Encounter at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Johannes Vermeer, Study of a Young Woman, 1665-67

Some man said you weren’t as beautiful as

that floozy in a turban, but at least you have

a measure of gracefulness to offset your plain

features, thank goodness for virtue.

I had a laugh when he compared you to Mona

as if you had anything to do with her Leonardo

amused, together in that imaginary space

the gallery

admiring your pearl face

from the corner of my eye.

what you know that I don’t is worth a moment

the shape of Vermeer’s dirty brush and maybe

not by choice

and how to sit statue-still, a porcelain lady

hide your teeth and your dark womb thoughts

relinquish even your name

for father’s art.

–Nicole

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“The Revolution Will Be Designed”

That catchy title is not my own and instead is a comment on our changing culture. Everyday, especially with accessible technology, do we both perpetuate and watch society’s standards, regionally and globally, as they shift and merge.  This is why it is so incredibly important to remember that what we build, break and blog today will have a different type of significance tomorrow.

I began doing informal research on the topics of Gender and Design and how they could possibly intersect on the whole. Design, as a principle of advertising, innovation, architecture and so many other fields is often connected through its partnership with Functionality. Where Design is not always functional, it is itself a dialogue on beauty or aesthetic and, as it seems to go, often consumerism as well.

Considering how Gender is a “function” of society; a convenient way to categorize and communicate cultural roles, I only now thought of it in terms of Design. When it comes to marketing, Gender is crucial for economy and trendsetting.  In relation to inventions and new technology, Gender comes into play largely in ratios behind the scenes, but also in how we see ourselves reflected back by identity politics online. And in terms of architecture, in this case the many levels that overlap to make a society work, we notice Gender as part of the institutionalization of different populations and groups.

Remembering that Gender is a construct that we are socialized into is a key factor towards building a better, more egalitarian culture and future. Notions about how men and women (and every person who identifies in between) are supposed to act and behave is designed. Every part of one’s gender identity is packaged as a way to move in and out of social situations and how to process purpose and place when living a moment is just not enough.

We have to be open to the constant movement of trends, of language and of how we occupy physical and emotional spaces. When we chose to design, or in some cases, redesign, such decisions come with consequences we may or may not be able to determine prior to the switch. By analyzing the worlds in which we live we take the “risk” of become subversive, of going against a grain which seemingly works. What many overlook though is that when someone openly questions such functions, like Gender, they begin to realize that there are others that too are less happy than they could be. Remembering also that functionality is relative is important too if just simply to remind oneself to be an aware participant in the Design process. Because a Design works for one, or many, does not mean that it works the way it could, that it works the best it can or that it is even still relevant.

More to learn, More to grow

-Darragh

Agonizing Ads….

Just last week, I had the pleasure of flipping through an issue of the fashion magazine Marie Claire. According to their website, this publication is: “Your source for information on fashion, style, beauty, women’s issues, careers, health, and so much more. It is the fashion magazine with character, substance and depth, for women with a point of view, an opinion and a sense of humor…If it matters to women, it’s in Marie Claire.”

Hmm, sounds promising so far.

Inside I found these two ads:

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What matters to women? Apparently Slimfast diets and breast implants. I particularly love the Slimfast image, with its bait and switch. Women want to lose weight to be more confident, it’s improving their self-image, right….? Oh wait, what they actually meant was women want to look better naked.

Two things:

1. Don’t tell me to diet.

2. I already look good naked.

Why do these ads make me happy? It’s not because I’m looking to drop pounds or get bodywork done.

It’s not even because they expose Marie Claire’s mission statement as blatant hypocrisy.

These ads make me smile because of what happened as I was looking at them. (Glaring in anger, really.) Because at that moment, two other women in the room with me became interested in what was causing my face to twist up. I quickly showed them the offending pages. And what happened next was brilliant. We started a dialogue.

In a very simple way, we deconstructed the hell out of those images. We talked through it. We voiced our different opinions. These stupid, frustrating pictures of faceless women turned into tools whereby we could talk about what it means to be a woman now. And that’s a seed of hope for this society. Women want to talk about what it means to be women. They just need the opportunity. And what is more fitting and more ironic than using  mass media as a diagram of exactly how we don’t want to be seen?

I may even write a little note to Marie Claire, to thank them for making their idea of womanhood so clear to me. It’s useful to know thine enemy.

-Nicole

Media Review–“Accessory”

Jordyn Taylor

Confessions of a Shopaholic

2009

“Fashion defines women” is certainly not a new concept, but I was surprised to learn that by tracking fashion trends, you can track the modernization process of a society. To put this into practice, I’ll do my best to gain some sort of insight into our society by breaking down the messages in “Accessory.” I am indebted to Professor Susan Hiner for her excellent talk on fashion and modernity given at Tyler School of Art, which inspired and provided the background for this post.

Oh, our love affair with inanimate objects.

No, really, she is about to make out with that mannequin. Do woman (wealthy, white) have so much agency that they can afford to love their luxury accessories instead of- or more than- other people?  Clearly, pleasure is tied up in the acquisition and display of “brand name” objects. Now take a moment to appreciate this image.

Here’s where it gets interesting: the handbag did not always carry the meaning we assign to it today. In fact, circa 1801 handbags were seen as ridiculous alternatives to pockets, which were hidden underneath the dress. A handbag, in contrast to the secrecy of the pocket, was promiscuous. The women carrying a handbag openly was immediately “classed down”  as vulgar, letting it all hang out. Unless her bag was a sewing bag, because in that case it announced her prowess at home economics and thus potential wifely qualities. Needlework was acceptable, it showed a woman’s moral fiber. Virtuous needlework would keep a woman from the idle vanity of handbags.

Jump forward to the 1880s. Department stores have entered the scene, trampled small businesses underfoot. We can see all too clearly the developing gendered economy, reflected in the literature of the time. Women, as consumers, are idiots. They drive men to bankruptcy. And who is to blame for this trouble? The humble handbag. Because woman get irrational over them. In fact, it’s almost like your wife or fiancee is having an adulterous relationship with these huge stores full of fashion. Isn’t it? Check out 2:52 in the video again. Stores are seduction machines.

Well, the adultery never stopped. By the 1900s, women had moved into the public sphere of activities. Their defiant use of fashion accessories allowed them to transgress traditional  boundaries that associated women with privacy and the home. Where does that leave us today? The bigger the better! In the video, our girl dances in front of bags larger than she is. Designer bags are now symbols of wealth and status, to a much greater degree than they were in the past.

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See? We’ll even fight for them! How can we go out into the world without an accessory that proclaims our power and marks us as better than the competition?

“He’s my latest accessory. Was he on sale?”

We’re at the point now that we use relationships in the same way we use designer labels: to boost our status. To give us another reason to feel good about ourselves, in the public street and online, through photos and status updates, anywhere. It’s a kind of power trip to be able to claim someone as “your significant other.” “Accessory” is a bit interesting in that it is the women who are making this statement of power, quite blatantly listing men as objects in their collections. I would not call it empowering, however. It comes at the expensive of dehumanizing men, even to the point that men are bought and sold like the shoes and bags. That’s no kind of progress.

We tend to think that quantity makes up for quality. If we own a lot of bags, or boyfriends, our quality of life will increase. Are these things just tools, or are they some fundamental part of our egos? And at that rate,  I wonder at what point does ownership transfer? When do we stop owning our accessories, and they start to own us?

fourj

~Nicole

Fatal Adventures 1.19.13–Mosex Revisited

MUSEUM OF SEX
233 Fifth Avenue (@ 27th Street)
New York, NY

In my head I’d imagined it bigger. Something on the scale of the PMA, or even Philly’s City Hall. From Darragh’s description of her first visit, I’d built up a picture of an endless maze, a pictorial journey through the History of Sex. Standing on fifth ave, my expectations around my ankles, I held back the urge to mutter “Really? That’s it?”

The first floor sex shop was surprisingly less shocking and more, I don’t know, coy? It seemed a little too clean, too well put together, like Barnes and Nobles trying to be kinky. There were popular novels, too, such as 50 Shades of Grey, and shot glasses, and coloring books. Hiding in the back of the shop were the actual sex toys, which were only vaguely intriguing. (Why a cupcake?) The shop itself could have made a succinct exhibit, Commodification of Desire, or The Sexual Consumer. But the next floor above made up for all that.

The museum calls it Universe of Desire. To me it will always be the floor where I first saw porn. Or as they put it,“As human behavior becomes more clickable than physical, we can’t help but wonder what this means for our most basic, biological impulse: sex.” says Mark Snyder, Director of Exhibitions and Co-Curator of “Universe of Desire.”  The black walls really help the screens of copulation to stand out, as if they weren’t going to have all your attention anyway. Out of all the kinks, all the video installations, it was the animated cartoon sex reel that made me nauseous. I think because of how exaggerated the motions were. Come on, cartoon dude, she’s not a kabob. I stood there wincing until I’d seen the video through. At least this exhibit helped me discover what I’m not into. One object that I did like on this floor was the orgasm quilt. It was, as you might imagine, a quilt with orgasming faces on each panel. The images came from this project, The Beautiful Agony, dedicated to the beauty of the human orgasm. It gave your eyes something still to rest on, pleasurable instead of demanding. There was a lot of stimuli in that room.

Beyond the digital sex exhibit, the floor I liked the most was called Sex Lives of Animals. It came closest to fulfilling my desire for information as well as arousal. Besides learning about the shocking and ridiculous ways animals get it on, you also get to look at some fun sculptures and pics. Deer threesome, anyone? Or if that’s not to your taste, how about camel masturbation? People laughed in this room, or snorted with embarrassment, or grabbed their friend to point something out. Not the hushed, dark, weird space of the porn floor at all.

MOSEX is an experience that everyone relates to in some way. But going through it feels more like a carnival atmosphere than a museum. There are huge holes in the structure and content, none of which seems logically organized. Sexy sex in other cultures is omitted (Anime? Manga??). Religious attitudes towards sex are never referenced. This is not a scientific inquiry, ladies and gents. But that’s okay, because its target audience is the 18-25 crowd. Girls taking pictures of themselves in front of the exhibits, guys copping a feel of their girlfriend’s butts….the visitors themselves are sometimes more interesting than the exhibits….galleries….whatever they are. I’m still mentally digesting everything I saw there, not sure if there’s any real insight to be had…other than, as much as we may like to have the sex ourselves, perhaps we like even more the suggestions and the possibilities available by watching others have it?

Turbo boobs

If you’d like to check out their other exhibits, here’s the website: Museum of Sex.

–Nicole

Punching People Is A Bad Idea — A Personal Tale About Desensitization of Violence

As was briefly mentioned in the most recent Fatal Friday post, I punched someone. I am not proud of it. In fact, I am still a little shocked that I had the capability to become so angered by a stranger’s stupid comment  that I used my agency for physical violation. Although Nicole summed up the situation fairly well, there’s more to it than she or anyone else knows. While the moment of violence lasted less then a minute and no blood was spilled nor response made from the punched party, I now realize that although I consume mass amounts of media, I am still not desensitized…as proved by my shock…and I think that is a very important thing to acknowledge.
First things first: on Friday, November 2nd, I went to film class at 10am where I watched the war movie “Brothers” (2009, Jim Sheridan). The film has a brutal PTSD subplot which included the audience witnessing the origin of the main character’s mental disease: a violent murder inflicted on one American solider from another with a rusty pipe.
I winced in my chair and I’m sure other students around me did as well. Later in the movie, this same character cannot function in everyday life as he used to after he returns home, largely due to the emotional stress he’s holding in. Instead, it bubbles up and explodes in the form of a deranged attack on his wife’s new kitchen, a gift from his brother. He smashes it to bits, again with a metal pipe. With his family in terror, the police arrive at his home and he pulls a gun threatening to kill himself. Personally I found this overwhelm hard to digest. (A few days later when we deconstructed the film in class, it was not nearly as striking as it had been when I was emotionally invested.) Nonetheless, when the movie ended on Friday and the credits began to roll, my 150+ classmates immediately got up and exited. I was left sitting alone in a semi-dark lecture hall recounting the story, my feelings about the characters and the apparent lack of sensitive response my peers seemed to show.
About 12 hours later is when I punched someone for screaming, “…and you should’ve sucked his dick too…” in my general direction. Whether or not the comment was for me, I assumed it was and became enraged, throwing my moral and logical reasoning out the window. Almost instinctively my reaction happened, as if I could not find another way in that split second to get rid of the “thing” that bothered me. It’s as if I thought that by punching the guy who said it, the comment would just disappear as if it had never been uttered. I’d like to think I was being defensive, but I was being reactive.
For back-story  I have never been in a fist fight nor have ever found the desire to prove myself in such a way. As an only child, I received a lot of emotional attention and mental stimulation so the idea of physical confrontation has never had much appeal to me. I was always taught to practice civil discussion if an issue came up. I try to be fair and open and listen to all sides, so, in reflection of my actions, I am appalled at myself.
But onward with the night for the tale is not over yet! After a mentally sobering walk to my friend’s place for a get together, Nicole and I watched “21 Jump Street” (2012, Chris Miller, Phil Lord), the stupid comedy about two young cops trying to make a name for themselves by working undercover in a high school to bust a drug ring.
The movie is filled with on-screen death, explosives, vulgar behavior, weapons, drugs, hyper-masculinity and blood…but the catch is that it’s hysterical. Oh the magic of cinema that it can take reality and spin it and interpret it in so many ways! While watching “21 Jump Street” I laughed, snorted even, at the bathroom humor and obnoxious characters. They meant nothing to me. Their failures were my entertainment and for that matter, were supposed to be. The blatant violence was for my viewing pleasure; such an odd phenomenon in our culture.
I still feel the shock of my hit, but I cannot help to wonder why. Is it because I truly do not have a physically violent nature? I think that’s part of it. Or is it because we women are not meant to be reactive, to respond and defend our own honor? And even if the comment was directed at someone else instead of me, would it be an embarrassment that I defended their honor since I am a woman? Perhaps I was not aware how terrible it feels to hurt someone, to see their face offended and their body trying to hide away from the blow. Did I subliminally think that because of all the violence I see in the media that I would feel more heroic? More bad-ass? Is this what violence has become?
The line becomes clearer now: our world is desensitized. To gore. To sex. To anything and everything that used to be taboo. We have gangster rap and kiddie porn, 3D movie theaters and Playboy, non-stop social media and overwhelming advertising. EVERYWHERE. In theory, exposing the individual to constant consumption could begin the proactive dialogue of why the world is the way it is and how our trends and behaviors are created and effect us, but instead we expose society to media without media literacy education, thus the conversation is never had about its consequences, good or bad. This is a problem because real life and what we see on TV becomes blended together in a tangy concoction of moral disregard and confusing agendas. Media is neither good nor bad, but the weight it carries in our world is outstanding.

I am not yet desensitized. I can still feel and hurt and be blown away by something meant to blow me away. The media can frame anything the way it wants, but deep down I know (and sometimes have to remind myself) that the Himalaya mountains will never be as beautiful on television as they apparently are in real life, that physically intimate interactions are at my and my partner’s discretion and will not be acted out “as seen on TV” in sexy soap operas or music videos and that as long as I can actively work on being media literate, I am closer to a human being than any scripted character or photo-shopped model in an advertisement has ever been.
-Darragh Dandurand Friedman (darraghdandurand@aol.com)

Fatal Friday–Nueve

Despite twenty-some years of observing others, on Friday I discovered that my judgments are still too hasty. People’s character is infinitely more complex than society’s roles would suggest. And perhaps still more complex than one mind can understand alone.

No doubt you are rolling your eyes now……Hey, get to the good part! What DID you two do last Friday night?

For starters, we witnessed Gloria Steinem give a lecture. Who is she, you ask? Gloria is a writer, lecturer, editor, and the feminist activist. She was speaking at Haverford, to a full house of women and men.

In the course of the hour, she expanded on her theory of the interconnected nature of current social justice movements. She stressed that as long as the construct of racism exists, sexism will never go away, and vice versa. With her particular humor, she made it current by addressing the looming presidential election. She noted that rhetoric over the years has tried to make us believe our vote doesn’t count or is somehow meaningless. She also made it very plain that she considers Romney/Ryan’s proposed policies about women’s bodies dangerous and multi-faceted. One of the best moments of the night was when she asked “Why are ultra conservatives against both birth control and lesbians?” Food for thought. Her answer was because both allow women to have sex for pleasure not procreation. What I loved most about her (besides her wit) was her understanding of everything affecting everything else. She used the circle in her explanation; an idea world is modeled on a endless circle, not an inverted triangle of hierarchy.

Darragh geeked basically the entire time, and after the talk Gloria was signing autographs in the lobby. After waiting in the line, Darragh presented her book to be signed. Not a book written by Gloria, no. This was a vintage book of erotica, a real nightmare of pasty boobs and butts. Gloria looked at the book and made this face:

But being the wonderful person she is, she finally signed the cover “A Terrible Book–Gloria Steinem.” It’s true, I swear.

Flushed with these events, we got our picture snapped by this lovely organization:

(And spoke to its organizer. Keep an eye out for future collaborations.) What could get better than meeting Gloria Steinem in the flesh? While waiting for the train back to Temple, we engaged a neighbor in friendly chat. Her name escapes me, but she listened with good humor and recognized Gloria’s name as a famous feminist. After she got off at her stop, Darragh and I kept chatting pretty much continuously from the train station to the center of Temple campus. We met up with her gentleman there, and then things got a little funky.

A kid was urinating on the bellower. Now bear in mind this was 11:30 on a Friday night. North Philly has seen much odder in its time. But it bothered our guy friend, and he went over and slapped the kid around a bit, as you might discipline a bad, drunk puppy. Naturally, this kid had a group of garden-variety assholes around him, five or so. They started yelling and oooing and ahhhing. In the confusion, Darragh thought one of them told her to “get over here and suck my dick” or some variation of the usual crap. Long story short, she dropped her bag and punched the offending drunk in the face.

Wait, WHAT? Yes. Trust me, if I was making this up, it would be more believable.

For the record, I have never seen her get physically violent before. It was about thirty seconds of what appeared to be total disregard of consequences, pure emotional response. This is very out of character for my partner; she is someone who plans ahead, who has the future firmly in front of her eyes. Before Friday, I would have said it was impossible for her to do that. I guess the old cliche proves true again…..as it turns out, nothing’s impossible.

–Nicole Beck (nikolbolt@gmail.com)