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Monthly Archives: April 2012

By The Power Vested In Me

Did you know that you can be credentialed as a life cycle celebrant?  Nor, did I.  But I’m not surprised.  If we are a nation who can sustain life coaches, baby sleep coaches and stylists, there’s certainly room for life cycle celebrants.  (Is it me, or are grown-ups playing Barbie with their chosen professions? – “My Barbie is a fairy princess library lady who is a movie star and eats cookies.”)  Hey, there must be a demand, right?  Bed bug whisperers didn’t develop in a vacuum.  Clearly, people need their life cycles professionally celebrated.

When you think about it, it’s really not a bad gig.  There could be costumes, maybe linked to the life cycle event?  What does one wear to a “Your first pair of big girl underwear” party?  Certainly some theme on foundation garments comes to mind.  Imagine the fun of planning the “Now you are a woman” party for 12 and 13 year old girls (and younger I hear.) Certainly all aspects of reproduction create their own niche festivities.  When is the last time you were invited to a really rockin’ vasectomy celebration.  Of course, it couldn’t be a dance; the puns would be too tempting.  But a nice sedate affair where we honor the snipped and toast his future uninhibited personal life sets the right tone.  Suggesting a market for the onset of menopause seems a little 5 years ago at this point.  Many a mojito has been raised in sisterhood celebration without the assistance of a celebrant.  But there’s probably still an opening in the menopausal swag bag market.  (Let your imagination soar.)  People have also taken matter into their own hands in planning; “The gender of our fetus is now known” parties.  But has anyone cornered the market on the “My milk has come in” party?  If I got to choose, and why shouldn’t I, I would love to create the ultimate; “Congratulations on losing your virginity” celebration.  Done tastefully, it could be the most important party of a guy or gal’s life.  Of course the key to a really awesome event would be the element of surprise.  The party should happen immediately after the act.  I mean the split-second after the deal has been sealed.  Wouldn’t that be special?

I don’t mean to suggest a life cycle celebrant is nothing more than a party planner.  Far from it.  There must be solemnity, and perhaps smudge sticks.  There must be excruciating respect paid to any and everything that feels important to the celebrated.  Without people paying attention and even applauding, how would you know that you’re alive?

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Super-ego!

State Troopers are being investigated for frequenting prostitutes.  A second wave of Secret Service agents (engaging in the same recreation) has come to light.  John Edwards’ trial is now in full swing (with charges revolving around an adulterous affair and cover-up.)  Since January, eight public school employees have been accused of inappropriate behavior.  Recently more photos of soldiers humiliating “the enemy” have been brought to light.

No, I don’t think we’re headed towards a fiery spiral of demise, but I do find it interesting.  It’s safe to say that the vast majority of the cited (above) indiscretions have been made by men in power.  Certainly men in power behaving as if, well, as if they’re in power, is nothing new.  Many of these men occupy rather insular environs.  The military is the mother of all insulation, with law enforcement being a close runner-up.  Anyone who has ever been in a public school (as a child or adult) can attest to the “alternate universe” quality.  And politicians?  The ubiquity of the joke about elected officials not knowing the price of a gallon of milk, tells a story, doesn’t it.  They all work in a parochial world.

Clearly there is a certain lulling into entitlement that goes with this territory.  The risks seem diminished when you believe you are special.  But what is increasingly baffling is the fact that these people do live in the same universe as the rest of us.  Even the most sequestered and protected has heard of photographs!  They may have even heard of the internet (gasp!)  In this day and age, how does anyone go through life not knowing they’re being watched?!  When you add bad, sinister and/or illegal behavior to the mix, shouldn’t that just heighten any awareness/paranoia?  Is there anyone who is arrogant enough to believe they actually have a cloak of invisibility?  I don’t think so.

Something else is afoot.  Unless one is building a career on bad behavior (insert D list starlet name) most people do not engage in nefarious behavior with the hope of exposure.  It is more likely that, like the child sneaking a cookie, they simply want the cookie.  Understanding repercussions comes with maturity, and for some, never at all.  Certainly there are personality disorders whose hallmarks are not being able to process beyond the moment.  But then there’s everyone else who simply wants what they want when they want it.  Everyone and everything else be damned.  Unfortunately the damned in these cases, include children, and national security.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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Words and Music

The Yale School of Drama has just announced an $18 million gift.  A gift that substantial (to an arts program!) is newsworthy enough, but this gift is not for a building or other monument to immortality.  The gift is for the creation of new plays and musicals.  Musicals.

Knowing nothing of the details of the gift or of the business dealings that led to such largess (the gift was bequeathed by the late alumnus James Binger) I can only shout “Hurrah!”  Lots of universities, philanthropists and celebrities love to talk about supporting the arts.  (And why not? Who in the world would argue with that sentiment?  It’s right up there with; “children are our future.”)

Financing the development of new works in a university theoretically fosters a purely artistic basis that may not exist in a theatre company.  Even not-for-profit theatre companies have to sell tickets.  The theatre laboratory in a university setting is not entirely novel.  But when is the last time you heard of an Ivy League university investing in musical theatre?  I have nothing but respect for musical theatre.  I am a 100% Sit Down You’re Rockin The Boat, Nothing’s Gonna Harm You, 7 1/2 Cents, If You Could See Me Now, kinda gal.  But in some circles musical theatre is often a punch line.  It’s seen as the goofy cut-up sitting at the grown-up’s table.  Yet, creating an excellent musical is exceedingly difficult and involves collaborations that can only be categorized as alchemic.

During the past decade some truly magical new musical works have made their way to the New York stage.  Spring Awakening and Passing Strange reinvented the concept of book and score to great results.  The Light in the Piazza was a fresh, delicate and beautiful new work in the most traditional of formats.  It is these musicals we must remember when we think of all the movie-to-musical or comic book-to-musical shows dotting the great white way.  (Note: The Light in the Piazza was technically a movie-to-musical but the movie was 50 years old and the musical so self-contained and lovely that aside from the royalty issue, its origins were immaterial.)

Creating a great musical takes a great book, great lyrics, a great score and great choreography.  Collaborations must be created and fostered.  It has been at least a generation since we’ve had a notable musical team.  We still swoon over photos of the creators of West Side Story at work, for that very reason.  Universities (the places that bring us friends for life by virtue of the randomness of roommate assignments or drunken evenings) are the very place to foster these relationships.

Recently we’ve been hearing less than glowing tales of how higher education is serving students.  We know that funds to the arts have been decreasing for some time and we need only take a walk through Times Square to see where innovation in musical theatre stands.  This ($18 million) gift Yale, may in fact be a gift to theatre lovers everywhere.

*Photo: (left to right) Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Hal Prince and Robert Griffith (seated), Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2012 in Education, Theatre

 

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There Is A Castle On A Cloud*

An appointment in Soho on Thursday afternoon, found me bobbing and weaving through tourists and folding tables groaning under the weight of vaguely ethnic tchotchke.  Making my way to Prince street, I wedged myself between the Chanel store and gaggles of visitors carrying knock-off bags .  Nearing my destination I approached yet another local obstacle; television cameras, lights, barricades and police officers.  The police vans, dogs, and CSI units seemed to outnumber the news vans.  That’s when I noticed that they were real news vans and there were no Haddad trucks (a caravan of Haddad dressing room/equipment hauling trucks must be written into city film permits.)

I recognized a (former colleague) reporter and discovered that this was in fact a real event.  After 33 years, a basement search was being conducted for Etan Patz.  The search has concluded, and nothing of consequence has been discovered.  It is impossible to not feel heartbreak for the parents of Etan.  No doubt it has been years, if not decades, since they lost hope of any closure.  One can imagine the tempered optimism they allowed themselves to feel during the first dozen or so years after his disappearance.  Maybe he had been kidnapped and once he turned 16 or 18 or 20, he would contact his parents?  After all, he was 6 1/2 when he vanished, he would remember his early life in Soho.  But after 33 years, with the suspected murderer imprisoned; jackhammers, press conferences and a media circus could not have been welcome.  If remains of their son had been found, perhaps the frenzy would have been worth it.  And frenzy it was.  Local news stations wasted no time in creating “Search for Etan” graphics.  Had the search lingered, no doubt CNN would have used a Gaelic melody to accompany updates.  The irony of course is that Etan disappeared in 1979; before cable news and a 24 hour news cycle, when perhaps it could have done some good.

Etan disappeared from a sleepy neighborhood where everyone knew each other.  Small children walked alone (and played) on the street.  A 6 year old “helping out” a handyman would not have been seen as suspect.  A first-grader not showing up for school would not have sounded any alarm.  It was Etan’s disappearance which spurred the ubiquity of the “milk carton” children and missing child awareness.  Ronald Reagan created Missing Child Day (May 25th) in honor of Etan Patz.  Highway alert systems and heightened security have followed as has school protocols.  Aging software was created to show how a child might appear in later years. It was the disappearance of Etan that galvanized a consciousness.

Perhaps this legacy is of some small comfort to his parents. However, I suspect that living amidst the delirium of the past 5 days might instead just be excruciating.  As they still do not know what exactly transpired that day 33 years ago, they may believe that a little of this 2012 frenzy in 1979 may have saved their boy.

* Les Miserables (1985)

 
 

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The Food Desert Mirage

Recently two studies have published findings disputing the popular wisdom of “Food Deserts.”  (A phrase just begging to be misread, or perhaps I am just far too fixated on cake.)  For some time now; health experts, food security advocates and the like, have maintained that diminished access to whole foods has contributed to increased rates of obesity and obesity related illness.  Arguments go further, suggesting that inexpensive fast food is often the only food choice in lower income neighborhoods.

It’s understandable where this theory comes from.  Poorer neighborhoods have more fast food establishments (and liquor and check cashing stores.)  People with lower incomes tend to be in poorer health and suffer higher obesity rates, ergo…  But viewed from another angle, say at 180 degrees, there is a “sexual assault occurs more in the summer therefore ice cream must be to blame” aspect to this theory.  For food desert theory to be true, a couple of factors must be in place, chief among them lack of access to whole foods.  (“Whole Foods” is an apt phrase to use, as anyone who’s ever been on the subway can report that people travel quite some distance to lug home shopping bags from a store filled with tastefully displayed organics.  Proving that proximity to groceries is a relative concept.)  Second to the issue of lack of access is that of fast food being less costly than whole food.  Excluding any clearance sales of shamrock shakes, prepared food is always more pricey than (very healthful) dried beans and rice.  Lastly, if the income level is low enough, children will be eating two meals a day (for ten months) in the public school.  (Ketchup as vegetable aside, school lunches are more healthful than fast food.)

So then how do we explain the rise in obesity levels in lower income neighborhoods?  How did a country which once demonstrated wealth by the enormity of one’s waistband become a mirror image of itself?  First we look at the nation as a whole.  It is not just lower income people who are growing.  Second, we focus on where we can make an impact; the children.  Why are children, across a wide swath of economic levels, growing in size?  What has changed?

In the 1950s (or even 1960s) a child’s day may start with a nutritionally balanced and perhaps even cooked breakfast.  Eggs, hot and cold cereal, real juice and milk were often the order of the weekday.  Fancy carbohydrates (pancakes, waffles and french toast) were a weekend treat.  Many children came home for lunch, often to a sturdy hot meal.  Lunchbox toting tots unpacked portable versions of home lunches and augmented them with a carton of (whole) milk.  One thing was noticeably absent from the average child’s day: a Wonkaville world of processed snacks and treats.  “Sugar” cereals were relatively new to the game and made rare appearances on breakfast tables.  Microwaveable or toastable bakery-like confections were yet to be invented.  Once out of the house, children were not barraged with processed snacks as they are now.  Vending machines were in factories and offices, and issued more sandwiches and half-filled cups of coffee colored acid, than they did snacks and candy.  Pocket money (if a child had such a thing) would be spent on a favorite candy bar, comic book or gum.  If fast food (which was in its infancy) made it into the house as an evening meal, it was a treat (for the children) and a respite (for the parents.)

The proliferation and availability of processed food snacks has changed our culture’s orientation towards “junk food.”  Ice cream and cake were often the highlight of a child’s birthday party (versus the bespoke goody bags and Vegas entertainers of today.)  Edible treats are now viewed as an integral part of a child’s day.  (Just try and find a playground, zoo, or museum that doesn’t have a snack bar perimeter.)  Children have money to buy snacks on the way to and from school, not to mention IN the school.  Those that do engage in organized play are supplied snacks during their 15 minutes of actual activity.  From the earliest of ages, children are being taught to prefer the taste of processed foods.  Baby yogurts(!) line grocery shelves.  Yogurt IS baby food (what’s next? baby-baby food?)  Toddlers cannot make it one full block in their stroller without carbo-loading on goldfish crackers or cheerios.  Special toddler meals now join baby food ranks.  Plying children with food stuff in nugget form is the norm.  For at least a decade now, a portable lunch rich in nitrates and sugar can be purchased and tossed into a backpack.  All of these “foods” came from a grocery store, not a food desert.

To really understand what’s going on and how to ensure we’re not on the brink of being an obese nation suffering from malnutrition we must let go of the notion of food deserts.  There is enormous special interest and billions of dollars involved in this issue.  It is no wonder we are loath to really examine what is in essence a “food amusement park.”

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2012 in Childhood, Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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