The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Other March 25, 2010

A couple of days ago, I was perusing my usual morning sites when I came across a post on Jezebel.com written in response to this piece in the Wall Street Journal. The topic? Friendship breakups.

While the WSJ article discusses the painful fallout of a friendship gone bad, it still assumes that you’re going to need to jettison some friends at some point in your life and gives hints as to how to get it done. I agree with Anna N. from Jezebel in thinking that these steps may be necessary for a friend who is stealing your money for heroin or is some kind of a toxic bully,  but the best option for a friendship in a dry spell is probably time and space. Instead of permanently casting off friendships, we should dial them down and wait for circumstances to change. In a few weeks, months, even years, you and your friend may be right back on the same page and you’ll be so very happy you didn’t have that dramatic split. Even if you die without ever getting back together, it’ll save unnecessary time, drama, and tears on both ends.

However this section gave me pause:

“Some friendships can actually be bad for us — if a friend is manipulative, untrustworthy, or intentionally hurtful, self-preservation pretty much demands a split. But what of the pal who’s simply annoying, who has objectionable political views (one of Bernstein’s examples), or with whom we just don’t have as much in common as we used to? This friend might be occasionally fun but often grating, or might make us angry and happy in equal measure. What to do?” – Anna N., “The Friendship Breakup: When to Hold ‘Em and When to Fold ‘Em,” Jezebel [emphasis added]

The political examples Bernstein gives are “Rob Wilson, 53, a writer in Atlanta, saw a 12-year friendship abruptly end after he mentioned he was voting for George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election” on the dump-ee end and for the dump-ers she has the suggestion “Become a Facebook pest. I have a gay friend who has had much success getting rid of bigoted high school friends by making his status updates as flamboyant and politically charged as possible.”

The dump-er example makes sense in one way and not at all in another. If acquaintances have shown themselves to be bigots or hateful towards you, then cut ties ASAP. But the cyber pest suggestion seems childish, passive aggressive, and counter-productive. If you really want to get rid of someone just do it. Hide them from your feed. Or block them. It’s instantly effective, since you don’t have to wait for them to act. You wont see them and they wont see you. The end.

Trying to annoy the crap out of someone in hopes that they cut you off on their own is not attractive, effective, or constructive. You will NOT get the satisfaction of seeing them break down sobbing and saying you were right all along, like a bully in some afternoon teen special. They’re more likely to make additional inane and hurtful comments or just ignore you, giving you no real satisfaction. Don’t let someone you dislike turn you into a nasty person and ruin any more moments of your life.

The dump-ee example, a man voting for a candidate his friend disliked and its equation with “objectionable political views” as grounds for breakups (Bernstein) or distancing (Anna N.) upsets me on a visceral level for a number of reasons.

Neither my friends, 7abibi, my family, or any of my acquaintances ascribe to the same political views as I do. The few times I have sought out people who do, I haven’t been successful in uncovering anyone I really connected with. If everyone kept to their own kind, I would have no one at all.

My own experience with politics and relationships has been ugly. It started out ugly in high school, in the amazingly charged climate after 9/11, and has stayed ugly, right through college to the present ever-escalating  political nightmare. It was a hard lesson, but I learned that I would seldom, if ever, have the luxury of being in a situation where anyone agreed with me or backed me up in a political discussion…or argument.

I came to expect being the one at the bottom of a dog pile of derision. Sometimes the dog pile was full of people I didn’t know. Other times it was composed of people I loved, trusted, and respected. No matter who it is, it hurts. Every time. I’m still trying to figure out how to let it go and move on. Because this dog pile wont be the last or the worst or the most important. Sometimes I play dead and say nothing. Either because I just can’t take it that day or this fight doesn’t matter or this dog pile might prove fatal for a friendship, job, or my personal well-being.

You’re thinking “fatal? Dramatic much?” Allow me to point you to this section of the comments on Jezebel. Where a few people chimed in that politics is definitely grounds for dismissal. Says one commenter, “I’m not friends with people who don’t share my general political views. I just don’t do it. Does this make me judgey and intolerant? Perhaps. Does it make my life better? Yes.” Another says “I don’t have any friends who aren’t on the same page as me either. It’s a total deal breaker.” Another woman says she does maintain friendly acquaintances who disagree with her, but follows it up by saying that she’s currently distancing herself from someone too different.

You’ll see me in there doing a terrible job of making a point, because I broke my cardinal rule of commenting: don’t comment while you’re emotional. I also broke my cardinal rule of speaking up: don’t speak up when there is no benefit. I lashed out for no reason. I feel bullied, hated, misunderstood, and alone. And it’s my own damn fault. I made myself feel bad through the medium of someone with no reason to give a shit about me and who also claims intolerance in the name of a cause as a virtue.

I need to just drop it.

But I can’t.

I can’t not be emotional on this issue. Let me boil down these comments:

I do not like people who are not like me.

Ugly, isn’t it, sitting out there all bald like that? At least one of the commenters owned it for what it was: intolerance. I would consider Jezebel and its commenters to be a generally progressive lot. But this is definitely NOT a progressive idea. At all. This is regressive and hateful.

Since when is it acceptable to say and act in accordance with this sort of philosophy? It is unacceptable to say I don’t like black people or gays or Muslims or people from Arkansas. Why is it okay to say the same about someone whose political beliefs aren’t in lock step with yours?

A wise friend* explained the thinking to me thusly:

“It’s allowed when it’s an ideological issue. People view political beliefs as changeable. It’s not like race, or to some degree religion, where you’re born one thing and you stay one thing. Your politics can change and so if you disagree with someone, it’s YOU disagreeing with them, not some other that you can’t get away from. (I mean you in a global sense, btw)”

I tried to think my way around this by saying that politics has taken the place of religion as personal identification for a large segment of American society. People don’t like to see it that way, because they think religion is not based in fact and political points of view are. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say a lot of our politics are taken on faith, especially in the US’s two-party system. We decide to ascribe to a whole bulletin of party issues that aren’t always related.

For instance, if someone identifies as a Christian first, they may be against the death penalty, abortion, and war, but are they a Republican or a Democrat? I think a lot of religious people struggle with the dilemma of reconciling political and religious doctrine. Some Christians consider themselves Republicans based on single issues like abortion or gay marriage. Others consider themselves Democrats based on single issues like…abortion or gay marriage. I was going to put war or social welfare, but I’m not going to pretend that either party has a lock on the Christian vote for any one issue.

Once they decide on a party, they are automatically presumed by people on the ground and pollsters in DC to agree with a host of other party issues. They themselves may even assume that because a party is right on one issue, it’s right on other issues. Some people aren’t assuming. Maybe they’re brilliant human beings that live to a ripe old age of 101 and read day in and day out about political philosophy. Or a dedicated warriors in pursuit of radical changes of their country’s political and social environment, like one of the Jezebel commenters mentioned above.

I still don’t believe that it’s the best idea to categorically ban relationships with people different from ourselves.

Why? Because once we are within an echo chamber, it is far easier to see that the other side, being wrong on one issue, is wrong on every issue. Not only are they wrong on every issue, they want to be wrong. They’re trying to trick us into being wrong too. They’re actually mean, hateful, evil people. They’re not like me. They are the other. I could never like them.

I do not like people who are not like me.

There it is. Again.

This is the perfect example of how intolerance is born of fear and ignorance. We did it in the past with race, religion, gender, and sexuality. Hell, we still do it with race, religion, gender, sexuality, and tons of other stuff. We human beings are really good at hating each other for any and every reason. Usually not a good one.

I’m going to go out from my limb to a twig and say deciding to eschew contact with all people who are not like you does not make your life better.

In fact, it makes everyone’s life worse. Do I have to go back and make citations of historical and present day events for people to see that hate and intolerance are demonstrably bad not only for individuals, but society as a whole?

So what is the answer? I don’t know. I don’t know that there is an answer.

If you don’t want to or can’t be friends with someone, then don’t. It’s better for both of you than building up resentment and misunderstanding.

You don’t have to be best friends with someone who thinks abortion is murder, if you think abortion is a right and integral to women’s empowerment. Maybe it’s not possible. I don’t know.

But I beg you to consider what you are doing if you dismiss out of hand people who are not like you. Here is why:

1) We may already like people we think we hate.
The social atmosphere right now is so poisoned by intolerance, people who see the world differently from the dominant group (whether it’s the dominant group in the country, in the room, or in the circle of friends) are too terrified to speak up. Think of that person who always says something non-committal when politics come up. It may be she has no opinion. It may also be she doesn’t agree with the dominant group and knows or fears that it could lead to isolation and resentment if she were to reveal herself.

I “came out” to a college friend and roommate about my political views after a long time of working on a bond of trust and mutual affection. I shit you not, her first response was “Oh. I thought you were normal like the rest of us.” To her credit, she continues to treat me like a normal person who is capable of being her friend. Because I freaking AM. I’ve also had this go the other way and had former friends attack me viciously and never speak to me again. Usually I’m too afraid. So I just protest I have no interest in politics. Or I say nothing at all and hope it goes unnoticed.

Some people realize the folly of cutting off friends for differences that aren’t as divisive as they once realized. Some people feel betrayed. Instead of letting the knowledge that they like someone they thought they would hate explode their past logic, they revert. So it goes.

2) We don’t hate these people, we hate fear and uncertainty.
By refusing friendship and discourse with someone different, we are missing the chance to challenge our own point of view. Meaning we are limiting our own knowledge and personal growth. We are making ourselves a bad advocate for our own causes. We open ourselves up to all kinds of manipulation by people who may have other ends in mind.

As anyone with a background in social sciences will tell you, “the other” is not reflective of an actual reality. It is a creation in both collective and individual minds used to define ourselves by comparison to another group. When we hate the other we are actually hating our own creation. Our own fear. We are actually hating a small piece of ourselves.

When we refuse to consort with the other, people who are not like ourselves, we refuse to face the fact that everyone doesn’t think like us. Scarier still, if we talk to these people and become their friends, we might start to realize that these beliefs are valid (do not mistake this as true/perfect/universal – just valid). Which leads to uncomfortable thoughts like I might not be right and there are alternatives.

We hate the idea of uncertainty. Of maybe being wrong. Or at least not knowing if we’re right. Not 100%. Not all the way right. It’s a really uncomfortable feeling. Being unsure and trying to justify decisions to ourselves and others based on assumptions that could possibly be wrong.

But guess what? That is a good and important feeling. It is the feeling of stretching, growing, seeking out knowledge.

Who was that moron who said “the unexamined life is not worth living” and thought the wisest man knows he knows nothing? Oh right. Socrates. He’s really old, male, white, and dead, but considering people are still listening to him after something like 2500 years, I think he might be on to something.

I’m starting to think that accepting this uncertainty while still making decisions and taking actions that hopefully lead to a good life is what learning to be a grown up is all about.

Having a friend to help you is invaluable in this task.

3) We are missing the chance at a relationship that could give us comfort and love when we need it most.
If you are thinking, what is this person talking about? I don’t hate them. They hate me!

Congratulations. That is going to solve exactly nothing. You are condemning those you hate to ignorance, meanness, and fear whilst simultaneously giving yourself the same. If we all continue to hate and push away people we believe are not like us, it’s going to be a nasty unpleasant life for everyone forever. Yippee.

It is a cold, hard, lonely world out there. Who are we nattering little nincompoops to be pissing away love and friendship?

*Thank you to my dearest Elbie Toes for listening to me cry and complain about this for two days (or is it 11 years?) straight. We may not agree on much of anything politically, but I love you all the same.

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*Everything* is Toasted March 21, 2010

While streaming the disastrous catastrophic demoralizing infuriating basketball game yesterday, I happened to catch a Mercedes-Benz commercial.

“Isn’t that Draper?” says 7abibi, the indifferent victim of second-hand Mad Men viewership.

And so it was!

Apparently, Jon Hamm is the new voice of Mercedes-Benz. Their logic being that Hamm is both extremely popular from Mad Men and his recurring role on 30 Rock, NBC’s Tina Fey vehicle, and because he has a “terrific, very resonant voice with a lot of gravitas to it.”

It’s true that Hamm’s a mega hunk with buckets of talent. I’m glad he’s getting the attention he deserves. I’m just not positive that the commercials are going to have the exact effect Mercedes-Benz is going for.

Sure, talking points about eco-conscious engineering drip like glistening ambrosia from Hamm’s well-molded lips, but all I hear is Don Draper pulling another one over on us, “it’s toasted” style.

Go watch the clip. It’s short and important. Go.

Back? Okay. This is the first episode of Mad Men. How could I not be hooked? For those of you who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, I really do urge you to give it a shot. The sets, costuming, hair, and makeup are outdone only by the superb writing and acting.

The down side to watching Mad Men? Well, you start to feel like EVERYTHING is toasted.

Like Don says, advertising is all about telling the story that affirms the consumer. If an ad can do this well, it generally leads to consumption of the advertised product.

More often than not, the story that we’re being told about one product, is actually just as true for the competition. It’s simply that one company has been more successful in branding.

Sometimes the story being told is true but irrelevant. Like “natural botanicals” in shampoo. Sure they’re in there, but they may be included in such tiny amounts they have no effect whatsoever on your hair. The active ingredients are probably a mix of unappealing things like detergents, preservatives, fragrance, and dye. But, hey, slap in some technically present “tropical essence” and your customer feels like they’re washing their hair with shampoo made from fairy lights and tropical fruit. Don’t even get me started on “chemical free” products. Uh…what is your product made of then? Dark matter?

Think the Lucky Strike ruse is old news? The rebranding is eerily similar to this company’s attempt to change the name of prunes (image: old people with constipation) to dried plums (image: hip foodie in search of exotic delicacies). The product is the same, the words and the story we tell ourselves has radically changed.

As you know, I love stories. I even like to be told stories about a product that someone wants to sell me. Heck, I even tell myself stories about the products I’m buying sometimes. I hunted down the exact brand and shade of red lipstick used on Joan in Mad Men. Why? Because we’re both fair, I love lipstick, and when I wear it I can tell myself that I am a capable and feisty professional woman like Joan.

I use my Imaginary Heroine powers and try to tell myself a story to make me feel differently, act differently. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But other times it does. That little bit of lipstick makes feel just a touch more ready for Monday.

Laura Mercier creme lipstick in Mistress, an office maven's best friend

As immersed as we are in media culture, we need to be hyper-aware that the story we’re told by advertisers (as well as politicians, professors, journalists, novelists, etc) is by no means complete. Mostly because no human is omnipotent or infallible, but also because some humans seek to manipulate others. Sometimes for innocuous reasons and other times for malicious reasons, but almost always for reasons that benefit the teller and not the listener. Not to go all Professor Moody (who had his own agenda, especially whilst being impersonated a murderous Death Eater*), but we need to have constant vigilance on this issue.

Take for instance, the commercial blitz for the 2010 Census. That joyful man in his bathrobe is “being counted!” and in doing so he’s funding after school sports, fixing roads, and saving pregnant ladies in labor.

However, that story ignores some of the more ugly uses of the Census in the past. Like rounding up Japanese Americans for internment in the 1940s or giving information on the concentrations of Arab Americans to the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 and 2003. Not to mention the more recent identity theft that resulted from the Census Bureau misplacing 672 laptops as well as Census workers posting respondents’ data on a public website while testing software. These aren’t fairy tales of civic duty, they’re nightmares of government excesses and ineptitude.

And if you’re thinking of using the above reasons to skip the Census, forget about it. You’re required by law to take part if you’re over 18. The Census Bureau is able to levy fines of $100 per blank answer, $500 per willful wrong answer, and $5,000 for non-compliance. So, fill out your form and hope that Bathrobe Bob is right this time around, okay? If that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, follow-up mailing your letter with a screening of O Brother Where Art Thou and cheer when Little Hogwallop says “I nicked the Census man” and Delmar responds “Now there’s a good boy.”

I guess all we can do is listen to the stories we’re told and try to think critically about our responses. Where does this story come from? Who is telling me this story? What do they want me to take away from this story? What do they want me to do and why? Should I take their advice or should I decide to act differently?

Because if we don’t, we’re all going to end up toasted.

*Ever notice how we all seem to attribute thoughts and actions to Professor Moody that were expressed NOT by Moody, but instead by Barty Crouch, Jr.? Even Ron, Hermione, and Harry, who would have reason to know better, continue to quote Crouch-Moody and take his advice. Weird. I don’t know if this is JKR’s subtle comment on how much people resist the notion of betrayal or if she did such a good job with Crouch-Moody that he hoodwinked not only the Potterverse, but also its fans and author!

 

What a Marshmallow! March 20, 2010

Filed under: Current Events,Movies — imaginaryheroine @ 11:21 am
Tags: , , ,

Went and got my New Moon DVD (the Target version) early this morning. And when I say early, I mean I left the house at about 8:30… Yeah, I guess I’ve lost my youthful enthusiasm.

Hopefully the movie will be over before 7abibi gets home from soccer. I’ve got to say I’m team human for New Moon. Charlie, Jessica, Eric, Harry Clearwater – the humans get all the great lines:

Charlie: Alright… girl’s night… shopping… I like it. Go…buy some… stuff…

[The genius of Billy Burke is undeniable. If there’s some sort of casting fiasco like the one with Rachelle Lefevre, I may have to just…something. Something bad!]

***

Jessica: I don’t know why you want to sit through all those zombies eating people and no hot guys kissing anyone.  It’s gross. Why are there that many zombie movies anyway? Is it supposed to draw a parallel to leprosy? My cousin had leprosy – It’s not funny, y’know. Is it supposed to be a metaphor for consumerism?  ‘Cause don’t be so pleased with your self-referential cleverness…

[Ditto for Anna Kendrick…]

***

Bella Swan: We should get a bunch of people… You guys wanna go see Face Punch?
Eric: Yeah! Hey, Mike, remember we were suppose to watch that? The trailer’s all like “*Pew!Pew!* Punch his face in!”

[SMeyer has said she’s not particularly happy with the whole Face Punch thing. I thought it was one of the best parts of the movie. But I’m kind of crazy like that, I guess.]

***

Harry Clearwater: Don’t worry about the bears, Bella. My Kung Fu is strong.

***

I have to give the best quote of all to Jacob, though.

by ~Taylor-LautnerLover on DeviantART

 

March Madness: BYU March 18, 2010

Filed under: Current Events — imaginaryheroine @ 7:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today BYU beat Florida in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

I, of course, was eagerly refreshing my gametrackers and counting down the hours minutes seconds to my own game when I saw this headline:

Cougars’ recover in ‘Nick’ of time

*screeching tires sound*

The Brigham Young University mascot is a cougar?

Seriously?

Were they the cougars before Twilight?

Was there some kind of prophecy at the BYU mascot meeting?

Can’t think about this too much…gotta get back to the GAME!!!!

 

First Nations Representation and the Twilight Franchise March 13, 2010

I thought I’d follow up my last post with some miscellaneous links/notes regarding the tumultuous relationship between the Twilight franchise and the Native American community. It’s not a topic that I’m particularly adept at discussing, but here are some of the issues and sources I’ve found interesting:

Interesting how the Native characters in Twilight are always mostly naked while Edward and his family are very buttoned up. Are non-white bodies more accepted as sexual objects? Discuss...

This post from Racialicious dissects some of the racial stereotypes in Meyer’s depiction of the Quileutes. The sections on exoticism and sexualization of non-whites and equating Indigenous Peoples with the animalistic are particularly interesting. It’s something I’d like to return to in the future, but I feel like my competence with the subject matter is too limited at the moment. I welcome links and book/article recommendations on similar topics.

***

I'm so glad I'm not a child celebrity. The interwebz has only limited amounts of my youthful exploits, thank goodness.

Questions have been raised about Taylor Lautner’s Native American status. Whether he has Native ancestors or not, it’s clear that he was not raised in any Native American tradition. A serious scandal surrounds Tinsel Korey (aka Harsha Patel?), who plays Emily Young in New Moon and Eclipse. That these issues haven’t been widely discussed seems kind of odd. The Twilight franchise has a rabid fan base demanding up to date info nownownow. You’d think news outlets would be hopping all over it. Unfortunately, it may be ignored simply because it’s a First Nations issue. Non-Native American readers are probably more interested in Lautner’s abs than whether he or Korey are authentic representatives of Native populations.

I’m torn on whether or not it’s necessary for actors to be actual members of specific groups in order to play one in a movie. Their job is to pretend and convince us to willingly suspend disbelief for a few hours. Demanding utter authenticity from your actors, especially when they’re playing vampires and werewolves, kind of defeats the point of acting and verges on silly.

However, the history of casting is littered with offensively slipshod and/or racist representations, from replacing non-white characters with whites (whites are clearly the neutral, non-ethnic race, donchaknow? /sarcasm) to employing a tiny handful of Indian and Arab actors and using them interchangeably – as if the vast array of ethnic mixtures from North Africa, the Middle East, and South Central Asia were all the same.

***

Here’s a post from an amazing blog that explores Indigenous peoples in children’s literature. The author, Debbie Reese, offers her own critical perspectives on the Twilight saga, but I especially appreciated this post on actual Quileutes willing to share the true traditions of the tribe.

***

Ahem problematic heritage hijacking. Ahem.

Meyer’s appropriation of Quileute name, land, and tradition is really a very sensitive issue. She has personally gained quite a bit from the association. The fallout, as indicated in the above links, is mixed for the actual Quileute people. Will Twilight tourism pump some money into the economically depressed reservation? Do the Quileute even want the attention in the first place if all they get is a bunch of tittering teens interrupting their talks on deeply-held spiritual beliefs with questions about whether they have any brothers and are any of them werewolves?

***

Again, this is all fairly new to me, so I don’t have an official stance on any of these topics other than to say that I would love to learn more about each of them.

 

Doppelgängers of Facebook February 17, 2010

A few days late to the party, I decided to join Celebrity Doppelgänger Week on Facebook, during which members change their profile picture to a look-a-like celeb and let the flattering comments roll in. As a general rule, I latch on to Facebook trends just as everyone stops paying attention to them. The difficulty of living away from real-time friends is you’re pretty slow on the uptake.

I’ve always had a fair amount of people tell me I look like *insert fair, dark-haired and -eyed celebrity here* or someone they know. I had a classmate tell me I look just like their friend Wendy and then call me by her name the rest of the class. One day on campus I had an entire conversation with a girl I desperately tried to place, before realizing I actually had no clue who she was…and she didn’t seem to know me either. She had mistaken me for someone else.

The BooHooWhatAboutMe part of my brain says I must look pretty generic if I look “just like” so many people. The OhGrowUpNotEverythingIsAboutYou part of my brain says that people are generally just not that perceptive. The majority of the world has no reason to be as interested in me as more intimate acquaintances. We observe in broad strokes, discarding idiosyncratic minutia for a passable short hand (tall, pale, brown hair. Done.). When considering the big picture it’s also interesting to note that the physical limitations on facial morphology for humans mean all of us are going to look like a lot of other people.

After discarding Anne Hathaway (pale and brunette, but totally unlike me in all other meaningful ways) and Sandra Bullock (thanks Dad and random hobo guy outside my office building, but meh…not really similar), I tried the MyHeritage face recognizer. What I got was a selection of stars who neither looked like me, each other, or themselves – the photos were from odd angles or with weird faces or very dated. I suspect that MyHeritage simply cobbles together a random list and hopes you’re so flattered that you’ll just run with whatever they give you.

I also suspect this may be the point of Celebrity Doppelgänger Week. It’s a way for people to have their appearances validated by association with cultural ideals. I’m attractive – see! I look just like So-and-so!

Other bloggers have pointed out the problematic racist/sizeist elements to the doppelgänger game. With the limited number of popular, non-white celebrities, should someone select a doppelgänger that is of the same race, but otherwise unlike them (playing into the “All *people of group X* look the same” stereotype) or should they select a celebrity with similar features who may be of another race (eliding their racial identity). If you are fat, are you required to chose from the minuscule pool of celebrities with a similar size or should you risk ridicule by selecting someone whose features are more similar of yours, but happens to be smaller than you? What do you do when there really isn’t a celebrity who looks like you at all?

Celebrity Doppelgänger Week is simply another way of reinforcing the reductive power of beauty ideals. I look enough like a celebrity to be considered attractive OR I don’t look like any celebrity and thus I must not be attractive. It’s a way of sorting, dividing, and excluding the majority of people in favor of the few who posses prized and rare physical qualities. We don’t really question the dubious connection between physical perfection and perceived intellectual/spiritual perfection, but the implication is deeply ingrained in our communal identity. For myriad reasons, beautiful people are treated as valuable people.

In reality, the vast majority of us don’t look like the narrowly defined and ever-homogenizing beauties that populate Hollywood (taking into account the overuse of Photoshop, neither do they). Which is okay! It really is. Not only because it’s demonstrably false that outer beauty is a necessary condition for inner beauty, but because the parameters of a term like Beauty change based on time, place, point of view, etc – everyone and everything is beautiful to someone.

A lack of celebrity doppelgänger is especially good when you think about what the word “doppelgänger” actually means. A doppelgänger is not a super attractive celebrity that everyone will pretend looks just like you so you can get a self-esteem boost. Although the Facebook meme uses it as a synonym for “twin” or “double”, “doppelgänger” is actually a very old and well-used trope of the horror/fantasy genre:

“In German folklore, a wraith or apparition of a living person, as distinguished from a ghost… To meet one’s double is a sign that one’s death is imminent.”

Sure, celebrity “doppelgänger” profile pictures might not be a sign of imminent mortal peril, but they do seem to be indicative of a certain kind of identity peril, a willingness to discard our unique features in favor of those approved by society as “correct.” It invites the erasure of intimate beauty that lies in the individual nature of someone’s form. Isn’t that a different kind of imminent death?

After climbing out of that philosophical rabbit hole, I decided to change my profile picture to Waterhouse’s “Pandora” instead.

 

27.3% of America Feels “Up in the Air” January 30, 2010

(SPOILERS: Contains discussion of major plot points from the movie)

Last night 7abibi and I managed to catch Up in the Air before it left theaters. Despite the presence of the lovely and talented Anna Kendrick of Jessica-in-Twilight-and-New Moon fame I was kind of left feeling meh by the trailer. Guy. Planes. Whatevs. I’m so glad he talked me into it, because I thought it was smart, funny, and full of timely philosophical questions.

Up in the Air

Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is a corporate downsizer for hire, rolling around the country slashing jobs and dreaming of reaching 10 million frequent flier miles. A new hire at his firm, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), drops in a to rain on his parade with her idea to revolutionize the industry by nixing expensive travel and firing people via videoconference. Through the marvel of modern technology, downsizers like Bingham can now fire anyone anywhere from the comfort of their home office, no travel costs incurred.

Bingham fights for his jet setting lifestyle and the “dignity” of his profession only to have his boss recommend he take Natalie on the road for a quick tutorial in the art of letting people go. The film examines Bingham’s emotional detachment and isolation as well as Natalie’s naive expectations about what life looks like after the comforting structure of college is stripped away.

The most interesting portions for me were those that dealt with the emotional toll of unemployment. In a society when the first thing people ask is “What do you do?,” it is absolutely gut-wrenching to have to work around the issue of underemployment or unemployment. If the latest job stats are any indication, there are a lot of wrenched guts out there.

According to the latest press release from the US Labor Department, unemployment is still hovering around 10% in the US.  According to NPR, this number doesn’t include another 17.3% of Americans who are underemployed, working part time instead of full time or working below their education and experience level to stay afloat financially.

Although Up in the Air does touch upon the financial troubles faced by fired employees, its true accomplishment is the poignant portrayal of the identity crisis people go through when they lose their jobs. What do you do when you have no answer to “what do you do”? Who are you in our society when you are not a contractor or administrative assistant or farmer or any other do-er?

At one point in the movie, Bingham says, “When we stop moving, we die.” Taken another way, this could be read as when we stop doing, we die. An unemployed person is drastically de-verbed. They are no longer a do-er. It’s not hard to see how many people can feel a piece of themselves has died when they lose their job. You weren’t let go. You were terminated.

Though I am lucky enough to not be unemployed, I can speak to the awful feelings of underemployment – something felt by zillions of recent grads.

I busted my ass in college. So did a lot of people. I didn’t graduate high school, so I may have endowed graduation with a little more epic significance than is strictly the norm, but on campus people act as though that little piece of paper will be your ticket to the good life. Invest, they tell you. You have to invest your time and effort and (especially) money into your future.

After graduation, I filled out over 200 applications for any and every job I could find. Despite my fairly substantial work experience, near-perfect GPA, and glowing references, I only got called in for one interview. With a temp agency. They didn’t hire me. I got a decent contract position through a friend of a friend of a friend, doing approximately the same thing that I did 5 years ago as a freshman in college. It took me over a year to pick up my diploma.

To quote Tyler Durden in Fight Club:

“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

The difference between my generation and the Fight Club generation is that we aren’t living in a world of corporate plenty and we aren’t “working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” Many of us are working precarious and dead end jobs and still can’t buy shit we actually do need. Many of us are working no job and find that not only can’t we afford shit, we can’t participate in the world of American personhood.

“What do you do?”

“I do nothing.” The subtext being, “I am no one.”

It doesn’t matter how many times we’re told “a lot of people are going through this too” or “it’s not you, it’s just the recession” or “something will come up – jobs are a lagging indicator”. It feels like it’s you. Just you. You are a failure and you are alone and the life you were promised would be there if you just worked hard enough is gone forever. And you are very, very pissed off.

The corporate downsizers in Up in the Air are full of cloying doublespeak to soothe the newly terminated. “We’re here to talk about your future” and “it’s important to look at this as an opportunity” and even “if not for you, do it for your family.” Clips of the terminated employees are spliced in, depicting fear, grief, anger, and confusion. According to Imdb, these are real people expressing how they felt after they were fired from their real jobs. The juxtaposition of actors playing terminators spouting insincere corporate blather and the honest feelings of the terminated straight from the source is a truly masterful touch.

It is these same people who provide a light at the end of the tunnel – and the movie. Though still struggling to get by, their tone is more hopeful as they talk about how their families and friends rallied around them after they were fired. While the “do it for your family” line has a hollow ring rolling off of Bingham’s silver tongue, family becomes the cornerstone of these real people’s salvation. You take each day one at a time, using your loved ones to stay on course. We are not just our jobs. We are not alone.

So… I guess this is a really long way of saying thanks, 7abibi, for taking me to see Up in the Air.