Fuckin’ food chain…
Glorious food chain
Flicking off a fly and
Ting! The sound
of my fingernail
grazing the rim
of my almost-empty
glass of red wine
Green grass and orange-tipped yellow roses
through that cupped emptiness
Beauty and tragedy
together again for the very next time
See it, taste it
in two more long, slow sips
Lick your lips
Life is rich and full
to describe it perfectly
(“If you speak French!”
Haha, funny, Tu et amusante)
Bugs, like pin-pricks
in size but not in pain,
except as my mind makes them so
My last sip
Clock ticks, time flies, fly time is over
I rise to go
Time stands still
(As the memory will:
I was a grape,
must be Syrah, ah,
made into wine, flown in
by flies from France
that dance now
around my glass
and on my page.
I fling them away
with another ting
but they can’t stop
Screeeeeech! Nope. I am
El Paso de Robles
and the flies are local
like the ruby Rhône varietals
once swirling in my now-empty glass
It is clear: a grape I have become
We are one
The moment has arrived
to take my double-helixes
to the piano,
When I was just a child, I watched footage of the Vietnam war and, later, the killing of protestors at Kent State in Ohio — on network television. Viewing these atrocities bolstered my stance of “diplomacy first, war never.”
A rhetorical context for these televised horrors was the technological advancement of journalistic equipment for filming such truly newsworthy events. At the time, the media was not in a position to turn away this content.
At the same time, the western world was experiencing counterculture: call them “hippies,” “drop-outs,” “bra-burners,” truth-seekers, or whatever; our world was suddenly teeming with people whose ideas, activism, and conversations bucked the hegemonic system. These folks were creating vocal and visible backlash to the rapid modernism taking over our culture and our planet, while fighting the forces of oppression, whether racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination against non-white, non-male persons.
Of course, the filming and televising of utterly horrific exterminations of Vietnamese people and American college students was not the beginning of the counterculture, which had its roots in 1950s during McCarthyism. Poets, musicians, artists, actors, and other peace-not-war minded people, along with people of color (or Blacks, or African Americans, whichever you prefer), were already speaking and acting out against McCarthy’s “House Un-American Activities” initiative and other witch-hunt policies, in addition to the overt “Whites Only” / “Blacks Only” segregation tactics. Then, in the 1960s, our nation was moved into the Civil Rights Era; and in the early 1970s, into the Women’s Movement, otherwise known as first wave feminism.
But I digress. Television footage of these Vietnam and Kent State events brought reality into our homes. People saw not only the scale and shocking violence of the war, but the magnitude of the protests against it — and the degree to which the powers-that-be would push to try to stop those protests. Yet after millions of viewers saw it all, there was no way to make them un-see it, and the political tides turned quickly to end the Vietnam war.
Today, the media — specifically, the mainstream media (MSM) — is for all practical purposes incapable of broadcasting such truth, and so it is difficult to change public sentiment about the numerous wars, atrocities, and military occupations perpetrated by power moguls in our nation, and beyond. Soundbites, newswire stories, and happy-human-interest bits round out what most networks call “news,” and viewers have become accustomed to the routine: it’s familiar, it requires no critical thinking, and it usually ends with jokes and joyful fluff. All of these qualities are comforting to the average viewer, who becomes shielded from the realities of the world while being entertained — and Americans are very good at staying entertained.
In fact, when we see snippets about war and violence on tv, it appears as entertainment simply because it is on tv. This a topic which Neil Postman wrote about in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. (It’s a great read, and I highly recommend buying a copy now!) Basically, Postman says that television is a medium designed for human amusement, and so anything we see on it, including “the news,” becomes entertainment.
Now, we see new terms entering our vocabulary, like “tragedy porn,” which involves photographs, film clips, or gifs of people, places, and things that have been ravaged by human caused violence or natural calamity. Most recently, it is the Syrian “boy in the ambulance” who, adding insult to injury, will likely become another victim of tragedy porn, his image forgotten in tomorrow’s “news.”
Unlike tragedy porn, the vast majority of viewers did not forget the horrific televised images of the Vietnamese massacre and Kent State protestors being gunned down. In a similar manner, viewers in 2001 saw footage of the Twin Towers free-falling on 9/11, as television, satellite, and cable stations broadcast the destruction 24/7 for several days. Although the reasoning behind televising both events, roughly 40 years apart, was completely different, these were two unique times when tv became more than just an amusement screen while never succumbing to the current trend of tragedy porn.
As I see it, a significant difference between the Vietnam/Kent State and the 9/11 broadcasts is the two distinct cultural contexts: the earlier including a large, organized activist counterculture that focused on a single issue at a time (the war, in this case); the latter being made up of a scattered, sociopolitical disconnect in which there are SO MANY ISSUES do deal with, many people feel powerless to effect change and thus blindly follow the dictates of leaders (“go shopping,” for instance, was then-president George W. Bush’s urging to the American people). In other words, I argue that the counterculture revolution of the 1960s/70s actively resisted the fear-based messages of the hegemonic forces, while the majority of Americans in 2001 embraced fear and accepted the messages.
For myself, viewing the Vietnam/Kent State footage anchored me in my ideas of creating peace and resisting the call to violence. As a Communication Studies scholar, I wholeheartedly advocate for diplomacy first and war never: this goes to my vision for a planet and all of its inhabitants living in harmony and evolving in love. I know, we have a long way to go, but we can start now.
I am angered to my soul’s core that anyone, let alone a presidential candidate [Trump], would have the audacity to publicly vilify Gretchen Carlson and other women at Fox Corporation who have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment by Roger Ailes. Not only that, but Trump praised Ailes in an attempt to discredit the brave women who have come forward with their stories of disgusting, systematic sexual abuse — just to get and/or keep a job in Ailes’ creepy corporation.
As a survivor of sexual trauma at the hands of falsely empowered, narcissistic white males, I can say that I never asked to be violated by these barbaric individuals. My experiences with sexual violation include verbal and nonverbal sexual harassment that are both personal, like cat-calls, obscene hand gestures, and facial expressions directed at me, and impersonal, the kind that are around me constantly in the media like in tv commercials for hamburgers, magazine ads for perfume and clothing, and films that portray women/girls as second-class, sideline characters who are either voiceless vixens or shrill shrews who, again, deserve punishment and silencing from the male characters.
Even music (no! say it isn’t so!) contains lyrics that openly degrade, dishonor, defile, and disown females as if we are all mere f**k-holes who deserve to be beaten, raped, and killed just for existing. It is downright unethical to claim that such music can be produced and marketed as “entertainment.” If the authors of such violent are simply recounting a personal experience, their production should be classified as “educational” — and by that I mean “a story that we as humanity want to learn from and do not EVER want to recreate.”
But are we learning? It appears that the answer is no, we are not learning. The power moguls in our culture prefer to keep females under thumb. Now, Donald Trump publicly said that Ailes’ sexual assault victims are lying, and that if they are not lying, they should quit complaining and appreciate having such great careers. As Judd Legg wrote,
…Trump has altered our sense of morality. Conduct that previously would constitute a cataclysmic event — a presidential candidate defending and justifying sexual harassment — does not even register. . . . He has successfully created cultural space to argue that women should be grateful to be treated as sexual objects in the workplace.
This “normalization of white male supremacy,” as Legg calls it, has a flip side: it’s called “cooptation of feminism and normalization of hyper-sexualization of females.” It is a double-edged sword that simultaneously defends a culture in which males dominate females while threatening their very existence. (I will write more about this topic in future posts.)
My own experiences with sexual violation include sexually charged physical, psychological, and emotional abuse, and rape regardless of what the perpetrator used to violate my body and especially my sexual organs. And I am done, DONE standing back and not speaking up about American rape culture, cooptation of feminism, and the normalization of hyper-sexualization of females. Every human being that is victimized by a sexual predator needs every victim and advocate to speak out. This is the step that I am taking today.
On a grand level, our nation, our world, needs to see through the oppressive rhetoric that targets anyone for oppression and violence or enslaves people in repressive, vulgar institutions. We need to see that people like Trump, Ailes, and those who defend sexual harassment or any kind of disgusting manipulation and violence while condemning the victims, they are dangerously regressive. People and the planet need more love, less hate; more peace, less fear. Communication is the answer. Let us put aside our differences and talk with open hearts and open minds. This is the only way that we can achieve harmony. Anyone who chooses to fight to keep females down, I believe, is on the wrong side of human evolution, for we will prevail.
Thank you for reading and for posting your thoughtful comments.
Yesterday proved to be another busy day in the world of politics, culture, and postmodern living in general. I sipped my morning decaf almond milk mocha while reading headlines about everything from more of Donald Trump’s xenophobic, racist, sexist, violent spewings, to a female rape victim (of a convicted serial killer) being thrown in jail for thirty days because she broke down in court while testifying and fled the room. I know that I am not alone in my feelings of anger at the constant barrage of stories and pictures and videos of human divisiveness leading to violence and, at the very least, bad decisions that adversely affect humans, animals, and the planet.
Meanwhile, our culture remains addicted to entertaining ourselves in order to drown out the noisy inhumanity. While I make every attempt at using my free time to be creative rather than consumptive, I find myself binge watching Tim Minchin. With Tim, I get (mostly) enlightened messages and (some) logic cradled in his virtuosic compositions and performing abilities, so I can count my viewing as not merely mindless entertainment!
Back to yesterday. I went online to our local CraigsList postings. The “Musicians” category is usually rather amusing, with posts about “lame bands” next to “book my band” posts and calls for “metal drummer” or “old school blues guitarist.” This morning, I saw an intriguing post titled “Where are all the female musicians?” As you can read for yourself, the author is Howard Sterling, owner of Musician’s Contact service. Sterling writes that in 1975, he predicted “by the year 2000 there would be just as many females as males in bands, and there would be just as many all female bands as all male bands” and he invites readers to offer their ideas why his prediction was way, way off. I could not resist the temptation to reply, and here is what I wrote:
Dear Mr. Sterling,
Thank you for your thought-provoking post on CraigsList.
As a female musician (not just a lead vocalist, but that, too), I have over 15 years of experience living in Los Angeles and working hard to “make it” in the music business. After leaving the area in 2003, I can see that the situation has not improved and has actually gotten worse.
While there are “token” female musicians in professional posts, such as Felicia Collins of the CBS Orchestra (1993-2015), most female artists are offered a narrow role by Hollywood. This, of course, involves hyper-sexualization and what Kristin Lieb, author of Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars, calls the “short-term person-brand.” This model is based on the notion that female music performers don’t have much of a shot at stardom; that if they do achieve celebrity status, chances are they won’t stay there for long; and that if they do last, it’s because they and their handlers learned to successfully manage their person-brand. Tragically absent from the organizing principles of short-term person-brands: requirement of significant musical talent. Perhaps even more disturbing is that women music performers (ostensibly) knowingly trade their hyper-sexualized bodies as a productized money-making person-brand in order to maintain their status within the music business, which largely benefits a patriarchal system that stifles women while exalting, and excessively rewarding, mostly males and a few token female performers such as Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, and Miley Cyrus.
I recently returned to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to earn my BA in Communication Studies, where I wrote extensively about such topics (see my research paper attached). Since I am a trained singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, all of my friends and family assumed (erroneously) that I would get my degree in music. Certainly, there would be some benefits to being able to teach “band” in junior high and high school, but having a BA in Music would not confer any clout on me in the music industry—not that I am at all interested in being part of an industry that would surely productize me and my work. During my time in Hollywood, I had my share of “casting couch” opportunities with degrading male A&R execs, club owners, and others, not to mention auditions with probably 200 male musicians who made it quite clear that being in a band or songwriting partnership with them meant I was consenting to sexual relations with them, and when I did not consent, the music making opportunity vanished. Being female, I learned quickly that it is an unwritten contract in our entertainment culture to accept that my talent alone is not enough, that I would have to sex it up to get in and hope to stay in. After so many years of living in that stifling, self-destructive environment of power play and whimsy, I had to get out. Wisely, I had done the actual hard work of music along the way, and I continue to write, produce, perform, and record.
As I began to wrap up this message, I started to apologize to you for putting a feminist spin on my reply to your ad—but I am not sorry. What I am is saddened and, yes, even angered, by the twisted social construction of female musicians at the hands of industry power mongers who have coopted the second wave feminism upon which your prediction was made. In other words, you probably would have been right (or at least close!) if some brilliantly (/snark) oppressive industry insiders hadn’t seen Madonna’s early—and beautiful—assumption of power and turned it immediately into the hyper-sexualized model for all female music artists. Of course, they knew that if they didn’t do it, someone else would. Way to go, guys (and their blindly following girlfriends, wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters): way to keep women down at the expense of not only a diverse, thriving music industry, but a better world, period.
Mr. Howard, I respect the business that you have built and kept running for over 45 years (as is posted on your website), and I respect that you would be so bold as to post what you did on CraigsList. Even though your post was also an advertisement for your business, I appreciate your taking the time to think and write critically about this cultural problem and to ask for comments from your readers.
/end quoted message
I also attached for him my December 2015 research paper, “On Coopted Feminism and The Normalization of Hyper-Sexualized Female Music Artists.” Not only am I proud of the work I did under the tutelage of Dr. Lauren (Archer) Kolodziejski, who is a brilliant rhetorical critic, I believe it is vital for people to understand how sexism in the music industry is overt but it is also disguised as third wave feminism or “female empowerment.” This goes to my argument that the music industry has successfully coopted feminism and normalized the hyper-sexualization of its productized female artists and in the way male artists depict women. (I will publish my paper in subsequent posts, but for a teaser, the paragraph in my letter to Mr. Sterling that begins “While there are ‘token’ female musicians in professional posts…” is taken verbatim from that paper.)
I love being a musician, and I had many, many positive experiences while living in L.A. and doing the Hollywood thing, trying to obtain that elusive major label recording deal with all its fame and fortune. But I cannot ignore the dark underbelly of an industry that remains a microcosm of female oppression throughout society. And, as I told Mr. Sterling in my letter, I will not apologize for shining a light on that darkness.
Thank you for reading and for posting thoughtful reflections! Please come back and keep the conversation going.
Recently, I graduated from Cal Poly SLO (California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo) with a B.A. in Communication Studies (COMS). Being a research-and-writing junkie, my initial plans upon graduating included grad school starting in fall 2017. The ultimate goal was to earn my PhD in the same field and teach at Cal Poly.
After much research, finding the perfect school for my MA, and meeting with many of my favorite COMS professors and best friends for advice, I woke up on a Monday morning with the realization that I do not want to leave my home and family for several days each week over the course of 2-3 years. And this commitment would just get me through the Master’s program; the Doctorate would require another 3 years minimum, and I hadn’t even thought about where I would complete that part of the plan.
Did you hear my heart break?
So, I reached down and lovingly picked up my academic dream, which laid on the floor like a nearly complete thesis torn into thousands of bits. I put it all in sheet protectors in a 1″ three-ring binder, and went for a walk in my neighborhood park.
The image just above is an amalgamation of two photographs that I took on different days. The first is a clock that hung on the wall of a California Central Coast wine tasting room, and I Photoshopped it into the image of a culvert in a desiccated drainage field in my Atascadero neighborhood. The time reads 3:15. I wonder what that could mean? In light of California’s drought (and perhaps our ailing planet in general), I say this is “the 11th hour.” It is time to change our use of water in commercial agriculture, especially, and even to stop the privatization of water for sale. Who owns water? What does the image mean to you? Feel free to leave inspired comments.
As the days went by, I realized that my need for cerebral exercise is greater than I had imagined. While eating lunch, I was struck with the idea of blogging about social and cultural issues that urge me to wonder, to ask difficult questions, to seek answers from those who have gone before me as well as divine my own interpretations, arguments, and evaluations, and to connect with people who are interested in my same quest for knowledge, truth, and justice, for a world with more love and less divisiveness.
I selected a particularly broad category because I have diverse interests that I intend to explore in this blog: music and the entertainment industry; race issues; environmental issues; rape culture; education; power structures; and more. I love rhetorical criticism, and this world abounds with incidents, topics, and personas to shred! Please join me in looking critically at culture and social issues and ideas, and exploring ways to create change in ourselves, our communities, and the world at large. I promise to engage with respect, honesty, fairness, and a bit of humor in the conversation, and I hope that you will, too.
Oh. And one more thing. Sometimes I use swear words, so consider yourself warned.
Thank you for reading, and please come back again!