Archive for May, 2011

Heroes & Education: A Rebuttal to Waiting for Superman

Posted in Uncategorized on May 27, 2011 by thebibliophile

In late October a group of educators will release a documentary called “An Inconvenient Truth about Waiting for Superman.” I’m really interested to see this film. I found that “Waiting for Superman,” had some deeply problematic moments, including, a cartoon graphic of a white teacher, attempting to pour knowledge in the lifted off heads of students. All of the students are white-skinned – until the last student, who is darker-skinned. All of the other students’ heads lifted to “accept” the knowledge of the teacher – except the darker-skinned child’s head. I found this, intended or not, to be a racially biased depiction.

I think “Waiting for Superman” inappropriately demonized teachers, without tallking about the root inequities of how we do public education in this country. I also think it provided a simplistic view of the challenges facing education – that would sway folks unfamiliar with education.

Check out the clips from each documentary below.




Is So You Think You Can Dance Racist? And Sexist, and Ableist too…Oh My!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 27, 2011 by thebibliophile

Is So You Think You Can Dance Racist? (SYTYCD?) Well, if you mean that they are fond of mocking darker-skinned people of color, referring to Latin (as in genre, not short for country of origin) dancers, particularly if they are Latino, as hot tamales,  and seem never to actually advance people of color, even when we are dancing in genres that folks of color invented or perfected (hip hop, Latin, Alvin Ailey influences), then I think we’re going to have to go with, yes.

SYTYCD airs Wednesdays and Thursdays on everyone’s favorite network for parity, Fox, moving gently into the space recently vacated by American Idol. SYTYCD has been part of Fox’s summer roster since 2005. Now entering its eighth season, viewers are again in store for a season of bright-eyed, preternaturally flexible, and talented young people, trying to make it as dancers.

In truth, given the racial history and pathology of the United States, I’m not sure that a show that so fully engages the body – its movement, presentation, submission to direction, preserverance, and constant display could resists an essentializing gaze in which race, whether producers want it to or not, takes the stage.

But each year, SYTYCD get’s racier and racier; pun intended. The womyn’s dancing costumes and audition clothing seems skimpier, Nigel’s consistent commentary to Latin (style) dancers is to be more “masculine,” the overwhelming critique and comments made about dancers of color involves the judges expressing fascination in watching the body of color move, and very rarely comments on technique – and when comments from judges do address technique, it is usually with an statement that suggests the skill is “unreal.”

Moreover, the judges, with the exception of Little C, seem ill equipped to fully respond to the many dance genres outside of modern or Latin dance. Nigel uttered the very odd gem that Jeffrey McCann, a Black male 28 year old, who auditioned in Oakland, was naturally “built for b-boying.” Well, what does Nigel know about hip-hop? And in all my time, as a dancer (modern), I’ve not quite heard of someone being made to for b-boying. In fact, one could argue much of the point of b-boying is highlighting your own body’s special features and feats. In other words, you make the dance “pop” because of the innovative way you use the tool of your body.

It’s true that being 6’6″ might make b-boying difficult, but Nigel’s particular statement smacked of an appraisal of a Black male body that missed the mark; that was too close to “he’s built for labor, or built to do this work.”

 Tonight’s episode has a brief introduction to turfing. A dance style, that stands for Taking Up Room on the Floor, and uses flexibility, transitions, storytelling, and gliding movements. It’s been around for more than a decade. Like many African diasporic-inspired styles, it reminds me a great deal of a masquerade.  None of the judges had any experience with turfing. Thus, they weren’t really able to assess the technique or understand the dance – and Little C, who has some authority on a broad range of dance, was not present. 

I bet you in 5 years, a white man is going to be teaching turfing and telling Black kids from Oakland who learned the moves on the block from their older cousin, that they are doing the moves all wrong. What I mean to say, in more academically appropriate language, is that at any moment, white critics and artists will co-opt turfing. This will be done, even as turfing isn’t being seen as a “proper” art form or style. Even while the judges on SYTYCD proffer the boring assessments of turfing dancers as “oh, so cool! That’s amazing.”

Black dancers and dancers of color are often labeled as unique or interesting to watch, focusing on the display and interest by the white judges or viewers of watching the black body. they don’t discuss technique – but are all about musicality (i.e. how a dancer responds to and punctuates their movement to the melody, harmony, and rthyms of the music).

This season marks an interesting change – now Little C is being mocked, adding in my opinion to the show’s hostility to Black people and the Black body. I am hoping that Debbie Allen will be featured again this season and hopefully more choreographers of color and more female choreographers.

Race is not the only challenge of the show. Ability comes up repeatedly on the show, with SYTYCD framing (dis)abled dancers in ways that Joseph Shapiro might call “the super crip” role.

Take for instance the framing of Jessica Jensen.  On September 30, 2009, Fox aired episode 4 (Season 6)  of SYTYCD. During the episode, we meet Jessica Jensen a contemporary dancer who  had her hand amputated a year and a half ago, to stop the spread of cancer.  

Cat: So tell me about some of the experiences you’ve had in life….

The personal narrative has propelled the framing of contestants – acting to bestow them with the title of show “darling,” “underdog,” or simply “not good enough.” That personal narrative is often deeply impacted by the race, gender, ability, and (presumed) economic class of the dancer in question. SYTYCD has a troubling relationship with the body and difference. Over the summer I’ll investigate how the show frames and positions race, gender, ability, and sexuality.


Posted in Uncategorized on May 25, 2011 by thebibliophile

To promote the Read Across America program, the New York Public Library created a 26-ft tall by 40-ft wide display that spelled out the word “Read” using 25,000 Dr. Seuss books. It’s posted at one of my favorite sites Bookshelf Porn. You can pledge to participate in Read Across America here or find out how you can participate in your local area here.

I just love that the NYPL did this promotion – it looks wonderful.

Oprah Prepares to Say Goodbye

Posted in Uncategorized on May 12, 2011 by thebibliophile

Ms. Oprah Winfrey

In my lifetime, there has never been a time in my memory when Oprah Winfrey has not been on television – shaping the culture around me, sharing her unique wisdom and experiences. So, I feel a certain sadness that she won’t be there, at 4 p.m. each afternoon telling us all how to live a better life. That’s not to imply, however, that I don’t have a rather complicated televisual relationship with Ms. Winfrey.

To the contrary, I have a quite complicated relationship with Oprah: I admire her tenacity, her success, the fact that she single-handedly doubled the number of Black people on a magazine cover by launching her own magazine, that she has fundamentally changed U.S. (and I might argue certain international) culture(s). By all accounts, Oprah is a success – and I  by no means begrudge her the success, hard work, and brilliance that it takes to do what she has done.

That said, I’ve been thinking lately, as I watch the last week of her show, of the things, I will emphatically not miss about Oprah:
1. Whenever she interviews anyone with an accent, she mirrors the accent – for no particular reason. It’s really distracting – because, you know, she can’t mirror Sarah Ferguson’s, Catherine Zeta-Jones’, Cate Blanchett or Kate Winslet’s accents. So what exactly is she doing?
Is it that Oprah has to mimic and become each person she interviews in order to draw us in? Does Oprah not realize what she is doing? In those moments are we witnessing Oprah feeling excluded from the elitism she connects to having an accent? Or is Oprah sometimes just a little silly?
2. The fatphobia. Oprah has long shared (ad naseum) her struggles with weight and body image – often without interrogating a society that places such unreasonable expectations on the bodies of womyn. I will not miss the episodes where Oprah at turns exhibits jealousy, envy, dismay, and/or triumph around the body – hers, her friends, the guest she has on the show, the body you might have after you take all of her advice.
3. Oprah’s amazing ability to make it all about her. You were pregnant with twins, after you broke your foot, and found out your husband was cheating with your best friend, how does it feel at that moment, because this is how she would feel – fill in the blank. It was just like the time, fill in the blank, happened to her. Anything. It all comes back for Oprah to decipher and tell us how she would feel, what her “aha!” moment was. I will not miss the unintended narcissism.
4. I will not miss the pressure to be perfect which the Oprah team hustles. I will revel in not knowing how to do things “just right,” having heard it from one of Oprah’s many experts. I will be messy and not bother to berate myself for not having time to: eat organic, shop organic, redesign my home, meditate, journal, and do everything on purpose. I will miss feeling bullied to be perfect.
I especially feel no guilt about not missing the bullying because I’ve been watching Season 25 on the OWN Network, and it has provided me with one highly important tool: perspective. I’m not going to lie, I imagined the O headquarters were like a real-life Willy Wonka land, where all the producers and staff, having taken Oprah’s advice for a 25 years would be calm, collected, slim, and always journaling, while in their purpose. No, they are harried, ego-driven workers, frightened of their boss.
Perhaps, I shouldn’t be surprised that the O team has been schilling a way of living, very few of them are practicing.
5. I will not miss Oprah’s transphobia and homophobia, which usually reveals itself in shows about “men on the down low” and how it can happen to you – and how she speaks to people in deep pain as if her pain is their same pain.
6. Her incessant hustling of “the best things,” which half the time you can’t afford and besides, they don’t  fit in with the mantra she just got you addicted to of “living with less.” I also won’t miss people going bat sh*t crazy on her give away shows.
7. Oprah’s “accidental victim blaming. As in “couldn’t you tell something wasn’t right?”
8. The class dynamics and the constant aspirational striving of her show – telling you, you must have x and y, then castigating viewers for living beyond their means.