CNN Makes Jaclyn Friedman Sound Like a Victim-Blamer! Again!

It’s hardly a well-kept secret that journalists can make an interviewee sound like she said pretty much anything. Those of us who are asked to speak on controversial topics know we risk seeing our words twisted to fit a predetermined narrative — even to suggest the exact opposite of what we clearly meant — every time we agree to an interview. But it’s still quite a jaw-dropper to watch it happen as blatantly as it did this week, when CNN’s Carol Costello warped an interview with Jaclyn Friedman (friend of SP and co-editor of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape) into something about “raunch culture” and the pernicious influence of Ke$ha. The whole video (which purports to explore “what could be the ‘third wave’ of feminism,” because apparently, the last twenty fucking years have gone unnoticed by CNN) and a transcript are available over at Shakesville. But here’s the juicy part:

Costello: When it comes to binge drinking, experts say, sadly women are up to the challenge. According to Southern Illinois University, in 1996, 33 percent of women admitted to binge drinking or having five drinks in one sitting in the past two weeks. In 2008, that percentage shot up to nearly 41 percent.

Jaclyn Friedman, Editor, “Yes Means Yes”: It’s a really troubling message.

Costello: That’s disturbing to feminist editor Jaclyn Friedman. She says women having fun or making stupid mistakes is one thing, but adopting destructive, raunchy behavior is scary.

Friedman: When it comes to sexual assault, most rapists use alcohol to facilitate sexual assault.

Aaaand, bam, Jaclyn’s gone and we’re back to Ke$ha. That song is so catchy!

If you’re looking at that part I bolded and going, “WTF, Jaclyn?” well, you should be. You’re absolutely right that it sounds nothing like the position of a feminist activist who spends half her life explaining and decrying rape culture. Mostly because it’s not her position. Not even a little bit. On Twitter, Jaclyn’s explained that she actually “said there was a double standard worrying about girls’ drinking and not boys’, and that the trouble with the binge drinking culture in general is that it gives plausible deniability to rapists. And that we should be telling men that THEY need to drink responsibly, because alcohol’s not an excuse to rape! ARGGGGHHHHHH.”

So the real question is “WTF, Carol Costello? What the fucking fuck?”

Jaclyn was kind enough to G-chat with me for a few minutes this morning before she got on a plane. I could probably keep ranting about this bullshit for another 90 pages or so, but for now, I’ll just leave you with what she sounds like when the interviewer is not merely exploiting a subject’s feminist credentials to further a tiresome, sexist narrative about “dirty girls.”

Jaclyn: Part of the problem is one of nuance — the things I’m trying to say sound complicated, because they aren’t things that people have heard much before. It’s easy to understand the “OMG bad girls! Danger!” trope. Everybody knows it and can name that tune in three notes.

Me: And that tune is apparently “Tik Tok.”

Jaclyn: Hee. Yes. It’s a lot harder to say: “Wait. It’s not that simple.” To talk about women’s freedom to be “good” or “bad” or drink or even do risky things, just as men have that freedom, while simultaneously talking about the real danger that is violence against women, and how the “bad girl” trope is used to excuse it. But I also think they knew what story they wanted. And when I didn’t give it to them, they just made it work anyhow.

Me: Yep.

Jaclyn: Because they never once asked me about “raunchy behavior.” Or third wave feminism!

Me: I know! I can’t stop laughing at “what could be the third wave,” even though it also makes me want to cry.

Jaclyn: And I told them straight up that it was ridiculous to wring our hands over girls’ drinking and give boys a free pass. I’m just so angry. Because this is the second time I’ve been on CNN. Different producers, different reporters, different shows. And the EXACT SAME THING happened both times: I gave a smart, nuanced interview in which I steadfastly refused to victim-blame. And they edited me to sound like a total victim-blamer.

Me: Unbelievable.

Jaclyn: To be fair, I haven’t done this kind of soundbite interview for any other networks. So I’m not singling out CNN over, say, FOX or MSNBC. I have no idea.

Me: But if they’re going to keep spinning it like this, it’s like, what’s the point of having you on instead of just inviting someone from the Independent Women’s Forum or whatever?

Jaclyn: What’s the point? I have more cred. Which they are evidently determined to DESTROY.

Me: And then this goes out there as “what bona fide feminists believe,” and we have to spend even more time telling trolls that’s bullshit.

Jaclyn: EXACTLY. I mean, I’m CRUSHED to think anyone now thinks I actually believe that bullshit. I spend my entire life trying to UNDO that bullshit.

Me: I know!

Jaclyn: I am secretly pleased about one thing: All the people who bought Yes Means Yes b/c they saw me on that segment are going to have quite the surprise when they start reading. :)

Me: Ha! Right on.

Jaclyn: We did get a sales spike after it ran.

Me: That is terrific news… Although also sort of depressing news because it reinforces why we need to keep throwing ourselves to the wolves like this.

Jaclyn: Uch, I know.

Me: Well, thank you for taking one for the team YET AGAIN.

Jaclyn: NP. Wish it had gone better.

Useful Weekend Fluff: Your Fucking Recipes

I hate to distract anyone from the serious business of talking about how FUCKING AWESOME we all are, but it’s come to my attention that many Shapelings are spectacular cooks, some with dazzling signature recipes, and I would like to know more about these things. Tell us, please, about those recipes. Plus any helpful tips you have for those of us who are rather unspectacular cooks.

Speaking of which, one commenter (and I’m sorry I don’t remember who and couldn’t find the comment again when I skimmed back) said something in that thread about feeling like her accomplishments were too mundane to merit unabashed horn-tooting (though happily, she got over it), and the funny thing to me was, one of the first things she listed was being able to sing. Shapelings, I can do a lot of things well, but hoo boy, singing is not one of them. That is no boring, pedestrian talent/achievement to my mind. I have been told a million times that anyone can sing with training, but I would seriously need to put in years of work to be able to do karaoke without causing the audience physical and emotional pain. (I have learned to shut up people who insist, “Oh, come on, it’s karaoke! No one will judge!” by saying, “No, you don’t understand. The problem is not that I’m worried about embarrassing myself. The problem is that you will be embarrassed for me.” That usually makes people drop it. And if you think I’m exaggerating, ask Sweet Machine about playing Rock Band with me.) Xander in the Buffy musical episode? Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia? Finn on Glee? All way, way, WAY better singers than I am. WAY better. (And I have seen what people with training and/or talent and/or better ears than mine say about all of them, so don’t even try to tell me there is hope for a way, way, WAY worse singer than those.) Basically, anyone who can successfully hit the note they were trying for more than about one out of a hundred times is a way better singer than I am. I suppose it’s possible that with extensive training, I could become a passable, or at least somewhat less cringeworthy singer. But I could probably never be good, I could definitely never be great, and since voice training is not a big priority for me, I will most likely remain mind-blowingly bad at it for the rest of my days.

And that’s perfectly OK. I’m Kate fucking Harding either way. But I bring up that particular shortcoming to remind you all that things you might think are too ordinary and unexciting to count as Things That Make You Awesome can, in fact, seem like superpowers to the rest of us. Those of you who can sing, cook, sew, do math, program, make small children like you, keep yourself (let alone other people) organized, play team sports without frustrating the rest of the team to death, function with chronic pain, stretch a dollar, keep from swearing constantly, make a point succinctly or function without half a pot of coffee first thing in the morning all amaze me to varying degrees. Whatever talent, skill or even coping mechanism you take for granted would probably amaze someone. Don’t forget that when assessing your own awesomeness.

OK, now amaze me with your recipes.

Slightly Pre-Friday Sorta-Fluff: I’m Kate Fucking Harding

So, the other night, I went to see my friend (and sometime Shapeling) Tari play at a local bar, and as usual, I was slightly surprised by how awesome she is. Not because I have any good reason to underestimate her, but because A) I just don’t hear her play all that often, and B) it’s always a little surprising to see someone you mostly know in one context (in this case, the internet and $5 martini night at another local bar) in a different context, where they happen to kick a hundred kinds of ass. I have all sorts of friends who are writers and artists and performers, all of whom I know are tremendously talented and hardworking, and yet, when I see evidence of their tremendous talent and hard work, I still go, “Oh! Right! You really aren’t fucking around, are you?” ‘Cause it always seems a little magical, even if you know better.

So I did that the other night, when Tari came over to talk to Al and me in between sets. I was all, “Holy shit, that was so awesome!” like she’d just spontaneously done a backflip off the bar or rescued a kitten from a burning building or something, as opposed to doing something she has spent basically her entire fucking life training to do, and which she practices continuously, and which makes up a substantial portion of her identity. Like, WHO KNEW?

You know who knew? (I mean, besides me, if I’d thought about it for half a second.) Tari. She is, after all, the one practicing and performing and listening to herself all the damned time. And here is the actually surprising (well, not if you know Tari, but still) awesome thing: She said as much. Instead of just being all, “Aw, shucks, thank you, you’re too kind, and really, XYZ didn’t go as well as I hoped, and I’m still working on ABC, but I guess I’ve had worse shows…” she said something like, “Thanks. Yeah, I like to think I’m good at what I do. I could act all self-deprecating, but it is, you know… what I do.

And Shapelings, I am ashamed to tell you I had a moment there — just a little one, like a second long — of thinking, “Wow, that was –” Except, before I could even get to what it was — arrogant? cocky? inappropriate? — I was like, KATE WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU WHAT THAT WAS WAS THE TRUTH. And P.S. You think exactly the same thing about yourself.

And so I said as much. Something like, “Yeah, I know what you mean. After 25 years or so of practice, I’m pretty sure I can write.”

And we laughed. And part of my brain even noted, in that moment, that what just happened was unusual and very cool: Two women had just had a conversation in which they admitted out loud that they were good at something, without feeling the need to qualify it with a bunch of stuff about how they’re not as good as they could be, or how other people are so much better, or how the things they’re good at aren’t really important in the scheme of things. I almost said “a bunch of bullshit” there, but you know, it’s not bullshit. We’re not as good as we could be, because who is? (Also, the years ahead would be pretty bleak if we had no improvement to look forward to.) And there are people who are much better at what we do. And in certain schemes of certain things, at least, who gives a rat’s ass if you can write or sing well? So none of those statements actually qualify as bullshit, in and of themselves. But that compulsive need to acknowledge all of those things whenever someone gives you a compliment, to make sure no one could ever accuse you of being arrogant or cocky or inappropriately self-congratulatory about a demonstrated skill you have worked really hard on building? That’s bullshit.

And I thought maybe I should write a post about that, about how qualifying anything that might sound even vaguely self-esteemy is such an ingrained habit for so many women, we not only do it to ourselves, we police our friends when they don’t. About how I sat there for that one second, even if that’s all it was, and thought “WTF? She’s not supposed to say that!” when Tari said the exact same thing about herself that I’d just said. And there is a whole other post somewhere in my brain about how believing that only other people had the authority to determine whether I was good or bad, pretty or unpretty, funny or unfunny, etc., was at the core of my self-hatred and miserable body image for oh, 15 or 20 years.

But right now, I don’t want to talk about that. Right now, I want to talk about Sady fucking Doyle.

Sady fucking Doyle, if for some reason you’re not familiar with her, is the proprietress of Tiger Beatdown. And she recently went gloriously apeshit on a troll called Freddie, who was your fairly typical, if impressively relentless, mansplainer who totes considers himself a feminist but fears for the future of the movement because it’s full of all these lady feminists saying things he doesn’t agree with and/or things he ostensibly agrees with but not presented the way he would say them (note: joking makes feminists seem unserious, even if everything else makes us humorless), and if we would all just shut up for five minutes and listen to reason, we could work together and really get some social justice going! But tragically for womankind and indeed humanity, all these unpleasant, talking, joking women everywhere make feminism a hard sell to normal people! DID YOU EVER THINK OF THAT, YOU GUYS?

So, yeah. Sady went off. And then she went off some more and some more and some more and there were a lot of delightful boner jokes, and the phrase “I’m Sady fucking Doyle!” was invoked, and you should go catch up on all that if you missed it. I just got myself fully caught up today, and that’s when I learned that Sady has already pretty much written the post I wanted to write about that little moment with Tari, which you should read all of, but here’s the paragraph that says it all:

And, yeah, the “I’m Sady fucking Doyle” thing turned people off. You think I didn’t know it would turn people off? Women are not supposed to say that shit, even when it’s true. And it was there completely on purpose, with full acknowledgement that people would call me a narcissist, self-absorbed, in love with myself, etc, for saying it. Because I wanted to convey to Freddie that Freddie ain’t shit, largely because he actually ain’t. But I also wanted Freddie, who is hugely terrified of women who assert their authority and primacy in the feminist movement, to be confronted with the sight of a woman acknowledging, accepting, and reveling in her own authority and power. That shit is terrifying, often even to women, but definitely to men. So now Freddie’s sulking that Sady Doyle is “telling everyone about how impressed with herself she is.” And I am. Because I knew that would piss him the hell off. Because I’m a woman, and I have accordingly been taught my entire life to view myself as lesser-than, to devalue my own accomplishments, to accept it when other people treat me as lesser-than and devalue me, which they (if they are men, especially) have been taught to do. And I refuse. I say no. I tell you I’m Sady fucking Doyle, and I expect you to believe it. Being a woman who likes herself, is proud of herself, is impressed with herself, in public: There might not be a more subversive act.

I believe it.  And  you know that opinion is worth something because I’m Kate fucking Harding.

So this is actually not a very fluffy topic, but it at least struck me as an opportunity for some positive feel-good commentary (in addition to the usual analysis). Because Shapelings, I want to know what makes you awesome. We’ve actually done “toot your own horn” fluff threads before, but this time, I’m not interested in anything so ladylike as a mere toot. Today, I’m not interested in your tiny superpowers; I’m interested in your power. I want to know what makes you Screen fucking Name.  Lay it on me.

In Defense of Hit Girl

So, I saw Kick-Ass yesterday, and I thought I might want to blog about it, but I wasn’t sure if A) I could articulate just what I liked about it — because I did like it — and B) I wanted to open that can of worms. Now, I’ve committed to B in my own mind, so we’ll see if A comes together as I go along.

I went to see it mostly for the same reason a whole lot of people — including Roger Ebert, with whom I agree about 95% of the time — hated it: One of the main characters, Hit Girl, is a stone cold killer who calls victims cunts and motherfuckers, traits that would be soporifically old hat if not for their belonging, in this case, to an 11-year-old girl. (Also, a lot of people — though Ebert’s not one of them — seem a hell of a lot more upset by her language than by watching her eviscerate other human beings or be brutalized herself, which got my “Wow, this culture is fucked up” antennae wiggling.)

I was not disappointed. I loved that character, far more than I expected to, even. But I loved her while also recognizing that her approach to life was essentially sociopathic — and worse, that she was not that way naturally, but had been trained/brainwashed by her father (portrayed here as a basically sympathetic figure, further complicating matters) to kill without a hint of remorse or disgust — so if I thought about it too hard, I’d be torn between crying and vomiting.

Now, regular readers know I am not one to shy away from overthinking things, and I am a big supporter of Moff’s Law. (Short version: “If you really think people should just enjoy the movie without thinking about it, then why the fuck did you 1. click on the post in the first place, and 2. bother to leave a comment? If it bugs you so much, GO WATCH A GODDAMN FUNNY CAT VIDEO.”) So I am by no means suggesting that one should avoid any deeper analysis of Hit Girl. In fact, I’m about to do just that. But it’s a lot more complicated, for me, than simply saying the whole concept of her is beyond fucked-up and therefore represents a failure of art and/or entertainment. Because the fact that she made me feel squirmy and confused and inarticulate is one of the things I liked about the movie.

Before I proceed, I want to make a few things clear.

1) There will be spoilers. Big ones. I’ll put the bulk of this post behind a cut, but for dog’s sake, if you don’t want to be spoiled, go away now.

Continue reading

An Airline Rant That Does Not Involve Fat

Because really, why would I want to restrict myself to just one aspect of why commercial air travel sucks, especially in coach, when there are so very many others?

I’ve long enjoyed reading Patrick Smith’s “Ask the Pilot” column on Salon. He often does fantastic, well-informed smackdowns of two of my major pet peeves: Security theater/overblown terrorism panic and airlines rolling out new policies that make me think I, with an MFA in creative writing as my highest credential, would be substantially better at running these fucking businesses. His column today touches on both, and while I’m not sure I agree that “unbundling” is a good strategy in general and Spirit Airlines has merely taken it too far, I can appreciate his logic.  But then we come to the last paragraph:

I fly mostly international these days, which tends to be pretty civilized, but a few weeks ago I found myself in South Florida, at the Spirit Airlines terminal. I have to ask, having been out of the domestic loop for some time: Is this the state of flying in the United States? I’d never experienced anything quite like it. It was like a humanity bomb went off. The lobby was elbow-to-elbow with the ugliest, loudest, more unbearable people I have ever seen — guys in gold chains screaming at each other; trashy women tottering around on silver high-heels clutching knockoff designer bags; teenagers sleeping on the floor; gigantic suitcases and baby carriages everywhere. The din of crying babies was unbearable, the security lines endless.

There is a whole lot of classism going on there, not to mention the child hate, which I’m not even going to unpack, because it’s pretty self-evident. (I was surprised and relieved to get to the end of that paragraph, reread it again, and realize fat was not also on the list of things that disturbed him about his fellow human beings.) My point is not “Oh, Patrick Smith, you have disappointed me,” although for the record… yeah. But frankly, I can’t get on anything much higher than a Shetland pony here, because quite honestly, if my life and finances were such that I could choose to travel primarily under more “civilized” circumstances, you’re damn right I would, and fuck everyone else. Because YES, that is exactly what flying is like for most of us, most of the time, and even if I’m not offended by designer knock-off bags and try to be sympathetic to parents of small children (though I don’t always succeed) and understand that teenagers sleeping on the floor might very well be there because the airlines have canceled or delayed their flights, I hate it all just as much as Smith did.

And so do all those other people. We all hate it. Because it is miserable. Not because of babies or purses or gold chains, because it is just too damn many people shoved into too little space, moving way too slowly, in a situation that jacks up everyone’s anxiety levels for numerous reasons. On top of concerns like “Will I make it on time?” and “Will the plane go down?” and “Am I going to be mistaken for a terrorist?” and “Is my underwire going to set off the metal detector again?” and “Will my luggage actually make it with me?” and  “Are all of my bags and/or children still within my sight and if not, what happened to the one I can’t find now?” you’ve also got 150 different airline and safety policies we’re all supposed to be aware of, but the vast majority of us are not — either because we haven’t flown recently or because the rules change every five friggin’ minutes — so at every step, somebody in a uniform is barking at you. “Boarding pass and I.D.! Put that here! No, HERE! Boarding pass and I.D.! This line. No, THIS line. Boarding pass and I.D.! Take that off! That needs to go in a separate bin!  That bin needs to be turned the other way! Come on now, don’t hold up the line! What’s in your pockets? Step over here!” Et fucking cetera. And meanwhile, there are recordings playing over and over, telling you to take out your carry-on liquids, which must be in 3-oz. containers in a quart Ziplock bag and if they’re not you need to fix it or throw them out, and have your boarding pass and i.d. ready, and if you’re using a passport, make sure it’s open to the picture page (so the line moves more efficiently, natch) and if you see any unattended baggage, you must report it, and p.s. Homeland Security says we’re on ORANGE ALERT. (I’ve flown dozens of times in the last few years, and it has never been anything but an orange alert. Which means, at this point, if I encountered a red alert, I’d be like, “Well, that’s only a little worse than normal. Whatever.”) And meanwhile, you’re expected to read signs about the symptoms of swine flu (and presumably get out of line and go home if you have them — or throw a fit if someone else does?) and signs about what to do with your laptop and shoes when you finally get to the friggin’ metal detector, and signs reiterating the point about the liquids, all while listening to the recorded messages and the authority figures barking at you. And the crying babies. And the people arguing. And then the people in front of you have liquids that aren’t in approved containers or forget about the change in their pockets or try to go through with their coats still on or misplace their boarding passes or put too many things in one bin, on top of the time it takes everyone who knows the drill to remove their shoes, coats and cardigans, get their laptops out of their bags and get all their coats, cardigans, shoes, laptops, purses and metal objects into bins and trays without overcrowding, and wrangle all their kids’ stuff if they have kids, then restore everything to its original location 10 seconds later, and GOSH, I HAVE NO IDEA WHY EVERYONE ENDS UP IN A BAD MOOD.

And that’s just flying domestically. My head almost fucking exploded at the Toronto airport last Saturday as I learned how much things have changed since the last time I flew into the States from there. (Probably at least 5 years ago; I usually drove.) It used to be you checked in at the ticket counter, got your checked baggage tags, went through customs, dumped the checked bags, went through security and that was that. Three lines, three requests for your boarding pass and I.D., only one more step than flying domestically. Now you go to the ticket counter and get checked baggage tags PLUS a bright yellow tag for each carry-on item. Then you are herded, with astounding inefficiency, into the customs area by one guy who has to check your boarding pass and passport AND make sure all your luggage is properly tagged. (This is where I realized my purse didn’t have the proper carry-on tag even though my computer bag did — I stupidly didn’t realize there was no distinction between “carry-on” and “personal item” in this context — so I had to go back and start over.) Then you go through customs, which used to seem like the big pain in the ass but is now by far the simplest part of the process. Then somebody asks to see your boarding pass and passport again as you drop your checked bags on the belt. Then you go through security — which, see previous paragraph. Then, once you are PAST security, another person asks for your boarding pass and passport. Then you walk off toward your gate, and suddenly ANOTHER person wants to see your boarding pass and passport. And then ANOTHER — and this one also searches all of your carry-on baggage, then tells you to put your palms face up so she can swab your hands for traces of explosives. (Except Al had to explain that last part to me, because when I asked what she was about to do to my exposed palms, she said, “I have to take a sample of your hand.” Me: “WHAT?” Her: “I just have to take a sample of your hand.” At which point I am JUST BARELY holding it together enough to recognize that whatever that means and however much I might object if I knew, being a belligerent asshole is not the smart move here. So I let her “take a sample” of my hands and move on.)

And all of that is before you drag your carry-ons 8 or 10 miles to sit in an uncomfortable chair at the gate for ages because you were warned to arrive 6 months in advance or risk missing your flight, which is before you get on the goddamned plane, which… well, the actual flying experience has been well covered by previous posts and comment threads on the fat issue. Oh, and I almost forgot the pretty much inevitable step where they tell you that your regulation-size carry-on bag will have to be checked now, so you need to get out all the shit you want on the flight and carry it on loose and figure out where to stow it once you’re on the plane, and hey, you know what would come in really handy at that point? A FUCKING BAG. And you know why that step is pretty much inevitable at this point? Because the airlines are all charging for checked luggage now, so everyone traveling somewhere for less than two weeks tries to get by with the largest possible regulation-size carry-on bag stuffed to the gills, which means they won’t all fit in the overhead compartments. (Which would be reason #1 why I don’t agree with Smith that unbundling is a fine idea to a point.)

The whole process is absurdly time-consuming, anxiety-inducing, demeaning, dehumanizing and uncomfortable, no matter who you are or what you look like. Triple all of that, for different reasons, if you look remotely “Middle Eastern” by the most ignorant person’s definition, if you’re fat, if you have trouble standing or walking but not quite enough to request assistance,  if you have assistive devices the TSA people don’t understand, if you don’t speak English, if you’re traveling with small children — and I’m sure there are several more categories of Extra Horrible Suck I’m not thinking of here.

So yes, it is always like that. And it is miserable for all of us. But we can’t do a goddamned thing about it, for the most part, because in many cases, flying a commercial airline is the only option. But not in all cases, which means people who would have flown in the past are choosing alternative transportation when it’s possible — on top of former business travelers who can now do it all online and people who can no longer afford to fly, thanks to the recession, and people who are unreasonably afraid of terrorism, thanks to ridiculous fear-mongering, off the top of my head — so between all that and fuel prices and piss poor management and who knows what else, the airlines are floundering, and their brilliant recovery strategy is to make it even more miserable.

I know! Let’s charge people for blankets and headphones and carry-ons and using the restroom, in addition to checked luggage and food and drinks and being fat, instead of making it clear how much a flight actually costs up front! And hey, while we’re at it, let’s stop taking cash for any of the onboard stuff, so even people who were willing to pay might be screwed when they get on the plane! And let’s cut a bunch of flights so we can continue overbooking them even with fewer customers! And cut a bunch of staff, so everyone who works for us is just as demoralized and anxious and surly as all the customers, who are made even more miserable by the fact that there is no one available to help them, ever! Also, we should totally buy into the theory that security theater makes everyone feel safer and more comfortable, as opposed to making air travel a bazillion times more punishing for reasons that are not even our fault, although we’ll be blamed for all of it, and thus avoid pushing back with all our might every time there’s a new arbitrary restriction meant to create the illusion of safety. And meanwhile, we should continue longstanding traditions like delaying and canceling flights and offering customers as little information as possible about those changes, switching gates at the last minute, wasting time begging people to take vouchers because we’re overbooked, loading up the planes and then sitting on the tarmac for hours, generally behaving as though our business plan reads “Phase 1: Engineer epic clusterfuck. Phase 2: ? Phase 3:  Profit,”  and then insincerely thanking everyone for their business AS IF ANY OF THEM WOULD PUT UP WITH A GODDAMNED BIT OF IT IF EVEN ONE AIRLINE OFFERED A HALF-DECENT ALTERNATIVE.

Now, since I am not an aviation expert, and I have no idea what actually goes on behind the scenes at airlines, it is entirely possible that I am unfairly blaming them for some things they cannot control at all, or not easily. But guess what, that’s business. What customers perceive is just as important as anything else — and thanks to the security process, every airline is starting with 3 strikes against them in terms of customer perception of the overall flying experience, so it really sucks to be them. Nonetheless, this is my impression, as a customer, of every single airline I have flown in the last several years, which is all of the big ones and some of the small ones: They’re fucking hideous. I have occasionally had an experience that made me think, “That wasn’t as horrible as usual; I should try this airline again,” but the problem is, then I do try them again. And lightning never strikes twice in the same place. I fly quite a bit, but I don’t belong to any frequent flyer program because there is no airline that has managed not to piss me off enough that I would rather commit and earn points than just look for the cheapest flight every time.

So, let’s review: I am someone who flies at least every couple of months, on average. But I am not loyal to any airline — in fact, I pretty much despise them all. I almost always choose the cheapest non-stop flight available even though I would gladly pay extra (within reason; i.e., not first class prices) if any of them actually offered something extra (other than extra legroom, which is not a big concern at 5’2″). In the last couple of years, I have been choosing to drive or take a train or bus a hell of a lot more than I used to — routinely for any distance under about 500 miles, and sometimes much longer — because it is always less anxiety-inducing, demeaning, dehumanizing and uncomfortable than flying (and often not much more time-consuming, if you factor in how long it takes on both ends). And if high speed rail ever happens in this country, I will be thrilled to cease flying domestically altogether.

There is one reason, and one reason only, that I give any of these companies my money: Because I have to. In my experience, every last one of them treats customers like shit and provides an utterly miserable experience, start to finish. And if any one of them made a sincere gesture toward offering customers a not so utterly miserable experience, at something less than oh, four or five times the cost of a coach seat? I would fly more often, and I would pay more for it. I’m not everybody, obviously — but as for broad principles that do apply to every single person who flies, I really don’t see how “Treat customers like shit and offer an utterly miserable experience, relying on all of our competitors to suck just as badly and a certain number of people to fly anyway” is a winning business strategy. And I really, really don’t see how “Charge more for things that used to be included, offer fewer flights and make customer service experiences yet more punishing” is a smart response to declining sales. I understand that when you’re bleeding money, trying to cut costs and find new revenue streams is an obvious answer. But at some point, you have to factor in that your success depends on providing services to actual human beings, and if you cannot prevent those human beings from feeling sheer disgust at the way you provide those services, or from actively resenting you every time they have to fly  – forget about whether you can engender loyalty among them — you are going to have a long-term problem, even if some of them will consistently be forced by circumstance into patronizing your business.

I mean, what do I know? My highest credential is an MFA. But I know I have to get on a plane again tomorrow (Arkansans, come out and say hi on Saturday!) and I’m dreading it. And I always dread it, even as an able-bodied white woman who’s not fat enough to be concerned about getting thrown off a plane or tall enough to be concerned about leg injuries just from sitting there. Because yes, it is always just that bad. And I really don’t have any brilliant way to wrap this up except to say fuck yooooooou, airlines, all of you, and fuck yooooooou, decision-makers who probably never fly coach but think making security lines even longer every time our intelligence agencies and the TSA fail to catch a bad guy before he gets to the plane is a good idea, and dear god I don’t even believe in, please bring high-speed rail to this country like yesterday.

On Productivity and Absorption

So, Al bought an iPad yesterday. Don’t ask me how I didn’t see that one coming, because Al buys practically every gadget that comes along and has a particular affinity for tiny computers. But since he’s not an Apple nerd in particular and has so far resisted the urge to buy an iPhone, when he said “Let’s go look at the iPad,” I actually believed we were only going to look. You’d think I just met the guy.

Anyway, it is indeed a cool little device. And what I like about it is pretty much what Laura Miller talks about in her review here — it’s terrific for consuming all sorts of media – but because I wasn’t excited enough to read a million reviews before it was released, I didn’t realize some people thought that was a bad thing.

Between being a youngish (emphasis on the “ish”) person and having a gadget geek husband (with a job that pays well enough for him to be one),  I already consume practically all of my media via small, portable computers. Music comes from iPods and internet radio, not CDs and a stereo. We no longer have a proper TV or a cable subscription, and I can’t tell you the last time either of us bought a DVD — we mostly watch Netflix, Hulu, Amazon on Demand and the like on our laptops or via a Roku box hooked up to a projector. And since I got a Kindle, I’ve pretty much stopped buying paper books unless they were written by friends or aren’t available as e-books.  (Also, you probably wouldn’t have guessed this, but I read the internet a little bit every now and again.) As Laura says, a laptop can do all those things, but for various practical and emotional reasons, she’s so far found the iPad preferable for non-work-related media consumption. I think I would too. After Al and I had messed around with it for a while yesterday, my overall impression was, “That’s a really nice little entertainment delivery device” — like a TV or a stereo or an e-book reader, except all of those and much more. Which is kind of awesome.

But I forgot that nobody’s supposed to be entertained without an opportunity to respond anymore, so apparently, just being able to watch TV and movies, listen to music, play games and read books, magazines, newspapers and the entire internet on one device that does all those things pretty damn well is not good enough. (Not that you can’t interact with a lot of the above on the iPad, but it’s not always as easy as it is on a laptop.) So this paragraph of Laura’s really hit me:

The iPad may not be ideal for what the tech industry calls “productivity,” but it’s well-suited for the purpose I had in mind: absorption. Even the most creative individuals will tell you that they have to spend some time simply soaking up the world around them, including the work of other creators, or ultimately the well runs dry. Much techno-utopian rhetoric implies that devoting your whole attention to someone else’s creation, sans interactivity, is necessarily a sad, incomplete, merely passive experience. Not only is that incorrect, it reflects certain troubling psychosexual attitudes about surrender and control that I don’t even want to get into here. When people complain nowadays about not being able to think or read as deeply as they used to, they’re not just acting like a bunch of old fuddy-duddies: They’re noticing a genuine lack of substance, the threadbare sensation of living in a culture where everyone’s talking and nobody’s listening.

I love technology, generally speaking, and I don’t like people who are all “Oh no! The internet is killing genuine human experience!” But I also don’t like people who think that entertainment or art without a high level of interactivity is necessarily inferior to the new kind. That’s a whole other post, but for now, let’s just say that as someone who lives much of my life online, I’m actually finding it makes me appreciate passive media consumption — as Laura puts it, listening – even more.

Al and I spent last week in Toronto, where I lived about 2/3 of my adult life to date.  Crossing the border meant the roaming charges were obscene, so we both turned off everything but the phone parts of our phones. Which meant that for 8 days, we couldn’t e-mail, update Twitter or Facebook, end an argument by looking something up on Wikipedia, or read random internet shit unless we were actually in our hotel room with our computers. Now, everyone who witnessed the Sandra Bullock shitstorm knows I was online plenty last week — but I was also offline a LOT more than usual. Because these days, I am used to being online whenever I’m on public transit, when I’m out for dinner (yes, I’m that rude asshole, at least when I’m with my rude asshole husband), when I’m waiting for a movie to start or a friend to show up, etc. So when I realized I’d been out for hours and had no idea what was going on in comments on the Bullock post, for instance, I’d have a moment of panicky frustration before I remembered oh yeah, IT WILL STILL BE THERE WHEN I GET HOME.

I went more than 30 years without owning a smartphone, but it did not take long for me to become disturbingly dependent on one. And living without all those extra features for a week made me really conscious of how frequently that takes me out of the moment. Or, more precisely, it puts me in a different moment — I don’t think constant internet access makes you fail to be present or engaged with your own life, as some would argue, but it can mean a lot of your life takes place in your head more than your body.

Sometimes, that’s a wonderful thing, especially for people who for various reasons can’t be physically present everywhere they might like to be, or who find it much easier to be social this way. But for me, the blessing and the curse of it is, I spend much more of my life than I used to thinking about what I’m going to say next. I’m composing a comment in response to what I just read instead of sitting with it; I’m having “chats” with friends where there can be no pleasant silences without one of us wondering if the other is still there; if I’m observing the world around me, half the time I’m thinking, “How do I make this a funny tweet?” When I was writing for Broadsheet, I read other feminist blogs desperately looking for fodder, rather than just taking it all in because it’s smart and interesting — which is exactly what got me interested in them and made me want to start my own in the first place.

All that thinking up something to say gets fucking exhausting. Which is ultimately a big part of why I gave up daily writing for Salon, and why I’ve been so absent around here for so long. (After a day’s work, I’m supposed to think up even more things to say?) And one of the things that made me realize I needed to make a change was that I became obsessed with TV. Like I said, we don’t have cable or a proper TV, and part of the reason for that is because we just weren’t watching enough to bother. It wasn’t a big part of our lives. But over the last few months, I would finish work and just want to sit there for hours watching Hulu/Netflix/Amazon stuff — whatever was available to stream and looked remotely interesting to me. I’ve found a few shows I really love that way (Leverage, In Plain Sight, Better off Ted, the sadly long ago canceled Kidnapped), but I also watched a hell of a lot of crap TV, two straight seasons of 21 Jump Street in a weekend and about a million episodes of Law & Order I’d already seen. Because all I wanted to do after thinking up shit to say all day was sit there and let someone else tell me a story that was easy to follow and demanded no response.

I really do love writing online and talking to other people about what they’re writing and what I am. But man, I also really do love sitting on my ass and letting someone else do all the thinking. I didn’t realize how much I missed that when I was in my honeymoon phase with the blogosphere and totally delighted by all these new avenues for interaction with enormous numbers of people.

I also love reading and writing fiction, neither of which I’ve been doing much of all this time; another reason I gave for quitting is that I’m trying to get back into writing a novel. But getting into the mental space for that involves reading a lot of other people’s work, as Laura notes, as well as sitting with my own work and getting no immediate feedback. It involves a hell of a lot more offline time, absorbing time, listening time — listening to other people and to myself far more closely than I can when I’m writing to deadline every day — so it’s a surprisingly big adjustment, considering it’s what I spent most of my time doing just five years ago. And meanwhile, I don’t want to fall off the radar completely with my nonfiction and online stuff, so I’m still taking the occasional paid opportunity, trying (or thinking of trying) to blog here more, tweeting, commenting and working on personal essays that could go in a book. Which means not writing or reading much fiction, unless I can figure out a good balance.

That’s what I’m trying/hoping to do right now. It’s too early to really say how that’s going yet. But I’ve written a bit of fiction without checking e-mail every ten minutes, I’m reading more books and watching less TV, and that week without a smartphone was surprisingly instructive. It will all still be here when I get back.

I travel a lot, usually with my Kindle and netbook. And I usually work while I travel. When I first considered whether I might want my own iPad — thinking mostly of traveling with it — I thought, “It would be nice to have everything on one device*, but I don’t think I’d like working on it.” Right now, though, I’m thinking that’s exactly why I might want one. Because someday, I might take a real vacation again, go somewhere and not work at all, just explore and observe and maybe passively consume some entertainment on the plane or in the hotel. Just like I did until a few years ago, always carrying several paper books and maybe a cell phone that didn’t do anything else along with me. I’m probably too far gone to want to go more than a day or two without internet access at all, and I’m okay with that.** But I love the iPad precisely because it reverses the netbook’s priorities — it is ideal for absorption, not productivity. And if my TV binge taught me anything, it was that I need to work more absorbing into my life if I don’t want to go completely off the rails.

So yeah, I kind of want one. Probably won’t get one any time soon, because they ain’t cheap. But it is a really cool little entertainment delivery device. And I think that’s all the recommendation it needs.

Also, if you don’t see me around here? It’s generally safe to assume it’s because I’m feeling the need to do more listening than talking. That’s all.

*Yeah, I could read Kindle books on my netbook, but I really don’t like that as much.

**Unless someone wants to offer me a free week on a beach somewhere I can’t possibly get it. I would take that, just for the record.

Posted in Fat

In Which I Am a Victim-Blaming Bitch

Dear Internet,

Pursuant to yesterday’s post at Jezebel, I feel I should clarify a few things.

1) If you are not an Oscar-winning actress or similarly well-known personage, I was not talking about you. I understand that if you don’t routinely get media inquiries about your personal life, you probably do not have people in your employ whose job is to keep the public from thinking poorly of you. This means that no one, least of all me, will ever expect you to issue a public statement regarding the actions of your douchebag partner.

2) If you are concerned that I would judge you by the actions of your douchebag partner, or that I do not understand how easy it is to be fooled by someone you love, please see the passage beginning with the fourth sentence of the goddamned post, which reads:

Don’t get me wrong: I am in no way suggesting that a wife is responsible for her husband’s behavior. I’m not even saying Bullock must have known; just as it’s possible for women not to realize their husbands are cheating or married to other people or, say, responsible for multiple murders, it’s surely possible to miss the signs that your partner is, if not an active neo-Nazi, the kind of twisted asswipe who finds humor in taking photos that suggest he is.

3) If you are concerned that I am unfairly judging Sandra Bullock herself, please revisit the post, paying special attention to the following lines:

  • “all anyone can do is speculate”
  • “all of the information we have comes from questionable sources”
  • “I have absolutely no idea what she knew and when she knew it, and no way of finding out”
  • “I like Sandra Bullock”
  • “I’m not saying we should be accusing Bullock, or assuming anything just yet”
  • “all I know for sure is that I don’t know the woman at all”

Perhaps that sort of close reading will make it easier to understand that I have not, in fact, decided that Sandra Bullock is a Bad Person. I have not, in fact, decided anything about Sandra Bullock as a person. What I have done is call attention to the following points:

  • When you are married to someone who, at the very least, thinks posing for a picture like that is funny, it may be unreasonable for people to presume you share his views, but it is perfectly reasonable for those who are interested in your life to ask you things like, “Um, do you think it’s funny too? And were you aware that he did? Hypothetically speaking, if your husband were shown to be an aficionado of Nazi culture, would you consider that a dealbreaker, y/n?”
  • When you are a very famous actor, fucking everyone is interested in your life. (This is why you have people to deal with your public image while you deal with your private life. See point 1 above.)
  • It is customary for very famous people who are at risk of being tarred with someone else’s douchebag brush to issue statements denouncing the douchebag in question. Ergo, it is curious that there was no immediate move from Bullock’s camp to distance her from a man who, at the very least, thinks posing for a picture like that is funny.
  • It is also customary for the media to talk all sorts of shit about celebrities who might plausibly be tarred with someone else’s douchebag brush. Ergo, it is also curious that so few people seem to even be idly wondering whether Bullock was aware of the breadth and depth of her husband’s douchebaggery.

4) At the end of the day, I am really not all that interested in what kind of person Sandra Bullock is, and I certainly do not feel she owes me or the public a damned thing. But I am very interested in how the cultural conversation about a photo like this goes:

All too predictably, loads of people (in Jez comments and elsewhere) are saying shit like, “It’s just one picture” and “We don’t know the context” and “It was obviously just a joke.” To which I would respond:

  • How many pictures like that would you need to see to be appalled?
  • What context would make it okay?
  • What on earth makes it funny?

If all you mean is that it would be unfair and premature to conclude from this photo that Jesse James personally wants to commit genocide, I’ll grant you that. But I am entirely comfortable concluding from this one photo — let alone other recent revelations — that Jesse James is an epic fucking douche, and that racism is a noteworthy element of his douchiness.

That, of course, is what some people get so upset about. Heaven forbid we jump to the conclusion that someone captured on film doing a “humorous” Hitler impression perhaps has some problematic views about race. We’d better wait until we have the whole story before we go off half-cocked and say things we might regret! I mean, for all we know, he might have just been…

What? What would make that picture okay?

Hint: Nothing.

For fuck’s sake, what does a white person have to do around here before a critical mass of other white people are willing to say, “Yep, that’s some racist bullshit”? More than use Nazi imagery for laffs, apparently. And that, more than anything, is why it troubles me that Bullock didn’t immediately issue a statement, and so few people even seem willing to question whether she was aware that her husband held the sort of views that, at the very least, made him think that photo was funny — let alone whether she holds similar views. Because giving her the pure and unfettered benefit of the doubt at this point is only a milder version of making excuses for him. It’s all based on the same premise: that being called “racist” — or even questioned about your association with someone who, say, uses Nazi imagery for laffs — is such an unbelievably painful thing to endure, we must never, ever imply such a thing without hard evidence that the person in question deserves it.

Hard evidence like… well, something more than one photo taken out of context that was only meant to be a joke, surely. And if that’s not admissible, then merely being married to someone who would take that one photo is, without a doubt, utterly meaningless — so it would be tasteless and cruel even to ask the spouse, “Dude, what the fuck? Did you know about this?” In fact, the consequences of accusing a nice white person of racism, falsely or not, are so unspeakably terrible — why, some people might think poorly of her! — it would probably be better if we never used the word “racist” at all, except with regard to people who do, in fact, personally want to commit genocide. Just to be on the safe side.

And if that means we can never really confront racism when we see it, well… that’s unfortunate. But come on. We don’t want to make people uncomfortable. White people, I mean. I understand that racism itself tends to have damaging effects on everyone else, but since I’ve never personally experienced it, I can only speak as a white woman — and let me tell you, being told that something you’ve done as a well-intentioned, liberal white person was, in fact, racist? AWKWARD! So before you go trying to end oppression, you should probably take that into consideration, okay?

Look, I truly don’t have an opinion on what’s in Sandra Bullock’s heart. But I have an opinion on that photo: Appalling and inexcusable. And an opinion on Jesse James: Racist fuckwit. And an opinion on attempts to somehow justify that photo and steer the conversation away from words like “racism” and “anti-Semitism” and “white supremacy” at all costs: Bullshit. And all of that brought me to the opinion that if Bullock wants to keep the stink off her, she’d best issue a statement denouncing her husband’s racist behavior in no uncertain terms. As fast as possible. Which means, basically, yesterday.

That’s what I was talking about. Not judging her or blaming her or making presumptions about her, but expecting her, as a public figure, to take this seriously. Because that picture, despite what James’ defenders say, is fucking serious. And while it’s very possible for people to remain ignorant of a lot of things within a long-term relationship, it is also, exactly as I said yesterday, reasonable to wonder, and to ask, whether someone shares or condones or willfully ignores her partner’s odious views.

But we’re not supposed to wonder about Bullock. Because she seems like such a nice person, and she’s publicly said non-racist things, and she’s going through so much, sure. But also because it is considered rude and vaguely scandalous to not give an apparently nice white person the extreme benefit of the doubt where any suggestion of racism is concerned. And that’s bullshit. I don’t know one way or another what she thinks of that photo, but for those of us who have never met the woman, in the absence of a public comment there is no more reason to assume she deplores it than there is to assume she thinks it’s hilarious. So it’s really disturbing — albeit not unexpected — that so many people seem to think even posing the question is a vicious assault on her character. Jesse James does a Nazi salute with one hand and a Hitler mustache with the other, and people scramble to explain why we shouldn’t assume it means anything, you know, negative. But ask what his wife thinks about that, and why — for the sake of her own public image, if nothing else — she hasn’t commented (via a publicist, so it’s not like she has to be articulate in the midst of heartbreak and humiliation)? Tasteless! Insulting! Victim-blaming! Why, I never!

That’s pretty fucked up, folks. It really is.

Love,

Kate

Another non-post

So yeah, I was off on the return date by nearly a week. Sorry about that.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve quit writing for Broadsheet — last Friday was my last day. I was a bit burned out on daily ladyblogging, and I want to get working on a new book. (No, I’m not ready to talk about specifics yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as I am.) So in theory, I’ve got more time to hang out here again, and I’m planning to. In practice, a whole week’s already gone by, in which I got a lot of writing done but never blogged. So it goes.

Right now, I’m out of town until next Saturday, attending a wedding and visiting family and old friends — so realistically, I probably won’t post much this week, either. But I wanted to say hi.

Hi!

OK, bye.

Spring Break

Hey, folks, Shapely Prose is going on hiatus until on or about March 22. Everybody’s batteries are running low, and some shit’s changing behind the scenes, so it’s blogcation time. This will be an open thread unless I get pissed off and close it at some point, so… be good.

Posted in Fat

A Handy Guide to Not Plagiarizing

Via Hoyden About Town‘s Lauredhel* on Twitter, I just discovered this Mediaite post by Glynnis MacNicol** discussing a piece by NYT public editor Clark Hoyt*** regarding the latest plagiarism scandal to be blamed on the fast pace of blogging. Like Gerald Posner before him, Times business reporter Zachery Kouwe says his problem wasn’t that he meant to lift whole passages from other writers, but that when he was gathering information, he’d dump it all in one file, then totally forget which parts he’d written. And the real problem, if you want to know the truth, was tight online deadlines, which prevented him from carefully looking over his work for typos, awkward sentences and parts he did not write.

Yeahno.

I mean, it’s possible they’re both that fucking stupid — I can’t rule that out. But I can tell you I’ve been blogging on deadline for some time now, and I have yet to steal substantial amounts of writing from anyone else. Sure, I could probably thank Dooce every time I use all caps for emphasis, and Sady Doyle every time I get exclamation point happy, and I don’t always correct people who credit me with coining the phrase “rack of doom,” even though I’ve explained a bunch of times that I stole it from someone on Fatshionista ages ago. I’m not saying I’m perfect. But you know what I don’t do? Copy other people’s work into my own files and then magically forget that I didn’t write it.

And you know how I don’t do that? It’s a pretty simple process.

1) I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

2) I read everything over multiple times as I’m going along, and at least twice before I hit “publish.” Even this doesn’t keep me completely typo-free or prevent me from sometimes publishing dumbassed shit. But it’s a pretty reliable way to familiarize myself with what my own writing looks like, lest I confuse it with someone else’s.

3) I link to every online source I quote, and when it’s a longer passage, I often use the fancy internet blockquote function. This also helps minimize my own natural confusion between my writing and other people’s.

Here’s an example. Felix Salmon writes:

Kouwe once wrote, in an email quoted by Teri Buhl: “Things move so quickly on the Web that citing who had it first is something that is likely going away, especially in the age of blogs.”

Anybody who can or would write such a thing has no place working on a blog. If it’s clear who had a story first, then the move into the age of blogs has made it much easier to cite who had it first: blogs and bloggers should be much more generous with their hat-tips and hyperlinks than any print reporter can be.

I did not write any of that. It really works!

4) On the rare occasion when I do hit “publish” without remembering to include an appropriate link — it happens**** — I usually notice it when I read the piece over again. Things that tip me off to missing links: The name of another writer, the name of another website, quotation marks, blockquotes, phrases like “As X at Y put it…” If you routinely include such markers when you quote another writer’s work, you will have no trouble later identifying where your own work would benefit from a link to the source.

5) Also, I don’t pretend I wrote things I didn’t write.

That’s it — my whole system for not plagiarizing! And since this blog is coming up on its three-year anniversary with exactly zero instances of a writer here being unsure of whether she wrote something or stole it, I feel confident recommending that system to others. Please feel free to pass my advice along to any veteran journalists you know who understand nothing about online communication and thus assume they won’t get caught — er, rather,  get all confuzzled by the pace of blogging and can’t remember who wrote what. Just don’t fucking forget where you found it.

*See how I credited another blogger, and included a link? Not actually hard.

**And again!

***Works for old media types with an online presence, too!

****In fact, I forgot to link to the Fatshionista Livejournal community where it’s mentioned above before I first pubbed this post. Oops!