Come now?

May 21, 2008

I suppose nothing about this election should phase any of us at this point, but I was really taken aback by David Gergen’s suggestion that Hillary Clinton should publicly renounce the votes of racists.  Has this woman really been dragged through so much mud that it can’t just go without saying that she isn’t reaching out to racists for support? 

As Gergen himself says, Hillary Clinton has been a strong supporter of civil rights her entire public life.  If we’re going to require Hillary to denounce the repugnant views of a small group of the millions who’ve cast votes for her, we’d also have to ask Obama to denounce those who voted for him because his opponent is a woman.    

How unnecessary either statement would be, and what undue relevance it would give the racist and/or sexist views unforutnately and inevitably held by a few in a sample of millions.  It’s clear that race and gender are still issues in this country, and it would have been nice if Hillary had been allowed to address sexism in a way Obama was allowed to address racism.  Yet, forcing statements near the end of a campaign that will only be seen as defensive is hardly the way to go about starting a national conversation on any social ill. 

Our candidate will either be an African American or a woman.  It’s possible our ticket will be comprised of an African American and a woman.  We’ve already illustrated that the Democratic Party really is the famed “big tent” of American politics and we need not have anyone making “duh” statements expressing views that are perfectly clear to anyone with a brain.    

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I stumbled across the original video for Madonna’s “American Life” single, which came out around the time we invaded Iraq.  Even after all her other “shocking” moments, this could have killed her career in 2003.  It also says a lot about what blind, flag-waving puppets people were at the time that not even Madonna was willing to ruffle any feathers.

Last summer, a month or so after I started working on the Hill, a colleague and I took an extended lunch and went to the big Campus Progress shindy at the Hyatt.   After a speech by Keith Ellison, the congressman who caused all the “controversy” when he wanted to be sworn in using a Koran (confused by some conservatives with Mein Kampf, apparently), we took in a few breakout sessions.

One of the sessions was led by the completely adorable fellow Hoya (and fellow Michiganian) Rob Anderson, then a Washington Post blogger and now a blogger for Campus Progress.

I haven’t done much blog reading (aside from the pure heroin masquerading as Perez Hilton) unrelated to class since spring semester started.  Catching up during my end-of-semester, pre-summer jobbing stretch of laziness, I came across Rob’s link to an Atlantic article titled “Caring for your Introvert.”

The article is written in a humorous tone, but it also struck a chord personally.  I can’t count the number of times since moving to DC I’ve been called a party-pooper because I didn’t want to spend yet another weekend in a series of hot, crowded, overpriced clubs, struggling to banter with strangers over awful house music.  Or how many times I’ve been called a desperate housewife because I live in Virginia rather than Dupont.

Maybe it’s just the metropolitan environment that convinces everyone they need to be seen and heard by as many people as possible in as many venues that can be fit into one night.  But even in “Sex and the City” reruns (I can think of no better reference) the girls seem to have so much more fun lunching at that little cafe or gathered around a TV with some biscotti in one of their apartments than they do when they force their way into the latest hot-spot (or that time Carrie made them all go to Atlantic City).

I dunno.  Perhaps I’m just a buzz-killing house-frau, boring beyond my years.  But I’m OK watching a movie with some close friends and a bunch of Chinese carry-out.  I don’t mind living across the river if I can park my car for less than the car itself would cost per month.  “Calvin and Hobbes” and Camus share space on my bookshelf.  Britney comes just after Beethoven on my MP3 player.  I once won a bike guessing how much a giant pumpkin weighed and have a scar on my abdomen from where I subsequently impaled myself upon that bike’s handlebar attempting to jump a curb.  I hold my pen incorrectly.  That makes me mildly interesting, doesn’t it?

I just think my words have more meaning when they address something or someone I have an actual fondness for and when they don’t pour forth as dialgoue in some “production” of life.  I think my actions carry more weight when I take them out of genuine desire and not to live up to someone else’s definition of amusement or fulfillment.

Being so “old,” I long for the days when MTV actually had something to do with music.  I guess I just don’t aspire to carry on as though I’m a Hills cast member.  Which is good, because if I had to date Spencer or Heidi I would kill myself.

As excited as I get when school’s about to start up in the fall (although I got more excited when it actually started in the fall and not late summer) I also love when classes are out in the spring. It means I can start forming my summer reading list! I know what you’re thinking and yes, I proudly answer, I am indeed that big a dork.

I decided to start the season off with Mary, a historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman (a podcast of Newman reading a selection from the novel can be found here).  I actually got the hardcover as a birthday gift last July, but in the midst of moving to DC, then starting work on the Hill and then starting grad school, I didn’t get a chance to open it until almost a year later.

USA Today‘s review said Mary was the sort of book “you feel a compulsion to urge others to read…” I certainly had that reaction just a few pages in and its a compulsion that’s only grown halfway through the novel. I’ve never been much interested in the undoubted heroes of history. I’d much rather read a complex, contradictory, conflicted story than one in which a saint among men lives a noble life for a noble cause and leaves the world a nobler place than they themselves knew.

Who could possibly be more complex, contradictory and conflicted than Mary Todd Lincoln? She was an astutely political woman in a world where a wife who zealously supported her husband’s candidacy was considered to have “unsexed” herself with ambition.

She was an intensely passionate woman at a time when too much grief, joy or lust could well have one committed for lunacy (especially if one were of the fairer sex). She was the very definition of a Southern belle who happened to ardently support the Union and emancipation. She was the type of woman who could spend days on end comforting horrificly wounded soldiers, seeking no press attention for her actions and then sink her husband into great debt trying to impress Washington society with fancy fans and elaborate gowns.

For me, history has never been a series of facts, dates and obscure figures in black and white photographs. History, especially our history, is a dramatic, heroic, tragic, ironic and romantic epic of people and places thrown together by fate and the events that mixture produces.

Not to sound too much like a book reviewer, but Mary is the perfect book for someone wanting to be as excited as they are educated by even a fictional historical account. There is perhaps no event in American history as encapsulating of all the “ics” listed above than the Civil War. Mary Todd Lincoln’s story, her fierce, sensitive, sarcastic, intelligence juxtaposed against the War’s narrative, against the narrative of the American slave experience and with a healthy dose of fairly dirrty bedroom action (I love XTube as much as the next guy, but there were definitely times I blushed reading about Mary’s orgasmic fits watching Abe debate Stephen Dogulas) has so far made for an all-together pleasing waste of these oddly weathered late spring days.

Much Ado About Miley

May 1, 2008

I’m really confused as to why everyone is so upset about Miley Cyrus’s now infamous Vanity Fair photo.  I’m not surprised, seeing as Americans have become very good at overreacting to the meaningless and under-reacting to the important, at least until it’s too late to do anything about it. 

I suppose since Britney’s meltdown eventually became a cover story even for the Atlantic Monthly, we could stretch the definition of “important” and at least consider what the Spears saga says about celebrity culture in general.  But, remember Janet’s boob?  The one we’d already pretty much seen all of in 1993, on the cover of Rolling Stone, and again on different RS cover a few years later? 

Janet later blamed the Bush Administration for using her to distract from what it was doing re: Iraq, which a lot of people thought was ridiculous.  Even if there was no concerted Bush-lead effort to keep Tittygate in the news, Janet’s statement does inadvertently pose an interesting question: Why do we care when there’s nothing to care about?

I don’t see anything particularly wrong with the Miley Cyrus picture.  To me, it’s an almost-weathered looking photograph of a girl who actually looks her age.  She’s not wearing any garish makeup.  Her hair isn’t filled with highlighted extensions.  Her gaze is relaxed.  

She’s stripped, it’s true, but not in an Xtina way.  This isn’t a photo dripping with sexuality.  Miley isn’t stretched out on satin sheets with a Teletubby pressed to her breast, ala 17-year-old Britney.  Annie Leibovitz, who around this time last year was photographing the Queen of England , succeeds in showing an over-hyped, over-idolized, overpaid, overworked young woman in her natural state.  In doing so, she puts less of Miley’s body on display than would a modest two-piece bathing suit any other 15-year-old could wear to the public swimming pool without even raising an eyebrow from the local PTA, much less the international media.     

If someone thinks sin when they look at the photo, it would seem they are projecting their own moral sensitivies (or maybe their inhibitions and hangups) on a young girl who hasn’t done anything to deserve being the target of their activism.  If someone thinks sex when they look at the photo, it would seem they were projecting their own perversions onto the image rather than having their depraved interpreation fulfilled by it in any obvious, immediate way. 

Either reaction says much more about the reactors than it does about their stimulus.