TAPPED Out: Thursday, January 20th

20 Jan

I’m guestblogging at TAPPED this week.

College and the Civil War, Then and Now. Really wanted to say more in this about the paradox that there were nationally-recognized social-capital-bestowing institutions before the war, but not after the war. But I’m genuinely not confident that I have enough information to make that judgment. Why has no semipop historian written “The History of American Elites”?

Why It Matters That ICE Can’t Count. I’d feel a lot guiltier about banging on about this if anyone else in the Beltway-progressive blogosphere (not named Adam Serwer) followed ICE.

TAPPED Out: Wednesday, January 19th

19 Jan

I’m guestblogging at TAPPED this week.

The One with the Gold Makes the Rules. In which I talk about social capital without using the phrase “social capital” and therefore, probably, double the number of readers who actually make it through the post.

Cheers for Mark Kelly, Jeers for ABC News. Got accused on Twitter of “putting too fine a point on it” but really, I’m not convinced that ABC is being sexist — I just think it’s making news first and asking questions later.

What Part of “Law and Order” Don’t You Understand? Good to see you again, Arizona Department of Public Safety annual crime report. It’s been too long.

TAPPED Out: Tuesday, January 18th

18 Jan

I’m guestblogging at TAPPED this week.

Another Op’nin, Another Show. Most of y’all know me, but there’s a Muppet Show link.

Making Exceptions When Injustice Is the Rule. “It’s easier to create an exception for an immigrant with a sympathetic story than it is to change the unjust rule that put him or her in that situation to begin with.”

“Man-Repelling” Fashion? Woman-Repelling Logic

21 Dec

It seems safe to say that this blogger (not to mention the New York Times writer profiling her) doesn’t really understand how the male gaze works:

“We were laughing at how everything was so man-repelling: acid-washed harem pants and enormous shoulder pads, and I just said, ‘That’s it! That’s the blog,’ ” Ms. Medine said.

As for whether she’s dating anyone, Ms. Medine declined to comment. “I think men like things tight and simple,” she said. “It’s not even about slutty, tiny dresses from Bebe because that’s not very becoming of a woman either. But to guys, harem pants don’t exactly shape the body, shoulder pads are unusual because you look like a linebacker and sequins are a cry for attention.”

Unfortunately, this essay isn’t on the Internet, but I’ve written before about how one of my more uncomfortable body-image moments was the moment I realized that (after a period in which I lost 30 pounds over 9 months) I no longer felt I had any control over how my body was perceived by men — that I was being ogled just as greedily if I went to get coffee with unwashed hair and baggy jeans as if I went in full makeup and heels. (I’ve since realized that there was really never any difference; it’s just that before that, I’d been low-confidence enough that I’d taken male attention as a compliment.)

Has the blogger (or the Times writer!) never really thought about what the phrase “undressing with one’s eyes” means?

Part of my frustration is that the framing of “man-repelling fashion” makes no sense — it assumes that men are fashion-illiterate enough not to think of clothing beyond “tight and simple,” but fashion-literate enough to judge women based on what they’re wearing. Part of it is that this is just another way of dressing based on how one wants one’s body to be perceived and taken in by men — even if it’s based on inaccurate assumptions about how men work. But a large part of it is that once we give into the notion that a woman can somehow control whether men look at her lasciviously or not by how she dresses, we’ve just agreed that women who do like to dress “tight and simple” are asking for it. Well, of course they’re asking for it! Not only are they failing to dress in a sufficiently man-repellent manner, but they’re ignoring current man-repellent fashion trends! Of COURSE this means they’re dressing deliberately to attract male attention, and therefore any male attention they get — however aggressive — cannot be unwarranted.

Major Letdown (TAP/TSA Edition)

2 Dec

TAP ran a column today about the TSA backscatter/patdown backlash! By a woman! About gender!

Unfortunately, it’s not at all what I’d hoped for. In fact, there’s a whole lot wrong with it.

For one thing, she doesn’t appear to be aware that male TSOs don’t pat down female travelers. For another thing, her argument is essentially that, because women’s voices haven’t been heard in the debate, women should pick sides based not on whether or not TSA policy actually problematic but based on whether or not there are men purporting to argue for women on that side of the argument.

Both of those are annoying as a matter of punditry. But this is annoying as a matter of feminism:

Reflecting on these options, I conclude: I’d rather be gazed at than groped.

While perusal of the gazillion punditries, blog posts, and reader comments on the subject doesn’t make it easy to tell who is opting for which indignity (and who is trying to refuse both), I’d bet other women share my preference.

As a woman, I’m used to being looked at; I’m socialized to it, even turned on by it. In fact, now that I’m over 50, I admit to a certain nostalgia for the sucking noises that accompanied my every stroll down the sidewalks of New York, lo these many years ago.

If you are “nostalgic” for street harassment, that’s fine–I’ve gotten self-esteem boosts from the occasional catcall when I’m having body-image issues, myself–but don’t go from there to assuming that other women share that preference. We certainly don’t all share that perspective. Objectification isn’t a relic of nostalgia for many of us, it’s alive and well and discomfiting every damn day, and that gives us a radically different attitude toward state-based objectification than someone who hasn’t been sucked at in long enough that she can look back on it as a pleasant experience.

The GOP Cannot Count to 825,000

23 Nov

Adam Serwer keeps fighting the good fight against the Jeff Sessions-authored anti-DREAM memo the GOP’s been sending around to press (including Politico, the source of the first graf quoted here):

“In addition to immediately putting an estimated 2.1 million illegal immigrants (including certain criminal aliens) on a path to citizenship, the DREAM Act would give them access to in-state tuition rates at public universities, federal student loans and federal work-study programs,” said the research paper, being distributed by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The study they cite, by the Migration Policy Center, is 22 pages long. It’s not a tough read. But unlike Mark Krikorian, it’s not like Sessions’ staff didn’t bother to read the study. They just knowingly put forth the 2.1 million number when they know the study itself says that only 825,000 people would likely end up with permanent legal status as a result of the legislation. We know they know the realistic number because they allude to other estimates about who would be eligible for conditional status in the footnotes to the white paper. Also, the 825,000 number is on the first page, in the executive summary, directly below the paragraph listing the other numbers they cite.

It’s actually worse than this–the memo says, “It is highly likely that the number of illegal aliens receiving amnesty under the DREAM Act will be much higher than the estimated 2.1 million due to fraud and our inherent inability to accurately estimate the illegal alien population.” (As I’ve said in the past, in its obsession with fraud the new nativism has been the heir of the neoliberal crime regime since way before anybody got redfaced over ACORN.) But throwing around massively inflated numbers is an easy way to talk about “alien gang members” without saying outright that the 825K kids at the heart of the bill don’t deserve a shot at legal status–let alone saying that student body presidents and would-be Marines don’t.

Fly With Dignity

21 Nov

I’ve been wanting to write about the TSA backscatter backlash for a while, mostly because, alarmingly, it doesn’t seem that anyone in the political blogosphere has been talking about how problematic it is for dudes to be staring at naked ladies all day. (I specify “political blogosphere” because the general-interest blogosphere — Boing Boing, et al. — appear to be doing a much better job.) When I signed the FlyWithDignity.org petition today, I added this note, which I think sums up my strongest sentiments:

Like any young woman, I’ve been catcalled and ogled on the street, and I’m all too used to cold, “clinical” once-overs. Each and every time it makes me feel less confident as a woman and less comfortable in my skin; that’s the point of objectification. I can’t imagine that this experience would suddenly get desexualized when the person observing my naked image is wearing a badge. And I hope I never have to teach any daughter of mine that sometimes, she needs to stand still and let herself be objectified. I’m driving home for the holidays, and I hope to avoid flying until the TSA rolls back this invasive and ineffective strategy.

–Dara Lind, DC

No, Really, the DREAM Act Does Not Incentivize Future Illegal Anything

21 Nov

Will Wilkinson’s moral commitment to humane immigration policy is admirable, but occasionally it leads him to cede ground he doesn’t need to cede on the facts:

The DREAM Act sends the message that although American immigration law in effect tries to make water run uphill, we are not monsters. It says that we will not hobble the prospects of young people raised and schooled in America just because we were so perverse to demand that their parents wait in a line before a door that never opens. It signals that we were once a nation of immigrants, and even if we have become too fearful and small to properly honour that noble legacy, America in some small way remains a land of opportunity.

Yes, the DREAM Act also incentivises illegal activity. But if the activity is not one that ought to be illegal, perhaps we should consider changing the law?

The DREAM Act only applies to people who’ve been continuously present in the US for 5 years prior to the date of enactment. It’s a one-time fix, not a permanent standard. So it makes very little sense to say it “incentivizes illegal activity” in the future, because a 7-year-old brought over the day after it gets enacted is ineligible (as is, for that matter, a 7-year-old who’s been living here for the last 4 years).

There is, I suppose, an argument to be made that the DREAM Act sets a precedent for passing a similar act 5 years from now, but it sounds pretty tenuous to me; I don’t know why that makes any more sense than saying that people come over the border today because the 1986 amnesty set a precedent, and if that’s the case there doesn’t seem to be any argument not to pass DREAM, since we’ve already incentivized all future illegal border crossings.

The Re-Guidification of America

12 Nov

Adam Serwer’s throwaway line is true, and sharp:

That’s the fundamental cultural breakthrough of Jersey Shore isn’t it? They figured out how to make a “minstrel show” with white people.

But it’s a little more complicated than that, because of course Italians weren’t always considered “white.” So what “Jersey Shore” is doing is re-racializing them.

Before “Jersey Shore,” Italian-Americans’ trajectory — to generalize massively, and sweep over generations in a single graf — was just like that of any other “white ethnic” group. Demeaning stereotypes about unsavory personal characteristics (violence, “greasiness,” etc.) gradually got suppressed over time, such that “Italian-ness” eventually became a combination of cultural artifacts that were easily accessible to non-Italians (spaghetti, Christopher Columbus) and “cuddly” positive/nonthreatening stereotypes that could just as easily apply to any other “white ethnic” group (close families, overbearing mothers, loud).

So by the end of the 20th century, you have, e.g., “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”–a movie that managed to be a mainstream hit because it presented a conventional romcom plot as somehow different from other conventional romcoms because there were Greeks in it, without being ethnically-specific enough in its stereotypes to offend anyone.

The genius of Jersey Shore is that it manages to trade in updated versions of old uniquely Italian stereotypes, like male vanity/sleaziness, to back up its protagonists’ convictions that “guido” is an ethnically and culturally significant term. It’s turning cuddly My Big Fat Greek Wedding-style ethnic comedy back into minstrelsy, by adding a bit of the old wickedness into it, rather than creating new wickednesses.

If you want to talk about new frontiers in minstrelsy, let’s talk about the Real Housewives series.

Empowering the Meme-People

10 Nov

At TAP, Cord Jefferson makes really good points about the fine line between unintended “virality” and exploitation — a line that gets even finer when you’re talking about laughing at someone else’s distress or anxiety, and when you’re talking about white kids laughing at a black dude or rich kids laughing at Wal-Mart shoppers.

But picking on the Gregory Brothers’ treatment of Antoine Dodson is misleading, since Jefferson doesn’t mention the fact that the Brothers gave half the profits to Dodson — enough to buy him a new house — and, furthermore, that they did it deliberately, hoping to set a precedent. From an interview the Brothers did with Wired:

Wired.com: Do you ever get push back from the people in your videos? I saw a follow-up news story about Antoine Dodson, and he was just completely psyched about becoming this internet star, which could be enough. You guys definitely write the musical composition and create the art, but he wrote some of the lyrics of the song. Are the people in these videos part of the financial picture?

Evan: On the financial angle, Antoine is participating in all of the revenue from the sale of anything we do [with the song], 50-50.

Michael: We’re really breaking “unintentional singing” ground, so we’re trying to set precedents by making it so that Antoine, or whoever that artist might be in the future, has a stake not only as an artist but as a co-author of the song. It’s like you said: He wrote the lyrics, he’s the one who put it out there. What we’re doing on iTunes and on any other sales, we’re splitting the revenue after it gets through Apple down the middle. And that [also applies] if we ever license the song for TV or a movie. Whatever happens to the song, he has a 50 percent writing credit. And we have the same agreement with Paul Vasquez, co-writer of the “Double Rainbow” song.

The attitude of “look, if anyone is going to make money off of this, let’s make sure it’s the guy himself” is an far more conscious way to deal with the problems of “becoming a meme” than just watching the video and passing it on is.