Into the Woods to Grandmother’s House: Justifying Plot Twists through Heteronormativity

14135427953_5b986a32cd_b

On Christmas, my family decided to spend some time at the movies watching the newly released movie Into the Woods, a movie rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s infamous operetta/musical by the same name.  The musical begins with an original story involving a childless baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family, though cursed by a witch for stealing magic beans from her garden. The show intertwines the plots of several fairy tales by Brothers Grimm  such as Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and Rapunzel, among others and follows them to explore the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests: a classic “Be careful what you wish for” story.

Now, while I typically enjoy musicals as I grew up a kid on the stage myself, I couldn’t help but think sociologically about various plot twists and how certain unfortunate circumstances were justified and rectified through rules of heteronormativity and, arguably, homonationalism.  Granted, previous research has discussed almost ad nauseum about the heteronormativity of Disney movies, I was shocked at how theatre, a common place for queering and challenging concepts of reality and normality, still abided by heteronormative and homonormative rules.

**Please note: there are movie “spoilers” in this post.

(more…)

Bulletproof Coffee (and the Spirit of Contemporary Capitalism)

Bulletproof Coffee Pic

At a health food café in central London, I recently drank my first ‘Bulletproof Coffee,’  a surprisingly ingestible blend of espresso, butter and coconut oil which has a texture not dissimilar to yak butter tea. To be precise, Bulletproof® Coffee ought to be made with a blend of grass-fed butter, Upgraded™ coconut oil (from upgradedself.com) and low-toxin Bulletproof® Upgraded™ Coffee Beans. And it is indeed no coincidence that Bulletproof Coffee tastes a little like yak butter tea. Dave Asprey, the ‘Bulletproof Executive’ was struck with the inspiration he needed to develop the drink during a yak butter tea break on a climb of Tibet’s Mount Kailash. As for why I found it in a health food café – and why all the concern with the quality and composition of the ingredients? Well, Bulletproof Coffee enthusiasts overlap significantly with fans of the ‘paleo diet,‘ which is designed to imitate as far as possible the pre-neolithic dietary ecology to which our hunter-gatherer ancestors were adapted.

There is indeed some good anthropological evidence showing that diets of contemporary hunter-gatherers – including those that are high in animal fats – reduce the risk of chronic ‘diseases of civilization’ like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. There are however equally good reasons to question the notion that we and our food species ended our evolutionary relationship before the neolithic revolution. (And using studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer populations to make claims about ‘paleo’ lifestyles can easily slip into ahistorical retellings of what Adam Kuper terms the myth of primitive society.)  So what really intrigues (and frankly disturbs) me about Bulletproof Coffee is precisely the extent to which it comes wrapped up in a discourse that you might term ‘paleo-primitivism.’ In telling the story of Bulletproof Coffee’s origins, Dave Asprey marries his enthusiasm for the paleo diet with a depiction of Sherpas as ‘ubermen’ or ‘a race of Bulletproof genetic freaks.’ Asprey’s fascination with both yak butter tea and the genetics of the Tibetan ‘ubermen’ is presented on his website in terms of his interest in biohacking. The biohacking discourse surrounding Bulletproof Coffee seems to reveal quite neatly something about the idea of the ‘hacker’ that Brett Scott recently discussed in a piece for STIR Magazine. The figure of the hacker exemplifies collective possibilities for creative and mischievous subversion of contemporary capitalist organization – but it can also reflect an avowedly individualistic, masculine libertarian drive towards self-empowerment through those same stifling structures. (more…)

“Deserving students” getting free tuition since 1955

AP-Tests

Last Friday, President Obama announced a proposal for tuition-free community college.  IF Obama’s plan is implemented it could save a full-time community college student an average of $3800 per year.  Students are required to “make steady progress” toward completing their program by registering at least part-time each semester and maintain a 2.5 GPA.  The federal government will split the costs with states by covering three quarters of tuition while the state picks up the remaining quarter.  If Obama’s plan is implemented, the US could join progressive nations such as Germany, Finland, France, Sweden, Norway and Brazil (among others) who offer tuition free higher education to their residents. (more…)

North Korea: Good news for people who like bad news

By Monico Chavez [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Name the first famous Korean that comes into your head. Unless you’re (a) Korean, (b) majoring in East-Asian studies or (c) showing off, you’ll probably say Kim Jong-Eun, the western media’s favourite Evil Dictator. Kim, like his father, makes it oh-so-easy for stories about him to quickly become clickbait. The dynastic backstory, brutal haircut, penchant for Dr. Evil-style Maoist tunics, countless silly titles, affection for basketball, Dennis Rodman and overeating – add in the very real nuclear ambitions, the forced labour camps and the numerous hyperbolic threats to North Korea’s enemies, then you have a character you couldn’t make up. Publicity-wise, Sony knew they were pushing on an open door when they commissioned The Interview, but I doubt that even they could foresee the series of events that have made the film their most downloaded release ever. (more…)

CONAIE Headquarters to be Shut Down: Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador Request International Support

Protestors gather outside the headquarters of CONAIE (The Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador) in Quito, Ecuador.

Protestors gather outside the CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador) in Quito, Ecuador.

Yesterday, in Quito, Ecuador, hundreds of Indigenous people from around the country, including those from the Amazon, the Sierra and the Coast, gathered outside the offices of CONAIE (the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), in the north of the city, to continue the fight against a government plan to close the organisation’s headquarters. CONAIE is among the largest and longest standing Indigenous organisations in Ecuador, and its work focuses on defending the rights, territories, culture and lives of millions of Indigenous people who make up approximately 25% of the country’s population.

I am writing this blog post to encourage academics and activists from around the world to sign the open letter, drafted by CONAIE, in support of the organization and the indigenous peoples that it represents in their struggle to maintain control of the building, which is a key strategic part of the indigenous political community. (more…)

Most “Insert List Here” of 2014: Ratings and hierarchies

feminist-fist.jpg

http://thesocietypages.org/sociologylens/files/2008/11/feminist-fist.jpg

Happy new year! I hope that this year finds you with accepted publications, good grades, and time for sleep.

Each year, starting mid-December, begins the season for “ratings” and lists of the “best” and the”worst” moments, outfits, songs, movies, actors, or whatever you can put in a list of the previous year. As my Facebook feed quickly turns from photos and status updates to comical BuzzFeed lists, I came across one interesting list this year that I had not seen before: Mic.com’s “The 39 Most Iconic Feminist Moments of 2014.” Of course I quickly shared the article, primarily so I can refer to it later for this post, but it received no “likes” or “comments” on my Facebook (a page with relatively frequent activity). That may come as no surprise, as the word “Feminist” was voted by Time Magazine readers as the word to be banned in 2015, and other significant backlash against feminist ideals (see also Rachel Rademacher’s piece here about how we still need feminism). Rereading the list today, however, I am unsure how I feel about this list: mixed feelings about the rise in publicity of feminist ideals but also what qualifies as feminist and how we must rank them.

(more…)

The Ghost of Christmas Pressed for Time

Christmas Shopping, Regent Street

Christmas Shopping, Regent Street

 

In Payback, her reaction to the debt-fuelled financial crisis of 2007-08, Margaret Atwood rewrites Dickens’ Christmas Carol for the present day. She invites us to join ‘Scrooge Nouveau’ in his Tuscan villa, as he is visited by the Spirit of Earth Day Future. Scrooge Nouveau is confronted by two possible futures – one of ecological harmony and regular debt jubilees, the other unfolding in a lifeless desert where he sees himself fighting with other hungry survivors over the corpse of a house cat. Our modern-day miser finds himself doing desperate back-of-the-envelope calculations: should he invest in alternative energy and desalination plants, and so make a killing if the good future materializes, or corner the tinned food market and build himself a bunker in preparation for the bad? Atwood’s re-telling works as a neat parable of what Michael Hudson and Max Haiven take the contemporary financial services sector to be: a ‘pathologically self-obsessed form of economic planning.’ The financialization and securitization of our very life-cycle is reflected, as Jane Guyer observes, in the sector’s core products – its ‘student loans, 30-year mortgages, health insurance, and so on.’ The Christmas and New Year mediascape is likewise shot through with a pre-emptive financial futuricity. Flipping through British broadsheets this week will reveal festive ‘share tips for 2015‘ from the ‘best stock-pickers’ around. Monocle – essential reading for the transnational flâneur on the fly – has the ‘Forecast’ edition out too. In its pages we are introduced to the future of defense innovation, wearable medical technology, and even the science fiction scene – alongside the ‘politicians and entrepreneurs worth inviting out for a drink.’

Monocle’s anticipatory look at fashion and technology reflects an eminently financial temporality. It was, after all, the Wall Street fortune tellers of the early twentieth century who made the figure of the forecaster a recognizable and respectable one. There is, though, another way of experiencing time that may be foregrounded at this time of year. (more…)

What’s the true meaning of the 1914 Christmas Truce?

Source:http://www.j-sainsbury.co.uk/media/latest-stories/2014/1112-sainsburys-and-the-royal-british-legion-partner-to-bring-first-world-war-christmas-truce-story-to-life/

Source:http://www.j-sainsbury.co.uk/media/latest-stories/2014/1112-sainsburys-and-the-royal-british-legion-partner-to-bring-first-world-war-christmas-truce-story-to-life/

Since August in the UK we’ve been commemorating the outbreak of WW1. The various reasons for this memorialising overlap, but they can reflect an individual’s political Weltanschauung and attitudes to the Great War. For some, the 800,000+ Tommies who died sacrificed themselves in a heroic struggle against the forces of militaristic totalitarianism represented by Germany. While for others, the WW1 represents plutocrats sending young men to their deaths while many industrialists and manufacturers profited from Britain’s war economy only to then lead us, via economic ruin, to another war 21 years later.

There’s less cynicism about the Christmas Truce. This means it’s been hijacked by everyone from supermarkets to UEFA and restaged as a football match to market their values (incidentally there is little evidence any football match took place let alone one between German and British and Commonwealth troops). Although for many combatants the truce was primarily a magnanimous gesture to bury the dead, it was a reality and, indeed, in some sectors of The Western Front, it lasted for longer than Christmas. Troops in these instances were threatened with execution if they didn’t reengage in killing the enemy (for more listen to eyewitness accounts in the Imperial War Museum’s Archives). (more…)

Festivus for the rest of us

Satanic Temple holiday display, Florida Capitol Rotunda

Satanic Temple holiday display, Florida Capitol Rotunda

For the second year, Florida hosts a variety of religious displays in the rotunda of the state capitol.  This year, for the first time, the Satanic Temple erected their seasonal exhibition of an angel falling from Heaven into a fiery pit.  The Sataic Temple presentation complements a Christian nativity scene as well as other anti-religion and atheist displays with seasonal depictions including a “Festivus” pole constructed from Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans and a Flying Spaghetti Monster with the sign that says, “A closed mouth catches no noodly appendages”. (more…)

‘Is There Anything Else I Can Help You With?’ Call Centres, and Christmas on Minimum Wage

 

*This is a guest post, written by Jo Byrne

*This is a guest post, written by Jo Byrne


Casual work and debt

According to a recent report by TUC, one in twelve people in Britain are in precarious employment with figures rising by 61.8% for men and 35.6% for women since 2008. That means that 1 in 12 people are living a life of economic insecurity, and, at this time of year, it also means that thousands of parents or grandparents will be uncertain if they can afford to buy gifts for their families at Christmas. Yet the pressure to consume (to eat, drink and be merry!) is so great that many will begin the new year in unmanageable debt, often as the result of short term payday loans: typically the only form of credit available to the most economically vulnerable in society.

I am lucky. In my adult life I have never been out of work for a significant period of time. But a few years ago, just before Christmas, I found myself jobless and desperate. I had returned from living abroad stone broke and up to my eyeballs in debt. I signed on for Job Seeker’s Allowance, which at the time (2010) was around £65 per week, and despite the fact that I was living a very modest life in a shared house, I was not able to make ends meet. Though I am grateful for the help I received from the government at that time,  the amount of money provided is simply not sufficient to live with any real quality of life. In fact, according to a report by The European Council, it is not even enough to survive.  While I was looking for work, I went further and further into my overdraft and using my ‘emergency’ credit card became a regular occurrence.

Fortunately, before things got too desperate, I received a call from a friend who had a senior position in a local call centre offering me a temp job over the Christmas period. (more…)