Fashion Backward

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Every morning my 16-year-old comes down the stairs wearing short shorts and an oversized sweatshirt or fleece pullover that makes it appear she is wearing no pants. This attire is worn irrespective of the weather and seems to be the new school “uniform.” At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old scold, I find this and many other teenage fashions mystifying, unattractive, and even a bit silly.

This morning while dropping my daughter off at the high school, I saw a girl wearing jeans with a large hole in each knee and a gigantic flannel shirt that would fit Paul Bunyan. In another context, I might have mistaken her for a panhandler. And just when I was getting used to girls wearing form-fitting leggings and tiny tops!

The new trend seems to be “working man chic.” Lumberjack shirts, chunky work boots, and ripped jeans are all very well on someone out chopping wood, pounding nails into the frame of a new home, or doing other forms of tough manual labor. But I can assure you that despite the over-sized blue work shirt my daughter wears, she is not performing any heavy duty physical tasks.

The style harks back to the Nineties grunge era, when bands like Nirvana reigned and people loved TV shows set in the rugged Pacific Northwest. I used to tease my older daughter about the ugliness of her “Kurt Cobain shirts,” as I referred to the shapeless, dull plaid flannel shirts that were a mainstay of her wardrobe. Isn’t life depressing enough, I would think to myself, without dressing like an extra in Deliverance?

Of all the styles that are popular now, though, the worst is the faded, ripped-up jeans that young women are wearing. In my day, a tear here and there in a pair of jeans was the result of many months or even years of loving wear and washing. Those rips were earned, by golly. Nowadays, girls spend beaucoup bucks on brand new jeans with dozens of meticulously made rips. The only way those rips would occur naturally would be if Freddy Krueger came through and made several swipes at them.

I must admit, though, the new styles are reminding me of my own fashion faux pas from years gone by. I too loved sporting oversized shirts and had a penchant for men’s white Calvin Klein undershirts tucked into my stone-washed, waist-high jeans. Come to think of it, I wore even more embarrassing styles – like gaucho pants! I had a pair of yellow ones that I paired with a brightly-colored, striped t-shirt. I’m pretty sure I looked liked a toucan.

I guess every generation despises the styles of the ones younger than theirs. Still, ladies, if you want your jeans ripped up, come on over and I’ll do it for free.

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The Art vs. the Artist

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Revelations of sexual misconduct have roiled the entertainment industry, among others, in recent months. The allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and intimidation against producer Harvey Weinstein seemed to have unloosed a dam in Hollywood, and numerous directors, actors, and other entertainers have been accused of using their positions to abuse women.

In light of the accusations, networks have been cancelling TV series and specials, and no doubt the fate of some feature films hangs in the balance. I’m heartened by the change in attitude towards sexual impropriety in the workplace; it’s long overdue. But I wonder how to balance our admiration for the talent and artistry of a person with the ugly reality of his behavior in real life.

For decades there has been debate about such figures as Roman Polanski and Woody Allen and the degree to which we should ostracize their work out of protest at their sexual misdeeds (although in the case of Allen, many people see nothing wrong with his dating and eventually marrying his ex-wife’s adopted daughter. I would not be one of those people.) Heavyweights in Hollywood have always stood up for these men, even though Polanski had to flee the country on a statutory rape charge. But the question is, should we not see Chinatown, The Pianist, or Rosemary’s Baby – or indeed even recognize their greatness as films?

Sometimes the rejection of an artist’s work is based on unambiguous factors. Leni Riefenstahl, for instance, used her directorial talents to create propaganda for Hitler and Nazi Germany. It also doesn’t take much hemming and hawing to denounce D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a film that glories in the creation of the Ku Klux Klan. But what about the well-known anti-Semite Richard Wagner? His Nineteenth Century operas and other classical music are renowned works of art. Should we protest any productions of his work today, knowing what we know about his bigotry and xenophobia?

Over the years people have boycotted entertainers for political reasons. In fact, it seems like the entire world of the arts is fraught with politics these days. In fact, recently I had to stop and consider whether someone might be offended if I gave their child a book written by Bill Nye, the Science Guy. But short of objecting to the content of a specific book, movie, or other work of art, I’m not sure I want to let my personal opinion of an artist affect my appreciation of their work.

I don’t have the answers here. It seems to me that works of art should be judged on their own merits. Yet I would be hard pressed to attend a Louis C.K. performance these days. And should I finish binge-watching House of Cards or shun the series in protest over Kevin Spacey’s lame excuses and rationalizations for preying upon young men? Do time and distance make an artist’s work more palatable? I just don’t know.

Still, I am glad to see the cult of celebrity being shattered a bit to allow victims the ability to confront abuse and intimidation. After all, actors, directors, comedians, musicians and other artists are only human. They should be held to the same laws and standards as other humans, famous or not.

Thoughts and Prayers

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prayer-1As the smoke clears from another horrific mass shooting, politicians once again are offering their “thoughts and prayers.” I join many frustrated citizens and people of faith when I say that thoughts and prayers are not enough.

When someone we know is afflicted with a disease, we offer thoughts and prayers; but we also try to help them cure the disease.

When hurricane victims lost everything, we sent our thoughts and prayers; but we also sent food and water.

When we send our soldiers into battle, our thoughts and prayers go with them; but so do munitions, armor, and military strategy.

Thoughts and prayers are good. Thoughts and prayers are compassionate. Thoughts and prayers carry weight with our God.

But thoughts and prayers won’t feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, or make us safer. God asks us to pray, yes. But he also asks us to be His hands and feet in the world. That requires action.

No, thoughts and prayers are not enough to heal the hearts of those who lost a loved one in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And they are not enough to prevent the next mass shooting.

 

 

Paying the Piper

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As yet another horrific act of mass murder by firearms goes by with the usual platitudes and talking points, I am coming to the realization that in many areas of needed reform, an appeal to the humanity of our leaders is sadly misplaced. So I have another angle to help persuade government leaders, institutions, and the American public: the steep cost of failing to change.

In the area of guns, a Johns Hopkins study found that gun violence costs $2.8 billion in medical costs annually. That doesn’t take into account the expense of police and other law enforcement involvement, court costs, and prison expenditures, all of which are borne by us, the taxpayers. Even the health price tag comes back on individual Americans through higher insurance premiums and taxes to pay for victims on Medicaid. The high cost of gun violence could be reduced by expanding background checks, thus keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and domestic abusers, and by requiring owners to complete training in the safe use and storage of firearms, thus preventing the many accidental gun injuries and deaths that occur each year.

Another area in desperate need of reform is policing. Unwarranted shootings of suspects are not only an abrogation of individuals’ civil rights; they become a huge expense for police departments, which must shell out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by victims and their families. Guess who ends up paying those bills?

Even in the business world, the current push to deregulate business and industry can have detrimental effects on our pocketbooks. Questionable investment and banking practices, for instance, nearly brought down the entire economy in 2008. More recently, Wells Fargo Bank employees were found to have created over a million fake accounts for which their customers were charged fees. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created during the Obama Administration to prevent financial institutions from playing fast and loose with other people’s money. But now the Trump Administration has destroyed the ability of citizens to participate in class action lawsuits, the threat of which can prevent banks and other institutions from mismanagement and fraud. Maybe it’s time to go back to the days of hiding our cash under our beds.

And in the area of the environment, our EPA is looking more like the Environmental Pillaging Agency than an agent of protection. Beyond the idealistic goal of keeping our wildernesses wild and pristine, environmental damage is costing us in real dollars and cents. Unsafe drinking water and polluted air cause health problems for ordinary Americans, and those health problems cost money to treat.

So if you’re not moved by the sight of dwindling wetlands, gunshot victims, or grieving families, maybe this will spur you to action: It’s gonna cost you.

 

Houston, We Have a Problem

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I was happy for the Houston Astros this week when they won their first ever World Series. As A Cubs fan, I can relate to years of disappointing seasons and the elation of finally having your team come through. But my happiness is tempered by the behavior of Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel in Game Three of the series.

Gurriel, who had just hit a home run off of Japanese national Yu Darvish, laughed and made a slanted eyes gesture at the pitcher while savoring his feat. Witnesses also reported that he used the slur “Chinito,” which is Spanish for “little Chinese person.” While Gurriel apologized and claimed he meant no disrespect for Darvish, the incident hit a bit too close to home for me. You see, I have a Chinese daughter.

When I told my daughter about the incident, she revealed that she too has been on the receiving end of that mean-spirited slanted-eyes gesture. It happened to her at her elementary school when she was just a little kid, and it happened this past summer in Sweden when she and her soccer teammates were enjoying a local amusement park. I was appalled and saddened, yet I knew when we adopted her that she would probably face racism.

I was also disappointed that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred gave Gurriel a five game suspension but allowed him to finish the Series. As Gary Mayeda, National President of the Japanese American Citizens League, said, “It’s like getting punished as a kid, but having your parents say, ‘Well, we’ll punish you next year.'” (abc7.com, Nov. 1, 2017) Ironically, my daughter found the five game suspension a bit harsh.

It’s hard enough being of a different race in a white-dominated society. My daughter has had issues with looking different and trying to meet the Western standard of beauty. She doesn’t need to be reminded of those differences by small-minded people. And Gurriel, who is Cuban himself, should know better than to disparage someone of a minority culture.

I hope the loss of pay does hurt Gurriel enough to remind him of what he’s done. I hope it encourages him to think twice about the way he interacts with other players and with people in his day to day life. He did get a little taste of condemnation when Darvish’s teammate Rich Hill was on the mound in Game 6. He took his time when Gurriel was at bat so that fans had plenty of time to boo the Astros player. (Yahoo!Sports, Nov. 1, 2017)

Darvish himself, though, seemed to be more forgiving. He put out a statement acknowledging that everyone makes mistakes and that he hopes Gurriel learns from his. In Darvish’s own words, ” If we can take something from this, that is a giant step for mankind. Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger.” (Yahoo!Sports)

So I’m happy for Houston fans. But Gurriel’s thoughtless gestures reminds us we still have a long way to go in race relations in this world.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

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IMG_1465One of my sisters, who loves to shop for home decor, has a pet peeve: decorative wall hangings, plaques and wooden blocks that feature sayings such as, “Be Happy,” “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” or “Always Be Humble and Kind.” Her problem with these signs? They’re a bit bossy.

Everywhere you turn – on Facebook, in advertisements, and now even on the mantel of a friend’s home – are directives: “Live, Laugh, Love;” “Believe;” “Have Faith;” “Just Do It.” I’d never noticed the phenomenon until my sister shared her annoyance on a shopping trip one day. “I don’t need to be told what to do!” she complained, half laughing.

There is a sort of relentless cheerfulness about these signs that can grate on a curmudgeon like me (or my sis). So I’m thinking of starting a sign company with my own jaundiced take on these inspirational sayings. Here are some ideas for my new venture, Unhealthy Plaque:

  1. “Just Don’t”
  2. “Go Nuts and Give Up”
  3. “Choose Selfishness”
  4. “Be Your Worst Self”
  5. “Belittle”
  6. “Dance Like You’re on You Tube”
  7. “Always Be Hungry and Clueless”
  8. “Eat Prey, Loaf”
  9. “Find Your Blister”
  10. “Sweat It All”

And my favorite sign of all would be: “You’re Not the Boss of Me!”

Still, there’s one popular saying with which I must say I heartily agree: “Life is uncertain: Eat Dessert First!”

Costumes and Controversy

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71BQabb5+rL._SL1500_It’s Halloween, so that means time for more skirmishes in the culture wars of the new millennium. Readers of my blog are familiar with my opposition to Indian sports mascots and dressing up in ways that demean racial and ethnic minorities. But even I am shaking my head at some of the clothing choices deemed cultural appropriation these days.

The latest controversy surrounds dressing up like the Disney animated character Moana, from the movie of the same name. Moana is a spunky Pacific Islander whose quest to save her people forms the plot of the 2016 feature. The controversy arose when a blogger wrote about why she wouldn’t allow her white daughter to dress up as Moana for Halloween. It wasn’t right, she reasoned, to appropriate the dress of a non-white culture. But Moana is a fictional character, and wearing an outfit that looks like the one in the movie is hardly demeaning to anyone.

Disney has made a real effort in the past few decades to present heroes and heroines from cultures other than the dominant white Anglo one. Shouldn’t we be encouraging our little girls to admire and emulate characters from other cultures? The blogger even questioned whether allowing her brown-eyed, brunette daughter to go as the ice queen Elsa might be sending her the message that only blonde, blue-eyed women are desirable. That is way over-thinking the process of selecting a Halloween costume, if you ask me.

Even in the realm of ordinary fashion, culture warriors are taking the issue of cultural appropriation to ridiculous extremes. Can we agree that there is a huge difference between dressing in blackface or Indian war paint and wearing hoop earrings? Apparently not, to some. Not long ago, a group of Latina students at Claremont McKenna College protested that white women should not be wearing hoop earrings, which are part of Latina culture. Similar arguments have occurred over white women styling their hair in cornrows.

The term cultural appropriation has taken on a very negative connotation, and I myself have used it to describe demeaning depictions of minorities by whites. But in a way, cultural appropriation is an integral part of the American experience. As we have welcomed immigrants of various races and ethnicities, we have also come to appreciate and incorporate styles, cuisine, music, and art from these various cultures.

On Halloween and every day, we should be respectful of others from varied backgrounds and identities. There are some very clear cut instances of white people trashing the cultures of ethnic and racial minorities. It’s kind of like what has famously been said about pornography: You’ll know it when you see it. A little common sense and sensitivity are called for so that we don’t start to compartmentalize and segregate ourselves into a narrow definition of what constitutes our culture.