Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Honey Boo Boo Effect

My Gemini is showing. I am of two minds. I like people. I dislike people. I wish there were more people around. I wish there weren’t any people around. Some days I can’t even summon self-empathy because I’m a person!
I’ve always watched people and been fascinated by them, even as a child hiding under the table due to shyness but curious to hear what the adults talked about. It’s the imperfections that fascinate me the most. They are also what frustrate me the most. Let me wander a bit as I weave around this ambivalence.
Our imperfections make us unique.  Our diversity makes us interesting. But sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever be able to live in harmony, side by side. Our differences are small, but they hold much more weight than our commonality. They cause disconnects, miscommunications, fear, hatred, oppression, and violence. Yet many people won’t acknowledge this. They want to believe that racism, sexism, classicism, and homophobia don’t exist. They want to blame the victims for the situations they find themselves in and cast them as complainers.
Watch this short video, Stopped and Frisked for being aF**cking Mutt, about the NYPD Stop and Frisk initiative in New York City. 87% of all stops involve a person of color.  9 out of 10 stops result in the suspect being released, but listen to the treatment they endure for just being out in the neighborhood. Learn about the pressure police are under to engage in this initiative. Racial profiling is alive and well in America.
I’m even weary of repeating myself on this topic, over and over. It feels like no one is listening.
Ronald and I often talk about how we identify as a family. Like my daughter Mackenzie, who just got her license changed over from New York State to a North Carolina license, we’ve had to choose whether we identify as black or white.
“I’m other,” she told the DMV official. “Can’t I choose interracial?”
“No, you’ll have to choose between black or white. My granddaughter will have to make that choice, too,” he said, as if that would make the choice to deny part of one’s ethnic identity easier.
“I choose black,” she told him. “It’s how I’m viewed by society anyway. My mom won’t be happy.”
I’m not happy, not because the choice seems like a slap in the face, but rather because she had to choose. Why can’t we, in this supposed post-racial society, identify as interracial? See my post Checking theOther Box.
We’ll be choosing a president soon. Early voting begins in NC on Thursday. I will proudly make my choice for President Obama and Walter Dalton for governor of NC. People died believing in and fighting for the inalienable right of all Americans to vote. I won’t diminish their lives and their struggle through apathy.
Maybe some people believe I support President Obama because I identify closely with black Americans. That is not true. What is true is that I can see beyond the color of his skin and see that his policies and philosophies are in alignment with my vision of America where all Americans experience equality, access, and opportunity; where we all live and play on a level playing field; where our diversity is our strength instead of our weakness; and where everyone is proud to be an American. I understand there are people who don’t share this vision, but isn’t that a part of our diversity? Why feel hatred over it? I don’t.
Here’s another video I recommend you watch. Called SacrificeTotal Gift of Self, this video is pro-life and presents anti-contraception arguments. It is a weird mix of religion (the Old Testament) and pseudo-science. Be prepared to be in total awe. Women, beware. You may find yourself suffering the vapors and wondering where women’s rights, choice, and equality went.
No wonder I feel so ambivalent lately.
There is a trend on television that intrigues me. It is a celebration of rural white poverty and culture. Turn to TLC, CMT, Animal Planet or the History Channel, and you’ll see what I mean. Here is a list of shows that are now popular:
What I find interesting is that there are two opposing draws that create the audience for these shows. Some viewers watch for the pure exploitation aspect. They make fun of the cultural aspects and the people in the show. Some viewers watch the shows because they believe these shows celebrate what true Americanism is.
I’m disappointed by both approaches. America is diverse. There are subcultures all over the place, and none are more American than others. Together, these subcultures contribute aspects of American mainstream culture and Americanism. We are unique in the world due to our diversity.
No subculture should be subjected to voyeurism and exploitation or held up as the epitome of what being American is. A show that respectfully explores a subculture is fine. How else do we learn about one another? But give equal time to all the subcultures that exist in America, and do it non-judgmentally.
I watch a few of these shows. I admit it is like watching a train wreck. They are hard to turn off. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo had a particularly evocative effect on me when I tuned in one evening.
Here is this precocious, chubby, blonde, seven-year-old white girl living in abject poverty and filth, who eats “sketti” made with catsup and melted butter served over pasta, and who participates in child beauty pageants. Her dad works six days a week in the chalk mines, her mother is foul-mouthed yet loving, and her seventeen-year-old sister just had a baby who was born with the hereditary defect of an extra thumb.
The show is just wrong on so many levels. I felt extreme guilt for watching the few episodes that evening, as if I were peeking in someone’s windows. But I couldn’t turn the channel. I was mesmerized. Yet I feel such compassion for this family who got paid two thirds less than other reality show families per episode. Is it an effort to gain their fifteen minutes of fame or an effort to improve their condition and the lives of their children?  What a horrible situation to find oneself in and yet it is repeated in show after show and in more and worse ways than the show before.
All the shows about weddings were brought to my attention this weekend at an event called TheWedding Dress Project. This project is the dreamchild of my daughter Cara, who envisions deconstructing gender stereotypes through the deconstruction of wedding dresses, prom dresses, and tuxedos. Groups and individuals take apart these symbols of traditional gender roles and remake them into other items in order "to deconstruct and re-imagine the societal factors that perpetuate violence in the home and the emotional trauma that results."
A speaker at the event, Dr. Jenn Brandt, Director of Gender Studies at High Point University, gave a short presentation on the business of weddings and what the average wedding costs these days.
I am guilty of watching some of the reality wedding shows, including Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.  These shows are exploitative and voyeuristic, too. In Say Yes to the Dress women are reduced to tears searching for the perfect wedding dress while their entourage of family and friends criticizes their choices.  My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding highlights the lives of Irish Travelers rather than Romani Gypsies as the title seems to indicate. After lavish weddings, these sometimes fifteen or sixteen-year-old girls are relegated to a life of drudgery, keeping up their homes and waiting hand and foot on their husbands. Many of these women never graduate high school. Most of the brides only meet their husbands briefly before the wedding.
I find it odd that I watch these shows about weddings when my own wedding took place at the Public Safety Building (that housed the county jail back then as well as the county courtrooms) after traffic court one Saturday morning.  Here is a photo of us, taken in our wedding clothes just a few weeks after we got married in 1983. Not terribly fancy duds nor a lavish event, but our marriage is nearly thirty years strong.

These shows emphasize the wedding event and downplay the marriage.  A societal shift, no doubt, a la Kim Kardshian, toward extravagance and the growing ephemeral status of marriage.
I am as disappointed in myself as I am in others. I wonder, as I struggle with my ambivalence about people, how Honey Boo Boo and the parade of characters that march across our television screens have affected all of us. Let me include politicians in that group of characters. There have been some awful negative campaign ads in my home state of NC, a swing state. Are they diversions that deflect us from thinking too deeply about the real problems such as racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia that we face in America? Maybe, but I can't be certain in this Gemini frame of mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment