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Friday, December 27, 2013

Twas the Night After Christmas: A Modern Tale of Online Deliveries and Mayhem

If, like me, UPS, Fed-Ex and the U.S. Postal Service left you in a bind on Christmas day, then perhaps a little verse will lessen the sting:

Twas the night after Christmas and all through the house,
My right thumb on computer was clicking the mouse,
Empty stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
Cuz our packages from UPS were clearly not there.

I should be up sleeping all snug in my bed,
But I want to take Fed-Ex out to the woodshed.
Making on-time deliveries should be a snap,
Yet thousands of customers must deal with late crap!

When on my front porch there arose such a clatter,
And upstairs I went to see what was the matter,
As I opened the front door, I saw in a flash,
A man in brown shorts with a belt, not a sash.

I asked, "Where are my presents?" and what do you know?
In his hands were 3 boxes, and my anger did slow.
And then, in the moonlight, what else did appear?
Two white trucks from Fed-Ex with more gifts in the rear.

The gloves, scarves, and CDs I'd bought in one click,
Had arrived a day late from this slow-poke St. Nick,
I asked, "Who is at fault? Who is to blame?
Tell me right now what's the retailer's name?"

"Well, it wasn't just Fed-Ex that failed to deliver,
The fault also lies with last-minute gift givers!
When on 12/24 you order a gift,
It requires our workers to work triple shifts!

Step away from your iPads, and visit a store,
Or how 'bout a mall, that's what they're there for?
There's Macy's, Tiffany's, and even the Gap,
Old Navy and Nordstrom's make shopping a snap!
So go, my children, go to the mall,
Go walk a few miles in your suburban sprawl!"

And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
"See you next year! Hope we'll both get it right!"


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The "Selfie" Heard Around the World - Rules on Funeral Photography and Why World Leaders Shouldn't Have Smartphones!

I go to sleep and wake up to this headline, "President Obama Takes Selfie at Nelson Mandela Funeral". Say what now?? So, of course, I went to The Oracle - Huff Post - and there was the article and photographic proof that this was, in fact, true, that my President, my POTUS, had obviously bumped his head getting off of Air Force One. I mean, what other explanation could there be?? 

Now, there are numerous issues here, including the rules for appropriate world leader behavior, but there are also the further issues of just what is acceptable behavior at funerals and does photography fall into the category of acceptable. Technically speaking, POTUS was attending a memorial service for President Mandela, being held in a soccer stadium with thousands of people in attendance. This sprawling arena is not sacred, sanctified space. For instance, when Pope Benedict visited Washington, DC and held Mass at the Washington Nationals baseball field, social media was flooded with images snapped by those in attendance at this historic event.  My photography colleagues who work in print journalism are often tasked with covering funerals and memorial services for public figures and in the aftermath of events that have national import and impact, such as the memorial and funeral services for the victims of Newtown. But as a photographer, while I am often hired to photograph church services and sacred events, such as weddings and christenings, when I attend funerals my camera stays home.

Funeral photography has become a hot topic these days. It seems every funeral guest, these days, is armed with a camera phone and, since funerals have become de facto family reunions where relatives and old family friends reconnect after years or, perhaps, decades, without seeing each other, those camera phones invariably find their way into the hands of these mourners. This freelance funeral photography is jarring. The first time I saw it was in a text message from my late father. He and Mom had attended the funeral of an old family friend and the text message from Dad included a photo...of the casket...the open casket. After that, I asked Dad not to include photographs from any more gatherings such as these. At a recent family funeral attended by hundreds of my family members, I saw lots of photos being snapped at the repast. It felt odd to me, but since all funerals take on this "Circle of Life" kind of quality, I tried not to judge it, though I decided not to participate in it.

Which brings me to today in South Africa, and the "selfie" that shouldn't have happened. Unlike my iPhone-wielding relatives, POTUS has an entire global press corps and his own team of White House photographers there to capture him in the midst of historical moments. The rest of us take selfies in order to tell the world, or our little patch of the world, "look at me! I'm here!!" But you're the President - you don't need that, and especially not at an occasion such as this. You want to know what's appropriate? Look at your wife, the First Lady. FLOTUS is the perfect picture of the reserve and respect that one should show when honoring the dead. But for now, I'll step off of my soapbox and get working on that inevitable POTUS selfie meme, you know, POTUS snapping a selfie at the site of the Hindenburg crash, or POTUS snapping a selfie with the trapped Chilean miners. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

20 Signs that You Might Be on a Reality TV Show

There seems to be an endless supply of reality TV characters. A new show, "The Tequila Sisters", is the latest to join the reality TV underverse, joining not one but two shows following preachers and their families, and another show pitting dinner party hosts against each other. Soon, we'll all be characters standing in front of always-on cameras, unless I intervene now. There may not be four horsemen of the Apocalypse or even an "Inception"-style spinning top, but these are sure signs that you might be on a reality TV show:


  1. You decide to produce and star in your own fitness video even though you are not physically fit.
  2. You have hair and make-up team house calls to get you ready for your daughter's christening or your friend's lame dinner party 10 miles down the road from your house.
  3. You rent limousines and party buses to take you to a friend's lame dinner party 10 miles down the road from your house.
  4. You wear a sheer maxi dress and strappy 5-inch heeled sandals to the lame dinner party at a friend's house.
  5. You throw a drink/throw a punch/scream at a guest attending the friend's lame dinner party in the last 5 minutes of that dinner party.
  6. Camera crews document your trips to the grocery store/bikini waxer/wig shop/delicatessen.
  7. You plan your outfits around how discreetly the wireless mic pack will fit.
  8. You buy those outfits in crowded boutiques located in characterless strip malls.
  9. You eat lunches in restaurants where you and your cast mate/friend are the only two customers.
  10. You create a charity that doesn't seem to raise money for any particular cause, but that requires you to host numerous galas, at which you wear tacky evening gowns bought from the strip mall boutique.
  11. You always have a red carpet and step-and-repeat at these charity galas and there is always, always drama about who may walk on the red carpet.
  12. You hire a party planner for your 4-year-old's birthday party.
  13. You take frequent vacations with women you hate.
  14. One of those vacations must be to Las Vegas.
  15. During the Las Vegas vacation, at least one person in your party says one of the following while riding in a stretch Hummer limo: "Vegas, baby!" or "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!"
  16. The following words/phrases creep into your everyday speech: side-eye, shade, disrespect, closure, at the end of the day, no she didn't, no he didn't, I think I just threw up in my mouth, **BEEP** you, **BEEP** off.
  17. You hire personal assistants even though you're a housewife living in a 1500-square foot rental and your only "child" is an overweight Chihuahua.
  18. Your Chihuahua must accompany you everywhere either in a large purse-styled pet carrier or on a fabulous luxury-label leash.
  19. Your "intimate" couple time must include a bubble bath in a large soaking tub surrounded by lit pillar candles, and a camera crew.
  20. The soles of all of your shoes are painted red, even if they are not the product of a certain, luxury shoemaker.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Black-Shaming: Standing Up for Standing Out

"You's a fool!" "You're simple!" "You so crazy!" "You're stupid!" If you think these sound like insults, then you don't know black people, or maybe you do. These phrases are often thrown around as humorous descriptions of a person who has a different take on reality. As a black person myself, these phrases astound me and offend me, mostly because other black people have directed them at me. "Shannon, you're simple!" "Girl, you a fool!" And while they say it with laughter, usually after I've made them laugh, I've never been able to figure out the unholy mystery of why people of my own race would engage with me using words that used to describe those who were mentally impaired.  

That my awareness of All Things Black is spotty, to say the least, shouldn't be a surprise. I've always existed around the fringes of Popular Black Culture (PBC), starting from childhood and my over-protective mother. I know, it's unfair to call on Dr. Freud, but this really is Mom's fault! Mom grew up in that mythical "village" that Hillary Clinton made popular years ago. Mom's village was a small town, just on the DC/Maryland line, where it seemed a relative of hers lived on virtually every street, and her elementary school and high school classmates were also her cousins. It was small town USA in a segregated America and the only people Mom saw were also the only people Mom trusted. For her, Hippies were what you saw on the news, and the March on Washington was in a land far away, even though it was only a few miles from her home! There were no giant afros (though she did have an afro wig that she'd occasionally sport at parties), and Black Power meant they had paid the electric bill on time!

Growing up, I knew Mom and Dad were counter-cultural. Mom would rock her short natural/no make-up look while the other black moms had relaxed their hair and put on Jordache Jeans, and Dad would pick us up in whatever wheezing hooptie he'd found in someone's backyard, or in one of his vans. The only labeled clothing I wore back in those days were Sears Toughskins! While my high school classmates were experimenting with hair color, multiple piercings, and expensive designer clothing and handbags and car dates with boys, I was taking piano lessons and reading and fantasizing about what the world outside of my alternate reality was really like.

I got a taste of that world in college and in graduate school, but, I took a most decidedly non-PBC course - no HBCUs or black sororities. I went where the scholarships took me and I pledged a sorority of women who were my friends, although we were more Benetton ad than "A Different World." The visits home during those college and grad school years were a series of awkward pauses. Because I really wasn't allowed to socialize during high school, I had no basis for developing friendships and extending those into adulthood. I had never developed the standardized frame of reference regarding Popular Black Culture, and I became alien, which, I guess, makes me a fool/simple/crazy/stupid? 

I don't know, but I do know that there's a bit of whiplash that you develop when you're straddling the race and class lines. It's like you have levels of awareness that allow you to exist both inside and outside of an experience. It's an explosion of dozens of frames of reference, causing me to see things and evaluate situations in a myriad of different ways simultaneously. It is the source of my humor but it can also be a source of despair. I don't think this makes me unique. I think all people do this, but they choose to ignore it and opt for what's comfortable or most expedient. Right now, the world is mourning the loss of a man who thought outside of what was comfortable and did what was right. There's nothing simple about that.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I'm Just Saying: No More Drama?

I'm Just Saying: No More Drama?: When I turned 21 years old, I was in Rome wearing a ridiculous Versace shredded black jersey skirt I'd pick up in Milan paired with a ch...

No More Drama?

When I turned 21 years old, I was in Rome wearing a ridiculous Versace shredded black jersey skirt I'd pick up in Milan paired with a charcoal grey cotton roll-neck JCrew sweater that I'd bummed off of one of my travel companions because I hadn't packed warm clothing for a January trip abroad. I also hadn't packed shoes that would endure days of walking through art galleries, along cobblestone streets, up smooth marble staircases, or slippery boat launches. I did, however, manage to fill up my High Sierra duffel bag to such an extent that it required two people to hoist its straps onto my shoulders. Thank God the airlines hadn't started charging baggage fees back then! Looking back, though, my packing abilities weren't what embarrassed me the most, rather it was my complete lack of awareness of the impact of my actions on those around me. And while I'm sure that I wasn't the first, or the last, twenty-one year old guilty of being a narcissist, the drama that I caused on that trip sticks with me 20 years later.

Just what do I mean by "drama", though? Well, that arbiter of modern language, The Urban Dictionary, defines "drama" as: Something women and especially teenage girls thrive on, consisting of any number of situations that have an easy solution, which would bring a fairly good outcome, but these girls choose another bad way to deal with it.

Drama has been a great friend to me. Our relationship started when I was a little girl, watching soap operas with my grandmother. "The Young & The Restless", "Search for Tomorrow", "Capitol", "As the World Turns", "Guiding Light", and "The Bold and the Beautiful" - these were our people, with their big hair, perfect teeth, and the constant drama that swirled around their lives five days a week. The mind of the soap opera character was fascinating to me, especially as it contained a blueprint for problem-solving that involved heavy use of drama. Why tell your new husband that you can't have babies when you can easily steal the baby of your rival and pass the child off as your own?? Why get a divorce when you can fake your own death and run off to an exotic island with your lover? 

Life after college was all about drama. For my girlfriends and I, every phone call/brunch/happy hour/dinner was a recitation of the day's boyfriend drama/work drama/family drama/roommate drama. No detail was too trivial to be dissected by the group. You presented your case and we members of the group would pore over every detail, CSI-style. My specialty was voice inflection ("He said he HATED you, or did he say he hated you?") while others of the group were experts in security ("You didn't let him take the keys to your apartment, did you?"), health and wellness ("You need to get tested!"), and employment and benefits("How dare he break up with you and refuse to give you that promotion! You should report him to your company's HR!"). And while I can imagine my 41-year-old self seated at the table next to my 20-something self and my friends and rolling my eyes at the gathering of this brain trust, back then we never judged each other harshly, nor did we ever think of a drama-free solution to our problems ("Maybe you shouldn't be dating your married boss!").

One by one, as we moved on and matured, the drama that bonded our young, single selves to each other would seem, on the surface, to have disappeared. But, let's be real - it hasn't. We may talk a good game, declaring drama-free-zones, and telling people to "keep it moving", but who are we kidding? We may think that we've cleverly disguised our drama-seeking ways, shrouding them in self-righteous indignation, but we haven't. I once stood in line at a Starbucks to pick up my dopio espresso. The place was packed and the line of people in front of me to place an order was twenty deep, while the clump of people awaiting their drinks at the other end of the counter numbered in the teens. About 3 minutes into my waiting was when the "incident" happened - a well-dressed female customer standing nose to nose with the lone barrista processing the drink orders. Apparently, her double shot of something or other was a single shot of something or other, and as she berated the barrista, our Working Girl tried to draw the rest of us into her tirade. Great plan, unless you overlook the obvious - that her nasty little fit was occupying the attention of the lone barrista and holding up all of our orders. She failed to recognize that her drama was causing more drama, and thought, instead, that she was merely exercising her rights. 

I can think of far less dramatic occurrences of drama that we all indulge in: 


  • constantly arriving late or not showing up at all for outings with friends because of constantly overpacking your schedule. 
  • never having cash to pay your part of the tab because you forgot to budget in time to stop at the ATM or you're broke and won't fess up!
  • loading up your credit card and never paying the bill on time.


And ordinary people aren't the only ones indulging in drama - the recent government shutdown was ALL drama! As a nation, we seem to have an insatiable lust for drama.

So, can we really live a drama-free life? And if we can, do we want to? 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

I'm Just Saying: "You're Not as Cute as You Think You Are"

I'm Just Saying: "You're Not as Cute as You Think You Are": On a recent episode of HBO's series, "The Newsroom," Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels), tells his executive producer/former...

I'm Just Saying: Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News: A Field Guide t...

I'm Just Saying: Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News: A Field Guide t...: The other night - it was a Sunday night after a grand and glorious weekend of fun with my husband, mom, aunt, and nephews - my mother called...

I'm Just Saying: Shutdown Showdown: Why social media + political di...

I'm Just Saying: Shutdown Showdown: Why social media + political di...: This week, the world was reintroduced to the dysfunctional family which is the U.S. government. And while both sides of our elected official...

Shutdown Showdown: Why social media + political discourse = "unfriending"

This week, the world was reintroduced to the dysfunctional family which is the U.S. government. And while both sides of our elected officials took to their talking points (and allegedly to their office minibars) and the airwaves to make their case, we, the people, hashed it out with #hashtags and Facebook rants. Political discourse is vital to any democracy, but the unmediated world of social media, much like the online comments sections, is clearly punching above its weight. 

So how did we get here? It's obvious that the seeds of hostile political discourse were sown long before this latest government shutdown. Some would point to March 19, 1979 when the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (more commonly known as C-SPAN) began cablecasting the U.S. House of Representatives live to 3.5 million households. Before that, the deal making and House floor across-the-aisle negotiations that made legislative history were covered by the reporters who were in the chamber. But something happens when the words of your two-minute floor speech flow, unfiltered, to the voters in your congressional district. It's a little like giving a toddler a baseball bat and a 5-lb bag of sugar and walking away, confident that all will end well! With C-SPAN, not only can you hear one Congressman address an opposing Congressman as "my friend", but you can also see the tight-lipped sneer on his face as he's saying it! At times, it becomes the political equivalent of the comic actor Norman Fell's "Three's Company" breaking of the fourth wall, also known as "Ropering", when he would deliver a line to the character "Jack Tripper" and then gaze directly into the camera at us with that sly smile on his face! Some days I'd watch the congressional shenanigans on C-SPAN and I'd laugh to myself and say, "Classic Roper!!"

And then, on June 1, 1980, CNN had it's first broadcast. Soon, other 24-hour cable TV news channels joined them, and then came the Internet, bloggers and the death of print journalism. We have been re-wired to want things faster and, with the arrival of Twitter, shorter, and so it's little wonder that talking points have replaced thoughtful deliberation. Talking points are the Cliff's Notes of politics, and they have become a crutch for politicians. We have elected officials who think that they don't have time to read the bills they vote for or vote against, so they choose, instead, to read the talking points on the bill. These same talking points will then be used in the press release that their office will release shortly after the member makes their floor speech (also prepared using the talking points) ahead of their colleagues so that the national media spotlight will fall on them first, which will (fingers crossed) get them invited to do a two-minute live interview from some cramped studio in a congressional press gallery. This interview, really, is just another recitation of the talking points. And waiting in the wings, like Mama Rose, is the member's press secretary, Tweeting out to the masses the 140-character version of the talking points as well as a heads up on when the interview will air. And there we sit, watching the interview, listening to the recitation of the talking points, and off we go to Facebook where we go off on each other.

Ask yourself this question: Is it worth it? Is it worth the time and the tension and the trouble to turn the virtual space that's usually reserved for the exchange of cute kid pics and updates on what you ate for dinner into a segment of "Hardball"? If the fires of political engagement burn so hotly within you then read the legislation, learn the voting record of your elected officials, and volunteer with your party for get-out-the-vote and election day activities. This government shutdown has many human faces who are living on the financial margins, so donate time, money and food to your local food pantry. Facebook and Twitter may create virtual community, but we humans who use these tools must create real community. So let's leave the talking points to the talking heads - we've got more important things to do.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News: A Field Guide to Aging Parents, Sickness, Health and Other Everyday Occurences

The other night - it was a Sunday night after a grand and glorious weekend of fun with my husband, mom, aunt, and nephews - my mother called. It was around 8:30pm, after a lazy Sunday of church in the morning, a breakfast picnic, my epic post-picnic 60-minute walk followed by an equally epic living room nap. I could tell by the tone in her voice that the reason for her call wasn't going to be fun, and I was right. I'd like to say that this was my mom's first nocturnal data dump, but it's always been her SOP. When I was a little girl, Mom and Grandma would recite the list of injured and infirm from among family and friends. When I went away to college, the dinner recitations became late night phone calls to the hall phone in my dorm. Mom's streak continued while I was in grad school, so much so that I was rendered a nervous wreck anytime the phone rang after 8pm.

After grad school I got my very first cellular phone which I thought would thwart her, but it didn't. It just encouraged her to leave two post-sundown messages of doom - one on my house phone and the other on my cell. When I took a job that required shift work that put me on overnights, the telephone would ring at 7am, when she knew I'd just be getting home. I don't know which ticked me off more - the insensitivity on my mom's part or the fact that she always happily chirped a "sleep well" into the phone after dropping her bomb.

And then I got married and the calls stopped. It was the happiest of times. I mean Mom and I still talked and met up for lunch and  shopping, but the nightly tales of trauma stopped. Well, at least for the first few years. And then, wouldn't you know it? Everyone started getting old, including, apparently, my mom. Soon, she was back working the night shift and telling me all of the ghoulish details of this one's MRI and that one's CAT Scan. So, when my husband suggested that we activate the Caller ID on our home phone, I gladly said "hell yes!!" And then I hugged him. And then I slept, like a baby.

I had quite the call-screening operation going until my sister, who had studied at the feet of the master we call "Mom", discovered texting and soon her stressed-out texts filled my phone inbox with cryptic texted tomes of "Call me!!!!" or "Emergency!!!" that covered everything from a broken down car to a nephew at the hospital ER with a sinus infection/allergy attack/school yard scrape.

So then there were two and there was no safe place.

And then Dad got sick and soon I couldn't switch off the family switchboard. After his death, the floodgates opened and every Mom-call was answered, even the after-8pm calls. But, it's been a struggle. Every time the phone rings after 8pm, all I can hear going through my head is that song from The Wiz - "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News". Not familiar with this little ditty, where's here's a verse:

When you're talking to me
Don't be cryin' the blues
'Cause don't nobody bring me no bad news
You can verbalize and vocalize
But just bring me the clues

But don't nobody bring me no bad news!

Maybe this is my punishment for being the good girl growing up, being the one Mom could always talk to about everything. Maybe it's time for me to be as open and honest with my mom as she always has been and continues to be with me, even when I want her to stop. Maybe I can create some sort of Mom shorthand or Morse Code that lets me know that all's clear and it's safe to talk to Mom. Or maybe I can finally provide Mom with a one-word data dump of my own: Stop!! Well, actually, Stop PLEASE!! I mean she is my mother, after all and I'm no fool!  I can't change her, but maybe I can get her to change the subject once in a while.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Saddest Place on Earth: Why designer capsule collections and fast fashion must stop

So I spent a few minutes at a local Target this morning picking through the racks of their latest designer collaboration, this time with Phillip Lim, whose 3.1 Phillip Lim line has garnered high praise and awards from critics and consumers alike. Lim's aesthetic is refined urban street chic. His take on the motorcycle jacket shows restraint while also adhering to the womanly curves of its wearer. Prices range from $150 for a t-shirt to $1700 for a coat. In fashion terms, Lim is affordable. Which is just one of the reasons that we, the hoi poloi, have flocked to Target, H&M, and Zara in droves when a designer, such as Lim, goes slumming with a capsule collection for these fast fashion outlets. 

As soon as I walked into Target, the Phillip Lim display was front and center, with ladies apparel that included elliptical-hemmed tanks, belted Burberry-inspired trench coats, floral collage vests/jackets/dresses, and black pebble-grained tote bags that looked like downmarket replicas of Lim's luxury version of the bag - all modestly priced. There were also some pieces for men, including black high-top sneakers, camouflage tees and sweatshirts, and button down dress shirts. It was all pretty sad - designer duds under florescent lighting. While I walked the rest of this parade route of sad fashion, a mother and her teenage son entered the Phillip Lim maze. She was trying on one of the trench coats, which was clearly too large for her, so I mentioned that I had seen some smaller sizes a couple of racks over from us. She thanked me, and went on to tell me about her experience on the opening day at one of these Target designer collaborations down in her hometown of Miami, Florida. The woman's leg was in a cast at the time, and as she limped along with some of the designer items in her shopping cart, a young woman approached her and snatched two items from our hobbled friend. It was a feeding frenzy! We parted, and, just then, the jagged sobs from a toddler long past their nap time rung out behind me, and I knew that it was time to go.

I made my way out to my car, feeling ill at ease, and I couldn't understand why a little fast fashion was having such a negative effect on me. I started to go through my mental catalog of favorite fashion memories. As a little girl, I would spend hours flipping through Vogue magazine, mesmerized by the clothes. By the time I was a teenager, fashion magazines were where I spent most of my disposable income. I imagined myself in those body-conscious Donna Karan dresses, or kitted out in head-to-toe Givenchy Rive Gauche, with a soundtrack of Grace Jones' "Slave to the Rhythm". I had Haute Couture dreams on a Gap budget, but that was OK. A girl can dream, and that was the great gift of fashion then and now. 

There's a wonderful documentary about Yves Saint Laurent and there's a scene with the wondrous actress Catherine Deneuve doing her final fittings for her everyday suits at the designer's atelier. And while the conversation between Ms. Deneuve and the team at Yves Saint Laurent touches on chickens and hens and breeding, La Deneuve speaks on the joys of the caress of silk on the skin, specifically the silk of the skirts and dresses from Yves Saint Laurent. Fashion of this caliber is special. And even though I choose to spend my dollars on groceries and other daily essentials and not a pair of $800 designer shoes, I don't want luxury fashion to climb down from its high place. 

Years ago on my very first trip to Paris during an uncharacteristically frigid week in December between Christmas and New Year's Day, my friend, Jenn, and I took an early morning stroll and passed the Givenchy store. It was closed, but I still insisted on her taking a photo of me in front of the store. This place was like a temple of fashion and my joy was just in seeing these pieces of tremendous beauty, not in possessing them. So, for the Phillip Lims out there, I'm going to pass on the fast fashion and the collaborations, and stick with the fantasy. 


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It's Not You, It's Me - No, It IS You: My Break-Up with Reality TV

For those of you haters who said, from the beginning, that it wouldn't last, well all I can say is it lasted longer than you thought it would. But, after years of frenemies, hair weaves, paternity tests, cat fights, trash-talking, Christian Louboutin knock-offs (c'mon, ladies, you think that can of red spray paint does the trick!!), bling, and more bling, it's time to show you the door. That's right, reality TV and I are breaking up!!

It's been a long time coming, and the first question you might ask is why now, after more than a decade spent watching the splendid tackiness of surgically-enhanced people as they traverse the hardships of fake friendships and made-for-TV personal crises for viewers like me.  But, just like I outgrew my Barbies before I hit puberty, I've outgrown these real-life Barbies. Now, this isn't to say that I'm a TV snob or something, but I prefer my soap operas scripted and starring SAG-card carrying actors playing fictional characters who do some really messed up stuff! 

But, I haven't answered the question of why now? Well, it was a clustering of several things, not the least of which was watching Theresa and Joe Giudice of Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise getting hauled into court stemming from alleged fraud that was a direct result of their lavish spending in support of their reality TV lifestyle. And this wasn't the first time one of the Real Housewives cast members had been popped for overspending in the name of keeping up appearances. I mean, how many mobile hair and makeup teams do you reckon there are in Atlanta, GA?? And seriously, do you ALL need a personal assistant to help you run your empires??

Of course, not all of these concierge-style services are paid for by the Housewives, in fact they receive so much promotional product that it's a wonder how they seem always to be in hot financial water!   

Now, I know it sounds like I'm picking just on the Housewives, which is only fair since they are the best role models for this bad behavior. But the Housewives DNA has established itself far beyond the confines of Bravo, so that now, there is no safe space, not even the History Channel!! 

Look, this is hard for me. We've had some good times, some great times, but there is no rose for you tonight, reality TV:( So pack your knives and go home. Are you still not getting what I'm saying? OK, let me speak to in your language, OK? 

Reality TV, I'm not disrespecting you, but you are no longer "Gone With the Wind" fabulous! No, I'm not straight up tripping, but at the end of the day, I have to be Team Me. I know we'd all like some closure, if you think that I'm going to come crawling back to you with remote control in hand, well hell to the no!

That sounded harsh, didn't it? I'm sorry. There are so many things that I'll miss about you. The way you make me wait until after the commercial break to find out if NeNe/Theresa/Jill/The Countess hit Kim/Caroline/Alexis/Vicki. The way you play that intense music that builds until I find out whether or not the client liked Chef Roble's craw fish. I"ll miss your Tim Gunn Saves, your Heidi Klum "Auf wiedersehen", your trips to Mood, and your last-minute trip to the Piperlime/Lord & Taylor's/Macy's accessories wall. I'll miss your augmented breasts, your plastic-surgery reveal parties, and your love of clear heels. I'll miss your constant use of rented limos and car services for everything from winery trips to 30-minute drives to dinner parties hosted by other cast members. I'll miss that you call people who are your alleged friends on a show that's supposed to be based in reality "castmates". I'll miss that every cast engagement and pregnancy guarantees a limited-run spin-off where we get to meet more tacky people! But, what I'll especially miss is the 60-minute vacation that my brain got to enjoy each time I tuned in to see the mundane goings-on of people desperate for the attention. If you need me, I'll be reading:)                      

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"You're Not as Cute as You Think You Are"

On a recent episode of HBO's series, "The Newsroom," Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels), tells his executive producer/former love interest MacKenzie McHale (played by the squishy-faced actress Emily Mortimer), "You're not as cute as you think you are." It was a simple and yet powerful statement that resonated far beyond the action of that episode. I think we can all relate to people in our everyday lives whose behaviors veer from totally adorbs to really annoying, and so herewith, my list of winners in the first annual "You're Not as Cute as You Think You Are" Awards, and the envelope please:

  1. Adorbs, totes, champs - Cutesy-speak, defined as that so clever shortening of words and phrases, where "totally adorable" becomes "totes adorbs" and "crazy" becomes "cray cray" is all the rage, but how did this virus spread? Some blame those texting 13-year-olds of yore who, with their ancient Sidekicks, were looking for keyboard shortcuts. And then came Twitter with its 140-characters and soon the virus had a new host. It then made the leap to prime time television, aided by the now-defunct ABC sitcom "Happy Endings", and the character Penny Hartz. Once established on one of the Big Three networks, it then blazed through the reality TV backwoods, spawning new additions like "glamping" (glamorous camping), in which one hikes in heels and drinks plenty of bubbly (or "champs", you know, as in champagne). 
  2. Zooey Deschanel, Katherine Heigl, Mindy Kaling, Chloe Sevigny, That Guy from Season 12 of "Project Runway" who's obsessed with unicorns, Rae Dawn Chong (how dare you go after Oprah...OPRAH??!!), Leslie Mann, The Entire Cast of "Girls", Jane Levy from "Suburgatory", Andy Sandberg, Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally" (you were quite insufferable!), Ann Hathaway
  3. Anyone over the age of 21 wearing a t-shirt that depicts a cartoon character, television show or commercial brand from the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, including, but not limited to, the Kool-Aid Man, School House Rock, Fat Albert, Captain Crunch, Strawberry Shortcake, Thunder Cats. 
  4. Anyone over the age of 18 wearing their hair in 2 braids (see Cindy Brady)
  5. Overuse of the word "ironic" as a means of establishing intellectual superiority when partaking of the popular. For example, "I'm ironically watching every episode of Duck Dynasty/Here Comes Honey Boo Boo/Double Divas/The Golden Girls" or "I'm ironically having my 30th birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese."
  6. Oral hashtagging - "He's soooo cute #MyFutureExBoyfriend"
  7. Knit caps when temperatures are above 40-degrees Fahrenheit
  8. Ghostwriting blogs for your dog, cat, hamster
  9. Theme parties which require guests to dress as characters from TV shows ("Mad Men", "Golden Girls"), movies ("Mildred Pierce", "The Wiz"), or referencing cartoon action figures (latex, anyone??)
  10. Declaring (proudly) your multiple food allergies at the coffee shop/grocery store/restaurant/food festival/farmers market
  11. Making every statement sound like a question - "I have a skinny decaf latte?" 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Father's Day Wish for the Fathers Who Are Not Here

This Father's Day marks the first Father's Day since my dad's death. It's been a time of reflection, sadness and favorite memories of a man who was learning to live fully but was taken too soon. And while the greeting card racks are teeming with Father's Day cards for first time dads and stepfathers, divorced dads and future dads, there does not exist a space for those of us living in the absence of our fathers. So on this Father's Day, I remember the fathers who are not here. The fathers missing from our dinner tables due to deployment or detention, disease or death. The dads who sent their sons and daughters across oceans and deserts in search of a better life. For the dads we never met, and the dads we choose to forget. I pray for all of the fathers who are not here and for all of us who miss them.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Official 2013 Wedding/Friendship Matrix

There's nothing like the wedding season to find out just where you rank in your friend's life. Will you rate an invitation to the engagement party? Are you supposed to plan the bachelorette night? Will you make the cut for an official wedding invite, and, if so, are you on the A-list (first on the wedding guest list) or on the D-list (included only after the happy couple's top three choices for your slot have declined the invite)? And, most important of all, do you feel that your soon-to-be-married friend is worth the expense of an airline ticket, hotel room, rental car, wedding present, new outfit - all to get 5 minutes of face time and a fuzzy first dance photo on your iPhone that you immediately post to Facebook? You need answers, so here is the Wedding/Friendship Matrix!



Inner Circle: You're in-the-know, almost like a wedding chief of staff. You're close friends with the bride or groom, and you were probably among the first few to ask, "is this The One?" when your friend started dating this person. You were among the few to receive a phone call directly from your friend within the first 24 hours of their engagement. You know the wedding colors, the wedding theme, and the first dance song. You've given up your weekends in order to accompany the bride or groom to select their wedding dress or wedding tux, and to lend your taste buds to wedding cake selection. You stay behind to help clean up after the engagement party, and you meticulously plan the bachelorette night. You're definitely in the wedding party and you can bustle the bride's wedding dress in your sleep! You'll remember her purse with the lip gloss, her phone, and her mini roll-on perfume, and you'll hoist up her dress when she has to pay a visit to the ladies room. You'll dance like it's "Flashdance" with the other bridesmaids and you'll mug for any camera pointed near you. You'll always have extra bobby pins for the bride and when the last dance is danced, you'll dash back to the hotel for a quick change so you can arrange for the after-party at the hotel bar, and you'll wake up early enough to join the newlywed couple and their family for the day-after brunch.

Expect to be invited to: engagement party, bachelor/bachelorette party, bridal tea, rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony and reception, wedding after-party, post-wedding day brunch

Supporting Cast: While you might not be in the Inner Circle, you orbit around the Inner Circle. Maybe you're a super-close co-worker with the bride or groom-to-be, or you're a sorority sister or fraternity brother who grab beers together after work, take in a baseball game, and are invited out to celebrate each other's birthdays. You might not have been there when the groom was picking out the ring, but maybe you were there when your friend introduced their significant other to the group. You don't know how to bustle the wedding dress, in fact, you're not in the wedding party, but you're sitting wedding party adjacent at the reception and you can smile knowingly through the toasts with all of their inside jokes. You'll hit the dance floor HARD, and you'll get several rounds of shots going. You'll know not to let boozy Aunt Rita anywhere near the gin, and you'll stay long after the cake cutting. 

Expect to be invited to: bachelor/bachelorette party, wedding ceremony and reception, wedding after-party, post-wedding day brunch

The Fringe: If you're working The Fringe, then, chances are, you're an old friend who possibly knew the bride or groom-to-be during elementary school or high school, before a job opportunity caused one of your families to move away. You've reconnected over the years, thanks in large measure to Facebook, and there have been the occasional Fourth of July barbecues and other large events with a cast of thousands on the guest list (including a high school or college reunion). Your invitation to the wedding, then, is really a tribute to the ghost of your friendship past, and, as such, you can just sit back and enjoy. You'll have zero responsibility, and if there's a buffet with a top shelf open bar, then live it up. Just don't go overboard or you'll never eat wedding cake in this town, again!! As for seating, while you obviously won't be in the Inner Circle seating or in Supporting Cast seating, the bride or groom will try to logically place you - so you may just end up at a table with the other Fringesters. One thing is for sure, in The Fringe, attendance at the wedding is OPTIONAL!!! (that was my Oprah voice:) So if the flights and hotels are economically out of your reach, opt for something nice from their gift registry and a heartfelt card.

Expect to be invited to: engagement party (if it's back in the "old neighborhood" where you grew up and where your Fringe friend and his/her Fringe mom and dad still live), wedding ceremony and reception, wedding after-party

The Outer Limits: Have you ever received an unexpected wedding invitation in the mail from someone you sort of know? Well, welcome to The Outer Limits! Friends who occupy this realm are either surprised that this relationship even exists, or they're annoyed that they're not already in the Inner Circle. You've got the worst seats for the cake cutting, but you're close to the kitchen or the bar or the bathrooms or the exits. Your table is comprised of you, your date, and 6 empty place settings, or a rogues' gallery of oddball cousins that don't even fit with the bride or groom's families. Do yourself a favor and don't go. You'll save yourself the aggravation of forced, canned laughter over the tedious, insidery toasts, and you'll save the happy couple from having to constantly ask each other for the next 50 years or more of their married life just who in the hell was that couple at the cousins table!! As for the gift, don't get the most expensive item on the gift registry. Hell, don't even go for the mid-priced items. 

Expect to be invited to: well, nothing. 

I hope this helps and happy wedding season!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The "Here We Go Again" File: Newlyweds and Reality TV

Not so long ago, in late summer of 2003, the world (well, at least the part of the world that watched MTV) was introduced to former boy-bander Nick Lachey and his wife, pop princess Jessica Simpson. She was the buxom "dumb blond" known as much for her purported virginity and controlling daddy/manager as her singing chops, and Nick was the level-headed, down to earth chap who tolerated Jessica's naivete bordering on idiocy. He laughed at her, we laughed at them, and after 41 episodes of their televised marriage (and 3 years of their ACTUAL marriage), the pair filed for divorce. And while the two have moved on to other partners, the damage was done, and soon, like lambs led to the slaughter, other couples signed up for their 15 minutes of fame and reality TV marital curse was born.

Bravo's "Real Housewives of Orange County" launched in 2006 (a.k.a. the year that Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson's divorce was finalized) and a whole new crop of husbands and wives were spilling the inner workings of their relationships on basic cable. By the end of the first season, marriages were on the brink, and now, seven years later, all of those first season Orange County marriages have ended. In fact, in successive iterations of the  "Real Housewives" franchise, reality TV marriages from Beverly Hills to Atlanta to Washington, DC, New York, New Jersey and Miami have continued on the fast-track to reality TV divorce. 

So, we've all learned a valuable lesson, right? 

Marriage + reality TV = bad news

Apparently, I'll need to adjust the learning curve because Bravo debuted a new show called simply, "Newlyweds: The First Year" which puts four newlywed couples in front of the cameras for the first 365 days (and nights) of their marriages. There's John and Kathryn, the former independent city gal who left the mean streets of Manhattan for the life of a stay-at-home wife with a honeymoon baby on the way. Tarz and Tina - he, a tech entrepreneur and she a Bollywood actress looking to have a baby before her biological clock stops ticking. Blair and Jeff - the handsome gay couple overcoming Jeff's painful rejection by his family. And, lastly, Alaska and Kim - the A&R rep for a music label and his stylish stylist wife, torn between the east and west coasts, and struggling for control in their marriage. 

So why would anyone sign up for this? What would possess two people who have committed themselves to a partnership eternal to allow cameras access to every fight, every pregnancy test, every eye roll, every empty toilet tissue roll, dirty bath towel, and unintended slight? I don't have an answer, but, for those of you with dreams of spilling the beans about your marital habits on camera, DON'T! 

Look, I'm a married woman and I have lots of friends who are married, as well, and the one thing that a marriage definitely doesn't need is an audience. Your marriage is not a play, it's not a movie - if it was, you'd have better writers and your choice of actors and actresses to stand in as a body double for some of those close-ups. Like Ben Affleck's Academy Awards acceptance speech, marriage is messy, in that there generally are no clear-cut winners and losers. There is commitment and love and partnership, and they form the boundaries within which the chaos and challenges of lives lived together exist. A camera is not a silent, objective witness that can settle your domestic clashes, but the couples featured on reality TV treat the camera as such. Instead of building love and trust and good communication with each other, reality TV couples argue their case before the camera, and, once the episode airs, before the social media universe. True intimacy is destroyed as viewers line up behind Team Kim or Team Alaska. 

Now, if you think that I'm anticipating an epidemic of more reality TV-induced divorces, I'm not. But, I am concerned that the bad habits of reality TV might have filtered into our everyday lives. Pay a visit to YouTube and you'll see thousands of videos in the "promposal" genre, an adolescent off-shoot of the unique proposal phenomenon that has been going full-steam over the past few years. This isn't cute - it's a cry for help that you shouldn't click to view. I'm just saying:)

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Swirl: What "Scandal" and Olivia Pope Say About Black Women and Interracial Relationships

This week, the cast of ABC's top-rated political drama, "Scandal", was on an all-out media blitz for the series' season finale. During one of the stops, to Bravo's Watch What Happens, actor Tony Goldwyn, who plays the role of hunky President "Fitz", was asked by host Andy Cohen what it's like to be lusted after by millions of middle-aged black women, to which Goldwyn responded with that easy Fitzian grin, "Exhausting."  In fact, over the course of numerous interviews about "Scandal", Goldwyn, as well as series lead Kerry Washington who stars as Washington "fixer" Olivia Pope, have all remarked about their surprise at the explosive reception of this show by television audiences. Black women, in particular, are drawn to the show, and have a particular kinship with Ms. Pope, who is a fearless, intelligent, articulate strong black woman who gets to also show her passion and her vulnerability. In a sea of neck-rolling, eye-rolling, weave-heavy reality TV "stars", the fact that Olivia Pope isn't the typical black woman we get to see on TV makes her even more special.

But even more curious to us black women is the smoldering and forbidden love relationship between Ms. Pope and President Fitz. That it's 2013 and the only consistent black/white romantic story lines we see on American TV are "The Jeffersons" reruns, and the newly-canceled ABC sitcom, "Happy Endings" might have something to do with it. Yet, I think there's something more to our fascination with black/white interracial romance in general, also dubbed, "the swirl", and Olivia Pope and Fitz in particular. One of the fiercest battles that black women have faced has been around standards of beauty. Does my kinky hair make me pretty or ugly?  Am I less desirable because of my darker skin or my thicker lips? To bring the analogy to the music world - am I a Beyonce or a Kelly Rowland? Enter Olivia Pope - rocking her fierce press and curl, brown skin and plush lips. And there, admiring her, loving her, is Fitz - a handsome white man who happens to be the President of the United States. Not since Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker in the 2006 motion picture, "Something New", have we seen anything approaching a relationship like this between a black woman and a white man on film and TV.

In the annals of black/white interracial relationships, high profile black men and white women couplings have become almost the norm in professional sports, drawing knowing, frustrated sighs from black women. But when a white man chooses to date, and even marry, a black woman, then attention must be paid. Think about it this way: this man could have dated and married a white woman, whose attributes are seen as the standard for beauty in western civilization, but he chose a "sister"!!?? When it was revealed that Brad Pitt had once dated Robin Givhan, you would've thought that it was VE Day 1945 for black women. Here was a legitimate Hollywood heartthrob who had dated a black woman, had taken her out in public. Actor Robert De Niro - a certified A-lister - is the patron saint of black women with his gorgeous black wife, Grace Hightower, by his side. These relationships provide validation, but validation of what?

At the core of everyone is the need to feel loved for who you are. In the fictional President Fitz, we see a white man who loves a black woman for all of who she is, and not despite those things. Who loves this black woman more than he loves his white wife. And even though the crossing of this great racial chasm is rarely voiced by the characters on "Scandal", it permeates how the audience receives the show, and how a particular segment of the show see themselves in Olivia Pope's shoes.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Living Life On Purpose

I'm sure that every parent who read Angelina Jolie's powerful essay in Tuesday's New York Times hugged their own children just a little bit closer. Almost every parent feels that deep sense of connection to their children, but they also feel something more all-encompassing - a deep sense of purpose. A parent might have the world's worst boss, but they tough it out in order to provide financially for their children. You might suffer a two-hour, one-way commute to work if the neighborhood in which you live is in a highly coveted school district that provides access to the special programming needs for your child. These are the choices that you make for a life lived with purpose.

As someone who is married and child-free, I used to think that all of my friends with children, living lives deprived of sleep/sex/money while raising your little ones, had it easy.You have a living, breathing reason to get out of bed every morning (and in the middle of the night, sometimes). You may hate your job/boss/commute, but you love your child, and so with that deep sense of purpose you suck it up and smile when that pint-sized person hugs you and calls you daddy/mommy. Purpose puts you on a flight with a five-year old so that you can visit Disney World and lunch with the princesses. Purpose makes you put on a pair of cargo shorts and become the den mother to your daughter's Brownie troop. Purpose makes you dash out of the house on Sunday mornings in order to get your 4-year old to the Sunday school class that she adores. Purpose, literally, puts you behind the wheel of an unflattering minivan so that can play chauffeur for your three kids and the grind of Saturday sports clinics/swim practices/ballet lessons/karate classes. Want to question your existence?? Try finding the time!

For the first 20 years of my life, I was consumed with getting into the right college and then getting into graduate school. My purpose, then, was about making my parents proud of me and having fun with my friends. But, what happens when you don't have any purpose? Well, it ain't pretty, I can tell you that. It's a bit like walking through a fog, a very dense fog.

The first time I felt this was when I was in seminary. I was single, in my early twenties, and I was discovering that a career in the clergy wasn't for me, while all around me were dozens of my classmates who were happily vibrating with purpose. I had some serious purpose-envy! I felt hollow and lost, and as my old college friends began to find their professional footing and started pairing off, my life felt more episodic and chaotic than ever. They were planning conferences and weddings and what was I doing? From there followed what looks like a parabola, with peaks of purposeful periods followed by steep valleys where I was left pondering the meaning of my life. When I met the man who is my husband, I don't know what I was more excited for - finding a man I loved who loved me, or having someone in my life who needed me.  I had a renewed since of purpose in my life, but was it enough?

Over the past year I've grappled, again, with this question of purpose, so instead of looking at my friends who are parents, I looked, instead, to my unmarried and child free friends. For them, purpose takes many different pathways. Some have found their purpose in their job, working in fields that serve to benefit their community. A dear friend of mine who was trained as an actor chose to become a registered nurse, allowing him to heal body, mind and soul. Another friend is working to find the link between rogue proteins and the diseases they may cause in order to find cures for everything from heart disease to Alzheimer's. Other single friends of mine devote their free time to volunteering with outreach groups who assist those who need a helping hand, or serving on boards of nonprofit groups that seek to solve the crises of hunger or domestic violence or early education. And some find their purpose in taking care of their aging parents.

So where had I gone wrong in my search for purpose? I had assumed that purpose would just come to me, that there would be husband/children/family and, aha!, there would be my purpose. But to live life with purpose means that you live life ON purpose. Finding your purpose is not random, as I had thought. It is, instead, opening yourself to that deep feeling of love and joy that connects us each to one another. I do have purpose in my life. It might not look like it does in anyone else's life, but that's the thing about purpose - it is as unique as we are.






Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hope, Love and Purpose: Angelina Jolie and the Meaning of Life

This past Mother's Day, I sat in church and listened to Bishop Edwin F. Gulick, Jr. of the Episcopal Church deliver a sermon about baptism. In it, the Bishop referred to the three gifts of the rite of baptism - hope, love and purpose. But with today's revelations from actress Angelina Jolie about her double mastectomy, I think that hope, love and purpose are also the gifts of life lived in relationship to one another. For the millions of women who are mothers who read Ms. Jolie's New York Times op-ed, that her children were the reasons why she made the painful choice of a rigorous three-month course of surgeries came as no surprise to them. And for the millions of us women who are not mothers, we, too, understood. While outsiders looking into our lives may choose to define us by our large breasts or our long legs or by our rock hard abs, we can only be truly defined by the choices that we make for those we love. Philosophers, poets, and musicians have rung their hands and exhausted countless dictionaries to find the meaning of life, when really, all they ever needed were three words - hope, love and purpose.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

When Your Personal Brand Attacks

This week may have seen the second Inauguration of our country's first African-American President, but the hottest topics of the week have involved a lip-syncing controversy and a college football player's made-up girlfriend. Did Beyonce really sing the National Anthem at the President's Inauguration or did she pull a Yo Yo Ma/Obama Inauguration 1.0 and mime her singing? When did Manti Te'o, the baby-faced Heisman finalist All-American Mormon linebacker from Notre Dame, know that his former girlfriend, "Lennay", was an elaborate hoax?

For both the pop diva and the football player, there is a lot at stake, or so they think. They both built their images on the shifting sands of the personal brand. Beyonce is the consummate entertainer who is always "on point" - stylish, sassy, not a hair out of place. She is feminist empowerment in a catsuit and high heels, penning anthems that encourage women to stand up and be heard, while admonishing their boyfriends to put a ring on it. Beyonce can be tender, but she is not weak. This is her personal brand, that mental shorthand that conjures up an image in the public mind whenever her name is mentioned.

For Manti Te'o, his personal brand was that of a religious, hardworking college athlete, whose humility and goodness helped him to weather the storms of personal tragedy at the deaths of both his grandmother and his girlfriend in a 24-hour period. And while details of his courtship of this fictional girlfriend continue to be revealed, what's most interesting to me is how Te'o seemed overly committed to preserving a personal brand that seems to have existed long before he came to prominence as a college athlete. Te'o's great-great grandfather was one of the first native missionaries in the Mormon church, serving in Samoa in the early 1900s. That tradition of mission continued with Te'o's grandfather and uncle, and was joined by another tradition in Te'o family - football. Te'o's father, and several uncles, all played on championship-winning high school football teams. That Te'o would grow to become a dominant athlete with an even temper, a good heart, and a welcoming smile, then, came as no surprise to his family and to his friends. And it didn't take long to establish the Manti Te'o personal brand in the media and for a public hungry for someone displaying genuine goodness.

The problem with strong personal brands is that, at some point, the person inside of the brand becomes trapped and the brand takes control. You stop reacting and, instead, calculate what is best for the personal brand. Watching an interview with Katie Couric and Manti Te'o that aired on January 24, 2013, Couric asked Te'o if he had perpetuated the story of the phony girlfriend because the story had become "sort of a legend that you had endured this hardship and gone on to play your team and your school to victory?"

The personal brand has leached into the collective consciousness, and for proof, you don't have to look any further than the lowly television reality show. Pick any of the "Real Housewives" franchises and you can see the personal brand in full flower - from the sassy, finger-snapping, aggressive femme fatale to the over-botoxed, surgically-enhanced, extension-wearing man-stealer who struts around in her basic uniform of  too-tight, too-short clothing, daring anyone to "disrespect" her.

Turn on "Top Chef" and the personal brand is on the menu every week. There is the sullen, over-tattooed macho bad-boy chef. There's the hipster chef, with that Owen Wilson catch in his throat who ends his sentences with a rising inflection that's supposed to be non-threatening, but is really just annoying. During this current season of the show, three chefs from former seasons were invited to participate with the new crop of cheftestants and watching them reactivating the personal brands that had become their stock in trade from past seasons was like watching someone trying on their old clothes, and discovering that they no longer fit. One returning contestant, Chef Josie, has been particularly interesting, to the point of distraction. Her gift of gab alienated fellow contestants, and caused a serious outbreak of eye-rolling that rivaled anything thrown by the First Lady to Speaker Boehner! The "Josie Show" is what it's been called on the show, but I like to call it the attack of the personal brand. At some point, the you that you've created gets in the way of the you that you are.

Maybe we've all got it wrong, and instead of trying to find the perfect quote, the perfect profile picture, or the perfect status update as a shorthanded introduction to who we are, maybe we should just be satisfied by cultivating friendships with a chosen few and perfecting those friendships. And maybe we should leave the branding to things like blue jeans and soft drinks.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Kim and Kanye and their Bouncing Baby Bounty

Amid the end-of-the-year countdowns, the fiscal cliff, and rumors of a Brangelina Christmas Day wedding, the last days of 2012 saw the world shaken by the news of an impending Blessed Event of Kardashianic proportions - that's right, Kim Kardashian and her boyfriend, Kanye West, are having a baby!! An occasion like this might call for cigars, although TMZ reported that sales of Kim's sex tape have exploded since the news broke of her bundle of joy. I know, I know, I shouldn't bring up Momma Kim's checkered past, especially since Papa Kanye's poor judgement resulted in POTUS calling him a jackass, but what kind of world do we live in when having a generous backside and taping yourself in the most intimate of acts become bullet points on your resume? How do these "assets" (is that too cheeky??) become the building blocks for a career in fashion and fragrance? And why am I supposed to celebrate that this not-yet-divorced woman and her lover/boyfriend are having unprotected sexual relations?

Now there are people who will wag their finger and say, "stop picking on Kim! That's her business!" And they're right, it is her business unless she tells the world and cashes in on it, which seems to be the plan. There are alleged offers already on the table for the first baby pictures, and discussions have begun in the entertainment press as to when the Golden Child will make his/her first appearance on the various televised Kardashian enterprises. Maybe Kim and her new Plus One will do a Sketchers commercial with a Mommy and Me spin to it! Or what about Kim K.'s Maternity Spanx for those third trimester struts down the red carpet. And what about in-utero hair extensions for that fetus who always wants to be camera-ready, even during gestation?

I'm sure the other famous fetuses out there are already feeling the pressure to outperform Baby Kimye. But embryo envy is ugly, and unnecessary. So listen up Baby Jessica Simpson and Fetus of Cambridge, let Baby Kimye have the spotlight, and you two just sit back and relax. After all, you don't want to risk a run-in with Grandma Kris!