EyeJunkie Feature:CultureSpeak

CultureSpeak: “Slut”

March 12th, 2012

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Cultural context: Apparently it’s the label given graduate students testifying before Congress in favor of insurance coverage of contraceptives. At least the label Rush Limbaugh gives them…

LIMBAUGH: What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.

The johns, that’s right. We would be the johns — no! We’re not the johns. Well — yeah, that’s right. Pimp’s not the right word.

OK, so, she’s not a slut. She’s round-heeled. I take it back.

You’ve probably read about these comments and been tempted to discount them as more ravings from another obviously polarizing ultra-conservative media figure. I was tempted.

I was tempted to discount them as ravings — the kind we tend to become desensitized to. The kind we assume folks view as ridiculous hyperbole, or just plain ridiculous. It’s easy to gloss past something that is so overtly aimed at fire-starting. Or something that is so obviously a misconstruing of context. Or so incredibly minimizing of larger issues.

I was tempted to discount Mr. Limbaugh’s characterizations as so blatantly prejudicial to gender and family concerns that they are surely to be viewed as ignorant by the larger audience — so outlandish that they are easily found laughable by average Americans. I could numb my brain to the obvious implications or questions those comments raise because surely they aren’t taken seriously. Questions like…

1. Is there nothing commendable about a graduate student who is willing to stand before Congress to share her beliefs?
2. In 2012 America, is there no way for “conservatives” to find a fraction of respect for that?
3. Has the process of public discourse become so mind-numbing that we must resort to the use of euphemisms and outright vulgarity to grab the next news cycle?
4. Are all women who use contraceptives promiscuous?
5. Is there no room in the conservative mindset for a woman who might responsibly use contraceptives in planning her family?
6. Is it really ok in our society for a public figure to go on live radio and call a woman he doesn’t know a “slut?”
7. Does conservative thinking really mean jumping on the bandwagon of whatever mindless banter is spouted in a fruitless attempt at humor at another person’s expense?

Surely the answers to these questions are obvious. Surely Mr. Limbaugh’s comments which raised them are indeed reasonably discounted as preposterous. After all, American companies who pledged their advertising dollars on this radio forum are now retreating. Surely any reasonable person would discount these statements.

Yes, I’ve been tempted. To discount them. But I simply can’t. Because I’m reading that Rush Limbaugh’s listener numbers are just the same, maybe higher since his offensive tirade. Why are you, America?

I’m reading no reports that Clear Channel will be denouncing his actions with a cancellation. I’m reading painfully middle-of-the-road comments from candidates vying for conservative votes — because we wouldn’t want to offend conservative America by denouncing someone who calls women sluts on syndicated radio. Where are you, America?

I’m reading disrespectful name-calling from all kinds of self-proclaimed conservative pundits — no, not name-calling of Mr. Limbaugh, but jump-on-the-bandwagon comments about Sandra Fluke. Oh so witty. Filled with nice, big words and just the right amount of conservative jargon. But still calling a woman a “slut” for stating her beliefs about birth control and the need for women’s healthcare. Who are you, America?

Yes, I’ve been tempted to roll my eyes and deem this another one of those tirades. I’ve been tempted to file them in the “consider the source” category and move on. To discount them. But, I simply can’t. Because I sometimes think conservatively. And I don’t want this man speaking for me.

Wake up, America. Be careful where you lend your ears. It just might be where you find yourself living.

© Haley Montgomery

CultureSpeak: “Go Christmas”

November 19th, 2009
Cultural Context: A line from a recent Gap television ad produced in (supposed) response to an American Family Association boycott prompted by Gap, Inc’s “censorship” of “Christmas” in holiday promotions for Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy. According to the AFA website, the complete lyrics of the commercial are:
“Two, Four, Six, Eight, now’s the time to liberate
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanza, Go Solstice.
Go classic tree, go plastic tree, go plant a tree, go add a tree,
You 86 the rules, you do what feels just right.
Happy do whatever you wanukkah, and to all a cheery night.
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you wanukkah.”
Here’s the ad:

Hmmm.  I have a few questions, starting with this:
Is that better, AFA?
In their updated online “action” memo response from 11/16, the American Family Association first takes a small victory lap by saying, “as a result of your actions, Gap has produced a television commercial that uses the word ‘Christmas.” Great job! AFA and its supporters have succeeded in encouraging a major retailer to lump Christmas in with whatever other December holiday you “wanukkah.” But, hey, they used the word “Christmas.”
Of course, the AFA website goes on to denounce the ad as “dismissive and disrespectful,” and for Christians it probably is–which begs my next question. What do you expect?
In a LATimes editorial, Dan Neil asks his own question:
“Why, for example, is the phrase “Happy holidays” so insufferable to Christian fundamentalists, but not the vulgar, surfeiting exploitation of Christ’s name to sell smokeless ashtrays, dessert toppings, Droid phones and trampolines?”
I’m wondering that myself. Retailers do want my holiday money, and they’re going to advertise to get it–just like they do every other month of the year. Why do Christians want Christ’s name out there hawking all kinds of merchandise?From all appearances, Gap, Inc is a secular company. I think I’d be safe to assume that since it made the “Against Christmas” column in AFA’s “Naughty or Nice” holiday retailer list this year. Can we honestly expect a secular company to produce a true interpretation of the monumental value of Jesus’ birth? I’m thinking NO. So is the AFA asking for lip service? It looks that way. And, that’s exactly what it got.
I whole-heartedly agree that Jesus Christ is the center of true Christmas, a celebration of His birth–the earthly beginning of His road to the cross to purchase my salvation through His death. I also happen to believe that the December 25th holiday we call Christmas is a man-made ritual with a colorful history that exists for any number of cultural and spiritual reasons. It isn’t found in the Bible. As a Christian, I do want to ensure that I’m putting value in the right places during the season and focusing on the incredible gift God gave us in His Son becoming flesh. However…
I find this whole Gap/”Happy Holidays” battle to be a ridiculous sidestep of the real issues. It’s cosmetics. And, in the name of bringing out the truth of Christmas, this boycott campaign is completely false at its foundation. How can we possibly expect a culture so prevalently at odds with Christ to produce something that honors Him, to be the bearer of the Christmas message? Why do we even want to try?

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To borrow God’s metaphors… Salt whets a thirsty world’s need for living water. Why insist on sprinkling it with a bunch of tasteless, low sodium substitutes. Whole and redeemed vessels can pour that water into thirsty souls all around us. Why expect hopelessly cracked vessels to carry it?
Dear AFA,
Broken cisterns can’t hold water. Maybe your battle is the wrong one.
[For the record, I probably won’t be purchasing anything from Gap during the holiday season this year–mainly because I’m 5’1″ and their sleeves are always way too long. Baby Gap could be another story.]

Cultural Context: A line from this recent Gap television ad produced in (supposed) response to an American Family Association boycott prompted by Gap, Inc’s “censorship” of “Christmas” in holiday promotions for Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy. According to the AFA website, the complete lyrics of the commercial are:

“Two, Four, Six, Eight, now’s the time to liberate
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanza, Go Solstice.
Go classic tree, go plastic tree, go plant a tree, go add a tree,
You 86 the rules, you do what feels just right.
Happy do whatever you wanukkah, and to all a cheery night.

Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you wanukkah.”

Hmmm.  I have a few questions, starting with this:
Is that better, AFA?

In their updated online “action” memo response from 11/16, the American Family Association first takes a small victory lap by saying, “as a result of your actions, Gap has produced a television commercial that uses the word ‘Christmas.” Great job! AFA and its supporters have succeeded in encouraging a major retailer to lump Christmas in with whatever other December holiday you “wanukkah.” But, hey, they used the word “Christmas.”

Of course, the AFA website goes on to denounce the ad as “dismissive and disrespectful,” and for many Christians it probably is–which begs my next question. What do you expect?

In a LATimes editorial, Dan Neil asks his own question:

“Why, for example, is the phrase “Happy holidays” so insufferable to Christian fundamentalists, but not the vulgar, surfeiting exploitation of Christ’s name to sell smokeless ashtrays, dessert toppings, Droid phones and trampolines?”

I’m wondering that myself. Retailers do want my holiday money, and they’re going to advertise to get it–just like they do every other month of the year. Why do Christians want Christ’s name out there hawking all kinds of merchandise?From all appearances, Gap, Inc is a secular company. I think I’d be safe to assume that since it made the “Against Christmas” column in AFA’s “Naughty or Nice” holiday retailer list this year. Can we honestly expect a secular company to produce a true interpretation of the monumental value of Jesus’ birth? I’m thinking NO. So is the AFA asking for lip service? It looks that way. And, that’s exactly what it got.

I whole-heartedly agree that Jesus Christ is the center of true Christmas, a celebration of His birth–the earthly beginning of His road to the cross to purchase my salvation through His death. I also happen to believe that the December 25th holiday we call Christmas is a man-made ritual with a colorful history that exists for any number of cultural and spiritual reasons. It isn’t found in the Bible. As a Christian, I do want to ensure that I’m putting value in the right places during the season and focusing on the incredible gift God gave us in His Son becoming flesh. However…

I find this whole Gap/”Happy Holidays” battle to be a ridiculous sidestep of the real issues. It’s cosmetics. And, in the name of bringing out the truth of Christmas, this boycott campaign is completely false at its foundation. How can we possibly expect a culture so prevalently at odds with Christ to produce something that honors Him, to be the bearer of the Christmas message? Why do we even want to try?

To borrow some Biblical metaphors… Salt whets a thirsty world’s need for living water. Why insist on sprinkling it with a bunch of tasteless, low sodium substitutes? Whole and redeemed vessels can pour that water into thirsty souls all around us. Why demand that hopelessly cracked vessels carry it?

Dear AFA,
Broken cisterns can’t hold water. Maybe your battle is the wrong one.

[For the record, I probably won’t be purchasing anything from Gap during the holiday season this year–mainly because I’m 5’1″ and their sleeves are always way too long. Baby Gap could be another story.]

© Haley Montgomery

CultureSpeak: “SMALLey”

March 26th, 2009

Cultural Context: Today, FoxNews.com chose to feature one of it’s opinion pieces in which the unknown author compared President Obama’s so-called “apologetic” foreign policy approach to the philosophy of Saturday Night Live’s fictional Stuart Smalley.  The story was introduced by this statement…

In contrast to Bush’s ‘cowboy diplomacy,’ Obama administration’s apologetic foreign policy tone seems to be based on Stuart Smalley: ‘Doggonit, people like me.’

And by this doctored camera still from Saturday Night Live showing Al Franken dressed as his Stuart Smalley persona with the president’s picture in his mirror reflection.

032609_smalley

Warning.  The following has rant qualities.

Normally in this column I would insert a link to the story here, but honestly, I just can’t bring myself to send any more readers than necessary to that dismal attempt at “fair and balanced.”  If you really want to find the article, go to the opinion tab and use the search feature–key word: ridiculous.

I’ll admit it.  I regularly check in with FoxNews.com and sometimes CNN.com or NYTimes.com or LATimes.com throughout the day while I’m at work.  I like to take a look at the day’s news and keep myself informed of what’s going on outside the Mississippi borders.  But, my browse of the Fox News website this afternoon so annoyed me that I’m seriously considering banning them from my Safari bookmark bar.  Because today, I’m convinced that saying Fox “News” is quite a charitable description.

You see, at the risk of being redundant, I go there to check out the news.  I said NEWS.  Unfortunately, once again I was subjected to another one of the network’s attempts at being clever in an opinion piece masquerading as a top news story.  The opinion was linked from the doctored image you see above which was strategically placed in their look-at-me-I’m-important-news spot in the top left corner. It was the largest non-advertising photo above the virtual fold, rivaled only by the very orange AT&T ad spot. [I’m responsible for the big ol’ “X” on the image because I don’t want the casual web page skimmer to mistake this poor excuse of an “analysis” for something I’m actually endorsing.]

When I clicked through to the actual article editorial, I was particularly annoyed that there was no byline, only an annonymous “Foxnews.com.”  If you’re going to put this out there and call it the afternoon’s top story, the least you can do is own it.  The article begins with the statement, “Call it your daily affirmation.”  Aside from Stuart Smalley, what does that mean?  To Fox News, I mean.  Because I know what it’s affirming to me, almost daily–the fact that this conservative mouthpiece has increasingly turned into a sensationalist, attention-hungry, joe-cool, journalism school amnesiac.

Fox News, take this down.  Opinion does not equal news. New media or not, headlines do not equal respect.  Please begin to report the news.  Please stop your incessant attempts to channel TMZ.  Please refrain from presenting your cultural metaphors as news. Your “Smalley” opinion was not top news.  It was SMALL.  And, by that, I mean it was small.  Journalistically itty bitty. A pitiful excuse for a thinking-conservative’s slant.  A don’t-quit-the-day-job attempt at humor.  A skirt-the-issue-by-making-fun cheap shot.  And, probably a copyright or intellectual property violation.

Times are tough. The issues are serious. Please stop telling the president to get real on terrorism and nuclear weapons and the economy and the tax burden and AIG — and START getting real on terrorism, nuclear weapons, the economy, the tax burden and AIG.

© Haley Montgomery

CultureSpeak: “Terror Planner”

January 15th, 2009

Cultural Context:  The term used to headline the 2009 counterterrorism desktop planner released by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) this week.  The weekly calendar format highlights wanted terrorists, terrorist incidents and terror organizations and is a perenial favorite resource for law enforcement personnel. Published in one form or another since the 1990s, this year’s publication is available to the public as a downloadable pdf and in an online interactive version.

The World Where I’m Raising Them…
“Hub and I looked at each other and shared a collective deep breath and then a simultaneous smile.  We were standing in the parking lot of the daycare after getting all our gifts settled in their respective rooms with their respective hugs and kisses.  “I think that qualifies as exercise,” he said.  Then, with a kiss we were off to work…”

That was the start of the Montgomery Madness post I had brewing in my mind this morning, a funny take on “exercise” and New Year’s resolutions.  And then, I saw this FoxNews article announcing the release of the “killer calendar.” Just like that, my account of our ordinary routines was interrupted by wider realities.  When I first read the article, I honestly wondered if it was a joke.  I don’t know why, since bombs are no laughing matter, but that was my first thought.  The subsequent link to the NCTC ruled that out.  I wondered if it was just a very creative installment of anti-terrorist propaganda.  The NCTC press release said it was chock full of profiles on “bad guys with bounties on their heads.”  I wondered if it was some sort of odd Homeland Security fund-raiser.  Leslie Jewell, spokeswoman for NCTC, told NewsMax in their article that the Government Printing Office would offer limited edition hard copies for sale on its website to “gauge public interest.”  I wondered if the calendar was designed as a kind of Rambo-in-training tool.  Apparently it’s been used by first-responders, investigators, counterterror agents, and the like for years.  Ms. Jewell indicated that they “love” the calendar because of the detailed index included, allowing them to “read about anthrax and other exciting topics.”  

Truth be told: none of the above would have really surprised me.  What struck me was the unmistakeable irony of something as mundane as a weekly planning calendar so matter-of-factly infused with such violence and hatred.  My day was a small microcosm–thoughts on the utterly ordinary occurence of dropping my three gifts safely in their daycare classrooms interrupted and juxtaposed with the realities of the world where I’m raising them.  The world where I am raising them is a world where a counterterrorism day planner is not as shocking as it should be. 

So, I downloaded a pdf copy from the NCTC website to take a closer look–all 65MB/160 pages worth.

It was indeed chock full of wanted men–one for almost every week of the year.  I could study their faces from various photographs, take note of their physical descriptions with distinguishing marks, learn their aliases, country of birth and citizenship, and read their terrorist resumes and rewards offered for capture.  The space for each day included Christian, Jewish and Muslim holidays and days ripe for possible “commemoration attacks” printed in blue and a record of this-date-in-terror-history printed in black.  Interspersed with fugitives, I found profiles on various terrorist organizations.  In the reference section at the back, I noticed diagrams on the recommended evacuation distances for various types of explosives, the physical properties of readily available [!] explosives, and notes on what to do if I notice a suspicious substance.  There were tips on recognizing forged documents and questionable financial transactions.  For the graphic designer in me, the calendar even included a two-page spread with the logos of various terror organizations–some shockingly well-designed, others not so much.  The bomb-threat call procedures were located just after the 2010 year-at-a-glance.

As I looked into the eyes of the puppeteers and perpetrators, the calendar simultaneously reduced the threat of terror to an absurd level of normality, and elevated its insinuation into my life to an overwhelming level of reality.  Where I might have written Little Drummer Boy’s pediatrician appointment on Wednesday, I saw the first female Hamas suicide bombing in Gaza.  There, where I would have written a client website meeting on the 21st, a gunman ambushed a vehicle in Kuwait.  Where I would have penciled a heart on my wedding anniversary, seven students at Hebrew University were killed by a bomb.  Where I would have written a reminder to shop for my daughter’s first birthday, a car bomb exploded outside a police station in Columbia.  There, where I would have recorded my hair appointments and friends’ birthdays and project due dates; there, amidst the faces of plotters and descriptions of explosives and first-responder instructions… I found the world where I’m raising them.

© Haley Montgomery

Culture Speak: “Comfort”

December 23rd, 2008

Cultural Context:  “The definition of comfort is very interesting. Comfort means hug, comfort means cry, comfort means smile, comfort means listen. Comfort also means, in many cases, assure the parent or the spouse that any decision made about troops in combat will be made with victory in mind, not made about my personal standing in the polls or partisan politics.” ~ President George Bush in an interview with the Washington Times.

Tidings of comfort and joy…
According to an article in the Washington Times, it seems that for the past seven years, President Bush has been regularly devoting time to meeting with wounded soldiers and the families of those killed in action in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as writing personal letters to the families of those lost in the line of duty.  A Fox News article introducing the Washington Times story reported that he has visited with over 500 families of soldiers killed in action and over 950 wounded military personnel, and has written over 4000 personal letters of comfort to those who have lost loved ones.  Both the President and First Lady commented in the article about the incredible (and emotional) experience of sharing not only the anguish of loss with those families, but also the joy the families felt in helping the Bushes get to know something personal about the soldiers who sacrificed so much.

Now, I’ll admit that the EyeJunkie CultureSpeak “column” is sometimes filled with outrage, sarcasm or snarky comments about just how ludicrous some of our cultural and media terminology really is.  But, not so with this one.  I had to write this one as a testimony to how impressed I am with George and Laura Bush.  I know it’s not popular.  His approval rating is probably somewhere in the tweens about now.  But, this man is undettered in his commitment to what he believes is right.  That’s impressive.  It takes quite a lot of courage to be willing to look into the eyes of a mother who has just lost her son in a war you sent him to fight–a war it seems in vogue to criticize.  Despite what we read in the papers, the Bushes recall that most of the families they’ve met have said their soldiers chose to fight–wanted to serve and understood the need to fight and win this war.

What is just as impressive as his commitment of time and energy consoling grieving families is the fact that his mission of comfort has (by intention) largely been conducted under the radar of the ever-vigilant media.  Given the voraciousness of our media machine, that’s quite an endeavor.  His efforts have only been publicized when at the request of one of the veterans or military families.  The president and his staff have diligently guarded his meetings with loved ones to protect their privacy and allow them to express their grief without the flash of cameras.  Now, with less than one month left in office, the story is reported–not at times 2 years or 5 years ago when a boost in the polls provided by such patriotism might have been used to pass a bill, confirm pubic support or influence an election.

At the risk of slipping into something snarky, however, I have to say that as impressed as I am with George Bush, I’m equally as unimpressed with the lack of reporting on this 7-year phenomenon.  While I am thankful on behalf of the families concerned that they have not been exposed to the scrutiny of Joe-the-Plumber fame, I’m also disappointed that noone seemed interested in sniffing out the President’s tidings of comfort.  Consider that I can’t enjoy 24 hours without finding out the color of Brittney Spears underwear or the latest shopping purchase of Paris Hilton.  Yet, 1450 visits and a 4000-piece letter writing campaign has gone unnoticed?

4000 letters.  That’s more than one hand-written personal correspondence a day for the last seven years.  From the President of the United States.  The Washington Times article was extensive, but Fox News… 228 words.  CNN… no mention.  The national media’s “closer look” at the lives of the fallen has considerably fallen by the wayside beyond the first news cycles of the wars, while the President’s has been a more than 2500-day mission of mercy.

Regardless of your view of politics and the war–regardless of mine–I am thankful for a Commander in Chief who has taken time to count the cost more intimately than most making the headlines.  I am thankful for the integrity revealed in his unnoticed comforting.  I am thankful for his courage to expose himself to the criticism–not of pundits, journalists and starlets, but of those who have given their most precious gifts to the cause.  I am thankful for the perseverance he’s shown in staying the course despite detractors.  I am thankful for his quiet resistance to using the pain of others for political gain.  I’ll say it again.  I’m impressed.

© Haley Montgomery

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