Archive for Culture

Yinka Shonibare Mbe, A Series

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 10, 2009 by thebibliophile

In recognition of Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare Mbe, who has two exhibits up in the U.S. – one at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the other at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, I’ll be doing a series on Shonibare and his art. In an earlier post I linked to the National Museum of African Art’s foray into using social media and blogging to introduce the public to their exhibitions.

Tonight the National Museum of African Art hosted a very elegant and extremely well attended opening reception for the show. The opening was convened by the new Director of the museum, Dr. Johnetta B. Cole, and co-hosted by Dr. Camille Cosby, and Her Excellency the First lady of Nigeria Hajiya Turai Umaru Yar’ Adua. Guests included Lonnie Bunch the Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as the Deputy Director of that museum Kinshasha Holman Conwill.

The artist, Yinka Shonibare Mbe, spoke briefly about the importance of challenging normativity and the great power of art; particularly in art’s power to directly confront, engage, and deconstruct concepts of race. He also joked gamely about being good at art bringing “ladies.” The event went smoothly until one of the guests passed out from the heat. Shonibare was unperturbed, pausing considerately until the situation was handled, and then continuing on graciously.

I’ll post pictures and additional thoughts as Part II of this series. I imagine that I’ll write 5 parts to the series, discussing Shonibare’s exhibit in Washington, DC; the exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum; Shonibare’s positioning in the art field; the role of identity in his work; and Shonibare’s own unique perspective based on his global citizenship, race, gender, and ability – which I am particularly interested in exploring as it impacts how his art his produced.


Reading on the Rails

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 9, 2009 by thebibliophile

As per usual, Racialicious is breaking it down, this time about how race and gender impact a person’s success with online dating. In a post by J Chang and using research from OK Cupid, entitled “Your Race Affects Whether People Write You Back,” there is a discussion with data analyzing trends in on-line dating. J Chang’s great post “Of Ok Cupid And Denials of Racism”  is a must read – and for me connects to the pieces I didn’t discuss in my post yesterday ‘Dr Benzer’s Stupid Prejudice Against Smart People.” In that post I focused on gender and intelligence, and didn’t go in-depth around race. Chang’s post does and I think it is so important.

Check his quote to responses on Ok Cupid to their findings about race and success with internet dating:

“The whole matter of preferences is not necessarily racism, but can be, if you are judging what a person is like by their race and not by their actual character/appearance. However, no matter how innocent any individual preference is, if you look at the way that preference twists and turns over a large group, as we see in this study, racism clearly exists at the systemic level. Regardless of whether or not any person’s preference is racist, on an individual level, the fact of the matter remains that men (as a group) find black women less attractive than other women and that women (as a group) find white men more attractive than other men. While each individual preference might just be aesthetic, it points to a system wide conditioning of the sample group to have racial bias. Your preference might not be racist in itself, but the standards of beauty/attractiveness in the society that influences and shapes your own personal aesthetic preferences are most certainly racist.”

I heart Racialicious.

Chanel Iman and Jourdun Dunn in Teen Vogue

Over on Threadbared, they did a piece about Teen Vogue’s latest issue featuring Chanel Iman and Jourdun Dunn and the discussion of race and fashion. And they reference a post over at Jezebel that looks closely at the Teen Vogue issue.

I’ve seen the pictures from the magazine and am struck, not only about the conversation about race in fashion, but also by the actual images. There is something here – particularly about the placement of the bodies. Nevertheless these are two stunning (if frighteningly thin) womyn.

Chanel Iman and Jourdan Dun in Teen Vogue

The images are not particularly groundbreaking. While it is a pleasure to see brown-skinned womyn womyn “>reprented, it is important to note that both womyn in some way “fit”the standard of beauty: they are exceptionally thin, their hair has been processed/altered so that it is long and bone straight.

It is also of note that neither womyn is shown in the androgynous trends (plaid, menswear – with the exception of Dunn’s jaunty hat) that are so ubiquitous this season. I am also interested in the positioning and placement of the two womyn’s bodies, which to me signals both homoeroticism (which I’m not mad at, because I think it is unintentionally subversive even if it is a problematic trope in this particular situation) and a level of competition. This is bolstered by quotes from Dunn and Iman, who explain,

“Until recently, we barely even spoke. We went from being superclose in the beginning,” she says, “to dead silence if we saw each other backstage at a show.” Not even a hello? “If we did say hi, it was hi, and that’s it.”

“It’s competition,” Jourdan says. “There aren’t a lot of us, but instead of sticking together, we’re pitted against each other. People will say things in Chanel’s ear like, ‘Jourdan is taking your spot,’ and then they’ll say to me, ‘Don’t trust Chanel.'”

Over at Have Mastered The Art Of Christina Anderson is posting some interesting stuff and getting ready for the debut of her play Drip at the CrowdedFire Theatre in San Francisco. Her miniblog has great/intriguing visual snippets that are worth a visit.  Drip is an extraordinary play by one of American’s most promising young playwrights. And the language is amazing. If you’re in the Bay Area this is a must see.

I heart the internet.

Dr. Alex Benzer’s Stupid Prejudice Against Smart People

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 8, 2009 by thebibliophile

I’m not really sure that Dr. Alex Benzer, who is publisizing his book, The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Embracing Your Inner Goddess & Finding the Fulfillment You Deserve on Huffington Post with an article entitled, “Why the Smartest People Have the Toughest Time Dating,” went to Harvard, his assertions seem so much more, well Princeton-esque (if you went to one of Dr. Benzer’s approved elite institutions, you’ll understand that sentence perfectly).  If not, shrug it off. It’s elitist dribble.

According to Dr. Benzer, smart people have a hard time dating because they are (we are) too cerebral. If you’re a smart person you probably “never bothered to cultivate your sensuality as a woman. Or your sexual aggression as a male,” and thus have never been successful in romantic relationships or casual dating. Dr. Benzer gives 5 examples of how smart people are disadvantaged when it comes to dating and love:

1. Smart people spent more time on achievements than on relationships when growing up.

2. Smart people feel that they’re entitled to love because of their achievements.

3. You don’t feel like a fully-realized sexual being, and therefore don’t act like one.

4. You’re exceptionally talented at getting in the way of your own romantic success.

5. By virtue (or vice) of being smart, you eliminate most of the planet’s inhabitants as a dating prospect.

I won’t fault Dr. Benzer for trying to help those struggling with love and dating – or for addressing the fact that when folks  are too cerebral, it can be difficult to make an emotional connection. It’s kind of Dr. Benzer to offer some advice.  I think he has some good points: high achieving folks may have a different approach to closeness, when you’re studying (or doing any activity all the time) and not socializing you may have less opportunity to meet people to date, people who are closed from their emotions tend to struggle with intimate relationships. Ok check. But that’s where Benzer and I take different roads.

Benzer seems to be talking to a certain kind of smart person – a person with a certain kind of learning style, perhaps mostly book learning, and maybe more than a twinge of type A personality.  Achievement doesn’t necessarily mean smart, and having many achievements does not mean that one is socially inept. But perhaps most importantly, Benzer is forgetting how annoying and difficult it is to be a smart person surrounded by not terribly sophisticated or critical thinking folks. He’s neglected to mention that foolish people are a chore! It’s not smart people’s fault; it’s stupid people creating all the trouble.

Wait, let me be more serious here, providing my own rebuttal of Benzer’s reasons why it’s so hard for smart people to mate.

1. Smart people spent more time on achievements than on relationships when growing up.

How is “smart” being defined? Dr. Benzer offers a definition that highlights elite educational institutions including, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, Swarthmore, Amherst, Dartmouth, Brown, Oxford, Cambridge, Berkeley, Penn, Caltech, Duke. So really what Benzer is focusing on, are those students who went to Ivy League or elite institutions. It’s important to note, however, that going to those schools doesn’t necessarily mean that one has innate intelligence. Anyone whose attended any of those schools can tell you there are plenty of book smart folks, some plain dumb folks, a whole bunch of legacies, someone whose family built a library, and an exceptional group of sophisticated intellectuals.

How many legacies after all does Harvard admit? No, attending such schools proves, in many, but not all cases, that an individual can play the admission’s game – and they may also be very smart.
That gets us back to the question of what being “smart” means. There are, according to Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences, several ways to be “smart.” From interpersonal intelligence to kinesthetic intelligence.  So is Benzer talking about a particularly kind of stunted book smart individual? That doesn’t even make sense according to Benzer’s own logic. Benzer says, 

“Smart kids usually come from smart families. And smart families are usually achievement-oriented. Bring me home those straight As, son. Get into those top colleges, daughter. Take piano, violin, tennis, swimming and Tibetan throat-singing lessons. Win every award there is in the book. Be ‘well-rounded.'”

If smart people were born – someone had to make them (or will Benzer be using a helpful Creationism model as explanation for the existence of smart people?) so somehow two smart people managed to get together to procreate. If it happened once, whose to say it won’t continue to happen? Benzer seems to forget that one of the reasons that “smart’ children are so active, is because they need the stimulation in order to feel at peace and fulfilled. What may seem like the pursuit of accomplishments to others, may in fact be a deeply intelligent person’s way to connect and engage with the world.

A special title on your diploma doesn’t equal an automatic pass into being smart. But if someone feels they must be smart only because of their alma mater or accomplishments, that’s the very first indication that they might not have much sense, social acumen, or observation skills. As a nation we’re so caught up in the “The Best And The Brightest” approach, we only acknowledge one kind of smart – nevermind that we have evidence to show us what happens when we narrowly group “smartness.” 

 is lamenting the procreation problems of an “elite” class.

How does Benzer know that smart people spent more time on achievements than on relationships? Being part of groups that achieve doesn’t mean that you’re not building relationships. And why is this lobbed at smart people, but not say, athletes, who might also have focused for long hours on one task? One could imagine that the discipline of learning or doing a sport teaches you the discipline and work of a long-term relationship. And besides, when it comes to relationships, they’re not built simply on accomplishments but on something deeper,you share with the person you partner with like shared values, shared interests, a commitment to caring, a curiousity about the world.

This seems a great example of mocking and dismissing folks who are smart. As Patricia Cohen said in a New York Times article, “Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?” writing about Susan Jacoby  she “knows that eggheads, nerds, bookworms, longhairs, pointy heads, highbrows and know-it-alls have been mocked and dismissed throughout American history.”

2. Smart people feel that they’re entitled to love because of their achievements.

Say what, word? Benzer tell us that,

“For most of their lives, smart people inhabit a seemingly meritocratic universe: if they work hard, they get good results (or, in the case of really smart folks, even if they don’t work hard, they still get good results). Good results mean kudos, strokes, positive reinforcement, respect from peers, love from parents. So it only makes sense that in the romantic arena, it should work the same way. Right? The more stuff I do, the more accomplishments and awards I have, the more girls (or boys) will like me. Right? Please say I’m right, because I’ve spent a LOT of time and energy accumulating this mental jewelry, and I’m going to be really bummed if you tell me it’s not going to get me laid. Well, it’s not going to get you laid, brother (or sister). Here’s the thing: your romantic success has nothing to do with your mental jewelry and everything to do with how you make the other person feel. In other words, you need to earn love (or at least lust).”

Hmmm, well yes, people do like to be loved or liked for who they are. They like to feel affirmed. They like not needing to hide that they live a life of the mind and are engaged, excited, and curious about the world around them. Benzer does a poor job of distinguishing between a calculated check-list of accomplishments, that have nothing to do with whether someone is kind, thoughtful or fun to be around, and whether a person is  as he says “well rounded.” There are many intellectuals who balance their love of the life mind, with activities that give them a break from thinking. Turns out those violin lessons balanced with calculus actually do give folks a sense of harmony.

Benzer is talking about obnoxious people who think that because they’ve been identified by others as smart, or feel themselves to be smart, they should have an edge or should be specially admired. That’s narcissism. And that’s different. But so what if you think you should be loved because you’re smart. Have you noticed the crazy ignorant folks running around here, smartness is special, it’s in limited supply, and it does make folks special. If someone wants to be loved for being smart, well then, they have that right and desire. It’s like telling someone they shouldn’t want to feel loved for being funny.

There are lots of folks, smart and not so smart, who believe they should be loved because of what they’ve done,  how much money they make, and not because of who they are. But in many cases, smart people are asking to be loved for who they are, and their intelligence is inextricably linked with who they experience themselves to be. For truly smart people, the accomplishments are what they are, it is their sense of being mentally engaged that matters. Maybe that’s part of the issue, Benzer uses “smart” too loosely – and being smart and being an intellectual or even a bit genius-esque is beyond just being someone who passes the test.

Most smart people, truly brilliant folks, learn early on that their smartness is not an asset socially. That it may get them awards, but it also raises scorn, a sense of isolation and loneliness, and it can also be very threatening to others. Sure, folks may know you’re smart, but that’s not going to make others like you, you still may have to prove you’re likeable some other way. Some people learn to cover their intelligence in order to fit in or minimize how intelligent they are. It’s a replay of what so many womyn through the ages have been encouraged to do – “just play dumb,” so you’ll be liked. Which can be interpreted in many ways, but for womyn usually means, “be more cute and complacent.” But damn, like Anthony Hamilton says, “everybody needs love in their life, everyone needs a little sunshine in their life,” don’t brainiacs get to be loved too?

Many of the wounds and social awkwardness Benzer talks about come from smart people being traumatized or otherwise excluded because of their intelligence – from being mocked, to chastised for being excited to learn, from the different perspective they offer. It can create a sense that somehow one doesn’t belong and isn’t entitled to the same kind of social gains. And our society often treats smart people differently. Assuming that they “aren’t like other people,” furthering that sense of difference and isolation and the need to cover.  Benzer focuses so much on smart people’s supposed insecurities he doesn’t pay any attention to how smart people threaten those who are not as smart. Nor does he consider, how hard it is to be around stupid people on a regular basis. It is damn hard work!

3. You don’t feel like a fully-realized sexual being, and therefore don’t act like one.

Personally, I think smarts are sexy as hell. What I think often happens is that womyn who are seen as smart are denied being seen as sexy. Is Benzer unaware of the sexy librarian phenomenon?  Heterosezual men need to have varied images of womyn, so they’re able to avoid the socialization that teaches that a smart womyn in a threat to be avoided and desexualized. What is being a fully-realized sexual being exactly and according to whom? Now did he do his own personal research or…

What Benzer may be right about, is the way that American hostility toward intelligence, works to exclude and stigmatize smart people in ways that disqualify many smart people, particularly smart womyn, from participation in the dance that is traditional heterosexual dating. And let’s be clear that there is a double standard. Being a confident smart womyn with an Ivy League pedigree presents all sorts of issues of power and perception of attractiveness, but be a male with the same pedigree and magic and eligibility collide.

According to Benzer,”Attracting a partner is all about the dance of polarity. Energy flows between positive and negative electrodes, anode and cathode, magnetic north and south. Unless you actually convey femininity as a woman or masculinity as a man, you’re not going to attract a suitable companion of the opposite sex.” Benzer’s statement is patently heterosexist and quite frankly sexist, assuming that normative masculinity and femininity will attract a partner, that attraction is that simple or consistent, and that men or womyn of the opposite sex need you to “act your biological gender.”  He goes on to share on his website that

“Your sensuality is your most powerful resource for attracting men. Here are some suggestions from a guy who knows what turns him into putty.”

“How to bring out the best in a man. The power has always been within you to be a great woman to your man — here’s how. p. 224”

We learn that smart womyn in particular are an unfeminine threat who cannot, because of their intelligence, tap into their major power as womyn, their sexuality and sensuality. Oh really, for real? Let me just push up my cleavage  so I can get that cutie to come near. Nevermind, the possibility, that a man could be genuinely intrigued by a womyn’s rather substantial brain cleavage. My brain cleavage enables me to do all sorts of things: quote Foucault and the best Seinfeld episodes, remember NCAA stats, recall the best place to get a good beer, find the best pizza in a tri-state area, mange to change a tire, and when needed get what I need done, done. 

What about all those people, male and female who are really attracted to intelligent people – people who move from music to politics, to goofy jokes, to dancing to good food?

4. You’re exceptionally talented at getting in the way of your own romantic success.

What a way to suggest, as Susan Jacoby has said, that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing.” Boys and girls, too much learning can prevent you from getting romantic love. Going to an elite institution means you’re too uptight to know how to reproduce. I feel as if I’m reading a mid-century text that is going to chide me for being a frigid womyn. Social awkwardness hits folks at all places of the social, smartness, and class spectrum. What Benzer runs the risk of doing is suggesting that wealthy people smart people, are innately socially awkward, and therefore ineffectual at seduction.

Is Benzer unfamiliar with say Bill Clinton who has a long storied history of womanizing and is unquestionably brilliant. Or Lord Shelley who had elaborate affairs. Baudelaire? Or intellectuals who’ve had long time romantic partners?

Sure, really smart people are more likely to be a tad neurotic, questioning each movement, moment, and the meaning behind it. And yes, that is indeed distracting when trying to just go with one’s heart. But blaming smart people, or suggesting that their intelligence is the culprit of failed romances is inaccurate and misleading. Might it be instead some narcissism, that they may not be as interesting as they think, that their socially awkward, not ready for a relationship, or any number of things that have to do with personality and character and not one’s IQ.

Which brings us to Benzer’s last reason why smart people are so unsuccessful in love

5. By virtue (or vice) of being smart, you eliminate most of the planet’s inhabitants as a dating prospect

Benzer further qualifies who is he talking about when he says smart,

Let’s say by ‘smart’ we mean ‘in the top 5% of the population in terms of intelligence and education’. Generally speaking, smart people seek out other smart people to hang out with, simply because they get bored otherwise. And if they’re going to spend a lot of time with someone, intelligence in a partner is pretty much a requirement.

Well, congratulations — you’ve just eliminated 95% of the world’s population as a potential mate, Mr or Ms Smartypants. Now, luckily, the world’s kinda big, so the remaining 5% of the gender of your choice is still a plentiful 160 million or so people. Even if only 1% of those are single enough, good-looking enough, local enough and just all-around cool enough for you, that’s over a million people you can date out there.

Yes there are limited folks to date. Keep in mind that according to a National Geographic study done in 2006, “only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.” And that “nearly two-thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution,” not in a critical thinking, philosophy or religion class, but as a science class. Benzer doesn’t seem to realize that as Jacoby says “the United States seems particularly vulnerable to a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism.”

 In other words, there are lots of crazy mixed up folks out there with no good sense, without even taking into account “smarts,” or varying “smartness” levels. This combined with a dislike of smart people, or people who are perceived as asking too many questions, thinking too critically, or thinking too creatively/too divergently, means that its a cultural bias against smart people that impacts “smartness” being perceived as attractive – and not the actual smart people, that are the issue.

Besides, if one has good sense, you have to  eliminate folks – for all sorts of crazy “elitist” reasons: racist, sexist, homophobic behavior, lack of interests in the world, incompatibility, lack of shared values or dreams, or you know, an inability to locate major geopolitical nations on a map when the country has been intensively in the news for 8 years. Sacrifices have to be made. The fact is, it’s harder for smart people to date, because of the U.S.’s hostility toward smart, independently creative (meaning creative in a way that Gap, google, or Apple can’t co-opt and make into a kick ass viral commercial), critical thinkers has reached such a level that those people are  being driven to the margins.

Also keep in mind, that generally folks in Gen X and Y are more prone, in certain circles, to hook ups than dating, generally. It’s not just smart people who are struggling to make connections and create intimacy, we live in a time and space in which, all of us are struggling to make authentic connections. Asserting or suggesting it’d all be better if those smarty pants could just stop being so smart and be a little more emotional, a little less likely to correct your geography, a little less uptight, is not only unhelpful it’s not accurate. It’s intelligence, real intelligence, not some “smarts” you got out of a book your TA made you read at Harvard, but a commitment to learning, knowledge, and curiosity that sometimes encourages a person to really want to speak to another, learn about their life, be observant enough to get them a touching gift, be reflective enough to understand or seek to understand their emotional motives, and perceptive enough to dig deep for the hard work of loving. Why not help smart people understand how their gifts can be an asset in a loving relationship? Why not help others learn how to truly appreciate and love a divergent thinker or smart partner?

One thing is for sure, Benzer has a smart marketing strategy. Tapping into the lifetime of isolation and mocking that many smart folks endure, in order to sell them a book that explains their isolation and teaches them “how” to be better is quite a strategy. Benzer is also smart enough to get folks who think they’re smarty pants to buy his book as well. After all it’s the perfect explanation for their failure in romance, “I’m not dating, it must be because I’m sooo smart I don’t know how to do it!” He’ll get all sorts of smarty pants with such a strategy….

And just think, I didn’t even mention how race, class, gender and sexuality impact our thinking of what’s attractive and what’s not…

Top 5 Ways Stupid People Ruin Dating

1. They keep using words like amazing and totally, with an inflection that ends in a question, so you can’t ever  really tell what they like because the tool box of adjectives is so limited.

2. You have an idea and they make fun of you for the idea, but later someone invents the same damn thing and makes a million dollars.

3. You want to try the Kama Sutra but they want to know “Kama who…? I don’t do foreign food.”

4. They literally do not understand “the words that are coming out of my mouth.” Logic is a difficult concept, especially as they are busy contradicting themselves. After all the conversation you are trying to have with them was not on their task list.

5. There’s nothing interesting to talk about outside of what they saw on Fox the other day or alternatively, they haven’t read anything worthy of poaching from The Atlantic, Harper’s, Vanity Fair, or Foucault lately.

See how obnoxious it is….

But then again, take it or leave it, I’m just a super geek in search of love….

Memory Lane: When Black Folks were Allowed on TV

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 6, 2009 by thebibliophile

You have to go all the way back to the ’90s to see Black folks on tv….

So classic…


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 24, 2009 by thebibliophile

So, have we all decided that sexist, revisionist plots and representations of womyn are back in style? Shame on ABC, their new show Eastwick, is a hot mess. The plot is similar to the film The Witches of Eastwick, but ABC’s version lacks the film’s subversion, great acting, and subtle social commentary. And to be clear, it’s not that the film was great, and not filled with problematic issues, but what ABC presented last night was a farce of empowerment for womyn; it was just degrading. From the production quality fo the show, to the acting, to the writing and plot, it was a disaster.

Which is a bit ridiculous, since the ABC Eastwick, hews to closely to the original movie’s plot – the womyn have martinis, the discussion of womyn’s lives, goals, dreams. But the television version lacks all sense of bite and self awareness on the part of womyn, which the original film was, or at least seemed, chock full of.

Perhaps Page Wiserson sums it up best in her review, when she says:

Rebecca Romijn, Jaime Ray Newman and Lindsey Price (“Lipstick Jungle”) aren’t stepping into the shoes of Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer directly. Good move. Romijn’s new character is a fertility-goddess sculptor – I suppose the world needs those, too – who scandalizes the town with her younger lover (Matt Dallas of “Kyle XY”). Newman is a full-time working mom of many, many children, and Lindsay Price is relegated to writing “fluff” at the local newspaper.

Really? In the 22 years since the movie came out, women still haven’t figured out that they can leave their boorish husbands, or that they deserve equal treatment at work? Wait, it gets worse. When these three finally come together and find strength in friendship, what do they wish for?

A man, of course. Presumably to show them the way.

I’m not sure where the female-empowerment journey is going to go from the first episode, or if this is some sort of post-post-feminist irony I’m not picking up on. We will give them the benefit of the doubt. What really distracted me was that so many elements of the show reminded me of better entertainment.

Wiserson sums up my feelings precisely. Especially when she speaks of the lovely and uber-talented Sara Rue, here overlooked as a (gasp!) sidekick, when as Wiserson says, she should probably be a lead. With her perfect time, energy, and ability to work in ensemble while carrying a show, I’m surprised she wasn’t cast in a more prominent role.

And of course, we know there is no ethnic diversity in the show. Eastwick is probably a sundown town, anyway….

A hot mess.

Mommas Boys – How It All Began

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 13, 2009 by thebibliophile
On December 16th, NBC aired “Momma’s Boy’s” a show that features 3 men below the age of 30 and their mother’s all trying to find the self-proclaimed “momma’s boys”, mates. The boys, follow the advice of their mothers, and try to balance their attractions and interests, with their mother’s desires for wholesome, kind womyn – womyn, whom they’d like to be very similar to who they are.
But the real jump off from the show has come from Khalood Bojanowski, an Iraqi-American womyn, participating with her 21-year old son, Jojo. Known as Mrs. B on the program, she bring a whole new set of attributes to “hockey moms,” when Mrs. B introduced herself, by listing in callous and inappropriate detail, all the womyn who would not suit her son. From “a Black,” to a “fat one,” to Jewish womyn, Mrs. B’s list is as extensive as it is representative of her internalized oppression. See for yourself:

Mommas Boys – Bitch, Are you crazy? (12/16)

[clearspring_widget title=”Mommas Boys – Bitch, Are you crazy? (12/16)” wid=”4727a250e66f9723″ pid=”496ccda46652caf3″ width=”384″ height=”283″ domain=””]

Video Recaps | Full Episodes | Webisodes

In a previous post – focusing on the only self-identified Latina in the group in the group of womyn on “Momma’s Boy,” it was clear this show would have plenty of fodder. The womyn I focused on had a fantastic quote about a certain part of anatomy she has on loan from men. 

The show hasn’t disappointed: it’s a hot mess of internalized oppression, which lends itself, in fact compels you, to analyze. From the uncomfortably close relationships between mother and son, to the clear patriarchal associations and structures it supports, “Momma’s Boys,” provides at least a Master’s level worth of foolishness, from which you could get a degree in “whack cultural ish that Americans aren’t necessarily watching, but which some folks are still acting up on.”

In the above video, it’s interesting to watch as each group of womyn hears her group named. Mrs. B starts with hair and “boobs,” and then like a train careening through a station she goes straight from hair and boobs to “a Jewish or a Black.” An interesting mental leap, that tellingly links certain beauty attributes with identities, locking and linking the “wrong” hair and boobs, with Mrs. B’s feeling of the wrong races and ethnicities. She then transitions back to labeling body type. I think, Mrs. B. is interchangeably using pheno and body type with race and ethnicity. As the womyn begin to fret, Camilla, a Black womyn keeps her cool, explaining “racism isn’t dead.” Sure ‘nough.

While shocking to most politically correct and culturally fluent Americans (some of whom are genuinely shocked and some of whom know to seem “shocked”), the reactions are staggered. It’s pretty interesting to watch the reactions cascade.

When one considers the statistics around Black womyn and marriage, namely that only 1 in 4 Black womyn is married by the age of 40, this scene to me, represents the ways in which Black womyn are removed from the “competition of mating,” often because of stereotypes and deeply embedded racism – being propagated, often times, by other womyn.  This is where superficially – and in all the wrong ways, we can see “feminism is to lavender, as womynism is to purple.” Sure by the end of Mrs. B’s rant everyone is upset – but no one leaves the competition, none of the white womyn featured on camera decide to boycott or confront Mrs. B, in fact it’s only the womyn of color, whom Mrs. B has dehumanized most forcefully, who ultimately end up engaging with her most frequently. Ironically, it is Black womyn whom Mrs. B cries to and with. The other mothers, even caring mothering Esther, whom Mrs. B blatantly dismissed with her “not a Jewish one” do nothing to confront her. Though in the case of Esther, and considering her recent behavior, perhaps she thought: “Yes! All the Jewish womyn are for my Robbie.” But even if the other mothers wouldn’t address a personal offense, neither did Lorraine or Esther assuage the hurt feelings of the womyn of color. None of them pull Mrs. B aside to address her blatant racism: it’s not their problem; not personally anyway.

I recognize, on a show of this very low low caliber, such solidarity is a tall order; nevertheless, as a microcosm of deeply immature people, one must wonder: in the arena of sexual politics, is the lack of solidarity yet another example of ways in which womyn of color and white womyn are divided by racialized sexism/sexualized racism? In other words, in the competition for sexual attention, equity, and access to mates, in which all people ultimately compete on some level, are womyn of color disenfranchised because of the way that desire is politicized?

Much attention has been given to Mrs. B’s overtly racist beliefs and behavior, but Esther, in recent episodes – especially in this Monday’s (1/12) episode, evidenced significant distain for Camilla, the womyn of color whom her son Rob seems clearly and genuinely – as genuine as it can be on a show where your first date is in the Virgin Islands, attracted to, on the show.  Esther frames her discomfort with Camilla  as a concern that Camilla would be unable to be a good steward of Rob’s  faith. Moreover, she says that Rob as the descendant of two pairs of Holocaust surviving grandparents, would be neglecting a very important part of his history, by not marrying a Jewish womyn. I suppose Esther isn’t interested in winning the oppression lottery by combining the oppressed history of Jewish people and Black people. Esther is clear about her commitment to her son marrying a womyn who can continue the cultural traditions of her ethnicity and family.  And she has also begun to say, that it would just “be easier,” and “more comfortable,” to be with someone who knows Jewish traditions. Nevermind, that not all Jewish people practice the same cultural traditions – Ashkenazi Jewish people, Sephardic Jewish people, Latin-American Jewish people, Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox. The group from which Esther wants her future daughter in-law to come, is not monolithic.

At the beginning of the show, Esther’s desire for a Jewish womyn, seemed benign – a request or suggestion. As the show has progressed, Esther’s request has morphed into rhetoric. She sounds more and more like a polished Mrs. B – both after all are extremely threatened by the idea of their sons with Black womyn; both cite their reasons as being the protection of their culture (Black womyn, apparently are extremely destructive of culture) – without apparently understanding anything (real) about Black cutlures; both are associating their son’s desire of Black womyn as deviant or abnormal; both clearly take the attraction and connection to a Black womyn as a direct rejection of themselves. Yet Esther, at first, and in large part, seemed mostly committed to continuing a rich cultural heritage – not in excluding a particular racial or ethnic group. In the bright light of Mrs. B’s clear internalized oppression and racism, Esther’s preference wasn’t even a pinprick of light.

While we were all paying attention to Mrs. B’s overt racism – a racism borne out of ignorance, insecurity and deeply embedded internalized oppression, Esther’s more insiduous distaste and concern is cloaked in what appears (and I would argue is to a point) an acceptable desire to have her faith/ethnicity continued. It becomes apparent, however, that Esther is using “a womyn who shares our faith,” as a code to exclude Black womyn. And it is Black womyn Esther wants to exclude. The doctor whom Robbie liked was also not Jewish (but did have a Jewish grandmother, I believe), but as Esther exclaimed, “a doctor!” In other words, the class and professional prestige outweighed the cultural demand. To me, this makes Esther’s stance more than a little shaky.

I’m reminded of an Essence Magazinearticle a few years ago, that called for Black womyn to teach their sons to marry Black womyn. Which got me thinking: maybe Esther is on to something. She is insistent on a cultural practice of carrying on tradition. Maybe her insistence, isn’t so different from womyn of color’s insistence about marrying others from the same ethnic/racial group, or their anger when men of color marry womyn outside of the ethnic/racial group. Yet, when Black womyn, in particular say such things, its turned back as, “you’re just upset no one wants you,” – personalized, as opposed to reflecting on the racist politics that are increasingly embedded in sexual desire. In the end though, we love who we love – and Camilla has made a concerted effort to be respectful and thoughtful – carefully watching the Hanukkah traditions and being more than willing to learn; overturning Esther’s assertion that a Black womyn wouldn’t respect of carry on the family traditions.  And she and Rob are (gasp!) sweet in a reality t.v. way with one another. Meanwhile, Esther’s hand-picked Lauren, doesn’t seem that interested in “her Robbie” – and seems instead content to let her race and class privilege carry her through the show, even without developing a connection with Rob.

So, where is the line? Esther’s request comes from a deep commitment to continue the traditions of her faith, but it is also sitting in the same room, sharing the same couch, with her racism – producing a deep discomfort with Black womyn. It offers a quandary of sorts: the assumption has been that many Jewish Americans, understanding the Holocaust, oppression, and exclusion, have a natural kinship to Black people (and vice-versa). Jewish Americans participated in the Civil Rights Movement and have undoubtedly been allies during and through many struggles for equity in the U.S. And like many people of color, particularly Black people, Jewish Americans have watched as assimilation and integration have eroded cultural heritage. Part of that erosion for both Black people and Jewish people in America, may be the integration of internalized oppression. In other words: Black folks continue with the internalized oppression that teaches us not to love who we are, while also participating in “double-consciousness”; Jewish Americans, in a process of cultural shedding and assimilation, are becoming more traditionally white, by integrating ideologies of white supremacy borrowed from U.S. culture – and increasingly marrying outside of their faith.

Throughout  history Black womyn have been exploited – tricked, trapped and abused, but in the cultural lexicon of oppressive fantasies about womyn, no fantasies (and let’s be clear, “Momma’s Boys is a fantasy) see Black womyn as great partners – wifey material, for real. That’s why Black womyn never make it on reality shows that are selling fantasies of family and desire.

Maybe our new Obama Camelot will change that…

Imperialism Becomes a Born-Again Virgin, But Will Turn Tricks for Meat

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 9, 2009 by thebibliophile

Burger King's Mascot - fittingly the King himself.

Burger King, which has a  small cult following among advertising gurus, for its quirky, odd, and (to some) increasingly bizarre commercials released a series of “Whopper Virgin” commercials in the U.S this December. In addition to the documentary-style commercials, Burger King has released a behind the scenes making of the “Whopper Virgin” documentary.

The basic premise of the commercials, is that the only way to have a “true” taste test, is to have so-called “whopper virgins,” try the whopper (Burger King) and the Big Mac (McDonald’s). What’s a “whopper virgin” you ask? According to  Burger King, it’s any one who’s never had Americanized food – specifically a person who’s never had a burger. Or as I like to think about it, people who have not been exposed to artery clogging, likely to kill you, over-processed and chemicalized food, which here in the U.S. we call hamburger meat.

The Burger King film crew runs the “test,” in a Thai Hmong village, a small village in Transylvania, and an Inuit village – encouraging all of the participants to try the whopper, while they record the responses, which vary from confusion about how to eat the whopper, to general disgust about what it is, to enjoyment and curiosity. And it’s all done with an eye for anthropological exploitation.

When I first saw these I was fascinated, trying to figure out what was going on – were Americans being challenged about our assumptions about food? Was there a larger commentary on how we think of food? Was Burger King going to support these small villages? No. Burger King wants to show you that somehow, although many of those featured, eat far healthier food than many of us do in the U.S. , somehow the ultimate symbol of American food, the “burger,” – and how we eat it, is superior to how other people eat around the world.

I guess imperialism is real hungry these days, and busy learning how to turn new tricks. It is so self-explanatory as to why this is whack, that I will stop with the commentary right here. Here are the “Whopper Virgins” commercial released in the U.S.

The Gaurdian ran an article about the ads, “Burger King’s ‘Whopper Virgins’ ads: just bad taste?”

Thai Hmong Village

Transylvania Village

This is “The Making of Whopper Virgins”