Archive for January 15th, 2010

From David Brooks, on why Haiti is so poor:

We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.

Forget Haiti’s long history of colonial abuse, economic exploitation, and violent U.S. intervention (see here and here) when trying to understand Haiti’s poverty – just blame it on their “culture”! (and voodoo – really, David Brooks?  Are you serious???)

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Bit of a drive-by post here- David Ruccio has a good post from earlier in the week about the movie Up in the Air and how it serves as a commentary on modern capitalism. I saw Up in the Air and really enjoyed it, and was also struck about how timely it was, particularly when showing clips of interviews with people who have been laid off (I think the interviews were fake, but archetypal).

Whether or not Rietman intended it (he started writing the screenplay 6 years ago), “Up in the Air” is a serious comedy about contemporary capitalism. Clearly, in the midst of growing unemployment, a character whose job it is to fly around the country firing employees, and with a minimum of legal exposure, will strike a discordant note with many viewers (that he’s played by Clooney doesn’t make what he does any less objectionable). Apparently (so I have discovered), capitalism has found a way of profiting from doing exactly what Bingham does; there are many firms that specialize in what is euphemistically called corporate downsizing and outplacement services…

And Bingham is the perfect stand-in for capital: he loves the “phomey” simulacra world of air travel (“Everything you hate about travel is why I love it”); he has no connection to anyone or any place..

One of the ironic twists of the movie is that Natalie, fresh out of college and as nihilistic as Clooney, has devised a computer video program  (she wants to name it The Terminator, but her boss refuses), which will enable the firing of employees from a remote location, thus replacing Bingham and his co-terminators (or at least keeping them grounded). He is thus forced to try to justify the in-person services he provides, which cannot but fail to convince viewers. Firing workers humanely makes as much sense as the idea of humane executions.

The film exhibits a difficult ambiguity: on one hand, it includes interview segments featuring a combination of real people and actors who relate their experiences of being fired, which would be difficult to watch in any climate, and are even more gut-wrenching in the midst of the current crises; on the other hand, it is permeated with product placement…

Viewers may indeed root for Bingham to make a connection—but not with family members or Alex. We want him to ultimately side with the people he’s firing.

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(Updates follow at the bottom)

One of the giant elephants in the room at Notre Dame is that for a campus that espouses social justice and equality, it has not made much progress on creating a sexual orientation-neutral culture on campus. In many ways, it has directly stifled it, by rejecting non-discrimination language intended to welcome homosexuals, and also by repeatedly stonewalling requests for club recognition by AllianceND,  Notre Dame’s unofficial gay-straight alliance. Anecdotal reports of homophobia are rampant, and the campus has rightfully earned itself the #5 ranking in Princeton Review’s “Alternative Lifestyle Not an Alternative” list.

For the most point, these issues remain below the surface, aside from occasional flareups over the Queer Film Festival (no defunct) or the Vagina Monologues. This week, however, there was a giant wakeup call when the student newspaper, The Observer, ran a homophobic (and hate crime-encouraging) comic.

The comic is notable for its stupidity as well as its hatefulness:

Character A:  What is the easiest way to turn a fruit into a vegetable?

Character B: No idea.

Character A: A baseball bat.

Of course, if you think that’s bad, a post on the artist’s now deleted blog reveals that the strip originally had AIDS as the punchline. A gchat conversation that the artist brazenly posted shows that the editor that evening was concerned with making fun of diseases, but not the gay angle, which the artist did bring to his attention. Apparently, the printed joke was “lame enough” to be run.

It didn’t take long for concerned students as well as outside groups to learn of this comic. Yesterday, the Gay-Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation demanded an apology and retraction of the comic. The editor-in-chief, who was not working that evening, gave a “tearful apology” and said a retraction would be printed today (the newspaper’s website is down, so no telling what this retraction said).

It would be silly to blame the editor for a mistake that was made by an unwitting subordinate. However, the most troubling aspect of the whole incident is that anyone at the newspaper (or on campus) would think this comic was okay to author or to run. Indeed, the culture on campus is backwards enough that the editor that night did not think people would be offended. The artist was obviously aware of the hatefulness, but realized that for every angry letter he got, he would undoubtedly receive the support of two or three guffawing buddies. This incident is thus just the latest manifestation of a much deeper cultural problem that has been abetted by the administration’s neglect of alternative sexual orientations. One can add it to the laundry list of contradictions that Notre Dame presents.

With that, we return to your previously scheduled programming.

Update (10:45 AM): Not sure if this is legit, but this is the artist’s purported apology:

I know. It’s awful, it should not have been published. Honestly, I feel really bad about it.

BUT, there’s a story behind it. We normally create comics with a group of people and a case of beer, just throwing out random ideas. Usually we create things like this for our own stupid amusement, and the Observer people know that. Sometimes we’ll send them 3 comics over the course of the night because the first two get censored. This was one of those times. My friend told this ‘joke’ to the group and we sent it the comic to mess with the observer people (as we often do). Obviously the person working that night did not get the joke and let it through. I don’t want to in any way want to try to absolve myself from responsibility, but we did not intend for it to be published…. See More

I’m sorry you were offended (for good reason), and we’ve written a letter to the editor apologizing and attempting to explain ourselves.

Update 2 (10:56 AM): People are sending emails to president@nd.edu about this cartoon. I’d encourage anyone who is willing to do so, and to focus on the systemic issues behind this cartoon.

Update 3 (11:09 AM): Sociology professor Dan Myers has an excellent letter to the editor about this situation.

Update 4 (11:10 AM): The Observer’s retraction is here.

Update 5 (12:49 pm): The apology from the artists is here.

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