Thoughts from my study of Horror, Media, and Narrrative

Archive for January, 2009

Self-Love and a Touch of Kant

I began walking toward my car anxious to escape the cool air and the crowds. Turning to Kim, I asked, “So, we almost joined a cult, right?”

This was, to be sure, not where I had ever pictured myself on a Sunday morning.

Scott had been trying to get me to attend a spiritual movement called Agape for about a year or so and I finally caved with the stipulation that Kim came along. Perhaps it was my skepticism, or perhaps it was my nature, but I began to question my surroundings as words rained down around me. I didn’t go in with the mindset that I wanted to disprove or discredit anything, but I did want to figure out if this made sense for me.

A part of that morning’s discussion focused on the “Big I” (a representation of the true self) and the “Little I” as an amalgamation of external influences. The “Little I” is the summation of being told what we should think instead of thinking for ourselves. I didn’t disagree with the duality, but I did struggle with the concept that the two selves were mutually exclusive.

In my mind, gender is one of the arguments against the distinctiveness between the “Big I” and “Little I.” The conception of male and female is integral to our fundamental nature but is also something that we learn. (I should take a moment to differentiate gender as a societal creation reacting to the biological sex of a person and not the actual physical sex of a person.) I understand the tendency to confuse the two types of “I”—the difficulty arises when we are unable to see the influences that these exterior constructions have on us. In a sense, we are like the Bluepills in “The Matrix”:  it is impossible to see the fabricated world around us until we step outside of it.

Traditional gender roles and heterosexuality are no exception to this idea as they represent, for many people, the “normal” way of thinking and are, as such, frequently invisible. The notion of heterosexuality is pervasive and ideas of gender are constructed in the schema of heterosexuality. Others’ normative heterosexual perceptions continually affect who we think we are, and our identity is often built in reaction to the world around us, for we do not develop in a void. Yet, heterosexuality also depends on our ability to create, identify, and define gender—how can you conceptualize “straight” without first defining “man” and “woman”? Our general inability to escape heterosexual standards (not necessarily a bad thing) means that our sense of self is continually tied to gender and, thusly, our “Little I.”

Although we may not have always consciously debated the issue, we have been continually exposed to the constructed nature of the self. Take Superman, Anya from Buffy, or Cylons—these figures in popular culture mirror the process of learning to become human (and/or people!) and all of their processes necessitated a struggle with what it meant to be male or female in a society. The archetypes of gender that these outsiders have come up with are both incredibly false but undeniably true.

Even if the “Little I” were always bad, some followers of Kant would argue that there is nothing wrong in maintaining one’s inclusion in an ultimately detrimental system if one had made an informed choice to participate. So, rather than eschew the “Little I,” we should strive to understand how we assemble our self-images. The real danger lies in those times when we only define ourselves by external criteria or our “Little I.” Although I might disagree with Agape’s execution, I do believe that it is cautioning us against this perilous tendency, telling its followers, like every other religion, that “this is not all that we are.”

I’m a Survivor

All I could say was, “I get it.”

I sat in my car as a number of thoughts swirled through my head. It had already been a long day and I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about anything that required any kind of exertion on my part. California doesn’t have seasons so much as it has “Summer” or “Slightly-Cooler-Than-Summer” and despite it being October, I found myself with a desperate wish to be in shorts and a t-shirt instead of my suit.

This was my first visit to a Planned Parenthood center and I couldn’t shake the slight feeling of unease that seemed to hover over my head. I’ve never really had cause to go to a health clinic as I’ve been fortunate to grow up in an environment where my partners and I had good relationships with our doctors. I distinctly remember that my high school girlfriend’s first instinct to obtain birth control pills was to talk to her primary care physician (which was a bit awkward as her doctor knew my girlfriend’s father, and totally blew our cover, but that’s another story). Like anything unfamiliar, the Planned Parenthood visit presented an unnerving situation:  “What if somebody sees me going in? What if somebody attacks my car? What if there are protesters?”

On the outside, I appear to be an adult and am presumably able to keep myself together. But, on that drive over to the building, I found myself making things worse as I played the various scenarios in my head. I slowly worked myself into a frenzy as I neared the neighborhood and I briefly thought of just abandoning the trip for another day.

That’s when I realized that if I turned around, the terrorists would win.

I did not think that my small act of cowardice would allow Al Qaeda to overthrow the government, but if I refused to go to Planned Parenthood because I was afraid, then unjustness would win. Had I allowed fear to dictate my actions, I would have lost a fight for something that I believed in along with some part of myself.

In that moment, I came to realize that no matter how much I talk about safer sex education, I can’t always be there to tell everybody that everything will be fine. What I can do, however, is try to make things less scary. I now see why some individuals choose to try to perform their own abortions (which, is not recommended) because if a twenty-something male had trouble going in for business, how much harder would it be for a teenaged girl? I understand the sense of shame that some might feel when approaching a clinic but, at the same time, by simply crossing the threshold, I had also overcome one of my fears and surely that was something to celebrate?

One of the things that I have learned over the years is that anybody who has felt “less than” in their lives, for whatever reason, is a survivor and I feel that we all have the obligation to support those who come after us. So, to all of you who have been able to conquer your reservations and step into a center, I am proud of you. For those of you who are still self-conscious about making the trip, I understand what you’re feeling, and I hope that you, like many heroes-in-the-making before you, realize that you had what it took all along.

I took a breath and pulled into the parking lot of the nondescript building, letting my engine hum as I gathered myself. I put on my sunglasses and braced for the rush of hot air that would envelop my face when I opened the car door. Leaning over to brush off a leaf that had fallen onto my windshield, all I could say was, “I get it.”

MySpace is Not Just My Space

While at brunch with some friends yesterday at Rush Street in Culver City, I glanced over at my phone as it lit up for a second. A couple of key clicks later, I discovered that someone had just sent me a message on Facebook. I stowed the message for later and began to muse on the website for a bit as the group devoured a basket of truffle fries.

As hard as I try, I can never really recall what life was life before social networking sites. In the back of my mind, I know that those days must have existed, as the Internet wasn’t even around when I was born, but a solid understanding of that time will forever elude me. The teen culture of the early 1990’s grew up intertwined with the developing technologies of pagers (how antiquated!), mobile phones, and online communications. Now, the same types of advancements are allowing current young people to interact in ways that I wouldn’t even have thought of when I was in high school.

I will be the first to say that some of these ways are innovative and astounding. Sure, not everybody might care about the Twitter saying that you’re first in line at the latest Sci-Fi Convention, but the idea that you could simultaneously tell everybody who did care amazes me; the way in which these social networking sites facilitate the ease of disseminating information to people impresses me.

But, as any teen can probably attest to, the Internet is not all good. Various iterations of the evils of the Internet have been ingrained into the public consciousness with the trailer for an upcoming movie even referring to MySpace as the new “booty call.” Indeed, it seems like MySpace is a place for friends…with benefits. We have all heard the horror stories about cyberstalkers and pedophiles, but there are researchers like Dr. Megan Moreno who are attempting to discover a way to use this new technology to help, instead of scare, individuals.

Essentially, Dr. Moreno contacted at-risk young people though MySpace with some information about the possible repercussions of profiles that included references to unsafe sexual practices or drug (yes, I include alcohol in that category as well) use. The details, which are fascinating and can be found in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, say that online communities like MySpace might present a new forum for public health education—exciting news all around.

I am hopeful that studies such as these might encourage more of a dialogue between the teens and parents about the use of social networking sites. In the past, discussions about online profiles have often gone in the wrong direction due to misplaced or misdirected fear:  parents want to protect their children from the evildoers of the world, clamping down too hard on their kids while young people do not disclose information to their parents due to fear of reprisal. I can see how it is difficult as a parent to understand what your child is up to online (especially if you didn’t grow up in an environment that constantly featured the same technology!) but I think that parents still have to make an effort to learn. The unfamiliar is inherently scary, but how can you talk to young people without knowing what you are talking about? Children are resourceful and will find ways around the obstacles that you place in their paths; authoritarian behavior does not seem to be the answer. For me, what is more important is teaching children how to make smart choices, explaining why their actions might be troublesome, and then stepping back a bit. By taking the time to discuss this issue, online spaces can provide an arena for young people to interact with others and to begin the process of figuring out who they are and how they relate to the rest of the world.

Wears the Beef

I don’t get it. What was I missing?

I stared at the ad in front of me on the computer screen. In my mind I knew that it was trying to tell me (or sell me) something—isn’t that the purpose of advertising?—but what I could not understand was how or why it was connecting to some part of me.

A little while ago my editor, Julie, mentioned something about subliminal advertising and I found myself intrigued by the notion. Although not a marketing/advertising major in college, I’ve always been interested by both the design aspects of ads and the psychology of how they compel the target audience to do something. In America, I’ve realized that the messages we see in media often play into our consumer culture (and, truth be told, this phenomenon probably exists worldwide). You’d like to think that everybody plays fair and that companies are on the side of the buyer, informing him or her of all of the relevant details so that he or she can make a smart choice.

I think that we all know that this is very rarely the case.

I have grown up in a world where I have constantly been bombarded with commercials on television, flyers in the mail, jingles on the radio, etc. The result of all of this is that consumer culture just seems so natural to me and I buy things to get a sense of feeling back after being desensitized from all of the information assaulting me. No matter how I want to feel—I want to feel sexy, I want to feel good, I want to feel powerful, I want to be somebody—I can find something to buy that promises to make that dream a reality.

So why is all of this important?

For me, advertisements not only reflect the way that we see the world but also help to shape the way that we relate to it. Subliminal advertisements are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, but what they often do is to help people to formulate assumptions.

We’ve all heard of the objectification of women throughout human history, and while I don’t want to belittle that, I also think that it’s important to see where all of this is going. In the coming weeks, be on the lookout for the various ways in which we combine the ideas of females (and/or female sexuality) with meat and consumption. From “chick” to “prime cut of beef” to “lamb,” we have various associations engrained in our heads from the time that we are children.

The danger in all of this lies in our tendency, then, to view women as consumable objects. While most people would be hard-pressed to support the idea that women are nothing more than a piece of meat out loud, might there be some hidden aspect to our relationship that informs our lives? If we are already a consumer culture and we then come to see women as consumable items, how does this affect the way that we relate to (other) females? How does this affect the way that women see themselves? We rarely think about the animal from whence a piece of meat came—the slab of meat on our plate becomes familiar and we are desensitized—and so why should it be any different with women? If we, on some level, see women as meat, then do we care where those pieces came from?

I don’t think that all men are bad or that all women are so horribly oppressed in our country (and I am certainly not trying to say that you are wrong for the way that you see things), but I am trying to say that you should think about how you think about things.

Finally, to drive it home fromAmerica’s Next Top Model:

Yeah. She’s wearing meat.