It's MusicFest NW week here in Portland, and though it takes a lot for a shorty like me to brave the crowds of unbelievably tall dudes who magically appear out of thin air during music festivals, tonight I am heading out for one reason and one reason only: Big Freedia. It's Bounce time, y'all!
One area of pop culture where really problematic and questionable depictions of people come up is that of mental illness. The way that mental illness is depicted, whether it is within the context of a celebrity scandal; the characterization of a person in a film, comic, or television show; a book; or music, can be extremely dubious. For those of us with mental illness(es), pop culture can be a constant reminder of the fact that we are considered both scary and public property, objects of curiosity, fascination, and revulsion.
How, exactly, does one become an artist-in-residence at a sanitation department? If you want to do it the way Mierle Ukeles did it, first you get expelled from Pratt for making "pornographic" abstract art. Then you have a baby. Then you write a rad manifesto that redefines everyday maintenance work as fine art. Then you make landfills into beautiful public parks! Easy peasy.
As I read discussions about pop culture and see responses to female characters, I see a lot of hate for female characters, but not a lot of basis for that hate. Take Tara on True Blood. People say she's 'whiny' and 'boring.' These aren't really criticisms that add in a meaningful way to discussions about Tara; what exactly does it mean to be 'whiny'? What makes Tara 'boring'? Are these not criticisms that are weaponized against real women in the real world on a pretty regular basis? Should we not, perhaps, question why we are carrying that over into pop culture discussions, and talk about what that means?
I'm not one to guilt anyone for caring for lowbrow culture, not least because for so many years my bookish university friends made fun of me for watching television at all. (I've felt no small degree of satisfaction that The Sopranos, The Wire, and now Mad Men have had them eating their words more recently.) But every time I've tuned into any version of Bravo's Real Housewives franchise this year, I've had to fend off a sinking feeling that I've hit the rock bottom of my guilty pleasures.
From PBR to Pampers, Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharp of the blog Sociological Images look at the cultural significance of the graphs, cartoons, and advertisements we usually take for granted. I spoke with Lisa and Gwen for our Mad World podcast about how the blog got started, how to "pull back the curtain" on advertisers, and why exactly the "mediocre male" is such a prevalent trope found today.
Jean Kilbourne made the first Killing Us Softly film in 1979. Now with several books under her belt and Killing Us Softly 4 out this spring, Kilbourne obviously hasn't stopped her activism in media criticism--whether it's following the increased sexualization of children in ads or calling out the alcohol and tobacco industry. Kelsey Wallace spoke to Kilbourne, a member of Bitch Media's National Advisory Board, on the phone about trends in advertising and gender, the state of media criticism today, and Kilbourne's future plans. You can order Killing Us Softly 4 at the Media Education Foundation. This interview is part of our Mad World podcast on gender, advertising, and identity in a mediated world.
Subscribe on iTunes. Download at archive.org. Transcription available here (.doc).
Size discrimination is an unfortunate fact of life for many fat people working in a corporate environment. Fat workers are often passed over for promotions, denied raises, and told outright to their faces that they are undesirable to clients. Not only that, fat employees on average earn 1 to 6 percent less than employees whose weight is considered "normal." Fat people are also often the scapegoats for rising corporate health care costs. What protections are there for those facing size discrimination? Being classified as "overweight" generally does not entitle you to protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act or the ADA Amendment Act of 2008, however, under the ADAAA being classified as "morbidly obese" or having health problems considered "weight-related" does. The larger you are, the more likely you are to experience size discrimination, and the more protections you have under the law. But those who are not considered "morbidly obese" also need to be protected, and unfortunately there are no laws that prohibit discrimination based on weight.
As if size discrimination wasn't enough to deal with, many workplaces are instituting weight loss incentive programs, which further marginalizes fat employees. Incentive programs that include rewards for departments or teams that lose the most weight create a hostile atmosphere in which fat people are shamed for not being able to lose significant amounts of weight.
Do you know what today is? It's Personal Life release day! If you're a Thermals fan (and you know I am), you've been excited for this day for a while now. And you won't be disappointed, because Personal Life delivers all of the energy, catchy hooks, and sing-along lyrics you've come to expect from these cuties. Check out their latest video if you need proof:
Pssst... You can also preview the new album at NPR First Listen, and if you live in PDX you can see The Thermals live this week at MusicFestNW (oh, and you can see us there too!).