Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Stuff White People Like to Like

I recently came across the blog Stuff White People Like. Since its launch in January of this year, it has received over 18 million hits and 4,000 comments. The blog reads like a satirical handbook on how to understand white people by examining what they like.

At first I had to laugh that the first season of Arrested Development (#38) is in my DVD player, I recently received an invitation to an 80s party (#29), and I just made plans to meet a friend this weekend at our favorite breakfast place (#36).

As I thought more about the list, I noticed that it really only describes a particular brand of white people (seen every day here in Cambridge). One commenter agreed that the list is more “a qualitative outline of the young, faux-activist, indie-lifestyle, suburban white person, than of the caucasian race itself,” and it is more of a description of “an emerging pop culture stereotype than a racial one.” One of the posts even clarifies that white people don't like “white people who vote Republican.” Obviously not all white people can identify with this list, but it's a pretty accurate list for those who do.

With a satirical tone and focus on describing a cultural stereotype rather than an ethnic group, can this blog be considered racist? Since Fringe’s latest issue is “Ethnos” themed, my awareness (#18) of racial issues was piqued. I couldn’t decide whether the blog was racist, funny, or ironic (#50).

What do Fringe readers think of this blog? Is it the “White Chris Rock”? It’s a nice wake-up call for me, to re-examine the things I like and make sure I like them because I like them, not because of how cool (or lame) they make me look to everyone else.

Girl Genius

Hi all, it's been a while since I blogged due to imminent deadlines for the web paper I write for -- and my looming thesis deadline. But I wanted to take a minute to let you know what's gotten me through those 100-hour weeks: Girl Genius.

Billed as mad science and romance, this comic, which is also published online, gave me a few laughs, and geniune joy in the Victorian gothic world.

A highly recommended read. Start at the beginning!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Culture Consumer

We live in a consumer culture. This is a problem. But what does it mean when you obsessively begin to consume culture? I love to read. I love to watch movies. I love music. I am one of those people who is obsessive about discovering new bands, reading as many books as possible, and watching any movies someone tells me I will like, in an attempt to somehow be aware of everything and anything that is...well, I hate to say it, but cool. I'm that guy. Which means that the I simultaneously love and loathe the Internet.

Every day, I am inundated with thousands of new articles, blog posts, and recommendations. I am constantly consuming, trying to organize this information for myself, and also to share it with those whom I think would also appreciate it. My Netflix queue is almost 200 movies long, and I've had the same two discs for over a month now because I just don't have time to devote two uninterrupted hours to a movie. But every time I read a movie review or hear someone talking about a new movie they've just seen, I click over and add it to my queue. It's the same with books--though my bookshelves at home are stuffed with books I have yet to read, not to mention the reading I've got to do for classes, I am compulsive about scanning book reviews and author blogs, adding books to my Goodreads "To-read" shelf. And don't even get me started on music. Since I can't listen to music on my computer at work, I have been starring the audio blogs I want to go back to download mp3's of new bands I want to hear--but do I ever go back and actually listen to them? Sadly, not very often. I also favorite songs and bands I like on Pandora, but am too poor to actually purchase new albums on iTunes.

Are all of these "to read", "to watch", "to listen" lists adding to stress of my already massive daily "to-do" list? Does my anxiety grow in proportion to the number of unread items in my Google reader (currently 611)? Maybe, but I can't seem to's a compulsion. And where would we be without our compulsions?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Actions Speak Louder...

This week we’ve been saved from the droning primary campaign by the Governor Spitzer scandal. Yes, we’ve lapped up the unfolding smutty details like a bunch of hungry, um, wolves. From water cooler chitchats to interviews on NPR, Americans love it when celebrity falls from grace, especially when it involves adultery.

However, while the scandal may revolve around Elliot Spitzer, it seems that we can’t help but turn our morbid curiosity towards his wife, Silda Spitzer. She’s already run the gamut of public scrutiny, receiving our pity—not another politician’s wife!—our unsolicited advice—She should really get herself tested for STDs—and worst of all, our sexual criticism—What wasn’t she providing in the bedroom? I hear they’re sleeping in separate rooms.

Silda Spitzer stands like a ghostly shadow behind her husband during his press appearances. Some say her silent presence is a way to deflect future scrutiny by getting the worst gossipy nags out of the way early. I’m not sure how effective this technique is. It seems like just about the worst thing to be required to do. But I do hope, for the sake of Mrs. Spitzer's privacy, her silence works.

Or do I? Should she be stepping up and speaking out against her husband? What do you all think?

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri

So, last week I read an advance copy of the upcoming Jhumpa Lahiri novel. This isn't any kind of formal review, but here's what I thought:

Three of the four best stories you could have found in The New Yorker, including the best one, "Hell-Heaven," which, after reading twice and hearing read once, I'm starting to think may be my favorite story of hers, right up there with "A Temporary Matter." The fourth is the title story.

The book, or at least the advance copy, is broken into two parts. The second part is three linked stories starting with one from TNY. Unfortunately, that one was by the far the strongest, and the rest of the section didn't feel finished to me. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe she was still working on revisions.

I'd put this book between The Namesake (which I think is more an extremely long short story than a novel, and a story that could have just been a regularly long short story) and Interpreter of Maladies (which I loved and which has one of the all time great titles). It's good but not a classic.

Speaking of classics, and as an addendum to this post, check this out:
Congrats to Fringe on their (our) list, though I can't get behind any best book list that has The Kite Runner on it. The above link is someone's compilation of one-star amazon reviews of best books.

Stay classy, San Diego.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Debt: The Big Dream Killer

Want to hear something scary? My fiance and I together owe over $120,000 in school loan debt, and we haven't even come close to entering the collapsing housing market yet. So if we were to buy a house here in Massachusetts, where it's unlikely we'd find even a fixer-upper for less than $200,000 any reasonable distance from our jobs, we're likely looking at over $300,000 in debt to start our lives together. Together, we bring in about $83,000 a year (which sounds like so much to me), so we'd owe over 3.5 times what we make in a year. That's not to mention any credit card or auto debt. No wonder we're scared to buy a house, even though we're pitching money down the toilet in rent. And children? Forget it. Can't afford them.

Compare that to my parents, who, when starting out in the mid 70s, had to pay back my dad's student loan of $3000. They bought a starter home that cost about $30,000, and my dad's starting salary as a teacher was about $15,000. They owed about twice what they were bringing in, without counting any money my mom earned before she got pregnant.

It feels unfair. We've gone farther than our parents in education, but we're wallowing under more debt than we can handle. We had more opportunity, more time to dream big, yet many of us are struggling in jobs we don't like to pay for the education that was supposed to make our dreams realities.

I don't regret going to college, but it was so easy to think of those loans like monopoly money. I just wish someone had sat me down when I was choosing paths like English and writing and said, hey, it's great to do what you love, but don't forget this isn't free. You have to pay it back. So if you aren't going down a path that will definitely lead you to a job that will pay for what you love, think about switching majors.

The irony is that you need the degree (and its debt) to get the job to buy the house that will put you in further debt. Oh, and did I mention our dollar isn't even worth as much as it used to be? But luckily, all that writing training comes in handy - I can write all my thoughts here for free, whether anyone reads or not.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Direct Democracy

I went on a road/ski trip to Vermont with my mama at the beginning of this week, and am convinced this state is doing something every single state in the country should be doing.

The first Tuesday of March is Town Meeting Day in Vermont. You don't go to work; you go to Town Meeting and talk about the small and large issues that affect your community. Nobody elected by a 51-49% margin is going to represent you: you're in charge of doing it for yourself.

And it coincides with Primary Day, encouraging people as both citizens AND voters to participate in the democratic process!

Wouldn't our country be so much less divisive if once a year, everybody sat down next to their neighbors and hashed it all out?

I found a terrific guide to Town Meeting Day for kids (but useful for all of us who didn't grow up in the Green Mountains) on the VT Secretary of State's website.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

High heels, high expectations

A friend told me the other day that because her boyfriend is her same height, she doesn’t like to wear high heels so that she doesn’t look taller than he. I think this is a fairly common sentiment, but it got me thinking. If we’re restricting what we wear because of a man, what other areas of our lives are we inhibiting because of what people will think of us?

I noticed this happening just the other day, while hanging out with 3 of my male friends. I could feel inhibitions settling in, and though I scolded myself for allowing these guys, merely by their presence, to have so much control over what I said, I still found myself sitting quietly, laughing politely at things that weren’t particularly funny to me. I noticed that I was restraining myself from saying anything that wasn’t clever, witty, or otherwise profound, as if I were representing all of womankind.

This is not a healthy environment if a woman is to be free to be herself. If we keep acting like we’re expected to, nothing will change. Women will continue to sit quietly, laughing politely at misogynistic comments, choosing flats to make a man feel more masculine. It takes courage to act unexpectedly, to risk ridicule or judgment. It takes courage, but courage we’ve got.

So wear those high heels. Speak your mind. Don’t laugh if you don’t think it’s funny. Instead of portraying to the world the role of a predictable woman, why not dazzle them with your unexpected inner beauty? You might surprise yourself.