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And You Too, Can Be A Star

review of the new film Sessions refers to one character as a ‘sex therapist.’ The therapist’s job, as described in the review, is to have sex with a client. Sex can be therapeutic, but a ‘sex therapist’ is an actual therapist. Psychiatrists and psychologists specialize in sex therapy (the study and treatment of sexual dysfunction.) Treatment involves talk therapy and homework assignments (homework not tutorials!) Are there sex therapists (or scout leaders, coaches, pediatricians, dentists) who have engaged in unethical and criminal behavior while on the job? Sure. But a sex therapist does not by definition engage in sex for pay. The review goes on to describe this character as a sex surrogate (how did such a straightforward career end up with so many titles?)

What ever happened to good old-fashioned prostitutes? When is the last time you even heard that word? Everyone’s and escort or a call girl, or I suppose a sex surrogate. I’m not sure the working conditions change much with a new title. Director of correspondence control is still a mailroom clerk. But everyone likes a fancy title. Personally, I find the title; “stripper” far more attractive than that of dancer. Stripper conjures up an act or at least a gimmick. Dancer is a bored practically nude women swinging from a pole. And if that girl leaves the stage to squirm on a drunken businessman in a back room, she’s not just a dancer she’s a surrogate. And what of all men and women in the corps de ballet? Does every introduction now have to be followed with; “no, really, an actual dancer”?

Who doesn’t enjoy a little spin? We like to put the best face on things. Our children are all doing incredibly well and everyone that’s remotely related to us is gifted. But when did we decide that being a prostitute is somehow undesirable but being an escort was understandable? Do we really think that all those dancers are making their way through law school, but strippers are simply down on their luck? (And for the record these professions and terms are not gender-specific.) For some reason the sex professions enjoy more than their fair share of spin (there’s a burlesque joke in there somewhere.) Nobody acts in pornographic movies; they are porn STARS. Nobody poses naked for pornographic magazines; they are CENTERFOLDS. There must be bold-faced terminology for internet pornography as well (feel free to leave me in the dark.)

In the end a rose is a rose is a rose I suppose. But it’s not a help to the therapeutic community to call a person who has sex with clients for money a “sex therapist.” It’s strangely apt, but not all that helpful to that other profession.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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Vive Le Difference!

I am a feminist.  I do not waiver pronouncing that fact, and do not understand people who do.  “Well, I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but I do enjoy the right to vote, work, control my fertility, etc.”  Good G-d, just say you’re a feminist.  It’s not a dirty word, and it is not synonymous with man-hating.  But I digress.  I believe that women are much more than the sum of their parts (augmented or otherwise.)  At times, I have resented the male to female reassigned peoples that equate womanhood with wearing make-up and high heels.  I am about as femme as they come, but it is a choice not a condition of my gender.

Here’s the rub.  I live in the world.  My beliefs aside, I know that as a woman I am judged on my appearance far more than my male counterparts.  I also have no doubt that I have used that inequity to my advantage at times.  Like cheese and fish, the gender-physicality-inequity phenomenon, becomes more pungent with age.   One need only turn on the television to confirm that more 60+ actors are considered swoon worthy then 60+ actresses.  Thanks, in no small part to the baby boomers, the pendulum has swayed just a bit in the past decade.  For their part in this incremental change, I’d like to personally thank Helen Mirren and Diane Keaton.  (If anyone had ever told me I’d be thanking an actress for getting naked on screen…)

I doubt the gender-physicality phenomenon will ever be anything other than unequal (on the screen and on the streets.)  It’s just not how we are wired.  One need only walk through an art museum to be reminded that this disparity is not a new phenomenon.  Women (for reasons I won’t attempt to argue) have always been the preferred vista.

Personally, I have made my peace with this situation.  For quite some time actually.  I believe it all balances out.  I don’t take any particular pleasure in pointing out that (socially) men often get the short end of the stick.  Women have far more freedom in expressing themselves.  We have latitude in our attire (if you don’t believe me, try to remember the last time you saw a man going to work in a dress.)  We (mostly) walk through life with an air of perceived innocence (has anyone ever looked askance at a woman alone in a playground?)  We are not viewed as undesirable dating material because we a) don’t have a degree b) live with our mother or c) don’t own property.  We are expected to express ourselves emotionally and physically, and might even live longer for doing so.  For me, the social benefits of my gender far outweigh the physical bias.

I have no issue with the fact (yes, it is fact) that men and women differ biologically.  Having differences is not a license to be treated differently however.  I enjoy and expect equal rights.  I have not a doubt in the world that many many will take issue with all I have expounded upon above.  (Some) women in particular, are very angry at having their appearance be acknowledged in any way.  It’s not a constructive use of anger.  We live in a world of mostly sighted people.  Like most mammals, we use our sight to learn about others and our environment.

So as I age, and hopefully I will, I accept that unlike Mr. Tom Selleck, I may not become increasingly dreamy.  As long as I also get to chide people for cursing (in public) with impunity, talk to unknown small children without being mirandized, and hug and kiss my friends in public without notice, I’m not complaining.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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Giving Judgment a Pass

Have you ever been accused of being judgmental?  The accuser usually has flung the “judgment” handle as a reflex.  Teased apart, the accuser usually means to say; “Yikes, that hit a bit close to home.”

Calling people judgmental, and meaning it as an insult, is a new phenomenon.  The antipathy of judgment seems to have cropped up in that organic garden which has also sprouted trophies for every player and honor student bumper stickers.  Everyone is above average!  Now clearly, in our most logical moments we can all agree that to be a force for good in the world you need to have judgment.  I don’t think the casual bon mots of “don’t judge me!” “you’re so judgmental!” are really meant as the rallying cry of a movement.  No thinking person actually would posit that humans are meant to go through life NOT processing information coming into their senses.  I suspect these cries are more of the “I’m too fragile to process your opinion” ilk.

What’s stunning about this development is that it seems to have happened during the cruelest of trends in entertainment and media.  How many television and radio shows, have ridicule as their raison d’etre?  How many magazine and newspaper articles are at their core, simply picking on people.  A governor’s weight is made fun of in the news cycle!  And lo, what the internet has wrought.  Websites dedicated to the fine art of snark.  Quasi-anonymous (they need to use catchy handles, so you know whom to consider pithy) posters, take an obvious glee in simply maligning others.  They are like an uncontrolled infection, leaping from opportunity to opportunity.  Few people, excluding shock jocks and cable news pundits, would ever spew the venom they do.

We, the spectator, are not much better.  We watch, with glee; the accidents, the vulgar child-killer trials, the reality shows, the talk shows.  It is our appetite for some bastardized form of schadenfreude that drives us to “Addiction” “Intervention” “Hoarding.”  We watch these shows because they are the ultimate judgment.  “You there on the television, you are not normal.”  We have a voracious appetite for ridicule when it serves our purposes.  But when judgment is not for entertainment purposes?  Or not cruel, but instead, instructive?  That’s just too harsh.

Truth is, critique is only welcome if it is in the abstract (film, theatre, television, restaurant reviews) or about others.  But in real life?  All finger paintings are works of genius.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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Wait! But If You Act Now

There’s been some buzz recently about the “advent” of embedding advertising in entertainment.  Evidently, research indicates that people don’t like to watch commercials.  Crack research team, eh?  So embedding product placement seems to be the new radical solution to DVR/Tivo fast forwarding.  How in the world is this a new idea?

I still remembered my fevered distraction in watching the film Million Dollar Baby (2004.)  And no, not because of the hammering over the head obviousness of the failed attempt of melding two short stories, but by that damn soda machine.  I think it had its own stylist, or at least trailer.

While I can understand how placating it is to the client, product placement is just so counterproductive.  Not only am I not interested in purchasing the car being given its own role in a primetime television show, I can no longer take the product, the show, the characters or even the poor exploited actors, seriously. Really?  An equity member actress having to extol the virtues of the parallel parking features “in character.”  That just seems punitive to me.  Perhaps a newer generation will be lulled into the embedded advertising, but I was raised on overt label covering in television and film.  How many “cola” cans, “Heerios” boxes, “McBurger” cartons have we all seen?  Before that trend of course, there was the overt sponsored program.  “We are the men from Texaco…”  But alas, that was a simpler time.

I can’t help but feel that embedding is the first quiver of a death throe.  Towards the end of its 72 year run, the (excellent) daytime drama Guiding Light created a convenience store set stocked with Procter & Gamble products.  When the industrial sized Folders can appeared on the restaurant counter, they knew, I knew, Springfield was doomed.  It made me question the solidity of Procter and Gamble as well.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I am susceptible to advertising.  No sooner did we have a television room in our family than I was clamoring for that toothpaste with the stripes and fabric softener sheets (I was a strange child.)  My mother, otherwise impervious to pop culture, or fashion, actually dressed my sister and I in Pepsi-Cola jackets.  These were red, white & blue baseball-style cotton jackets festooned with the soda logo.  As the younger of the sisters, I wore that jacket for 4 years.  And I was thrilled, dear reader, I was thrilled.  I admit, at the tender age of 10, I fell hopelessly in love with the Pillsbury Dough Boy; the impish giggle, the soft pliable belly, the association of impending baked good.  I’ve also witnessed my brother’s longing for Snuggle.  I can still hear his plaintive cry: “But is Snuggle a boy or a girl?!”  Once grown to a consenting consumer age, I devoured teen magazines to discover what I should covet.  What twisted little advertising genius discovered teenage girls’ desire to smell strange?  Love Baby’s Soft, Lemon-Up shampoo, fruit flavored lip gloss.  Damn it, I wanted it all.  But sometime around the social studies advertising curriculum (8th grade?) it was difficult to not feel a bit cynical.  I had never stepped foot in a Wendy’s before, and a quest to find the beef, wasn’t gonna change that.

My suspicion is that advertising is most influential on me (and perhaps you) when it takes on an educational role.  Tell me about this new product, and why I need it.  I may give it a try (hello Swiffer! nice save Procter & Gamble.)  But so much of what’s being advertised is not new.  And being new, no matter how confusing and weird (i.e., the Tiffany key and now, lock) is no guarantee to sway me.  And when the advertising is annoying?  You just lost me as a potential customer.  So if I am the last person you want buying your product (and I may very well be) I encourage more humiliation of actors and actresses and definitely invest in some pop-up ads.  Oh, and while you’re at it, airbrushed a very over-exposed former television star, and I will so not buy your fortified water.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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What Is Our Blue Eyeshadow?

When watching an old movie, how long does it take you to pinpoint the decade?  How long before you can identify the year?  Maybe I possess a (previously unidentified) talent, but I can guess the time period in about 2-3 minutes.  The women are the very first barometer.  Even in a women’s prison film, the style of dress, eyebrow and shoe should speak volumes.  If there are no women handy, men will do.  Hair, hats, cut of the pants, will all point to a decade if not a year.  For the more advanced player, do try a period film.  Cleopatra is a good example of such an exercise.  I’m no anthropologist, but I’m going to venture that there was no blue eyeshadow before the common era.

Parlor games aside, I am struck by the notion that I can not identify any style of dress or hair after the 1980s.  Of course I can still pinpoint a film’s time period.  Sort of.  By the cars and size of the mobile phones.  But the fashion and style?  Not really.  I would be willing to concede that one never notices what will eventually become iconic, while actually living in the period.  But, and this is a big but; I am referencing over 20 years of indistinguishable style and fashion!  If you don’t believe me, try it yourself.  Your assignment is to describe to me a working woman in 1998.  What is she wearing?

Now, I don’t necessarily think a loss of iconic time specific style will be the death of our society.  I just wonder how it happened.  Is it the result of cheaper mass marketed clothing?  Perhaps this is what comes from sanitizing the design process for competitive cable television?  Is it the result of brand worship?  Did America even know which shoes to fetishisize before the 1990s? Perhaps it is more positive: could it be that the fashion playing field has become so democratic that there is not one style we can pinpoint as that of a recent decade.  Or, is fashion now like public behavior; anything goes?  Does a generation of women who think nothing of styling their hair in public (often in the vicinity of my dinner) feel a specific style would stifle her spontaneous, chip clip creativity?  Is style just too committal?

Life will go on, no doubt.  But it makes me a little sad, that in my doterage, when I turn on my subcutaneous video imagery receptor and watch a film from my “youth” I won’t be able to imagine myself in the time period.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2011 in Style

 

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