📰 Kill the Pig?

I know, I’ve been listening to too many podcasts about Carrie — The Musical, but that’s not the reason for this post. Rather, a friend shared on FB an article about a supposed movement to cancel Miss Piggy: this is when I realized that this diversion and distraction about “cancellation” is going to far. For those jumping to the conclusion that he’s going to talk and complain about cancel culture — well you’re wrong as well.

Let’s get this straight: The owner of intellectual property has every right to do with that property what they will until it is in the public domain. They can withhold it from the public (as the Seuss estate is doing with six books); they can put it in context (as TCM is doing with a number of “classic” movies), or they can do nothing. That’s not the supposed cancel culture: that’s a business making a business decision about how continued marketing of their product will impact their future business and how their brand is viewed in the future.

But let’s turn to the question of Miss Piggy, and her behavior in contrast to another recent discussion topic, Pepe Le Pew. I think this comparison leads to some interesting and important conclusions about how the owners of the IP should behave. It also sheds light on what the Suess IP owners should do, and what similar IP owners should do.

Question 1: Is the problematic aspect of the character the only aspect of the character? Is the character one-note? For Pepe Le Pew, that’s certainly the case. The entire joke around the character is a skunk (which looks like a cat with a white stripe), falls in love with a cat with a white stripe, who wants nothing to do with the skunk. Remove that, and you have no character. If you just had a skunk with a French accent, placed in other situations, there would be no joke. What makes the Le Pew character is his clueless advances. The same is true for a character like Speedy Gonzalez. What makes that character is the accent and characterization. Remove that, and you essentially have the Road Runner.  On the other hand, take Miss Piggy. Her chasing after Kermit is only one aspect of her character. Other aspects, such as self-love and bossiness, can exist independently. Indeed, her lust for Kermit has been toned down in recent portrayals. They’ve eliminated the problematic behavior and an interesting character still remains. Thus, there is no need to cancel “Miss Piggy”; indeed, her change can be viewed as a lesson in itself.

Question 2: Who is the audience for the character? Although the Looney Tunes shorts were originally aimed at adults in the 1940s, they rapidly became children’s cartoons. That’s where they exist today. And little kids don’t have the maturity to put things in historical context. That’s the problem with the Suess illustrations and problematic Looney Tunes. They are aimed at little kids. That’s why the fresh publication of these problematic characters is ceasing. But the older images remain, and adults can look at them and put them in context. But Miss Piggy? Although she has been on Sesame Street, the oldest episodes of that series where she chased Kermit are long out of circulation. Kids aren’t seeing them. They are seeing the new Piggy. Her other appearances? [Edited: Piggy was never on Sesame, although she appeared with some of the characters] [Muppet movies and the Muppet non-CTW TV productions] are aimed squarely at adults (secondarily at children), who can put past behavior in context. Audience and its maturity matters.

What we are doing now: Reexamining past art, and recognizing when it was reflecting wrong attitudes, is a good thing. Making clear the context of the art, when the intended audience of the art can understand placing it in context, is a good thing. It can serve to teach, and to show us how we have changed and when we need to change. But if the intended audience can’t understand the art, it is reasonable to rethink whether it is still worth putting out there. It is also appropriate for businesses to think about how what they put out in the present day reflects the values and morals of their business. Past portrayals and images, no matter how cherished by older customers, may not be appropriate today.

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👩🏼👨🏾👧🏾🧑🏼👩‍🦰 You Have To Be Carefully Taught

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

I have some news that may be surprising for you. We’re finally becoming adults. We’re finally realizing that we did some stupid things when we were young. We’re finally realizing that perhaps we don’t have to keep those pictures that we took of ourselves drunk, naked, and peeing on a car available to the world on our Facebook page (and don’t go looking for them. They do not exist). When we grow up, realize we did something stupid, and change our behavior and repudiate what we did in the past, that isn’t “cancel culture”. That’s finally being an adult.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Mary McNamera does a great job of saying it in the LA Times:

Look, I am a white person raised in the United States of America, albeit by fairly liberal parents, and I can say from personal experience that it is very hard and disappointing to realize that beloved books, music, movies and brand packaging once considered perfectly acceptable were and are in fact racist, sexist, homo/transphobic or otherwise offensive. That many of these “classics” were and are tools used, intentionally or unconsciously, to reinforce stereotypes that have allowed one group to dehumanize and dominate other less powerful and less privileged groups in many ways and for far too long.

I loved “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” as a child, and though I can’t remember noticing the Asian character in it, that’s probably because, unfortunately, offensive caricatures of all sorts of people were considered perfectly normal when I was a child … and a teenager … and a young adult. The Asian character, or the African ones in “If I Ran the Zoo,” didn’t register because their portrayals were consistent with much of what I saw in the culture around me. A culture that was just beginning to realize that “Whites Only” signs were not only unacceptable but a facet of the same problem.

It’s disturbing and mortifying to realize that those Butterfly McQueen-as-Prissy imitations I did as a child were completely and horribly racist, or that Charlie Chan, whom I also adored, was a double-edged sword. Yes, he was one of a very few Asian characters allowed to be a hero lead, but only when saddled with a welter of stereotypical traits. Turns out that “Ah-so, number one son” is not something Chinese people actually said; who knew? Well, every Chinese person in America, for starters.

But being embarrassed or feeling threatened or deprived of a beloved object when the offensiveness of certain images, stories or words is pointed out doesn’t give you an excuse to perpetuate or even defend them. Neither embarrassment nor that kind of deprivation is on par with the pain of living in a society that continually presents demeaning versions of people who look like you. Failing to realize that something you enjoy or take for granted is racist doesn’t necessarily make you a racist; but doubling down and getting all defensive after this racism has been pointed out — well, now, in the words of my faith, you are sinning with full knowledge of the sin.

The  removal from publication of 6 Dr. Seuss books, by the owner of the books, is entirely within their right. I recall reading somewhere that the author was uncomfortable in later life with the racist work he did in his youth (and yes, Geisel’s early work was racist). An article I found noted:

Like many political cartoons from this period, some of Geisel’s political pieces are, today, considered racist—particularly toward Japanese people. While Geisel did not outright express regret over these pieces, contemporary critics believe that his later works—many of which revolve around themes of tolerance—atoned for these mistakes. Still, his early attitudes cannot—and should not—be dismissed. “We all have blind spots,” Richard H. Minear, the author of Dr. Seuss Goes to War, explains. “I use that as a teaching moment—even Dr. Seuss went astray.”

We tend to romanticize our upbringing. We recall only the innocence of what we read in our childhood, and of those times. The lovely family unit of Leave It to Beaver or Father Knows Best (both of which were in all-white small town America). The early days of Disneyland (with its depictions of colonizers, sub-human African natives, white men and Indian villages, etc.). Our children’s books, like those by Seuss, and Curious George and … Going to Sambos for pancakes. All of these had images that were accepted at the time, but looking back we wince with horror at the messages we were sending our children.

Were these authors and artists wrong or bad people? Probably not. They were reflecting the attitudes of their times, and were trying to do good and entertain. But we look back now, with newer ideas, and those attitudes we realize no longer hold. Settlers in America in the 1600s believed that many women were witches and burned them. We now view that as antiquated. They put Jews in ghettos. We know that is wrong. They taught the earth is flat, and that bleeding someone could cure disease. We know both aren’t true, and no longer teach that.

It holds up with children’s books as well. Beloved series of old don’t hold up to modern standards. Have you ever read Mary Poppins and seen its attitudes towards negros?  Seuss comes as no surprise at all. Depending on how the authors estates handles this, they may be reworked to redraw problematic art, fix some language.

For adults, we can put things in context. Adults can confront the racism and racist images in some (but not all) of Dr. Seuss’ work. With older children, we can explain why the racist stereotypes used to illustrate Asian people (slanted eyes, wielding chopsticks), African people (monkeylike) and Arab people (man on a camel) are wrong. We can do like TCM, and place discussions around classic movies about both what they get right, and what they get wrong. Adults can understand this stuff.

I have a large music collection. Over 49,000 songs. I know that some of the songs in my collection are racist, or have a problematic past. That happens with folk tunes. That happens with pieces written before we were aware. But I’m also old enough to recognize that context. I can separate the tune from the words, and recognize the problems with the words. I’m an adult. I have that capacity.

But our littlest kiddos? Those under 5-6 — where these Seuss books were aimed — don’t understand context and nuance. They are sponges. They absorb the imagery, internalize it, and believe it without question. For them, the answer is simply to pull the materials. Perhaps when they are older bring out an archival copy in context. But when they are young… This is why — as beloved as these pieces might be in memory — the owners of the material are right to keep them in the vault. We don’t need the smiling Chinese man in a pointed hat carrying rice, or Brer Rabbit and the happy slaves. Geisel’s estate can keep those books in the vault, just as Disney can keep Song of the South locked away. Owners of material can do what they want with the material they own, for whatever reasons they want. Especially when we are working with young children, we need to be careful of what we are teaching them, and the images we are presenting.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Rogers and Hammerstein, who wrote those lyrics for South Pacific, also developed the culturally insensitive Flower Drum Song. It is difficult from any artist from any area not to have reflected the values and images of the times. That’s why we must teach carefully. It is worth nothing that the R&H estate authorized updating Flower Drum Song to adjust the sense and remove the stereotypes.

We can learn. We can change. We can see that things in our past were wrong, and decide not to perpetuate our mistakes. We have to remember we are under no obligation to remind the world that we were young and stupid once.

P.S.: For those who bring up Hasbro’s decision to rebrand the Potato Head line: Please note that Mr. Potato Head remains a Mr. What is changing is the name of the product line: Hasbro decided it made no sense to call the line Mr. Potato Head when it included a Mrs., and so they dropped the title from the line. That’s it.

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👩🏼👨🏾👧🏾🧑🏼👩‍🦰 From Mistakes and Missteps Comes Learning and Realization

For some reason, the whole mess at Gimlet Media related to the Reply All Test Kitchen series and its fallout, which I wrote about in my last post, has continued to fascinate me. I’ve been reading tweet threats by those involved and related: Eric Eddings, Starlee Kine, PJ Vogt, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Alex Goldman, the Gimlet Union, Emmanuel Dzotsi, and others. As a long time listener, I never quite understood what the Union drive at Gimlet was about. One sees a company by the image they project, and I viewed Gimlet through the eyes of the Startup Podcast and Reply All, through Science Vs and Little Known Facts. This incident has made me realize that what I saw was a facade. More importantly, looking back, it showed they didn’t listen to what they were reporting.

As I noted in my last post, at the time of the starting of Gimlet, Alex Blumberg noted that there were major problems with diversity in Gimlet’s staff. They planned to do something about it. In an episode of Reply All that I cite to this day, they explored why diversity was so important in the workplace: when you hire people from the same background and the same institution, you always get the same view and the same answers. Yet even with that reporting, the recent Test Kitchen series and the subsequent fallout made clear that Gimlet didn’t learn. They hired the team and people from other podcasts they knew: from This American Life and Planet Money and NPR — all of whom had the same views and background and cliques. Just like the Bon Appetit situation they wrote about (at least from what I’ve been reading and hearing), they didn’t give spaces for the other voices. Well, perhaps they did for a short time, but they didn’t last. It was tokenization, not representation. At least, that’s from what I’m hearing and reading. I’m a long time listener, not a podcast. Just like with live theatre: I’m an audience member, which is vital for the industry.

But what is more disappointing is that this pattern of behavior is common across the podcast industry. Helen Zaltzman and the Allusionist podcast left Radiotopia. Why? Zaltzman cited a lack of racial diversity at the Radiotopia: “I have raised this fact repeatedly, recommended existing shows or potential showmakers to approach, questioned the excuses given for why the line-up stayed very white – small capacity and limited resources and insufficient money were frequently cited. So I offered money. And now, in case it makes more space and resources available, I’m removing myself.”

The problem is real. Stephanie Foo wrote a piece in 2020 about diversity problems in public media. It was her third time having to write the article, because people were not learning.  She first wrote it in 2015. In the introduction to that article, she noted: “It’s about time that public media came to terms with the fact that it does not serve the public as a whole. More hosts and program directors realize that a market of POC exists — and if they don’t cater to it, they’ll fail to grow their audience. And I’m glad the people in charge are realizing that when it comes to attracting minorities, throwing some hip-hop beatz as a transition between stories is about as effective and transparent as Mitt Romney’s spray tan. Finally, finally, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the solution to our diversity problem is hiring producers of color, and that diversifying your business is smart from a content perspective.” But did people listen? Did they really change their workplaces? Evidently not.

Back in 2015, Wired wrote about the lack of diversity in podcast voices: “Don’t replicate the stale listenership of public radio, and offer yet another way for the same culturally dominant demographic to tell each other their ideas. Rather than build a wider network of white male voices and listeners, let’s take the momentum and support of networks to promote some podcasts featuring everyone else.” There was an article on this in 2016. This was pointed out again in 2017: “Diversity is another huge challenge faced by the podcast industry, according to the report. As of mid-2016, only a few of the top-100 iTunes podcasts — shows like “Code Switch” and “Snap Judgment” — were designed to amplify diverse voices. Most podcast hosts are also male.”

But just as with theatre: diversity in the hosts at the front is only the visible tip. Diversity needs to be throughout: from the researchers to those pitching the stories to those producing to those editing to those marketing to those … The Reply All podcast perhaps said it best back in 2016:

LESLIE says that Twitter’s lack of diversity doesn’t just affect the workplace atmosphere, but it goes straight to the heart of the product itself.

LESLIE: Obviously if you don’t have people of diverse backgrounds building your product, you’re going get a very very narrowly focused product that may do one or two things really well or just may not do anything really well. And if you look at Twitter as a product, it doesn’t a lot of the simple things. It doesn’t do direct messaging well. It doesn’t do media sharing well, right? And if you had people from diverse backgrounds, you may have been able to expand, you know, what what you thought was possible?

GOLDMAN. Let me ask you this how must of your desire to see diverse workplaces comes from the fact that it’s just morally correct to have diverse workplaces versus it will make your product much better.

LESLIE: Yes. The answer to that question is yes. It’s going to, you know, diverse teams have better outcomes, that is, there’s so much has been written on that in the last 30 years I don’t even know why we’re talking about it. And and I think, you know, I hate sounding like, you know, like a total socialist, but arising tide lifts all boats.

Looking back at this transcript, you know what stands out at me? Who did the interview. Alex Goldman. Not PJ.  And in the latest problems at RA, who was there arguing for diversity and its benefits and the union. Goldman.

As audience members — as listeners to podcasts — I’m starting to wonder if we are hearing but not listening. The problems with diversity have been there. People have been talking about them for years. They have been writing about them. But I’m not sure we have been hearing. But they have been coming to the foreground now. We are learning about the problems at Radiotopia and Gimlet. It is just like how in mid-2020, we because to learn and understand about the problems in the Broadway theatre, and that we needed the diversity throughout.

So what can we — as the audience — do. I think we need to let the podcasting companies — Spotify, Earwolf, NPR, etc. — know we want diversity throughout. Not a host here and there, but in the research, writing, producing, and technical staffs.  We need to find podcasts that exhibit those characteristics and make it know that we are going out of our way to listen to them, and that we want those diverse viewpoints. Although I’m pretty backed up on podcasts, I’m open to recommendations for podcasts that fit this mold.

I also hope that Gimlet uses this incident to do what it does best, and what it did when it started: Turn that microphone on itself. I’d like to see the remaining hosts at RA — Alex and Emmanuel — explore how diversity went wrong at Gimlet, going back to when the problem was first cited in 2015, to when RA touched on the importance of structural diversity back in 2016, exploring the diversity problem in the podcasting industry. They might even be able to salvage some of the Bon Appetit story. But most importantly, I hope they can talk about how the problem is being solved, and being solved in a permanent, long lasting way.

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📰 Returning to a Balanced Court – A Proposal

Recently, the subject of “Court Packing” has been in the news, because of the Trump administration’s perceived “packing” of the court with Conservative justices, which itself was the byproduct of the Republican Senate refusing to process President Obama’s nominees for the court during his last term. The imbalance this created has led to the desire for a return to balance, which is the goal of what we hear called “court packing” (which, itself, is a pejorative term creating bias — the real goal is a “return to court balance” of having an even number of Justices from each side). There have been other approaches  floating around out there, most centered on the notion of getting rid of lifetime terms for judges, and instituting term limits. Here is my proposal:

  1. All nominees by a President for the Appellate or Supreme Court must be approved or rejected by the Senate within 90 days of nomination. Failure to act results in the nominated Justice receiving an automatic interim 2 year appointment to the position, after which the Senate must approve or reject for the Justice to continue in the position.
  2. All Appellate and Supreme Court Justices must have their positions reconfirmed by the Senate on every 11th anniversary of their starting in the position.
  3. All Appellate and Supreme Court Justices have a term limit of 31 years. At this point, a two-thirds vote of the Senate can extend their term for additional five year terms.

This would apply to new and sitting justices. This creates no new immediate openings, but does provide the opportunity for greater turnover in justices, and the ability to more easily remove weak or bad justices. By using odd numbers for the terms, this staggers the reconfirmation process across 8 year Presidential cycles, hopefully restoring balance as the political pendulum swings.

 

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📰 Words Matter

The other day, I saw a post on Facebook musing on the phrase #BlackLivesMatter. It pointed out that this was a bad choice of phrase, as it invited the “AllLivesMatter” response. What was needed was something more active; the poster suggested #SaveBlackLives . The advantage, claimed the poster, was that this was less susceptable to “SaveAllLives” (for that is clearly not their position). Believing something matters is much weaker than actually wanting to save the lives.

I bring this up because of the current trending #DefundThePolice notion. The vast majority of people do not understand what that means: they believe (as evidenced by Trump’s recent tweets) that it means a desire to eliminate the police departments. But those who know understand that #DefundThePolice means to move away from the notion of militaristic “policing” as practiced today, to a position of community-based public safety. It means not having our police department be the first line of defense against mental illness and poverty based crimes. It means addressing the underlying problems that leads to the crime, and not meeting the symptom (the actual violation of the law) with violence and anger. It means having community-based officers working with, and being part of the community — not being an outside adversarial force.

Our words matter, and #DefundThePolice is misleading. May I suggest instead: #SafetyNotPolicing , or the positive spin: #FundPublicSafety or #FundCommunitySafety . We need to make it clear we want to go beyond “reform” of existing institutions and their cultures, to reformation and creation of new institutions, with new cultures focused on community engagement and safety.

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😷 Three Days In

It gets to me in the evening. The fear. The sadness. The discomfort.

In the evening, I start to worry whether I, someone I love, some I care about, a dear friend, a colleague, and yes, even someone I know only through social media — might get sick of this illness. That they might die. I’m selfish. I don’t want anyone I care about to be sick or ill.

As I wrote the other day on Facebook, the fears give into a malaise about the world — make that my carefully constructed world — around me crashing down. I crave order in my life. Things working. My iPod. My DVR. My weekends. Knowing I have the ability to get what I want at the market. Knowing I have the ability to see my friends. This little strand of RNA reproducing has disrupted all of that. I don’t like it.

Yet I know that I still have many blessings. I don’t have to worry about my job or income. Our customer wants us to do more work. We’re all reasonably healthy. To our knowledge, we haven’t been near carriers, and have been self-isolating. I’m generally an introvert — I should like this, right?

Right?

But I’m still unsettled. And we’re only three days in. This is likely to be a long haul — conceivably stretching into May or June. This is going to be a very long year — not what any of us had planned.

I’m hoping that by writing these thoughts down, I’m getting them out of my brain. I’m sure you’re having thoughts like these as well. Feel free to share. Perhaps by sharing, we can help each other.

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🎭👗 Cross-Dressing and the Theatre / Perhaps I’m Too Woke

Today, I started playing in the new musical Tootsie from my unplayed list on the iPod. This got me thinking about men dressing up as women in the theatre, and how it is increasingly problematic for woke audiences. Yes, it was traditional in Shakespeare’s day for men to dress as women, because women weren’t allowed on the stage. But I think about the two shows I recently have seen, Irma Vep and Baskerville, and how they had men dressing up as women. I think about shows like Sugar or Hairspray. I think about new musicals like Mrs. Doubtfire, and I have to ask myself: why are still still using this trope.

Think about it: Why do we dress up men as women. There seem to be many messages being sent.

First, that it is funny for a man to dress as a woman, likely because it is viewed as demeaning to do so. Today, that’s just wrong. People can wear whatever they want to wear. We shouldn’t find humor in that. I can see absolutely no reason, other than “traditional”, why Edna Turnblad couldn’t be played by a large woman. The humor in that character is in her size, not her genitals. This, I think, is also the reason for the cross dressing in shows like Vep or Baskerville.

Next, it is because with the man dressed as a woman, they are able to get jobs they were not able to get on their merits as men, and so they take a job away from a woman. TootsieDoubtfire, and Sugar are examples of that. Is it right for men to steal jobs from women by pretending to be women?

There’s also the trope that, as a woman, they are able to say things they weren’t able to say as men. In other words, they dress as women to avoid mansplaining.

Lastly, there’s the bit about dressing as a woman so as to deceive someone to have a relationship with them.

All of these are wrong. Now let’s look at the fewer times that a woman dresses as a man. I can think of three: Victor VictoriaTwo Gentlemen of Verona, and anything based on Twelfth Night. In all these cases, the women is dressing as the man to get some rights or privilege they couldn’t get a woman.

Think about what this says about our society.

I know of only one musical where the show gets cross-dressing right: Kinky Boots. But that’s because it is intentional drag. Priscilla: Queen of the Desert might also get it right for the same reason.

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📰 The Beautiful People

[This post makes me feel like Ira Glass. So perhaps I should assume the persona]

Recently, we’ve been seeing a whole lot of ugly. Ugly behavior in politics. Name calling. Bullying. Lies, innuendo, and gossip. But I’m tired of talking about that. I’d like to focus on a different type of ugly — one triggered by a number of articles that I have read, and a podcast I listened to on the way home. Some of this makes me think of someone we know… and I’ll leave it at that.

So the question is: What makes a person beautiful? Is it how they look? How they smell? Their size? Their behavior? Here are some items I’ve seen of late that explore the issue, and like Ira Glass of This American Life, we’ll divide it into four acts.

Act I: Beauty is Only Skin Deep

Most of us — at least in the technical field — don’t care about makeup. We see the inner person, and judge beauty based on how someone behaves, how they treat other people, and what they do. But there is a subculture of young women (and I’m guessing some guys) that are obsessed with looks and makeup. I’ve seen this first hand: I know someone who is obsessed with makeup — so much so that their Instagram is filled with faces of their face with various different makeups. There’s a name for that phenomenon: Instragram Face. Alexandra Jones describes it in a fascinating piece from the BBC:  “the make-up look that has dominated social media for the past three years… Search the make-up hashtag on any social media site and you’ll come across it. The unique flaws that make us who we are, that make humans so attractive, have been replaced by one face. The Face. Photo-perfect skin and sculpted, contoured cheekbones, wide almond-shaped eyes which taper up into a feline point, and that full, inescapable mouth. This look is what Twiggy’s lashes were to the 1960s and what Kate Moss’ dewy skin was to the 1990s.”

I know it well. The person I know worshiped that look, which we all thought hid her natural beauty. But she would not be deterred. Jones’ piece, which is well worth reading, describes her quest to live with that look for a week. What was once a quick dab before she left because a routine that took, at best, 45 minutes in the morning. She couldn’t go out in the sun because her face would melt. Men start making lewd comments at her; it is something my wife refers to as a “fuck me” face, designed to be attractive to the male patriarchy (and, due to the time and cost, it keeps women in 2nd place). Further, it actually makes skin worse. Take off the makeup for a year, and your skin is much much better.

Then there is what this makeup subculture does to people. Gimlet’s Reply All touched upon this recently in the 2nd “Yes, Yes, No” segment of their show “Alex Jones Dramageddon”. They explored a recent incident in the Beauty YouTube subculture where a number of beauty vloggers had to make apology videos due to their poor behavior. I’ve known folks that are addicted to watching these videos, faces in screens for hours at a time. More on that in Act IV.

People need to realize that the best makeup is … none. Our flaws and our imperfections are what make us beautiful, what give us character. We aren’t all the same; we shouldn’t look the same.

[ETA: A reader in another venue pointed out that my commenting with my attitude on makeup may be sexist. That certainly wasn’t the intent — I feel the same way regardless of sex. However, it was a fair comment in that it was judging on looks, which is wrong. If you find makeup something that improves your self  esteem and makes you feel better, go for it. I do suggest you read the linked articles however — they were talking more about doing it based on a cultural pressure from others. If you use makeup, or make other fashion choices, do it because it is right for you.]

Act II: Something is in the Air

My wife likes to tell the story of an exchange student that lived with them when she was in high school. This person never bathed; instead, they used excessive cologne. As someone who suffers from migraines, I can just imagine what that fragrance in the air would do. A recent article explored how fragrance is the new second hand smoke. As the article notes; “Hundreds of studies over the last two decades are finding “fragrance” in beauty products and household cleaners are just as bad or worse for our health than secondhand smoke. Is it time for fragrance-free workplaces, hotel rooms and sections in restaurants?”

As a migraine sufferer, I can say, “Yes, please”.

Let’s look at two things fragrance does, both bad. First, it covers up the smell of clean, which is…. nothing. Using fragrance to mask BO is silly; just take a shower instead. You want your house to smell clean: air it out, instead of using air freshener, use fresh air. And as for perfume: why try to imitate animal pheromones when your natural ones will attract much better. People should be attracted for you for who you really are, not a fake image created through makeup and perfume. That image will always be destroyed when they see the real you.

As for fragrance, it can be bad for you. As the article notes:

“The average U.S. consumer today is as uneducated about the dangers of synthetic fragrances as the average American was to the dangers of second-hand smoke in the 1960s… Those dangers include chemicals that are known neurotoxins, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, DNA mutagens, allergens,  hepatotoxins  and  reproductive toxins all hidden under the simple ingredient label “fragrance.” Manufacturers of beauty and cleaning products don’t have to disclose the hundreds of potential chemicals that could be used to make their fragrance, because they are considered “trade secrets” by the FDA. Around 90% of the chemicals included in the label “fragrance”  are synthesized from petroleum or coal tar.  Toxic chemicals commonly found in products with “fragrance” on the ingredients list include acetone, phenol, toluene, benzyl acetate, limonene and formaldehyde. A 2008 analysis of 6 top selling laundry products and air fresheners found “nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from the products, and five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants which the Environmental Protection Agency considers to have no safe exposure level.”

Act III: The Last Acceptable Discrimination

Society is increasingly frowning on discrimination and making fun of the attributes of people (well, unless you’re the President or those who find his behavior acceptable). Sex, race, religion, orientation — all are out for teasing. But fat? Fat seems to be the last area where you can discriminate, where you can make fun — because we all know that obesity is bad for you. But what if it isn’t?

A great article in the Huffington Post was going around Facebook recently titled “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong“. The article talks about how obesity has grown in society, and notes the establishment response to it:

And the medical community’s primary response to this shift has been to blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we are told, is a personal failing that strains our health care system, shrinks our GDP and saps our military strength. It is also an excuse to bully fat people in one sentence and then inform them in the next that you are doing it for their own good. That’s why the fear of becoming fat, or staying that way, drives Americans to spend more on dieting every year than we spend on video games or movies. Forty-five percent of adults say they’re preoccupied with their weight some or all of the time—an 11-point rise since 1990. Nearly half of 3- to 6- year old girls say they worry about being fat.

But, as the article goes on to note, the solution of dieting doesn’t work. Most people that go on diets gain it all back. Further, “the second big lesson the medical establishment has learned and rejected over and over again is that weight and health are not perfect synonyms. Yes, nearly every population-level study finds that fat people have worse cardiovascular health than thin people. But individuals are not averages: Studies have found that anywhere from one-third to three-quarters of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy. They show no signs of elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance or high cholesterol. Meanwhile, about a quarter of non-overweight people are what epidemiologists call “the lean unhealthy.” A 2016 study that followed participants for an average of 19 years found that unfit skinny people were twice as likely to get diabetes as fit fat people. Habits, no matter your size, are what really matter. Dozens of indicators, from vegetable consumption to regular exercise to grip strength, provide a better snapshot of someone’s health than looking at her from across a room.

Our society wants to have someone we can intentionally hurt and look down upon. But why?

Act IV: The Screens

Earlier, I mentioned the young person we know that was addicted to Beauty YouTube. How many of us know young people that are addicted to their screens, and who seem to have no attention spans. How do we address it? ADD medication. Perhaps that’s the wrong answer. Perhaps we need to address the screens.

A recent study shows a connection between heavy screen use and ADD in teens. It’s not at the level of a causal relationship yet, but studies show that teens who spend a lot of time using digital media show an uptick in symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That doesn’t mean parents should panic about teens texting at the dinner table; it just means that if your kid is a heavy media user, maybe you should have a conversation about why they like it so much. The study monitored ADHD symptoms in a group of nearly 2,600 high school teenagers. Students who used multiple types of digital media multiple times a day were roughly twice as likely to report new symptoms of ADHD over a two-year period than their less digitally active classmates, according to the study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Now, combine that with the images they are seeing — the prevalence of Instagram Face, the emphasis on weight, our leadership role models — and we wonder why kids today are as they are.

Take off that makeup, get rid of the fragrance, don’t worry about how you look, and pick up a good book. You’ll be much happier.

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