Context vs. Controversy
By Maria Popova
Making waves with a new website launch is so hard these days, what with taken domain names and beaten been-done-before concepts. Alas, newcomer Stuff White People Like, having dodged both 2.0 kisses of death, is off to a critically acclaimed start — and we think it has sprouted a new trend we like to call “affectionate stereotyping.”
But sensationalist title aside, the witty blog doesn’t actually talk about race at all — it’s more about a certain economic subset united by the common gene for Christopher Guest movies, “The” bands, Whole Foods, Nordic furniture, and Obama. And, somehow, it manages to capture those tastes surprisingly well, indulging the shared disdain for certain mainstream pastimes (say, television) to nail the exceptions (say, The Wire.) In fact, it does it so well you should consider yourself warned: you may end up feeling like a far too common, albeit culturally elitist, walking clichè. Do you have bad memories of high school? Listen to public radio? Got a lot of t-shirts? Hate “The Man”? Recycle? Then you’re a figurative “white person.” They even got us on the Michel Gondry front. Shame. See the full list, then join us in a disillusioned head-down retreat to the “white person” factory. But, in all seriousness, this is easily the smartest blog we’ve come across in a long time. Between all the “affectionate stereotyping” and the captivating, witty voice, it somehow manages to ask all the big questions of identity, society, culture, politics and life. Plato couldn’t have done it better himself — despite his quintessential ancient white personness.
Speaking of social trends, could fat be the new phat? We’re not talking about the acclaimed but oh-so-over- discussed Real Women of Dove, who are actually quite the hot stuff. We’re talking way, um, realer.
Like the “models” British celeb megaboober Katie Pierce, who goes by the alter ego Jordan, used in the launch of her eponymous lingerie line. The 29-year-old Anna-Nicolesque Brit tapped girls from her fan club to do the job — we’re resisting a joke about her “biggest admirers.” Unsuccessfully.
Then there’s the Big Ballet — another U.K. phenomenon that, Turkey Lake jokes aside, has been said to put good ol’ skinny ballet acts to shame. In fact, the tour has gotten so big the ensemble is extremely hard to book.
But, really, there’s a King Pin in fat town. Big Fat Deal has been around since 2004, dissecting with snark and irreverence the pop culture portrayals of weight and “hottyness.”
But the blog, written by the mysterious duo of Weetabix and mo pie, has enjoyed a recent spike in popularity. It’s even got a Facebook group. We’re pretty ambivalent about the premise here — BFD works under the “fat acceptance” mantra — given our tax dollars are paying for the costs of obesity. But we must admit good questions are being asked and good points are being made. Like how come fat women feel betrayed when a fat celebrity gets back into shape? And why are fat people expected to slim down, but get mocked when they exercise?
Trans-fat-loaded food for thought, have a bite.
We like the present. Mostly because it’s a lot like us: egocentric. So we’ve always dug indulgences like Today In Music History. But because we’re all about making people uncomfortable this week, we turn to times when the present was less of a gift: a “today in disaster history” dose of morbidity brought to you by The Living Almanac of Disasters.
Earthquakes. Fires. Floods. Crashes. Eruptions. Collisions. Bombings. It’s got it all. Twenty-eight years ago today, for example, 22 members of the US boxing team died in a crash in Poland. Or on our birthday, when in 1945 the Empire State Building took its first hit by an airplane.
So check your birthday. Your anniversary. (Like you need another disaster on that date.) The day you lost your virginity. Hey, let’s go crazy: the day you had your first prostate exam. Superstition stopping you? Phsh.
If all the disaster talk got you paranoid, here’s a refreshing reality check about what could actually kill you and with what likelihood. Because common availability bias (our tendency to overestimate the statistical prevalence of things we’re bombarded with in the media or have experienced ourselves) can really do a number on your objectivity. So here are your chances of dying from select non-health-related causes in the U.S.:
- Motor vehicle accident: 1 in 100
- Homicide: 1 in 300
- Fire: 1 in 800
- Firearms accident: 1 in 2,500
- Electrocution: 1 in 5,000
- Asteroid/comet impact: 1 in 20,000
- Passenger in aircraft accident: 1 in 20,000
- Flood: 1 in 30,000
- Tornado: 1 in 60,000
And now for some real controversy — how much transparency should there be in government? According to Rate My Cop, an online forum where people voice raves and rants about police officers, a lot.
Under the tagline “You have the right to remain informed,” the privately-held website aims to do just that — keep citizens informed about the positives and negatives of the police force serving them. Because, after all, the police is a public service — so giving the public a say is only natural. Especially in light of the infamous Cop vs. Skater video of uncalled for police brutality that garnered over 4 million views in under a month.
The site encourages people to rate — anonymously but responsibly — each encounter they have with a police officer. And while we dig the concept of citizen empowerment through information and conversation, we wonder whether in this day and age of American Idol text voting and mass bandwagoning just for the sake of it, rating something as serious as the national police force may become a petty game of saying anything just to avoid saying nothing.
Our product pick this week is the latest book by famed New Yorker cartoonist S. Gross. We Have Ways of Making You Laugh: 120 Funny Swastika Cartoons is, from the paradoxically comic title to the very last page of stellar artwork, an exercise in purging some of history’s heaviest burdens through humor.
In the publisher’s own words: “These witty, beautifully rendered images gleefully stomp through the darkest moments in history and remind us that humor can diffuse our unspoken fears and deflate an overwrought icon.”
Which resonates nicely with one of our favorite quotes by author and humorist Mary Hirsch. “Humor is a rubber sword — ” she says, “it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” That, and it’s funnier than watching other people’s cats fall in toilets on YouTube.
Found Saw disturbing? Thought No Country For Old Men was gratuitously violent? Then don’t go anywhere near what’s already being dubbed this year’s most disturbing film: Funny Games. It’s the latest work in English by acclaimed Austrian director Michael Haneke of CachÃ© fame, starring (of course) the supreme Naomi Watts.
It’s about a well-off all-American family forced to make excruciating decisions about each other’s fates as they are all taken hostage by a ruthless duo of psychotic young misanthropes. And it’s already making waves in the critics circles.
Now, we’ve done a few brief stints in the psychology of violence and its effects on human thought, especially children. So we’re often thrown off by the gratuitous violence of today’s entertainment. But it’s interesting to see something that puts violence in the context of moral choice, making people extremely uncomfortable not by virtue of the violence itself but by posing the big, uncomfortable human questions.
Get uncomfortable starting March 14 at a theater near you.
As if there isn’t enough controversy in today’s music industry already, one artist is doing the unthinkable: Jill Sobule is asking fans to fund her next record. That’s all the clearly talented singer-songwriter could do after she got dumped by two major record labels and two indie ones went bankrupt on her tenure. (Her ego must be on life support.)
She’s offering 12 levels of “pledges” fans can donate to: for $10, you get a digital download of the album once it’s made; at the $200 “silver level,” you get free admission to all her shows this year; then there’s the $500 “gold level” wherein Jill gets to mention your name in a song — you can upgrade that to the $750 “gold doubloons level,” which Jill says is “exactly like the gold level, but you give [her] more money.” (Gotta love it.) Or, you can go all-out with the $10,000 “weapons-grade plutonium level” in which you get to actually sing on her CD.
We give her points for extreme inventiveness. But points don’t get you published — she set a $75,000 goal. Well, guess what — in a little over a month, she more than met it and capped out at $80,782. How’s that for proving Kevin Kelly’s brilliant 1000 True Fans theory right?
And we must say this ultimate power-to-the-people thing is pretty awesome — traditionally, fans have always played a huge role in the music industry because their buying power ultimately decides what succeeds. But why not empower them even further back in the music production process, letting them decide not just what sells but also what gets made in the first place? Smart, we say, smart.
Alison Jackson has been on our radar for quite some time. We weren’t sure what to make of her work — she shoots celebrity lookalikes in classic paparazzi scenarios to a strikingly realistic effect, indulging us with what we secretly hope to see our favorite celebs doing. But then we heard her rather thought-provoking TED talk (aren’t they all?) and had a thought:
Her work is being criticized for glorifying the cheap business of tabloid and celebrity even more, but it actually does the very opposite: it makes us really think about why we’re drawn to celebrity culture in the first place. It makes all those pop culture idols seem like nothing more than packageable images. And it’s those superficial images we consume, not the real values of the people behind them — otherwise, why would lookalikes elicit the same emotional responses from us that real celebrity snapshots do?
Take a peek.
Published March 14, 2008