Thursday, November 13, 2008

The End (?)

Returning to the country from my conference in Austria, I was greeted with a wonderful surprise: Obama elected as president. We, as Americans, have reached a new milestone in our political history, the race barrier has been crossed. But what does this mean for racism in America? What seems to be the trend in the treatment of social problems in America is a Band-Aid effect. Something like the Civil Rights Movement or the Women's Liberation happen and then most Americans think that these problems are solved. For example, if you asked most Americans whether or not women received the same pay as men and they would say yes; however, this is still not true. I am afraid the same will happen with racism (well, it's happened already), the election of Obama will, for many people, signal the "end of racism" in America. Nothing could be further from the truth. First off, Obama is not an "African-American", he is multi-racial, but his multiplicitous identity is too nebulous for the American public; thus, he is shoved into a much more simplified category than he actually belongs to. So, the problem will become - at least I fear the problem will become - that people will view Obama as the final "proof" that racism is over, though this couldn't be further from the truth. And here are two reasons for this:

First off, let's look at an over-the-top example. I was browsing Mother Jones and came across this article. The last of a dying breed of KKK Koutures. The article is horrifying, but this picture is the most horrifying of all:

Honestly, I don't think I have to say anything else.

Second, Missouri has passed a law saying that English is the only language that could be spoken in governmental settings. What some people may not realize is that Missouri has a rather large Hispanic populations in certain areas. I grew up in Carthage, MO, which has a Butterball Factory, Dynamo, Leggett & Platt, and numerous other factories. Needless to say, there is a large number of Hispanic workers, many illegal. However, many who are legal only speak Spanish, or do not speak English well enough to understand it in a legal way. This is the modern Jim Crowe, these people are being disenfranchised, because if knoweldge is power, and to gain knowledge you need to understand the language, then you are denied power. How can a person vote if they can't read the ballot? How can a person help themselves if they can't understand anything around them? This is a deleberate racist move by White Missourians to oppress the people they view as overtaking the White majority. And this is not some wild speculation, I grew up around these people, they have told me this in person. In Carthage, soon there will be more native Spanish speakers in the grade schools than English speakers; how can the parents of these students make the right choices for their children if they can't participate in the process of education? The majority of students will be marginalized because only the native English speakers can vote for school board members, or participate in meetings.

Even with a non-White person elected as president, racism is still alive and well.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Towards an Egalitarian Pedagogy

Hey, I know it's been a long time, this semester has been absolutely killer, but here is a new post that I am trying to get put on the blog Enough.

In the beginning of December, I will have turned in all of my graduate school applications, starting down the path for the next big step in my life. As I work myself through these processes, I can’t help but examine the way class plays a role in the decision to go into graduate school and the programs in general.

Obviously, the decision to go to graduate school is presupposed by the decision to go to college for an undergraduate degree – which in and of itself is a statement of class. Indeed, in one way, graduate school can be a tad more egalitarian in the fact if you are qualified you can often find funding. However, most of these fellowships go to students who have had the resources to excel, and acceptance to top grad programs is usually influenced by going to a top-tier school for undergrad. Thus, the acceptance into grad school is driven by class: first you must be able to afford 4 years of undergrad, and then from 5-7 years of graduate (assuming you are getting your Ph.D). This cost goes beyond tuition; it must also be possible for you to subsist on a meager salary – thus excluding any single parents from low-income backgrounds. Even before you can be accepted into graduate school, you also must be able to afford the $50-$75 application fee for every school you apply to. It is a good idea to apply to many schools in order to find a program that is (A) a good fit and (B) will give you funding.

Moving beyond the economic disparities in the application to grad school, there is the problem that I, as a cultural studies scholar, face in what I study and how it is studied. In my work, I use Marxist, post-colonial, and queer theory quite a bit – movements whose work is supposed to “liberate the voice” of the oppressed. But does it? When you read someone like Gramsci, who suggested the idea of hegemony, and Spivak, who rallied against the silencing of the subaltern, you realize: These people are doing EXACTLY what they are writing against. A dialogue about oppressed people is created and carried out in a register from which they have been systematically excluded! So what purpose does this theory hold? Obviously I love theory – I am going to spend 5 to 7 more years of my life studying it and then after that as my profession – but if theory begins and ends only in the ivory tower of academia, then it is useless. In fact, if theory remains only within the collegiate setting, then it no longer serves as a site of resistance; rather it functions as a cog in the machine that oppresses people – academics serve as the necessary dissidents in society, but ones that never actually challenge anything.

Thus, those of us who carry on the torch of academic enlightenment are left with a challenge: How can we, who have made our lives through theory, help people who have made their lives through the concrete better? Books on how to make money sell like crazy, books on Marxism do not. Books on heterosexual relationships that enforce gender stereotypes are bestsellers, and if you asked a random person on the street who Judith Butler was, how many do you think would? What good does it go for those who are educated to say, “The machine of capitalism is oiled with the blood of the worker” and “gender does not exist” if the majority of the world does not share our views? Should we be content to rest on our own laurels and degrees when there are people who desperately need to hear what we are writing in a language they can understand? The answer is no. The first step towards social change is education; let’s start with that.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fixing A Famine

I heard something on the radio that I haven't heard of in a while, I had kind of thought that things like this had gone away, but it seems I was wrong. What I heard on the radio was about a famine in Africa.

A famine of Bibles.

Yes, it seems groups are trying to get people to donate $40 to send Bibles to poor people in Africa, not food, not medicine, not clothing... bibles.

I find it hard to believe that someone would actually choose to donate money for this as opposed to actually helping out. Let's forget for a second that I'm an atheist, these people couldn't possibly come to a full understanding about religion because their basic needs are not being met.

From the atheist side of me, how can these people think that what poor people - not just in Africa but everywhere - need is religion! I mean, it's one thing to package aid with a religious message, but it's completely something else entirely to only give a book when more is needed. Christian charity indeed...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The American Dream?

Hey folks, sorry about the lack of writing, the last month has been insanely busy with work and now school, though I am going to resolve to write at least three posts a week!

So, I made it through an entire summer working at Wal-Mart - and am still there, incidentally. What have I learned from this experience?

First off, it makes me want to rethink Jonathon Swift's Modest Proposal. OK, maybe not that extreme, but let's face it, this place is overrun with children. More over, people who don't control their children. I feel like an old person when I say this - and that I am joining in a cliché that dates back to the Ancient Greeks - but it just seems that people don't watch their children anymore. Now, this could have just been an idiosyncrasy of my parents, but if my brother and I screamed in a store, my parents would take us to the car until we were quiet. Now it seems as though people just aren't bothered that their child is making a huge fuss in a crowded place, making the experience horrible for everyone within ear shot. This is made doubly bad for people who work there. Alright, I'll concede that this first part was nothing more than bitching, but whatever. Now on to things substantial.

The biggest thing I realized is that there is nothing more alienating than working in a box store. I sort of got an inkling while I was at Target, but I think Target does a much better job at keeping employee morale up than Wal-Mart. The basic thing remains the same: my labor and what I produce are two completely seperate things, resulting in zero job satisfaction. In other words, what I do doesn't affect what I make. Even when I help a customer out, what do I get? I mean, I feel nice helping people, but more often than not, I barely get a thank you. Mostly, I get blamed for not having something that we used to have, and how stupid it is. You just feel helpless because the entire system is beureuacratic and you are nothing more than a pawn, whose purpose can be swapped out by almost anyone on the street. We are told to think of ourselves as "a family" and yet the feeling of your own replaceability hangs over your head, the feeling that knowing what you do is not dependent upon you but rather on a position.

Perhaps, though, I'm merely imposing my values on a job; perhaps for some people this is a fulfilling line of work and it makes them genuinely happy. In fact, I know I shouldn't say "perhaps" for many people it is. At the same time, I often feel when I talk to many of my coworkers that this is situation from which they see little means of escape. And that saddens me...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

How terrible...

It seems that athletes may be forced to breathe in smog at the Beijing Olympics!

This entire article discusses the repercussions of Beijing's poor air quality will have on... tourists. Not once does it even deal with the fact that millions of people have to deal with it every day. What's more, in order to accommodate athletes and spectators, China is shutting down factories and businesses. While I'm all for cutting back on pollution, this is of course a band-aid fix and while the article doesn't say (of course), I'm going to assume some workers aren't going to get paid while the factories are shut down. China has messed with the lives of so many citizens just to host the Olympics. Aren't these games supposed to bring the world together? The upside is that more people have (hopefully) taken notice of the human rights violations that go on there because of the Olympics. Let's just hope it doesn't go to waste...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Oh baby it's a wild web...

In the New York Times Magazine section there is an article about trolling in Internet subculture. At first I was afraid it would be some lame ass article showcasing what trolls were to people who maybe read the news online. Maybe. Which is what it appears to be on the first page, but after that, it goes into a very interesting discussion of ethics in the cybercultural age we are entering.

What these trolls are doing is trying to give themselves power, this is why they give out peoples' private information. This is intellectual capital, the ability to control information, to use it, and to manipulate it.

Obviously these people are trying to make themselves be intimidating on the Internet, because I doubt they are that intimidating face to face. Instead, they are able to become something to be feared because this power they have is entirely constructed through discourse and rhetoric and the control of information. The control they have been denied in the "real world" (if you can even call it that, I say that the cyber world is also the real world, and as this demonstrates has real consequences), but online they have power.

But, even by their own admission, their power only stems from the consent of those they abuse. These trolls have realized something that most people haven't, power dynamics function differently online then they do in the face-to-face, and you have to adapt to be able to survive. I've been the victim of trolls, and I got upset for a bit, but then got over it; so in the end, I won. If more people would realize that, then less people would get hurt. What they're doing is wrong and juvenile, but hey, that's the way of the world. The Internet's a scary place.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fast Food for Fags

Interestingly enough, fast food giant McDonald's supports Gay Rights. Needless to say, I was stunned. So was the usual religious right, who are now calling for a boycott of McDonald's.

It's not that McDonald's will make you obese and give you heart problems; no, the reason you should hate McDonald's is that Double Cheeseburgers support Double Manlovin' (yeah, I know that was a really really bad pun).

Honestly, even after watching Super Size Me, I still eat at McDonald's occasionally. Sure the food is horrible, but it's cheap, and grease is tasty when you're drunk. My biggest beef with McDonald's is the working conditions (which really is just how working minimum wage is in this country) and the fact to make all that beef contributes to world hunger. Other than that, I don't really have much of a problem with it. I mean, we all knew it was bad for you before Super Size Me, and since the film they have made strides to provide better (but still not good for you) options, and they give you the nutrition facts up front. Sure, you really didn't need Morgan Spurlock to tell you that eating 3 Big Macs a day is bad for you, but since the film you have no excuse, it's up to people's personal decisions now.

So maybe I'll have a Double Cheeseburger once a month from there, just to show a little gay rights support. Well, I'll wait until 2:30 in the morning after a couple of beers....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Eating from home

I was reading the New York Times and I read this article on people in big cities such as San Francisco and New York who make it a point to only eat locally grown food. They even hire people to come in and grow and tend for their organic gardens.

While I think it's awesome to eat locally grown food, I wonder about the legitimacy when it is just another yuppy fad. I suppose it is a matter of ends and means, and perhaps it is not fair for me to say these people don't legitimately care about supporting local farmers and helping out the environment. However, when neologisms such as "locavores" (yes, I'm not kidding, and the N.Y. Times didn't even put it in quotes or bother to define it, it took me a while to figure it out) appear it makes it hard to believe people really care about the environment and are instead just trying to look cool. Mostly because these people are just paying someone else to do it for them: "Oh, I am too busy doing my job that just serves the corporate machine, but yeah, I'm an activist... well I pay someone to be an activist for me, but that's O.K., right?"

On one hand, I get the feeling these people are the same people who bought SUVs a few years ago; on the other, they do live in New York and San Francisco, so that doesn't seem that likely.

I suppose I should just quit my bitching and be happy people are doing something that's good, even if it's for the wrong reasons. I just wish people would care before it's the cool thing to do...

Edit: Apparently locavore is now a word in the dictionary, at least according to QueenMelian. God help us all...

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Sorry for the hiatus, I didn't mean to disappear for so long, but life sort of just happened...

Anyway, I was reading articles in the blogosphere and I found this article about the correlation between political leanings and happiness.

Turns out that liberals are often sadder than their conservative counterparts, and the main reason for this is that conservatives are able to rationalize inequalities away to just being the result of people's actions and not society as a whole.

This news troubles me, I do agree with it - it often feels like a very very uphill battle - but does this necessarily equate unhappiness? Shouldn't the struggle become a source of happiness because we know we are fighting for equality and justice? I know it's kind of cliché, but I think we should just look at someone like the Dalai Lama, who despite great hardship is happy because he knows what he is doing is the right thing. Also, I find it troubling that such selfishness brings happiness.

My friends and I were talking about this the other night, and my friend remarked how "Liberals only believe in Darwinism in the sciences and conservatives only in society." Interesting indeed.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Good Tidings

Sorry I haven't posted in a while since my last post, I have been very busy in my personal life.

The good news, however, is that I have been accepted to present at an international conference on the erotic in Austria this fall. I am pretty psyched! :D

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Just another name on another database...

It appears that YouTube has lost out to Viacom, where the media giant now has access to users viewing habits on YouTube to see who has been viewing Viacom's copyrighted materials. It looks like privacy on the internet has taken another hit.

Viacom says they aren't going to prosecute people who watched the videos, it's just evidence. Somehow I think they will find a good way to use the "evidence" to create a marketing campaign...

Another one bites the dust...

Why does it always seem that things I love, which I agree with on certain values, have to come back and bite me in the ass.

I love Bolthouse Farm juice, it's tasty and nutritious and I love to sip on a glass of Green Goodness. Turns out that the Farm is really just a front for fundamentalism. Yep, the company is a crazy Christian organization that loves to hate queers. Looks like I should do more research before I put something in my cup. It seems that conservatives really know how to sell things to the people they hate.

As for now, I will just have to learn to love Naked and Odwalla. Unless, of course, they turn out to be baby seal clubbers.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A little late, but still...

Congratulations Thomas Beatie, the no-longer-pregnant transman, for your healthy baby girl!

News Link

Happy America Day!

As you should all know, today is the 4th Of July, which is one of my least favorite holidays. This is not, as many right-wing talk show hosts would want you to believe, because I do not love America, but rather because it results in two things that should never mix: fireworks and drunk people. Other than that I love the chance to sit back and enjoy the fact that I could have been born in a much much worse place, and that even though it has its problems, America is a pretty cool place. I <3 freedom after all.

There is an article that I saw a while ago, and I feel like this would be the perfect time to write about it. I found it on Spiegel, and it deals with the rise of people wanting autocratic systems of government over democracies. [Link Here]

The gist of the article is that due to American involvement in the Middle East, many feel that democracy is an ineffective form of government and prefer autocratic systems of ruling. This is actually an argument that I have been having with one of my coworkers recently, and honestly I am sort of torn on the subject. On one hand, I don't like the idea of power being so centrally located, on the other, I don't really know if democracy really exists. And by exists, I mean that one person is actively participating in their government. For one, I doubt the existence of a subject, who is doing the acting? Certainly not one person, but rather a collection of ideas and forces that have shaped this lump of flesh, but definitely not a subject. Which goes directly into the next point of democracy often acts as if it were an autocratic system, just an autocratic system that changes the autocrats more often. I mean, if we look at political parties as "bodies", you will see that the whole body does not ever accurately represent its parts. I know for one that I am barely a democrat; in fact I don't even identify as one except in my voting, since I would rather cancel out a Republican vote than vote for a candidate I believe in who I know won't win. (Sounds a bit like Nietzsche's lion, eh?) So I vote democrat, and still get pissed off when there is no universal health care, big business isn't severely limited, and rich people can still easily get out of paying taxes because they can afford people to weasel them out of paying. The things I want will probably never come to pass, and though you could argue that they could "if I convinced enough people" the fact of the matter is that the "subject" is really so influenced by ideology (as I know my own Marxist ideology is merely a product of my experiences and situations) that most people won't agree with me. So how is that any different from existing in an autocratic government?

Despite all these flaws, however, I am still all for democracy (even though I think that a socialist-anarchy would be better, where the socialism is implemented via a grassroots effort as opposed to a state power, but I know that most people wouldn't follow). Even if my views are usually overshadowed, I still love that I can hold them without fear of punishment, and I like that even though I will probably not get what I want politically in most things, I still can influence things in a direction I am at least OK with.

As for autocratic governments, well, I want to discuss a quote by Michel Foucault in his preface for Anti-Œdipus by Deleuze and Guattari:

Last but not least, the major enemy, the strategic adversary is fascism. ... And not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini - which was able to mobilize and use the desire of the masses so effectively - but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us. (xiii)

In order to truly celebrate the freedom that America grants us, we must not allow ourselves to be lead, and we must fight our desire to submit to power. Truly loving America is not to become enamored with a candidate or political party, or guns, or pro-life/pro-choice, or gay marriage or anything topical and passing. No, the way to love America is to lead your own life, and question authority and demand it respect those who it governs.

So happy 4th of July everyone! I am going to celebrate in the most American way I can think of: spending the day at Wal-Mart. Hell, I might even go to McDonald's for lunch.

I leave you on this quote:

"America was not built on fear. America was built on SUVs, on fast food and an unbeatable determination to go to Wal-Mart. Fear is just the fun prize like in the Happy Meals!"

Recommended Reading:
Deleuza, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Anti-Œdipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. - The guide to living a non-fascist life. [Get it on Amazon]

LeGuin, Ursula K. The Dispossessed. - A pretty cool sci-fi novel (and I'm not really a fan, so you know it's good) which compares a anarcho-socialist society and a hyper-capitalist pseudodemocracy. Pretty good as far as dystopias go, and a lot better than most as it critiques two types of government as opposed to one. [Get it on Amazon]

On buying, may I recommend Amazon's marketplace, as you can save trees and a book from being unloved! Plus, it's cheaper!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Facebook Can't Tell If You're a Girl or a Boy!

A few days ago, I got this article posted on my Facebook wall: He said, she said: Which is it? Facebook asks. The article basically says that Facebook will begin urging its members to start specifying what the sex of each member is (or I suppose what the gender is, I guess it depends on which the particular person chooses to specify).

Today, I got the question:

Which example applies to you?

Right now your Mini-Feed may be confusing. Please choose how we should refer to you.

  • Theo edited her profile.
  • Theo edited his profile.

The article says that this is a move made because Facebook has gone from English-Only to supporting multiple languages, and many languages do not have a gender-neutral pronoun like English. This is, of course, only partly true, as English has no gender-neutral singular pronouns. The pronoun "they" just gets bastardized and used incorrectly (my grandfather would rail against this endlessly, as he got his PhD in grammar or something). The problem is many languages, such as French, don't even have a gender-neutral plural pronoun.

This leads to the point: How can we fight a gender binary system when it is embedded directly in the ways we communicate in the world: Language. Returning to French, when you want to say "they" you either use the masculine (ils) or the feminine (elles). As it was taught to me, it wouldn't matter if there were 1 million women and one man, if there was a man you would use ils. The rhetoric behind this one grammatical rule is that the presence of one man negates any number of women.

Language is inherently sexist, but it is what we use to communicate ideas that combat sexism. What is one to do? Well, the most effective way would be to create new language (Esperanto 2.0), but definitely not the easiest or most likely. I think the only thing we can do now is to just break the rules of language and reform it from below. Sort of like linguistic grassroots sabotage.

As for now, I will continue to keep my sex off of Facebook, and force it to guess whether "Theo updates his profile or her profile."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

New blog!

Unlike most musicians, I have decided that my next online project is going to be a group effort. Thus OtherVictorian and I have decided to start a side project for both of us called Carrion Bag. It's an assortment of reviews, examinations, and general ranting about pop culture, or not-so-popular culture.

I urge you to check it out, the first feature is a review of Katy Perry's album "One of the Boys". If you hate the song "I Kissed a Girl," then you will love this review.


P.S. If you are interested in becoming a contributor to the site, let me know!

Friday, June 27, 2008


This is different from what I usually post, but hey, variety is the spice of life after all. This is just a program that I found from a list of helpful Mac Software, and I am in love. It's called Schoolhouse, and it is basically a Calendar for assignments and the like.

It's a Mac program (sorry Windows/Linux users), but if you use Leopard you will need to run the program through Rosetta. To do that Ctrl-Click on the icon for Schoolhouse and under "General" check the box that says run in Rosetta and you are set.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gay for Pay

I am no longer gay.

I refuse the title, I want it stricken from the record that I ever identified as gay and I want people to quit referring to me as such.

Unlike my Facebook stunt earlier this year - where I made my profile look like I had joined an ex-gay ministry program - I am not saying that the focus of my sexual and emotional desires have changed; rather I am embarrassed by what being gay has become.

Labels such as "gay" or "straight" are, to use José Gil's term, floating signifiers; that is, they are terms which do not have a fixed thing they refer to. When you say "gay" you say more than just "same-sex desire", rather you imply a certain lifestyle, a mode of being. You are also including other connotations, such as the coloquialisms of flamboyantly heterosexual boys, where gay means stupid. Which usually leads to a lengthy apologetic about how they don't mean "gay in that way." Despite this, people still believe that the word is refering to a specific thing, and deny its elasticity.

At one time, and even still to some extent in certain situations, to be gay was to be subversive, to represent threat. Being gay was being something "other." Now it seems, that it has become something that has been streamlined into mainstream society; rather than representing something that is revolutionary, it becomese another accepted lifestyle.

When I say this, it appears that I am lamenting the fact that homosexuality is more acceted. I am not saying this, but I am wary of it. I am echoing the sentiments of Andrew Sullivan, that this acceptance causes gay culture to "die". Like Sullivan, I worry about what comes with assimilation. Gay culture at one time was a creative force - it had to be. Today, on the other hand, being gay has become merely another way to consume. Buy GAY THINGS! If we put two men or two women kissing go out and BUY THIS YOU WILL BE BUYING GAY! No thanks.

To be gay, then, has lost its revolutionary drive; rather than creating my own life I am now told I can just go out and buy it. Now I could get married to a man. Once again, no thank you; marriage is bad for everyone (but that's another blog for another time). I still want my sex to be on the outside of Gayle Rubin's circle, even as homosexuality moves closer and closer to the middle.

Thus, I disown being "gay", rather I choose the term "queer." I take on this label because it identifies me as queer in more than just the sexual, but also "queer" in the sense of values and ideas. Queer has a fluidity because, unlike the term of gay, it embraces its nature as the floating signifier; it realizes that it is different things for different people, and does not attempt to homogenize. I did not choose my desires, but I can choose how I utilize them. And this does not only apply for those with same-sex desire, I believe queer to be a term that can apply to anyone who does not conform to accepted norms.

(This really should be a longer post, but the last one was too long and so many people are victims of tl;dr)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Adventures in Designer Denim and Computing

In his book Mythologies, Roland Barthes describes the ways in which goods have become part of our cultural mythology; how we deify the brands that we buy and how they shape how we see ourselves:

"Advertisements... also indicate the effect of the product... but they chiefly reveal its mode of action; in doing so, they involve the consumer in a kind of direct experience of the substance, make him the accomplice of a liberation rather than the mere beneficiary of a result; matter here is endowed with value-bearing states"

Despite the fact that Barthes wrote this book in 1957, I would say this belief is true now more than every. To start off this discussion, I am going to use a recent acquisition of mine.

A few months ago, my brother went to New York City for a visit; while there, he picked me up a pair of "7 Jeans for All Mankind". I wore them for the first time today, and here is what I thought:

1. Comfortable
2. They fit nicely
3. Feel to be of high quality

And these three things they should be, the original price was $130 for a pair of jeans (granted my brother did not pay anywhere near that price). But those three things alone are not enough to warrant a price that high.

So what, in my ever so humble opinion, set these jeans apart from others I've worn?

The pockets.

They are lined with a satin like material, very soft and slick.

So that is the difference between this and other jeans, the pockets. Jeans that have been touted by celebrities as "their personal favorites and the best jeans they have ever worn."

What do the ads say? Well, I think the best way is to look at how they are defined by what they are called: 7 for All Mankind [Seven Jeans for short]. I also think it is important to look at the other brand they are grouped with: True Religion (as immortalized by that wonderful diva Fergie). The brand name of both of these jeans imply something that should be universal, something that is true and benevolent. Something that defies social status and situation and applies for everyone. Thus, returning to Barthes, the ads for 7 Jeans and True Religion want the consumer to believe that by buying the jeans that they are involved in the liberation of the world, of releasing universal truth through denim. The performance of an act that is defined by exclusivity is supposed to signify universalism.

Interesting, huh? This is also true of the "lesser" subsidaries of designer houses, such as Moschino's "Cheap & Chic", Armani's "Armani Exchange", and Dolce & Gabanna's "D&G", which are advertised as the cheaper versions of the designer's main collections. Cheap for who? What does the participation of the consumer mean in this scenario: "Oh, I'm just going to buy off of the ready-to-wear rack, I'm not that full of myself" when really they are only presenting the facade of being an "everyperson".

This idea of participation in a movement and ideal through consumerism is also apparent in the "green" phenomenon. When I worked at Target, a line of "eco-friendly" message T's was released and they sold like hot cakes (and no, they weren't on recycled or organic T's). My thought was, "If they really cared about the environment, they would have shopped at a thrift store..." In our society, we are told that activism goes about as far as our checkbooks, that if we buy the right things we will be DOING the right things: the (red) campaign and Ethos Water (both of which are total crocks, in my opinion) are great examples. Rather than give money directly, buy something at an outrageous markup so a small percent goes to the charity.

After saying this, I would like to say that I am definitely guilty of falling into the trap of consumerism, and I have a good example of that from this weekend. As posted earlier, I have been having computer troubles for a long time. Long story short: I won't ever shop at Best Buy again, and I ended up with a brand new MacBook. Oh the joy of joys in my heart, I could finally break away from Windows!

But now, looking at it from this angle, I see things that trouble me. Why do I like Apple so much? Because it represents something to me - operating outside of a giant that monopolizes the computer industry. But then I realized something: Mac had monopolized my digital life. I ended up buying an iPod, now a MacBook, and as soon as I can I plan on getting an iPhone. Aren't I just as bad as those people I mocked earlier about the jeans and the Product (red)?

Well, I am going to be big enough to say it: I am just as bad. But I think another question is, are we being told that there is no other way to think about things? Another Barthes' quote I love is: "advertising is responsible for promoting the myth of free will". We are bombarded by advertisements virtually every moment of our connected lives - even face to face contact is plagued with advertisements if you know what symbols on clothing to look for. In advertisements, we believe that we can make the difference in our lives, and choose what we buy. But I want to pose the question: Do we actually chose what we buy, or are our purchases already decided for us by advertising/marketing/branding?

Let me put this another way: Considering that products are so specifically targeted towards people, can we ever get away from what is sold directly to us? I would actually argue no, we don't really chose what we like. I consider myself an individual who likes to stand out and be different, so I buy things that say that about me, which are, surprise surprise, items that have been specifically marketed towards people like me. If we look at things this way, did I really have any other choice than to buy an Apple?

Even those who want to try and escape still fall into the trap. For example, I don't like to buy clothing that has the name of the store written on it (well, maybe if it is on an outside tag, but it can't be obvious). Now, I love American Apparel, because I think the clothing is good looking, well made, is basic, and - most important, for me anyway - I know it hasn't been made in a sweatshop. But even this says that I was destined to buy these products; workers' rights are important to me and American Apparel is exploiting my soft spot for companies' paying their employees living wages.

What can we do to escape this system? The problem lies in the fact that we exist in an epistemic system that entraps us within a series of signs that is reliant upon brand name and advertising. I mean, think about the use of words like Xerox, Kleenex, and even Google; these have become an integral part of our linguistic systems, and thus in our very formation of the world. I have often said that language is a radical problem in oppressive systems, because the oppressors can define what language is allowed, and how it is used. The problem is: I don't have a solution, I guess that is something that will just have to be worked on.

Until then, I will enjoy my MacBook, even if I had no other choice than to buy it. I would like to not seem so fatalistic and think that my use of Macs stem from the fact that it is a superior product. Honestly I believe they are, but I know that my INTENSE desire to have one, even though it means paying more, is because it has been targeted to create and fulfill desires that I have.

That said, I sure as hell don't regret buying it. :)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Workplace That Works...?

Dear readers,

I seem to have hit a point in my life where my values must be compromised, and I do indeed feel as though I am selling out. My father told me: "It's not as if you are prostituting yourself," but honestly I feel as though I am. Why do I feel this way? Two words [well, one word that is two hyphenated words]: Wal-Mart.

That's correct, I have become an employee of an establishment that I often rail against, and honestly I feel bad about it [the whole becoming the employee part, not the railing]. The whole irony of the situation, and guilty feeling that came with it, didn't hit me until my orientation when the co-manager said: "Now we'll watch a video that offers an argument against all of the anti-Wal-Mart people out there," and I realized - I am one of those people.

And I wonder, at what point can we draw the line between our values and our need to subsist? Wal-Mart is the only place that called me back for a job offer, and I need the money. This mostly comes from the fact that I live in a small town, where jobs are scarce, especially with the economy the way it is. This also leads to the fact that I have to shop at Wal-Mart to buy things I need unless I want to drive to Columbia to buy something, and that's a far way away.

The fact of the matter is, to be anti-big business in a small town, or really in general, requires a lot of money. Funny how that works. Unless you are willing to completely go "off the grid," so to speak, it is next to impossible to do everything with independently owned stores and organic foods. All-in-all: It's not cheap to be an activist...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Paying at the Pump

Hey, it's been a while, not having my laptop has been rough, but it will be back in two weeks (hopefully).

As most of you know, gas is ridiculously expensive, and a story in today's New York Times, with this wonderful prompt: “'The psychology has changed,” said Sara Johnson, an economist at Global Insight. “People have recognized that prices are not going down and are adapting to higher energy costs. It’s a capitulation.'”

It makes you wonder, I figured out a while ago that gas wasn't going to go down, so why is it only now that people are figuring it out? More than that, it makes us need a more viable mode of transportation, and air fare is out of the question, especially with the whole American Airlines fiasco (of course that had to be the weekend I was flying).

The article points out that America is still the cheapest with gas, and has been for a long time, with France paying about $7.70 per gallon. The difference: Europe has trains, and they go everywhere. If you've ever tried to book anything on Amtrak, trying to get from point A to point B on it is a pain in the ass, to say the least. So the question is: Will the price of gas cause America to reexamine Amtrak, or possibly create a new, better system? I, for one, am all for a train system.

Also, will the spike in gas prices also create a friendlier place for cycles and pedestrians? I feel very awkward whenever I ride my bike in the roads and try to stay on the side streets. One of my favorite pictures (which of course I can't find) is a poster from the City of Berlin that shows how much needless space is taken up by personal cars. Perhaps this will also slow down suburban sprawl that has taken over the country; perhaps we will see less of the same hideous tract housing sprouting up outside of urban areas.

The gas crunch is a pain, but maybe some good will come out of this spike in prices, and America will look for solutions on public transportation, housing, and the environment. I want to end on one of my favorite lines from the song 'Self Evident' by Ani DiFranco:

here's to our last drink of fossil fuels
may we vow to get off of this sauce
shoo away the swarms of commuter planes
and find that train ticket we lost
cuz once upon a time the line followed the river
and peeked into all the backyards
and the laundry was waving
the graffiti was teasing us
from brick walls and bridges
we were rolling over ridges
through valleys
under stars
i dream of touring like duke ellington
in my own railroad car
i dream of waiting on the tall blonde wooden benches
in a grand station aglow with grace
and then standing out on the platform
and feeling the air on my face

Friday, May 9, 2008


While I don't plan on this blog functioning as a log of my day-to-day existence, I would just like to point out two things:

1) Today is the last day of finals! In a few hours I will be done with this semester! *hooray*

2) My ability to get on the interwebs will be limited starting next week, as my laptop is broken and I have to get it fixed and I am no longer going to be living right next door to a computer lab. So for all four of you who read this, posts will probably be few and far between.

Oh yeah, and I just figured out how to make it so anyone can comment, so please, start commenting now. :)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On Life, Liberty and Justice

Three weighty issues to be sure, and I don't pretend to think that I can properly talk about them, but here it goes.

This week, a death row inmate from North Carolina was released after it was discovered that he had inadequate defense, the third in the state in the last six months (Story Here). What the article basically boils down to is that poor people are more likely to receive incompetent legal help than those who have money, but this should be a no brainer, right? Now, I'm not saying that all pro bono lawyers are incompetent, or that every poor person is charged of crimes unfairly, I am just saying that justice cannot exist in a society in which services that are essential to existing in a society are provided in a free-market.

"Knowledge is power," this axiomatic statement is no truer than when it is applied to the law. In this equation, in our late capitalistic society, "money is power" as well, thus, "money is knowledge" insofar as you can afford the schooling to gain the knowledge yourself or so that you can hire someone to know things for you. The realm of the knowledge of law is one that is denied to poor people, and this is part of the matrices of power that keep poor people poor and in jail. Anyone who says that justice can exist in a free-market is simply uniformed, because those who have money can get out of (practically) everything. We see this everyday, but people don't want to do anything about it, and it makes me so mad. Legal help should be something that is guaranteed to all people, and it should be equal.

And of course, I feel the same way about health care; health care in a free-market economy basically says "your life is only worth as much as you can pay." Life and liberty are things that are supposed to be an integral part of American identity, why then is it denied to so many people?

Of course, I realize that their are problems with universalizing health care and legal services, and that my ideals are Utopian, but I think that they are things we should strive for.

Now, moving on to the death penalty. I am staunchly against punishment by death because I don't feel it accomplishes much of anything. First of all, I think it would be worse to be confined to a cell for years, knowing you will be behind bars the rest of your life as opposed to just ending it. Second, if the person was innocent and you killed them, then you robbed them of their life. We need to get away from the "eye for an eye" mode of justice, and focus not only on personal rehabilitation but also on public rehabilitation. Like I said earlier, our justice system is a perpetual one, say a person messes up early in life and is convicted of a felony and is released later from prison. If they can't get a job because of their felony, then what are they going to do? More than likely turn to crime, because you have to eat somehow. Those who are convicted of crimes are otherized, one act becomes an identity and they are stigmatized for life. If someone has served their debt to society, then that should be it, we cannot continually keep punishing people for crimes they have already been punished for.

Obviously a lot of this blog is inspired by Angela Davis, who I had the privilege to see speak last February. One of the most inspiring things of her speech was how we need to not allow the punishment of one person to be a band-aid on a bigger social problem, we need to address the problem first and the individual second.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Everyone, celebrate America's habit of grabbing any foreign holiday that could result in getting drunk by the end of the night. Just don't forget, barely anyone in Mexico actually celebrates this holiday!

So get drunk and remember a battle in a province of Mexico that you've never even heard about!

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo (In St. Paul...)

The Wright Stuff

*This blog is dedicated to T. "Fucking" T. and B.K.*

On the website of The New York Times today (or at least at 1 am today), one of the front page stories is about how the views of Rev. Wright has not affected voters' opinion of Sen. Obama. However, it has definitely affected my opinion of Obama, insofar that it has made me respect him less.

Most of Wright's opinions are opinions that I can agree with (with the exception of the more radical ones, especially that AIDS was a government conspiracy to kill Black people, mainly for the flaw that it affected the gay male community first, I also don't like his jabs at the Clintons). The buzz surrounding the statements made by Rev. Wright only demonstrates the ways in which racism is systematically ignored by the democrats. White liberals consistently want to push the agenda that racism ended with the civil rights movement because they don't want to believe that they could possibly be racist. Anything that implies that White America is racist causes White Americans to stutter "No I'm not", avoiding the problem rather than facing racism head on.

This is what makes figures like Wright so incendiary, they are not willing to support the idea that racism is over. I believe that this is the path that Obama is taking, indeed I think he is the trophy prize of White liberal America, a big sign that says: "WE CAN'T BE RACIST WE NOMINATED A BLACK GUY TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT!!!!" All the while ignoring how lower class black people are oppressed in our society. I feel that if Obama wins it will be because of his race rather than in spite of it. And I have mixed feelings about that, on the one hand it is high time to have a person of color in office (but the same can be said about a woman in office in the case of Hilary), but I don't think that someone should be voted in just for that reason alone. I also don't think that one person can be used as atonement for centuries of abuse.

I also think that by Obama ignoring Wright's statements about 9/11 will also be costly, because it just shows how much Americans are willing to ignore the truth. Terrorism does not happen in a vacuum. I am not trying to justify terrorism, but you cannot deny that the reason that they hate us is because we have fucked around with their government and stolen their natural resources. The events of 9/11 were a tragedy, and we need to honor those who died by ending the violence, not inciting more. I think that America would be the better country if instead of seeking vengeance, we sought peace.

By distancing himself from Wright, Obama is refusing to tackle the problems that he is in a unique position to tackle. Not only does he refuse to deal with race issues, he openly denies that they exist: "There is no white America," Barack Obama has said. "There is no black America. There is no Latino America. There is no Asian America. There is just the United States of America." At first I didn't understand the critique of Obama not being "black enough", but now I understand, he is just going to be the token for White America. The Black man who gets up and says "There is no racism problem in this country," and appease white guilt.

I don't necessarily like Rev. Wright's tactics insofar as I don't think you should use religion to counter a social problem, but that stems from my standpoint as an atheist, so I guess I am pretty unfairly biased in that regard. And I can't deny that religion is an effective way to get people to listen, I just don't like it. Moreover, Wright needs to stop being so aggressive in his tactics, at least in dealing with White America. The polemic is a person who rarely changes minds. However, I think it's time for America to stop being so shocked and offended and to start listening. Rather than dismiss Wright as a radical, actually look at what he is saying; sure some of it might be out there, but a lot of it is true.

All in all, however, this whole debacle has lead to probably the funniest thing in the world: Rush Limbaugh calling someone a "hatemonger".


For more info:

Obama Denounces Statements of His Pastor as 'Inflammatory' [NY Times]

In Poll, Obama Survives Furor, but Fall is the Test [NY Times]

Obama the Inevitable [Spiegel]

Repost/Revision: Meditations on Silence

*This is a repost/revision of a blog entry I did for my blog on MySpace and Facebook - April 25 2005*

As some of you may or may not know, today is the "National Day of Silence," which is where you are not supposed to talk to show solidarity to those who have been the victims of hate crimes against gay people. It is a big deal across the nation for many people. I, for one, can't stand it.

I hardly think that refusing to talk shows any sort of support for the queer rights movement, rather I think it is a counterproductive event. This is mostly because those who oppress queer people would like nothing more than for queers to be silent. From a Foucauldian perspective, not talking about something is what takes power away from it. People like Jesse Helms actually do more for the queer rights movement by talking about it, because talking about it gives it power.

Last week's issue of Truman's paper, The Index, had an issue about our drag show and coming out in general (I was one of the interviewees - Story Here). This week's issue had a letter to the editor by someone who did not care for the article:

TruLife photos of drag show were printed in poor taste

In regards to the front cover of your TruLife section on April 17, what were you thinking? Who did you have in mind when you were printing that page? Definitely not the majority of this campus! I know the Index probably is one of the most liberal papers on a college campus but let's get serious. I don't care how liberal you people are, I don't want to see that crap shoved in my face every single time you print a freakin' paper! GET A CLUE, and realize most people in this world can't stand crap!

Reading things like this make me laugh, honestly it's so hard to believe people like this still exist, especially people who attend college. So why the anger? As my father always says, "Anger is a secondary emotion," and I think it's pretty safe to say that this guy's anger stems from fear. This guy obviously is scared, scared of what I don't know. I haven't been able to understand the homophobe mentality, my general view is: if it doesn't hurt me I'm not scared of it. I don't go around beating up straight people, nor do any of my gay friends, so I don't quite understand what they are afraid of.

I guess it's because by talking about other sexualities, it calls into question the "fixedness" of heterosexuality. If, as Judith Butler posits, heterosexuality (and I paraphrase here) continously tries to reproduce itself and fails, this is most brought out when other sexualities are brought out. Queerness is the failure of straightness to be the only sexuality. I, and I hope at least most other queer people, don't view myself as agonistic towards heterosexuality; it's just another point on the contiuum of sexuality.

Thus comes the practical part of this blog, I think that it is important to talk, not be silent. This guy is scared, and thus angry, because he doesn't understand that gender bending and same-sex desire does not exist to threaten his opposite-sex desire. The only way to fix this is to open up a dialogue; now, he probably wouldn't want someone like me to start talking to him, but this is what our straight allies are for! This is a movement that must be done by queers of all sexualities (and yes, I include heterosexuals in that), and it must be done with love, not anger. Anger does not win minds and hearts, it only strengthens negative resolves.

I also take issue with things that revolve around one day, because they present the false illusion that if you do something for that you can do something for one day and that "takes care of it." I know that the people who created these days probably don't view it that way, but that is the way that many people feel. They get rallied up for one day of "doing something" but then fail to the other 364 days of the year.

So rather than be silent today, why don't you change someone's mind? Start a conversation that will go on for more than just one day.

Welcome Comrades!

I suppose that this should function as the introduction to my blog and that I should begin by describing my thoughts on blogging in general.

For starters, I think that blogging is interesting in that it is a method of self-disclosure that allows people to present themselves to people that they may never encounter in real life. Which makes me ask the question: "Does cyberspace constitute a new sort of social space?" Whatever "me" that I chose to present to you is all that you can judge as truth. In this sense, it appears that the Internet proves the notion that the self is entirely constructed. Indeed, if I were to tell you that I was a 50-year-old female-to-male transsexual and you never had reason to doubt me, then is that what I am? If I conceive of myself as something other than "what I am in real life" and present that self in this blog, then which is the truth? Is there a true self, or are there multiple selves that are constantly being re/constructed/created/changed? I would definitely push for the latter.

Which moves us to the second half of this post, which is the "me" that I am going to present to "you". I am an undergraduate student in University, where I am majoring in Communication and English, with minors in Women & Gender Studies and Philosophy. My plans are to go to graduate school and pursue cultural studies, or a similar field in academia.

The purpose of this blog is to document my thoughts on academic and political issues (definitely more the former than the latter). I don't know exactly how many people will read this, hopefully at least one person will feel enlightened by at least one of my posts (or at least they won't feel like they wasted their time).

So that is my introduction, welcome and enjoy!