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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fashion, Feminism and Ferguson - Is Everything Old New Again?

On a recent visit to Urban Outfitters, I felt like I was on a walk down memory lane, the 90's Grunge Edition. There, in red plaid flannel shirts, Doc Martens boots, Nirvana t-shirts, and oversized, tattered sweaters were my college-aged self, only repackaged for children born in the 90's. I literally had clothing in my closet older than these children! It's a bit jarring, but I guess that everything old IS new again.

Nostalgia isn't always bad, but it's not always good. For instance, this past week, sexism was back on display and in our living rooms with the Ode d'booty on display at MTV's Video Music Awards (VMAs) where Nicki Minaj and a troop of strip club trained back up dancers dry-humped the stage whilst showing off their...assets? Not to be outdone, even Beyonce, with her young daughter in the front row, sang surrounded by a dozen female dancers lying on their backs, with their legs thrust into the air and spread eagle followed by synchronized pelvic thrusting, like some sort of XXX version of a Busby Berkeley musical. And while Beyonce is often referred to as an empowering female, to be admired for her body of work as well as her physical body, no matter how many times her stage set spells out "Feminist" in 20 foot neon letters, her placement as a feminist icon is difficult to digest when she never seems to be wearing pants! In fact, there were lots of pants-less strong women honored at the VMAs, with Taylor Swift, all seven feet of her, walked the red carpet in something that looked like a romper you'd put on your one-year-old. Jessie J. also got the "no pants" memo, leaving Ariana Grande with her high ponytail and knee-high sequined gogo boots looking like Margaret Thatcher compared to the other ladies. What happened, MTV? You wanted another Miley/Robin Thicke moment so desperately that you decided to turn the stage into a strip club? But, let's be real, music videos are about the shock value. The number of YouTube views and they hype, which means skin (female, primarily). Video directors, in league with music labels, want buzz so that means giving the people what they want, or telling them what they want. And it's obvious that they don't want feminism.

Not to be outdone, the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards also did their part to take feminism back to the Dark Ages, or at least back to the time of Mad Men, when the president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences had Emmy Award-winning actress, Sofia Vergara, basically shut her mouth and stand up on a rotating platform, looking pretty whilst he tended to the manly task of explaining stuff using big words that pretty, dumb ladies can't possibly understand!

Still feeling nostalgic for days gone by, well then let's take a trip to Ferguson, Missouri where an over-policed, majority-black, community is still reeling from the violent shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a while police officer. Those protesting the killing of Michael Brown took their cause to the streets of Ferguson where they were met by police in military gear complete with assault rifles, hurling teargas at American taxpayers who were exercising their First Amendment right to assemble. It all felt so 1960s that I could hear Martha and the Vandellas singing "Dancing in the Streets"! When the local police are more occupying force with an inability to distinguish between the good people who love their community and the looters who seek to destroy that community, then something's got to change before another black family loses another black son.  

But can things ever truly change? Can the community of Ferguson and the police learn to trust each other? Can women learn to rely on our talents and not our tookus to get noticed? I wish I knew the answers to these questions, but for now, I only know that I have a pair of steel-toed Doc Marten boots to dust off and I'm wondering if they'll go with my Calvin Klein jacket - I'm all for nostalgia but there's no need to go overboard!

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Freshman's Guide to College Life: The Daddy Issues Edition

By now, your Facebook newsfeed is brimming with photos from proud parents of their smiling, happy children packing up and moving into their college freshmen dorms. And while my freshman year is many years behind me, I still remember that odd mixture of fear and excitement, of wariness in leaving my childhood home and my mother's arms and the joy of having a space of my own in a world about which my parents knew nothing. 

But, the only person who knew less than my parents was me, and so I want to talk directly to you, college freshman. While you may have impressive technological sophistication, and while you may think that you know everything (or, a bit more than your parents), everyone has a blind spot, especially the average college freshman, and, more specifically, a freshman woman with daddy issues. Maybe your parents had a bad marriage, maybe your father was emotionally withholding, mentally abusive, or simply not around. Maybe your daddy loves his second family better, or maybe he loves his job better. It doesn't matter, because young lady, you're arriving on campus on a mission, and that mission is to be loved AT ANY COST!! If you are this woman, or if you know this woman, here are simple tips to get you safely started at college and safely out the other side.

There's nothing wrong with dating, but if you've got daddy issues you should avoid the urge to merge at least during the first half of your freshman year. Why? You'll want to focus all of your attention on your new love, even if it interferes with your studies and with your ability to make and develop friendships. Soon you'll be scheduling your meals, laundry, and classes around your 'boo as your insecurities lead you to believe that any time apart means an imminent break-up. You'll sport his fraternity sweatshirt in the dining hall and be his own personal cheerleader during intramural basketball games. Slow down, girl! Get to know yourself and enjoy your independence. And when you do start dating on campus, don't date someone who lives in your dorm as you might be too tempted to casually "bump into" them in a manner that law enforcement calls "stalking." Remember, smothering your boyfriend doesn't make your daddy love you.

Yep, he's an authority figure, and, sure, he looks devastating in front of the chalk board in your freshmen English seminar class, but he's too old for you and, oh, and he's your professor. It's tempting, though, to seek out the affections of an older man, a man who might be old enough to the father who didn't love you enough/at all, but he's not interested, so stop before you make a fool of yourself. So don't wear that low-cut, semi-sheer tank top to his class. Don't lean seductively over his desk in said top to ask him a burning question you have about "Beowulf" before that class starts. And don't go to his office during office hours in that tank top to get his profound thoughts on Olde English vs. modern English. At best, he'll laugh at you and send you on your way, at worst, he'll hook up with you and now both of your academic careers are in jeopardy. So, keep things professional, and maybe check and see if a female professor teaches that same class. And if that female professor has a male teaching assistant, then re-read this paragraph from the top. Remember, seducing a male authority figure doesn't make your daddy love you.

This is a particularly dicey subject. Unless you're at a dry campus, most socializing on a typical college campus involves a red Solo cup and a keg. I'm not naive enough to tell you to "just say no" and harp on the countless stories on binge-drinking and excessive partying on college campuses, it's just that I never really figured out why the drinking culture was so pervasive on campus. Most college kids don't get drunk because they like the taste of beer and liquor (although, Moscato wine is like liquid candy), do they? From what I've seen, it seems as if they get drunk so they can tell tall tales of their tipsy shenanigans. It's like their intoxication becomes the cover for bad behavior, and for a girl with daddy issues, booze becomes a part of her male-attention seeking arsenal. Look at me, I just pounded 8 beers in a row! Look at me, I just downed 4 vodka shots!! Look at me, I just hooked up with 3 random dudes but I'm too drunk to remember their names!!! Don't be that girl. Listen, the boys who cheered you on while you downed a fifth of rum are not your friends. If they were, they wouldn't let you do something that could cause you injury or death. And their attention doesn't make your daddy love you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Summer Hummer 3: How the Washington, DC Theatre Scene Takes Care of Its Own

Life often brings unexpected circumstances, and for theatre professionals, who often work without the benefit of health insurance, those circumstances can jeopardize their physical and financial health. Enter: theatreWashington and their Taking Care of Our Own (TCOOO) initiative, a fund financed by the generous donations of theatre patrons and the theatre community at large. Donations to TCOOO are made throughout the year, but the signature event that raises the most donations to the fund in a single evening is The Summer Hummer, a DC version of Broadway Bares, with local DC theatre scenesters bumping and grinding for a great cause. This year's Summer Hummer, held at Signature Theatre, was the bawdiest ever with crazy costumes, great singing, and cheesecake and beefcake to spare. Here is the PG-13 highlights reel!

Patrick J. Hurston and Signature Theatre Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer at Summer Hummer

theatreWashington President and CEO Linda Levy with Helen Hayes Award winning actor, Matthew DeLorenzo at Summer Hummer

Members of the cast of Studio Theatre's "Rocky Horror" pose with orange-boaed conductor/songwriter Christopher Youstra

Victor Shargai is all smiles at Summer Hummer 3

Joshua Morgan of No Rules Theatre Company and Luigi Filiputti

Those gams belong to none other than actor Ryan Patrick Welsh

Actors Bobby Smith and Erin Gardiner join conductor/composer Christopher Youstra in a squeeze and a giggle at Summer Hummer

Actor Michael Litchfield crowdsurfs for donations at the Summer Hummer

It's a boy dance party at the Summer Hummer

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Public Mourning and Social Media: The Celebrity Death Edition

By now, you've seen countless news stories about the sudden and shocking death of actor and comic, Robin Williams. And your Facebook and Instagram feeds are teeming with RIPs, nanu-nanus, and images of Robin Williams, including screen shots from "Dead Poets Society," "Mrs. Doubtfire," and, most gut-wrenching of all, Robin Williams as the loveable, flamboyant Genie in Disney's "Aladdin", tenderly embracing the title character. We've now entered the celebrity tribute round of this morbid exercise, with comics and actors sharing their particular and personal special moments with the deceased, and even the President managed to get included in the conversation by offering up words of comfort as Mourner in Chief. And then former child star Todd Bridges had to go and open his mouth, calling Williams' suicide "cowardly," and he was soon joined by other anonymous minions spewing their digital venom at Williams and his family. The actor's daughter, Zelda Williams, was forced to quit Twitter and Instagram due to the rather outrageous behavior of these Internet trolls.

Welcome to Public Mourning and Social Media. 

The death of a celebrity has always ushered in a time of public reflection. Celebrities enter our lives and a certain intimate bond is created. Maybe we watched them on a sitcom with our families when we were children, or on the big screen as a favorite action hero when we were teenagers. I grew up watching Robin Williams - in "Happy Days" and "Mork & Mindy." I remember laughing hysterically and singing every line of "You Ain't Never Had a Friend Like Me" from "Aladdin," and trying to copy Williams' Scottish brogue in "Mrs. Doubtfire." There are friends of mine for whom "Dead Poets Society" became a touchstone as it exposed their own teenage fears and hopes and dreams. It is only natural to want to reach out and grieve in community with others who feel this loss. Social media, then, can become an outlet for grief, for some - a virtual version of an Irish wake. 

But, public mourning in social media can also expose our own vanity. Look at all of the "Likes" my quote from "Good Will Hunting" got! OhmyGod, Willie Geist on "Today" just said that my tribute in GIFs to Robin Williams got 2 million views on YouTube! Wow, did you see Jimmy Fallon/Norm MacDonald/Arsenio Hall/Carrot Top's tribute to Robin Williams - OMG I cried when I saw it! Look at me, I'm mourning! We clamour for the attention of our connection, no matter how tentative, to celebrity.

I fear that we've reached a point where even our mourning for the not-famous is becoming tangled in the social media web. I've attended funerals where mourners have snapped photos of the open casket or of the burial plot with their smartphones for their Facebook newsfeed. What's next? A selfie with the coffin?? 

However, there's something even less outrageous, but more pervasive and unsettling, that's happening. It's a pressure to post about the deaths of our loved ones. There used to be the right to privacy about life and death and everything in between. Now, as we share our vacations, engagements, weddings, promotions, and births in real time, we also share sickness and death. When my father died, I felt compelled to post photos of Dad and our family in happier times, to share stories from our life together. With each "like", I felt there was one more person who must understand the pain I felt, a pain that would define me in a totally new way and that I wanted the world, or at least my corner of the world, to know. But, social media is a fickle thing - not everything you post is read by everyone you've "friended," not every "friend" really cares about what happens in your life. To demand and offer intimacy in the same action can be a danger and a disappointment as these moments become a part of continuous digital feed thrown out to be consumed or ignored by the masses. 

So, right this minute, take a breath and stop all of the liking/posting/tweeting/retweeting/regramming and any other sharing you're tempted to do after the latest celebrity death. Got some poetry you're itching to use on this monumental occasion - then keep it to yourself and save it for the eulogy of a loved one you actually know. If you're into prayer, then pray for Robin Williams' family and friends as they grieve for their loved one who has departed this earth too soon. Watch his movies and thank him for the moments of joy he brought to your life. Even better, imagine if Robin Williams was your father or your brother or your husband or your son or your friend and needed help. Stop posting and, instead, volunteer at a suicide prevention hotline or become aware of those around you in distress and try your best to help them.