Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Quick Post About Our Conflicted Society

In my previous post, "Selling a Sexy Halloween to Little Girls," I said the following:

"We're a conflicted society when it comes to sex and violence. We don't seem to mind depictions of violence, thus the many gory Halloween costumes for little boys, including terrifying characters from films that they are too young to see without an adult present. (I've never figured out how simply having an adult present somehow immunizes a child against the disturbing emotional effects of grotesque and gratuitous carnage, but that's the accepted cultural standard.) Yet children are almost fanatically protected against seeing any depiction of sexuality in film.

"Personally, I'm not enthusiastic about exposing young kids to either sex or violence on screen, but, of the two, allowing children to see graphic movie violence is far more disturbing to me."

So, naturally I couldn't resist sharing the Yahoo News item, "Zack and Miri Banned in Utah," about a new film called Zack and Miri Make a Porno:

"Utah Jazz and Megaplex Theaters owner Larry Miller has refused to book the film. The chain's spokesman Cal Gunderson expressed concerns about the film with The New York Post, citing the film's 'graphic nudity and graphic sex' and that it was 'too close to an NC-17.'

"The company's standards seem a little odd considering that the chain had no problems screening ultra-violent fare like 'Saw V,' which features beheadings and explicit self-mutilation. When asked why Megaplex Theaters did not object to the gory horror sequel, Gunderson had no comment.

"Furthermore, the company's decision might make sense if 'Zack and Miri Make a Porno' were in fact pornographic. Instead, Kevin Smith's surprisingly tame and sentimental movie has a few flashes of nudity, a handful of love scenes played mostly for laughs, and a whole lot of foul language."

I haven't seen Zack and Miri Make a Porno, nor have I seen Saw V or any of its predecessors; I won't be seeing them in the future, either. Life is short and vulgar comedies and gory screamers hold no appeal for me. I'm responding strictly based on the fascinating principle behind Mr. Miller's decision that viewing sex (and hearing foul language) is more disturbing than viewing graphic violence.

The Motion Picture Association of America explains an "R" rating as follows:

"An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures."

Both Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Saw V received "R" ratings. At least they aren't considered "PG-13."

Okay, I'm willing to acknowledge that I'm past the age group that makes up the target market for these films. And, yes, I'd be happier if films in general were far tamer than they ever will be again. Still, I'm just mystified by the "logic." Are you?

© 2008 Cynthia Friedlob

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Selling a Sexy Halloween to Little Girls

I think the eighties was the decade when the definition of appropriate clothing for young girls changed radically. Madonna was the primary pop culture culprit. She pranced and posed through her music video of "Like a Virgin," capturing the hearts of men and boys, but also providing a new kind of role model for girls, including very young girls who probably didn't know what "virgin" meant.

Some twenty-five years later, I suppose they'd now have to be very, very young girls to be that uninformed. It should be no great surprise that most young girls are not only more sophisticated and more aware of their sexuality than in decades past, but they also have to deal with pressure to behave as if they were more experienced than what is likely to be comfortable for their emotional maturity level.

Then, along comes Halloween, the holiday that justifies dressing up as any fantasy character that's appealing. It used to be Snow White, or a ballerina, or maybe a princess costume that younger girls gravitated to most often, but that's not the case any more. And it's certainly not the case for the manufacturers and marketers of Halloween costumes.

Diane E. Levin is professor of education at Wheelock College in Boston and the co-author, with Jean Kilbourne, of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids. She shared her observations in an LA Times interview that I strongly recommend reading in its entirety. Here are a few excerpts :

"Halloween costumes for 7- and 8-year-old girls and even younger have become downright titillating, and for tweens and teens, the vast majority of those sold in stores and on the Internet are unabashedly sexually alluring. Little girls and their big sisters are being encouraged to get dressed up, in many cases, like child prostitutes. . . .

"The sexy princess costumes, sexy witch costumes seem to be most ubiquitous and most dramatic. For girls 8 and up, the skirt will have a big slit on one side. By the time girls are 12, the costumes are low cut."

The results of this early sexualization of girls, according to Dr. Levin, are complex:

". . . the girls' costumes set up certain expectations in boys as well as in the girls who wear them or want them. What are boys' reactions, looking at girls when they're all dressed up in these sexy costumes? They think, 'That must be what girls look like to be pretty, and being pretty is the important thing.' . . . How [girls] look and what they buy [also] affects their view of themselves. But it also becomes the basis for how they treat other girls. It's harder and harder to have [girl friendship] relationships. . . .

"This is why we may be seeing a generation in which [social] relationships are often played out as interactions between caricatures of sexual stereotypes, why you can have 'friends with benefits' and 'hooking up.'"

We're a conflicted society when it comes to sex and violence. We don't seem to mind depictions of violence, thus the many gory Halloween costumes for little boys, including terrifying characters from films that they are too young to see without an adult present. (I've never figured out how simply having an adult present somehow immunizes a child against the disturbing emotional effects of grotesque and gratuitous carnage, but that's the accepted cultural standard.) Yet children are almost fanatically protected against seeing any depiction of sexuality in film.

Personally, I'm not enthusiastic about exposing young kids to either sex or violence on screen, but, of the two, allowing children to see graphic movie violence is far more disturbing to me.

I am quite certain that, as a society, we abhor real life violence directed against children and we certainly don't want children engaging in sexual behavior when they're still emotionally and psychologically too immature for the experience. But somehow, in spite of this, it's become all right to sexualize the appearance of our little girls in real life, long before they understand or are prepared to deal with what that means.

A article (take a look at the photos on this link!) on this phenomenon reported:

"Witches are 'wayward' and grammar-school pirates are 'wenches.' A girl isn't an Army cadet, she's a 'Major Flirt,' and who knew female firefighters wore fishnet stockings? Even Little Bo Peep comes with a corset, short skirt and lacy petticoat. . . .

"Dr. Eileen Zurbriggen, [is] a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who last year chaired the American Psychological Association's (APA) Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Their report, issued in February, declared that, 'Throughout U.S. culture, and particularly in mainstream media, women and girls are depicted in a sexualized manner.' . . .
[There is] increasing evidence of the negative impact an overemphasis on body image has on girls' lives. The APA task force's team of psychologists linked oversexualization with three of the most common mental health problems for women 18 and older: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. And there is evidence that the effect is trickling down the age brackets. 'Clinicians are reporting that younger and younger girls are presenting with eating disorders and are on diets,' says Zurbriggen.

Later in the same article, Dr. Sharon Lamb, another APA task force member who coauthored, 'Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketing Schemes,' was interviewed:

". . . most Web sites selling kids Halloween costumes divide merchandise along gender lines, and typically offer more choices for boys than girls (boys get to be doctors, police officers as well as gory monsters and 'Star Wars' characters). Of the 22 girl costumes featured on one Web site Lamb looked at, 15 were cheerleaders, divas and rock stars. 'That really limits girls' imaginations,' says Lamb, who surveyed 600 young girls for the book, many of whom admitted to dressing up as something sexy for Halloween in order to get attention."

I recall seeing a documentary some years ago that explained that children have a clear understanding of culturally defined gender role differences by the age of five. What was considered appropriate for girls versus appropriate for boys in those young minds included every societal stereotype imaginable, from girls not being athletic to boys not being allowed to cry. It was quite surprising, and rather depressing, to discover how effectively these models had been internalized by that early age.

What kind of models are being internalized by five year old children now?

The popularity of sexually provocative Halloween costumes for young girls reflects of some of today's confused societal norms. But who knew that costumes for boys have been affected, too?

An article for the Canadian CBC News reported:

"Not only girls are targeted with sexualized costumes. Boys can choose packages of pimp paraphernalia as part of their costumes."

Oh, fabulous. Girls dressing like little hookers and boys with "pimp paraphernalia." Parents, brace yourselves. (But don't you wonder what exactly is included in the paraphernalia?)

I'm grateful to know that there are still some children that have fun at Halloween without sexual referencing in their costumes. Otherwise, we might as well just redefine the meaning of "Trick or Treat!"

© 2008 Cynthia Friedlob

Monday, October 20, 2008

Someday Syndrome Interview

I was pleased to be interviewed for Alex Fayle's fascinating and helpful website and blog, "Someday Syndrome." The interview was posted today. Here's the link.

Alex is a professional organizer and writer; he's originally from Canada and now lives in Spain. He spent his first couple of years as a blogger writing about his own successful quest to stop postponing his goals and dreams until "someday." Recently he began calling upon friends, relatives and blogging buddies to share their experiences battling procrastination about important things in their lives.

I hope you'll stop by to read the interview and take a look at Alex's site. He even offers a nine week course to help you along if you feel like you've got the dreaded Someday Syndrome! (He's kindly sending it to me and I'm enjoying reading it.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

O.J. Simpson and His Stuff

"I just wanted to get my stuff back." And that's how O.J. Simpson found himself on the wrong side of the law in Las Vegas.

Simpson provokes strong feelings from many people because of his criminal acquittal and civil conviction involving the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, over a decade ago. But no matter how you may feel about the outcome of that trial, Simpson's current situation is a dramatic example of attachment to personal possessions leading to serious, and undoubtedly unexpected, consequences.

Simpson was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping last month for his strange and seemingly desperate attempt to reclaim items he claims were stolen from him. The LA Times reported:

"Prosecutors say [Simpson and his cohorts] stole up to $100,000 in footballs, plaques and baseballs at gunpoint from the [two sports collectibles] dealers, who had been tricked into thinking they were meeting a wealthy buyer. . .

"Prosecutors painted Simpson as masterminding the alleged robbery . . . in a hotel room last year. The Hall of Fame running back, the prosecution contended, rounded up five cohorts, told two of them to bring guns and ordered one of the armed men to brandish his weapon and 'look menacing'. . .

"Thomas Riccio, the auctioneer who set up the meeting with the dealers, surreptitiously taped the six-minute encounter on a digital recorder hidden atop an armoire. He later sold the clip to celebrity gossip site for $150,000. Riccio, who was granted immunity for cooperating with prosecutors, also taped the hours surrounding the confrontation -- including Simpson denying in phone calls afterward that he saw weapons. . .

"Many of Simpson's cohorts sought media interviews and book deals after the altercation -- even defense witness Tom Scotto, who testified that the self-proclaimed gunmen threatened him and tried to extort $50,000 from him or Simpson. Riccio has published a book called Busted."

I'm not sure which aspect of this case is the most bizarre. First, you have Simpson who, you would think, would want to stay as far away from criminal activities as possible. Why in the world would he believe he could pull this off?

You have the guy who arranged the meeting with the dealers and he's got a digital recorder set up and running through the entire confrontation; then he sells the recording for a ton of money to a gossip website.

You have the guy who's a defense witness and he's already published a book.

And you have the fact that, should Simpson ever get back any of his memorabilia under any circumstances (other than in total secrecy), he probably wouldn't be able to keep it because Ron Goldman's father would immediately get involved. In fact, today another Los Angeles Times article reported:

"The judge overseeing efforts to collect a $33.5-million civil judgment against O.J. Simpson said Friday that he will hold a hearing next month to investigate allegations that the NFL star's valuable Hall of Fame ring is in the possession of a memorabilia dealer he was recently convicted of kidnapping."

Simpson's lawyers are seeking a new trial. They’ve alleged that the judge “blocked them from telling jurors that they could consider lesser charges of larceny or second-degree kidnapping against Simpson, or that [he] believed when he confronted memorabilia dealers Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley that he was retrieving items that belonged to him.”

Whatever the outcome, the whole mess could have been avoided had Simpson not been so attached to his stuff. If he had told the police that he suspected the dealers were selling items that belonged to him, possession of anything that had been recovered legally would have been challenged by Fred Goldman, so he wouldn't be able to keep it. If he was somehow able to get his things back through this absurd "robbery" scheme, maybe he thought no one would find out about it. But why take that kind of risk for stuff?

Sentencing is set for December 9th; the penalty could be as much as life imprisonment. The minimum sentence is two years. Would you trade two years of your life for some of your stuff, even if it was considered valuable "memorabilia?" O.J.'s got a pension and house; he can afford to play golf all the time. Let the stuff go!

Simpson's conviction was exactly thirteen years after his acquittal in his criminal trial for murder. I suppose people into everything from numerology to karmic retribution will find some symbolic significance in that. Conspiracy theorists (the good ones are able to find conspiracies everywhere) will say the whole thing was a set-up to nail O.J. and get him imprisoned; after all, four of the "gang" took deals for lesser sentences in exchange for testifying for the prosecution, leaving only Simpson and Clarence Stewart as defendants. In my mind, it's adequate to attribute the timing to coincidence and O.J.'s involvement to either arrogance or lunacy.

Officially, the case is called "Nevada v. Orenthal James Simpson, 07-237890," but I'll just call it "The Case of Wanting Stuff - Gone Wrong, Bigtime."

© 2008 Cynthia Friedlob

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty

The chaos that has surrounded the world of finance lately has most of us thinking about our own situations, comfortable or precarious as they may be. Also, the outrageous disparity between the extraordinarily wealthy and, oh, the entire rest of humanity has been getting more press lately than it has in the past. Or perhaps in the past, outrageous wealth was seen strictly as an admirable goal for which to strive. Maybe not so much anymore. Of course, we want certain creature comforts and some sense of security as we grow older, but the concept that extreme wealth can be "too much" is no longer exclusive to those who take religious vows of poverty.

Is there an ethical limit to wealth? It's a viable topic for debate, especially if wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few while the majority of the world's population suffers from a dire lack of food, potable water and decent medical care.

The U.S. is a wealthy country, with a per capita GDP of $46,000. But not everybody is flush with cash. In 2004, twelve percent of our population lived below the poverty line. And how does that translate to annual income? In 2007, the poverty threshold for a single person under 65 was $10,787; the threshold for a family group of four, including two children, was $21,027.

Can you imagine supporting a family on $21,027 a year? Can you imagine squeaking by on your own with about nine hundred dollars in your pocket each month? Less than two hundred fifty each week? That would mean no health insurance, so you'd be forced to rely on free clinics and hope to arrange free prescription drugs. You'd have no car because insurance and gas costs are too high, so public transportation, walking or maybe using a bicycle would be your only ways to get around.

What about a place to live? The average rent back in 2005 in New York was $2400 per month; in San Francisco, it was $1573; and in Los Angeles it was $1421. You could find relatively cheap rent in Oklahoma City, Birmingham, Memphis and other smaller cities and towns, but even at $600-$700 per month, that would leave you only a few hundred dollars for utilities and a phone.

Did you need some clothes to wear, too? Charity and thrift stores would be your only options, unless you found some generous friends. And you wanted to eat? You'd have to be one incredibly brilliant shopper to come up with enough food and it's unlikely that your diet would be nutritionally balanced.

Sounds rough, doesn't it? But, if you worked for minimum wage ($6.55 per hour in 2008), you'd gross $13,624 per year, putting you above the poverty line. You can read about just how difficult it would be trying to scrape by on minimum wage in Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. The author voluntarily tried the task, at one point nearly ending up in a homeless shelter.

Ms. Ehrenreich knew she'd be able to return to her comfortable life after her adventure in journalism was complete. But how demoralizing it must be, on top of the physical demands and the fear of losing a job or even taking an unpaid sick day (most minimum wage jobs offer no benefits), to live on the edge, knowing that, without a lot of luck and super-human determination, there's likely nothing but more of the same in your future. And that's here in the land of opportunity.

My favorite book that depicts the relative wealth of nations is Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel. Here's the description from the review:

"In honor of the United Nations-sponsored International Year of the Family in 1994, award-winning photojournalist Peter Menzel brought together 16 of the world's leading photographers to create a visual portrait of life in 30 nations. Material World tackles its wide subject by zooming in, allowing one household to represent an entire nation. Photographers spent one week living with a 'statistically average' family in each country, learning about their work, their attitudes toward their possessions, and their hopes for the future. Then a 'big picture' shot of the family was taken outside the dwelling, surrounded by all their (many or few) material goods."

Not only is this book visually riveting, it offers unique insight into the lives of ordinary families in other cultures by sharing not only a glimpse of their daily experiences, but also what possessions they live with and find valuable. It provides necessary perspective for all of us.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the issue of poverty, but paralysis doesn't help the situation. Instead, it's more useful to take action, no matter how small that action may be. One possibility you might consider is donating to:

Kiva is a micro-loan organization that allows individuals to donate as little as $25 to an entrepreneur who needs just a little boost to begin a business. For example, one of the featured entrepreneurs today is Mr. Net Sopheak's Group. Mr. Sopheak and his wife live in Cambodia. They are requesting a loan of $350 to buy two pigs to start a pig breeding business. The repayment term of their loan will be ten months. Only $25 is still required to meet their goal. You could help this family, or many other families, improve their living conditions by making a donation.

Whatever your situation, I urge you to act with a donation of money, useful goods that are no longer useful to you, or, if you're struggling right now and feel that you haven't a spare penny, consider donating your time.

If you're reading this blog, you're economically better off than so many people who share our planet. Poverty is a tragedy. But it also would be very sad for those of us who are more fortunate to experience a poverty of spirit. Let's nourish our spirits by acting for the benefit of others today, Blog Action Day.

© 2008 Cynthia Friedlob

Friday, October 10, 2008

Alternative Housing: From Small to Quirky

Of the two billion or so bloggers posting regularly on-line, I imagine that about 1.99 billion of us recently have devoted a post or two to the near total collapse of the U.S. economy and its collateral damage to the economies of other countries across the world. The root of the problem centers around housing, so I thought it might be interesting to speculate about what would happen if everything continued on this catastrophic path and we were all catapulted into a world that required a radically alternative way to look at housing.

Okay, it's not likely that all the existing homes and apartments will suddenly be abandoned and collapse into piles of rubble, even if the stock market continues to tank alarmingly and the jobless rate hits an all-time high. But many changes in the way we create our homes may be required over time just to deal with issues of sustainability.

Housing is usually a consumer's major expense, whether renting or buying. In the past I've blogged about small houses, pre-fab and modular houses, and other related topics, but I decided to put together a list of links to other websites and blogs that discuss alternative housing in detail. You may be surprised by the many resourceful and interesting choices that are available.

Zenzibar is an alternative culture site that would have had great appeal back in the "Summer of Love." But there is an interesting post from 2000 about alternative housing that suggests everything from camping on public land to living in a school bus. It also mentions nomad or "snowbirds," as they're often called:

"Quartzsite is a town in southwestern Arizona where hundreds of full-time nomads gather together each winter and set up a temporary city where they have potluck dinners, buy and sell items and generally enjoy each other’s company. There are many other places like this all over America although probably none as large. There are regular annual migrations of these modern nomads from the cool north in the summer to the warm southwestern deserts in the winter."

Alternative Housing offers news and information about everything from teepees to treehouses, log cabins to floating homes. If you find the thought of hanging out in Quartzsite appealing, you can investigate RVs and trailers, too.

Alternative Solar Housing explains the advantages of a modified Buckminster Fuller concept, the geodesic dome. Their Cube Octahedron Hemisphere allows solar energy applications.

American Steel Span Buildings touts the environmental and economic advantages of using steel to construct a home or other structure. They even sell kits.

BioHome uses Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome concept, too, and gets you off the grid completely. They call it "closed system housing." The framework of the dome is covered with insulating foam and topped with bubble windows.

Green Home Building is a great site that has information on straw bale houses, a popular type of construction in the southwest. Check out Earthship design, building fanciful lightweight concrete structures, and other fascinating options. Wonderful photos, too. Entertaining, inspiring and my favorite site on this topic!

Finally, just for fun take a look at Pink Tentacle. It offers a post about "Reversible Destiny Lofts," located in Tokyo and designed by NY-based architect-poets and philosophers, Arakawa & Gins.

"In their vision, a home that keeps its inhabitants young and healthy should provide perpetual challenges. A tentative relationship with your environment,they argue, is key to 'reversing the downhill course of human life.'"

Many unbelievable photos and a video are on the site. The NY Times has a recent article about the design here. It's unlikely that this type of design will catch on in a big way, but I have a feeling that art was the motivating force rather than practicality.

[March 24, 2009 update: Arakawa & Gins invested heavily with Bernie Madoff and lost millions. Here's a link to the story in today's Wall Street Journal.]

If you know of other useful sites or blogs devoted to alternative housing, please feel free to leave a comment. Considering our volatile economic situation, an affordable, sustainable, alternative home may start to make sense to a lot of people who had never considered the possibility in the past. And if those homes are as cute as this one, well, that's not so bad.

© 2008 Cynthia Friedlob