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Category Archives: Cultural Critique

Candid (Granny) Camera

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As leaving small children in the care of others has grown in popularity so has the awareness that not all carers are caring. Depending on one’s social circles, it’s not unusual to hear a weekly childcare horror story. Whether the babysitting arrangement is posh or subsidized seems not to matter. Little ones watched in their own home by uniform clad nannies, babies clustered in a neighbor’s living room, or those in daycare centers are equally vulnerable. This reality is not meant to strike fear. There is a fine line between believing in the boogeyman and having some common sense. Quite simply vulnerable people are often vulnerable.

Many parents have addressed their concerns strategically; using hidden cameras or surprise visits. This might seem hovering to some but it most often is not. A small child by definition does not have sophisticated communication skills. A baby is completely helpless. Caring for small children is not easy and can be incredibly frustrating. When doing so is an actual job there is little emotional attachment to pull the carer through the darkness. This doesn’t excuse mistreatment; it only helps to explain it. It can happen, and every parent everywhere knows this. What we don’t often consider is what can happen to our parents if they too are dependent on care.

Elderly people are just as, if not even more susceptible to mistreatment. Often an adult child is arranging the care from a distance, relying upon agencies or institutions to do the right thing. Nursing homes are staffed with the same extreme variations of competency seen in hospitals. Supervision of aides is no more reliable than in any other business sector. People don’t necessarily go into the low-paying and often messy work of health aide due to some sort of calling. It’s a job. Some people are good at it and some people are not. It can be terribly overwhelming to arrange care for a parent. The mixture of relief and guilt of situating a parent can be all consuming. It often is only when there are signs of mistreatment that the concept even occurs to anyone.

Often, like small children, the parent is not a reliable narrator. The parent might not know that possessions are missing or meals have been missed. A person with memory loss may not be able to recall mistreatment. Some bruises or marks may in fact be the result of a combative parent and not abuse. Add to that muddle the fact that the parent might only receive occasional visits from family members, and how is anyone to know what’s really going on? Granny cams. Installing hidden cameras (on live feed to an adult child’s computer) in a parent’s home will tell most of the story. Having every care facility (including senior daycare) outfitted with surveillance will change things dramatically. Those institutions should post signs everywhere informing employees, residents and visitors that; “You Are Being Watched.” Is it an invasion of privacy? Of course. So is having a bevy of doctors and interns gaze upon one’s privates for the benefit of learning. (It’s interesting which invasions of privacy we notice and which we don’t.) The signage will not only deter some misdeeds it also will set a tone. An institution that puts the safety of its patients above all else will attract employees with a compatible ethos. The surveillance will have to be viewed of course, which is not inexpensive. But surely the diminished lawsuits will help to defray those costs.

It’s tempting to wring our hands and bemoan how things have changed for the worse. But it wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Eldercare has risen in popularity because people live longer. Childcare has risen in popularity partly due to more employment opportunity for women. As things grow they often become less wieldy and need to be formalized. There’s nothing graceful or lovely about spying on people but there’s nothing so terribly genteel about burying our heads in the sand either.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Awareness Awareness

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There is a walk, run, dance, bracelet, and color to raise awareness for just about any and everything. Diseases, syndromes, and situations have their own ribbons, websites and events. “Awareness” is the word. Though to be excruciatingly precise it’s not the best word to use. There are very few of us who are not “aware” of cancer, domestic violence, suicide, autoimmune diseases, etc. A more apt word would probably be “Attention”. The goal of these public relations campaigns is to draw attention to the subject matter. Often it is the case that where there is attention paid money follows. And that is good.

What all this attention has created of course is a culture of extroversion that might not be reflective of the culture at large. People who perhaps feel inclined to experience their illness, hardship or loss in relative privacy can feel pressured to come out. There is almost a forced gaiety surrounding some illnesses. Female reproductive cancers are assigned a color and a cloak of sisterhood that can feel demanding to an introvert. Of course even forced gaiety is better than the quiet shame of yesteryear. With the pink feather boas comes an abundance of information and support.

It’s not clear if any awareness has an impact on the individual. Do people seek detection and treatment at a significantly higher rate now? Does any of that result in longer healthier lives? I don’t know. When a newsreader has a screening on national television does it change the disease statistics? Certainly when a colonoscopy is broadcast it makes an impact on the national discussion. And that is good. Does being pressured (by producers) to have a mammogram on air change anything? Are there any women who need to be told what a mammogram is? Does anyone still discuss breast cancer in hushed tones? And when that broadcasted mammogram results in a woman’s worst fear, does it help or hurt? (For the record; has there ever been a man being tested for anything on air?) That the newsreader’s life has most likely been prolonged is a wonderful thing. But does it have a significant impact on the people who witness it?

Eradicating shame and fear is always a worthwhile pursuit. There are many diseases, particularly those of the mind, which could use some bracelet wearing awareness. Expanding our understanding of the personal challenges around us increases our humanity. However part of that understanding should be an appreciation that not everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, let alone for their colon. And not everyone wants to wear pink and belong to a disease sorority. Extroversion (or attention/awareness) is no more laudable than introversion. Being ill, or surviving a loved one’s suicide or any other personal horror is just that: personal. In a world of walkathons and editorial confessions, shouting may feel like the only means to support or care. Somewhere between the shame and secrecy of the past and the exhibitionism of the present is a place for everyone.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Political Sausage

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I admit it; I know very little about how political sausage is made. I actually don’t want to know how things do or don’t get done. Ten years of administrating in higher education is about all my soul can withstand. But the drawback of averting my eyes is I’m often left with so many things that make me go hmmm. The most recent of those hmmms involves the impending changing of the guard in New York City. The mayoral race, which at times seemed more like an energetic walk, spurred little enthusiasm. The two viable candidates are both relatively agreeable chaps (and yes, they were chaps, white Christian chaps.) But neither had the charisma, pedigree or star power to really excite. Of course who beside another billionaire (or perhaps a fourth reinvention of Alec Baldwin) could have captured the imagination of New Yorkers? Even forced reveals about private family issues failed to yield much public excitement. Let’s face it if you’re not a little man with a lot of money or a big man with a lot of media attention (and featured prominently in a reality show about Newark) it’s hard to enliven the crowd.

The election is over and this (predominantly) democratic city elected a democratic mayor. Bill de Blasio ran a campaign based on opposing several Bloomberg initiatives. It’s not clear if any of these talking points will result in actual change. (Somewhere there’s a doctoral thesis about how many campaign promises actually come true.) The most discussed of these initiatives involve: taxation, policing and education. There are concerns, stoked by de Blasio’s opposition that tampering with policies in any and all of these areas is tantamount to buying a one-way ticket to the 1970s. Without a crystal ball or a finely tuned sense of paranoia, it’s hard to say. Before I jump on the bandwagon, or perhaps more aptly; the Datsun B210, I need just a bit of edification. I don’t need to see the whole sausage in the making perhaps just the vienna sausage or maybe a snausage.

While it’s true that de Blasio opposes stop and frisk policing tactics, it’s not clear to me that there aren’t equally successful methods of crime deterrence. Many stop and frisks happen to people who live in less safe neighborhoods. Are there other ways, perhaps involving employment and community centers to deter criminal behavior? Nobody voluntarily wants to pay more taxes (unless you count those who play the lottery) but they do know that there is a deep economic divide in this city. If raising taxes can mean more affordable housing, many would happily grab their checkbook. But does it mean that? Or will higher taxes simply fill budget gaps left by business leaving or not being courted by a business superstar mayor? Funneling more money into the school system is a sentimental favorite; “it’s for the children!” But do increasing teacher’s salaries and/or extending the kindergarten day really improve education? Is that why so many kids graduate high school barely able to read and write? When did teachers’ salaries, which are the same as police officers in NYC, equate to teaching skill, meaningful curriculum and competent administration? Of course teachers (and police officers) should be handsomely rewarded for a job well done. Everyone should. But the notion that what is wrong with our education system can be fixed with higher salaries and longer kindergarten days is baffling. But it’s surely not as simply as that. Somewhere there are serious conversations taking place involving 10-point plans and advisory committees.

It’s very early days and if history is any indication many of these questions will be answered, as we get closer to the inauguration. All we know right now is that things will change and hopefully for the people who need it the most they will change for the better.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Education

 

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A Tough Act To Follow

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There’s an election headed our way and depending on how you feel about your state/city/town it could be exciting. Here in New York City we’re poised to have our first new mayor in 12 years. Whether you’re relieved at that prospect or leery, the fact remains that change is never all that easy. Neither of the two viable candidates has anywhere near the celebrity status that Mike Bloomberg had/has. Mayor Bloomberg has the star power that comes with great wealth. He is able to exert influence on a national if not international level. That power impacts the local constituency if in no other way, than in that of confidence. A mayor that can buy his way in and out of just about anywhere and anything is not likely to be told to drop dead by any leader anytime soon.

There are New Yorkers who felt Bloomberg as mayor was a bully or at least too paternalistic for their taste. Some felt him too liberal (anti-gun) or too conservative (pro-business.) It’s probably safe to say that he is all of those things and a bit bombastic to boot. He stuck like super glue to his convictions/beliefs and if you happen to agree with those beliefs that was good. Some of his best moments have been fighting to preserve the separation of church and state. NYC is filled with many different cultures and religions and it would be ridiculous to even suggest that they all get along or want the same things. Each religion is defined by how it differs from other beliefs and those beliefs sometimes make their way to City Hall. You may remember the brouhaha over the Muslim Cultural Center built on the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory. Mayor Bloomberg supported the center and its message of religious tolerance, amidst fear based propaganda and bigotry. The Mayor has been on the side of inclusion but shied like an abused horse in the face of preferential treatment. He has resisted several requests from religious groups over his tenure, presumably in an attempt to keep religion out of government and vice a versa.

It’s unlikely the next mayor will do the same. There is already much being made of the candidates’ positions on religious issues. Those issues most cited are; Muslim holidays included in the school calendar, ultra-orthodox circumcision practice, and churches using schools for worship. On the surface this appears to be a nice little trifecta. These are the religions most discussed in the media (though not necessarily an accurate representation of NYC residents.) We’ve got a Muslim issue (check!) a Jewish issue (check!) and a Christian issue (check!). Of course ultra-orthodox anything is by definition not representative of the larger religious group and Christian anything rarely includes Catholic something. But never us mind. It makes for a nice little “we are the world” media package. Any religious holiday that precludes a student or teacher from working should be included in the school holiday calendar. There is no religious reason for anyone to not attend school/work on Christmas, but public schools have always been closed on that day. There are many holidays outside of Christianity that are to be spent in religious worship. That should be the determining factor. Many religious festivals and holidays allow for work, they should not be included in the calendar. It’s that simple. The orthodox (or fundamentalists) of any religion enjoy a certain degree of autonomy. They intentionally live outside society but often avail themselves of societal services. If a religious practice causes harm to anyone (herpes in the case of ultra orthodox circumcision) it should be regulated. As a society we believe in protecting the health and well being of others. There are ways to regulate the procedure (no need to get graphic here) that would limit exposure to disease.

These issues, though somewhat novel are not that complicated. They address equity and health and don’t infringe upon anyone else’s freedoms or beliefs. (A mohel or two might be bent out of shape, but they’ll come around.) However holding religious services in a public school infringes upon the rights of just about everyone except the worshippers. Imagine just for a moment that it was a collective of imams wanting to hold Muslim prayer services in the public schools. It’s hard to imagine anyone saying; “eh what the hell, the school is empty anyway.” Public school is just that: public. It is in theory a safe haven and a place in which everyone is presumed equal. Being part of a minority, which in America is anyone who isn’t Christian, is challenging enough. No kid, or teacher needs to be reminded that Christianity is normative. Seeing your local school used as a church is disheartening. We attach an awful lot of importance to the buildings in which children learn. We even tear them down when something awful happens within the walls. To transform a school into a church can be alienating and even feel threatening. On top of the very real emotional response is the fact that schools are government buildings and have no business being used for religious practice.

It is not clear, from anything they’ve said, that either mayoral candidate sees the church and state issue at play. Granted there are actual life and death issues at stake in NYC with which a mayor must contend. But how we regard religion and walk that line between inclusion and separation says loads about us. How we view and treat each other is at the heart of almost everything else that there is and ever will be.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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First They Came For The Poor Women

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Wisconsin is imprisoning pregnant women who admit to using drugs. This is being done under the guise of “protecting the fetus.” Before we discuss how stressful and unwholesome prison life is for a fetus(!) let us be crystal clear; we’re only talking about women who admit to using drugs of which the court does not approve. We are not talking about psychotropic medication or even prescription pain medication. What is really at issue is that illegal drugs are being used. It is not clear that there is any medical data that even posits let alone confirms that illegal drugs are more damaging to a fetus than prescription drugs. But what is clear is that vulnerable and/or poor women are an easy target.

There is no ignoring, no matter how hard the media tries, that women’s reproductive rights are dissolving in front of our eyes. Bit by bit access to health care and choice is slipping away, particularly for the poorest women in this country. It might not be an organized and coordinated effort but there’s definitely a sophisticated marketing machine at work. Who is going to argue with “protecting the fetus?” It’s right up there with “it’s for the children” or the flag, motherhood and apple pie. Treacly sentiment aside, no one is interested in protecting the fetus. If they were there would be free and excellent healthcare for all reproductive aged women. Nobody would be poor and/or hungry in this country either. Every woman would have a safe wholesome environment in which to gestate and raise her children. There would be no slums, or crime-ridden housing developments. Violence against women and children would be treated like the hate crime it is. In short, it wouldn’t be such a lousy world to be a woman or a child.

We live in a society that screams on the top of its lungs about the unborn, but doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass once they arrive. Everyday children go hungry, are neglected and abused and have access to weapons, alcohol and drugs. Every year another batch of children fall through the public education cracks and don’t graduate high school, or worse, graduate illiterate. Fifty years ago we waged a war on poverty in this country and we lost. We now are in the midst of a long drawn out war against women. It is not a coincidence that this attack is occurring as women make groundbreaking progress in almost every traditionally male bastion. Women must shake off the Barbie mantel that’s been thrust upon them in recent years. We need to shift our focus from physical perfection, put down all things pink and pick up this fight. We must recognize media pandering (e.g., television channels, websites, and merchandising directed to women, as if we were a separate species) for what it is, offensive and distracting. Creating women centric genres could be positive if the ones being created weren’t so damn insipid. The “chicklit” section in your chain bookstore are not shelves filled with; Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Simone de Beauvoir, Shirley Chisholm and Our Bodies Ourselves. Nope. It’s shelves of light romantic “beach” reading. The television channels and (the majority) of websites designed for women are not for anything remotely serious (or even good.) There has been a steady pervasive patronizing campaign underway as women’s rights have been chipped away. Color me a conspiracy theorist, but I don’t believe it’s a coincidence.

We needn’t lose our sense of humor or even stop enjoying a good An Affair To Remember viewing. But we do need to resist buying into the 1950s model of womanhood we’re being sold. We have become a serious threat to those in traditional power positions. A woman came this close to being the democratic nominee for President! If that doesn’t scare the pants off the status quo I don’t know what does. We cannot tolerate the chipping away of our progress. We may not feel that a pregnant Wisconsin woman in handcuffs has much to do with us or is a feminist issue, but we’d be very very wrong. They are coming after her because they can. First it’s the poor and disenfranchised, that’s the way it always works. Those women who do have a voice must use it. We must recognize that the Spanx, push-up bras, Botox, and body sculpting are the corsets, garters and pointy bras of the 1950s. Those instruments of torture, popularized after women took men’s jobs during World War II, are a symbol of something insidious afoot. This is not a call for bra burning (heaven forbid!) but merely an urging to recognize what we’re being sold and how it’s being used to distract us from a much more serious issue.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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