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Monday, November 24, 2014

These Little Boys: On Life and Death and Race

This past Saturday a 13 year boy became a Bar Mitzvah, an occasion marked by the gathering of his family members and cherished friends, from camp, preschool, Sunday school, and junior high. Dressed in their finest, guests ate well and danced to everything from that old classic "Shout" to "YMCA" and the latest hits by Nicki Minaj. There were ice cream dessert bars for adults and kids alike, and amped up versions of childhood games like musical chairs and Coke and Pepsi. There were glow sticks, blinking plastic novelty rings, and plenty of smiles and laughter, all celebrating the greatest accomplishment, so far, in a boy's life. Maybe this doesn't mean anything to you, this religious ceremony that welcomes teenage Jewish boys into assuming responsibility for their actions and for their Jewish faith. But for these boys, and the girls who become Bat Mitzvahs, these occasions will help to prepare the ground for their future accomplishments as adults. 

I am not Jewish, but as a photographer, present for these important life events, I have often wondered about the lives of these little boys compared to the lives of my three African-American nephews and their friends of color.  Two of my nephews, ages 14 and 12 and attending struggling public schools, are already experiencing the frustrations of being left behind academically. And we're trying, my family and I, we're trying and praying with all of our might to right this ship, to protect these boys in their boyhood and, yet, prepare them for an adult world that is forced on them all too soon. Try as we do to give them ice cream filled Saturdays, and happy family times, on a night like this, I feel powerless, but not hopeless. My nephews, these 3 little boys, are my little boys, and your little boys. So for tonight, before I feel discouraged, I'm going to look at a photo of my little boys, and I'll keep on, we'll keep on, loving you and protecting you, and all of these little boys.

My beautiful three nephews

Friday, November 7, 2014

Lena Dunham Needs a Hug

Since I'm much too lazy to join the Netflix cult, my down times usually involve a marathon viewing session of whatever's on cable, which often means reruns of Sex & The City. And while I loved this show so much in my twenties when the episodes first aired, now, in my 40s and married for almost 13 years, I can honestly call out Carrie & Company for being drama-seeking jerks. You make yourself available sexually for a man who refuses to commit to you? Guess what? You've lost the right to be angry at him. You want to agonize over every little detail of your boyfriend, then guess what? You're definitely going to find something wrong with him. At a certain point you have to wonder if the original working title for Sex & The City was I Love Drama

So why bash a show that's been dead and buried for a decade? Because in the wake of Carrie Bradshaw, another over-sharing young woman hitting the sheets and the streets of NYC has emerged and is in the process of enraging, or engaging depending on your point of view, a new generation of viewers. Her name is Lena Dunham - and if simply seeing her name in print here is making you see red, then you've heard of her, and you might also hate her. People have been trash-talking Miss Lena for the past few years as her HBO series, Girls has become the media's poster child for the privileged, majority white, millennials who currently hold the title for Most Vilified. Poor Lena! Sure, she undresses, a lot, on her show, and in a way that can make viewers squeamish, but it's her body and it's her thing. I don't think she does it to titillate, in fact the act is more like that of a toddler innocently shedding their clothes and streaking through the house, you know, because toddlers are craycray that way. 

Lena's latest controversy is unfolding now while she's on tour promoting her book, "Not That Kind of Girl." One passage, in particular, has set off red flags as it seems to describe an act of pedophilia possibly performed by Miss Lena on her baby sister. Reading the passage, I wondered several things, including: did this really happen, where were their parents, why write about this, and WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS GIRL?  Seriously, what's wrong with this child? As it happens, I wasn't the only one curious about her motivation - both to do this miserable thing and to write about it. A Twitter war was declared, leading Miss Lena to take a break from her book tour and her nearly 2 million Twitter followers. 

It's the oddest thing, until you realize that this child grew up in the afterglow of Sex & The City and in the emergence of reality TV and celebrity culture. Somehow, Miss Lena, became confused. Look, I never, ever thought that Sarah Jessica Parker the actress was the character Carrie Bradshaw, but clearly, the fashion designers and stylists working with the actress encouraged her to embody the Carrie mystique every time she graced a red carpet. Soon, Sarah Jessica Parker BECAME Carrie, I mean she even has her own trendy shoe line, something that's so Carrie! So is Lena Dunham really her Girls character, Hannah Horvath? Or is Hannah actually Lena hiding in plain sight? Who knows, who will ever know? At some point, though, who will care? Let's not disparage Miss Lena, instead, hug her because, like those who've gone before her on those NYC streets, her genius and promise will air on a basic cable channel on a weekday afternoon.