Friday, October 12, 2018

We're Reaping a Crop of Trash Planted by Frat Boy Culture in the 80s

I am probably more nostalgic about the pop culture of my youth than most people. I consumed a freaking ton of it both passively and actively while growing up. Correct me if I'm misremembering, but we didn't do as much back then? I didn't participate in sports or clubs or go anywhere or take vacations with my family very often. Here's what I remember: Piano lessons, One year of 4H, and a trip to Disneyland.

I wasn't deprived. It was normal for families and kids, especially, to have a lot of unstructured time. Now, filling our schedules to the point of busting is a point of pride. And we do it to kids' schedules too. In fact, my kids had quit more activities before preschool than I participated in during my whole childhood. Most of my memories are tied to shows and songs and characters. So when people like me started having kids we wanted them to experience all the things that meant so much to us when we were little. I ordered Schoolhouse Rock videos and the whole Danger Mouse series for my family. Truly, it's one of the great joys of parenting to revisit that stuff with your own kids.

But not all of it holds up.

I've become a much more discerning cultural critic since becoming a parent. There are a lot of movies that just don't stand the test of time and that I would never share with my kids. I first noticed this with Goonies. It has so much more swearing than I remembered. But you don't remember it, you might say. So your kids won't either. But that's not the point. If I'm telling my kids they can be articulate, funny, cool, and acceptable without ever swearing, I need to put my money where my mouth is and show them good examples of this. That's why parenting is hard. Now, when kids get a little older you don't have to teach in absolutes. They can understand exceptions and nuance and, in fact, older children should learn how to navigate a world that may not share their values with integrity and without being too judgmental. So there are all kinds of little discrepancies peppered through art and media that you have to consider before you endorse it for your own kids.

But what I want to talk about is different than that because we find ourselves in the middle of a cultural moment—a moment defined by the #metoo movement and heralded by an obscene chauvinist becoming the president of the United States. This moment is also marked by enablers who dismiss or downplay the bad behavior of a fellow tribe member in exchange for power. The indignant, angry behavior of Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing and the moving testimony of Christine Blasey Ford struck a chord in me and in all of the women I know.

We believe her because we are her.

In the context of #metoo, Molly Ringwald writes about her conflicted feelings about 16 Candles and the scene where a drunk girl becomes a punchline for our dreamy protagonist who chooses not to "violate" her but instead lets a nerd take a crack at it. Ugh. It wasn't until John Hughes died in 2009 that I first considered his movies from an adult's perspective. His movies were, hands down, the most influential movies about teenagers I ever watched. The soundtracks, in particular, were so great. And, unlike horror movies which seemed like the only other movies about teenagers at the time, sometimes women had actual lines in them. John Hughes included the female perspective and he included the outcasts' perspective, which was something we craved. Unfortunately, to get at those angsty truths sometimes the outcast sexually harassed and occasionally molested the female.

Kavanaugh supporters, #metoo dismissers, and so-called anti-feminists rationalize past bad behavior of men by say "those were different times" and, as I mentioned above, they were different times. Every time is a different time. But even in those times it wasn't right to molest or objectify women. Trauma caused damage then as it causes damage now.  Men made chauvinist jokes and laughed at women, sexualized and objectified them, accepted zero responsibility and were not held accountable for their actions then just as they do now.

Tell me again, how were those times different?

Kavanaugh himself referenced Animal House, Caddyshack, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High in his confirmation hearing as the movies that influenced his yearbook committee. Art reflects life; life reflects art. For sure, art doesn't have to reflect my values for it to be good, valuable, or legitimate. But at this point in time, in order for something to resonate with me and to be worth buying, watching, looking at, or listening to it has to try harder to be better. When I was a kid I didn't have the wherewithal to think critically about the shows I watched. Now I do. I have the benefit of seeing how the guys who grew up on Animal House turned out and I am not impressed.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Anyone Miss Blogging?

This feels quaint.

I slowly stopped blogging a few years ago. I got tired of keeping up with it. I have always loved writing the posts and reading comments from people who read them, but at the time there was a lot of advice about blogging and a lot of people making money from blogging and if you weren't doing that it felt like a waste of time and all the advice I got about  blogging effectively made me hate it.

The advice was to post all the time, set yourself up as an expert in a niche, and monetize. I always had things to write about and wanted to talk about with other people and I wanted to have a good blog. So you start asking yourself, if it's worth saying then isn't it worth making it searchable and having a hi-res photo and promoting it on all your social media platforms? (Whew. That's a lot of work for a post about an ugly cat that made me dry heave.) It got to the point where you had to know how to code and do A/B testing and understand design to even keep up. Listen, guys. I don't know how to do anything and I have zero marketable skills. That's why I'm blogging.

How about you? I don't really read blogs anymore. I think a lot of people don't. Why click on a whole blog post when you can just look at a picture or read a tweet? I love Instagram and Twitter. It's fun there. Likes and retweets feel nice. You can tell a little bit about someone in a tweet or a photo or a caption and that's usually enough to kill some time. But we used to have pretty good actual discussions via comments on blogs and I met some of my best friends and favorite people this way. I've been missing it lately.

Maybe it's because I feel a profound and aggressive rejection of my values in the political sphere every day now. It's horrifying. It makes me feel lonely.

I think that's how blogging started for a lot of us who were home with kids and wanted to connect. Social media still serves that purpose, but the new things people are getting into—vlogging and posting videos to your story that people can watch and respond to—isn't my thing. Friend, if I were camera-ready I'd be out of the house actually doing something.

Posting videos of yourself defeats the whole purpose of online friendship for me. I'm also realizing that I care more about words than images. Words are more interesting to me. I want to hear more words from you. I want to stalk your blog and find out every detail of your life—not just how you look in all of your pictures, but what you think, what you hate, and how things are going. I guess I'm really nosy? Is longing for more than 140 [280] characters from someone considered nosy? I'd actually like to have really in-depth conversations with people I find interesting more regularly. I should make that happen more often. It's surprising, though, how long it takes to get into an interesting and meaningful conversation and how rarely it happens in real life. That remains the goal. Blogs are actually great for that: Bear your soul to me online and we can play it cool when we meet.

First-generation mommy bloggers are part of a bygone era, I know. Still, I miss my peeps. I took like-minded, friendly, smart, thoughtful, measured, interesting, competent people for granted. It feels like there's an abundance of the opposite kind of people everywhere now. They've taken the White House. Congress, too, has been infiltrated. The Supreme Court isn't even the paragon of independence and virtue we once thought it was.

They can't touch me here though! Actually, they can. If I don't post every now and then the Russian bots take over my comments. I hate them, by the way. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

What to Read in a Post-Trump World

I think the election of Donald Trump was a terrible mistake, is an embarrassment to our country, and marks a low point in American democracy.

When the election was officially called for Trump,  I felt a terrible, sinking feeling I can only describe as sick at heart. It's the feeling I have when I face choices that are wrong, think about serious regrets, or hear that something awful has happened to a friend. Truly, I can't believe this happened.

While I think I understand the economic motives and "swamp-draining" impulses Trump supporters cite and I don't think all Trump voters are bigots, they did wittingly turn the country over to one. It doesn't seem right and it makes me sad that any American would consider him a viable option.

Since the election, Trump has proven to be immoral, incompetent, uninspired, and uninspiring. He surrounds himself with terrible people and gives voice to racism and misogyny. To make matters worse, our Republican Congress has shown an appalling lack of integrity by providing zero oversight (especially Paul Ryan). It's disheartening.

I know a lot of people have become much more politically active since the presidential election and have decided to run for office. It feels expedient to do something. Personally, I have picked two areas to focus my efforts on: literacy and compassion. By my calculations, more of both = less Trump and Trumplike thinking.

I've been reading some good books that have helped me think about politics and citizenship and to articulate the values that I apparently need to be a lot more intentional and explicit about exemplifying and promoting.

Charlie Sykes' How the Right Lost its Mind is a good description of what happened leading up to the 2016 election from a conservative viewpoint. I started noticing Sykes' insightful tweets after the election, so I decided to read his book.

George Lakoff's Moral Politics gave me a good overview of what Republicans and Democrats believe. Lakoff is a democrat and ultimately makes the case for his affiliation, but I found it fair-minded. Even though a lot of Mormons are Republicans, it is because of rather than in spite of my religion that I identify with a lot of democratic ideals. Mormon pioneers are the only group of western emigrants who famously left the trail better than they found it so that others might benefit from the crops they planted and the paths they cleared. I believe giving a leg-up to the person coming along behind you is better than insisting that they bootstrap it. Lakoff's book shows the expression of values and ideals for both parties and I think it's useful.

I read Ta-Nehisi Coate's Atlantic article "Donald Trump is the First White President" and decided to read his whole book of essays, We Were Eight Years in Power.  It feels uncomfortable to think about the ways in which what is happening now in politics is a backlash against the first African-American president, but, unfortunately, much of it is. If we don't understand it we can't take steps to improve it. Coates has important things to say.

I've mentioned Richard Weissbourd's The Parent's We Mean to Be before. It's one of my favorite parenting books. I reread it lately and was struck again by its relevance. Weissbourd contends that to be good parents we need to be good people. He encourages parents to become more disciplined and selfless in our interactions with our children. Just like our kids, we are growing and improving. He says,
"The subtleties of appreciating and being generous with others, acting with fairness and integrity, and formulating mature and resilient ideals are a life's work."
I would like this to be my life's work. Fostering this kind of moral growth seems to be the antidote to Trumpism, which is why I'm recommending this book again.

Any other suggestions for books to read in a post-Trump world?

Monday, March 06, 2017

Love trumps hate.

I have a shirt that I wore during the election. It says "Love trumps hate."

I think it's such a nice sentiment and something I really believe: Love [being kind and compassionate] trumps [beats or is more effective than] hate. Who could argue with that?

Literally every time I wore it (you can take me literally and seriously here) someone would tell me they didn't "get" my shirt. They would laugh and say, "Oh! You love Trump's hate?"

It confused me so much. How could anyone think anyone would wear a shirt that said "Love Trump's hate"? It was inconceivable to me. Nevertheless, every time I wore it someone would say that. Apparently it wasn't a very well-designed slogan for a t-shirt. I know that now.

At the time—before the election—these reactions to my shirt annoyed me, but only as a grammarian. The "trump" would be capitalized if I meant "Trump." And it would be possessive, like this: "Trump's." The people asking about my shirt were just being obtuse. Stinkers giving me a hard time. Haha. Because who, really, loves Trump's hate?

However, when I became aware of the alternative reading of my t-shirt it was just like the young lady/old lady illusion. Once you've found the old lady in the young lady you can't un-see her. At first all you notice is a pretty young lady looking away with a long slender neck and a feather in her hair. Then it hits you. Ew! That choker is a mouth. The dainty jawline is a big old nose. You can't un-see it. Love trumps hate becomes Love Trump's hate.

When Donald Trump was elected I realized it wasn't just that people were willfully misunderstanding the punctuation on my t-shirt. There are plenty of people who love Trump, and who love what he's about. I understand the sentiment and the dissatisfaction among Trump voters in the rust belt and elsewhere. I know conservative people (I am a pretty conservative person). I know the words to every song on Born in the USA including "My Hometown." I get the nostalgia for factories and glory days. Christian and I lost our house to a scammy mortgage company that went bankrupt in the 2007 recession and had to buy it twice. I'm not rich. I'm not coastal. I'm a mormon. I live in the red state of Utah.

But I was completely shocked when he won. I thought the way Trump demeaned a handicapped person would be enough for people not to vote for him. Yes, in the face of everything people are going through and how much they didn't like Obama or didn't want Clinton I thought that no one would vote for a man who is so ill-tempered, mean-spirited, unprincipled, and unprepared for public service. I was wrong.

A candidate who doesn't share my values or my view of America won. That doesn't, necessarily, have to mean a complete rejection of my values. There are still a lot of people (a majority if you look at the popular vote and post-election civic engagement) who are leery of Trump. We have to fight harder for certain things that we think are right and fair. That's OK. We can do that. We now know we shouldn't have taken for granted that Trump's bigotry would disqualify him as a presidential candidate. Trump as president is shocking, yes. But not debilitating. In America we've got a lot of tools to work with. Jason Chaffetz is one of them. Zing!

Conversely, I want to do my part to make it clear that the election of Donald Trump does not mean that he speaks for me. Just a day or two after the election my children began to hear things at school—mean things—about hispanic people. My daughter heard some people talking about Trump's idea for a wall and she asked me what deportation was. Then she burst into tears worrying that one of her 4th grade friends would be sent away. Are these the "liberal tears" right wingers joke about drinking out of their MAGA mugs? I don't find it funny.

Donald Trump's win seems to have given racist people license to say what they've been thinking, what they believe most people think and would express freely if unbound by "political correctness." My other daughter's friend was told by a boy at school that she would "have to get out of here on January 20th." I do not share these beliefs.


It's not "political correctness" that keeps me from saying or thinking hateful things about other people. It's not about being politically correct. It's about being humane. Even though I've come to the realization that people see it a different way, I still believe that love trumps hate. I do not love Trump's hate. If I were making a t-shirt and I wanted to be crystal clear it might say, "I disavow Trump's hate." I will teach this to my children and make decisions that reflect it. I will spend money on and vote for people who agree. Even if it makes me a loser and Donald Trump a winner, I still believe that love trumps hate.

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