Category: Communication & media

Oldest Cover Girl Ever and Still Hot

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At 74 Tina Turner (aka Anna Mae Bullock) on the cover of Germany’s Vogue magazine has reset some expectations – or has it?

She looks impossibly young for 74, as if gravity or elastogen deterioration were some urban myth – and light, free flowing, straight tresses and a very overall pale golden colour, she looks very different from her photos of the 60s and 70s

Is this cover breaking barriers? Or maintaining the status quo? What is the message to young women? older women? and men? What are the effects on identity?

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Video Games and the Construction of Violent Masculinity

Much of the research I have read on this topic (and I have exhausted myself doing so as I have two children who play video games and one of them is male) suggests no “direct” cause only correlations – in other words it is complicated, and the propensity for violence cannot be blamed on any one factor just like listening to heavy metal music, or reading comic books does not “make” you a sadist however if you already are, you are likely to enjoy the masculine and violent themes of much of that media and the same goes for games like Grand Theft Auto or Doom.

So producers wash their hands of the issue saying they are just catering to the consumers. The problem is that culture and media are so imbricated that there is no pinpointing of ONE source of messaging – it all works together to send hegemonic messaging to citizens that women want manly men, and you are supposed to want a woman, therefore you must be a manly man, and to do that you must be tough, and then there are various interpretations of what that means.

Social and evolutionary psychology studies suggest that the drive to procreate, and to survive underlies all this, then of course there are the factors that affect your psyche before you are seven. By then the messaging from your family, your community, your society and your culture are well embedded in your brain, before you have the capacity to think critically about it. As youth or adults we can laugh at some of these themes and assess them for the ridiculous fantasies that they are, but as children we cannot and if this is the main messaging that we are sending to our children, then we cannot be surprised that these concepts are so deeply engrained in our culture.

Anthropologists and psychologists will also argue that what was appropriate for the survival of aggressive nomadic sheep herder tribes (like the Britons and Celts – who many White Canadians are descended from as opposed to more peacefully-oriented agricultural societies) are not always the same skills we need to navigate contemporary society…so there is our ancient, inherited knowledge and belief systems, along with our individual drives, our cultural values, media messaging, family, community and school dysfunctions (that likely have included violence on some level), mentors or role models, hormone levels of testosterone and personal goals, abilities and resources that all factor into whether or not a man, or a woman for that matter, is likely to be more or less violent and aggressive.

My point is – that humans have the unique capacity to over-ride their lizard brain urges with frontal-lobe critical thinking, which is what makes more so-called civilized, chivalry and gentlemanly conduct possible, but it is slower and takes more effort, and is sometimes impeded by chemicals (drugs, alcohol, etc) or different physiological/psychological abilities. So there is no one answer to this issue.

Personally, I limited outside messaging (TV, Internet, Magazines and newspapers) with the youngest members in our household and when it was allowed, it was never restricted, but always mediated and deconstructed by older family members that usually resulted in interesting discussions. I think this is the key because I don’t believe in censorship or “molly-coddling” children – they need to learn about the world and know the ugly and the beautiful parts of it, so they can deal with it. Therefore, I think that training children to think critically is more important for personal empowerment and the future of humankind than blaming media.

nb: My son and daughter are now in university, seemingly well-adjusted and generally doing well in life. Although they spent a few early years annoyed with me for the differences in our household when compared to that of their friends – by middle school they were more appreciative and could quickly recognise biast messaging. 

Online education potentional

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  Kevin Schut suggests that games like Civilization might be useful in teaching history with the understanding of its hegemonic framing that involves misogynistic, chivalrous and violent masculinity, solipsism with capitalistic solipsism and technocratic tendencies – but I would argue that Civilization is far too ethnocentric and essentialist to be useful as an educational aid. I would also argue that it is difficult to avoid the hegemonic framing – as seen in World of Warcraft (WoW) and Second Life (SL) where it has been seen that users have more agency, but end up reinforcing and even contributing to their own marginalization.

Experts in virtual spaces such as Sherry Turkle believe that the role/s that identity play/s in worlds like multi-user dimensions or domains  (MUDs), MUD object oriented (MOOs), and other virtual spaces such as Second Life (SL) are complicated. Turkle asserts that the “anonymity of MUDs . . . provides ample room for individuals to express unexplored parts of themselves” (xii). These spaces have great potential for dynamic identity exploration, and self-expression without the risks of condemnation, rejection or isolation that could result in real life.

Michael Rymaszewski et al. plainly state that SL is a place for living out fantasies, to be someone else or to work out who you are (301).

In this way many people can play the game with an avatar of a different skin colour, or represent a different gender or class to experiment in a virtual life in a way that is not possible in reality. I think putting these three key ideas together – software could be developed that has the freedom of Second Life with an open-source history-content focus, like Civilization but with input from different regions of the world, from different genders, classes and races. Within this framework students could create time traveller avatars to visit different time periods, learn about the history of different regions. There could be a contemporary period included where student could ‘virtual travel’ to different parts the world and have their text automatically translated to have a peek into a day in the life of someone of a different race, class or gender in a different geographical location.     Continue reading

Love vs. Porn

Jane Caputi in, The Pornography of Everyday Life (video link above), declares pornography as “a habitual mode of thinking”, that underpins our everyday discourse, supporting oppressions like sexism, racism and homophobia. It makes us see a man possessing, overpowering, threatening, using, humiliating and abusing women as ‘manly’ and ‘sexy’. She argues that pornography is not about arousal – it is about objectification, desensitization and dehumanization. These negative mass representations of sexuality is a public form of psychological abuse that limits or ability to imagine alternatives.

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Cindy Gallop, founder of makelovenotporn.com and makelovenotporn.tv has first-hand (no pun intended) experience with the effects of mainstream pornography, the sources it seems for many people – her young male lovers in particular – for learning their bedroom techniques, which she says,  makes them inconsiderate lovers. In an era where all types of pornography (Rule 34) are more freely and widely available than ever before. She believes, parents and sex education teachers still give too little guidance about how to develop healthy, sex-positive relationships – so toward that end Gallop created makelovenotporn.com and makelovenotporn.tv

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so that young men don’t think that’s always the normal way of behaving in the bedroom and their girlfriends don’t have to pretend to like it

Gallop aims to re-educate people via the internet with #reallifesex filled with type of passion and intimacy distinctly missing in the typical commercial mainstream porn flick. Gallop’s model is new – anyone can ‘share’ a video (ie: their own production) that meets the positive sex guidelines (plus “no poo, children or animals”) and collect 50% of the rental fee that others pay to watch it.

This is a good example of what Feona Atwood, in No Money Shot? – Commerce, Pornography and New Sex Taste Cultures (2007) would refer to as ‘a community of exchange’ where members of the website (free to join) participants as both vendor and consumer typical of our  technology enabled participatory culture. One could also argue however, that it is an ingenious way to make money off of amateur pornography, as such videos are usually posted online in various forums.

In my opinion, ‘ordinary’ folk accessing ‘realcore’ like Gallop’s site or altporn available on Nerve.com or SuicideGirls.com can be a positive experience and influence on mainstream culture as it can open the door to more (& positive) sexual exploration outside of vanilla, monogamous, hetero-normative intimacies and into realms like polyamory, bisexuality, and BDSM. That said however, I think that it can also have a negative impact such as sex-positive empowerment narratives being perversely translated into mainstream commercialism with works like “Fifty Shades of Grey” by authors who have only experienced (and understand) the tiny tip of the iceberg of these alternative communities, and cherry pick concepts that fit into their hegemonic frameworks of male dominance and female submission.

Beauty and the Brain: how the history of art and cognitive psychology affect identity

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Interesting program called “How Art Made The World – More Human Than Human” a BBC documentary regarding theories about trends in human art history suggests that we tend to create images, not to represent reality, but an ideal. Like the Venus of Wilandorf, or the Greek sculptures of athletes, the human form is represented with enhanced features, features that were an important focus for a particular culture at a particular time – for whatever reason. The argument is that ancient humans were technically capable of representing more realistic human forms, they just chose not to.

Image Flash forward a few millennia and this theory could be used to explain contemporary adculture. Current cognitive psychology theories of perception in humans (not seagulls or red stripes on beaks, which in my novice opinion have more to do with evolutionary psychology and survival than ideals of beauty) could also also support this idea I think. This is a theory I am developing anyway after taking cognitive science courses I am having a much better understanding of communication theory.

For example: The brain notices the novel and pays extra attention to the unordinary. Think, for example, of when you have met someone who had a nose (or some other feature) that was larger than anyone else’s you have ever seen before. You probably recall the experience well, and remembering really noticing it, could not ignore it  and likely felt you might be staring at it for a socially inappropriate period of time. Such a stimulus for your brain and the processes that follow fix the experience in your memory along with associations and assumptions based on previous experiences and cultural knowledge. The brain will also make associations with this new experience based on whether the person was perceived to be physically aggressive or passive, soft spoken or boisterous, eccentric or conservative, and so on.

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Unless you consciously override this process, the next time you meet someone with a similarly large nose, your memory will be triggered and subconsciously you will have certain expectations of the person based on your previous encounter and the associations you made. You may realize this consciously or subconsciously and depending on the impact of the experience you may, consciously or subconsciously, start to emulate them if you are impressed by them, especially if you notice that others people are too. You will want to experience that perhaps, you may want others to feel a similar impact when they meet you. You attribute the impact of the experience to the fact that people with big noses are much more loved, wanted and accepted in your community. So, you might look into how diet or exercise could make your nose bigger so that you too can be more accepted and loved like that, and when you realize that method of pursuit does not produce a nose big enough, you may turn to surgery for better results.

This may all seem laughable, but think of it how this could apply to physical features that humans in our culture currently focus on and put importance on. Large breasts, and small waists for example, or pale skin, wide eyes, full lips and small noses. These are the ideals that get portrayed in our media and are criticized by some (ie: Jean Kilbourne) as harmful and ridiculously inauthentic and unrealistic. And yet there are thousands more images created in a similar way, and thousands of people who go out of their way to emulate them. Think of Michael Jackson’s transformation or Deborah Voigt’s.

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Were these people unduly pressured by media images? or was their internal desire to be more accepted and loved stronger?

Post-colonialism and the loss of identity

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Androgynous people were seen as doubly blessed by the spirit world and therefore often looked to for guidance and well respected in North American aboriginal traditional cultures. They were seen as special individuals who embodied the spirit of both the male and the female and therefore assumed to have the capacity for greater vision. They were categorized by their people, not unlike the traditions in Siberia and Asia, into a third category that was neither ‘man’ or ‘woman’ and in the mother tongues of the various languages of these individuals they were referred to as “two-spirit” or “man-woman”.

As youths all members of the community were expected to officially accept a gender role for their contribution to the community (bow or basket). To complement and balance gender roles for a family therefore, it was acceptable for a feminine male who preferred women’s work for example to marry a man who preferred to be a hunter, or for a masculine female hunter in turn to marry a feminine female. The gender-conforming spouse of two-spirit people were not seen as different or odd or as anything other than honoured.

Two-spirit people were often considered to be exceptionally hard workers and artistically gifted, of great value to their extended families and community with the capacity to do both men and women’s work. Among many communities, a family believed it was of great benefit and honour to have a two-spirit person as a relative because they assisted with their siblings’ children, took care of elderly relatives, and served as adoptive parents for orphans.

The diversity of gender and sexuality was totally acceptable and seen as natural gifts from the spirit world. That was until Christian Europeans invaded and taught that two-spirit people were “berdache’ of ‘sodomites’ and condemned. Respect and acceptance for androgynous people greatly declined overtime due to the domination of Christian European values and two-spirit people were forced by government officials, Christian missionaries and even their own people to conform to male or female gender roles since the Europeans denied their category of existence.

For many decades two-spirit people lost their identity, but in the last few they have been trying to reclaim it, here is there story:

<http://youtu.be/8JcmAoderl4>

The link above opens a 20-min conversation of the overview of historical and contemporary Native American concepts of gender, sexuality and sexual orientation. This short documentary explores the “berdache” tradition in Native American culture, in which two-spirit people act as a conduit between the physical and spiritual world, and because of this were placed in positions of power within their  communities that were lost due to colonialism and the result of many suicides and pain. (Michel Beauchemin, Lori Levy & Gretchen Vogel 1991 20 min. USA)

***the last one-minute is exceptional (20:14~): paraphrasing Harry Hay:

“if you are a straight white male in this society, you don’t have to think. Everything is scripted for you, like how to see the world, what your place is in it, everything reinforces that in terms of movies, schools, books, and so on. But if you are different, ethnically, visibly or otherwise, then you can’t follow the script. instead you are constantly having to think and ad lib what your role is and how you relate to things in a different way. It teaches you a completely different set of skills and how you think about things…you need to work out not what is automatic, but what is most appropriate for you…”

REF: Williams, Walter L. The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston: Beacon, 1986