Makeup Trick: Shimmery Cupid’s Bow

Tuesday, 9 February 2016 04:00 pm
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Posted by Alyson Zetta

Ready for Valentine's Day!

Ready for Valentine’s Daaaaaay!

Today I’m going to show you a simple makeup trick that defines that curved part at the very top of your lips, also known as the “cupid’s bow.” If you have a hot date this Valentine’s Dump (@notmelol), or have been looking for a kewt lip look, this tutorial goes out to you! And to everyone! But especially you! ;)

What you’ll need:

  • Lip balm
  • A brightly colored lipstick (No nudes! Hehe…)
  • A shimmery eyeshadow (the lighter, the better)
  • Tissue

How to do it:

Step One

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Apply no more than two swipes of lip balm to your bottom and top lips. (If you layer too much on, your lipstick will get slimy and like a magnet on teeth, which is my number-one cause of makeup paranoia.) Then, the fun part! Coat your mouth in brightly colored lipstick :)

Step Two

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Take your pointer finger (or whatever finger) and sweep it through the light, shimmery shadow. Gently pat it on the center of your top lip; you’re basically trying to create an ombré effect. Because I absolutely draw the line at gunking up my precious shadows, I recommend taking a tissue and wiping your finger clean in between shimmery shadow swipes. Your finger—as gently as you may have dabbed—will take with it some of that gosh darn troublemakin’ lipstick.

Step Three

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Do the same dabbing of the shadow on the center of your bottom lip!

Step Four

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As a finishing touch, add a little—then a little more—shimmery shadow to the dip above your top lip. Concentrate the shimmer in the lowest part. You can also tap a bit of the shimmer above the twin peaks of your top lip.

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Done and done! Boys/girls/everyone will be all “oOOoohh SHINY” at your cupid’s woah lip amazingness ;) ♦

[syndicated profile] ms_magazine_feed

Posted by Renee Davidson

Reprinted with permission from the American Association of University Women

Last month’s announcement of the 2016 Oscar nominees put Hollywood’s much-debated diversity problem on blast. For the second year in a row, no people of color were nominated in any major acting category. As the conversation continues, activists are rightly pointing out that Hollywood’s issues with race are much bigger—and its biases rooted much deeper—than just who gets nominated for awards. Rather, the lack of diversity among this year’s Academy Award nominees points to a systemic problem around the homogeneity of whose stories get to be told on film. As Viola Davis eloquently said last fall, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

The winter 2016 issue of AAUW Outlook magazine, which focuses on women in the arts, tackles this problem. As detailed in our article on gender bias in Hollywood, the top executives of major Hollywood film studios are 94 percent white and 100 percent male. We spoke with Montré Missouri, a filmmaker and associate professor at Howard University, about the powerful connection between the lack of diversity among Hollywood decision makers and the white, male-driven films that dominate the big screen, as well as the serious ramifications for women and girls.

Contrary to what Hollywood executives might think, women and other marginalized groups, including people of color, the LGBT community and people with disabilities, have stories that deserve to be told. “It cannot be stressed enough how important it is that more women and non-white filmmakers are behind the camera,” says Missouri. “It is not only financially lucrative for the industry, but it is also essential for our understanding of who we are as a culture.”

Here are five ways you can take action to thwart Hollywood’s diversity problem.

1. Use your consumer power.

Imagine what would happen if more people refused to pay for movies that lack empowering representations of women and minorities. Facing a major profit loss, studios would be forced to change their ways. Feminist film utopia, here we come!

Jokes aside, women’s consumer power is a force to be reckoned with; women account for 52 percent of moviegoers. So put your money where your mouth is: Refuse to pay for films and stop watching TV shows that denigrate Native Americans, fail to empower trans actors, erase people of color and disempower women.

2. Actively support independent and women-led films.

Just as we should think critically about what movies we don’t see, we should actively support films that represent the diverse experiences of women and marginalized groups.

Grassroots initiatives like the Parallel Film Collective are a valuable resource to look toward. Parallel showcases films that, as co-founder Missouri describes, “transcend [the] limiting racial, cultural and gender identities found in mainstream media.”

The ReelAbilities Film Festival showcases films by and about people with disabilities, and Women and Girls Lead Global provides a critical spotlight for global documentaries about issues affecting women and girls all over the world.

There’s also GLAAD’s (Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation) annual report on how LGBT people are depicted in Hollywood films, a powerful tool to help inform your decisions about which DVDs to buy or Netflix shows to binge.

3. Call out bias! Join the online movement.

Hashtag activism is all the rage these days. And there’s a reason why: It works. The viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhitecreated by April Reign in response to the all-white Oscars 2016 nominees—sparked a movement that not only united celebrities, politicians and movie buffs, but also elicited significant institutional reforms from the academy itself.

But OscarsSoWhite isn’t the only recent activism against Hollywood bias. In November, online activists successfully pressured Lionsgate to address whitewashing in the casting of its fantasy film Gods of Egypt. Around the same time, advocates called for a boycott of Stonewall, the problematically white-cast film depicting the LGBT movement. See bias? Call it out!

4. Tackle your own unconscious bias.

We all hold biases, shaped by wider cultural stereotypes. These biases — many of which are unconscious — affect what types of films and television shows we choose to watch, especially when it comes to race and gender. According to a 2009 study, the higher the percentage of black actors in a film, the less interested white viewers were in seeing the movie. Luckily, evidence shows that identifying and learning about the unconscious associations we harbor is the first step to correcting them, and you can contribute by participating online when the test goes live this month.

5. Learn the history of Hollywood’s diversity problem.

Hollywood’s deep-seated biases didn’t develop overnight. The NAACP has been calling out Hollywood racism for decades. The recently launched federal investigation into Hollywood sexism followed decades of outcry from women working in the industry. Even the shocking lack of diversity among this year’s Oscar nominees is nothing new: Twenty years ago, People magazine wrote a scathing indictment of the all-white 1996 Oscar nominees. Back then, the protest was largely ignored. But this time around, activists (and audiences) aren’t letting Hollywood off the hook when it comes to implementing more reforms—and neither should we.

Get Ms. in your inbox! Click here to sign up for the Ms. magazine newsletter.

Opening photo of Viola Davis, the first African American woman to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama via Wikimedia Commons.

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Renee Davidson is AAUW’s social media manager, a feminist writer and an activist living in D.C. Her work has been published by Salon, Bitch, PolicyMic, Fem2pt0 and more. Follow her at @reneetheorizes.

Daily Links: Perfect 10 Edition

Tuesday, 9 February 2016 02:00 pm
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Posted by Chanel Parks

Collage by Ruby Aitken, using a photo by Angie Wang/Daily Bruin.

Collage by Ruby Aitken, using a photo of Sophina DeJesus by Angie Wang/Daily Bruin.

Good morning! Here’s a batch of mood-lifting links that made us feel like, Thanks internet, you’re the best…

Editor’s Link: These gifs of UCLA student Sophina DeJesus shutting down her gymnastics routine are currently my favorite thing on the internet. —Diamond Sharp

A photo posted by Teen Vogue (@teenvogue) on

For the second time in a row this year, a woman of color is on the cover of Teen Vogue. This time, it’s Zoë Kravitz, and she’s interviewed by designer Alexander Wang!

If you’ve ever seen the (in my opinion best-ever) Vine, titled “who is she,” then you’ll love Jeff Goldblum’s version. Genius.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  (Allyn Baum/The New York Times)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Allyn Baum/The New York Times)

The New York Times has a dope photo archive. The publication is making some of the pictures newsworthy again, starting with the photos in its Unpublished Black History project. —Chanel Parks ♦

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Posted by Libby Anne

It occurs to me that the Christian idea of hell is tied up in ideas about parenting and punishment that are becoming less widespread. I recently told a relative that I don’t believe hell exists and was met with complete consternation. But the reality is that I simply cannot make the very concept of hell make sense, even if I try. I mean don’t get me wrong, I remember what I used to believe as an evangelical and why. But today, my approach to parenting makes hell—and the evangelical perception of God as father—fall apart for me.

Growing up in an evangelical home, I was taught that every person who does not profess belief in Jesus as their personal savior will go to hell after their death. While I originally accepted this, there came a time when I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that people who had been born in the wrong place or wrong part of the planet would go to hell without ever even having a chance to hear the gospel. I whittled away at the idea of hell little by little, first concluding that only those who consciously rejected Jesus after hearing the gospel would go to hell and then concluding that only those who rejected good in their hearts and actively sought to do bad would go to hell, but ultimately I could not sustain the idea at all.

A lot of justifications of hell revolve around seeing God as a parent who must punish his wayward children. But here’s the thing—I don’t punish my children. I never set out to give up punishment, it just happened. Initially, I gave up corporal punishment as cruel to children but assumed I would have to punish my children in other ways, through time-outs or by taking away privileges. Still, I sought to make punishment the last resort, focusing instead on communicating with my children and teaching them, both through example and in specific situations. And then, one day, I realized that I hadn’t punished my children in years. Years. And my oldest, Sally, is only in first grade. The closest thing to punishment I do is a “time in,” and even that is a rarity only needed for my younger child at this point, and not designed as punishment.

There’s also the respect issue. I was taught, growing up, that God deserved our obedience, worship, and respect, because he was God. I saw these same ideas copied onto parenting—children should obey their parents and behave respectfully toward them because obedience and respect were due to the very office of parenthood. I don’t require either. I see myself as my children’s guide and protector, but I don’t believe I deserve any more respect than any other individual, and I would rather my children ask questions than that they obey. I place a huge emphasis on listening to my children (just as I teach them to listen to me in turn), and I seek to treat them as equal people who equally matter.

I realize that society looks at parents and children as standing on an uneven playing field, with parents in charge and children following, and there is some truth to this assessment. Parents have more knowledge and more experience than children, and a greater ability to navigate this world. But other than this, what is a family but a collection of individual and equally valuable people thrust together, going through life hand in hand? I teach my children that every person inherently deserves respect, including themselves. I want them to learn to stand up for themselves, and for others, in the face of injustice. Sally is not afraid of pushing back when she feels something I am doing is unjust, and I love that she feels comfortable doing that.

Some will read the above paragraphs and conclude that I am raising my children without boundaries and that I am in for a world of trouble when they’re older. To that I would say, first, that I am giving my children boundaries—I teach them that all people are worthy of respect, and that they should treat others with kindness, and as they would want to be treated—it’s just that my boundaries are different from those of other parents. And second? I have people complement me on my children’s behavior all the time. It turns out that children who know they are listened to can be surprisingly well behaved even by society’s standards.

And you know what? I am not at all worried about being “in for a world of trouble” when they’re older, because I am giving them a firm foundation where they know that they are listened to and valued and that their needs matter to me (just as they’ve come naturally to listen to my needs in turn, as I listen to theirs). We have a foundation of communication and trust. They know that they can come to me, and that I will listen and take their concerns seriously, and not belittle them or reject what they’re saying out of hand. I may not know what my children will be like in ten years, but I’m not worried in the least.

There’s something else, too. I’m teaching my children core values in a way that allows them to internalize them—I’m not simply saying “X is wrong, don’t do it,” I’m explaining why X is wrong, letting them think about it and come back with questions, answering the questions and asking questions in turn—this, and not with orders and punishment, is how you teach children values. As a college instructor, I know that students often learn far more during discussion than they do during lecture. They need to do more than hear facts, they have to work with them, to turn them about, to ask questions think them through themselves. To be perfectly honest, I would be much more worried about how a child who is simply lectured at will turn out than I am about how my children will turn out.

And so now, every time someone attempts to defend hell to me by telling me that God is our father, and that as our children he sometimes needs to punish us, it makes no sense at all. Actually, more than that, the argument itself tends in the opposite direction of what is intended—I can’t help but come to the conclusion that God the Father as described by these defenders of hell is a terrible father. The described style of parenting—with its focus on obedience and punishment—could not be more distant from my own style of parenting.

While I know his defenders also say he loves his children, and would probably say he listens to them through prayer, I can’t get past their continued defense of God’s inherent need to be worshipped and his demand to be obeyed.

Depictions of God the Father have changed over time, and even today the God the Father evangelicals describe is not the same one described in fear and trembling in the 1700s (think “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God“). There’s a greater focus on love than there was in the past, and a decreased focus on anger. But evangelicals are going to need to do more updating to get their understanding of God the Father in line with the direction parenting is going in the twenty-first century (I am not alone in my approach, and this appears to be the direction parenting is going, albeit slowly). Perhaps, in some backwards way, this helps explain evangelicals’ defense of punitive parenting styles. Perhaps they are somehow aware that if parenting changes, people will have a harder time coming to terms with their depiction of God.

One final thing. If a parent today attempted a punishment anywhere near the eternal, conscious torment of hell presented by evangelicals, they would be convicted of child abuse. The issue isn’t simply one of punishment, it’s also one of degree—and one of length. Hell doesn’t offer any second chance, ever, just unending, eternal punishment. When I first questioned the concept of hell, I could see this. But the further I got in parenting the more the very idea of punishment, or of demanding obedience or respect, ceased to make sense, and that is what I’m trying to get at in this post.

I also know that the father/child analogy only goes so far when applied to God, but I’ve focused on it here because it’s extremely pervasive in evangelicalism today. And given my experience with parenting, the analogy simply does not work. You’re telling me God is my father? Awesome! That means he doesn’t have a problem with me pushing back, asking questions, and forming my own opinions, right? Wrong. And that is why the analogy fails so badly for me.

If God is our father, he’s not a very good one—or at least, he’s not a very good father as portrayed by evangelicals. Jewish perceptions of God as father differ, and there are other Christian understandings as well. But this post is long enough without a comparative discussion of various culture’s understanding of God as father, so I’m going to draw the curtain here. Simply put, evangelicals’ portrayal of God as father doesn’t work for me. Instead, for me, it makes the very idea of God fall apart.

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Posted by Richard Beck

Having described ideology as the metaphysical and spiritual glue that holds power structures together, Václav Havel goes on in his essay “The Power of the Powerless” to describe how power becomes depersonalized. This is key. When power becomes depersonalized it is robbed of its human and moral element. No one is to blame. No one is in charge. The status quo seems automatic and inevitable, the only logical and conceivable outcome.

Oppression has become routine.

Havel describes two features of the depersonalized spirituality that characterizes and inhabits power structures.

First, ideology—the spirituality of the power—gives the power a sort of a unconscious, inevitable and automatic nature. People aren't making real human choices within power structures. They are, rather, behaving automatically, submitting to the norms, policies, procedures, rules, culture, tradition and expectations of the power structure. They are often, quite simply, doing their jobs.

This creates an impersonal bureaucratic inevitability. As Havel describes, there is a "blind automatism which drives the system."

This dehumanizes the power, extracts the human and moral element. In the power system "automatism is far more powerful that the will of any individual." Human conscience and autonomy become trapped and suppressed within the system:
[A]utomatism, with its enormous inertia, will triumph sooner or later, as either the individual will be ejected by the power structure like a foreign organism, or he or she will be compelled to resign his or her individuality gradually, once again blending with the automatism and becoming its servant, almost indistinguishable from those who preceded him or her and those who will follow.
This illustrates a second aspect regarding the impersonal nature of power. Beyond the impersonal, distributed and automatic execution of power, we see how the spiritual nature of power allows the power structure to persist over time as human servants come and go, live and die. As Havel notes:
If ideology is the principal guarantee of the inner consistency of power, it becomes at the same time an increasingly important guarantee of its continuity...power is passed on from person to person, from clique to clique, from generation to generation in an essentially more regular fashion...it is ritual legitimation, the ability to rely on ritual, to fulfill and use it, to allow oneself, as it were, to be borne aloft by it.
Summarizing, all this goes to reinforce why spiritual warfare is not against "flesh and blood." As Havel describes, power is anonymous, dehumanized and bridges human generations. The real battle is against "something that transcends the physical aspects of power."

In short, spiritual warfare is spiritual. The clash is not between “flesh and blood” but between rival spiritualties and rival objects of worship. The battle is not between human bodies but between truth and illusion.

At root ideology is a tool of deception aimed at “legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side.” Ideology is “a veil behind which human beings can hide their own ‘fallen existence’, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo.”

Ideology is the secular religion we imbibe, the “ideological excuse” that is given so that we might reconcile ourselves to a dehumanizing and demoralizing status quo.

Dear Diary: February 8, 2016

Tuesday, 9 February 2016 02:00 am
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Posted by Briana

Lately, I've been feeling disconnected from everything. I've been trying to keep track of what I have to get accomplished, but it feels like I'm too busy daydreaming. —Briana

Lately, I’ve been feeling disconnected from everything. I’ve been trying to keep track of what I have to get accomplished, but it feels like I’m too busy daydreaming. —Briana

Keianna

I can’t wait until I’m in control of what I do and when I do it, because this whole wait-and-see thing just isn’t for me. Read More »

Cammy

I really wish I could suck it up for my own good, but anxiety doesn’t really work like that. Read More »

Political sound and silence

Tuesday, 9 February 2016 02:44 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

As part of an exercise/demonstration for a course, last night I ran Neville Ryant's second-best speech activity detector (SAD) on Barack Obama's Weekly Radio Addresses for 2010 (50 of them), and George W. Bush's Weekly Radio Addresses for 2008 (48 of them). The distributions of speech and silence durations, via R's kernel density estimation function, look like this:

Then I wondered what the 2D distributions would look like. So courtesy of R's two-dimensional kernel density estimation, here they are:

The durations of speech segments are on the horizontal axis, and the durations of the immediately following silence segments are on the vertical axis.

Or maybe they're interstellar gas clouds?

Anyhow there's clearly some structure there. And it's neat that it just took a few minutes of computer time and a few lines of R to create the pictures.

 

Separating the modern usses from the cave usses

Tuesday, 9 February 2016 01:53 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

Dinosaur Comics for 2/3/2016:

Mouseover title: "oh wow a comic in which ryan argues the technology that gave us the word "bonertastic" is really important, WHAT A SURPRISE"

And for added linguistic value, the page's Ohnorobot.com javascript code includes this comment: about how to spell the plural of us:

really not sure the right way to write "usses". i went with the extra "s" to distingush it from "uses", and "us's" is CLEARLY wrong, but i\d be willing to entertain arguments for "us-es"??

5 Great Super Bowl 2016 Moments

Monday, 8 February 2016 10:29 pm
[syndicated profile] ms_magazine_feed

Posted by Stephanie Hallett

We sat through an array of diarrhea-related pharmaceutical spots, “aww”ed over wiener dogs in bun costumes and questioned that “Super Bowl babies” claim—and we can say confidently that this year’s selection of Super Bowl ads was decidedly less sexist than in years past.

What’s more, the whole event featured a number of feminist fancies—from Queen Bey running the halftime show (and announcing another world tour!) to a powerful domestic violence PSA. Read on for our favorite game-day moments.

1. Beyoncé, Beyoncé, Beyoncé.

Where to begin? Queen Bey not only brought her brand new, black-powered anthem, “Formation,” to the nation’s biggest stage, but she did it alongside dozens of black women dancers donning Black Panthers-inspired attire, backed up by an all-woman band and clad in an ensemble that paid homage to one-time Super Bowl performer Michael Jackson. (Want to know more about the significance of her newest track and its accompanying video? Click here to read Ms. writer Janell Hobson’s analysis.)

2. The No More campaign spoke the truth about relationship violence.

Using a text conversation between two friends as a poignant starting point, a PSA from the No More campaign had Super Bowl viewers buzzing on Twitter. The ad urges viewers to recognize the warning signs of domestic violence and sexual abuse—and do something if you see a friend in need. No More first aired a similar spot during last year’s game, following NFL player Ray Rice’s very public abuse of his now-wife, Janay Palmer.

3. Fitbit featured badass women athletes.

While Fitbit’s “Dualities” commercial has been lauded for its racially diverse cast, we also loved its portrayal of strong women athletes. A lifter and a martial artist are shown both in their day-to-day lives and kicking ass in their athletic pursuits.

4. Mini USA called out stereotypes.

It opens with Serena Williams and Abby Wambach—two women athletes who have battled stereotypes throughout their careers—so we couldn’t not cheer for Mini USA’s “Defy Labels” commercials. Calling it a “chick car,” a “gay car,” a “short man’s cars” and plenty of other meant-to-be-demeaning labels, Williams, Wambach and the rest of the cast shut down the haters—one stereotype at a time.

5. We found out The Good Wife is going out on its own terms.

OK, OK, so we’re not exactly celebrating the end of one of the best feminist shows currently on TV, but we were glad to discover that The Good Wife would be ending its incredible seven-year run on its own terms—not pushed out or forced to fizzle to an awkward end, as too many network shows have been before it. Farewell to a series that put strong women’s wants, needs, talents, failures and triumphs front and center.

Did we miss anything? Tell us in the comments!

Get Ms. in your inbox! Click here to sign up for the Ms. magazine newsletter.

steph-2

Stephanie Hallett is research editor at Ms. Follow her on Twitter @stephhallett.

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Posted by Fred Clark

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 307-310

So far in the Great Tribulation, CNN is crushing the competition. The cable news channel has established itself as the one and only reliable source for breaking news in the earth’s last days. The living creatures about the heavenly throne have broken the first four seals of God’s wrath, pouring out calamitous judgment in the form of the four riders of the Apocalypse, and only CNN has the story.

We saw this yet again in the final pages of the previous chapter, as Rayford Steele only learned of the third and fourth seals of the Great Tribulation thanks to catching a CNN report on an airport television. That’s odd for several reasons. First, you’d think that agents of divine wrath “given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth” would’ve been something Rayford might have noticed without having to learn about it from cable news.

CNNApocalypseYou also might think that Rayford should have learned about these things due to his professional role as the personal pilot of the global potentate and thus a close personal assistant to the Antichrist himself. He’s got an eavesdropping system rigged up in the Antichrist’s plane that makes him privy to all of Nicolae Carpathia’s highest-level conversations, but even that apparently doesn’t provide him with the kind of information that CNN is regularly providing its viewers in the Last Days.

This isn’t entirely unreasonable. The Great Tribulation, after all, would be filled with the kind of big breaking news stories that CNN has always been pretty good at. The 24-hour news channel’s problems usually tend to be from the long stretches during which there aren’t any big breaking news events for them to cover. That’s when they wind up flailing about with Crossfire-type punditry and commentary, or with D-Day-level coverage committed to stories that shouldn’t merit and can’t withstand that level of reporting (missing white women, OJ, etc.). The seals and trumpets and vials of Revelation would actually be the kinds of stories CNN is good at.

What about CNN’s competition? Well, the Fox News Channel didn’t launch until 1996 — after the first two books in this series were typed. The emergence of Fox as the exclusive news source for these books’ target audience was just one of many, many developments the authors failed to prophesy. But if Fox News had already arisen to its current status as the only trusted news source for conservative white Christians, it still wouldn’t make sense to have Rayford and Buck learning about the Great Tribulation from Fox reporters. That’s partly because breaking news isn’t Fox’s forte — their specialty, after all, is filling and killing all the time in between the big breaking news stories that everyone clicks over to CNN for. But it’s mainly because everyone at Fox News would’ve disappeared in the Rapture.

(Let’s not dwell on it too much, but keep in mind that all the real, true Christians were raptured right out of their clothes. Thus Irene Steele and Pastor Billings and all the rest would have found themselves, in the twinkling of an eye, transported to Heaven, where some of the first things to appear before them would be the naked bodies of Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, and Bill O’Reilly. Heaven, in other words, might seem like some kind of Bohemian Grove/Eyes Wide Shut nightmare.)

But even though it was pre-Fox News, the Christian readers of these books did have another dependable cable news source back when Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins were first starting this series of books. There were a host of Christian broadcasters all over the dial — from Pat Robertson’s CBN network to the plethora of televangelists and “Bible prophecy” preachers whose syndicated programs seemed to fill the early morning hours on most of the basic cable channels. Some of them — including John Hagee and Jack and Rexella Van Impe — even had cameo roles in the original Left Behind movie, appearing as passengers on Rayford’s plane who later disappeared in the Rapture.

The “Bible prophecy” racket involves meticulous branding for every preacher in the biz, with each carving out a distinct market niche by arguing for tiny variations in the basic prophecy outline they all share. Tim LaHaye would thus insist that his competitors — guys like Hagee and Van Impe — are mortifyingly wrong about certain details of the Rapture or Great Tribulation timelines, and he would warn readers not to be led astray by their errors (i.e., Buy my books, not theirs). But as those movie cameos showed, these disputes never quite rise to the level of suggesting that the others would not also qualify as real, true, Rapture-worthy Christians. If you want to squander several precious hours, feel free to Google terms like “mid-Trib” or “Pre-trib vs. Post-trib” or “secret Rapture” and you’ll find dozens of websites full of heated, contentious arguments between various competing factions of “Bible prophecy” enthusiasts. Yet as angry as those arguments can get, they retain a kind of professional courtesy that concedes that even the benighted mid-Tribbers will still be Raptured with the rest of the RTCs and not left behind with the accursed ungodly atheists, pagans and seminary professors.

“They all disappeared in the Rapture” is probably the main reason none of those “Christian broadcasters” appear here as competition with CNN in the post-Rapture pages of this series. But it’s also a bit more complicated than that.*

The other main source of competition for CNN in this story ought to be the proud media empire of Global Weekly, which is now led by the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time, Cameron “Buck” Williams himself. But Global Weekly seems to be a non-entity when it comes to keeping abreast of breaking news during the Great Tribulation. Buck Williams seems to have no idea about, and no interest in, any of the huge global stories CNN is covering. Not the outbreak of World War III, or the global famine, or the pestilence now threatening the lives of one out of every four people on earth. The only reason Buck has even a vague sense of any of that happening is due to Rayford filling him in second-hand based on what he saw on CNN.

Buck hasn’t even checked in with anyone at Global Weekly in several days. When the Antichrist started randomly nuking all of the world’s major population centers, Buck’s only work-related response was to send everyone at his Chicago office home indefinitely. He then traveled to Israel — the one place in the world where the Antichrist’s civil war against himself was not happening — and went into hiding, cut of from all communication, so that he could help to smuggle Tsion Ben-Judah into Israel and then back out of it.

This is, apparently, what the GIRAT does whenever some world-altering massive story begins to unfold. He runs in the other direction, pursuing some irrelevant subplot involving an unrelated set of villains who subsequently disappear from the rest of the story just as abruptly and confusingly as they were introduced.

Since arriving back in the (former) United States, Buck still hasn’t bothered checking in with his office. Global Weekly has likely missed yet another deadline, failing again to publish its news magazine in the wake of a huge news story, but Buck hasn’t given that a second thought. Instead, he’s hunkered down at Loretta’s house, getting ready for Bruce Barnes’ funeral the next day.

Buck felt the presence of God as clearly as he had during his escapade in Israel and Egypt. He realized his God was not limited by space and time. Later, when he and Chloe went up to bed, leaving Rayford alone in the dining room to put the final touches on his memorial service message, they prayed that Verna Zee would follow through on her promise to attend. “She’s the key,” Buck said. “Chloe, if she gets spooked and says anything to anybody about me, our lives will never be the same.”

This is what Jerry Jenkins’ leans on as a source of “suspense” throughout the following chapter: The worry that this sensibly shod, ambitious career woman will spill Buck’s secret identity as a closeted Christian. This comes immediately after the meeting in which Buck and his friends commissioned Tsion Ben-Judah by telling him that their goal as a group was to “spread the good news of Christ to others.” So far, Buck has shared this news with precisely one person, Verna, and now he regrets having done so, dreading the possibility that she might share this news with anyone else.

Verna, of course, is Buck’s co-worker at Global Weekly — or, as he would insist on putting it, his subordinate there. We readers have absolutely no reason to believe that an up-t0-date edition of Global Weekly arrived on newsstands or in subscriber’s mailboxes this week, while Buck was off escapading through the Sinai. We have no reason to believe its website has been updated since before the Global Community’s nuclear attacks on itself began. We have no reason to believe that all of its former readers have not given up on it as a news source and, like Rayford and the authors and Buck himself, come to rely exclusively on CNN as their only reliable source of information. But if Global Weekly does still exist, in any respectable form that’s not hopelessly three-Seals behind the times, it could only be because of Verna Zee.

If you’re waiting for Buck to acknowledge that or to express any gratitude to Verna for keeping his enterprise afloat, well, you’ll be waiting a very long time.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* After all, Tim LaHaye himself does not seem to exist in the fictional world of Left Behind — not because he disappeared in the Rapture back in the first book, but because in order for this story to unfold the way the authors want it to, everyone in the fictional world needs to have never heard of people like Tim LaHaye — or people like Hagee or Van Impe, or Hal Lindsey, Harold Camping, Edgar Whisenant, John Walvoord, etc.

As we’ve discussed before, there’s a sense in which all of the End Times events predicted by these wildly popular proponents of “Bible prophecy” depend on them never becoming so wildly popular. In our world the general outlines of LaHaye’s “Rapture” folklore have permeated popular culture. His books were among the best selling volumes of the 1990s and 2000s, just as Lindsey’s were among the best-selling of the 1970s and Scofield’s were among the best-selling of the early 20th Century.

And that ruins the plot. In order for the End Times to play out the way that LaHaye et. al. claim the Bible prophesies, the world needs to be made up of a small group of true believers surrounded by an overwhelming majority who are completely unaware of their ideas about the Rapture, the Antichrist, the Tribulation, etc. And that’s what the world of these novels seems to be like. But our world is not like that at all. In our world — the real world — the majority of unbelievers already know the basics of this Rapture-Antichrist-Tribulation story. They don’t believe it, but they’ve heard it before.

That’s why the Rapture and it’s aftermath could never play out here in the real world the way they do in the pages of Left Behind. All of us non-believers — i.e., nonbelievers in the infallibility of Tim LaHaye — wouldn’t be wandering around mystified, latching onto half-baked talk of “some kind of electromagnetism.” We’d all, instead, recognize what we’d just seen: Holy crap, that was the freakin’ Rapture. And our response to that initial event would be informed by that recognition, thereby derailing many of the subsequent steps of LaHaye’s prophecy. Those prophecies, as described in Left Behind, depend on a world populated by people who are not genre-savvy to stories like Left Behind. The success and popularity of these books therefore ensures that these books can never “come true.”

That’s an ironically self-refuting aspect of Left Behind, but it is not, of course, the biggest reason the events prophesied in these books could never come true. The biggest reason for that is simply that God is, actually, not a ginormous cosmic douchebag.

** We still haven’t gotten a complete list of all the cities destroyed or any attempt to tally any kind of global death toll. We readers don’t even know if the bombing is still going on or if Nicolae has decided to end these attacks on himself as abruptly as he started them. Our only hope for learning such things, apparently, is to wait for the next time Rayford wanders past an airport TV tuned to CNN.

My Body, My Terms

Monday, 8 February 2016 08:45 pm
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Posted by Sophia Ebanks

Illustration by Mars.

Collage by Mars.

My body only started to matter to me when I turned 18, but that isn’t to say I was never aware of it. I knew that I was an average-sized kid surrounded by friends a bit slimmer than me, which would sometimes bring up feelings of envy that only ever lasted one class period. My body didn’t matter to me because even in this hypercritical, body-obsessed culture, I learned that it didn’t. I learned from Christian teachings that insisted we are not our bodies but our minds and our spirits. I learned from the parts of pop culture and media that declared the importance of inner beauty—songs like Christina Aguilera’s “The Voice Within” and TLC’s “Unpretty.” I also learned to avoid the teen magazines in the supermarket checkout lines plastered with headlines like “50 Moves for a Slimmer You,” no matter how much I wanted that poster of Selena Gomez or Taylor Swift.

During senior year of high school, my friend wanted to develop fitness regimens for her Independent Senior Project. She asked each participant to choose one part of their body they wanted to focus on. I volunteered for no other reason than to be of assistance. I chose to focus on my core. This meant that for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, I would work out that part of my body. After a few weeks, I started to marvel at my abs. I remember tracing their sharpening definition and remarking to one of my friends how amazingly cool the body’s ability to transform is. The project ended after three months, but I knew I wanted to continue with my workout regimen. My body had become firm and toned and strong. I was starting to think about my body in a way that was unfamiliar to me: I figured that even though “bodies don’t matter,” I might as well take care of mine. After all, it’d be with me for a lifetime.

I wasn’t the only person who started paying attention to my body. I used Instagram as frequently as any other high school student, posting pictures of group outings, full-length bedroom mirror selfies, and precious last high-school moments. Things started to feel strange, though, when beloved friends—and creepy strangers—would post what I took to be kind but exaggerated comments. “Perfect,” someone would write, or “Beautiful! *heart eyes emoji,*” or the one that really took me aback: “I wish I had your body!!!” I’ve posted my fair share of doting comments under people’s posts, but I had never been in the position where my appearance consistently put me in a favorable light. I didn’t know what to make of it. It was both confusing and intriguing to witness the unprompted remarks and loving attention that came from simply looking as I did.

I tried to be thankful. It was cool that people had actually noticed the changes I’d made. I also became increasingly aware that my body was being thoroughly assessed and evaluated by those around me—that “you’re so perfect” came only once their eyes had studied my frame to confirm the affirmation that followed. And there were parts of me that remained beyond the realm of a compliment: my dark skin, my nappy hair, the work that I do that constitutes the magical inner beauty everyone apparently believes matters most. Others saw my figure first and foremost, and presumed they could see all they needed to know about me.

Caught between a sense of power and powerlessness, I started to think that maybe it was good that others paid more attention to my new body. At least it helped them forget the “harsher” aspects of me. Perhaps I could construct a persona around this body. I could really be the girl who gets everything she wanted, who is always super bubbly and vivacious and has it all together. That’s what being slim means, right?? Hiding parts of myself to create this “perfect” persona simplified how I presented myself to the world. It also made me ashamed. I wanted to feel good about my body, but I felt that I had no right to if that meant assenting to the idea that perfection came from being slim.

There was a major conflict brewing inside of me and, in turn, I became more freakishly obsessive about my body than ever before. This meant never missing a workout, while sometimes fighting the urge to cry afterward because I wasn’t strong enough to turn away from this standard of beauty. It meant beating myself up internally over not having enough discipline to stop myself from eating a slice of pizza, even as I tried to convince myself that eating junk sometimes wouldn’t reverse all of my hard work. It meant wearing crop tops while guiltily attempting to cover my belly. It meant knowing that I was on a path to an eating disorder and not knowing what to do about it. Eventually, I cried to my roommate. She listened. We both knew I had a lot to work on.

I started to understand that I felt isolated when people saw my body as part of this imaginary, idealized lifestyle that I didn’t have. I wanted to blame everyone else for the pain I felt, but in truth, I had failed to set up boundaries and clarifications for who I was to the world. I’d been protecting an ideal while aching to destroy it, but neither extreme gave me the chance to let myself be. I couldn’t go back to pretending my body didn’t matter, because ignoring it would mean ignoring a major part of my life experience. In the same way that being a black woman has formed me, so does my shape and size. I had minimized the relationship I had with my body in ways that were damaging for me, when what I needed to do was create a healthier, more sustainable perceptions of it.

This required taking the time to untangle myself from the ideologies that say our bodies matter most if they help us receive the love and affection that we all need. I make a constant effort to redefine health in my own terms. I’m teaching myself that health is all-encompassing: it includes singing, dancing, spending time with friends, getting eight hours of sleep, and watching your favorite rom-com until you’re on the verge of tears from laughing so hard. All of that stuff matters just as much as eating well and exercising regularly. Also: I am allowed to love how I look, and I mean, absolutely, completely fall head over heels in love with how I look! I can parade around in tight dresses and crop tops because my body is just a part of what makes me feel good. And I can have days when I lounge in bed all day, because sweats and a box of pizza make me feel good and appreciate my body, too.

My body will always change and my weight will always fluctuate—I can’t avoid that. What I can do is learn to be happy with my body at any stage. That means constantly and consciously removing any standard that stops me from believing that I have a beautiful, healthy body. I’m becoming less and less inclined to hide behind a perfect persona. My body simply is as it should be. ♦

Sophia Ebanks is a 19-year-old New Yorker who swears she knows everything and nothing at all. She posts all of her weekly musings on The Odyssey and is currently developing a lifestyle website for young women of color called In Other, Other Words. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Posted by Janell Hobson

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 12.00.23 PM

The first image we see of Beyoncé, in her newly released video for her song “Formation,” is the pop star atop a New Orleans police car, partly submerged in flood water.  At once invoking the tragedy of post-Katrina devastation and police brutality—both extensions of state violence against black lives—Beyoncé strategically positions her body, clad in a country-style red dress (a power of color, of life and bloodlines), at the crossroads between life and death.

This seeming paradox echoes throughout the video. As a modern-day black soul singer who already remixes hip-hop and R&B, Beyoncé serves up old-style conjure-woman magic by remixing local video footage from New Orleans with her own commercialized take on performing blackness, performing Southernness, performing black womanhood. Tellingly, the video not only remixes the voice of the dead—as heard in the opening audio, featuring the late Messy Mya inquiring, “What happened at New Orleans”—but the sounds of the storm (thunder rolls are audible), just before diverse images of black queer men reclaiming feminine/femme/queen moves through bounce music (along with an audio shoutout from Big Freedia, “queen” of bounce music) set the stage for the “queen” herself.

The next image we see of Beyoncé—right after highlighting a preacher man in a local church—features her decked out in sacred attire (thanks to a conversation with Southern scholar Kinatra Brooks, I was told that she was channeling the Vodou loa Maman Brigitte, guardian of the souls of the dead who loves to curse and drink rum with hot peppers). Here is no clearer example of the pop star’s insistence on blurring the boundaries and inhabiting the crossroads: between the living and the dead, between the feminine and the masculine, between the heteronormative and the queer, between the sacred and the profane.

It is no coincidence that her first line, “Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess,” both doubles as a refutation of the conspiracy theory of her involvement with a secret Satanic society as well as an embrace of an African religion that has long been demonized by church folks. Beyoncé is here to reclaim all the aspects of black life that have been rendered as deviant, as waste, as toxic, as destructive. She will conjure it, remix it and remind us of the inherent value of black lives (and why they matter).

The black conjure woman herself has long been a figure demonized in American culture. But black culture has survived due to her resourcefulness in preserving the cultural memory from the African continent by remixing it with other cultures here in North America through food, healing rituals and practices and chanting—note how the song itself falls somewhere between Beyoncé singing and rapping. Her lyrics are deceptively simple, reduced to local Southern lingo and repetitive phrases. In reclaiming black life, Beyoncé returns to a simplicity of language, in which the simplest phrase—”Slay trick, or get eliminated”—is loaded with exponential meaning.

However, the video presents a catalog of visuals signifying Southern blackness, with echoes of the African Diaspora and the post-industrial world, as well as the historical. Empty swimming pools and parking lots suggest abandonment and an opportunity for rebuilding and resurrection. The pop star also gives her ancestral pedigree, “My daddy Alabama, Mama Louisiana/ You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama,” against the backdrop of a parlor where portraits of an African king and queen hang from the walls.

Bedecked in Victorian dresses, the “parlor ladies” that Beyoncé and her group of women embody exist ambiguously between the respectability of “New Negro womanhood” from the era and the less reputable positioning of “Creole” courtesans and concubines that birthed the multiple colors of blackness. Their presence in the video suggests an ancestral backdrop to the more present-day twerking of the red-clad dancers in that same parlor, who already disrupt these respectability politics by donning shoulder pads, pearls that could be easily clutched and booty-hugging bodysuits that emphasize their raunchy sexiness. As the Crunk Feminist Collective would say, Beyoncé is here to embrace “disrespectability politics” in a bid to reclaim black female sexuality for us, by us.

Her battle cry to the “ladies”—”Let’s get in formation”—also doubles as both a call to perfect the dance and a call to militarize, to come together in collective defense of our selves, our families, our neighborhoods, and our communities. As Brittney Cooper observed while appearing on Melissa Harris-Perry this past weekend, Beyoncé engages in a “choreography of freedom.” When our very bodies were enslaved and continue to be criminalized, our mastery of the body and the styling of that body is how we reclaimed our sense of liberation.

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Is there anything more awe-inspiring than witnessing the young boy at video’s end dancing effortlessly and with such power and freedom before a line of police in riot gear? Over at the Renegade Futurist blog, this dance is interpreted as a ghost dance, a resurrected Trayvon Martin in his hoodie (the video was released the day after the slain teen’s birthday), perhaps also doubling as young Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was shot dead by police in Cleveland in 2014.

These are the souls of the dead that Beyoncé seeks to guard. And she conjures their spirits alongside the living—both proclaiming the beauty of blackness in her love of her briefly glimpsed daughter Blue Ivy’s “Afro” (while “twirling on those haters” who criticized her natural hair) and her husband’s wide nose “with Jackson 5 nostrils.” However, in typical contradictory fashion, Beyoncé also affirms black women in their embrace of artifice, showcasing black women in a weave shop wearing dyed wigs while she herself sports blonde braids and weaves in different shots. In so many ways, the pop star invokes India.Arie’s “I’m not my hair’ while also invoking hair as a literal extension of self-refashioning and reclaiming of beauty politics while subverting white beauty standards in the service of black aesthetics.

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Most importantly, Beyoncé flips the gender scripts, rewriting the masculinist narrative in which hip-hop artists—her husband, Jay Z, included—often measure their power through the money they spend on women or through presentations of women’s bodies as decorative pieces in music videos. Here, black masculinity is completely decorative—they appear as set pieces frozen in “black macho” postures behind the animated power of her Maman Brigitte persona—or reduced to trophy spouse whose sexual prowess is rewarded with dinner at Red Lobster, a ride in her chopper or a shopping spree. While we may fault this gendered performance as still functioning within a patriarchal narrative, the male domination that is still a reality in our society invites us to read these gender-role reversals as acts of resistance.

In many ways, we see a rich and famous black pop star staking a claim in black life, reminding her fanbase that she has not abandoned her roots even as she fully embraces capitalist consumption as her measure of power. That while she rocks her Givenchy dress, she still carries “a hot sauce in my bag.” While many may criticize her for capitalizing on the current political moment or even for attempting to commercialize the most marginalized aspects of Southern black life, we cannot ignore how her particular position in culture allows her to reevaluate the margins and bring those cultural elements to the center.

That her “Formation” choreography made an appearance during the halftime show at the Super Bowl—replete with 30 black women backup dancers clad in Black-Panther style leather and berets while Beyoncé herself channeled the King of Pop, sporting a jacket similar to the one he wore during his Superbowl performance—demonstrates that the pop star is seriously grappling with the power and clout she now has to raise up the power and magic of black life.

Still, it would be a mistake to view “Formation” as somehow more authentic than her performance as a Bollywood star in the recent video for Coldplay’s India-set “Hymn for the Weekend.” Accusations of cultural appropriation tend to be superficial since they do not capture the nuances, complexities and messiness of how art encounters, collapses and syncretizes the cultural differences that confront a multiracial world. Not to mention how, in “Formation,” Beyoncé suggests that blackness is itself performative, as represented by Mardi Gras costumes on display. There are layers to masking and unmasking.

However, in a year that has witnessed #OscarsSoWhite, in which actors, screenwriters and filmmakers of color are often ignored or whose stories are whitewashed, the question of who has access to larger cultural platforms matters.  The local artists featured in Beyoncé’s new video could not reach the Super Bowl audience without her intervention. And in a world that continues to decry women’s power or black power, being able to boldly claim “I slay” is a radical form of resistance. Even more radical is her willingness to move towards an old black-club-women tradition of “lifting as we climb”: “Now we gon’ slay.”

Beyoncé may have traveled the world and tried on different costumes of appropriation, but here in this moment, she has come back “home” to conjure up some magic in reclaiming all black souls and all black lives.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the name of Big Freedia as Big Freedonia. The text has been updated.

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Screenshots via “Formation” video

slo_5505-150x150-1-1-2Janell Hobson is an associate professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is the author of Body as Evidence: Mediating Race, Globalizing Gender and Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture, and a frequent contributor to Ms.

Why Can’t I Be You: Alexis Wilkinson

Monday, 8 February 2016 06:00 pm
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Posted by Danielle Henderson

Illustration by Ruby A.

Collage by Ruby Aitken, using a photo by Joel Benjamin for Boston.com.

I first heard about Alexis Wilkinson last year, when the 22-year-old made history as the first African-American woman to be elected president of the Harvard Lampoon, the well-known college magazine that often acts as a funnel into the world of television and comedy. She was all over the news and with good reason: Not only has she helped change the face of a predominantly white, male cultural institution, she did it while juggling a hectic school schedule, navigating her way through intense media attention, and reeling from the sudden death of her roommate.

I wanted to know more about Alexis’s life before Harvard and her incredible new job as a staff writer on the HBO series Veep, so I called her over the holiday break to talk about how family tragedy gave her a unique perspective, her competitive spirit, and how she uses humor to connect to the world.


DANIELLE HENDERSON: Did you always have a master plan? I think we have to find our creative way in the world differently sometimes, and it’s not always as straightforward as, “I’m going to be an artist.”

ALEXIS WILKINSON: Definitely not. My mom was born in Wisconsin, lived in Wisconsin, met my dad in Wisconsin, and married in Wisconsin. She said, “If you don’t leave for college, you will never leave—the cost of living is low, people are nice, and you have family here.” She was really mad that I applied to the University of Wisconsin–Madison! I was like, “Mom, it’s early admission, this is just for my own sense of pride.” She accepted that.

Where else did you apply, and what did you originally think you were going to study?

So I applied to 18 schools—you know, the normal amount. What’s the point of playing if you don’t win, you know? I didn’t come to college applications to make friends! This is not America’s Next Top Best Friend! I came here to WIN! [Laughs] I was kind of all over the place, but I wanted to be a biomedical engineer, so I applied to a lot of tech and engineering schools—MIT, Georgia Tech, Cal-Tech, Case Western. The decision came down to MIT or Harvard. I think I knew that even though all of my life had been building up to being an engineer, I wouldn’t be completely happy just being an engineer. I did AP studio art in high school—weird portraits of hands and all that stuff. Where am I going to use my Cray-Pas? How am I going to draw photorealistic hands with Cray-Pas at MIT?

It’s cool that you were able to break out of the process and consider how college could help you be happy all around.

In high school there’s this whole thing where it’s sort of uncool to care about something, or be passionate about anything. There was an awful guy in my freshman year—the sort of guy who was like, “Oh, I could have gotten a 36 on the ACT but why should I try?” And I’m like OK, yeah, but you didn’t. [Laughs] Hypothetically, I could go to the moon, but I didn’t, here I am on Earth talking to your stupid ass. I like stuff! I’m passionate about stuff! I really enjoy stuff, and if people think that’s weird? Whatever. During my freshman winter I was a hometown counselor; I basically went back to Wisconsin and then visited a bunch of high schools to talk to kids about Harvard. It was very cool! And I had so much fun doing it. I love talking to kids. And you know, being fresh out of that process, I was like “All right, everybody calm down! It’s going to be OK! We’re going to all get through this together!”

Was there some sort of influence that made you feel like being yourself and making your own choices was OK?

I think it had a lot to do with my mom. My father passed away when I was four, and my mom was just single forever. She’s still single. And people ask the question like “Oh, so she remarried?” And I’m like, no. [Laughs] I think it’s because she was always working. She worked full-time to support me, and I have a younger sister, so us going to good schools and living this sort of sham lower-middle class lifestyle was very important to her. On the flipside of that, she really expected us to be responsible. We had to work—we had to go to school and do our homework. She didn’t check our grades like other parents; she just expected us to do what we were supposed to do. And we did it, mostly because we knew what the stakes were: If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, you will be homeless. [Laughs] These are the options for you—go to work and go to school and get good grades and go to college, or you can do poorly in school and have no money for college and live on the street. Once you realize that there isn’t a safety net, you have an incentive. It was scary, but I was frightened into achievement!

But you also had your own interests and goals that weren’t just survival mechanisms.

Yeah. Both of my parents were scientists; my dad was a chemist and my mom is a computer engineer. It was an achievable thing; I saw that people studied this and they did well, and enjoyed it. My mom would take me to work sometimes, and I went to work with my dad when I was really little. Other families think math and science are scary, especially for girls, but for me it was like, “That’s what my mom does. I know this is something girls do.”

You seem to be really good at taking things as they come and giving yourself options.

My dad passing away when I was really young sort of allowed me to see how you can sort of “do everything right” and still have it all go away. Both of my parents were kind of the one child in their families who did the right thing, and they went to college, got master’s degrees, got married THEN had kids, and it can all just fall apart. [My dad] had colon cancer; he was fine at the beginning of the year and dead at the end of it. You know, that’s just it. And nothing you could have done would have fixed that. And that meant we went from sort of the richest people in our family to a single mom with two kids. When you see a BMW repossessed, it sort of does something for you. [Laughs] Like, Oh, OK, all right, so life isn’t fair? Chill. But I think you see how the best-laid plans go away, and for me it was always makes sense to have a Plan B. I need to be able to support myself, so I have to have an education and things in place to do that.

So you go to Harvard, and you’re going to be an engineer. Was joining the Lampoon part of your backup plan, or just an outlet to do something different?

I got into school and I almost immediately switched from engineering to economics; I didn’t want to do engineering anymore, but I still really liked numbers. When I told my mom I was switching concentrations she was upset. She was like “Oh god, please don’t say you’re going to study philosophy. What are you, Socrates? You’re not Socrates.” I told her economics, and she was like, “You’ll work for a bank or for the government, it will be fine.” I think joining the Lampoon was a big part in sort of owning my belonging at the school, though; it’s not an easy thing to get into, and I’m sort of proving to myself that I can do this, and I’m as smart and funny as these people who have 10 times as much money as I do.

Did you always want to be president of the Lampoon?

I knew I wanted to run, but I was still shocked to be elected. That year was one of the hardest years of my life. There was just so much going on, and so many different pressures, so many life changes were happening at once. Becoming president of a place with a legacy comes with a sense of responsibility and baggage. There were definitely times when I felt like this is just too much, it’s so many responsibilities, so many people looking to me for answers. Sometimes it felt like I was being held to standards that other people weren’t being held to—you know, I have to be everybody’s everything, and I can’t. And then the media stuff was happening, and I was also trying to figure out whether or not I wanted to be a comedy writer for real. My roommate also passed away. There was just so much going on at once. It definitely took some trips to mental health services to work stuff out. I felt like I was navigating a lot of layers all of a sudden—I had to please myself, I had to please my family, I had to make sure I didn’t drop out of school, I had to make sure Lampoon didn’t impeach me, I had to make sure that whatever the media was saying about me was positive, and I needed to start becoming a comedy writer. And I was in college! So it was a lot of sort of all cascading at once. But I think it was definitely a growing experience, and I think I’m so much tougher now.

How did you get into TV writing? You got a job on Veep right after you graduated.

Um, I’m hashtag blessed [Laughs], but after I became president I talked to a lot of people, and after taking stock of everything I felt that it would be stupid of me not to at least give it a try. The great thing is I had people paying attention to me, so I needed to develop the body of work to show that any positive assumptions they have about me are right. I had a breakthrough over winter break; I watched Obvious Child and cried. I was like, Oh my god, I’m gonna be Jenny Slate and I’m gonna have to get an abortion and what am I gonna do?! [Laughs] I’m going to be doing stand-up in dingy bars and my stupid boyfriend will cheat on me with another girl! So, once I projected all of my emotions onto Jenny Slate’s character, I took a step back, I stopped crying, and I panic-applied for an MFA.

I just want to go back in time and give you a hug and tell you to take a nap.

But it made me feel so much better! Most people hire TV writers in the spring, but I’m in school; even if a lot of shows were offered, I couldn’t start! I needed to graduate. So I was like, What can I do in the meantime, even if I have to wait until next spring before really kind of getting my stuff together? I had a manager who I had interned for, Adam, and he’s like my dad basically. He actually spotted me the plane ticket to come out here because I didn’t have any money. We have trustees on Lampoon, who are typically older grads, typically successful in their field. The new board of trustees had been elected. I knew they would forget—there was a lot of stuff on their plates, and this is not a super high priority. So I waited, and when then said, “I’ll do it.” In a completely self-serving move, they got my issue of the Lampoon, and I wrote all the non-Boston trustees a little note that said “Hey! How are you doing? Here’s the latest issue. Just so you know I’m graduating at the end of the year, if you hear of something let me know!”

That’s a boss move.

I wrote them all, and one of the new trustees was Dave Mandel, who is my boss now. At the time, I didn’t even know he was working in television; he wrote The Dictator, and was doing a bunch of movie stuff. A couple of weeks after he got my note he emailed me, and said “Oh hey, yeah, send me some writing samples, and if I hear of anything I’ll let you know.” They pretty much all reacted that way, really nicely, like “Oh, give me a writing sample” or whatever. And maybe a month goes by, and Dave emails me, and says, “Here’s my phone number, call me.” I called him, and in one phone conversation he said “Hey, I’m taking over Veep, do you want a job? You have to move to L.A., you can start the week after you graduate.” I asked if he could give me a week. I don’t even have an agent yet! Should I ask an agent? Who’s going to negotiate this deal? I don’t know how to negotiate anything! I had all these questions. I called Adam I was like, “I have a job, Adam, I have a job!”

I love that you were able to give yourself enough time to figure out how this could still all be part of the larger experiment of your life.

Right. I thought, I’ll do this, and who knows—maybe I’ll hate it. And then I still have a degree, I can still figure something else out, maybe moving into the business side of the industry or something else. The fact that Dave was the showrunner helped; he knows what my strengths and weaknesses are, he knows I haven’t worked for a show before, he’s not going to have expectations of me that I can’t possibly achieve. He’s been such a good mentor to me. I mean, he’s been in the industry for longer than I’ve been alive. He’s really respected, so being able to work with him and everybody else has just been a blessing. He definitely didn’t have to take a chance on me writing for this show, but I think people see you as an investment, and that’s very flattering because I see myself as an investment. The types of jokes I make have expanded so much because of this job, and the characters I write are so much richer, so I definitely feel like this was the best choice I could have made.

Were you at all intimidated that at its core Veep is a political show?

I think that was one of the more comforting things about the show; I studied economics, but I had also worked for [Harvard’s] Institute of Politics. I’ve always been interested in politics. I’ve also been the lady president of something. I hadn’t even thought of that and Dave was like, “You know something about that.” Bossing around old white guys is all I know how to do. [Laughs]

I like that you’re not waiting for permission to try different things, even if you have no idea how to do them.

Definitely! Comedy writing and college can feel so mysterious, and there’s just not that sort of clear path. I never would have called myself a writer before I got to college.

How are things now that you’ve come through this intense year? How do you think you’ve developed as a writer?

I have a way to tell stories that allows people to understand things, and I think humor can be such a tool to help understanding. To laugh at something, you have to understand why you’re laughing. There’s a visceral response, but there is also an understanding of why that is funny. Humor comes from surprise, and being uncomfortable. And it allows people to sit in that discomfort for even a second. I think so much of that opens you up to accepting other things, and questioning other things.

Humor is a tool of survival, but you’re also helping other people get through life.

I talk to teenagers a lot; being a resource is something I really, really like! And it’s part of the reason I do what I do. I just like being a resource to others; I think that as a young person you have to see it modeled for you, you have to see sort of a way to do it, you have to be able to access it in some way. And if I can be that point of access for them, then we’re going to see all sorts of people coming up in this space, and we’re going to see all sorts of stories being told, and that’s going to reflect on the culture. It’s a beautiful feedback loop. ♦

[syndicated profile] rookie_feed

Posted by Krista Burton

Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Ever been asked about someone you have a crush on at school and been really embarrassed about it? I HAVE. And I’m crap at hiding when I have a crush on someone! I never wanted people to know, yet somehow, someone was always asking me about my crushes in front of rooms full of my classmates. UGH, PEOPLE.

What am I talking about? Link your arm through mine, and let’s travel through the mists of time so I can set the scene for you:

It’s seventh grade, and I’m sitting at a round lunch table with my core group of friends. A girl we’ll call Jenny, whose life mission is to ruin my life for no apparent reason, wanders by me in the lunchroom. She stops and turns around to face me.

“Hey, Krista,” she says, at a volume sure to be overheard at lunch tables in New Zealand from where we stand in Wisconsin. “Do you like Zach?” She asks this with a sly smile, certain of the trustworthiness of her source, aglow with the knowledge that nearly everyone in our grade is listening to this exchange.

Now: I do like Zach. I really, really like Zach. Jenny knows I like Zach. She saw me writing his name in my notebook a few days ago. She hadn’t said anything then, and I thought she’d forgotten.

Everyone hears Jenny ask me this. Everyone is immediately interested. Everyone turns to look at me. My face is instantly on fire.

“N-no,” I stammer, blushing furiously. “No. I don’t!”

“Yes, you do,” Jenny grins. She glances around the lunchroom, making sure we still have an audience. “You totally like Zach. Oh my god, you can tell me. I won’t tell him.”

“I don’t! I don’t like him!”

“Suuuuuuure.”

“I DON’T!” my voice becomes shrill. Zach is watching. I am nearly in tears. “I DON’T LIKE HIM LIKE THAT!”

“Everyone knows you do. Why are you lying?”

Screeeeeeeeeech! Hold on. Do you see what’s happening here? Before this happened, I was a nice person who was quietly in love with a cute boy named Zach. Now, according to Jenny, I am a lying liar who looooovves Zach and EVERYONE KNOWS.

I get up from the lunch table, just barely containing my tears, and walk to the bathroom, where I silently cry with rage on a toilet seat.

Middle school can be really fun.

But hold on—this could have gone a lot differently! There is a way around a messy scene like this, and I learned it from my older sister’s friend (he was in high school! an elder!) when I was telling him this horror story in our living room a few days after it happened. He swore he had learned the technique from his older brother, and it had never failed him.

All you do is this: When some busybody asks you, loudly, if you like someone (whether or not you do like that someone), and you don’t want anyone to know how you feel, just take a deep breath, stay calm, and resist the urge to hotly deny it. Don’t deny! Instead, look the asker in the eye and say, without any emotion whatsoever, “Why? Do YOU like them?”

This does several things. First, it turns the unwanted attention directly around to the person who (it can only be assumed) was attempting to embarrass you. Second, the person was not expecting you to do this—they were expecting your instant denial, and were looking forward to teasing you while you denied. Third, because you remained calm, you look incredibly mature. Fourth, there’s really no way out of this for them. Sample convo below!

Busybody, loudly, to you and a room full of people: Hey, do you like Hanna? Like, like her?

Unruffled Human: ::stares coolly at Busybody.:: …Why? Do you like Hanna?

Busybody: What? No! I mean—I asked you first.

Unruffled Human: …So?

Busybody: Haha you do like her, I knew it.

Unruffled Human: ::continues to be incredibly, oddly calm:: You keep bringing her up.

Folks, let me tell you something: After seventh grade, I used this technique every single time someone publicly confronted me about a crush. In five years, it never failed me. It works beautifully. Now I pass it on to you. Go with my blessing. ♦

[syndicated profile] ms_magazine_feed

Posted by Maura Cunningham

51TlQFtJvgL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_On Oct. 29, 2015, the Chinese government announced that it was moving away from the one-child policy it had enacted more than 35 years before. After nearly four decades of mandatory sterilizations, forced abortions, skewed sex ratios, abandoned children and fines for those who violated the family-planning regulations, the policy had worked—too well.

China might still be the world’s most populous nation for now, but it will confront a demographic bomb in the next few decades: a rapidly aging populace; a declining birth rate; and a shrinking labor force. Already, the country’s economy is feeling the effects of this shift, as a smaller supply of laborers demands higher wages, eroding the competitive advantage in manufacturing that helped fuel 25 years of double-digit economic expansion.

The one-child policy was designed, in large part, to facilitate that economic growth; in the late 1970s, Chinese officials deemed that the fastest way for the country to rise out of poverty was to reduce its population. But as Malaysian-born journalist Mei Fong details in her new book, One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment, this “crash diet” was a plan designed by military scientists, who built it on faulty data and with little regard for long-term consequences. An immediate fix was their top priority. If an authoritarian state could force people to have fewer children, their reasoning seemed to go, then it could also make them have more children if and when the need arose.

In One Child, Fong explores the many effects that the planned-birth regime had on society. (The name “one-child policy,” while succinct, is not accurate; a panoply of exemptions means that many groups have not been limited to one child, though their procreation is still monitored and constrained.)

Fong’s investigations stretch from birth to death, demonstrating how the policy reverberates across a lifetime. She speaks with officials in the “population police” who are charged with enforcement of the policy, and are armed with tools that range from fines and seizure of property to forced abortions and compulsory sterilization, usually of women. She travels to a “bachelor village,” where the preference for sons (and the availability of sex-selective abortion) has resulted in a generation of young men unable to find wives. And she visits a hospice where elderly patients without large family networks succumb to illness, their only children stretched thin by the competing demands of sick parents, young offspring and work.

Even more heart-wrenching are the shidu, or couples whose only child has died. Given China’s under-developed social-welfare system, the shidu have not only lost their children—they are also without anyone to care for them in old age or serve as their financial guarantors, a fact that makes nursing homes and hospitals reluctant to accept them.

Throughout her travels, Fong also grapples with her own desire to become a parent, complicated by infertility. Her attempt to use this experience as a mirror for those of the Chinese parents she interviews, however, falls short; Fong’s own story appears too infrequently in One Child to serve as a parallel thread.

But Fong excels in telling the personal stories of others, providing the reader with insight into how an Orwellian policy, rarely understood by outsiders, has played out in the lives of over a billion people. Indeed, as she shows, the need for the one-child policy is accepted in China, a country where “Ren tai duo”—there are too many people—is a familiar refrain when boarding a city bus or standing in line at the bank. Through a combination of economic growth and propaganda efforts, the Chinese state has made the one-child policy not just a government mandate handed down from on high, but a procreative choice regarded by many as the most pragmatic option.

The rocket scientists who designed the policy back in the 1970s acted as if “fertility could be dialed up or down, like levers on a machine,” Fong writes, failing to account for human agency. Now that government officials are attempting to dial up fertility, it’s far from clear that couples will make that adjustment.

A loosening of restrictions in 2013 failed to produce the baby boom that family-planning officials anticipated: The high cost of raising a child in China today, especially in cities, means that many parents voluntarily limit their offspring to one.

While the one-child policy was implemented by fiat, it seems likely that walking it back will prove a much greater challenge. And so, Fong says, in the coming years Chinese officials will face a problem that would have been inconceivable to their predecessors in the ’70s: “What happens when the world’s most populous nation has a baby shortage?”

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IMG_2992Maura Elizabeth Cunningham received a Ph.D. in modern Chinese history from the University of California, Irvine and is a program officer at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. The views expressed here are her own and do not reflect those of the NCUSCR.

Daily Links: Get in Formation Edition

Monday, 8 February 2016 02:35 pm
[syndicated profile] rookie_feed

Posted by Diamond Sharp

Beyoncé via YouTube.

Beyoncé via YouTube.

Editor’s Link: Beyoncé shut down the internet by pulling a Beyoncé. On Saturday, she unexpectedly dropped the video for her single “Formation,” and said video is unapologetically black. On Sunday, Beyoncé performed at the Super Bowl with Coldplay and Bruno Mars and announced her upcoming world tour. The internet is still recovering. —Diamond Sharp

On Instagram, The Root remembered Sandra Bland. #SayHerName

I love Steph Curry, but I love this little girl even more. Is the comparison not an apt one?

Image via New York Times.

Image via New York Times.

My excitement over this article analyzing the use of languages in crosswords is as square as the puzzle’s format, but the piece is just so good.

The Smithsonian National Zoo released footage of their five-month-old giant panda, Bei Bei, rompin’ around outside for the very first time in his life! He gets caught in some tree branches; it rules. —Amy Rose Spiegel ♦

[syndicated profile] experimentaltheology_feed

Posted by Richard Beck

When we talk about spiritual warfare the classic text is Ephesians 6.12 (KJV):
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
This text has tended to be interpreted in one of two ways. Conservative Christians often read the phrase "we wrestle not with flesh and blood" to mean that spiritual warfare involves doing battle with demons--malevolent disembodied spirits. By contrast, progressive Christians have tended to take the reference to "the principalities and powers" to mean that the focus of spiritual warfare is to resist oppressive political and economic systems.

As a progressive Christian I've tended to go with this latter understanding of spiritual warfare. Inspired by liberation theology I tend to equate spiritual warfare with social justice. But this sort of understanding begs the obvious question. If you equate spiritual warfare with political activism then why use the word spiritual?

In answering this question many have turned to the work of Walter Wink and William Stringfellow to describe how power structures are created by and maintained by an inner or underlying spirituality. The spiritual and the political are closely connected. Spiritual liberation must accompany political liberation. This is why political movements often fail by not taking into account the spiritual aspects of the struggle. Repentance is as important as revolution.

A really insightful way to think about the relationship between the spiritual and the political is the analysis of Václav Havel in his famous essay “The Power of the Powerless”. Though written in response to the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Havel’s analysis is timeless, so I'd like to devote a few posts walking through the essay.

To start, Havel begins by describing the relationship between reigning power structures and ideology, the reigning cultural worldview. According to Havel, ideology is the spiritual glue that justifies and animates current power structures. Ideology is the “secularized religion” that justifies current power arrangements, making them seem moral, transcendent, and beyond dispute. Havel notes:
The whole power structure…could not exist at all if there were not a certain ‘metaphysical’ order binding its components together…This metaphysical order guarantees the inner coherence of [the power structure]. It is the glue holding it together, its binding principle, the instrument of its discipline.
In short, power becomes equated with truth:
…the centre of power is identical with the centre of truth…the highest secular authority is identical with the highest spiritual authority.
This is why all social resistance and dissent is inherently spiritual and religious in nature. What is being challenged and fought against is the spirituality of the power structures. Again, Havel's analysis here converges on the theological work of Walter Wink and William Stringfellow.

The spiritual, metaphysical, and religious aspect of power arrangements—all power arrangements, from the smallest organizations to the largest nation states—explains the impersonal inertia of power structures, why our battle is against an anonymous spirituality rather than the "flesh and blood" people embedded within the power structures.
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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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