Friday, July 11, 2014

From a Pile of Stuff - Heritage, Personality, and Value

Prequel Clip

Humans alter our external appearances as a way to communicate with other people. Namely, this is to signal 1) what Tribe we belong to, and 2) our social standing within the Tribe.

Wearing something highly crafted with valuable items on it?

You must be well-off.

 Have just the plainest gown? 

There's work to be done. 

Is that cut of clothing a little strange? 
Images of native S. Americans from JCB Library

You must be from the other side of town.

I'd wager this has been true since the first intelligent primate first balanced a leaf on his pecker. After all, being able to quickly recognize where everyone fits into a society's structure allows for a more efficient way to deal labor organization, territory disputes, sexual reproduction, etc.

The 21st Century is no different than the 1st. We're still sending out signals to everyone, perhaps with more conviction than our ancestors. It's no longer a simple matter of geography or linear hierarchy. In the United States particularly, people must sift through layers of tribalism as we commute to our schools, jobs, neighborhoods, and favorite night spots. And the social hierarchy? It's even harder to navigate through our various social circles. As a part of a complex culture, each person dresses not just for vanity or comfort, but to present his or her (self) worth and to feel safe within his or her Tribe(s).

Looking into any high school clearly illuminates the idea of Tribes. The distinct friend groups segregate according to intelligence, athleticism, social background, race, economics, etc. These tribes tend to have a distinct look to them. (Think: Converse, Wallaby, New Balance, Vann, Nike, etc) Teenagers are extremely aware of the importance of clothing. More than a form of self expression, clothing is a way to show their values. The outward appearance is a way to signal to the world that they have heritage, personalities, and histories, and are not merely cogs in the system.

Adults, too, have personalities and histories. In most cases, "grown-ups" have a deeper convictions on how to portray themselves to the world. They just tend to not be as extreme or as easily swayed by advertising. The life experiences a person has along with his or her cultural heritage factor into every sock, every shirt, every bra, every belt he or she wears. Choosing an outfit is to say that you belong to your Tribe(s), and that Tribe has certain values.

Of course, the values expressed through clothing can be misinterpreted (by wearer or observer), or correctly interpreted by an observer who does not have the same values. That's when the trouble starts. Such  interpretations signal that the person with the 'wrong' outfit does not belong and therefore poses a threat to the observer's way of life/Tribe.

Not belonging can be a mild fashion faux-pas, like a man wearing a slightly too deep v-neck tee. Or it can be more serious, like wearing a Confederate battle flag shirt on the third Monday of January. Someone choosing to wear that shirt on that date does so because he or she values the Tribe which celebrates Robert E. Lee over the Tribe who celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.. However, the Tribe of the United States looks down on the tribal heritage of white southerners (because the U.S. won and hate crimes are scary). Dirty looks will abound. (Unless that person is surrounded by white supremacists.) If those observers are members of the Black Panthers- well it's not likely to end well. Of course, the person wearing the Confederate flag may have forgotten what day it was, or had no other clean shirts because of economic circumstances. Regardless of the reasons why, people will judge that person by his or her choice of clothing.

Perhaps less blatant examples would be wearing jeans to a traditional church or wearing a scanty dress to a dinner party. "But wait, Rihanna wore that 'naked dress' to an awards event- that's got to be a fashion faux pas," I hear you say. Most of us cannot wear a Swarovski covered fishnet dress to any public event. But, Rihanna can. Not only does her Tribe(s) allow her to go to fancy parties that welcome floor length dresses, she is higher up on the hierarchy

Obviously, Rihanna isn't a part of the Mennonite Tribe. Her floor length dress is 'okayed' because shes in these and more Tribes: Entertainment, Music, Barbados, and Female. She can wear the nearly-nude cloth because she's high up in the hierarchy. Popularity, respect, talent, sex appeal, fitness, and reputation all factor into her social standing within those Tribes. Because she scores high in all these categories she can "get away with" wearing just jewels in public.

The ornate, impractical, and provocative clothing of aristocracy is not that of most people. The price of materials and high skilled labor is the obvious reason for this divide. But even if non-aristocratic people could get their hands on such clothing, the peasant wearing a fancy frock would be ridiculed. Only a child would make fun of an Emperor's new cloths, but if Larry down the street took it all off he would have to be ready for serious humiliation. After all, they don't throw parades every time common people buy a new outfit, but who would every want to miss the red carpet's pomp.

Instructions: Put on best suit. Allow people to scream your name. Look stoic for photo. Walk on.

It is not as simple as getting Michael Kors instead of Prada. Unlike our feudal ancestors, where we stand on the social ladder- well let's just say it's no longer a ladder. It's more like a sprawling, muti-tiered, moving playground. It is so ridiculous, some argue that we should just ditch the idea of a social consequences for acting weird.

Until that is no longer idealistic, we're likely to continue to dress within our Tribe's rules. As a capitalistic society, our income does limit our worth, and people who dress outside the limits of their worth often run into issues. Those who feel they are worth more than their income collect those designer shoes by racking up credit-card bills or other socially unacceptable ways of getting 'stuff'. Which is not unlike the peasant who tries to wear a fancy frock. Perhaps they will be ridiculed, perhaps they will be arrested. More importantly, these people often don't carry the clothing as if they belong to that social level.

People with lower self-worth under dress themselves. This communicates to others, not that they have low self-worth, but that they are lower in the hierarchy, inhibiting their ability to move up in the hierarchy. They miss out on opportunities- social, economical, sexual, etc. Dressing for the wrong Tribe says "I do not belong," but under dressing for the Tribe says "I do not deserve."

Of course there are counter examples. The woman who purposely dresses higher on ladder of another's Tribe in order to gain respect. The man that renounces worldly possessions to live in the trees. Such people have a higher level of self-worth, and do not need others to validate their standing. They live in that 'idealized' world.

Our Tribes and social standing within them influence how we act and behave. How we present ourselves to the world is really a representation of how we think the world should perceive us. We wrap ourselves in heritage, personality, and values so that others can know that we have heritage, personality, and values. To show we are not merely cogs in the system.

We're humans

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Heroes write the History

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post defining and explaining Nostalgia which largely criticizing the media industry's explicit exploitation of the past. Even in that post, I acknowledged that not all use of 'the past' was Nostalgic, and not necessarily bad. Successful shows like Mad Men (AMC) and Boardwalk Empire (HBO) or movies such as Lincoln (2012) and Charlie Wilson's War (2007) do rely on audience's idealized preconceptions of the past, but not in the same way as Man of Steel (2013) or The Carrie Diaries (The CW). The latter use Nostalgia to tell the same story while the former use History to tell a new one. Revisiting History within the context of New American Mythology reveals shifting perspectives of the past while offering direction to our present lives.

We all know the general story of Lincoln, the Civil War, and Emancipation. In any historical retelling of the story, we know how it's going to end (a bullet, Northern victory, and segregation). So why recreate it- to simply to relive our glory days? No, that's Nostalgia. We use History to help understand present issues, and look to our heroes for guidance. Take the 1988 t.v. miniseries, Gore Vidal's Lincoln.

Skip to: 5:03

 Admittedly, Vidal wanted to illustrate the founding fathers as less than heroic. The television series shocks audiences with a racist Lincoln in order to nudge audiences into considering how far society had come, even from desegregation two decades earlier.  What may have seemed radical ideas in the 60's were just common thought, especially in light of recent confirmation of humans as originating in Africa. The morally questionable honest Abe was not meant to glorify his personality or accomplishments (Nostalgia), but give a new perspective on the past (History).

Spielberg's Lincoln, is much like Vidal's in mannerisms, but he reclaims an untouchable aura of heroics (albeit not to the point of romanticism). What makes this version of History particularly interesting, is the "gritty" politics Spielberg demonstrated. Perhaps our previous idea of the 1860s included a virtuous political system that actually worked. The fact that Lincoln had to wheel and deal not only made History more real, but it also made me feel better about the current state of Washington.

Other Historical fictions in American Mythology today reflect similar sentiments. Instead of the idyllic portraits of great men that we find in textbooks (or even comic books), we see the complex interactions between individuals who live in a morally grey zone. By toning down the rose tint, we can see beyond the nation's grand rise to power and acknowledge that at no point have times really been easy.

HBO's Boardwalk Empire takes place in the roaring twenties, when the 18th Amendment essentially restricted alcohol to a point where bootleggers were working in a free-market system. This allowed them to to collect great wealth, obtain great power, and occasionally accomplish great things. However, the actions various gangsters take to gain or retain their greatness/monopolies follow neither general idea of a 'good' man nor the idealized free-market system.

(A meeting of all the East coast bosses)

The main character, Enoch Thompson (aka Pasty Breadstick in a Bowtie), constantly re-balances his political and economic powers in order to create an image of a great man. In this scene particularly, he decides its better to deny his business partners booze (limit the free market) in exchange for a 'prettier' public face. Rosetti (the angry one) acts in the opposite manner, disregarding Thompson's overall well-being for greed. Audiences know Enoch Thompson as not the most morally sound individual, but at least he has some sense of gentlemanly character. Or not. Which may be the most surprising aspect of the show. Despite wanting to like any one of the characters, audiences must see them as willful participants in a corrupted system that operates under a facade of glamour.

In this way History surpasses Nostalgia in its message to the masses. Instead of longing for yester-year, the former sends a message of 'things can get better'. People can change, circumstances can alter. It's up to the hero to decide whether he or she will give up or move forward.

Que Donald Draper, Mad Men Season 1, Episode 1

Mad Men has largely been about the fall of the All-American hero. Audiences see Don as a flawed individual who hides his despair and vulnerability from the people around him. Throughout the series such deception drive him to act immorally, without regarding his actions as harmful to himself or others. In the above scene, he casually says he does not believe in the tomorrow. We know that this isn't the truth, and not just because we know the bomb didn't go off. He simply fears the past, choosing to ignore the gritty details. If you've watched the latest season, then hopefully you can compare this scene to the final one in the last episode. Don now looks to the past, not in fear of its consequences nor shame of its contents, but with a sense of pride and purpose. That is where he is from. From all that shit, he became...

Donald Fucking Draper
We'd prefer to hide away the dirty bandages and dead bodies of History, but they describe more authentically than the glorified poems written after the battle. Americans want to acknowledge the grime under their heroes' nails, because that's proof that they weren't divinely designated as saviors to society. Is the American Dream not to achieve greatness despite through equal opportunity, no matter your race, creed, gender, orientation, social status, etc? Our heroes must live with flaws in a past which is realistic. Americans look at History not to show off our grandiose rise to power, but to understand that despite whatever shit storm we're going through now, we will not only survive, but emerge [hopefully] as a better society..

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Man Inside the Can : Iron Man 3

Most of the hype surrounding Iron Man 3 (Marvel Studios, 2013) related to Robert Downey Jr.'s transformation into Tony Stark and China's enthusiasm for the American action films. I wasn't following in closely because I assumed it would be another explosion sequel that found some random Middle-Eastern villain to once again put the world at jeopardy and boost Tony Stark's ego. If we were lucky, there'd be a romantic scene and some chuckles.

Hah! Wasn't I surprised. Iron Man 3 is a well-crafted visual novella, complete with character development, plot twists, romance, motivated events, and, most of all, real-life situations that drive the storyline. It has less New American Mythology than most comic-book movies, but it excels at using monomyth to communicate a variety of society's concerns without being too heady or heavy. Good job director/writer Shane Black, writer Drew Pearce, and everyone else involved its making.

If you havn't already, I highly recommend you GO SEE THE MOVIE. Also, it's the only RealD movie I've seen that wasn't distractingly 3D. It enhanced the experience even.

Now, onto the post. I could writer several essays about Iron Man 3, but chose to follow Tony Stark's transformation along the hero epic cycle. I encourage you to think about the socio-political and culture implications of the movie on your own time.

Phrases in parenthesis that may not make sense refer to the hero epic cycle.

**Spoilers Beyond This Point**
That being said, the post assumes you've seen the movie.

The traumatized Tony Stark has lost the public cool he exudes in previous films; he does not go out to bask in the glory of his victory, nor does he gloat about it to his friends. An aloof hermit that can barely maintain his relationship with Pepper Potts, Stark pours himself into the 'hobby' of creating more suits. The charm and humor remain within him, but with a considerably more defensive flair.

Something is wrong with our ultra-cool super-hero. Much like Django Unchained, the director Shane Black eases audiences into the hero's perspective, rather than blatantly giving a name to whats going on. In doing so, the stigma and assumptions often attached to PTSD becomes less of focus, allowing audiences to better understand the character's struggle, not his disease. So while Pepper, Happy, and Col. Rhodes keep pressing Tony to pay attention to other matters, the audience sees how it's not as easy as "getting over it."

"Getting over it," is what drives the plot. In order to re-assimilate into culture and reconnect with loved ones, Tony Stark must redefine himself as a man, not a man-in-a-can. 

Tony Stark's identity is closely tied to the Iron Man suit, but unlike the suit he can, and nearly did, die. Shaken, he puts his efforts into making suits of all kinds. Of course, multiplying the number of suits does not help his situation, but drives him further away from society and loved ones. In the first Iron Man, Stark rockets over to Afghanistan to take out some low-level baddies just because. Now, when a mysterious explosion occurs and a maniacal terrorist claims there will be more, Stark seems to just panic and retreat even further into his fortress. (Refusal of the Call) This is where the testing of the hero comes in. The 'forces that be' remove Tony from the safety of familiar territory into a place where he is more vulnerable, but closer to his true identity.

The attack at the Chinese Theater first awakens Stark to action. Rather than going out and actually killing Mandarin however, he retreats into his Malibu mansion/Tower and relies on it/his suit to protect him and Pepper.  The second test, the attack on the mansion, forces Stark to mobilize. He encases Pepper in his suit, knowing it better protects her if she's in it than if he was in it covering her. Once he gets the suit back, its unreliability forces him to use brainpower over tech-weaponry. It also puts him dangerously close to death. Luckily J.A.R.V.I.S. (the Supernatural Aid) kicks in and saves Stark. At this moment, Stark crosses the threshold and begins his journey.

Largely without a suit, a supernatural aid, or any connection with his known world, Stark really is in a mystical land. With the help of a regular human kid, he uses good old fashioned sleuthing to find out whodunnit and howdunnit. Yes, JARVIS pinpoints the Mandarin's location, but it's Stark who creates a low-tech non-defensive arsenal to infiltrate the palace (Belly of the Whale). Here, Stark not only solves the mystery, but finds the solution to his psycological problem (the Boon): he doesn't need the suit to be a hero. In the conversation between Maya and Stark (The Meeting with the Goddess), Stark himself voices the knowledge that will free him from his trauma: he needs to hold onto his "Moral Psychology" and not forget why he started this Super-Hero thing. It's not about the theatrics or fame. Just as Killian doesn't need a cape to be a villain, Stark doesn't need the suit to be a hero.

Of course, Stark must return to his world with this knowledge in order to save himself. Killian hinders this psychological return when shows Pepper in pain and when he kills Maya (Apotheosis), creating a sense of helplessness/loss of identity that is necessary for his eventual rebirth.

The rest of the movie is Stark rebuilding himself has Iron Man. His escape from the palace involves faulty Mark 42, that keeps him from blasting off into heroics allowing him to slow down and think through a plan. The Barrel of Monkeys scene allows Stark to continue towards Pepper, while saving innocent people in a decidedly heroic fashion, regaining his confidence. In addition, the suit's destruction at the end of the scene shows the suit's vulnerabilities, while alerting the audience to Stark's strengthened psyche.

Reach out, he can't do it alone.

In the final fight sequence, Stark calls all the suits to action while he focuses on saving Pepper. Didn't quite catch the gravity of that? The suits act as offensive weapons while Stark plays a defensive role of saving the thing he loves most (opposite of what happened at the Malibu mansion). (Col. Rhodes doesn't get a suit for the same reason- he must make his way to the president and escape all with a defensive mentality.) When Stark does jump in a suit, his plans to use it tend to fail: He can't lift the debris off Pepper without killing her; Killian traps Stark in it; After slicing of Killian's arm with the suit, the whole floor caves in; The point where a suit would be most useful, Stark can't get one because all of them are fighting and therefore he can't run to or reach Pepper in time; The suit becomes a hindrance during the fight sequence with Killian. Even when Stark finally lets go of the armor by encasing Killian, he doesn't win, just creates a big explosion. The suit is not a hero.

It takes Pepper's rebirth and near second death for Stark to finally remember what it is to be a hero. The suit attacks Pepper, exactly the opposite of what Stark designed it to do. Pepper, in complete bad-ass fashion, takes down the suit, then uses it to destroy Killian, saving Stark,  and becomes the hero.

She was already a hero.

What does that mean exactly? Tony Stark doesn't need the suit. He needs Pepper (i.e. human relationships); she is a force more powerful than machine. Without her, and the other people he cares for, he would not be Iron Man; he would be a deranged engineer without a moral psycology. Being a super-hero isn't about the indestructible "false-faces" that the public sees, but defending what you believe in.

Stark destroys his fleet of autonomous suits not just to make Pepper happy, but because he realizes that he, a human being, is Iron Man not the suits. He is not a 'god' whose identity is tied to a super-persona. Unlike Thor or Capt. America, he is a vulnerable, flawed individual. Stark no longer fears his mortality, but understands it as an integral part of his self that brings him closer to the people in his life, and thereby makes his heroics more meaningful. What's more, the people around him recognize his vulnerability, know he can't do it all, and are still willing to say "I got you." They don't expect him to be a super-hero/god, but a man.

Stark's Return (to the realm of mortality)

I welcome your comments below.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Don't be Oblivious: The Obvious Myth in Oblivion

[This post has spoilers.

Really quickly, where did Spring go? We've started the Summer Blockbuster season, and I havn't posted in over a month! Mostly because there wasn't much interesting going on. Besides the ends of several comedy TV series... ]

Okay, who though Oblivion (Universal Pictures, 2013) was going to be another weird Tom Cruise movie? I certainly did. Cruise is generally not an actor I follow, because I associate him with the 80s and 90s (and Scientology). Really that's not fair. His career doesn't have the normal dips and turns as other action movie stars; he's consistently made three star and above quality films since the start of his career, and the only year 21st century he didn't have a movie coming out was 2009, which is kind of excusable since he had two movies come out in 2008.

When I heard Oblivion was "actually really good," I was skeptical. Through a coin-toss I saw it instead of The Place Behind the Pines. Good choice. It contains a lot of New American Mythology themes and motifs. The following is a quick rundown of these. I thought the plot was fairly obvious, but if you're wanting to keep the movie's plot twists a surprise, don't continue to read, particularly the ones marked with ***. They're all kind of spoilers though.

Basically, I've highlighted how Oblivion uses the motifs in New American Mythology. The terms are not literal representations, but act more as metaphors. Brush up on the terminology by clicking on "Lexicon" above. Use this post as a way to better understand the Myth, and how it influences our culture.

Astronaut - Jack Harper, the main character, lives in isolation with his work and love partner, Victoria. He repairs drones which guard saltwater collectors. The saltwater will be converted into energy for humanity's exodus to Titan. Jack uses his high and low-tech know how to keep the drones running and protect the human race. ***We find out Jack Harper was actually an astronaut in his previous life. He and a crew were going to Titan to assess if human could live there; when their mission changes he chooses to pursue the danger alone (with Victoria) rather then put the rest of his crew in danger. Jack's final sacrifice at the movie's end, solidifies his mythological Astronaut status.

Cowboy - Jack acts directly against his orders multiple times, mostly on gut reactions. His collection of various human objects connects him to his true human self. His "lonesome" rides in the helicopter and fondness for his motorcycle are not unlike a man in the desert on a horse

***Zombie - Jack's previous incarnations followed orders, blindly killing off most of humanity. It sounds like they traveled in hordes, acting senselessly en mass. Victoria remains a Zombie, blindly following her programing to her demise, despite the evidence in front of her. Also, Jack dies and 'comes back to life' through Tech 52 in order to live happily ever after.


Black - Of course Morgan Freeman plays the Black god (of war)! In this narrative, Malcolm Beech leads humanity's last stand. Not only does he come up with the strategy for taking down TET, he's the one who sees Jack as the key to their salvation and shows him the Road to self-discovery. ***His death marks the end of the war, a passing of an era. With his and Jack's death, the world can be reborn.

Girl - Victoria tries to break away from the 'system' that holds her, but in the end she cannot side with Jack. She finds the small plant he gives her abhorrent, because it may ruin their chances of going to Titan with the rest of humanity. Really, it shows her lack of humanity and her assimilation into the TET's false reality.

Amazon - Julia, a 'Russian' cosmonaut, is only an Amazon when compared to Victoria. Overall she's a weak female character, but does hold important knowledge that allows Jack to free his mind, proving herself not to be a threat to Jack and superior to Victoria.

Scavs in the concept art from the unpublished (non-existent) graphic novel Oblivion was based on.
Illustration by  Andrée Wallin

Aliens - The Scav are Jack's main threat. They attack the drones, but without any real purpose. Victoria ponders why they would try to destroy the drones, why they would send an off-world signal, and why they are there at all. They are irrational, threatening creatures. (Or are they...?)

The West - Jack's excursions in the the wastelands gives him the freedom to explore the world around him without the rules of the Sky Tower. He can fix drones with gum, pick up curious objects, and wear a Yankee cap, all of which don't follow protocol. The potential run into the dangerous Scavs doesn't deter him from the potential of finding something new. Additionally, his (Rocky Mountain) retreat is an eden free from TET's (society's) prying eyes.

***Space - TET, which exists in space, is Jack and Victoria's source of information, their salvation (to Titan), their creation (via cloning), and their destruction (drones). On the flip side of the coin, Jack must enter TET's realm in order to save humanity, recreate himself, and destroy the threat.

***The City - TET supposedly holds most of the human race, waiting on a few techs to return before blasting off into Space. However, it turns out to be the lack of humanity rather than its salvation. TET programs Jack and Victoria to despise the past human life. Victoria especially follows TET's orders, fearing she'll lose her spot to Titan while not realizing she's lost her humanity.

Nostalgia - Jack's fascination with artifacts and history goes beyond topical interest. He collects small items and arranges them lovingly in his cottage. They remind him of the past glory of humanity, whereas Victoria sees them as radioactive remenants of war.

***The Road - After meeting Morgan Freeman's character, Jack must take a journey of self discovery. He starts out on a bike and drives to the Empire State building, where he finds his other half. He then returns to the Sky Tower, where he must destroy his past beliefs/self. Then, he goes through an hazardous journey across the radiation zone and meets his true self. This journey gives him the strength and conviction to save humanity.
 ***The Tower - 1) TET, a tower in the sky, supposedly awaits to deliver humanity to Titan and save all of mankind. However, we find out that it's not the salvation of mankind, but its destruction. This technological entity that Jack and Victoria believe holds the entire world has destroyed it. 2) The Empire State Building holds the key to Jack's humanity; his memories of the tower remain, and it's where his memories return to him. Before his memories return, the tower signifies the destruction of his past, and (literally) signals for its return. 3) The Sky-Tower (home-base) protects Jack and Victoria from Scavs and radiation. It's how they can live in such a hostile environment. However it also shelters them from the truth, preventing Victoria particularly from reconnecting to her original self.

At the Tower, all is made clear.

 There you go folks. Now stop saying I'm making this shit up! The terms may be outlandish, but sometimes we only notice the extremes.

Comment below!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Kind of Feminism

The following essay doesn't quite fall under New American Mythology. I've posted it here for several reasons, first being I don't have another public forum to share it with the world other than through a GoogleDoc. People seem to be skeptical about Google's sharing policies, so I decided to avoid that. The second reason is that 'feminism' has resurfaced in popular culture after what seems like the hiatus during the 2000s. Lastly, it's important that my readers understand what stance I take as a feminist because the term feminist often comes with preconceptions and misconceptions that I may not follow. Many of my posts have come from this feminist perspective, and I hope that my readers will understand those posts better after reading this essay.

Thank you.

The first encounter I remember with the term feminism was in my high-school Environmental Science class. My notes from the class define 'Ecofeminism' as "an ethic (applied philosophy that addresses the moral conduct of people and the environment) which believes that humans need to have a less domineering relationship with nature." The second encounter with the term was in my last year of college during a "Issues and Criticism of Contemporary Art Class." Our class discussed one of the several definitions from our text book, Why is That Art? by Terry Barrett, the main one being " be feminist is a political choice, a choice toward action to resist and to change the status quo." I may have been too busy rolling my eyes at the professor to catch all of what 'feminist' art entailed, but that definition did sink in (more so than the one in the back of the book). And, as I do, I mixed it with my previous understanding of the term to come up with something I liked, something I wanted to be.

Astronaut, Cowboys, and Zombie Original Image

My feminism comes down to a single moral: one entity is not superior to another just because a society says so. A very American ideal. Instead, we should base individuals' or items' value on their own merits. Is a tulip better than a dandelion? Yes, you can buy tulips OR No, you can't eat a tulip. They serve different purposes, so why should you automatically say one is better than the other? Because Home Depot sells dandelion herbicide and tulip bulbs? Incorrect, that's just a social construct telling you that one is better than the other because having tulips means you have room in your 18th century garden to grow non-edible plants. Feminism is not about blindly following what other people say, and a feminist questions the status quo. [Note: I did not say feminists take political action every chance they get. You can be a feminist without leaving your couch.]

Such a definition requires me to actively approach situations with skepticism. People often dismiss feminists as 'crazy' women who jump to conclusions (formerly known as 'Man-Eaters'). People of color get the same dismissal by the name of 'Playing the Race Card'. The problem is, when an individual lives in a society where he or she often is treated unfairly, a misunderstanding comes off as inequality. A feminist calling out every situation as an instance of inequality makes people more aware of the frequency of inequality and can give others' the courage to stand up to the inequality they see around them. Without vocal skepticism, Brown vs the Board of Education could not have ignited an entire civil rights movement that ended legal racial segregation.

Which brings me to a component of my feminism that may not be so obvious: Feminism is not solely about women's oppression. I can apply it to issues regarding the environment, race, sexual-orientation, socio-economic class, mental health, age, etc. Hell, I can apply it to the Nielson Rating System. Anytime a society shows unwarranted bias towards a particular group. Magazines, for example, feature more whites than non-whites on their covers, and thereby undervalue people of color. Ebony, and other magazines specifically aimed towards non-whites, does not feature whites on its cover. I do not see Ebony as undervaluing whites, but following a warranted bias to make up for the lack of non-whites in the larger magazine industry. Giving special opportunities to 'the oppressed', whoever 'they' are, may seem unfair, but forcing society to do so may be the only way to provide them equal opportunity.

Magazines that cater to fringe groups:
Ceramics Monthly
(Ceramists), Out (Gay & Lesbians), Ebony (African Americans), VegNews (Vegans), Ms. (Feminist Women)

Let's move on to specifics. It just so happens that I am a woman, and therefore I am more aware of the inequality facing women. The perceived role of women in society particularly irks me.

Now, don't assume that I think every woman should go out and be the breadwinner just because I said 'role of women'. I believe that every individual should choose what they want to do with their life. What a novel idea. If a woman wants to go and make a dozen children while keeping the house clean and going to soccer practice, fine. As long as that is what she wants to do. On the other hand, if she wants to put off having a baby for a few years to make a career that supports her family, then she should have the right to do so, and she should be paid as much as her male peers.

Those are obvious examples. From personal experience, I do not want to hear a so-called feminist male mentor that moving in with my partner to figure out what I'm doing after I graduate means I'm becoming a house-wife. That happened. Twice. Nor do I want the secretary job over the manual labor one, nor do I prefer wine to beer, nor do I want to 'teach' art over being a professional artist, nor do I prefer to keep my mouth shut when I have an opinion. These things make me rage.

It's not even a matter of being treated like a man, but as a human being. Give me choices. Assume that I wish to exert my will. Know that I am capable of learning. Acknowledge my ambition. Realize that I am not just a biological entity.

Yes, I have the ability to grow a baby, and men would like to have the opportunity to jump start that process in me. That is not my sole purpose in life. Does this mean I shouldn't wear lipstick or heels? No. If men can go around using their 'machismo' to get ahead, then I should be able to use my femininity to get ahead. So while the male peer interjects his unrelated opinions in the middle of a conversation, I'll give him smile and eye bat to shut him up and then blatantly ignore him while I finish my conversation. I could be more assertive and outspoken, but really its not me. That's all I want: to be me.

You may not agree with everything I've said here, but I sincerely hope you follow my definition of feminism, even if you don't want to call it feminism. Reducing someone or something to one attribute is never a good idea: We are complex organisms living in a complex world. I won't continue to summarize this big concept. Instead, I'll let the most perfectly feminist film do it for me:

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