Monthly Archives: September 2009

Classical music: “I don’t like that!”

My dear friend from school, Jonathan Shifflett, is a gifted classical guitarist, but it seems the folks over at the retirement home don’t appreciate his talent as much as I do.

Listen to Jonathan recount the experience here:

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Glee hits the wrong notes

Glee needs to find a new tune.

This week I caught the fourth episode of Glee, a show that FOX is putting all its chips on the table for. Commercials and extended promos were playing on television and in the movies long before the show hit the air, and the anticipation alone was attracting a cult following among those who more or less wanted to see High School Musical become a 22-episode sitcom.

Glee, like High School Musical, is about kids defying stereotypes. In Glee, a hunky football player sings his heart out to “Don’t Stop Believin.'” A bespectacled boy in a wheelchair rocks out to Kanye’s “Gold Digger.” An Asian goth girl gyrates to “I Kissed a Girl.” Bravo!

But for a fresh new show about defying stereotypes, the entire show is a stereotype.  There’s the black diva singer, a homosexual music teacher that’s fired for sexually harassing a student and a Celibacy Club president who becomes pregnant. The cheerleaders even don their uniforms 24/7. It’s unfortunate that this original show is so unoriginal. It isn’t for lack of talent – many of the actors come from Broadway backgrounds – but the script and the character development are so uninspired that the only part that brings me any glee is when the glee club actually sings.

The most obvious comparison to Glee is MTV’s The Real World, where each person is designed and edited to fit a certain stereotype. “The black one.” “The anorexic one.” “The promiscuous one with a boyfriend back home.” “The gay one.” Without fail, each season has these people.

Most TV characters do fall into certain categories: the popular kid, the band geek, the teacher’s pet. That’s how a show can quickly establish a character in a viewer’s mind. But in Glee, the characters fail to exhibit anything but their one-dimensional roles. Rachel, who is supposed to be the main protagonist, is completely unlikeable; although the show attempts to evoke some sympathy by establishing that she is a misunderstood outcast and that Glee Club is the high school’s bottom feeder, all Rachel does is whine whenever her day in the spotlight is given to the other glee members. No depth exists — the mark of poor character development when a viewer can’t even relate or like the main character.

The most painful Glee character is Kurt, who wears corsets to class and fears that bullies will mess up his Dolce & Gabbana sweater. In other words, “The Gay One.”

This week’s episode opened with Kurt in a black, skintight leotard shimmying side to side and bending over to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”. His father, an average joe, is mortified when he walks in to discover this debacle. Kurt quickly covers up, saying this is how the football team gets warmed up. Because he’s a kicker for the team. Dilemma. Now Kurt must join the football team and invite seemingly homophobic Pops to the game. Kurt, obviously, is an incredible kicker and there just happens to be a vacant spot on the team. He makes the team about two seconds after realizing he needs to try out. Fast forward to game night. To make a long story short, with the pressure of the final kick upon him and breathless fans hanging on his every move, he goes on to win the game by sashaying his way to the ball and kicking in time with “Single Ladies.” Granted, if they were going to do this, at least they picked the song with “the best video of all time!” Right, Kanye?

Later that night, as Kurt goes through his nightly skin care regimen, Dad walks in to congratulate him. “I’m proud of you, son. I wish your mom would have been there … alive.” (As opposed to being there dead? If you missed it, that was another blatant plot device smacking you in the head.)

Kurt works up the courage to say football isn’t for him — and shock — he’s gay. Dad, who previously gave off the vibe that he would beat Kurt to a pulp if he heard Kurt ever utter the words “Liza Minnelli” (which, by the way, he does in a previous episode), smiles and tells him the cat was actually out of the bag when Kurt asked for “sensible heels” for Christmas at age 3. Dad says he accepts Kurt and loves him, and all is right in the world.

Give me a break. This was by far the greatest oversimplification I have ever seen about what it means to be gay and the difficulty of coming out to one’s parents. If anything, this is perpetuating a bad stereotype—not breaking one. However heartwarming it was that what first seemed like a dad-in-denial turned out to be an unconditional, loving father, the surprise element didn’t cover up the fact that what could be the real conflict – not finding acceptance even within your own family – was glossed over, packaged and tied with a pretty bow. FOX evades tackling a serious issue and the ratings win. Score.

Here’s a clip from the episode:

Glee isn’t the only show attempting to tackle the gay issue. A lot of shows geared toward teenagers either feature one gay character or at least have some of its characters experimenting with their sexuality, if only for a short while, as if it’s a decision made on a whim. Television shows are missing the mark, because they try to prove a point (and get ratings too, because let’s face it, ratings equal money) by saying it’s OK to be gay. But then, they fail to capture the essence of what it’s all about. The gay character’s dilemma is always something associated with being gay – because gays presumably don’t have other issues other than the fact that they like someone of their sex. Other characters struggle with keeping good grades, or have sibling rivalries. But not the gay character. The gay character worries when his friend accidentally outs him, or is concerned that the guy he’s secretly dating hasn’t told his girlfriend he’s into guys now. (That last example was straight out of this week’s GREEK episode on ABC Family.)

Shows like Glee hang up a thin veil that suggests they are trying to tackle the great social issues and concerns of the times — that they have a grasp on high school and the personalities it comprises, but in actuality, these shows are just putting up a facade of diversifying its cast in order to attract audiences of all types. The media is a great platform for gays to gain acceptance, and if it is handled the right way, could really make a difference. But these shows aren’t handling it the right way.

One show that did get it right was Will and Grace. Two out of the four main characters are out and proud. But you’ll notice the show isn’t always about being gay because of it. Sean Hayes’ character – Jack McFarland – is the gay of all gays. (Although he faces some harsh competition from Kurt.) But each episode doesn’t focus on the pains of being gay and being accepted. They go about their day and they date guys, but it’s just a matter of fact.

In my opinion, that’s how television should be handling these serious issues. Neither by trying to break stereotypes nor inadvertently perpetuating them…but rather, to say: They’re here. They’re queer. Now get over it.

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In Middle East, Obama reaches for stars

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…

It’s a generally undisputed adage, but Shmuel Rosner writes on Slate.com that Obama is wasting his time trying to broker Middle East peace between Israel and the disputed Palestinian territories.

Obama—and now that we know him better, it is less of a surprise—was reaching for the stars and reaped no more than a handful of air. “Yes we can” ran into “no we won’t.” Israel will not freeze settlements, Palestinians will not soften their demands, and Arabs will not lend a hand. And, by the way, Iran will not halt its nuclear program, Russia will not vote for stronger sanctions, Lebanon will not have a Hezbollah-free government, and Syria will not arrest terrorists crossing into Iraq. Not until they have better reasons to do what Obama wants them to do. Not until he shows them that he can also wait for them to make a move.

It’s true that the chances of a “Yes, We Can” victory on the Middle East front look grim.  Getting Israelis and Palestinians to see eye to eye, or at least agree to disagree and settle on some compromise such as the two-state solution Obama wants, is about as likely as the proverbial lamb laying down with the lion. But who is to say Obama should slow his pace to a light jog, letting Israel and the Palestinian National Authority take the lead and set the tone? When I checked in December, they weren’t exactly laying down the foundation for the peacemaking process.

Undoubtedly Obama knows that nothing will be solved tomorrow.  A distinction exists between being naive and being ambitious. He might not see the day during his presidency when the Middle East is at peace. In fact, he probably won’t, because let’s face it: The Middle East problem goes far beyond settlements; it reaches back to biblical times and an inherent claim by both Israelis and Palestinians that the land is rightfully theirs. But he can be the president who at least cared enough to “reach for the stars,” as Rosner put it.

Look at JFK, who Obama is often compared to. His achievements during his presidency actually weren’t spectacular. Few of his major programs lived to see the light of day before his assassination. But he set the wheels in motion for major legislation that Lyndon B. Johnson passed. For that, among other reasons, most Americans revere Kennedy. I’m sure someone back then said he shouldn’t bother either. That he should just wait and see.

And already, Obama has taken a different approach than his predecessors and has redefined what it means to be pro-Israel. He has revoked the blank check former American presidents handed to Israel, who were afraid to appear anything but conciliatory and supportive. Caring about Israel’s longevity is not about supporting the stalwart conservatives who won’t make any concessions, who fear that any concession at all is a sign of weakness to terrorists and non-supporters. Israel’s chance for survival means showing some willingness to appease its enemies, an idea that was supported in a recent New York Times article.

This, I would argue, is returning with a little more than a handful of air.

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Hot off the blog

Update: Currently the link isn’t working. The Daily Trojan just revamped its site over the weekend. It looks great. Now all it needs is its stories back online.

The editors also just set up a Daily Trojan Twitter account. Not quite sure how I feel about that. Happy? Confused? Alone?

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Check out my latest article in The Daily Trojan.

USC limited in assisting with housing issues


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Digital footprints, or what I learned from the Internet

The Internet is a stalker’s playground for the taking. We don’t always consider just how much information we make readily available to people. Normally I don’t mind if my friends read on Facebook just how much I like eating cheese or how I enjoy quoting Flavor Flav when the mood strikes. But I sometimes lose sight that a potential employer could see this, too. Those people don’t need to hear me say “Ya boiiiii” until after they hire me.

Then there is the information we don’t control. Articles about us, pictures our friends put up…this too is available for anyone who takes the time to really look.

All of this information—the online content we can and can’t control—comprises what is called our “digital footprints.”

I wanted to see just how much I could find out about my friend and classmate by simply Googling her name and a couple other key words, such as “USC.” Half of her online image is that of accolades and professionalism. The other half—not so much. See for yourself:

Anita Little attended Southwest High School in Forth Worth, Texas. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in 2007 that Anita was one of nine students in her area to win a $2,500 scholarship in a National Merit Scholarship Corporation competition for African-American youth.

The same year, in August 2007, Little created a Blogger account. The blog was short-lived, and appears to have been a class project for which Little reviewed different types of web sites, including Youtube and a news site called The Falling Times. Her profile information reveals several biographical facts, including how she has lived in Forth Worth all her life, the name of her mother (Felicia) and the name of her dog (Phoenix). She also lists her favorite movies (Hotel Rwanda, Little Miss Sunshine and The Officer and the Gentleman) and indicates an early affinity for the Trojan Marching Band.

Little’s Facebook tells us that she was born on December 6, 1988, is Christian-Catholic and is married to Andrea Andy Lee, although it also says that she interested in men. In the “About Me” section, she wrote, “Armed with a venti caramel macchiato and an AP style book, I can save the world.” She is a member of 58 Facebook groups, including: “Raisins, Get the Fuck out of my Cookies,” “Live it Up Now: Because After College it’s Called Alcoholism,” “I Refer to People by Nicknames They Will Never Know” and “I Picked a Major I Like, and One Day I Will Probably Be Living in a Box.” Her Facebook groups also reveal that she deeply appreciates Mrs. Weasley from Harry Potter, she wants to help her friend Prith get his pants back, she was concerned for the captive American journalists in North Korea, she misses her dog and that she was an Annenberg Scholar.

The USC Annenberg site wrote in 2008 that Little attended the UNITY ’08 conference, a gathering for journalists of color in Chicago, where she attended a press conference with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.
 Little attended the conference as a Johnson Scholar, an organization she was inducted into as an incoming freshman. African-American publishing company Johnson Publishing, which prints Ebony and Jet magazines, donated $2.5 million to USC Annenberg to fund curriculum for aspiring black journalists. A National Public Radio article said Little and one other student, Leigh Lockhart, were the pioneering recipients of the scholarships included under the umbrella of the donation. According to the same article, Little finished in the top 1 percent of her graduating class in high school.

One online article quotes Anita: “‘I was really surprised and honored to be given the scholarship,'” said recipient Anita Little, a freshman majoring in print journalism. ‘It was an instrumental part in me coming to the school.'”

During the 2008 election season, Little blogged twice for the blog Pop and Politics. Her first post focused on the over-hyping of Obama’s middle name, Hussein. In her second and last piece, she sentimentally reflected on how Obama’s election deeply impacted her.

On May 19, 2009, Little created a Twitter account called fenix_rising. Her last post was from July 14: “i really wish i had finished those animal fries from in-and-out…. :(”

This year Little is the editor-in-chief of Black Voices. According to its web site, it is “the official publication of the African American community at USC.” She also wrote for the lifestyles section of USC’s The Daily Trojan.

Just this past week, TheLoop21.com ran an op-ed by Little that analyzed the impact of Tyra Banks coming out on her talk show and revealing her real hair, untouched by a straightening iron or products. Little relates in her post that she, like other African-American girls, grew up with the impression that she should strive for straight and glossy hair like Tyra’s and other African-American women on television. According to the site’s About Us section, Little is the editorial intern and “has aspirations of becoming a foreign correspondent specializing in human rights issues.”

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Just out of curiosity…

Has anyone ever actually made a professional connection on LinkedIn and/or gotten hired? I pondered this question tonight after someone invited me to his network, and I realized that in the few months I’ve had an account, I’ve done absolutely nothing on this social/professional networking site except type in my own standout credentials (i.e., limited Spanish) and accept other people’s invitations. I’m not saying that people my age don’t make use of it. It’s just that, for me, it’s currently functioning as an alternate Facebook. I’m adding friends, except this time I’m not even taking the time to look at their profiles, send them messages or poke them. And really, if you can’t poke someone, what good is it anyway? In other words, it’s getting about as much use as my Myspace that could or could not be deleted for all I know.

Two years from now when I’m finished with school and jobless, this post will explain a lot.

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I’m not a child, not yet a professional. All I need is time, a moment that is mine…

Interning is like repeating middle school all over again. Everyone knows you’re in this weird limbo stage between being a student and having a career.

It’s also like that sappy Britney Spears ballad: “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.”

I’m not a child, not yet a professional.

Since I’m barely legal and barely five feet tall, I could have passed for a junior high intern. Luckily, if anyone was thinking that, they’d have to rule it out because all the other interns came from prestigious universities.

So maybe, just maybe, people would take me as a young professional. I was dressed the part. Blouse, blazer, pencil skirt. Even pantyhose.

But my illusions were soon shattered. Like a kid playing dress up, no one was fooled.

While I was coming home on the metro from D.C. to Alexandria one night, the woman next to me turned and asked, not unkindly, “Aren’t you a bit young to be riding alone?”

I didn’t want to jump to conclusions and liken this lady to the one a year ago working at Costco who asked where my mother was. That time, the age minimum to sample food without a parent present was 13.

I was 19.

This new lady, though. I was willing to give her a chance. Maybe she thought you shouldn’t ride on the metro alone unless you’re at least 25.

Playing it cool, I replied, “How old do you think I am?”

“14?”

Fail.

Obviously, she’d been fact checking with the Costco woman. It was a year later, so I would be 14 now.

I bring this up because I don’t often hear people discussing the awkward intern experience. People point and laugh at interns, and blog about them, but where is the compassion, I ask?

From day one, I knew there was no getting past those red intern badges we had to have out on display everywhere, which is the Senate’s equivalent of pasting a big ‘L’ to your forehead. People knew. People judged. Our ID pictures were godawful, of course. It can’t be middle school without a too close for comfort close-up of your awkward face grimacing/smiling on the first day of school. The boys’ voices might as well have been cracking. To make things worse, the office staff insisted the interns dress up even on Casual Fridays. That only further separated us from the pack. While my boss was looking cool and casual in an Urban Outfitters checkered shirt and form-fitting jeans, I looked stuffy and dwarfed by my Hillary-esque pantsuit.

There was even a blog about all the dumb things interns said and did. It was merciless.

It really was a lot like reliving middle school. Interns traveled in packs for fear of appearing unpopular. As I walked out of the building at the end of the day, I’d see other interns leaving with their Jansport backpacks and making plans for the evening:

“Hey, man. What’s up? Where are you going? What are up to tonight? Wanna hang out? Party at my place!” Frantic hand gestures ensued.

And during the day: “Hey, I’m going on a coffee run! Can I get anyone something?” That was code for, “I’ll do whatever it takes to sit at the cool kids’ table today.”

Coffee. That was another thing. I was suddenly surrounded by java-consuming young adults. As I did research at my computer, the guy next to me was downing his Dunkin’ Donuts hazelnut coffee and head banging along to the electronic music spewing out from his iPod speakers. Sitting by him made me nervous. His spaz attacks were infectious and I too felt caffeine jitters. Suddenly I was 13 again (obviously not a stretch of the imagination), when the guy with ADHD behind me in class would stretch out his legs and rest his feet on the basket under my desk and then proceed to bounce his knees up and down for the remaining hour. The funny thing is, I don’t remember ever signing up for a creaky roller coaster simulator.

I can’t say I learned to enjoy researching to the sounds of Daft Punk.

Because I didn’t want to buy lunch in the cafeteria every day, I often packed my own. Lunchables. My friend brought peanut butter and jelly every day. Clearly we weren’t doing much to improve our image.

I don’t know what interns can do to get past this awkward phase. I think, like being on the cusp of puberty, you have to just grin and bear it, and hope people don’t bully and laugh at you too much along the way.

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