident, claiming that her car had been stolen by a young Black man.  Continue reading

Michelle Obama & Princeton: do the hard work yourself

Michelle Obama is everywhere these days, but one place you won’t find her is the Class of 1985 – 25th Reunion celebration at Princeton University. Obama, who graduated cum laude from Princeton in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a minor in African-American Studies, sent a formal letter of regret through the White House Office of Scheduling which declined her invitation to attend the May festivities. Understandably, the First Lady of the United States has prioritized time with her family and her ongoing political actions – fighting childhood obesity, supporting pay equality, and advocating on behalf of U.S. military families – over a class dinner and cocktail hour with the university president.

Yet it seems that some at Princeton feel Obama has a special obligation to the current student body and her fellow alumni. Continue reading

Response to Haiti’s earthquake: from urgent aid to “pacts with the devil”

Relief efforts throughout the globe are being organized to support Haiti as it recovers from the most severe earthquake disaster (7.0 magnitude) in over two centuries. Though official counts are still pending, reports indicate that anywhere from 50,000 – 100,000 have been killed as a result of this horrific natural disaster. Monumental buildings such as the Haitian Parliament, Presidential Palace, and the National Cathedral have all collapsed, and the city’s capital, Port-au-Prince, lies in ruin, almost entirely reduced to rubble. With hundreds of thousands left homeless and injured, the basic needs of food, clean water, shelter and medical care are desperately needed for those affected by the catastrophe. Continue reading

BeautifulPeople.com: “this isn’t a witch hunt for fat people”

BeautifulPeople.com hails itself as the first global networking website of its kind, offering free membership to an “exclusively beautiful community, founded for the purpose of creating personal and professional relationships.” The application process is simple: submit a photo and profile, while existing members of the opposite sex vote in a two-day process to determine whether or not they find the applicant “beautiful.” Once a member is voted in, the site claims members are privy to a wealth of networking opportunities, including parties, direct connections to businesses who share partnerships with the site, and even approaches by modeling, film, and TV companies in search of pretty new faces. With over half a million members in 190 countries around the world, the site’s growing popularity remains undeniable.

Yet even among the so-called beautiful people of the world, ugliness has ensued in the tragic form of public fat-shaming. Continue reading

Cleaving, sexism and polyamory: dirty talk on Julie Powell

Julie Powell has lead a charmed life. A former government desk-slave who turned to cooking and writing in a bid for a more exciting life, she took on the task of cooking her way through Julia Child’s famous 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Powell’s popular blog, The Julie/Julia Project, garnered enough of a cult following to warrant attention from print publications. Her subsequent book, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (Little, Brown and Company), was published in 2005 and eventually became a New York Times bestselling memoir, as well as inspiring this summer’s blockbuster “Julie and Julia,” starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child and none other than the perky and lovable Amy Adams in the role of Julie Powell. Continue reading

Adam Lambert and the American Music Awards: suck my kiss

Award shows pull in viewers with “shocking” stunts on a rolling basis and the American Music Awards is no exception. On Sunday, former American Idol contestant Adam Lambert took the stage in all of his Boy George wonder and performed the song “For Your Entertainment,” the new single from his debut album of the same name. Surrounded by an entourage of back-up dancers, Lambert danced, sang, and gyrated seductively for the camera, crooning, “I told you I’ma hold ya down until you’re amazed / Give it to ya ’til your screaming my name.” Surprisingly, the sadomasochistic lyrics were less offensive to audiences than Lambert’s showmanship: his simulation of receiving oral sex from a backup dancer and his kiss with a male keyboard player have sent shockwaves of outrage throughout the media this week.

Television network ABC was flooded with over 1,500 calls of complaint. The Parents Television Council, a U.S.-based media watchdog group, wants parents to call and write in with their complaints to Dick Clark Productions and the broadcasting advertisers. “Good Morning America,” a daily talk show which appears on ABC, cancelled Lambert’s scheduled appearance on Tuesday this week, claiming that, “Given his controversial American Music Awards performance, we were concerned about airing a similar concert so early in the morning.”

Continue reading

Belle de Jour, a.k.a. Brooke Magnanti: the science of sex work

Dr. Brooke Magnanti has revealed her dual identity as Belle de Jour, the £300-per-hour London call girl whose life in the sex work industry has documented in four books, a television series on Showtime, and her ongoing blog, Diary of a London Call Girl. While some have offered support, including her colleagues at Bristol University and many of her fans, others are using this self-outing to bring out tired tropes of sex work and to lambast Magnanti for being a successful instance for how de facto legalized prostitution can potentially serve an individual’s best interests.

Magnanti’s revelation defies stereotypes of sex workers as being either drug-addicted, helpless victims, or unintelligent enough to support a “real” job. From 2003 through the end of 2004, her work for a London brothel supported her PhD studies in informatics, epidemiology and forensic science at The University of Sheffield. In the case of Magnanti, erotic labor has more than paid off her educational debts, it also helped to launch her into two highly successful careers as a published writer and scientist. She currently works as a research specialist in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology for a hospital research group at Bristol University. Her books include The Intimate Adventures of Belle de Jour (2005), The Further Adventures of Belle de Jour (2006), Playing the Game (2008), and Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men (2009). She is currently working on a novel, which she plans to publish under her given name rather than her pseudonym. Continue reading

The Frenchman and his myths: a tribute to Claude Lévi-Strauss

This week, France mourns the loss of one of the nation’s most influential anthropologists and thinkers. Claude Lévi-Strauss died after enduring cardiac arrest last Friday, just twenty-nine days shy of his 101st birthday. He will be remembered most as a revolutionary academic thinker, a scientist and a writer of both enormous intellect and influence. He is survived by his wife, Monique Roman, sons Laurent and Matthieu, and two grandchildren.

In the academic realm of anthropology, which demanded his implicit adherence to conformity of thought, Lévi-Strauss challenged many of his field’s previously accepted tropes. His controversial stances on the history of civilization radically changed the script for humankind’s history on Earth, one which claimed that so-called “primitive” societies were populated by uninspired tribes of humans who were collectively driven by their basic physical needs. Lévi-Strauss insisted that both reason and logic were central to the group dynamics, even if it wasn’t immediately obvious to the field researchers who had come before him.

In his work, he hoped to prove that oral and written myths, from tribes as seemingly disparate as two villages in Brazil and South France, were connected by the evidence of unified structures and patterns which govern all human activity. He argued that tribal communities were formed by their guiding laws and the community’s adherence to these laws. With the minor shift of a few details which were specific to each region, Lévi-Strauss believed the most advanced and the most remote of cultures and time periods shared universal motifs of binary opposition: hot and cold, raw and uncooked, black and white.

Continue reading

The Bloemfontein urinators: “we’re not racist!”

A shocking video which outraged Afrikaners in 2008 has resurfaced, if only to once again emphasize the privileges of its elite, white male students.

The University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, a South African college, has reinstated two white students who were expelled last year after serving four black female housekeepers and one elderly black male housekeeper with beef stew which one of the men had previously urinated into. But it was not enough to harass these workers: the students filmed their heinousness, as well as the vomiting of the five housekeepers after learning they had been served urine-soaked stew.

At the end of the video, the students boldly announced, “That is what we think of integration.” The video was purposely filmed, the students claim, as a “satirical slant” while the campus prepared to racially integrate the residence halls and dormitories. At that point, the campus was still divided into white and black dormitories, nearly twenty years after the end of legal apartheid in South Africa.

Continue reading