Tag Archives: stereotypes

Clitoridectomy Performance in Poor Taste

racism, clitoridectomy, sexual abuse, female circumcision, controversy

A lot of controversy over this horrific image at a Swedish art show. Picture via: Frihetssmedjan

When a friend posted a picture of a bunch of laughing women cutting into a cake shaped like the caricatured torso of a black woman I was shocked, and like many others, saying WTF? The artist of this piece Makode Aj Linde in Sweden does various performances and art that look at racial stereotyping. The “cake” actually has the artist’s head sticking through, where he is done up in blackface. Swedish Minister or Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth was asked to cut into the genitals to enact a clitoridectomy. The artist screamed and shrieked as this was done, with the rather gory, red cake interior revealed.

I thought this was only a torso but there are vestigial arms across the ponderous breasts. The artist’s head is done up in black face with a large cartoonish mouth. Many of the pictures show people laughing, taking pictures and eating the cake. The articles were somewhat biased with titles like “nig*ger cake,” “racist cake” and Lena as a  “self-confessed ‘anti-racist.'” The backlash was incredible and ironic since Liljeroth had been invited by the Swedish Art Organisation to speak about artistic freedom and the right to be provocative. Linde’s piece was definitely provocative but if I was an art critic I’d say it didn’t quite come off the way he was expecting.

On first glance we have three affronts: a doubly racist cake with the black person laying there, the black face upon the head, and then the mutilated cake torso smacking of outright cannibalism. On second glance we have people partying and eating the cake, disturbing considering the focal point. As I delved deeper I found a video that showed the artist screaming as the cake is cut. Several friends who viewed this changed their opinions from one of outraged effrontery to admiration because they were chilled by what they saw.

racial stereotyping, female genital mutilation, racist  cake, black person

Little Black Sambo is another racial stereotype: the big lips, white eyes and the watermelon.

As a provocative piece Aj Linde’s piece excelled. It definitely has provoked people to call for the Swedish minister’s resignation. It has outragedthe Association of African Swedes. Did it bring attention to the brutal act of genital mutilation? Yes, it did that too. But that seems secondary to the rest and was in all senses poor taste. Maybe there is no other truly effective way. I could see the human torso cake perhaps at a Hallowe’en party but as a means to highlight female mutilation, it could have stopped before people started eating the cake. What was the point of that? There are some stereotypes of Africans being cannibals and putting people in stewpots, but did that come across? And maybe most disturbing of all is that everyone overall seems to ignore the horrificness of such a cake and just party it up.

Is the laughter nervousness at being confronted with the uncomfortable thought of female genital mutilation? Is it a sign of people oblivious to events outside their purview? Is it a sign of blatant racism? Is it a sign of numbness to all the horrors in the world today? Is it narrow mindedness (if it’s not about me, it’s not important)? Maybe it’s all of these. It certainly is disturbing to me. For anyone who wants another look at female circumcision in terms of fiction, read Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy, which might have been one of the first widely read accounts of such a practice.

Was this performance piece successful in what Aj Linde hoped to get across? All I can think is that in some ways, yes it was, though I think it misfired. I think a piece that mimicked the circumcisions with the screaming would have worked without the cake, but maybe the promise of a tasty confection drew everyone in at the end. If nothing else, this certainly did support an artist’s right to provoke.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk

Flip Spagnoli

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Are Hallowe’en Costumes Racist?

Hallowe'en, costumes, racism, culture

STAR's campaign against racism

If you’re on Facebook you might have seen this picture all ready, circulating all over and many jumping on the politically correct bandwagon and saying, don’t do this. Don’t be insensitive. It was a poster done by STAR (Students and Teachers Against Racism) out of Ohio.

I’ll probably get shot over what I’m going to say here. I’m very much against racism and bigotry but I believe this is a case of mixing apples and oranges. First let’s look at Hallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve, when it was believed that the veils between the worlds thinned and that ghosts and creatures of the underworld walked the night. It was a time when the world grew dark, lands were bereft of food and animals slaughtered for the winter larders. Back far enough, primitive peoples probably wondered if the sun would come back, if they had offended it somehow. That’s why there were always festivals of light on the winter solstice, when the longest night arrived and then the days grew longer. No one knew if it was gods or not.

Hallowe’en’s Celtic name is Samhain (sow-en) and as time went by it became a time to dress children in costumes; scary creatures, ghosts, goblins, skeletons and other things that go bump in the night. It evolved to other costumes but there is a long and complex history of Hallowe’en, with trick or treating, guising, asouling or in costume. Masquerades have existed for centuries.

So dressing up is part of Hallowe’en and has been so for a long time. Now the pictures above have a child of (I’m presuming) African-American, Japanese, Mexican and Arab ethnic groups. They each hold up a picture of a cartoon or a person in costume and it says “This is not who I am and it is not okay.” The top says We’re a culture, not a costume.” And indeed all cultures are very complex.

costume, Halloween, stereotyping, racism, racial stereotyping

Creative Commons: Dutch regional costumes...is this racist?

This campaign was started to stop racial stereotyping, which is a good thing and all airports and police should really pay heed to that. Now the Arab costume has the guy wearing a bomb, as a terrorist I suppose. That is extremely in poor taste, just as dressing like the World Trade Center with a plane flying into you would be. So that costume needs to be tossed. The other pictures have a guy on a donkey, and a Geisha girl. They are indeed stereotypes. They are of earlier eras when in fact there were some people who dressed this way. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t unusual, it was the way it was. They were part of the culture of the time. Just as wearing a dress with a white linen apron, a cap with tips out and wooden shoes was a traditional Dutch costume. Stereotypes start as types.

I doubt there are few people who would put on a costume of a sailor, or a turbaned Maharajah, or of a witch (image from here) and presume that is the way people dress now and that all of a race are like this. Yes, I add witch because branches of neopaganism (Wicca) have members called witches. While there might be a few pagans who get upset at the stereotypical green-skinned witch dressed in black with a wart on her nose as a costume, most will keep a level head and understand that people don’t see them this way.

witch, costume, racism, racial stereotyping

Creative Commons: Is wearing this witch mask racism or bigotry?

I think we need to understand that dressing up in a costume from cultural history (whether a Hawaiian hula dancer, an Aztec king, a French prince, a Viking, a Chinese Mandarin…) does not mean we presume that all people of a particular race look or dress this way. It is part of history and traditional dress used in various festivals to this day imitate those costumes of long ago. Of the four pictures above, the terrorist one is wrong, the other two are historical aspects of a culture, and the last one is what in terms of racism? A person should not be bitten by a vampire? Is it racial stereotyping of vampires or black people because vampires only go after them? I don’t think I understand that one and would it be better or the same if a white person was being bitten? Dressing as a member of the Ku Klux Klan would be very tasteless and downright dangerous in some ares, though it would indeed be scary.

So what is right and wrong here? Hallowe’en does not say to treat all costumed people as bigots or racists, nor does it support racism. It doesn’t emulate racial stereotyping. It does let a person dress up. If First Nations went as a cowboy, and a white person as an Indian, would that be wrong, or just having fun with stereotypes of old?

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Things I’ve Learned From TV

I recently took a week off and, conserving my funds, made it a working vacation for writing. This means I wrote one story, finished another, submitted a bunch of poems and stories and started rewriting my novel…again. In between that, cleaning and doing the great purge on my place, I was also suffering from a case of Smallvillitis. What’s that? Well it’s where you start watching Smallville, on your laptop and watch an episode every day. Of course, this was season 9 so I’ve had the disease for a while. In fact, I watched season 1-9 this year.

That’s actually pretty bad for someone who professes to not watch TV. But I can blame that on Joss Whedon and Buffy who got me back into watching interesting and intelligent TV. Still, I try not to become a total couch potato. However, watching so many seasons at once really lets you see the character and story arcs of the show. What gimmicks or themes are big for them: for Smallville, the theme of power and what’s right and wrong are tantamount, laced with unrequited love, jealousy, faith, fear, alienability, etc. The other thing that becomes evident are the gimmicks or tricks that the directors and producers like for a show. Some of these are the clichés of Hollywood and some are clichés in the making.

Smallville survives because it has interesting enough plots, characters changing sometimes so subtly from good to evil and back and pretty good dialogue. But it falls captive to some of those TV realities, which do not affect our real world. Not just Smallville, but other shows and movies get caught up in the same trap. Below is a partial list of some of the things I’ve learned from TV and from Smallville.

  1. Creepy things in fields and graveyards (or meetings in such places) are always accompanied by mist. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Kansas or the Alps, there’s bound to be spooky mist.
  2. Cars, no matter how small the fire, will always explode. If this were true people would probably never drive them. Explosions are actually very rare. I once copyedited a Hulk novel (I think) where the truck transporting grape jam exploded and the fire was hot enough to melt glass and turn everything purple from the jam. Of course, that’s hot enough to melt a lot of stuff and anything organic would carbonize, not retain its color. I think they still left it in, no matter how inaccurate it was.
  3. Air ducts are always big enough for a full human to crawl though, and spic and span clean. I look up in the buildings I walk through and never notice ducts this big, nor do I think that they could support the weight of a human if I see one. And usually they’re half the size. Where are all the spiders and grungy dirt bits filtered out from the great outdoors?
  4. Elevators always have a hatch at the top, big enough and easy enough for someone to escape into. Everyone is of course a super athlete. In the one level elevator into the underground garage where my bank is, there is a grill and yes a hatch big enough to crawl through, should I be able to hoist myself up. But I don’t often see these in business buildings. And what do the escapees do anyways, crawl up the greasy cables to the next floor?
  5. Fires in houses, even primitive cottages will still cause and explosion. Yes, like cars and trucks watch out for the giganto fires. Toss a lamp down, and it will flame crazily and instantly, and yes the house will explode sooner or later.
  6. Every slum even in big cities, has guys burning fires in oil drums. Next time you’re out in your big city, think about or drive through that bad or down and out are of town. Vancouver has Canada’s poorest postal code with the Downtown Eastside, and you know what, even there with drug addicts and alcoholics and people who need care, there is not one oildrum with a fire burning in it. Dang where is that disenfranchised utopia?
  7. Glass tables; everyone has them because they can fall through them. Yep, you would not believe the number of times someone has tossed someone through a glass table on Smallville. They love it and it happens about every three episodes (I’m just guessing) because well, it looks so good and makes great crashing sounds (done afterwards in the foley studio but who the heck cares).

I’ve already talked about the brainiac glasses cliché where every egghead computer user sports them. But I’ m sure I’ll be able to add more to this list in the future.

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Movie Fallacies: Eyeglasses

The movies are notorious for giving us views of the world that don’t actually reflect reality. Granted, movies are make-believe, there are those “realistic” ones that still skew the truth. Early operatic Valkyries colored people’s views of Vikings and it is still popular to see hulking Norse berserkers with giant horns (or wings) on their helmets, when in fact, archeological evidence indicates this was never the case. There was one helm with straight conical horns and deemed ceremonial due to the decorations, rather than functional.

Now, if we look at Hollywood’s view of intelligence, it almost always involves glasses, especially for women. If a woman isn’t portrayed as a vixen or a housewife, then inevitably she wears glasses so that we know she couldn’t possibly be sexy and therefore must be intelligent (because no way can Hollywood fathom sexy and intelligent–sexy and devious yes, but not straight-on I’m-going-to-solve-this-crisis smart).

Sometimes synonymous with eyeglass intelligence is that of nerdiness. Your nerd, more often guys than not, in any movie is often connected to a computer and wears glasses; big glasses, nerdy glasses. Once in a while you may have an exception, the guy that works a computer all the time but doesn’t wear glasses but it’s rare. Tom Cruise or some other star might, in the role of his Mission Impossible character, need to use a computer but he doesn’t have to wear glasses. Even Tosh in Torchwood, when she’s at the computer puts glasses on.

And that’s what happens to most “intelligent” women, no matter their age in a movie or TV show. As soon as they’re at a computer they wear glasses. Because Hollywood thinks we won’t believe a person’s intelligence without that very noticeable symbol. Although most people don’t need reading glasses until they’re in their 40s or 50s you would think, by Hollywood standards, that everyone is going farsighted early. When I worked on Level 9  for its brief life, the show (about cybercops) was full of computer users but one young woman had to toss glasses on each time at the computer, because that’s just what computer users do. I’m sitting here right now typing without glasses and I do need reading  glasses in low light.

Hollywood’s second name is stereotype. All those old westerns had the good guys in white (or light colors for B&W) and the bad guys in black. Then The Avengers came along and sexy, competent Emma Peel wore black. Gotta give that show credit for mixing it up a bit at an early age.

Next time you’re watching a show that has an intelligent woman in it, check to see if she’s ever sexy in her glasses (also a rarity) or if she is only ever dressed to kill minus the eyewear. And look for that sign of her intelligence when she puts her glasses on, no matter how young she is. And check those nerdy scientist guys. Even if they’re good looking hunks, chances are, if they’re scientists or tied to computers, they’re going to have the eyeglasses (and maybe even the ubiquitous white lab coat).

Hollywood is certainly not into leading in the forefront and often into perpetuating stereotypes. I’m betting some of the HBO shows break those stereotypical taboos more than other stations. Maybe PBS too. It would be interesting to do a survey and see who the worst offenders are, or if it’s the formulaic movies. Signing off, without glasses, and with intelligence.

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