and I quote

december 2012

click for permalink December 31, 2012

Just made it in time... My final lists of 2012. Happy New Year to all my readers, friends and family!

Best Random Websites of 2012

hick ass bitchesOK Trends
Want to get scared out of your wits by the kind of people who are meeting and soon-to-be breeding on the Internet these days? Look no further than the statistical analysis arm of OK Cupid, one of the world's largest dating sites... Nope, I'm not kidding. All that data people upload, the questions they answer, the emails they send to potential matches on the site and their replies or lack thereof, it all gets recorded and filtered through the most complex and comprehensive algorithm ever devised for the purpose of studying the human mating/ dating ritual in real time. Want to know (without having to ask) if your date is religious with one innocuous question that was very strongly correlated with people's views on religion? "Do spelling and grammar mistakes annoy you?" (The less annoyed, the more religious apparently.) Want to know which words, appeared most often in the profiles of men and women of each race, once the most common were filtered out? (Are you sure? Because I thought I did too, but after reading them I almost kinda wished I hadn't.... But you're all adults, I'm sure you can handle it.)


3fuck your books organized by color
fuck your noguchi coffee table
Despite a little too frequent posts about books organized by color, this site is an awesome takedown of every stupid, wanna be rustic hipster decorating trend you've ever seen and probably several you haven't which will make you think, "geez, people actually do that?"

the composites

You'll never catch me on Second Life but I have no qualms about spending two hours hunched over the Sitepal demo futzing with my avatar's hairstyle and color sliders or trying to find the perfect jewelry and accessories to compliment my casual blouse and/or tank/ cardigan combo. Maybe what I need is a first life...

fukushima diary

Tracking American Poverty & Policy
A cool infographic presentation of poverty trends in the US population over the last 60 years. Takeaways: poverty has shifted demographically from mostly afflicting senior citizens to mostly afflicting the young. In fact, these days the older you are, the more likely you are to be better off financially regardless of race, gender or family structure. And about that family structure... it seems the best way to avoid falling into poverty isn't a college education (although it certainly helps) but pairing up and not having children (done and done).


separated by a common language

pronounce names

krapeaSo, in Grand Theft Auto IV you can go online — not "real" online, but a place where you can send and receive email, set up dates with random women and, if you're like us, check out the fake ads and weird news stories summarizing your latest "mission" from the perspective of the innocent bystanders who have to live in a city where every day brings another multi-casualty shootout between police and the organized criminals who always seem to kick their asses. The ads, however, are where you will find the Easter eggs (or as Davidology puts it: "full on mother fucking lulz"), like this ad for Krapea, a scathingly hysterical diatribe against IKEA that goes on for five pages and makes you wonder, of all the people who play this game, what percentage will ever even know this is here, let alone read all of it? Then if you're like us, you'll scour the real internet hoping someone has transcribed and posted this mini-masterpiece so you can quote it and link to it on your website, and when you do find it because of course someone has done exactly that, you will be amazed but not at all surprised, and it will give you a warm fuzzy feeling about the Internet and this whole crazy world we've created and are creating.

SHOWROOM: All KRAPEA stores operate a strict one-way system, designed to funnel customers into bottlenecks and keep people away from exits at all costs. Don't think that we're going to let you go straight to the bedroom section—you're going to traipse past every product that we stock whether you like it or not. We are in charge. We control you. Resistance is futile. Don't try to swim against the tide or we will twist an Allen key into one of your pressure points or stab one of those little brown pencils into your eye. Just follow the big arrows and don't ask questions. If you get tired, you can lie down on one of the beds and rest your head on a pillow that hasn't been washed for 7 years.
WAREHOUSE: Or is it...? You run for the exit, kicking feral brats out of your way, only to emerge into a cavernous warehouse. Now it finally dawns on you that we are going to steal your soul. Welcome to the flat-pack jungle. Here you discover that you need to be a professional weightlifter to actually move any of the packages off the shelves. All around are skeletons of people who underestimated the power of the pressboard. And don't expect any help form us. If you want a wardrobe for $50, you're going to carry it yourself. There's nothing funnier than an 80lb pensioner trying to wrestle down a garden bench from the rafters of an aircraft hangar. We could release a DVD of our CCTV footage on a daily basis. In the unlikely event that succeed in balancing your bedroom furniture on top of a supermarket cart, it's time to take on the checkout. (Copyright some brilliant content writer at Rock Star Games) Read the rest


Best Shows on Netflix in 2012

So we finally jumped on the bandwagon and haven't regretted it since, although we still prefer to get TV shows from the library whenever possible (e.g. House Season 6 — very good, by the way) because of all the DVD extras and commentaries, without which Mad Men especially would only be about half as enjoyable. Of course you have to reserve them the day they appear in the library's database or you'll be #332 in line like we were for Season 4.)

big fix
  1. (NOT Mad Men Season 5, sadly.)
  2. (NOT Breaking Bad Season 4. Sigh... maybe next year.)
  3. The Big Fix — An absolutely amazing, sickening, enraging documentary about the BP oil spill and their subsequent purposeful and illegal — I think at this point we can all agree on evil — poisoning of the Gulf with fucking "Corexit," a practice that filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell all but prove is/ was still going on long after the government told them to stop.
  4. The End — After spending my college years in Baltimore in the early 90s, when homicides hit an all-time high of 353 (seven times the national rate, six times that of NYC) and after spending the 00s within range of the US during the War on Terra propaganda campaign, it came as something of a revelation to watch this documentary and realize that old white guys really are the scariest motherfuckers on the planet after all.
  5. Lie to Me — Formulaic glossy crime drama? Check. Premise based on real science routinely stretched beyond believability into the realms of the absurd? Check again. Somehow (ahem, Tim Roth) this show managed to pull it off so well that I was genuinely shocked when Fox cancelled it halfway through the third season.
  6. Numb3rs — Higher math ("maths" if you're British) gets the "Lie to Me" treatment in this supremely watchable crime-solving (with math!) drama, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott and starring, among others, the eminently watchable Judd Hirsch.
  7. dominoDomino — Directed by Tony Scott, RIP. My favorite part, and I don't mean this at all in a snarky way, was the end credits. All the cast members photos are shown in random order with just their first names. I dunno... it's just an endearing little touch that I've never seen done before, and it gave me the feeling that Tony Scott must have been just a wonderful, warm, caring, down-to-earth guy. But please don't take my word for it. The Guardian published a letter from Kiera Knightly this month that absolutely says it all.
  8. The Glades — Good scripted TV ain't rocket science (or hedge fund management). This is proof that the networks can still do it when they want to. Take your cute guy, your hot girl, throw in a couple of clever sidekicks and scenic locations, have a dead body discovered by young lovers/kids playing/delivery guy/implicated relative in the first two minutes of every episode and you've got a show that Netflix viewers will blow through three seasons of in a long weekend.
  9. Flash Forward — Another inexplicable cancellation. This mind-bending, high budget sci-fi/ action/ mystery thriller in the tradition of "Lost" kept the pace, suspense and surprise twists most of the way through the first season and right before the cliff-hanger season finale aired, announced that there would never be a second season. I suppose we got over the Twin Peaks series cliff-hanger eventually (to think David Lynch knew it had been cancelled!).
  10. Sherlock — Despite its inexcusably brief "seasons" of only three episodes each, and the fact that given our short attention spans these days, we should probably all be sick to death of Benedict Cumberbatch by now, I just can't recommend this show highly enough. A British friend of mine recently offered by way of an excuse for the brevity of their seasons, that it might be due to the fact that its stars have both also been engaged in the filming of The Hobbit. As a result, they've been sequestered away in the jungles of New Zealand lo these many years, where Colonel Jackson allows his indentured actors only the briefest of sojourns to the mainland as dictated by the Screen Actors Guild. When you factor in the bare minimum time required for reuniting of families and conjugal visits with estranged spouses and whatnot, this certainly does not leave enough time to film six or twelve episodes of a BBC production. All very reasonable perhaps, but still unacceptable as far as I'm concerned.


click for permalink December 29, 2012

The year is almost over and that of course means, among other things, that I will have to stop posting lists soon and get back to my usual (not posting at all... oh, I wish I were kidding too). There are still a few days left though, and I have a few more lists to get out of my system. But first, I don't usually do in memorium(s?)... in memoria? Retrospectives of the people we've lost over the course of the year, but this month I came across a collection of essays that not only fit right into my "list of lists" format, it also perfectly filled an editorial void I'd identified in the wake of one of this year's losses.

true romanceWhen I first heard the news last August that director Tony Scott had jumped to his death from the Vincent Thomas Bridge near LA, I was disappointed to observe how many of the articles that were rushed into publication that day seemed to share the same perfunctory and dismissive tone. Few could avoid characterizing the director as Ridley Scott's less successful brother, the one who brought us Top Gun and Days of Thunder. The typical report concluded like this one from the The LA Times: "Though his movies were consistent box-office hits, Scott rarely attracted critical praise and was never nominated for an Academy Award."

Admittedly that description isn't inaccurate, but it seemed somehow unfair. After all, Tony Scott was the guy who directed True Romance, one of my favorite movies of all time and one that almost 20 years later has held up nearly as well as Pulp Fiction. The scene with Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken? Come on! And that incredible fight between Patricia Arquette and James Gandolfini, ten years before his starring role in The Sopranos. Throw in Christian Slater, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt and Bronson Pinchot among others and it has arguably one of the best casts ever assembled.

More recently, Man on Fire was nothing short of brilliant and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Domino and Deja Vu, so much so I'd forgotten Halle Berry was even in it. But as happens more often than not these days, popular opinion was apparently against me there too, as the critics had reacted to his later films with almost unanimous derision.

So it came as a great relief as well as a surprise when I found Tony Scott: A Moving Target @ MUBI, a series of essays curated by Daniel Kasman & Gina Telaroli and compiled from more than 20 contributors. While not all were fans of his work (in fact, one of the best is a critique written in the form of a storyboard for an Adam Curtis style documentary, complete with YouTube commercial at the start of "part two"), each offers a thoughtful analysis and their very existence is a fitting tribute to the director's often overlooked complexity.

Tasked by the curators with analyzing just one scene each, most of the essayists chose to focus on his final four films, a phase they repeatedly describe as impressionistic or expressionistic. These terms suggest a clear apprehension of the director's trajectory from his classical education as a painter to his late, and sadly incomplete, emergence into a more artistically expressive phase in his chosen medium. It's a relief to know I'm not the only one who can recognize — or admit — that even a film as fatuous and flawed as "Top Gun" can contain fragments of the sublime.

top gun

If you think you might read only one piece of this excellent 24-part series, I recommend you start with TonyScottDeathSong by Uncas Blythe, which includes the quote from Italian director Pasolini below.

He jumped off a bridge. Inevitably, it casts a pall on things. Whatever the cover stories, what really killed Tony Scott was the power of middlebrow opinion, lamely expressed; a clumsy hit squad contracted long ago...

Pasolini, Pier Paolo, Observations on the Sequence Shot
"Man expresses himself above all through his action—not meant in a purely pragmatic way—because it is in this way that he modifies reality and leaves his spiritual imprint on it... In short, as long as he has a future, that is, something unknown, a man does not express himself. An honest man may at seventy commit a crime: such blameworthy action modifies all his past actions, and he thus presents himself as other than what he always was. So long as I'm not dead, no one will be able to guarantee he truly knows me...
It is thus absolutely necessary to die, because while living we lack meaning... Death performs a lightning-quick montage on our lives; that is, it chooses our truly significant moments (no longer changeable by other possible contrary or incoherent moments) and places them in sequence, converting our present, which is infinite, unstable, and uncertain, and thus linguistically indescribable, into a clear, stable, certain, and thus linguistically describable past (precisely in the sphere of a general semiology). It is thanks to death that our lives become expressive."



click for permalink December 27, 2012

Best Lists of 2012

1 Which Apocalypse Would Be the Most Fun?
In lieu of, you know, a certain other apocalypse that failed to manifest this year.

Cracked 64: Top 8 everything of 2012

Other year-end lists count down the best movies and most influential people. But when you think of '80s movies, does your mind go to Gandhi and Amadeus or Ferris Bueller and Molly Ringwald? Exactly. These 64 picks may not be the best the year had to offer, but they're the movies, tweets and everything else that 2012 deserves."

8 Great Moments in the History of Editing, Mental Floss

Cool Tools: The Best Magazine Articles Ever

The Guardian lists literature's mind blowing drugs

Nearly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism, The Atlantic

The Top 10 Most Pirated TV-Shows Of 2012 — More of a checklist really.


The 50 Best Movies on Netflix Instant by Josh Jackson, Paste Magazine

The Best Films of EVERY Year by Kilgore Trout — Oh, does this list give me ideas...

10 of the world's biggest unsolved mysteries

Wired Reader's Choice: Top 10 Sci-Fi TV Shows — An alternate title for this one could've been: "Wired conspires to make me wonder if everyone else in the world has lost their minds." (Emphasis mine.)

  1. Firefly (wtf?!)
  2. Star Trek: The Next Generation
  3. Battlestar Galactica (2004)
  4. Star Trek
  5. X-files
  6. Doctor Who (2006)
  7. Stargate SG1
  8. Futurama
  9. Babylon 5
  10. The Twilight Zone (1959)

And finally, the proverbial (athough thank goodness not literal) list to end all lists...

The New Yorker's 100 Best Lists of All Time — of which my top 12 are listed below.

77. Van Halen's 1982 tour-provisions "rider"
gatsby75. Modern Library's "100 Best Novels" — If only for the (to say the least) discouraging side-by-side comparison to their "readers choice" Top 100. Much as I love Robert Heinlein, I know he doesn't deserve to appear more than any other author (seven times) in the Top 100 — probably not even in the Top 100 science fiction novels of all time. In fact, the overrepresentation of sci-fi should really be a red flag on these types of lists as a rule — or rather, it would if not for the utter irrelevance of any colored flags if you're still reading past the top three, which consists of Ayn Rand twice and L. Ron Hubbard (and that right there might just encapsulate everything that's wrong with America).
64. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
45. "Late Show With David Letterman" Top Ten
44. George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Network Television"
inferno43. The New York Times' best-sellers list
21. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
14. Dante Alighieri's nine circles of Hell
13. Schindler's list
3. Craigslist
2. The Bill of Rights
1. The Periodic Table of Elements

Read the full list


click for permalink December 23, 2012

20 Best Books (read) in 2012

  1. Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
  2. Transmetropolitan (1997-2002)

    Published by Vertigo and written by Warren Ellis with art by Darick Robertson. Someone described the protagonist, a tattooed, pill-popping, perpetually enraged and often deranged but mostly moral misanthrope named Spider Jerusalem as a cyberpunk Hunter S. Thompson — which is probably all you need to know to understand why I love Transmetropolitan (I just want to know if it's weird that I find him sexy). Even though the series ended more than a decade ago, the seethingly seedy, super-connected cyber-distopia Spider inhabits still feels like it could be, as Max Headroom used to say, 20 minutes into the future.
  3. Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
  4. Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto by David Kushner
  5. IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation by Edwin Black
  6. The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee
  7. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  8. Glock: The Rise of America's Gun by Paul M. Barrett
  9. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace
  10. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace
  11. Both Flesh and Not: Essays by David Foster Wallace
  12. Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets by Dick Cavett
  13. Role Models by John Waters
  14. The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
  15. The Genesis Generation by Lawrence "Lorenzo" Hagerty
  16. Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 by Michio Kaku
  17. Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
  18. Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein
  19. Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing: A Modern Guide to Couture-Style Sewing Using Basic Vintage Techniques
  20. Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy by Martin Lindstrom

nashBut by far the best book of the year is one that's still being written. My grandmother has been documenting her amazing life story and emailing me one chapter at a time as she finishes writing them. Without actually revealing her age (for which I would be inviting certain wrath down upon my head), I can say that her story begins between the two world wars when her parents met in college, an origin story she recounts from family lore before delving into the biographies of her grandparents and great-grandparents. After that introduction, she quickly takes over from memory, recreating her childhood in Oklahoma in incredible detail; cross-country train trips, the house with the second-story window where she used to sit and read, the first new car her grandparents ever bought, her favorite uncles and grade school crushes, all woven together with colorful supporting characters and the impact of world events, illnesses and injuries on the lives of those around her.

hawaii In addition to being damned entertaining, for me it's like a portal into history customized to my very DNA, a guided tour through the 20th Century with a cast of familiar characters brought to life as never before, fully referenced and referenceable. The most recent chapter paints a Technicolor portrait of her free-spirited youth and the years she spent surrounded by a multiracial crew of Bohemian artists, dancers and musicians in Southern California and Honolulu.

It's like watching some incredibly well-researched historical drama (let's say Mad Men) where the story is totally engrossing but at the same time it's impossible not to marvel at the impeccable details that go into the production. You're constantly noticing all these perfect little set pieces, obviously handpicked by some passionately anal retentive propmaster and arranged so that every scene is like a time capsule. These stories are a lot like that, only in this case there's no propmaster — no team of fact-checking interns. All those meticulous details, a lifetime of locations and props preserved in mint condition have been stored inside one person's head, and the masterpiece of staging the entire production is the work of a singular mind. (I certainly hope that trait is encoded in the DNA we share.)

So I already know what's going to top my Best Books of 2013 list.


click for permalink December 19, 2012

Best Videos of 2012

Mr. Deity and the Hitch

Christian Thorne: On Tarantino, Nazis, and Movies That Can Kill You

Pulp Shakespeare

The Craziest Amusement Park Ride Ever

The Hamilton Mixtape

Portlandia: Did You Read It?

Kumail Nanjiani: Cheese

The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

9-11 Explained in 5 Minutes

THE PALE KING: Monologues From The Unfinished Novel By David Foster Wallace


click for permalink December 15, 2012

2012: The Year in Pictures

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Piles of sandbags outside the Goldman Sachs headquarters in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy.

Credit: Michael Appleton for The New York Times


A Palestinian girl tries to punch an Israeli soldier during a protest against the expansion of a Jewish settlement near Halamish.

Photo by Majdi Mohammed / AP


Space Shuttle Endeavour makes its way through the Los Angeles suburbs on its way to the California Science Center.

Credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

suu kyi

Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, silhouetted against the setting sun.

Credit: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri


The Waldo Canyon fires rage in the foothills near Colorado Springs.

Credit: AP Photo/The Denver Post, Helen H. Richardson

Bioluminescence in the Gippsland Lakes.

Credit: Phil Hart


Photographer Richard Mosse ventured to a jungle war zone in the Congo for his series Infra, employing a discontinued military surveillance technology called Kodak Aerochrome, a type of film with infrared capabilities that transforms the green landscape into crimson, lavender and hot pink.


Credit: Nalex (@JFDI), Twitter


The eerily dark skyline of Manhattan under the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy.

Credit: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz


click for permalink December 13, 2012

Let's start with...

The 12 Best Articles of 2012

animalsAnimals by Chris Jones

It was dark and wet and dangerous in Zanesville, Ohio. Terry Thompson had let his scores of big animals out of their hard, grim cages, then shot himself in the head. The tigers and bears were loose. Night was falling. Everything was out of control." (Read the article)

The stories of two dozen strangers who survived the Joplin, Mo., tornado by hiding in a walk-in beer cooler by Luke Dittrich

On May 22, a three-quarter-mile-wide tornado carved a six-mile-long path through Joplin, Missouri, killing 160. Unable to escape, two dozen strangers sought shelter in a gas station's walk-in cooler while the funnel ripped apart every building, car, and living thing around. This is their story." (Read the article)

The Innocent Man, Part One by Pamela Colloff

On August 13, 1986, Michael Morton came home from work to discover that his wife had been brutally murdered in their bed. His nightmare had only begun." (Part one and part two here.)

606The Woman in 606 by Christopher Frizzelle

Six months ago, my boyfriend and I were watching a movie in our apartment when he looked up and said, "Something's wrong." A moment later, he was pressed up against the front door, listening and whispering, "Something crazy's happening. Don't open the door. Something crazy's happening." (Read the article)

The Crayola-fication of the World: How We Gave Colors Names, and It Messed with Our Brains

In Japan, people often refer to traffic lights as being blue in color. And this is a bit odd, because the traffic signal indicating "go" in Japan is just as green as it is anywhere else in the world. So why is the color getting lost in translation? This visual conundrum has its roots in the history of language." (Part 1 and Part 2)

Dear Pamela Geller, If Someone Rips Down Or Otherwise Defaces The Disgusting Racist Advertisements You Have Won The Legal Right To Display In New York Subway Stations, I Will Not Know Anything About How That Might Have Happened by Dave Bry

We've never met. My name's Dave. I don't know much about you personally, but from what I have read about you, and from watching you talk on TV about the proposal two years ago to build a mosque five blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood, your public persona is one that makes me ashamed to be American and Jewish and a human being alive in the 21st century who has the letters "a" and "r" in his name. Because those two letters are also in your name." (Read the full article)

Brad And Angie Go To Meet The African Pee Generator Girls by Sarah Miller

Brad & AngelinaAngelina Jolie was so amazed. It was only once in a while that she saw something that really made her feel real. It was so hard to feel real sometimes. Pancakes sometimes made her feel real. But pancakes were troublesome. A slippery slope. She wrote that down in her blue Moleskine book. "Pancakes are a slippery slope." (Read the full article)

Gadgets, Porn and Guilt-Free Murder: Why Good Capitalists Die Alone and Psychotic by Cintra Wilson

Lately, intimacy between men and women seems to be experiencing an all-time low. For the last six or seven years, heterosexual relationships seem to have been crashing and burning all over the place in ways that seemed uglier and more brutal than usual. On the meta-level, there were public scandals: Eliot Spitzer fell from grace after being busted indulging a formidable appetite for escorts. The beautiful Huma Abedin was betrayed by Anthony Weiner." (Read the full article)

In Which We Teach You How To Be A Woman In Any Boys' Club by Molly Lambert 

boys' clubHere are some rules about how to be a girl in a boys' club. This works for any world you're in or want to be in. Pretty much everything in the world is still a boys' club." (Read the full article)

Season of Fear by Maria Padhila

I'm afraid I almost didn't write this. And I almost didn't write this week because I'm afraid. I'm afraid someone is going to shoot a photo of my 51-year-old white lady ass in yoga pants and post it to a Reddit page with other photos of women in yoga pants. There are a half-dozen sites devoted to women in yoga pants alone, I understand, but I'm afraid to look at them for fear some virus will take over my computer and I won't be able to get my work done." (Read the article)

The Running of the Dead by Christian Thorne

The first thing a person is going to need to know about Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, from 2002, is that it's one big trick. That's one good reason to like the movie, in fact—that it is punking you.

I don't think I can explain the movie's trick right away; we need to do the groundwork first, but it is the point to keep in mind: 28 Days Later is a bit of the thimblerig. Don't let your eye off the ball. The second thing to know is that of all the zombie movies, 28 Days Later is the one most steeped in political philosophy." (Read all four parts here)

: If you like this article, be sure to watch Christian Thorne's presentation of On Tarantino, Nazis, and Movies That Can Kill You.

SMS dialogue between Noomi Rapace and an Engineer by md'a

This was originally linked from another post that contained a massive spoiler warning, but since it's now being passed around on social media without that reference, let me emphasize that YOU SHOULD UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN'T YET SEEN PROMETHEUS AND INTEND TO DO SO AND DON'T WANT MAJOR PLOT POINTS REVEALED. The post is dated 8.5 years ago specifically because I wanted to make sure nobody stumbles onto it by accident." (Read the "article")




click for permalink December 9, 2012

This website was recently brought to my attention by a concerned consumer (okay, it was my mother), who was feeling conflicted about the requests of her employees for Xmas gift cards from Victoria's Secret. Not because it's a weird thing to ask your boss to give you for Xmas, mind you, but because she had stumbled across an article titled "Victoria's dirty little secret" and wanted to get my opinion. Well. I hastened to check it out, imagining all manner of unethical shenanigans the company could have been caught committing. Would it be underage sweatshop workers toiling away without a bathroom break for 16 hours per day, stitching lace trim and bending underwires into perfectly curved semi-circles until their tiny, bare hands were cramped and crippled? Or had their overseas factories been exposed as under-regulated fire-traps in the wake of some all-too-preventable tragedy, and only after this senseless loss of young lives were years of corruption, cost-cutting and safety violations finally revealed?

Help me, I'm being objectified! And so are you! Turn away while you still can!Well, the writers at Beauty Redefined have an axe to grind, but it's not of the activist variety. The "dirty little secret" here is... Victoria's Secret sells underwear. Yes, they sell a fucking LOT of it and they do it well — so well that they essentially have a Starbucks-style monopoly, at least in the US, which gives all the anti-underwear zealots out there a nice big pink, lace-trimmed target on which to focus their ire. That ire can stem from any number of different motivating factors, including the indignant but well-intentioned, post-post-feminist "just looking out for us girls" type that this website seems to be about (although referring to underwear ads as "normalized pornography" puts them right back in the second wave with Andrea Dworkin).

Where once sexualized representations of women in the media presented them as passive, mute objects of an assumed male gaze, today women are presented as active, desiring sexual subjects who choose to present themselves in an objectified manner because it suits their 'liberated' interests to do so." (Kite)

With this sort of thing you can run into trouble when you start aiming past the immediate "what we're mad at" and try to focus on the alternatives, e.g. the article called Modesty is Hottest?, which I highly recommend. It's instructive to watch as the motivating force behind their argument starts to align them with the Christian right and then with Muslim fundamentalists before they veer half-assedly back  onto safer terrain by suggesting that all wrongs would be righted if only we could "stop judging girls and women for the skin they are or are not showing." If I may point out the obvious, this is the Achilles (oops, better make that Artemis) heel of their entire argument. If it's all "live and let live" and the problem is people's attitudes towards each other, as opposed to capitalism/ consumerism and the whole Pandora's can of worms that opens up, then why are we even talking about this in the first place?

Apparently it's not just a modern problem either; as they argue in the extended remix of this article, Victoria's Secret is just carrying on the sexist, anti-women campaigns of their European forebears:

"Within classic art, many painters believed the ideal nude ought to be constructed by taking the face of one body, the breasts of another [and so on]... Fragmenting the model into parts of a whole transforms the model — a living, breathing person — into something less than human, even a commodity, meant to gratify the objects' owner."

The use of words like "classic" and "ideal" in the passage above are almost comical in their contradiction to the original meanings. From an introduction explaining the term "Classical" by Walter Jackson Bate:

According to this philosophy universal forms and principles constitute the essential character of nature. Art, as an imitation of what is essential in nature, is therefore concerned with persisting, objective forms... [Thus,] the very subject matter on which art focuses is that which is permanent and ordered rather than isolated and particular."

But I digress. What's really wrong with their argument is perhaps best captured in the article titled, Why "fitspiration" isn't so Inspirational (emphasis mine):

WTF is Fitspiration, anyway? Oh, is this about exercise? I guess it could make some people want to exercise, but I'm immune to such propaganda.Be very aware of any "fitspiration" that is advertising something... these "girl power!" messages that look so empowering on first glance [are] fine if you're in the market for some new stretchy pants or a sports bra; not fine if you're hoping their marketing materials will teach you something profound about yourself."

Okay, now why the fuck would any woman or girl with half a brain "hope to learn something profound about themselves" from a company's "marketing materials" (or ads, as we've called them for the last hundred years)? I've never hoped to learn something profound about myself from a company that sold me clothes, shoes or cosmetics... Have you? Hell, I don't even expect that from the Cosmo Quiz. Do the writers of this website really think their intended audience is that flamingly stupid? And if so, why are they wasting their expensive Ivy League educations* preaching the evils of advertising when their intended audience might be better served by learning not to stare up at the sky with their mouths open so as to avoid drowning when it rains? (*That education, by the way? Media studies. Are these people really still finding employment in this economy?)

VS ads are pornography alright... assuming you've never actually see pornography.Okay, back to first principles. The advertising industry has one ulterior motive and everyone already knows what it is (although, god, to hear some people talk, it's clear they've forgotten): to sell the client's product. Everything besides that single, motivating raison d'être is attributable to us, the viewers of the ads and consumers of the products, whether by cultural zeitgeist (e.g. Barbie), collateral damage (e.g. cigarettes) or icing on the cake (e.g. Mad Men). Advertisers are accused of being evil when they help a company like Philip Morris by marketing their cancer-delivery system and, admittedly, that's a lot closer than most professions get to pure evil, but it's not brainwashing. People don't start smoking because of advertising — if they did, everyone would smoke. People start for a million personal reasons; peer pressure or stress or because everyone in their family smokes, or because they want to be included, popular, look cool, relax after a hard day or hold something in their other hand while they're drinking — whatever the case may be — and they keep smoking because the damn things are engineered to addict people (and from a purely objective observer's viewpoint, well done that).

The point that the writers of Beauty Redefined are missing (one of them anyway) is that no one has ever bought a piece of lingerie because they looked at a picture of Gisele Bundchen and felt like shit about themselves. You haven't, I haven't and the millions of women who shop at Victoria's Secret every year haven't either. Now I'm not saying it's impossible to look at Gisele and feel bad about yourself under certain circumstances — certainly not — but if that's their best argument against Victoria's Secret, it just doesn't hold water. The brand, like its models, has gained greater and greater exposure over the years, taking up real estate in every mall across America (coming soon to your town everywhere else), on primetime TV and hundred-foot tall billboards, and their sales have only increased accordingly.

Gisele is so beautiful... I'll never look like that in my underwear. Damn it, I'm going to go buy some underwear.Women have come a long way (baby) since the Mad Men era in their relationship to advertising. Advertisers, for what it's worth, have also come a long way in their approach to women. Products that once preyed openly on our insecurities must now speak the language of freedom and empowerment (readers who remember the '70s will recall the marketing of products like Head & Shoulders ("pretty girl, but... she's scratching her head. That could be dandruff") and Summer's Eve — although, the latter has managed to move with the times in a way that words can't really do justice). Besides, the copywriting and marketing fields are dominated by women, which renders the straw man argument about "what men want to see" just a little flimsy.

Besides, let's ponder the alternative for a moment... What would a non-objectifying, non-sexist, "healthy" body image-promoting Victoria's Secret look like? In a post-post feminist utopia, how would they market their products (assuming of course that underwear is not, by its very nature, an instrument of oppression)? I suppose the catalogs would have to be mailed in plain paper envelopes to protect female postal workers and unsuspecting neighbors from accidental exposure (trees be damned) to female subscribers only, since it's not for men. Only "normal" women would be featured as models, by which I suppose we mean average — by which I suppose we mean the US average (or do we? Let's call that conundrum number one). Moving on, the models would have to represent the full range of female experience; all ages, ethnicities, sizes and lifestyles because omission equals exclusion (model scouts will be encouraged to use their powers of persuasion on reticent Chinese grandmothers, 300 lb. paraplegic agoraphobes, anorexic lesbian war vets and sexagenarian prison wardens, regardless of whether or not they would choose to wear those things in real life).

And no "pornographic" poses, for Hera's sake, because there's nothing sexual about lingerie (except of course, whatever the consumer might choose to do with it in the privacy of her own home all by herself). Yes, these normal women will have to stand face-forward, arms at their sides and unsmiling like a passport photo, only full body in lingerie. So, how do we think Victoria's Secret would fare under the new non-objectifying mandate? (Wait, is that even possible? Or does the act of photographing something quite literally objectify it? Never mind that now!) The only question we can honestly answer now is, would we buy anything from the fictitious catalog described above? I don't even think I'd want something so depressing in my house, so I can't imagine it would inspire me to buy anything.

In the end, isn't it a fundamental truth that women tend to feel better about themselves when they're wearing fancy lingerie, makeup, a new hairstyle or outfit or just about any other girly thing sold for that very purpose? Of course it's shallow and only temporary, and of course those feelings are partially driven by a post-consumer endorphin high, and maybe there is some problematic, vestigial socio-sexual women-as-objects stuff at play here, but if a woman can ride that wave of positive feeling that nice lingerie and the other trappings can provide until the end of their big date, graduation ceremony, high school prom, wedding reception or Nobel laureates gala, isn't that a "net positive" for the woman? Setting aside thornier questions of whether they can afford it or if they shop for the emotional high to the point that it's an addictive behavior (a distinct possibility, the harmful effects of which are seemingly well outside the website's purview), if the important thing is to "empower" women, to have them feel good about themselves (and I think the creators of the website would have to agree it is), they couldn't have picked a more ill-conceived target (or one less likely to gain them broad support for their thesis) than Victoria's Secret.

VS' real dirty secret? Selling women what they want... the lingerie is a Trogan Horse!The earlier comparison to Starbucks is actually quite appropriate in that both companies, since launching in the 1970s with a relatively tiny segment of the market (when there were no global brands of fancy coffee or fancy underwear), have made themselves into not just household words but veritable synonyms for brand ubiquity. If Victoria's Secret falls short of the Xerox level of niche dominance that Starbucks has, it's only because there isn't a single verb we readily associate with the act of dressing up in — or stripping down to — sexy underwear. But whereas Starbucks was born into a world where coffee drinkers were accustomed to making do with gas station carafes that simmered away for hours on a hot plate, or making their own espresso at home (if they were European), and gradually remade it into the world we know, in which most of us won't hesitate to drop $5 on a single cup, Victoria's Secret launched in a time when feminism and hippie culture had all but banished "foundation undergarments" from the wardrobes of fashionable women. Celebrities like Faye Dunaway regularly went braless and the biggest retailer of ladies undergarments was that fabulous time capsule of trash Frederick's of Hollywood (not a place most men would have shopped for their wives or girlfriends, assuming they even knew it existed).

See, it can't be for men if they're selling Uggs!Then along came Victoria's Secret, which looked classy and was totally convenient, their catalogs tasteful enough to be socially acceptable for both sexes to peruse — heck, in the early 90s it wasn't unusual to see them in your doctor's waiting room. Best of all, it was readily affordable and, with the proliferation of retail locations over the last two decades, more accessible than any other brand. If you're somehow unfortunate enough to live more than a convenient drive's distance away from a shopping mall, their catalogs will deliver to almost any address on the planet, which explains the mass market appeal and ubiquity across all ages and socioeconomic classes of women — straight or gay, I might add. And wouldn't lesbians, after all, be bulletproof against claims of catering to "what guys want to see?" How do the writers rationalize all those lesbians who love Victoria's Secret? Are they just over-Identifying with and adopting the prevailing sexist paradigms of the dominator culture? Please! Try saying that to their faces.

The bottom line (okay, pun intended) is that women love lingerie. They feel good in it and men love to see them in it — women too, just ask Ellen (hey, we remember how good Portia looks in lingerie). In that way, lingerie helps to further the species and everyone is happy... Until they get a little older, of course, and the "romantic lingerie" phase of their relationships fade (well, half of them fade anyway, and the rest fall apart, if we're being realistic). And let's face it, most women will not be as well-preserved as our celebrity icons of age-defiance like Madonna and (amazingly, still) Faye Dunaway. In all likelihood, most women have decades to look forward to when they'll really be buying underwear "for themselves," because they would sooner die than let anyone see them in a bra again, ever. I say sex appeal is all-too fleeting. Let them enjoy it while they can.