November 2006 Archives

boycottaz with attitude

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bitch, slut, freak, fag. my friends in SF laughingly address each other in all manner of slurs once meant to degrade queers, loose women, outcasts, and misfits. we rarely if ever use these words as they were intended -- without irony, to demean and lambaste someone we disapprove of, or hold power over.

still, queers calling each other faggots doesn't seem to elicit the same amount of nervous commentary as rappers and comedians calling eachother "niggaz." leaders in the black community this week announced a voluntary ban or boycott on the use of the word "nigger" and its colloquial stepchild, nigga. even the white commentator on NPR yesterday couldn't bring himself to say the word, which still carries the legacy of its malevolent origins. i don't want to wade into the central debate over whether or not young black men can re-appropriate the word to promote solidarity, as a form of ironic commentary on their social position, or if its use can only serve to express internalized racial hatred.

but i do wonder about the attempt to curb popular culture through a voluntary ban like this. my general approach to speech i dislike is to offer more speech in critique, rather than promoting bans or censorship. still, i can't argue with comedians and artists voluntarily agreeing to avoid a word they find problematic -- or worse, subject to misuse by whites and other non-black fans. i might prefer to see an ongoing dialogue rather than an outright ban, but then again, perhaps the publicity over this issue will accomplish just that.

from the perspective of youth and popular culture, however, i'm wary of simply boycotting a word that's so deeply entrenched in hip hop and youth culture. disposing of its use won't erase the racial tensions that underlie it, and in fact, this kind of approach fails to engage the reasons why young black men might call eachother "nigga" in the first place (as a side note, most of the commentary seemed to gloss over the fact that young black women are rarely called "niggaz"). i suspect there's more going on here than either self-hate or solidarity-building, but i'm not quite sure what it is. there's a particular register that has currency in the hip-hop community, and "nigga," for good or for ill, has a key place in that lexicon. instead of banning or defending the word, how about investigating its use more closely, to better understand why and how young people use it? i'd rather see engaged debate and education over the issue, so members of the black community, and producers of hip hop, can come to their own analysis on the use (and abuse) of the word.

no sex b4 mawwiage

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you know, I've been wondering when it would occur to the Bush administration that teaching teens to abstain from sex seems a bit shortsighted, given that in a few years, most will turn eighteen and be legally allowed into sex shops and porn stores, or maybe even go to college and discover condoms and sex-ed and free little packets of lube. teenagers may be taught to avoid (straight, vaginal) sex, but what about young adults?

ah, have no fear! the government is watching out for all young people, not just teens. according to USA Today, the federal government has allocated $50 million to programs that advocate abstinence for unmarried people up to 29 years of age.

but here's the clincher: "...Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the revision is aimed at 19- to 29-year-olds because more unmarried women in that age group are having children." that's right, not just unmarried people, but unmarried women. because really, unmarried women just shouldn't be having sex.

if this doesn't further illustrate the right wing's opposition to young women having and enjoying sex and sexuality, i can't imagine what will.

surveiling the surveillant

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as danah boyd mentioned in her blog today, an Iranian student was tasered by campus police at UCLA last Tuesday, triggering protests from the student body. the event, however, was captured by a student's video phone, and quickly disseminated around the internet and on television networks. by Thursday night, a friend of mine was showing me the clip on Youtube, whose video-sharing capabilities had undoubtably facilitated circulation. as Roxanne Varzi, a professor of Iranian studies and visual anthropology at UC Irvine said to me, emerging media technologies such as camera phones and video sites now allow the surveilled to become the surveillant.

media analysis aside, i hope the exposure of this event leads to a meaningful investigation of the actions of the UCLA police, and to thinking more critically about the ways in which some students (middle eastern, students of color, etc.) are treated, especially in our current political climate of fearmongering.

goth isn't dead, just aging

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the BBC's Culture Show appears to have done a short, upbeat segment on the UK's biggest biannual goth fest, Whitby Gothic Weekend (which i attended once, a few years back). it's a mostly evenhanded piece, portraying goth as a subculture that creates community for its culturally misfit members, with a charmingly dated and nostalgic score from the early 80s. then again, according to the Culture Show, goths are mostly aging computer geeks who dress up in corsets and lace on the weekends, and are otherwise pleasantly middle-class members of society. did all the under-thirty art freaks, students, and club kids just stay home?

view the clip on youtube:

emo is the new goth?

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according to Bones, Fox's latest forensic drama and David Boreanaz vehicle, smug, angsty teens dressed in black and sporting lip-piercings are... emo? i suppose this is what i get for tuning in to mediocre primetime television (sadly, i have class when Veronica Mars airs on Tuesdays). last night's episode turned on the classic plot twist where the most likely suspect, in this case, the spooky teen, is absolved of the crime in favor of the less obvious "normal" character, his pageant-contestant younger sister (the emo teen, on the plus side, was played by cutie Kyle Gallner, whose quirky character on Veronica Mars was not similarly redeemed).

it's the character's mother, however, that outs him to the audience as "emo," and expresses her revulsion and despair at his sartorial choices. on the one hand, the show seems to be trying to keep up with the times and with current trends in youth culture. but on the other, the imagery of the angsty teen in black mostly serves to reproduce adult fears about youth as rebellious and violent, and doesn't seem particularly grounded in "emo" style or affect at all.

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