What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

I don’t have a lot to say these days, but I’m still reading a lot. These are the things that got me reading and thinking this week.  Without further ado:

Barbie’s Got a New Body (Time)

An interesting look at not only the latest iteration of Barbie, but also of the history of the doll (which I loved playing with when I was growing up).  At any rate, Mattel is releasing different body types as well as dolls with more diverse types of hair and skin tones, and it’s an interesting look at the “gamble” the company is taking by doing so:

But the initiative could also backfire—if it’s not too late altogether. Adding three new body types now is sure to irritate someone: just picking out the terms petite, tall and curvy, and translating them into dozens of languages without causing offense, took months. And like me, girls will strip curvy Barbie and try to put original Barbie’s clothes on her or swap the skirts of petite and tall. Not everything will Velcro shut. Fits will be thrown, exasperated moms will call Mattel. The company is setting up a separate help line just to deal with Project Dawn complaints.

There’s also some interesting tidbits about the history of the doll:

Still, Barbie’s sales took off, but by 1963 women were protesting the same body men had ridiculed. That year, a teen Barbie was sold with a diet book that recommended simply, “Don’t eat.” When a Barbie with pre-programmed phrases uttered, “Math class is tough,” a group called the Barbie Liberation Organization said the doll taught girls that it was more important to be pretty than smart. They switched out Barbie’s voice box with that of GI Joe so that the blonde cried, “Vengeance is mine,” while the macho warrior enthused, “Let’s plan our dream wedding.”

Where is the Diversity in Publishing? (Lee & Low)

Lee & Low did a baseline study on diversity in publishing last year, and the results are in.  The results are not surprising, and definitely alarming:

While all racial/ethnic minorities are underrepresented when compared to the general US population, the numbers show that some groups, such as Black/African Americans, are more severely underrepresented. This mirrors trends among children’s book authors. In 2014, just 2 percent of the books tracked by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center were by black authors. Latinos were similarly underrepresented in both places.

There’s a lot of stuff to parse here, and this is helpful to consider:

Does the lack of diverse books closely correlate to the lack of diverse staff? The percentages, while not exact, are proportional to how the majority of books look nowadays—predominately white. Cultural fit would seem to be relevant here. Or at least in publishing’s case, what is at work is the tendency—conscious or unconscious—for executives, editors, marketers, sales people, and reviewers to work with, develop, and recommend books by and about people who are like them.

Powerlifter (The Morning News)

This is obviously more of a niche piece, but if you’re interested in the world of fitness and weight lifting and women, this is an excellent, thought-provoking piece about the experience of women gaining strength in a traditionally male-dominated world.

Toned yet tiny fitness models likeJen Selter and Kayla Itsines are considered athletic and beautiful, while larger—and stronger—professional athletes like Serena Williams and Karyn Marshall, a prominent figure in female lifting in the US, are mocked for looking masculine.

Part history lesson, part personal musings about weightlifting, this is an excellent piece that tackles eating disorders, exercise addiction, body acceptance, and more:

But, like most things if you look closely, it turns out it wasn’t quite a choice so much as an internalized cultural restriction. I felt I didn’t belong because I was supposed to feel like I didn’t belong. You’ll be unattractive if you lift. Weights are for boys. Muscles aren’t sexy on girls. And so on.

It’s totally worth a read.

What are you reading and thinking about this week?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

Bill Cosby and His Enablers (The Atlantic)

Ta-Nehisi Coates has written an amazing piece about Bill Cosby, Black Lives Matter, rape culture, and the enduring insidiousness of white supremacy:

But the narrative of cunning “bitches” arriving at the hotel room of a married man has a kind of resonance that drugging women on the set of a family-friendly television show does not. Similarly, the narrative of thuggish black boys in hoodies has a kind of resonance that child-murder does not. In fact, there is no real difference in claiming that a woman in a married man’s hotel room forgoes the right to her body, and asserting that a black boy wearing a hoodie forgoes the right to his. Brutality is brutality, and it always rests on a bed of lies.

He lays it out for readers in the most accessible, smart way possible:

Much like it is impossible to understand the killing of Tamir Rice as murder without some study of racism, it is impossible to imagine Bill Cosby as a rapist without understanding the larger framework. (For instance, it took until 1993 for all 50 states to criminalize marital rape.) Rape is systemic. And like all systems of brutality it does not exist merely at the pleasure of its most direct actors. It depends on a healthy host-body of people willing to look away.

If you read one thing on the internet this week, read this.

Do I Look Funny? (Racked)

A super fascinating, pretty upsetting look at how women comedians have dressed onstage versus how men have, this deep-dive is well worth your time and offers both some personal insight as well as a history lesson:

Men aren’t expected to dress a certain way onstage —€” or offstage, for that matter. They can wear a button-down or a T-shirt and jeans, as Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C.K. have done on both the stage and their eponymous TV shows. Women haven’t gotten off as easily. From the time women took the stage during the days of vaudeville in the early 20th century, their wardrobe choices have shaped their public personae.

In the article, Yuko interviews a number of people to talk about the modern implications for women in comedy, too:

On the perception front, what a performer wears onstage is also a cue for the audience, whether she wants it to be or not. “A costume designer considers how clothing can be a shorthand to the viewer to convey status, occupation, and self-image. I try to think of dressing for stand-up the same way,” explained Anna Lucero, a Chicago-based comedian who produces The Gogo Show. When selecting an outfit for a performance, she considers her comedic point of view, and whether it’s funnier to support or contrast that with her appearance.

The Razzie Nominations are (Mostly) 50 Shades of Grey (A.V. Club)

Kind of fun to read through the list of nominees.  Perhaps most upsetting is that I’ve seen a whopping 3 of the 5 worst movie nominees, which is…embarrassing.  My favorite part is the actors nominated for more than one movie in the same category.

Extra Hot Great: The Podcast for TV Addicts That’s Created its Own Community (The Guardian)

My favorite podcast got a feature in The Guardian, and it’s pretty great:

Making a podcast that is all about the minutia of television not only requires passion, but also a lot of TV watching. “Just for stuff that I cover, when everything is airing, I probably watch 20 hours a week,” said Bunting, that’s not including the auxiliary shows she watches when they are covered on the podcast, her true crime TV beat, nor the number of Beverly Hills 90210 episodes she watches for a spin-off website and podcast. “Tara probably watches twice as much as I do, ’cause she’s a supervillain, I guess?” said Bunting.

If you’re looking for a new podcast and like, smart, funny talk about TV, this is one I recommend.  There’s something here for everyone.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

This week’s theme is “absolute distraction.”  Without further ado:

Why Being Solo and Poly Has Made Me a Happiness Evangelist (The Toast)

I’ve been thinking a lot about monogamy and polyamory lately, so this article came at the right time.  This is a really interesting, personal account of how the author sort of fell into polyamory:

I still know far more poly women than men, which clouds my anecdotal reporting on how men versus women react when hearing I’m non-monogamous. However, I do get the most straight-up judgement from mono-normative women who assume that being a tiny minority of a tiny minority of a relationship style must be the best, because I sound like what our culture tells men they’re supposed to want: a strong, independent woman who doesn’t demand monogamy.

Why Men Don’t Like Funny Women (The Atlantic)

I sent this to my best friend this week, because this is something we talk about all the time.  She is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and I’m no slouch myself.  We both agree that we are funnier than 99% of the dudes we meet and interact with, and yet are flummoxed by the fact that dudes so often are put off by our humor.  This article talks about all that, and much more, in very depressing, very insightful ways:

The way men and women laugh and joke has been so different for so long that it’s hardened into a stark, oppressive social norm. Norm violators get punished, and often, that means funny women are punished, too.

Mental Illness and the Male Gaze (Guerrilla Feminism)

Go read this right now.  Go:

The Sexy Tragic Muse can be found in music, film, literature and pretty much every other form of media. She’s not dissimilar from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl – in fact, I would argue that there is some crossover between the two tropes – but she is also very much her own distinct type.  She is usually young, and nearly always white.  She’s often portrayed as being hyper-sexual – she’s the type that 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy was referring to when he said “Emotionally unstable women are fantastic in the sack.” She’s damaged, often as a result of sexual assault or other abuse by men. Her life carries with it some kind of Deep Lesson, usually a lesson that a male protagonist needs to learn.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.  Without further ado:

Why Harvey Danger’s 90’s Alt-Rock Hit “Flagpole Sitta” Endures (A.V. Club)

I owned (and loved) Harvey Danger’s album featuring this song, and it’s still a song that resonates for me today.  Call it nostalgia or whatever, but it’s a catchy as hell song.  This piece over at the A.V. Club offers a really insightful, in-depth look at how the song still exists today, complete with interviews with the band:

This perseverance likely has something to do with the song’s unique timbres and unorthodox approach, Nelson theorizes. “I think it jumps off the radio. The fact that the distorted bass is a lead guitar element is really unusual. That shuffle beat is incredibly captivating and fun. It sounds noisy and chaotic and raucous, but then the melody is very catchy. And almost every line is sort of a memorable aphoristic slogan, which is by design, in a way. It’s also really snotty. There’s a snideness about it that is in keeping with the experience and the inner life of being a certain kind of teenager.

Aziz Ansari on Race, Acting, and Hollywood (NYT)

This op-ed, written by Aziz Ansari, is relatively short and wholly awesome.  Ansari tackles all kinds of things in it, and they’re all worth your time and consideration.  If you haven’t watched his new Netflix show Master of None yet, please do so.  It’s one of my very favorite things to come out of 2015.  This part stuck out to me:

Here’s a game to play: When you look at posters for movies or TV shows, see if it makes sense to switch the title to “What’s Gonna Happen to This White Guy?” (“Forrest Gump,” “The Martian,” “Black Mass”) or if there’s a woman in the poster, too, “Are These White People Gonna Have Sex With Each Other?” (“Casablanca,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Notebook”).

Jagged Little Pill: An Essay (Medium)

Jagged Little Pill wasn’t my first album, but it was my first favorite album.  It’s one I still love (I just belted out all the words to “Head Over Feet” while making oreo truffles in the kitchen a few weeks ago, much to J.’s chagrin) and I revisit it fairly often, for something that is 20 years old.  This essay by Morissette is super excellent:

There was a cultural wave swelling…a readiness, perhaps, for people to hear about the underbelly, the true experience of being a young, sensitive, and brave person in a patriarchal world. This wave was moving through culture with or without me, and I happened to grab my glittery surfboard and rode that wave like a feisty androgyne on the back of a megalodon.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things I’ve been reading and thinking about this week:

Every Episode of Saved by the Bell, Ranked (Vulture)

So great:

Saved by the Bell is evidence that nostalgia alone can keep a pop-culture artifact’s flame burning endlessly. A monster hit for NBC’s Saturday-morning programming during its run from 1989 to 1993, the teen sitcom featured little in terms of innovation or quality — its plots were well-worn in cliché, the acting ranged from competent to deplorable, there were very few high-wattage guest stars, and the jokes possessed a staleness that Generation X would presumably wretch at a few years later.

Spoiler alert: Jessie’s Song is #1 on the list, as it should be.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Project Greenlight from Effie Brown (Buzzfeed)

This season of Project Greenlight was something to behold.  I loved watching it, and a large part of that was because Effie Brown was so amazing, despite how terrible everyone else was.  This interview with her is very, very telling:

And then I do think a little sugar will get me further. It pisses me off that I have to think that way or do that, because if I were a man, I would not have to, but you know what? I’m not a man. This is where I am right now, and if I want to succeed in this business and do more and tell more authentic stories from the Other, I’m going to have to learn…I’m a hard worker, I bust my ass as a producer, I’m really great at my job, but I have a chip on my shoulder. I am a flawed person in a really difficult situation with other flawed people, and it just happened I have a camera on me, so that’s awesome.

How to Apologize (The Toast)

This is excellent, funny, and a little too real for me at times:

Make a cursory moral self-examination excusing yourself from all responsibility and justifying everything that you did. If this does not work for you, try an exhaustive moral self-examination in which it turns out that not only is everything is your fault, but that you are also responsible for the feelings of everyone around you, and if they experience disappointment or frustration or resentment, it is because of some inner flaw of yours, and it’s up to you to make them feel better.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things that got me thinking this week.

‘Things Will Never Be the Same’ The Oral History of a New Civil Rights Movement (The Guardian)

It’s been a year since Michael Brown was murdered in broad daylight by police officer Darren Wilson, and not a lot has changed.  People are still being murdered by police in America every day.  They are still walking away without criminal charges.  America is still a country in which white supremacy reigns.  This piece at The Guardian is excellent and should be required reading.  It runs down the events on that August day a year ago, and moves forward from there, all while providing the details in the voices who lived it:

The gassing was almost surreal, because it felt like we were at war but that doesn’t make any sense. It felt like I had just been attacked by a group of people that are supposed to serve and protect me in my community, which is where I was.

It’s a long piece, but it’s excellent and worth saving to read later.

Five Great Questions I Was Asked as a Reference Librarian (Book Riot)

Kelly Jenson’s list of questions she was asked when she worked as a reference librarian is pretty awesome, but my favorite part is when she talks about working with teens who are described by their parents as “not being readers”:

Like magic, they open up. They’re happy to explain that they don’t like “big books” or that they can’t stand books like The Hunger Games. They then begin to open up other things to me: they love video games. They love books where a boy has an adventure. They loved the time they watched that one movie because it was scary or really funny.

Here’s What’s Missing From Straight Outta Compton: Me and the Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up (Gawker)

Just last week I had a conversation with my mom about making a point to go see this movie, and then I stumbled across this article.  In it, Dee Barnes, who used to host a popular TV show called Pump it Up!, was beaten by Dre after he became angry about a segment on her show.  Gawker asked her to watch the movie, based on Dre’s life, and reflect on it.  And now, I’m not sure I’m going to go see this movie:

That event isn’t depicted in Straight Outta Compton, but I don’t think it should have been, either. The truth is too ugly for a general audience. I didn’t want to see a depiction of me getting beat up, just like I didn’t want to see a depiction of Dre beating up Michel’le, his one-time girlfriend who recently summed up their relationship this way: “I was just a quiet girlfriend who got beat on and told to sit down and shut up.”

But what should have been addressed is that it occurred. When I was sitting there in the theater, and the movie’s timeline skipped by my attack without a glance, I was like, “Uhhh, what happened?” Like many of the women that knew and worked with N.W.A., I found myself a casualty of Straight Outta Compton’s revisionist history.

This is definitely a piece that is worth reading, whether or not you have any interest in seeing the movie.  It speaks to larger issues within our culture, and the way we revise history (and treat women).  I still think a movie like this is important, but I also think a discussion about why the uglier aspects of life are removed from a biopic is one worth having.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

Book Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Jon Ronson has spent the past several years traveling around to interview people who have been shamed in public and embarrassing ways.  These people have been called out on their jokes and behavior all over the internet and have suffered real and lasting consequences: firings, death threats, and general public scorn.  Ronson examines these public shamings, the history of such a practice, and why we as humans are so drawn to this public form of democratic justice.

It’s a complicated thing that Ronson is trying to do here, and he mostly succeeds on some levels.  His exploration of the individual shaming cases, which seem to be front-loaded at the start of the book, is fascinating.  Whether or not the reader thinks these people did anything wrong (virtually all of them did, just in varying degrees and perhaps none deserving of the social media outcry that resulted), their case studies still present a great deal of food for thought.  Readers will enjoy trying to figure out whether these people really regret their actions or just the result of their actions–there’s a lot of hand-wringing about whether or not they’re actually at fault for anything.

Where the book stumbles somewhat is where it feels like Ronson was scrambling to pad the book’s content somewhat.  Forays into other topics, some of which are only tangentially related, work far less well, serving only to drag down the book’s momentum.  Also, Ronson himself is kind of insufferable at times, and if the reader has done any reading about the controversy surrounding the ARCs of the book and an excised (insensitive) line about rape, they’re likely to go into the book with some preconceived notions.  None of this is bad, per say–it just makes for a different reading experience.

One thing that Ronson falls woefully short on is examining how much harder a time women have in these public shamings than men do.  Although he makes mention of the fact that the women receive far more rape and death threats, Ronson doesn’t take any time to extrapolate what that means.  He also makes mention of the fact that nearly all of the men who are shamed and fired were offered other (better) jobs within a short period of time, while the women were not.  There’s a lot of interesting stuff here to unpack, and Ronson skips right past it.

On the whole, it’s an interesting read that will work well for discussions of the dark side of social media and public shaming.  Individual chapters are stronger than the whole, which will lend itself well to classroom assigned reading.  These would have worked better as a few essays and not as a whole book.  Borrow, don’t buy.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. Riverhead Books: 2015.  Library copy.